Top 8 tech terms marketers love to hate.

Nothing rankles the ire of any marketer with even a tad of experience more than those highly touted “new” tech terms or concepts positioned as silver bullet answers to, heretofore unsolved, marketing   problems. And to those of us who’ve been around the marketing block a few times, these new terms resemble a toddler’s early attempts at speech – cute but a phase they’ll grow out of. depression

Unfortunately, though, some of these usually harmless little word experiments “stick;” taking on a larger-than-life meaning that does a disservice to everyone.  My plain hope here is to put these concepts into context so they can be practically applied in the day-in-day-out business of marketing.

1. White labeling:

The history: It started life decades ago in the tech world referring to the practice of re-branding 3rd party technology as your own so it can be resold at a higher price.  This was worked well for many tech platforms like CRM or email service providers because the “resellers” were often system integrators or tech companies themselves.

The impact: When the practice began to be applied to the marketing industry, i.e. an agency white labeling a tech platform, it translated poorly because a marketing company is poorly skilled to take on the management of a tech platform.

Why I hate the term: The term shines a spotlight on the bigger disconnect between the business models of tech platforms versus advertisers/ agencies. White labeling is no solution for anyone; agencies have to fake it, tech companies get no credit for their innovation and brands are sold “black boxes” – a sure recipe for problems down the road.

2. Native ads:

The history: This term was recently coined by Fred Wilson in 2011 as “native internet marketing model” and “native monetization systems” (Fred Wilson’s 2011 talk on this topic). This concept was picked up by a social media tech platform and morphed into meaning advertising that’s consistent (a.k.a. native) with the environment around it.

The impact: If only Fred had asked any marketer, he’d have learned we had a term for that concept; alternatively called advertorials (1980s), sponsored content (1990s) or custom content (2000s). And just like in years past, the trust issue about separation of “content church” and “advertising state” plagues the effectiveness of today’s “native ads.”

Why I hate the term: Tech platforms can push demographically accurate “native advertising” but that doesn’t make it trusted advertising, (disclosures notwithstanding). Experienced marketers know that advertising that is not trusted is not worth doing. Tech ventures are climbing that steep learning curve.

3. Growth hacker:

The history: Somehow this term evolved as an awkward mash-up of the terms “hacking,” the ability to use tech wits to achieve results usually at “low/ no cost,” and “marketing growth.”

Ugh! This pairing spawned a Frankenstein child capable only of crude brute tech force that is ultimately unfit for the delicate business of marketing.

The impact: I don’t think anyone has a real clue what a growth hacker really is. I do know that anyone who is actually hiring marketing folks snickers at the phrase.

Why I hate the term: Some things seem obvious and yet require saying nonetheless. For the record, no marketer wakes one day to say; “Let me spend the most money possible to create the least result possible.” Marketing is about getting the most bang for the least buck.  That’s not “growth hacking” – that’s the marketer’s job description.

4. MVP (Minimum Viable Product):

The history: The “when to ship” decision remains probably one of the most excruciating decisions every tech CEO must make. Investors, eager to reduce their risk, push CEOs to ship the least offensive product possible a.k.a. the MVP (Minimum Viable Product).

And they’re not kidding when describing it as “minimum viable.” This virtually guarantees that almost immediately, iterations are needed to adapt to market feedback. Problem is, in this context, MVP and the “iteration” model (deserving a place on this list in its own right) fails marketing practitioners.

The impact: The MVP problem lies in the fact that a constantly “iterating” marketing platform can mess up the very delicate and time consuming sales conversion process with just a single interruptive interstitial here or badly retargeting ad there.

Why I hate the term: MVP encourages a UE race to the bottom with more and more users getting more and more frustrated. Worse, it seems the MVP concept has become a “get out of jail free” card to excuse a tech platform’s particularly bad results or awkward UE. “Iterations” offer little salvation, actually exacerbating the problem (more on that below).

5. Iteration:

The history: Software development is a process of creating, testing, fixing, testing, fixing a.k.a. iterations. This “agile” process has evolved over the years but it is always based on some machine-based process of trial and error.

The impact: While machines are great at handling iteration – people aren’t. Making continual changes or iterations to a marketing platform is fraught with possible bad user experiences that can blow any marketing proforma out of the water.

Why I hate the term: Iterations have become so pervasive in an MVP world, it is virtually impossible for marketers to keep up. Facebook alone is planning an “iteration” of six ad products in the next few weeks. Iteration is chaos for marketers.

6. Earned media

The history: This term does not have its origins in tech but in PR where it referred to the additional “earned” or free media a story got. This additional “free” media coverage was in direct contrast to “paid” media coverage.

