Category Archives: Marketing & Advertising

The Biggest Challenge In Creating Quality Content

You will find no shortage of lists that outline the Top Content Marketing Challenges. From team size to budget and from the lack of tools to the lack of process; everyone has at least one challenge. There’s nothing wrong with these lists. They’re a great start to understanding the challenges being faced by organizations large and small.

That said, I’d encourage you to dig beyond the top 10 lists. When I think about the biggest challenge facing marketers today, in content, it’s much more ambiguous and complex, than the need for a tool to manage content. To me, the biggest challenge is the lack of agreement on what “quality” means. I’m serious. In most organizations there’s a process to generate quality content. It often starts with research, which leads to an insight, that becomes the foundation for a brief, which enables a team/company to develop creative that’s high quality. Simple enough, right? Except, that quality, in traditional marketing channels is generally determined by a combination of research (Eg focus groups, copy testing) and a checklist that governs the usage of colors, fonts, logos, photography, tone and more. In digital/social channels, the checklist still exists, but it’s rare that digital/social creative is placed in front of focus groups.

While, the checklist approach to quality ensures that content is on “brand” it doesn’t mean it’s high quality. The focus groups and copy testing are designed to help predict performance, but clearly, if that research was devoid of flaws, no agencies would ever be fired and everyone would hit their forecasted numbers. The truth is that great content is both art and science. Despite hundreds of years of advertising history, nailing the right blend between art and science, has gotten more difficult, not easier. The number of ad formats, marketing channels and means for consuming content, have contributed to making this tougher for marketers.

In theory, no one wants low quality content. Ask a room of marketers if they want high quality or low quality content and you won’t find a single brave person who raises their hand for low quality content. Think about it, just term “low quality”, sounds bad. When most people think of high quality, they think of high-resolution images that are shot (not stock). They think of a perfectly edited/retouched photo – after all, clearly a crack in a baked cake never happens, unless of course you’re a real person. High quality means professionally produced. It also means expensive. Quality, as you can see, conjures up a lot of thoughts and feelings.

When we think about evaluating marketing initiatives, we often want a defined objective or KPI. But, when one of the KPIs is, “produce high quality content”, we have a challenge, because the definition of quality is often completely ambiguous and arbitrary.

As an example, let’s review the following, widely considered, successful content marketing efforts.

We have to start with the obligatory Oreo, Dunk In The Dark, tweet. If you’re reading this at a conference, drink!

The genesis of the tweet has been covered to death. I won’t rehash that information, but I do want to call out the following:

  • The image used, was a reused and recycled image; something that had been used by Oreo earlier in the year.
  • It’s overly compressed – you can see the JPG artifacts from over compression
  • It was produced in roughly 15 minutes, but if you look at the Cannes Lion submission form and apply a general billable rate to each role, it took $2,000+ to create this recycled image. If you needed 4 tweets like that per day for 365 days a year, you need a $3M a year budget for just twitter content.

I think the most important nugget is #1; it was a recycled image. Blasphemy! Having worked at agencies for 11 years and with them for another 6, I can tell you the idea of recycling a creative asset is usually a no-go. Creative team members never want to do the same thing…even when it clearly works. We don’t really have an on the record anecdote from Modelez, but it’s widely accepted that the Dunk In The Dark tweet was a quality piece of content that was very successful. With Oreo out of the way, let’s talk about Samsung’s efforts during the Oscars. With more than 3.4M retweets of the original image taken by Bradley Cooper, this out of focus (gasp!) photo from a cell phone broke the record for the most retweets ever. 

With that type of scale, this had to be a piece of quality content. After-all, if it wasn’t quality, it wouldn’t have been retweeted so many times, right? By, all measures of scale, an out of focus, fuzzy, low detail image bested the White House’s hi-resolution and historic photo. Many people think this was a cheap photo. It was anything but. without Samsung’s $20M + sponsorship of the Oscars, it’s likely that photo never happens. Thus, if you thought $2K for Oreo’s tweet was expensive, there’s no doubt, the “Ellen Selfie” was more than 100X the cost of the Dunk In The Dark tweet. By, the way, I also think it’s fascinating to understand the impact that distribution played in driving the 3.4M retweets. This chart does a great job of showing that despite Brad Pitts, bigger start power, Ellen, herself generated 2.5X more retweets.

Moving away from scale and virality as benchmarks for success, let’s look at interest. Interest leads to intent and intent leads to purchase, right? That’s the model, just about every marketer coming out of school, has been taught. Red Bull’s Stratos project, that had Felix Baumgartner jumping from just outside the Earth’s atmosphere, into the desert in New Mexico.

The jump was historic. It broke all sorts of records and became must see content. As we know, must see content, is high quality content (I mean, there’s a reason people watch The Bachelor and Michael Bay movies). At the time, the Stratos project, broke the record for concurrent youTube streams; with nearly 8M people viewing the jump, in real time. Impressive, right? What I like more is that they turned that stunt, into an ongoing campaign. Footage from the jump was integrated into commercials, end caps, packaging, print ads and more. As someone who worked on BMW Films, the re-usage of the content impresses me more than anything. The more often ways you reuse the same footage, the more efficient that investment into the original piece of content, becomes.

Now, if there’s one thing we all know, it’s that what consumers say, really matters. Last Super Bowl, people, just like you and me, crowned the Budweiser ad that featured a dog and a horse, the best Super Bowl commercial of the bunch.

If you don’t think these polls matter, check out the story about Career Builder essentially firing its agency because their Super Bowl ad, wasn’t voted the best. Yes, I’m serious. If consumers love it and love it enough to vote it the best, it must be high quality, right?

Now, for me, I like to go a bit old school. With no internet, no mobile, no tablet, no streaming and still with the majority of people having black and white televisions, the first moon landing was seen by more than 500M people.

Buzz salutes the U.S. Flag.jpg
Buzz salutes the U.S. Flag” by NASA / Neil A. Armstrong – Apollo 11 Image Library (image link). Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Think about that for a second. There were more people who tuned in to watch grainy footage on their black and white televisions, without the internet, than there were people who watched Felix Jump and retweeted the “Ellen Selfie” and shared the “Dunk In The Dark” image and watched Budweisers’ Puppy Love commercial.

