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B2B Futures.

An Ad Age article headline today reads “B-to-B E-Commerce Sales to Reach $1.1 Trillion in 2020.” That’s a pretty big number. In 2015 B2B e-comm is expected to amount to about $780B so that is a pretty big jump. Who, pray tell, do we think will be a big beneficiaries of that revenue?

I’ve written before that Amazon Wholesale will win a great deal of that business. I’ve warned a comfortable local company industrial distribution company, MSC Direct, that Amazon is coming, but they don’t seem to feel the urgency. Probably because they are growing at market rate. Another local B2B distribution company is sending Google checks for $30M every year to help improve their position in search so as to sell their $1B in annual goods.  Again, not a plan.

To all those who look to the future of opportunities I ask “Who will win this B2B ecommerce business?” Delivery and shipping companies will earn a great deal. Internet device and hardware companies will win. The consuming B2B companies should win, with prices coming down.  Will ad agencies earn? Doesn’t sound like it.

If you were to build a start-up to take a cut of this vast amount of resource, what would it be. Can you UBER-ize B2B commerce? Segment it? Localize it? Let me know.





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7 Year Brand Itch.

LinkedIn says it’s my 7th anniversary at What’s The Idea? – so I guess it is. As someone who counsels others on brand building, it might be a good time to look back on how What’s The Idea?, as a brand, is doing.

The brand came to life as a blog while I directed marketing for Zude competed with Facebook in the social media/social networking space when Facebook had 18 million users. Blogging was at its infancy and blogs about branding were not at all common. That said Ad Age had a counter on the top 50 blogs, which I never broke. Some big time talent headed the list. A guy can always aspire.

I had a 1,000 hit day once, thanks to a tweet by Steve Rubel, which made it to Lifehacker, giving What’s The Idea? global relevance (for a few days). When I left Zude WTI became the name of my consultancy. It already had some equity, the name along with the words “brand consultancy” provided a good Is-Does, and it posed the question most marketers ask when strategizing about selling: “What is my focus?”

Over the 7years I’ve had the opportunity to work with a number of name-drop brands and some small lesser known brands. I love them all. My job it to help organize the brand and bring it to life. When a brand is alive, it can be liked or disliked. If the latter it can be fixed. If it just lies their like a lox, as most do, it has nowhere to go in the mind of the consumer.

So here’s too “life,” to another 7 years, and to lots more brand building for What’s The Idea? and its clients. Many thanks.




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My father, Fred C. Poppe, built a business on engagement.  It was a word he used back in the 70s and it meant the same thing it does today — but back then he was talking about ads that were engaging. He parlayed this word (his word) into articles in Ad Age, then a few books and finally into a well-respected agency brand Poppe Tyson.  Engagement was my pops’ thing.


Engagement today, thanks to the web and digital marketing, goes way beyond ads and includes brands, communities of buyers and brand experiences. I’m a fan of engagement — so long as there is some selling taking place.

Readers know I write a lot about Yahoo!.  Yahoo! was like my first pretty babysitter…she taught me new things and opened my eyes to the possibilities.  These days I engage with Yahoo only during fantasy football season where, BTW, they’re doing a fine job of pursuing a content strategy. Elsewhere? I’m not finding Yahoo particularly relevant.


Here’s an engagement measure. Let’s call it word usage. If you could Google all the words you use over the course of a day, week, or month and quantify them, how many times would you say the word Yahoo? Engagement starts with awareness, moves to meaning, relevance, utility, usage and purchase. People aren’t talking about Yahoo any more. And if they are, it’s about money making or money losing. Yahoo has a content strategy but it’s not serious. Someone at Yahoo will write me and tell me it’s the #4 most trafficked website and makes hundreds of millions in ad revenue per quarter and they would be correct. But Yahoo is no longer the pretty or handsome babysitter – it’s more like the friend of your grandmother who babysits for a week and cooks cabbage for dinner. Yahoo is no longer engaging. And it needs to be. Peace!

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In a recent blog post, Paul Gumbinner, a friend and advertising recruiter, suggested NY unemployment in our sector is around 15%.  At one point I read there are 275,000 advertising jobs in NY which suggests about 40,000 are on the beach.

Between that, reduced budgets and digital and earned media shops rightfully requiring pie, one can safely say there has been a retrenchment in the ad biz.  As hard as it is to say, it has improved the business. The work product of ad agencies is improving; it’s more creative, meaningful, idea-based and friendlier — with the exception of all those ads about hitting on the Super Bowl.  Even the new work out of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese’s new agency Crispin Porter seems more wholesome. Roots! (Perhaps it’s all the bicycles and mountain air in Boulder.) And if you are watching a good TV spot and smiling, there’s a good chance you’re watching something from JWT. Quite a renaissance for them.  

It seems that all the pink slips got rid of many marginal players and a ton of haters.  The latter group can now be found commenting on Adweek and Ad Age posts.  Disruption (sorry Mr. Dru) has given way to heartfelt selling and that’s a good thing.  Money is creeping back into agency pockets and human resources calendars fill up — let’s hope we hire higher up the food chain. Peace.  

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MySpace just cut 420 jobs at the behest of new CEO Owen Van Natta. See the Ad Age story here. Without knowing to what extent Mr. Van Natta researched these RIFed people (corporate speak for Reduction In Force), I’m going to offer a thought.