But sometime in the last 5 years, the term was co-opted by the tech world and linked to social media with unintended but harmful consequences.

The impact: The damage was done in talking about “social media” as being able to generate “earned media” – setting up the dangerous expectation that social media is free or cheap just like “earned media.”

Why I hate the term:  Any marketing practitioner knows it takes lots of time and hard work to get social media to work properly. That is not free or even cheap. The mythical “earned media” beast creates false expectations that are hard to overcome.

7. Impressions:

The history: In the old days, it was relatively easy to estimate the number of people an ad campaign would reach given the limited number of outlets; TV, magazine, radio and even movies. This diverse yet limited media was measured in terms of standard “impressions” easily translatable to a real-world audience number.

The impact:  Theuse of impressions worked with traditional media because of its tangible audience delivery numbers but it fails in today’s digital landscape that is capable of serving billions of impressions but incapable of telling us how many people were actually reached.

Why I hate the term: This term, more than any, IMHO is the root cause of a system-wide loss of trust between agencies and tech platforms; advertisers and publisher audience numbers; consumers and advertisers. This epic trust failure explains the steep decline in all forms of digital advertising interactions.

8. Engagement:

The history: The term was long used to describe great creative because it was “engaging.” Later, sometime in the 1990’s, it was applied more specifically to direct marketing because of its ability to precisely measure direct response engagement (i.e. – email or banner ads).

The impact: It’s rather humorous to watch marketing tech platforms gush about engagement as though it just hatched from the brain of the clever tech set. That would be benign enough except that a tech platform’s idea of engagement is a herky jerky set of user “twitches” and clicks instead of the elegant dance that a great engagement experience can become.

Why I hate the term: Technologists’ slavish devotion to engagement is rather shallow; lacking in the nuance to understand the profound ROI difference between just an “interaction” and true “engagement.”

The marketing tech industry is trying to respond to the continued stream of bad news of plummeting digital ad response rates. At its heart, I believe the challenges stem from the lack of connectedness between technologists’ capabilities and marketers’ requirements. Language can be a bridge connecting technology with the business of marketing. Only then can we begin to unleash all the potential.

Why did social media become so urgently important right now?

Judy Shapiro:

So much has happened in social media since this was written in 2010 and yet the operational model for how companies leverage social marketing as still as fuzzy now as then. *sigh*

Originally posted on Trenchwars Weblog:

Nowadays, I sometimes feel like the doctor who is often asked his advice “off duty”. Once I say I am in marketing, the inevitable questions begin. “How can I launch a product with just social media?” (You can’t). Is social media really free? (No). Can I be successful at social media without an agency (yes…but). This is not just mere curiosity; there is urgency to the questions I have not encountered before.

Now aside from the inconvenient truth that I am practitioner of marketing and perhaps not an “expert”; the other inconvenient truth is that there aren’t many experts to found anywhere because social media has barely been on the corporate radar for 24 months and it is very fast evolving category of marketing that is growing in importance. This expertise gap understandably makes companies scrambling for advice with a frantic energy approaching panic.

So with that perspective, let’s return…

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My itzy bitzy “told ya so” moment

Today I caught wind of a post called: The Facebook experiment has failed. Let’s go back.via @jeswin that describes how Facebook failed because it lost sight of its core mission.

Today, I felt vindicated because when I asked way back in December 2010 “Has Facebook Jumped the Shark?” I was universally derided by the tech world as being old fashioned. I was privately applauded by ad folks for having the gumption to dare and challenge the cool Facebook.

In the end, it’s kind of a hard to call a $40B company a failure. That said,  my ambivalence with Facebook continues to roll along as this image I did for a SWSX session (2011) I was asked to do expresses so perfectly.

The SXSW Image for article "Has Facebook Jumped the Shark?"

The SXSW Image for article “Has Facebook Jumped the Shark?”

Huh Twitter?

Dear Twitter -

I have trying to use your ad platform but you stump me.

You send me campaign optimization emails after the campaign is over.

You make it hard to understand how a new account can advertise.

You have a weird glitch in your mobile ad platform.

But this is almost funny. Am I supposed to learn Japanese (I think that what’s it is)??

This is the what I see on my Twitter ad dashboard.

twitter 2

 

 

 

Confusion abounds.

Judy

A daily identity crisis – venture style.

Damn it!

You’d think that after 18 months of intense development which resulted in a live marketing platform with paying customers, we wouldn’t be having this problem.

You’d think we’d know by now.

But as we begin selling our new platform, prospects from agencies and brands, surprisingly, see us solving different problems. Agencies think of us as tech company helping them with new ideas. Brands see us as a service provider able to integrate tech enabled marketing with services. This leads to some awesome but awkward moments confusing what we are.