We walked through a lot of examples of “quality” content. Hopefully, what you’ve taken away is that it’s really difficult to determine what quality, really means. Quality is unfortunately, quite subjective. There are people who believe Just Bieber is an amazing musical talent. The millions of records/songs sold would seem to justify that. To his fans, he makes quality music. To me, he is a blight on the music industry. I like Michael Bay movies. Some people don’t. There are even people who think Nickelback makes quality music. You can find out which of your friends on Facbeook like Nickelback and unfriend them, by clicking on this link. You’re welcome.

At Walgreens, we don’t have it all figured out. From the many conversations I’ve had with my peers, across the industry and the globe, I don’t think anyone has it mastered. For me, that’s part of the fun and the excitement. It’s why I love the role I’m in and the company I work for. While we haven’t cracked the code 100%, there are a few elements, that I think are important:

  1. Have a clear definition of quality. Every company needs their own approach and “formula.”
  2. Protect the customer experience. Every piece of content, even gasp! content that’s designed to sell (I know, I know, crazy…) should eliminate friction in the actions you’re asking the customer/user to do.
  3. When creating content, take into account 3 things: Your Brand (the content needs to be on brand), Your Customer (it needs to be relatable to your audience), The Platform Context (content that works great in Facebook, doesn’t necessarily work well, in twitter and etc.).

It’s early days in some respects. In others, as the moon landing shows us, the challenges quality compelling content has been around for a long time. Can you imagine how difficult it must have been to link up a feed from the moon to people’s living rooms in 1969?

Set your bar high and be clear in what you’re willing to accept as quality content. Remember, a perfectly perfect circle, that’s the right color, with the right logo, with the right font, isn’t necessarily quality…even though it checks all the boxes.

What I Look For In A Conference

There’s no shortage of conferences you can attend. Some are mammoth in scale and complexity, like SXSW and CES. Others are more intimate in nature, generally covering a very specific topic. I love a great conference. Unfortunately, not all conferences are great. Most, are good and some are bad; but, few are great.

Time away from the office is priceless. When you attend a summit/conference, you’re giving up face time, meeting time and time to work on critical initiatives. That an organization wants you to attend a summit is a privilege. Beyond the time investment there are also financial investments being made. For example, attending SXSW Interactive can easily run north of $5,000 for the conference pass, hotel, airfare, food, drinks, etc. This isn’t to say that SXSW doesn’t deliver a return on that $5,000, it’s more to provide context, that knowledge isn’t free.

Having attended as both a participant and presenter at several conferences across the globe, I’ve developed a set of filters to determine if a conference is worth the investment:

  1. Commitment to Quality: This starts at the top. Conference circuits are a business and the leaders who run that business, have hard decisions to make. For example, how many sponsored presentations are part of the day’s agenda? But, it takes really solid leadership to say no to something that could generate revenue while infringing on the overall conference experience. A commitment to quality is reflected not only in those decisions, but in the editorial staff that’s putting together the day’s sessions. It’s not easy to get A level talent out of the office for an hour or two, to get on a stage and share their knowledge. However, a savvy editorial team coupled with strong leadership and great attendees, makes for a heck of a carrot when recruiting speakers. Many conferences claim to be high quality, few are high quality across every dimension.
  2. Vendor to Buyer Ratio: To run a conference, money has to come from somewhere. You either need attendees to form over anywhere from $500 to $2,000 for a “pass” or you need vendors to help fund the operation via advertising, speaking opportunities or the chance to connect with attendees that are “buyers.” Granted, this isn’t 100% black and white, as many conferences apply a combination of the two approaches. To my knowledge, I’ve never seen a formula that outlines the right ratio, but in my experience, when you get exceed 2 sellers for every 1 buyer, you cross a threshold that stunts innovation, learning and sharing, while casting a cloud over the entire summit experience. While 2:1 looks scientific, the reality is, this is equal parts art and science. It’s not just how many, but the quality and seniority level of the vendors. Again, this goes back to an overall commitment to quality. If you value the overall quality of experience, above all, you tend to end up with not only the right ratio, but also the right vendors.
  3. Content and Speakers: Again, no magic formula here and believe me, 10 attendees can listen to the same session and walk away with 10 different points of view regarding the quality of said session. That said, I try to keep this simple. I want 2 things from the content and speakers. First, I need a mix of inspirational and practical sessions. This isn’t easy. The practical ones, while not often fun can be the most valuable. And the inspirational ones, while having high talk value, can leave you struggling for how to apply the concept to your business. Too much of one and you have either a boring conference or a pointless one. Second, I want speakers from varying walks of life. Their backgrounds should be diverse, as should their roles, seniority and business verticals. This variety often creates compelling dialogue and enriches the overall conference experience.

There are only 2 conferences / summits that consistently hit the mark across my 3 pieces of criteria: iMedia and Brand Innovators. In full disclosure, I’ve had the opportunity to attend their summits, sit on advisory boards that guide programming and have become friends with several members of the summit staff. I think it’s important you know that, but I think it’s also important that you know, that level of investment and connection to these summits wouldn’t happen, if I didn’t find them both to offer incomparable value.

iMedia and Brand Innovators are similar in their approach. First and foremost, they realize, the goal of a great summit experience, is to inspire, connect and enable its attendees. The value they both place on quality is unmatched. From the speakers to the location to the vendors and everything else in between, they deliver a nearly flawless experience. But, what separates iMedia and Brand Innovators from so many other conferences, goes well beyond that aspect. They both have, in my opinion, the right approach to a summit size. They’re small enough to be manageable and provoke honest, real dialogue, but large enough to learn from a diverse wealth of knowledge. It’s similar to having a great party. You need the right mix of personalities and number of people.

I have a high bar for attending summits. You should too. Your time is valuable. Make sure when you attend a summit that you’re time is well spent. If you attend an upcoming iMedia or Brand Innovators event, you’ll be increasing your odds of making that happen.

Is Instagram Really The King Of Social Engagement?

Managing a company’s social media footprint is challenging. Even as the landscape sees more consolidation (e.g. WhatsApp), it also sees more diversity and fragmentation. It seems that for every acquisition and merger, 10 new social platforms/networks launch to take their place.

