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.

The world according to algorithms

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

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

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

Is it possible for agencies to embrace marketing “complexity”?

The ad business is going through a change not seen in 3 decades.

For 3 decades there were three chairs at the marketing table — agencies, brands and the media. All 3 parts technologically evolved in a symbiotic “one:many” model to grow the business. Agencies “produced once and ran many times”; brands (one) had a message to get out to many and each media property created its media content for many people.

But Internet was a fourth chair that came to the table. It started to dominate the other three chairs utterly disrupting the “one:many” efficient, profitable marketing model in favor of a “many:many” model brought on by social media and mobile technologies.

As technology continued to evolve much faster than the other chairs at the table, the result of this disequilibrium was first felt by the media which suffered a near fatal blow. Agencies, now are feeling the full brunt of this dynamic largely because the “complexity” of social media is taking more and more of the traditional ad budgets.

So while the business has gotten more complex, agencies are trapped in an old “one:many” business model and have no clear way to evolve. Clients do not pay often for agency’s’ technological learning curves (how many agency folks were at TechCrunch Disrupt for instance???). And agencies can not charge $10,000 for a bunch of twitter updates (if you want to sleep peacefully at night).

That’s why in this new scenario even agencies that want to embrace complexity — can not because the profitable “one:many” marketing business model does not support the “many:many” business model. Case in point. Digital media buying agencies are paid as a percentage of billings, but since there are few billings in social media — they do not create those types of programs for their clients. There is no incentive for a digital agency to develop a program with no/ low billings and high complexity – now is there?

So before agencies can embrace marketing complexity – we have to figure out how to make money at it. Talk about complex.

Judy Shapiro

Symantec and VeriSign; a new online trust powerhouse or some techno-Frankenstein built from mis-matched parts.

This little, nerdy, techie nichy type of article would normally go right over my head, but given my background in security (Computer Associates and Comodo), the recent news about Symantec acquiring VeriSign got me thinking. The deal, in a nutshell, means that Symantec, known for its security suite is looking to expand into the authentication business by buying VeriSign, a certification authority, whose core product, SSL certificates, is BTW shrinking.

Here’s the official Symantec spin:

The combination of VeriSign’s security products, services and recognition as the most trusted brand online and Symantec’s leading security solutions and widespread distribution will enable Symantec to deliver on its vision of a world where people have simple and secure access to their information from anywhere.”

Symantec and VeriSign actually have a lot in common. They both grew by acquiring technology (as an aside I think Symantec is good at integrating new companies into its line-up). Both are in a commodity business with real challenges in managing partners and pricing:

“With this acquisition, we extend our strategy to create the most trusted brand…The VeriSign check mark is the most recognized symbol of trust online… Symantec’s security solutions and the company’s Norton-branded suites protect more than one billion systems and users around the world. By bringing these security assets together, Symantec will become the leading source of trust online.”

But one is left scratching their head when you continue to read the Symantec explanation of why they are acquiring VeriSign. Here is clincher:

“Symantec plans to incorporate the VeriSign check mark into a new logo to convey that it is safe to communicate, transact commerce and exchange information online.”

You read right. While the clearly appreciate the power of the VeriSign icon – they intend to ditch it. Something does not compute.

What do I think is going on here? For my money, both companies needed each other as a defensive stance rather than as growth measure. Let’s start with VeriSign. Their product line has come under significant pressure from a wide variety of sources given the wide net of their largely unsuccessful acquisition efforts. Worse, in their core SSL business, there was no way to maintain a premium pricing structure given the success of value based alternatives such as GlobalSign or Comodo.

As for Symantec, they are frantically acquiring companies and the VeriSign deal was the third encryption-related purchase for Symantec in three weeks! Their land grab in the authentication space is necessary because; a) there little home grown technology to build from and b) as security solutions become utterly commoditized, the higher margin opportunities are left in authentication services.

I can only speculate on the net gain or loss for the shareholders of both companies, but Symantec’s sudden fondness for becoming “…the leading source of trust online” seems rather “Johnny come lately” especially given their current “confidence in a connected world” focus.

Becoming a “leading source of online trust” is not something you wake up to one morning and decide to do. It is has to be the central “why” to a company. It has to drive how you innovate, what you acquire and how you build your offerings. Have I ever seen that kind of intense commitment to online trust from Symantec? Nope. Can you say that the VeriSign is a brand that means some notion of online trust? Yup. Are either company known as a technology innovator? No and not in this lifetime.

