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.

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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

The best 9 lessons in social marketing mastery I learned from my Yiddishe Grandmother

There are others before me who gratefully acknowledge the marketing lessons their grandparents taught them, e.g.  Eric Fulwiler and I now happily contribute to this chorus of gratitude.

It was my Yiddishe Grandmother, long gone before social media ever hit, who when I think about it, was a “maven” (Subject Matter Expert) in the world of social media. I’ve seen her work the social “networking” dynamic at level that few people get to encounter and it’s probably why I am so bullish on social media’s potential to be the major platform that will drive marketing for the next decade.

To appreciate why she was such a powerful teacher requires a brief understanding of her life. My Grandmother, Margit Grosz was born at the beginning of the 20th century in Hungary – the daughter of a highly respected and mystical Hasidic rabbi. She married a young Rabbi and by the time World World II crashed in on her world, she had nine children. On December 3, 1944, she and eight of her youngest children marched into Bergen Belsen, (my father was the “oldest” at 15 and my youngest uncle a mere baby of about 8 months).

This story should have had a tragic end, but in fact she did the remarkable – she was able to save every single one of her children after having endured six months in the death camp. After the war, her influence broadened and she helped thousands as the “Rebbetzin”, literally meaning Rabbi’s wife but also conferring on her the honorary title of spiritual leader, of the shattered Hasidic survivors. As one her oldest grandchildren (out of 100ish), I often accompanied her on her expeditions (reluctantly I must admit) but  I had the chance to witness first hand how to create a thriving socially connected set of networks to the benefit of all. Her wisdom influences me today as I think about how to harness the power of social networking to achieve business results.

This list, inspired by her, I dedicate to her.

1. Keep it simple, direct and honest.

Perhaps the most powerful way to explain this point is explain how my Grandmother saved her children in Bergen Belsen. I will let my father’s account describe what happened next (written when he was in his in fifties):

The morning after our arrival, we were ordered to line up for “appel”, which was roll call. It commenced at 8:00 a.m.  One day, the snow was ankle deep and it was bitter cold. My youngest brother, Chaim, at only eight months was nursing. My mother tried her best to keep him warm and quiet in her arms. The other children were crying bitterly. The one-eyed officer suddenly approached my Mother and began to yell in her face; “What are they crying about? I have my job to do.”

My Mother answered simply; “Listen – can’t you hear the cries of my children?”

Then that one-eyed sergeant announced; “From now on, your children can remain in their bunks. I will come inside and count them in their beds every day.”

What is remarkable is that her simple, direct one line appeal, which seemed wholly inadequate, would have achieved such life savings results. This story cemented in my mind the power of direct engagement. Over the years, I saw again and again how her direct and simple approach achieved results beyond what would have been expected. I saw her get CEOs of major corporations to make major donations of money, goods and services and I saw politicians agree to her requests. Simplicity, directness and honesty is a powerful engine for influencing.

2. Keep engaging.

I never knew until my twenties that sometimes family fights resulted in a complete break down in communications. I had never witnessed it. In my world, if a family dispute escalated to the point of a complete rupture, she forced open the lines of communications. In her mind, keep engaging to keep people connected – no matter what.

That is true in social media too. One must keep the community engaged with people, management and technology. One must manage the interactions so that everyone can feel safe to participate.

3. Make sure everyone in the community benefits.

She had a remarkable ability to use the power of her diverse networks to the benefit of all. I saw how she fluidly moved from one network to another creating loose, cross network associations to achieve a task at hand. She got the CEO of Dupont to donate a huge shipment of contact paper twice a year to redecorate the heavily worn surfaces of the synagogues in the neighborhood (they could not afford new furniture). She then used the leftover it to redecorate and brighten desolate rooms in state run mental institutions for children. (Sidebar – It turned out years later, I learned that my husband’s uncle was a patient in one of the institutions she rehabilitated and who clearly remembered “The Rebbetzin”. What are the chances of that!!)

Translating this lesson to social network marketing means to learn to mix it up and create ways for different networks to cross pollinate so the there is exponential benefits to everyone.  For instance, create programs that pair x-genr’s looking to break into a new career with career veterans. Or create a program that pairs PC savvy kids from distant continents who share a similar passion. Well orchestrated, this is a potent power that can propel social networking programs.