As marketers we’re wired to want to be first, fast, innovative, different, unique and game changing. But, as protectors of a company’s brand and accountable for the success of a company’s efforts in social media, we often need to temper our enthusiasm for being first, with being right. This isn’t an easy balance to maintain. The internal and external pressures are enormous. Nearly every social marketing and content leader I know is inundated with questions from internal stakeholders asking why they aren’t doing X like Y brand or how come they aren’t on Z platform. We need only to look at the number of brands looking to mirror Oreo’s “real time marketing” approach to know, headlines and internal stakeholder questions, drive actions.

There’s nothing like a provocative headline to stir up a high volume of emails from internal and external stakeholders. My inbox the past few days, has been filled up with people wanting my take on Nate Elliott’s latest report, proclaiming, “Instagram Is The King Of Social Engagement.”

Interactions With Brands' Posts - Per Forrester

That’s quite a headline. It’s almost enough to make you drop everything you’re doing in social media and transition all of your dollars and investment to Instagram.

Almost.

At the heart of a great enterprise social media strategy is the ability to answer one simple question, “why?” Yes, a 1 word question. You need to be able to answer why you’re investing in something or why you’re not. The ability to answer why, comes from having a the right filters in place to guide your social strategy.

Before I continue, it’s critical to understand that a solid social strategy can not be created via paint by numbers, nor is it something you can copy and paste from another organization. If twitter works for your organization, great. If Yelp! is critical for your organization, fantastic. What works for us at Walgreens, may not work for your company. We’re also well aware that works great for Red Bull, may not be applicable to us.

When we think about where we need to invest our time, effort, resources and dollars, we ask ourselves 3 simple questions:

  1. Does it have the potential to scale. The operative word is “potential.” Not every social platform scales immediately. And not every social platform that scales immediately has the potential to sustain that scale.
  2. Is it at the perfect intersection of our brand and our customers. It seems simple, but you have to be very honest and critical. “Perfect” is a high bar.
  3. Does the platform allow us to create content that’s:
  • Linked: Discoverable, Connected, Aggregated, Tracked
  • Liquid: Everywhere, All The Time, On Demand, Screen Agnostic, Scalable And Right Sized
  • Loved: Sought Out, Share-Worthy, Memorable

There are certainly other variables we consider, but they’re ancillary to the 3 key questions we ask first.

Being this back to the powerful proclamation that “Instagram Is The King Of Social Engagement”, we didn’t over-react, because we have a great handle on “why.” When I read the headline and accompanying research, I’m perplexed as to why this is news. After all, the law of the web has always been that you can generate high engagement on low volumes. Is that truly any different than knowing that it’s wet when it rains? It’s simply not news.

As I read the original Forrester blog post and then the onslaught of media coverage around that headline, 3 thoughts came to mind:

  1. The base for Instagram brand followers is small. This immediately skews the data. The average brand has under 1,000 Instagram followers, so getting 40 people (4%) to “like” a photo is fairly easy. With FB and twitter, brands often have 100s of 1000s of followers or in our case, millions. With a larger base, the engagement rate always goes down.
  2. “Engagement” has and continues to be a nebulous descriptor. While yes, you can double-tap to like a photo, you can’t click thru to anything in Instagram. If you try to include a link, Instagram converts it to plain-text. If you’re a business that’s not in the business of branding, but rather in the business of direct response, omni-channel retailing, conversions, etc., is liking a photo a valuable engagement? I can’t answer that for you, but it’s a question to ask yourself.
  3. As scale increases, mature ad products become important. For every person who complains about Facebook cutting organic reach to 2%, remember you can pay to reach the other 98%. Also, with Facebook’s advanced targeting, you could choose to pay to reach only a certain audience group. Twitter, YouTube and other social platforms also offer this level of maturity in their ad products. At present ads on Instagram run a brand nearly $1,000,000 a month and similar to when Apple launched iAd, Instagram must approved your ad creative. While these are still early days for Instagram, the data is very clear: advertising on Instagram doesn’t scale efficiently.

The above 3 thoughts, for us, are pretty big. Instagram could be big, it might not be. It might be great for your business, it might not. It might now be right, now, but could be ready in 6 months. Only you have the answer to “why.” But, in a world where page views are monetized, it looks like Forrester and other publications are generating a lot better return on covering this story than most present day efforts by brands in Instagram.

The Only 3 Times You Should Speak In A Meeting

One of my mentors, who I still call on for advice, shared with me her approach to meetings. I was relaying that info to someone today and it dawned on me, I’d never shared this great advice more broadly.

I think many of us take 1 of 2 paths in a meeting. We speak all the time or we say nothing. Those who say nothing, of course, are given the horrible label of “wallflower.” [sarcasm font] Wallflowers of course aren’t leaders [/sarcasm font]. The other end of that spectrum are people who talk all the time; they yearn to hear their voice heard. Well, at least that seems to be the prevailing thought.

Microphone

So with that said, as I was entering a point in my career where I was routinely finding myself in meetings with the C-suite, my mentor shared with me her philosophy for when to talk in a meeting:

Speak First: If you’re the first to speak in a meeting, you set the tone, frame up the context of the meeting, outline what’s to be discussed and the decisions that need to be made. As the first person to speak, all other commentary will have to pivot off of your opening remarks. This is a great role when you’re the sponsor of an initiative, but not responsible for overall completion of the initiative or the tasks required to complete it.

Speak When You’ll Own: When you’re responsible for key parts of an initiatives, you need to fight for your fair share of the resources, budget, scope, timing, support and more. You need to both pick your spots and speak in a tone and octave that enables you to explain risks clearly and the reasons you need what you need. Also, since you’re responsible for the “task” it’s critical to make sure people understand you have that responsibility. Equally as important is making sure you understand what’s being asked of you and what scope changes are becoming your responsibility.

Speak Last: The last word is undervalued. The recency effect is very powerful in large organizations. As the person who speaks last you can sum up the key points (which are almost always captured flawlessly by scribes), outline the next steps, assign responsibilities, express satisfaction/dissatisfaction and more. The tone you set when you speak last, often sticks and it’s remembered. The “speak last” approach is something reserved for the person who owns the responsibility for the overall initiative.

It should go without saying, but obviously speak when you’re asked a question too.

