Digital Marketing

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I often think about leadership.  Understanding how to lead is a marketing fundamental. A life fundamental. Impressionable junior high schoolers watch what the cool kid wears hoping to be led.  Plains Indians of yore, thinking about wintering destinations, follow the chief not the warrior. And to whom do patients with a rare forms of cancer turn when looking for the right doctor and hospital?  A health portal that makes money selling ads, or a doc with humility who takes the time to explain, educate and engender trust?

All forms and flavors of leadership.

Leadership in marketing, trending wise, lies with the “media socialists.” Those who can build Facebook pages. The builders of mobile promotions who use words like “create a Google API that drags content into the site.”  We are all smitten with these pop marketing tactics. They are way less expensive than a page in People Magazine, and can live for months. But folks, many hawking social media and digital media solutions are not leaders. The top 5% may be are, but there are not enough to go around. When the biggest social effort of the last two years is a body wash campaign that has earned more talk than sales receipts, you know we’re pressing. (And please know, I loves me some social media. It is transformational. Just often mishandled.)

As marketers reach out to agency partners and prospective employees, please ask them to talk about digital leadership. What are their firsts? Their onlys? Their big wins…and big losses?  Anyone can win a battle but only those with demonstrated strategic chops can lead into the future. And isn’t that where we’re headed? Peace!

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The digital triangle, located in NYC, bears three distinct corners.  DUMBO in Brooklyn. SOHO in Manhattan. Union Square, also in Manhattan.

DUMBO is where the coders are.  A youthful tech workforce who live digitally-centric lives, they are smart and have engineer-friendly minds. (A lot of gamer consoles burn out in DUMBO.) It’s a little men and boy heavy.  Union Square is where the money is.  Where the incubators are.  It’s where the DUMBO denizens with entrepreneurial spirit visit with their hands out.  It’s close to NYU and also has a lovely, youthful energy. Parking is expensive in Union Square but the smart money walks the streets.  SOHO is what makes the digital triangle different.  It is where designers, the truly creative and exceptionally beautiful like to call home. They don’t live there really, just work, shop and hang. If you can’t get inspired in SOHO with all its art, nubes, soft tacos, fashion, and vibe, you can’t get inspired.  All these neighborhoods are a subway or bike ride apart and feed off of each other. It is a perfect storm for start-ups.  

Unlike Sand Hill Road (money), its surrounding neighborhoods of Menlo Park, Palo Alto, etc. (tech engineers) and San Francisco (ad people) the Digital Triangle is close but not really connected. The west coast likes campuses. It works but not like the digital triangle. As technology’s pull increases and more and more of the economy is tied to digital commerce, NYC will grow in importance globally and will become a tech capital with no peer. Just ask Fred Wilson. Peace.

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In a Forbes interview with David Eastman, CEO, JWT North America, he speaks of his shop’s unique place in history. Of course, some of it was the same old/same old, which made sense for the audience, but what really stuck out was JWT’s commitment to integrating digital into its offering.  Mr. Eastman may be the first digital officer to CEO a major holding company ad shop.

For a big global shop like JWT, digital is really the R&D department. R&D never really existed at agencies before.  Sure, there were innovations think tanks and media kitchens but those were mostly window dressing.  Eastman believes R&D is an investment not an expense and because JWT hangs with major consumer brands and has a strong brand planning culture, everyone gets the value of a powerful brand idea and everyone gets a seat at the table. This R&D department isn’t off campus in a lab somewhere. Even creatives are open to the manifest destiny love (ish).

So what does this mean?  The outputs are better.  The ads are informed by digital insights, the didge is coddled by emotional consumer brand ideas, and the media intersects at just the right moment. The work doesn’t feel like work to many consumers, it feels welcome and softly influential. “Soft influence.” Hmm, I like that.

Sometime the approach is a little sloppy, sometimes it’s quite elegant, but it’s almost always goaled (as they say) on being brand-strategic.  In this tactics-palooza marketing world, a holding company shop with a transmedia team working with the wind at its back offers a superior product.  But you knew that. Peace!

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It may be a New York thing, but get in a car with a bunch of teens or young 20-somethings and count the likes.  It’s the new um.  Liking is a thing on Facebook and now +1 is a the new like on the Google platform.  