4. Be generous with your time, talent and experience.

This lesson can be a challenge in today hyper connected, on call 24/7 business life. In the case of my Grandmother, if she was short of funds to buy gifts for kids over the holidays, she herself would crochet little dolls for them (and yes – she drafted us grandchildren to help her crochet her dolls). She devoted her time happily until the job was done.

In the context of social media marketing, this means showing social networking courtesy. If asked to donate your network to a good cause – do so. You can also create ways for members to be able to easily connect with each other by providing technology to enable video chat. Show communities how paying it forward always pays back in spades.

5. Assume the best in everyone.

I remember when I was little, my Grandmother was talking to a woman who had lost everyone in the war had become very bitter.  “How is it that you have no hate in your heart” in reference to a German neighbor. My Grandmother answered simply: “Eich hub niescht kan breraira”, “I have no choice”. In her mind, judgment or hate had no place in her world because she understood that it was a poison pill more harmful to her than anyone else. Instead, she assumed people to be of good character and intention and she operated accordingly.

This lesson holds true as we manage our social networks. We should assume that most people in communities are well meaning and well intentioned. Once we are guided by this principle, it puts a clear context for moderation business rules and community participation.

6. Be brave.

The most powerful way to bond community members is to be brave and share honestly with others. Being vulnerable demonstrates a strength that encourages others to gain courage. I learned this lesson when I observed her bravery time and again to venture outside her comfort zone to get what she needed for her community. Imagine the scene when my Grandmother, the Chasidic Rebbetzin who barely spoke English, went marching into the office of Dupont to ask for help. I admired her courage.

Bravery in the social media world requires guts and a willingness to put our company selves out there. A case in point is the recent Pepsi promotion where they used “crowdsourcing” to create their newest flavor. That kind of bravery encourages greatness in your community and in your marketing.

7. Create scalable intimacy.

There has been much research to suggest that our human brain can handle a community of, at most, about 150 people. A community larger than that and the cohesion begins to deteriorate. Similarly, it has been observed that, for instance, Twitter groups of a few hundred are intimate and interactive. Once you pass that threshold and cross into a group of thousands, interaction stops. My Grandmother understood this principle intuitively because she organized her social networks according to maternal line – not married couples. This was her uncharacteristic “data file system” which allowed her to manage multiple family groups of optimal size efficiently despite the vast expanses of family connections.

This lesson is probably one of the hardest for marketers to address because they need scale in order to achieve meaningful results, yet they must maintain the intimacy that social media allows. The trick, therefore, is to create tightly knit communities with synergistic interests that can bind but can scale too. An example, a book lover’s community where different genres can break off into micro communities. This might mean having hundreds of communities concurrently, but companies like Google, Dell and HP have developed programs to manage these diverse communities using lots of new technologies. At a smaller scale, there are self serve platform like SocialGo that help a company to manage groups efficiently.

8. Treat everyone with respect.

Seems obvious yet is surprisingly hard to execute in the social network world of today. The trick, as my Grandmother taught me is to refuse to categorize anyone according to stereotype segments. In her world she was blind to ethnicity, skin color, religious affiliation and or wealth. To her everyone was truly created equal and the simplicity of this approach created powerful allies for her. This principle applied to digital social networks would yield comparable results.

9. Think of others – not just yourself.

I leave this lesson for last because it was her hallmark and it was what made her beloved among the entire Hasidic community around the world. Translated to social media, it means that your goal for the network should be to create place for true connectivity and community – and not just for commerce purposes. It means introducing tools (e.g. video chat) and opportunities that enable connections and bonds that are can enrich all members.

If the orientation of the community is focused on the community — then there is a foundation for success. Focus outward before you focus inward.

There you have it – these 9 power lessons shape how I think about social networking today. I hope it inspires you too.

Judy Shapiro

Why did social media become so urgently important right now?

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 to our initial question; why has social media become so urgently important right now?