I didn’t get this advice til a bit later on in my career. It’s something I’ve been working on for the past year and have tried to lean in to since I returned to Walgreens. Try it out.

What It Takes To Be A Truly Enterprise Social Platform

It’s 2014. I can tweet from 36,000 miles up in the sky. I can turn the lights in my house off and on from my phone. I can adjust the temperature in my house from 1000s of miles away, with just a few taps on my phone. Taking selfies on stage, during a live event is common place. We have public political discourse on platforms like Facebook and Reddit. Edward Snowden can live stream in for an interview at SXSW. With platforms like IFTT I can have have every photo I take on Instagram be automatically backed up to my Google Drive account and then have a text sent to my wife, letting her know they’re backed up. Yeah, technology is amazing. It really is. Tech has evolved to a point where anything is truly possible. We don’t think in terms of “can we do that” – we think in terms of “how we’ll do it.”

With such maturity in technology, business adoption of digital/social and the marketplace as a whole, it’s perplexing that we still don’t have a truly enterprise social platform. Oh, we have platforms. We have no shortage of platforms. These platforms are like tools that go into a toolbox. Ask a social marketer what’s in their social toolbox and you’ll get a wide variety of answers. The toolbox will run the range of small and niche platforms that do 1 thing exceptionally well, to platforms that do nothing exceptionally well, but do everything. You’ll find platforms that you pay for monthly on a credit card and you’ll find platforms that are hundreds of thousands of dollars and billed every quarter.

There are platforms for publishing (Hootsuite). There are platforms for sourcing (Percolate). There are platforms for monitoring (Sysomos). There are platforms for analyzing (Crimson Hexagon). There are platforms for reporting (Simply Measured). There are platforms just to make data look better in the form of dashboards (Geckoboard). We have platforms for everything. What we don’t have is 1 truly enterprise social platform that can do it all, and do it all exceptionally well.

We had the promise of such a platform. Remember the marketing behind…SalesForce’s Marketing Cloud? It was to be the end all, be all answer for a social business. But, it fell flat. Actually, it imploded. Don’t take my word for it though. Marc Benioff, SalesForce’s CEO, at DreamForce 2013, all but admitted, Marketing Cloud never realized its vision. The revenue numbers reported at the end of fiscal for SalesForce back that up as well. I’m not picking on SalesFore, more so, it’s important to note that if a company like SalesForce can’t get it right, you can’t expect others to as well. It’s hard. Social, at scale, is hard.

At any marketing conference, you can bet, leaders of social are discussing the tools/platforms they’re using, with one another. If you were to listen in to these conversations, it would sound a lot like something connected to something via tape, bundled together with rubber brands, with Google docs in there somewhere, filling a gap. It’s a mess. And, honestly, as we close Q1 of 2014, I can’t believe it’s still a mess.

I always say, don’t shake a stick at something, if you aren’t willing to offer a recommendation for how to fix what’s wrong. With that in mind, here’s what I think a truly enterprise social platform needs to have…actually, before I get into that, first let me outline what companies building platforms need to understand:

The “Plumbing” Isn’t Easily Changed: If you’re already working with a suite of platforms and partners, and chances are, you are, changing platforms and partners can be painful. While there are some platforms you can change out with very little pain, the fact is, often times, changing platforms brings upon legacy challenges. There’s also the likelihood that there are some platforms you’d like to retain. With all that in mind, what makes a buyer’s life easier is if your platform works more like a connector than a pipe. If you’re coming into a situation where there’s already existing plumbing in place, your platforms ability to connect and play nice with all the existing platforms that are in place, makes your platform enterprise ready.

The Seat License Model Is Antiquated: There’s simply no reason you should be offering a seat license model, if you’re claiming your platform is designed for the enterprise. A truly enterprise approach would mean that anyone, at any time, from any team, any partner, across the globe, should be able to access and use your platform. What makes your platform sticky in an organization is having it used by a significant number of people. The more people who use, enjoy and rely on your platform, the better. When you charge per seat, what you’re conveying is that you don’t want your platform used at the enterprise level. Let’s use some simple math to illustrate this point. Let’s assume your platform uses a $100 per person per seat per month approach. At a company like Walgreens, where we have 200,000+ employees, you’d in essence be charging $240,000,000 a year. Yes, I said, $240,000,000. Even if I go with a 90% discount, and it’s only $10 a person per month, we’re talking about $24,000,000. That’s insane. Beyond the fact the dollar amount is ridiculous, it also positions your company as someone who nickels and dimes. If you have a great platform, price it like one. Don’t try to compensate for how much your platform lacks, by charging on a per seat basis.

Sell The Platform or Services, Not Both: Building on my nickel and dime comment, don’t adopt a car dealer mentality where after I’ve bought the car you keep selling everything from warranties to undercoating. If you make a killer platform, make a killer platform and charge a fair price for it. If you’re great at enterprise services and strategy, start a consultancy. When you try to sell both, it makes buyers wonder if the reason you’re pushing your enterprise services so hard, is to compensate for an inferior platform.

Ok, now on to what a true enterprise social platform should look like. It’s actually quite simple. A social enterprise platform needs 7 core features:

Light Listening: A light listening feature needs to answer one simple question, “what’s going on, right now.” That’s it, it’s that simple. I’m serious. This feature needs to address the business scenario that often arises, where someone asks, “what do consumers think/feel about X.” This feature takes the pulse of a situation. It’s directional. It doesn’t have to be 100% accurate. It needs to be accurate enough to offer some directional context.

End To End Publishing: Your platform should allow for the sourcing of content, review of content, editing of content, distributing of content and the evaluation/measurement of content. Many platforms do 1 or 2 of these things really well. But, no one does them all at an A-level.

Rich Analytics: Where light listening answers the question, what’s going on right now, rich analytics answer the question, “what happened.” Hindsight is supposed to be 20/20. Rich Analytics need to be 20/15. If we’ll accept 70% accuracy for sentiment analysis with the light listening portion of a platform, the rich analytics must be 90%+ accurate. You also can’t lock this data behind a wall. It needs to exportable into a wide variety of formats. It should also have the ability to mashup other data sets. For example, a conversation volume chart, is a nice 1st step. If everyone is talking about a specific link on your website, wouldn’t it be great to be able to see your Omniture data related to that link, in the same enterprise platform?