Public Displays of Like (PDL)

There is a time and place for liking.  Public displays of like, though, are becoming annoying. And with +1 they’ll get worse.  The presumption is that Likes and +1 are food for the hungry consumer, but not everyone on the web wants to transact business.  Not everyone on the web is looking to buy something.  Fotchbook (an Italian pronunciation) did not grow to the size it has by  feeding the commercial needs of the people, it created a means to connect and network new and old friends.

Not everything on the web is a product. Just as I need to get out of the car when the teens and 20-somethings start the like talk, Ima need to jump off the web for a few hours when the Likes and +s abound. Careful Google. Careful Facebook. Peace (especially you know where) !

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Plaxo, an online address book, started out as a free service and was pretty amazing.  As with most SaaS utilities, it had a lot of other features and functions, calling itself a social network, but what made it cool and famous was address book synching. The company recognized  many people had multiple address books on multiple devices (business and consumer) and getting those addresses from one to the other was a pain.  A cut and paste pain.  With a push of a button, Plaxo could capture and store in the cloud your email addresses and contact list just like magic, synching them with Outlook and/or Mac address books. The app hits 20 million users before being bought by Comcast for an undisclosed sum. Can you say exit strategy? It was the shizz back in 2007.

In June 2009 the synching of address books with Outlook became a premium service. The moment of truth. Comcast said it needed the revenue to build out new features. Oy. And alas, as neat as Plaxo was, it stopped using me so I stopped using it.  If it got to the point where I couldn’t manage anymore, I’d have re-upped; but Microsoft had made importing and exporting addresses more usable and I (and the market) was on to newer things.

The New York Times faces a similar dilemma on March 28th when its digital content moves to a subscription model.  The good news for them is they’re not a utility, though some may debate that.  A NYT reader who moves to Charlotte, NC and reads the Observer will not debate it.  The Times content is unique and worth the money.

Plaxo, in my mind, needed to start out as a paid service. Hell, even at $3.00 a year. When you condition a market to think a product is free (Google NeXusOne are you listening) it is hard to come back.  This is the venture capital dilemma. This is the missing P in the market 4Ps. Buh-bye Plaxo. Peace.

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Yesterday, I was on a panel at OMMA Performance in NYC called “The dream of the Digital Dashboard.”  (OMMA stands for Online Media Marketing and Advertising.) The program, curated by Cory Treffiletti — president of Catalyst S+F, a great digital strategy shop — was quite good. (One of the speakers was from, check it out.)

On my panel I mentioned that tactics-palooza has created the need for dashboards and one of my panel mates, Marc Kiven, repurposed the sound bite into datapalooza, which had some serious ballast with the audience.  Nice ear Marc. (Sorry, had to say that.)

Datapalooza reminded me of a meeting I attended a while ago in which someone from AT&T network management said “We need to collect all this performance data, then do something smart with it.”  It’s a word string, I never forgot. Today digital marketers are so covered in data it has become harder and harder to do something smart.  One reason is interoperability.  Most reports capture time on site, links clicked, referrals, browser type, geography, device, bounce, last page visited — times a hundred. And even though we’re in the age of open standards I sense many of these data points remain in unique software homes…not portable to other behavioral data sources and feeds.

This interoperability issue reminds me of voice mail.  Have you ever moved from one job to another and had to learn new voice mail prompts?  What a pain.  If we are to improve the performance of digital performance, the industry needs to think about some basic standards. Perhaps that will transform datapalooza into a more sonorous environment.  Peace!

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Twitter’s soon-to-be-launched service @earlybird will transform marketing. @earlybird is a promotional service that posts participating companies’ specials and deals on a wide variety of products and services — a cut of each sale going to Twitter. It will generate billions in incremental sales for sponsoring companies and serious revenue basis points for Twitter. Such a deal!   

No doubt they will find a way to organize these deals by category, e.g., restaurants, technology, consumer packaged goods and, more importantly, geography.  Think of it as but offering thousands of deals a day.  Someone commented about the service in The New York Times, thinking that it would gum up their twitter feed — deals flying across the screen every minute, but the beauty of Twitter is that you don’t have to follow @earlybird (I hope) you just have to visit the tweet stream. 