That’s why when you add this acquisition to the other companies Symantec acquired, you start getting this vague techno-Frankenstein quality to its brand as though some “mad board of techno-scientists” tried to create a viable company from the parts other companies. Paying $1.3B for a company with about $400MM in sales seems a lot to pay so possibly some “trust” dust will cling to the Symantec brand. IMHO though – the math doesn’t add up.

But hey – don’t trust my opinion – I’m just a curious bystander.

Judy Shapiro

Brands becoming Publishers

I came across this white paper from R2I, a technology company serving the marketing industry that discusses how brands are evolving to become publishers.

Insightful and worth a read.  Here is an excerpt:

The Past:

Before the Internet, and even for some years after its rise as a consumer tool, the roles of retail brands and publishers were distinct and complementary. Publishers catered to, and often created, communities of interest, delivering compelling content and facilitating dialogue within the group. Brands, alternately, would seek out these communities and pay publishers to have their community-targeted advertisements delivered within this forum.

And so it remained for generations…

The paradigm shift

Today the capabilities available to each participant in this relationship have changed profoundly. Search technology in particular has changed purchasing behavior significantly. Customers now have the power to gather information and opinions from multiple sources. Communities of interest, instead of being mediated by publishers, are now self-organizing, appearing on social networks, blogs, news sites, and even retail sites. Retail brands, for their part, have clearly come to recognize this shift and have begun in earnest to deliver not just ads, but community-focused content directly into these forums.

In fact, when examining a day in the life of a brand and a publisher – they don’t seem to be that different anymore. For both, their job is to:

o Create communities of interest

o Deliver compelling content

o Facilitate community dialogue

o Monetize through advertising

Read the White Paper here.

http://trenchwars.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/r2integrated-white-paper-brands-becoming-publishers-21.pdf

Judy Shapiro

Social Media’s the Little Engine That Can Build Awareness

Here Are Six Reasons Why It Will in 2010

By Judy Shapiro

Published in Advertising Age;  December 16, 2009

http://adage.com/digitalnext/post?article_id=141109

Remember the children’s story “The Little Engine That Could”? It told of how the big shiny engines were not up to the task of getting up over the hill to deliver the toys to the kids in time for the holidays. Instead, despite the skeptics, it was the little engine in an act of pure will, that kept telling itself, “I think I can, I think I can,” who was able to get over the big hill to get the job done.

In some ways, social media is like that little engine (and I use the term social media in its broadest sense to encompass digital and social media). Everyone is playing with social media, but there is a deeply held perception that social media lacks mass audience reach, measurability and depth to get the job done. This perception fuels the debate of whether digital agencies are “ready to lead,” which as been a hot topic even within this very forum. Some digital agencies contend that social media is mature enough to be the leading vehicle whereas big agencies stay true to the law of large numbers that traditional media reliably delivers.

But the debate about who should lead seems rather irrelevant, because the key concern should be what will work to get over that “awareness hill” that every advertiser must scale to achieve business results. Is the little social media engine ready to scale the big hill?

“I think it can” and here’s why.

When social media exploded on the scene (and I think that’s a fair characterization), it garnered attention because it held the promise of microtargeting in combination with a new level of engagement that one-way traditional advertising could never duplicate. No one doubted the value of reaching people in these highly engaged environments, but no one really knew how to do it efficiently en masse. Large agencies operated within the traditional ad model that delivered numbers while digital agencies tended to rely on the “viral” nature of their tactics to deliver large numbers. That approach was too hit-and-miss to satisfy most businesses and rightfully so.

This is why, until now, social media has not captured a larger share of big advertisers’ budgets — it seems oxymoronic that social media’s microtargeting capability can ever deliver mass audiences.

But like our little engine, I believe 2010 will be the year where the social media finally says “I think I can” to deliver large audiences because the technology pieces are coming together to create the formula for audience reach, measurability and interactivity that yield intent and business results. There is a new maturity in this space as represented, for example, by marketers who now understand that thousands of Twitter followers has no direct relevance to effectiveness or that Facebook alone can not launch campaigns.