Customer Care Management: If you want to be a serious enterprise player, you need a customer care module. The key here is that module must work as a stand alone feature, because in many orgs, care is handled by a separate team. It also needs to fit into the other modules for situations where an org has 1 team working across all aspects of social, including care. Most platforms can only do 1 of these flows well.

Mobile At The Core: We don’t want to hear it’s mobile web friendly because it’s built in HTML 5. That’s a nice first step. But, your platform better have an app there iOS and Android ready. Simply put, 75% of everything I can do from a desktop experience needs to supported in your app.

Flexible Integration: This is the hardest part. I get it. I want you to integrate with Simply Measured, but you see them as a competitor. I get it. But, I also need you to figure it out. Again, if you want to be enterprise and you want to become the irreplaceable plumbing, you’d better figure out how to play well with a whole host of other platforms and partners.

Multiple User Roles: Probably the easiest feature to nail. Some people need to be administrators, capable of changing, creating, deleting, etc. Others require just read only access. There’s also a host of other roles in between those two end points.

I don’t pretend to know how to build software. It’s not easy. I can appreciate that. I can also appreciate that in the Wild Wild West that has been the last 5 years, in social, it was much easier to build a half baked platform that sorta did 1 thing really well. Clients were lining up to buy your version of Windows ME and there was little reason to think bigger and establish a higher bar for quality of experience.

It’s 2014. Social is growing up faster than we all thought. The bar is high now. It’s no longer amateur hour. I’m sure I missed a few things in this post. But, I’m also confident I hit on 90% of the pain points and requirements, expected by Sr. leaders in social.

You can do better. You need to do better. If there’s one thing history has shown us, the first one to really nail it, wins. In this space you don’t want to be 2nd place.

The First World Problems Of Living With Second World Internet Speed

Cut the cord they say. Just stream everything. Join Netflix. Don’t buy music, just listen to it from iTunes Radio, Pandora of Spotify. Move on to the new revolution of gaming, where platforms like the XBOX One require an always on connection so you can download content…on demand.

In theory this sounds amazing. And the geek in me relishes that promise. As a digital marketer and dad, I’m always connected. It’s part of the lifestyle. This morning, I was checking emails, while both kids were streaming Netflix. There were no hiccups. No congestion. No buffering. Everything just worked. Then again, I was in Minnesota, not at home.

We recently moved back to Chicago. It’s a big city, right? We bought a condo. Our building is awesome. It’s in a fantastic location. It has indoor parking (a rarity in Chicago). The combination of hardwood floors, high ceilings, big windows and awesome views make for the perfect new home. Well, not perfect. Almost perfect. There’s 1 big problem. Get your small violin and kleenex box out. The problem…the bones of the building are a bit old and we’re stuck with DSL. At present, there’s a “Cable Committee” (GIANT eye roll) investigating alternatives, because I’m not the only one feeling stuck in 1997.

Internet Speed By State

So you might say, well, what’s so bad about DSL? Great question, glad you asked. Before I answer, let me take a step back and provide some context. My first connection to the web was via AOL 2.0 on a 28.8 modem. We graduated to a 36.6 and we were blazing! When I left home and went to college I had my first taste of a T1/T3 setup. The entire University of Minnesota was wired for speed! Of course, these were the days when infrastructure outpaced demand. Well, until Napster, Grokster and Limewire appeared. As sharing networks like that gained traction we had finally had a situation where demand/usage matched the speed of the infrastructure. I’ve always been pretty fortunate when it comes to internet speed. Be it Omaha, Minneapolis or most recently, Camden, NJ, the pipe has been wide. At our last place in Camden, we were operating on a 100mbps connection. That’s just ridiculous. More ridiculous, we paid less than $60 a month for that. Today, we get about 12mbps at a cost of nearly $75 a month. Think about that…1/9 the speed for 25% more cost. How does that make sense? It doesn’t, but that’s a topic for another day.

For the past month, we’ve been living the DSL life. Is 12mbps slow? Is it really that bad? Well, based on the current global speed data, that puts us in the company of Aruba, Mexico, Kazakstan and Vietnam. For even more context, that’s just above Guam, Brazil and Qatar, but well below Uruguay, Ukraine and Slovenia. The United States speed average is 21mbps.

Ok, so now I’m off the soapbox. The 460 words above were equal parts rant and context. Similar to my experiment a few years back, when I deleted by Facebook account, at about day 3 of living with DSL, I started to ask myself, how can the experience make me a better and more informed marketer. There are 4 things I’ve taken away from the experience:

  1. We’re years away from a truly connected home that relies on the cloud. It’s not desire. It’s not interest. It’s not consumer spend. It’s something basic: infrastructure. I wrote on the subject of infrastructure strangling mobile’s growth in 2009. It did. It has. And, the recent changes to net neutrality are keeping mobile from becoming dominant. Companies should be “designing” heir experiences to a lower common denominator. Microsoft is the biggest culprit here. The XBOX One was designed as an always on experience. It’s constantly checking for updates and downloads. This was annoying on the 100mbps pipe in NJ. It was damn near catastrophic in the new place. I purchased a new game. Inserted the disc. Instead of playing immediately, it needed to download an update. That update took almost an hour. By that point, I didn’t even want to play. I don’t think I’m alone in that feeling. As we think about new experiences to create for consumers, a major filter for me will now be, are we designing it to the right lowest common user?
  2. I’ve become less connected and more selective in what I do on the web. If you’re crippled by speed you have to adjust and change your behavior. For example, I’m back to a behavior I had in the mid 90s. I now setup all my updates before I go to bed and let them do their thing while I sleep. Before, I would have multi-tasked and done these types of things while I was also streaming a Netflix movie, after dinner. Speaking of Netflix, I haven’t watched 1 single thing. The experience is simply far too compromised. We need to create experiences that inspire a consumer to choose interacting with us, than all the other things they could do on the web. That’s a high bar.
  3. I’m thankful I never got rid of, nor did I stop investing in “analog” content formats. The 50,000 songs I have on my computer enable me to not rely on streaming Spotify. The 100 or so DVDs I own mean I’m not stuck waiting and waiting and waiting for Netflix, HBO GO or Hulu+ content. We think the world is digital and that digital provides a benefit over analog. Often times this is true. But, we need to consider that sometimes analog is faster, easier and better. My favorite example is list creating. No matter how cool a list making app is, it’s rarely faster or easier to use than a pen and a piece of paper. That’s what we’re up against, every day.
  4. The future is clearly mobile. I’ve used my cell phone or iPad, both on Verizon, as hot spots, more in the last 4 weeks than I ever have…combined. Seriously. As I looked into options to move off of DSL, the only consistent and real option was to use a LTE whole home device. I think it’s likely, I’m going to head in that direction. With that in mind, the consumption of content will happen more and more, away from home. In my role, it reinforces the need to make sure content is liquid, linked and loved.