Twitter will transform commerce well beyond coupons and customer service. And this 140 character promotional vehicle is just the beginning. The idea to have an idea.  I can smell marketers lining up. And small local businesses?  They’ll have an absolute  field day with this thing.  Oh the possibilities. Can’t wait. Peace!

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R/GA is a bold leader in the digital marketing area. As all advertising and marketing shops move toward the middle — toward the strategy — only one digital shop aspires to be the agency of record: R/GA. Most digital shops rue the fact that they don’t get a seat at the big table, R/GA wants the table.  And they make quite a case.  Their entrée is the “platform.”  

In a video by Nick Law, R/GA’s chief creative officer (thankfully, he’s not goofily titled), he says advertising needs to move “from metaphors that romance a brand to seductive demonstrations of a brand platform.”  Agreed. Were he to have substituted the word “strategy” we’d be in perfect agreement.  The word platform, you see, is a euphemism for website (and other digital stuff residing on the website). Brand strategy is hard to put a price tag on and websites and digital assets are easy estimate. 

Mr. Law is correct campaigns come and go. He’s right that tactics need to feed the brand strategy. He’s right that utility and community are the source of sales growth and retention. And he’s certainly not being disingenuous in suggesting that something needs to hold and tie all the brand building work together. So I’m going to cut him some slack and not argue the noun platform and favor a more verb-like version of the word. 

In the video Mr. Law refers to one of R/GA’s most famous successes Nike+.  “Nike+ is a platform fueled by campaigns” he says.  Nike+ was first a product and it’s growing into a branded utility. Is it growing into a platform? You tell me. 

These guys are the real deal. And as good marketers they are trying to create a new language for the marketing world.  As I said, bold.  

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Mission Control is a well-produced 76 second video by PepsiCo’s Gatorade ‘splaining how Gatorade marketing monitors the web for comments, chatter and potential product improvements. The “war room” at mission control is filled with AT&T NOC (network operations center) -like people in front of multiple monitors — their fingers on the pulse of Gatorade enthusiasts.  Looks like they are a busy bunch.

Interspersed with the mission control pictures are great shots of Kobe, Serena, etc., helping viewers work up a sweat…which is what Gatorade is and should always be about.

Right now this vid is kind of inside baseball for the marketing, advertising and social community – plus I think it’s being used in and around Cannes to round up votes. It’s a great spend, by Gatorade as they “set the stage for digital leadership.” I’ve written before that every large corporation in America will have a social media dept. and I believe it.  Smart senior agency people have nodded in agreement yet told me that the truly creative ideas and productions that hit wire/less will still come from agencies.  That, too, I believe.

After a while though, after all marketers have jumped on this listening bandwagon and consumers are conditioned to provide product input, message input and marketing input, it will begin to dull the strategic senses. It will turn the world into a place filled with screen-scratching marketing interns, when what we really want to do is listen to the influential “Posters.” (Google whatstheidea+posters.)


Let’s watch out for that monster that we are creating. Peace!

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Alice is the coolest internet app around.  It’s a website that allows consumers to buy directly from the manufacturer…with a promise of low, low prices because the products aren’t inflated by retail shelf stocking fees and other costs associated with driving traffic to retail.  

They promise one box, though how that can be with purchases coming straight from the manufacturer is beyond me.  Alice also offers free shipping, a product planner allowing users to restock based on past purchase dates, and a drag-and-drop interface even a caveman would love. 

Though I haven’t done the deep dive on Alice, it is the future. It won’t cover fresh produce but that’s not too far down the road, no doubt available from a web start-up run by a smart farm consortium. Alice is taking baby steps which is the way to go. (I was in a meeting with a major packaged goods company and all of its agencies last week and only a handful had even heard of Alice.)  This is how we  — especially the next gen — will shop for staples.  Alice reminds me of a post I wrote a couple of years ago suggesting that the size of home mail boxes will grow significantly as web commerce develops.  Alice may not be the Amazon of its time, but if it gets the usability and customer delivery right it will be the template for the world’s biggest app. Peace!

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