There are two primary factors driving this laser focus on social media worth exploring. First, I think it’s safe to say that from a purely demographic perspective, social media has just now reached the tipping point, a critical mass of adoption led by key demographic segments like women, baby boomers. (read: More women than men on social networks for more). But the second, equally important reason is that social marketing is emerging as a company’s worst marketing nightmare – it is where a company’s most important branding battles are waged and it is also largely uncontrolled and uncontrollable. It gets worse. It became very apparent that the old corporate branding rule book needs to get tossed out! Gone are the days when a core branding platform was centrally created and communicated to the various stakeholders groups in a coordinated way. In the new social media branding paradigm, the community now creates the brand positioning for companies – like it or not.

And the days when visual branding standards were created for distribution are dismantling in favor of a model where affiliate communities re-invent the identity of companies to suit the needs of their members.

In the end, the systems that companies used to pump out the corporate messages are caving under the more credible corporate branding connections happening in social networks outside corporate control.

So what’s a corporate marketer to do? This can be a tough one to answer, because this is still evolving. But a few principles will help ease the transition to this new model.

1) Develop a learning path for your people to understand the nuts ‘n bolts of social media.

Often, the mystery of social media reduces seasoned marketers to passive observers to these new branding dynamics. Change the dynamic by encouraging active exploration of this media.

2) Launch a secondary branding experiment using an “ignition point” topic.

Nothing instills confidence than real world experience. A way to accomplish this without risking the corporate brand is to find a topic that your users or prospects have passion for. Launch a mini social media campaign and start explore the tools, play with the networks, participate in the community and experience it just for the sake of learning. Agencies and consultants can only take you so far since nothing beats hands-on experience. Learn for yourself how the machinery of social marketing works and that’ll be invaluable in how to create the new corporate social branding paradigm for your brand.

3) Deploy a reputation measurement platform that tracks your social media visibility.

It is crucial to monitor the conversations going on about your brand and there are great platforms our there to help you do that. There are companies that measure Twitter influence, social networking topic trends and specific corporate conversation in social networks. Some platforms are free while others do not cost a lot.

4) Get serious about community creation and management.

Too often companies start a community but quickly realize that maintaining it is far more difficult. Commit the necessary resources to do community management well. If that is not an option – it’s best not to start at all until you can commit the necessary resources. But a well done community will deliver benefits ranging from engagement marketing to an early warning system should the brand falter.

So if social media seems to be taking over your marketing conversations – it’s useful to remember that it is going through a growth spurt. It has not yet matured into a systematic, predictable set of technologies and processes. Until it does, it helps to be brave and jump right in even if you seem to be splashing around. You’re not alone.

Judy Shapiro

So much to talk about but so pressed for time.

Spring is a time of intensity. Things seem to take on frenetic pace as though we want to cram in as much energy as possible when it is so available.  

Lots of tech marketing activity – as always. Lots of new “social media” activity – as always. Lots of things to distract and entertain – as always. 

I have been quiet here for a few weeks mostly because I have been absorbing it all. I have pondering the complexities of copyright in the digital age. I have turned over in my mind the practical concepts of The Trust Web. I consider how to help fix the systemic security issues in the delivery of online advertising.    

In short, so many things are blossoming at once that I find myself basking the thrill of it all. The work I am doing now in social media is delivering metric based results for brands. Since I treat social media like direct marketing, I can deliver campaigns that a brand understands how to work with. It is refreshing for them.  

There are some exciting projects in the near horizon, like the initiative to create security standards for the online ad world. Or the possibility of a social/ DM platform for campaign creation.  And the growth of our network called MingleMediaTV so that even though it just a few weeks old it has began to rank well in Alexa.  

So many possibilities. So much to learn. So little time it seems.  

But it’s what makes Spring so wonderful and I am enjoying the ride.  

Judy Shapiro

The Marketing Measurement Maze: measuring marketing is a mess.

Forgive the illustrative nature of the headline  – but I had to laugh out loud about this whole thing or else I would cry.

This post is a follow up to my previous post about how fragile measuring marketing technology really is based on a real time experience I was having with Technorati regarding the authority ranking of this blog.    Unhappily, my initial concerns about marketing measurement were realized so it is worth recapping.