Here’s how the social media engine can be used to deliver mass audiences efficiently:

  • Think about creating “content campaigns” to drive a focused message using a multichannel approach, e.g video, mobile marketing, social networks and even traditional media. This approach puts the value on content as an audience builder but in a very strategic way. And to help content campaigns along, there are innovative new technology companies, like WebCollage, that offer content syndication and management services to make this task very efficient on a large scale.
  • Tap into the power of your customer service organization to be your social-media front-line soldiers. It is one of the most powerful ways to achieve mass reach within current organizational resources. JetBlue is a great example here as they make it a point to respond to every tweet within minutes.
  • Create mobile apps to propel new interactions while allowing you to bake in the viral looping element. Gap Style Mixer is a great example; the app gets you in-store discounts while letting you share the discounts with friends.
  • Use behaviorally appropriate ad networks as the “carpet layer” of a social-media campaign to deliver large number of impressions similar to the old fashioned GRP (gross rating points) of TV. But to ensure that impressions deliver interactivity, weave in a diversity of behavioral targeting opportunities and retargeting programs from companies like FetchBack or SearchIgnite (this is where you re-present ad an to a target who did not respond the first time).
  • Adapt real-world social networks to extend the reach of your social media campaigns. One innovative company in this space is called HouseParty, which allows people to host real world parties for product sampling (think Tupperware parties or Avon Ladies). This company cleverly utilizes social media so they can deliver large scale numbers quickly and efficiently.
  • Introduce new tools to measure social media that focus on engagement, interactivity and intent. One great example is a company called Nuconomy, which provides new tools to understand how interactivity drives intent and sales.

As in our story, when the little engine scaled over the hill, it gleefully said “I thought I could, I thought I could.” Perhaps 2010 will be the year when the social media is able to say the same.

Judy Shapiro

Twitter’s growing pains in 2010.

I have been tracking Twitter much like a bird lover would affectionately monitor a prize species through their every migratory move in an effort to gain that prized sighting. So when I notice a flutter of Twitter buzz that Twitter is profitable – it perked me right up.

My first instinct when I read the tweets was to say; “Well done”.  But when one reads a bit more, one is struck by the realization that their new profitability engine was because of some cash deals rather than a sustainable monetization engine where, gasp, Twitter  actually sells a service to a “Judy Consumer”.

No such business maturity seems to hover anywhere near the Twitter nest. This is probably why Twitter has some serious skeptics, myself among them sometimes. “When will they grow up” I ask myself, “and create a real business with real services.”

But I see no such plans yet, nor, do any of the business analysts who should know. Sure, I see how Twitter caters to a few industries brilliantly – the media world and the PR world for instance. But I don’t see any deepening of “Judy Consumer’s” attachment to Twitter.

Instead, we hear loud twittering about how business can use Twitter to great effect or endless schemes where businesses can use Twitter to promote themselves. And all this business exploitation of Twitter carries the real risk that it will alienate its fragile consumer base which BTW has so many ghost users that its hard to get a real tally of who lives  in Twit-o-ville.

Yet, I can easily imagine some consumer friendly services with just a bit of mature business thinking. For instance, I love Twitter because it has become a highly accurate, human filtered way to sift through the info saturated digital world. The list of people I follow on Twitter is a mere 24 (I have a paltry 185 group of hardy followers) and is highly structured into three rough tiers: about 1/3 are made of up huge news publishers so I hear about the big news items (e.g. CNN), then another 1/3 is made up of a group of “specialty” reporters and pundits covering categories that are important to me (e.g. Guy Kawaski). The final 1/3 are folks who amuse me or are likely to find that quirky item on the web that I would never ever find on my own.  Surely, other people use Twitter the way I do and I bet there’s a paid service in there somewhere.

Maybe I am too hard on Twitter. Maybe they are thinking along these lines anyway. Or maybe Twitter wants to continue its Peter Pan life within the cocoon of the techno-rati.

Maybe.

But here’s a thought for you Twitter folks to help you on your journey of maturation. When you wake up tomorrow pretend that you have no idea about how you are going to make payroll in the next four weeks. Or for a change, forget that you have oodles of someone else’s cash in the bank and try to figure out how to convince your first 1,000 prospects to buy from you. You’d be amazed at quickly you grow up in the process.

Take a chance and join us in the grown up world – we’re ready to welcome you with open arms.

Judy Shapiro

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,193 other followers