Generally speaking, they categorize us loosely in three ways:

  • Tech venture. Brands most typically see us as a content syndication platform able to integrate different content types within one hub. With our network of topic based communities, brands can distribute content and curate visitors towards a purchase. One can think of us as an “Open Sky” (affiliate platform) meets SayMedia (topic-based, blogger network). We add a “big data” kicker which puts us squarely in the tech venture bucket.  One of our first customers is a new ecommerce site using our tech to drive cheaper CPAs versus PPC (fingers crossed).
  • “Nextgen” agency.  Aside from my deep distaste for anything “nextgen” developed during my tenure as brand director for Lucent Technologies – I have no idea what that means.  Agencies are a fee-based services business – a decidedly human endeavor. Any variation of “nextgen” anything has a tech focus which, by definition, minimizes human intervention in favor of automation.  Confused? So am I. But we have some customers where we deliver social marketing and content syndication services. For these customers, we are an agency with a comprehensive and integrated tech approach to social and content marketing.  I don’t know if that qualifies as “nextgen” anything. 
  • The “agency’s agency.” This definition is most intriguing perhaps because it actually most closely matches what we are doing today. We planned our platform to be “agency happy” in that an agency can sell it profitably to a client. And when our first big “corporate” sale came through an agency partner, our most optimistic hopes were realized because we weren’t even in the room when the sale was made!  While this is a major milestone moment, the real work starts in the post-sale phase as the agency learns to work with our platform and processes. It’s the agency’s role to lead their clients in this initiative. It’s our role to offer the agency a safe passage on their journey through these new, sometimes murky marketing waters.

Every encounter with every prospect or partner is a revelation amplified during these early, tender weeks. Each marketer has unique ideas for how they want to use our platform – from a social learning laboratory to a content hub to a curated commerce platform.  We’ve already productized some of their ideas. There are other ideas that we could see have tremendous value. It’s so tempting to go off and productize these ideas too; a rather easier task than you may imagine since we built our platform to be a nimble, direct response-like engine – lots of modular pieces that can be arranged and re-arranged to test a multitude of marketing variables.

But as tempting as it is to go off and productize all these ideas, obviously that’s way too chaotic. Choices must be made which means I am pretty sure our identity crisis will get worse before it gets better.

This is, as a friend once told me, a high class problem to have.  Yay (I think).

The world according to algorithms

I wrote this post over three years ago! Gosh – kinda of more scary now. Yikes.

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My personal, trusted search agent, my husband, cut out an article for me about DemandMedia, an innovator in offering a service for web owners to pull algorithm driven, highly moentizable content – fast and cheap.

Then a few minutes later I read about Cheaptweet.com and how it uses an algorithm to mine Twitter feeds for deals on clothes, electronics and services.

I began to notice a pattern.

The next day I read about new search methods that were smarter because of, you guessed it, algorithmic technology.

Now with a thud, I realized, a bit to my horror, that algorithmic logic drives a big part of our lives. It drives our searches and, as a result, what we learn about. It drives which ads we see and crunches through a formula to present us with the most relevant, contextual based ad possible. It filters what offers we see or don’t see online.  And the ever iterative algorithmic engines can even choose our future mates.

I even think some algorithm predicted the end of the world to happen sometime in 2012 *sigh*.

It then blindingly dawned on me (better late than never) that my perception of the world was being shaped by algorithms – aggregation of data points. I was taken aback by the fact that my world perception was not formed as I thought by my experiences with real people – but by mechanical machines spitting out numerical answers to questions I had not yet asked.

I realize I see the world through number colored lens. I am not sure I like the effect.

This shouldn’t be bothering me – but it does.

Judy Shapiro

http://twitter.com/judyshapiro

“It’s good to be open minded, just don’t let your brains fall out.”

Judy Shapiro:

A post from 2009 talks about my Grandmother and the pillar of trust that is so necessary as we move to become digital citizens. Her story is an inspiration to me every day.

Originally posted on Trenchwars Weblog:

I was reminded of this line, credited to my Grandmother Margit, when I spent a very interesting day last week at the Web 3.0 conference. So many smart people talking about how smart the Web will become.  I was overwhelmed at how little I really know about semantic technologies and data architectures.

But despite my infantile level understanding of these emerging technologies, I was struck by the seeming gap in all the talk. Nowhere could I find anyone talking much about how to make the next web more human by being more trusted.  Trust is the glue that holds society together in the real world and it should be the same in the web world too. But in the conference, you would be hard pressed to hear more than a passing homage to the idea of trust vis-à-vis the next gen web.

My Grandmother’s expression popped into my head probably…

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