About a week ago, by accident, I learn that according to Technorati this blog, getting a mere 1,000 visitors a month, vaulted 4x in authority rankings to about 400 when previously I ranked about 100. For about a week, I jumped up and down a few times going between 400 and then 600 (see pictures in my previous post).I contacted Technorati and told them I think there is a glitch. I got a very polite answer to tell me they are updating their rankings system and some blogs are radically shifting in position as a result.  Sounded rather fuzzy to me, but hey – what do I know?

After that response, over the course of the next 3 days, my blog bounced around some more in the 400 to 600 range and then yesterday I seem to have settled back into my original humble ranking of about 100. OK – I think – that sounds more reasonable – except now I am not even listed in the directory at all!

I went from a blogger superstar to a non entity in just three days and it is still not “unglitched”.

To put this into perspective, I get that when you are making improvement to a site, things go weird for a bit. But since Technorati is largely viewed as the authority on blogging ranking (and thus ad value), this whole episode is ample proof of the sorry state of measuring marketing efficacy. You often can’t trust the measurement data because of innocent technology glitches and then you have no way to verify the accuracy of the measurement reporting data you’re getting.

While it’s tempting to brush this aside as some little blimp in the world of marketing measurement – you can’t because the financial consequences can be significant. Imagine if my blog was a commerce oriented site or if I am advertiser trying to assess what’s the audience reach of all these blogs. Such variations in rankings can mean a lot of money gets spent or not depending on which side of the glitch you happen to fall on.  And this type of glitch is just the tip of the iceberg. I have seen measurement issues across the marketing landscape from traffic reporting to ad buys to data you get from PPD or CPL marketing programs.

Bottom line. It’s time to get serious about measuring marketing efficacy. Now it is a mess!

Judy Shapiro

Digital’s dirty little secret.

Digital and social marketing erupted on the scene with such a splash as to rock virtually every marketing boat on the seas. Its deeply disruptive nature was cloaked within the seductive promise of lower costs marketing programs to get the message out. The social media’s no/ low cost myth was bolstered by a wave of technology plug ‘n play platform companies offering low cost ways to create communities, syndicate distribution of content, automate social network interaction and track all this activity. Then the myth was popularized into cultist status by charismatic young CEOs, like the energetic Alexis Ohanian of Reddit who give clever presentations at places like TED about how “low cost” social media helped save the whales via a social media campaign called Mr. Splashy Pants.

The promise of a marketing holy grail seems closer than ever for marketers.

But that’s where the dirty little secret comes into play. While self serve platforms offer the promise of “self serve” – they rarely are. Almost always, the platform has to integrate with existing systems and that needs expertise. Most technology companies who offer these platforms know that. Most markers do not until they go through it themselves. Then, somewhere along the way the brand sees that the final TCO is higher than the self serve budget allows.

I must give as an example a particularly egregious platform example. There is an affiliate marketing platform that lets you build an entire affiliate site sell through their platform. They provide keyword assistance, a wysiwyg interface and hosting. The sales pitch is compelling; “the only barrier is you and if you go through the process, it will work”. And so forth. They make up acronyms that make it sound easy but isn’t. Now I looked at this platform carefully because a colleague was working with it. He told me it took him over a year to make his affiliate site work on this platform. I was curious. This guy was smart – why should a “self serve” platform take so long to get functional.

That’s when I realized in actually working with the platform that while it does have some great technology in it –  it is only useful if you are an expert with 10+ years experience – maybe. The promise of “easy, anyone can do it” are simply false. They make it so hard that, when inevitably you submit a question which I did, you receive a very nice though decidedly unhelpful response ending with pitch for services.

That’s what irks me. These platforms are being pitched as easy, low cost, no cost, self serve, plug n play, automated wonders of technology when the truth is they can not really deliver as promised. It is the rare company that can use any of these tech platforms as is. That’s the real world. And it is in many cases, there is a shameless bait and switch game being perpetrated on companies.

Is too much to ask for a little truth in advertising please? I fear in the new techno self serve world it may be.

Judy Shapiro

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