A more social approach to the layoff: Idea 1. Prior to the RIF, hold a town meeting asking all employees how to improve MySpace. The loudest, most ardent opinions will surface.  Idea 2. Ask everyone at the town meeting to weight in on the same question, anonymously, and as with a tag cloud organize the key words into a prioritized solution set. Idea 3. After the all-hands meeting hold face-to-face meetings with each employee on the RIF list asking the question “What needs to be fixed to make MySpace a better property.”  Not exit interview stuff, truly constructive stuff. Use this time to find the gems on the list.  MySpace, after all, is a social networking site. There are some things the algorithm can’t do. Finding and retaining the best people requires an ear. Peace!


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Marketing is hard work. You have to get off your ass and talk to customers. Watch customers. Listen to customers. Get out of the building. Ask customers to spank you a little (I call this brand spanking.)


A number of smart marketers and ad types were quoted in Ad Age this week in a recession advice column telling us to “be strong,”  “market aggressively,” “do more with less.”  Not bad advice, but it might be construed as giving marketers a pass to change strategy. Don’t do it. And don’t go overly tactical. Now is a great time to see if your brand strategy is right. If your strategy delivers when the market is soft, it’s a good one. If it only works while the money is flowing freely, it’s not.  Now is the time to get closer to your customers, not farther away. Listen to them using social media, in quantitative studies, qualitative gatherings. Listen, learn and put tactics on the back burner for while. Playing the tactical shell game will only cloud the waters.   



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There is a crack between the online and offline ad agencies and million of dollars are slipping through. Though the crack is getting smaller every day as mid-size shops create competencies in both areas and the holding companies try to align silo shops, bringing them into the same room, the rift exists.


While with a marketing boutique not long ago I tried to get the partners to embrace the view of one approach to online and offline marketing. I called it “inline,” where all communications: PR, promotion, advertising, direct and web are the result of one brief, one brand plan, one idea. I hadn’t heard it before, it sounded differentiated and unique. 


One comment I heard at out little shop was that “inline” sounded archaic. Inline, I was told, suggested newspaper column inch imagery. Dooh. In Ad Age this week, Philip H. Geier Jr. ex- chairman of IPG, wrote this about marketing in a recession “Integrate your campaigns to connect with consumers on TV, online, in print and OOH. Build campaigns around one, big, central idea – and push the same message through all marketing “pipes.” Inline it is.



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“Characters Welcome” is a strong branding idea used by the USA Network cable channel. It’s straightforward, easy on the ears, makes sense for the programming (most of the time) and is differentiated. When I watch shows like In Plain Sight, Burn Notice or Monk, I get it.   There are characters on these shows unlike characters anywhere else. And the Vincent D’Onofrio character on Law & Order: Criminal Intent, now only available on USA Network, could be TV’s most compelling.  Holly Hunter, on a cable show called Saving Grace, is also an amazing character. So much so, that I thought her show was carried on USA. (It’s actually on TNT.)


USA Network, in an effort to bring “Characters Welcome” to life, is sponsoring something called the Character Project.  I read a pretty print insert in Ad Age on the project and though I applaud the effort, it seems a bit misguided. The insert, filled with beautiful photographs of American characters, is quite handsome, but the whole thing is more about the photographs and photographers than the so-called characters. What makes USA interesting is the one-of-a-kind people portrayed in the shows. Their quirkiness, their back-stories, their lives. The Character Project needs to delve into this level of character development. Unfortunately, the idea gets lost in the photography sauce.

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So there’s an article in last week’s Ad Age comparing the branding ideas of Coors Light (Cold refreshment) to Miller Light (Great taste). Great Taste, as you know, is half of the long time promise, “taste’s great, less filling.” For a while now I’ve been calling on the advertisers in this category to highlight and dimensionalize product quality and “hammer it home.” Coors Light has, Miller Lite hasn’t.


That said, I’ve smirked at the cold train and the frosty positioning of Coors Light. Serve it cold? What kind of a differentiator is that? What I didn’t know was that cold was actually tied to something called cold filtration — a fact lost amongst all the frozen tundra and trains. For all their faults though, the DraftFCB ads delivered 3 consecutive years of share growth. 


Miller Lite, on the other hand, did nothing to promote any memorable product taste advantage.  Until today! Someone smart over at Miller Lite (and, hopefully, BBH) has identified “triple hopping” as evidence of MillerLite’s great taste. Applause, applause. No really. Applause, applause. If you’ve ever held hops in you hand you’ll know what I mean. 


But if some doofus creates launch ads featuring a track and field athlete I may just take a sharp object to myself. Like a cork screw. 

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According to Ad Age last week, TV advertising is as powerful a selling medium as ever, maybe more so. The article cited higher average sales lift per gross rating point  compared to previous studies. The research, funded by Ball State, Nielsen Co. and research firm Sequent, even indicates TV is working against teens – who index high against social media usage. Very iInteresting.


Oddly, network TV stations are not making money. They’re not losing AIG money, but they are getting dinged. So networks are putting out more low-cost reality shows, moving variety talk shows into prime time (Jay Leno on NBC is the first), and flip-flopping around new drama series like hot cakes. Cable TV programming is also poaching network dollars putting the networks in a bind.


Where will it go?  Movies in theaters are making a comeback, as evidenced by amazing numbers the last few months, which makes me wonder if soon we’ll be forced to get our drama from the movie theater rather than the TV? I hope not. But near term, I wouldn’t be surprised if network prime time ends at 10 o’clock, and cable prime time starts at 10. Peace!


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