Method Cards

This post wasn’t written to make you feel sorry for me. If you do, great. I certainly appreciate it. If you can set me up with something faster, I’d really appreciate it :) – no, this post was more about forgotten technique of walking a mile in your consumer’s shoes. IDEO’s famed Method Cards are designed to get consumers to look, listen, ask or try. As marketers we can get so caught up in the data, spreadsheets, decks and white papers that we forget to simply act like our consumers so we can understand them better. While I can appreciate that, I’d still really love to have my fast internet speed back…

First world problems, indeed.

The Human API Is The Future Of Big Data

You are the next app. Yes, you. And you. And you over there in the back. You are all the next app. Ok, technically, not you. But, your data. No, I don’t mean your name, your email address or your birth date. Those are old school pieces of data that will continue to depreciate in value, over time. When I say you and when I say your data, I literally mean all the data you generate.

On some level, the near future is mobility, big data and personalization. The irony of course is that’s not really a new trend. Companies as far back as the catalogue business models of the 1930′s relied on our data. Where we lived. What we ordered. How much we spent. How often we ordered. Since that boom of the 30′s companies have always valued our data and tried to collect it. Remember those warranty cards you filled out? They were really just an easy way for the manufacturer to learn more about the person who just bought their item. Smart, right? Today, when you login to a site with Facebook Connect, you’re trading your data for simplicity.

Digital DNA

We trade data all the time. But, something is changing. As companies look to advance their product pipeline, they’re more reliant than ever on us to power those products. Let me offer some examples:

  1. For Nest to continue its meteoric growth, it’s going to need more data about you and your home. Devices that are part of “connected home” will take off, provide value and offer a wow factor that leads to broad adoption when it’s powered by more and more data about us. Imagine Nest changing the temperature of your house when it knows you’re within 5 miles of it. How does it know? Because you allowed Nest to track your location so that this happens automatically.
  2. What about Samsung’s entire foray into wearable devices, including the biometric tracking that’s part of the Samsung Galaxy 5? Those “wow” features are only of value and help Samsung provide better phones and better experiences if YOU allow them to have access to your fingerprints, your pulse and more.

Those are just two very simple examples that underscore a simple truth: companies will need our “DNA” to make their products work.

It’s been long said, if you’re not paying for it, you’re the product. That’s helped us accept the pervasive tracking by platforms like Google and Facebook. We get access to their great platforms at no financial cost, because we’re providing them with data that they are able to resell to advertisers for a significant upside.

But, what happens, when you’re not only the product, you’re also paying for the product? Shouldn’t my data lead to some type of financial benefit? After All, without my data, they’re products are underpowered, which slows their roadmap, which leads to poorer financial performance.

We are entering an age of mutual exchange. Never before have we been on such a equal playing field as companies. They need us as much as we need them. Let’s take a relatively small example that proves this theory out. Today, Progressive Insurance gives you a discount for letting them track your car driving habits with their Snapshot product. You’re getting a financial value for your data. That’s mutual exchange. That’s the future.

Now, let’s take a bigger example. Today, Google takes your data and in essence sells it to companies to market you; you don’t see a dime. Yes, you get to access things like Gmail for free, but even with those products, you’re at the mercy of Google’s roadmap. Remember, Google Reader and how Google killed it, despite people not wanting it to be killed? If you’re not paying for it, you’re the product.

Well, what would happen if Microsoft’s Bing, said, you know what Joe Consumer, you’re in control of your own data and in doing so wrote you a check every month for how they’ve used it, based on how you’ve opted in. The more data you shared, the more you’re worth and the more you’re paid. Would you use Bing more?

You AND your personal social network are now the new API.  Don’t turn your most valuable asset, your data, into a commodity. You’re worth more than that. Companies should be paying us to access our API, not the other way around.

13 Reasons Tim Cook Just Bought Twitter

Ok, I lied. Well, technically, I didn’t lie per se. Sure, there’s nothing in this blog about Tim Cook, Apple or twitter. But, I didn’t lie. I just played by the wide open and loose rules of today’s publishers. See, what I did, was I link-baited you. You saw that salacious headline, “13 reasons Tim Cook Just Bought Twitter” and you clicked. If I had been selling ad-impressions on my site, I’d have just made a fortune.

Admittedly, you’re irritated. You expected to find an article outlining why Apple decided to buy twitter, instead, 1.5 paragraphs later, you’re still reading my lecture. You should be irritated.

Tonight, I was a bit irritated too, so, I got a bit cheeky on twitter and started generating semi on topic/semi off topic headlines that were completely made up. For example:

 

The number of people who tweeted me back asking for the link or thinking I’d forgotten the link was staggering. We have been conditioned to look for headlines/tweets like this…so we can click on them.

WhatsApp Link Bait

When the news first broke about Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp, I rolled my eyes and I debated avoiding social media for the next few days. But, I didn’t Being plugged in to social is part of the job and the responsibility that comes from leading an organization’s social marketing efforts. Why did I want avoid? Simple, I’ve seen this news cycle before. The announcement comes out and we end up with hundreds of posts that seem an inch away from the Tyson Zone. They all follow the same formula:

The + X (a number) + Y (a noun) + Z (the actual news) + A (preposition) + (simple phrase)

For example The 18 Ways Facebook’s Acquisition of WhatsApp Is a game changer. At this point, I’m half sure publishers have simply written a script that generates these headlines. After all if Len Kendall can do it as a side project, it stands to reason a large publisher could do it too.

So, yes, I got a bit cheeky, had some fun, but also learned a lot. For example, I’m not the only marketer who’s self-aware enough to realize that:

  1. We have become conditioned to expect headlines like this
  2. We know it’s a problem

This approach to “reporting” the news could very well be called link baiting. An interesting headline rarely is paid off by the actual content contained in the article. The headline is salacious, which of course gets you to click. This bothers me. It’s always bothered me. But, now that I also have the responsibility of our Walgreens enterprise content strategy, it don’t just irritate me, it really concerns me. Let me break this down…at the end of the day branded content can only live in 3 places:

  1. Our owned real-estate: For example our website or opted-in eMails. In this case, we need to think about how we use a variety of paid and organic approaches to drive people to those locations.
  2. Distributed on another platform (e.g. twitter) organically: In this situation, we’d be recognizing that you might not want to leave the experience you’re currently in, but you still want content from us.
  3. On another publisher’s site: Because buzzwords are king, let’s call this content “native.” If it’s native content, in essence we’re paying to have our content embedded on another publisher’s site. The upside here is rather than trying to drive someone from where they already are to my site, I can “engage” them where they already are.

Bucket 1 has been around since the early 90s. Be it web-rings (yes I said web-rings) or the earliest form of display ads (remember the 120×90?) companies have been “buying” ads across the web to drive people to their sites.

Bucket 2 isn’t quite new, but, it’s not quite a mature space. Brands are still figuring out how to balance the value of building a base of followers on someone else’s platform, for the purposes of marketing to them. Yes, I said marketing. I didn’t say engaging, which, let’s be honest, is simply a more polite way of saying, marketing.

Bucket 3, though, well that’s an interesting one. You can call it “native” or any other name, but it’s still an ad. I won’t get into the merits of native ads vs. traditional display ads, here. It’s a subject I’ll tackle at a later date. With native ads the publisher is selling traffic. They’re ultimately claiming, hey, we get X millions of eyeballs to our site, thus your reach is some % of X. Simple enough, right? After all, that’s really not too different than bucket 1. We’ve been buying ad inventory on CPM models for years. In those CPM models, an advertiser chooses to advertise on that publisher’s site, because they reach X millions of eyeballs.

The big inherent difference though between bucket 1 and bucket 3 is that bucket 1 created and built during a time when portals (e.g. Yahoo, MSN) were the starting point and people browsed for content. There was a certain assumed intent. In bucket 3, when you’re essentially advertising inside the stream, the intent is debatable. Publishers are selling reach in the form of impressions, which come from clicks. Well, if I were a publisher, I’d publish outrageous headlines, just like the one that brought you here. It’s smart economics after all. As the publisher, I craft the slightly misleading, slightly on topic headline, you click, I claim your traffic, I then aggregate all the people who clicked on the link and I tell advertisers, see look how much traffic we have.

But, doesn’t it beg the question, is it really quality traffic? And that’s the rub. I applaud Facebook for taking steps to change the newsfeed algorithm so that link-baiting sites, like Upworthy were de-prioritized. Shouldn’t the headline match the actual content on the page? Jack Marshall at DigiDay recently covered this topic, in superb fashion.

We have become conditioned to look for links that fit the: The + X (a number) + Y (a noun) + Z (the actual news) + A (preposition) + (simple phrase) formula. We can’t help but click. And doing that, allows the problem to continue.

As someone focusing on an enterprise content strategy for a beloved, large and progressive organization, I’m concerned and I’m pausing. I’m tending to scrutinize the numbers publishers are providing. I have to ask myself, how much of that traffic is actually legit and how much of it was manufactured through link-baiting headlines. The difference for some marketers could millions of dollars wasted on empty clicks and impressions.

But, see, that’s something a brand cares about. That’s something the advertiser would care about. There’s little incentive for publishers to change and the associations that should be providing leadership, like the IAB, don’t even have brand-side representation. That’s quite a conundrum and I have a feeling it’s going to change. As content strategies become ever more important for organizations, there will be many others who are asking the same questions I am. I hope that has a ripple effect and we see other platforms like Twitter start to de-prioritize content that’s clearly link-bait.

How can we expect our leadership to us seriously, when we, as an industry, perpetuate such debatably unscrupulous behavior? That’s not a sexy headline, but it’s something you should think about.

The 15% Rule Has No Place In Today’s Digital World

Read “Where The Suckers Moon.” Seriously. Before you continue with this post, go to Amazon, add it your cart and check out. Get the Kindle version and the softcover version. Why? Simple; it’s the greatest book ever written about the advertising industry. That’s broad. For the purposes of this post, Randall Rothenberg in a few hundred pages, gives all the background you could ever want or need, to help understand why the 15% model was created and why it’s been so challenging to move off of that outdated model.

In the earliest days of advertising, an agency took a straight commission off of placing and buying media. That commission eventually settled around 15%. There were companies still using this model 10 years ago. Old habits die hard. That 15% commission became a defacto standard for how much an agency should be compensated relative to the media spend. If you spend $10M in media, you shouldn’t spend more than $1.5M to produce the creative needed to satisfy that media buy. Depending on who you talk to or what association you belong to, that 15% is as low as 10% for some categories or as high as 20% in others. But, the general average is STILL 15%.

The model was simple. It was clean. It enabled planning to be easier and faster, because everyone knew the compensation model. It was also a model that was born when we were only planning against a limited number of communication channels: TV (3 channels at most), print, radio and outdoor.

The model worked well for legacy media channels, because the distribution was expensive, but production was relatively cheap. Let’s take a real world example: the cost to create a commercial is roughly 600K. The media cost for a 30-second Super Bowl spot is roughly $4M. This places the ratio of agency spend to create the ad, right at 15%, which is right in line with historical averages used for the last 50 years. It’s also quite consistent with reports from major industry associations and reports.

Today, where we have such high media fragmentation this model falls apart. Marketing in a digital world, requires a completely different set of models and requires us to rethink how we’re spending our money. With digital, distribution is relatively cheap. It’s the creative that’s expensive. Those who understand and embrace this have settled between 30% and 40% for the dollars needed to support a digital driven campaign. It makes sense. The rough cost to create the famous Oreo Super Bowl tweet was $2,000. That figure is based on the 15 minutes it took to create and publish the image, multiplied by the list of people who were attached to the Cannes submission for the ad, multiplied by a simple conservative blended rate of $200/hour.

Before we continue, let me clear, I’m not suggesting that Oreo actually paid 360i $2,000 for that tweet. I’m sure the cost to create that tweet, from an already once used image, was accounted for as part of a broader client/agency fee agreement. The $2,000 is a real number however. It’s the real dollars needed to create that tweet as a one-off piece of creative…just like the $600K is the relative cost to create a one-off Super Bowl commercial.

With that said, think about that…$2,000 for 1 tweet. What if you need 8 great tweets a day, every day for a year? Well then you’d be spending $4.38M in just twitter creative. Even with a volume discount of 50%, you’re talking $2.19M per year. AND, that’s just twitter? We know the digital patch quilt world we operate in is much larger than just twitter. We need creative and content for Facebook, Pinterest, your emails, Instagram, your website, Tumblr and so on.

But, for the sake of simplification, let’s just focus on twitter. And more specifically, let’s just focus on a 1 day twitter campaign. The most recent publicly documented cost for a promoted trend is $200K. A promoted trend can generate upwards of 90M impressions as seen my Coca-Cola, more is more generally in the 30M impression range. Let’s split the difference at 50M impressions for an average trend campaign.

Creative wear-out is a reality. If you show someone the same ad enough times they either take action or start tuning it out. With digital display, the rule of thumb is you need 1 creative unit per every 1.5M – 3M impressions. The variance is tied directly to the reach/frequency model you need for your category (eg auto vs. CPG). Twitter, of course, isn’t display. We check twitter several times a day. If anything you’d need more messages/creative units because the wear out would happen faster. That said, since there’s no publicly available data to substantiate that, we’ll roll with the following campaign specifics:

  • 1 Promoted Trend Campaign
  • $200,000 for the cost of the trend campaign
  • The campaign would yield 50M impressions with creative wear-out happening at 1.5M impressions
  • The cost to create an award winning tweet is $2,000

So with the above, we would need 33 creative units/messages at a cost of $2,000 per piece of creative for a total cost of $66,000. At that cost and the cost of the promoted trend, we’ve clearly exceeded the 15% “rule.” We’re at 33% (I did the math for you). If we get our bulk discount of 50%, we’re at 16.5%. Based on my experience, when you consider the cost of the account coordinator to open the job # to the Chief Creative Officer to sign off on the job, the cost is going to be more than $750.

Keep in mind, our example is limited to twitter. We haven’t even started looking at the costs to then produce creative unique to Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and other large social platforms, across the very fragmented digital landscape.

Screens are getting smaller and more varied.  The number of “media” channels consumers are flocking to is exponentially increasing. Consider that Vine, Jelly, SnapChat, Medium and so many others didn’t even exist a year ago. We’re adding more and more places to visit every day…yet the time we’re spending at those places is becoming more and more fleeting. To me, this means we, as marketers, get even less time to make an impact with our consumers. And that’s why you need award winning level creative every single time. You can’t deliver C-level creative experiences. They all need to be A-level. Creating A-level creative, means making your creative unique to each publisher, placement, consumer segment and person.

For years, traditional marketers have taken issue with a “shotgun” approach to marketing. The argument is that it’s too broad and not focused. Some I’ve worked with, favor a “champagne pyramid” approach to marketing, where you fill up the top glass (usually TV) and only delve into another marketing channel, after the first glass is full. This trickle down approach to marketing spend simply isn’t consistent with today’s digital world; it’s antiquated, but easy to manage.

Is it any wonder that people who cling to a champagne pyramid approach to marketing, still cling to the 15% rule; something created over 50 years ago?

I can’t tell you if the right percentage is 20%, 30%, 50%. But, I can tell you the 15% rule has no place in today’s digital world.

Now, go buy Where The Suckers Moon…now!

At iMedia Summit Old Challenges Become New For Marketers

I love iMedia Summit. It’s on my must attend list, every year. Great locations, great content and great people, make for a valuable experience.

At this year’s summit, it was clear we’re getting closer and closer to dropping “digital” from titles and org structures. We are on the precipice of people across all industries accepting, it’s less about digital marketing and more about marketing in a digital world.

As I connected with marketers across a wide range of industries, there were 3 familiar themes that could not be ignored.

Talent: The conversation about digital talent has evolved. At one of my 1st summits, nearly 10 years ago, the conversation was about getting funding to hire someone…anyone…who could be that digital subject matter expert. While we’re definitely past those days, talent remains a thorn. Today though, it’s a thorn because we need new recruitment models to find the right talent, we need a better talent investment plan to retain talent and we need a better plan for creating leaders in organizations who have a deep and wide grasp of digital.

Content: It’s king, right? Every marketer I talked with identified different challenges in dealing with content. The most consistent pain points were how to produce enough content in a financially viable way, how to safely source and share content (legal and Pinterest apparently are still not good friends) and how to distribute content the right way. With respect to distribution, this is a battle waiting of happen in a very epic way. The old model that classical marketers still adopt where your cost to create content should not be greater than 15% of the media but, is dead and doesn’t apply to digital and social content. You will spend more than $100k to create enough quality content to support a $1M ad but across twitter and facebook. In digital, unlike TV, distribution is cheap, but the content is expensive.

New Operating Models: What should you be doing internally? What should your agency’s role be? When do you bring social in-house…and do you bring it all in-house? We need new models and approaches to building internal capabilities and for setting our partners up for success. This will require our partners to pivot quicker than they ever have before. They will need new offerings, new types of talent and different pricing approaches. We are in a sea of disruption that’s not going to calm down any time soon.

This year’s iMedia summit reaffirmed some thoughts I had and offered new perspective to think about as I lead our Social Media and Content efforts for Walgreens. It’s also fair to say, iMedia once again reminds me of why I’ve stayed in digital for 16 years…the pace of change isn’t for the weak and it’s bloody good fun to try and keep up.

About
Digital dad to Cora and John. Love ironing, bourbon and BBQ; no necessarily in that order. Living life, like I stole it. I'm always up for a

spirited conversation. These are my thoughts and ramblings, not those of my employer.
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