The Surprised Entrepreneur – Why Me?

These posts about my journey with this new venture are often characterized as a surprise. In fact, it’s a surprise on so many levels that the unlikeliness of this enterprise is, in itself, a pretty big surprise.

So in this sea of surprises – the biggest surprise rests in the unlikeliness of me as the one to coalesce this vision; only useful to ponder so that we know what makes us different from many other marketing tech companies out there today.

Clearly I am an outlier given my age, gender, training and temperament causing even the casual observer to wonder: “Why me?”

On the surface, one could point to my diversity of experience spanning B2B and B2C marketing. I’ve been fortunate to have worked in a diversity of industries spanning advertising (NWAyer), technology (Bell Labs, CloudLinux), software (CA, Comodo) and telecommunications (AT&T, Lucent, and Paltalk). The combination means I have a quirky understanding of how to look at a marketing situation from the brand point of view as well as the end-user perspective at the same time.

O.K. – That begins to answer the question but doesn’t wholly get at it since many of my colleagues are tech savvy too. While they express curiosity about the new marketing technology, they aren’t going off and creating new businesses.  Instead, most of my friends leading marketing agencies or marketing departments (like I was) are banging their heads against the marketing brick wall trying to figure out how to incorporate the “new” technologies into the “old” system profitably. In the chaos of “creative destruction” (a term coined by economist Joseph Schumpeter), my peers can’t see the marketing forest for the financial trees.

So again I ask; Why me?

In digging deeper, I then realize that my experience with communications networks gave me a unique understanding about social networks. Both types of networks serve a similar purpose – the efficient transport of a call or a marketing message from the network edge (the initiation point) through the switching stations along its way to its ultimate destination.

Side by Side Comparison: Telecom vs Social Media Network

It also became clear to me that as social networks evolved into a powerful marketing network – it urgently needed system architects. But I saw no hint of any serious understanding of the issue or how to address it – not at the agencies or the social network companies or even the armies of consultants who offer insights but few tactical road maps.

When at first I noted this architecture gap back in 2010, I wondered out loud in Ad Age about the impracticality of integrating new technologies into existing marketing systems in posts like “Five Trends That Marked TechCrunch Disrupt Conference 2010.”  Then, my wonderment continued unabated at the lack of system attention when I wrote: “Has Facebook jumped the Shark”. Actually, I was writing mostly in the hopes of uncovering the technology companies that were focused on solving this system gap. I knew someone had to it…

But all I heard was deafening silence. I seemed rather alone in recognizing the utter futility of trying to retro-fit the older marketing system with the newer technologies. The sheer tonnage of all these new marketing “platforms;” so defined because they incorporated some combination of the mighty  local, social, mobile triad; were built by technologists (usually under 30) and not marketers. This meant they were long on cool but pathetically short on practicality. Yet as slim as many of these businesses seemed, they were getting valuations disproportionate to their real world usefulness (think Groupon), further highlighting the underlying weakening of the business of marketing.  It was an ominous echo from a decade ago.

This explains “Why me.” It takes depth of experience to see beyond the buzz to the potent marketing model evolving. I wanted a role in that evolution largely because it seemed few of us with any real world marketing experience were doing the heavy lifting of operationalizing the brilliance of all this new technology.

The journey to understand “Why me” is useful in that it defines the business we are in – creating the system upon which the rich marketing innovation engine can flourish.  It’s a surprise that it is me – but perhaps, this is the sweetest surprise of all.

Judy Shapiro

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Does technology makes our lives easier?

Nope and here’s 10 ways technology actually makes our lives harder.

A while back, I wrote in Ad Age an article entitled; A Digital Myth: Technology Doesn’t Make Life Easier , http://adage.com/digitalnext/post?article_id=136533 where I explain that while technology makes tasks easier – it really does not make our lives easier. As an example, I compared the task of washing clothes in a machine versus a rock. Sure – a machine is far easier than a rock in the actual washing of the clothes. But if you add up all the other things that you need to do to make the machine work (the water infrastructure, the cost of repair, buying laundry detergent), we see that doing laundry via the trusty, highly reliable rock was far less complicated.

Since I wrote that article, I notice that the technology wars race are going as fiercely as ever, with techno-titans Google, Microsoft and Apple waging their epic battles for the heart and mind of Judy Consumer.

So, for a quiet moment, I wanted to share the 10 ways that technology most decidedly does not make our lives easier. I present this list, friends, knowing full well that I will be subjected to the inevitable backlashing  from tech fanboys. I have run afoul of them before – so gentlemen (I am being generous) – I’m ready — bring it on.

1) Harder to remember the everyday stuff of life.

This is a pet peeve which continues to drive me nuts because people don’t even try to remember the little mundane things of life anymore. With auto dial, auto login and “history” functions that tell you where you’ve been, our minds have devolved so that we can not easily remember these things.

I recognize we have more passwords, logins etc to remember than just 5 years ago but still – our ability for retaining simple little things seems gone. In the past, I made it point to know the phone number of my kid’s pediatrician and my immediate family. Now I don’t even know the cell phone number of my kids.

“Ok – what’s so bad about that?” you may ask. “Why waste those little grey cells on mundane memory tasks that our devices can do better and more conveniently?”  Good question – UNTIL you lose your phone or you have to change PCs – then you are in communications hell until you sort it all out.  My remedy is to force myself to recall key numbers.  As to the rest – oh well.

(Historical sidebar. Before the innovation of printing, our brains were capable of far greater acts of retaining information, as demonstrated by ancient Greek orators capacity to recite thousands of lines of poetry. Books, over time changed our biology so that our capacity to remember large quantity of information was diminished. So while I bemoan the loss of memory – I know it has happened before.)

2) Harder to keep your communications world “synced”.

I am going through this right now. I am working at a new company that is virtual. I now have 3 email accounts which are so cross forwarded to each other — it is a webmailtangle. I will figure it out but not without more pain that I think I should have to endure. I do not want to have to understand what POP or STMP or incoming or outgoing server configurations are.

And that just covers email! Now add the additional layers of IM, mobile, Google Voice, Blackberries, and all the identities we use to communicate in our social networks and you have communication complexity comparable to what a mid-sized company might have had 20 years ago.

It’s great that we are reachable 24/7 – but no one can seriously contend that all this connectivity makes our lives easier. In fact, it has become so complex, that new technologies are built to manage all these communications touchpoints.

Well that just about left “easy” in the dust.

3) Harder to dive deeply on any subject

A CEO I knew was very diligent about buying any book on marketing he thought would be useful. He himself never read any of them. Rather he had his people “summarize the book into key points”. I am sure if he read any of them, he may have gathered some insight that was lost on his people – but I understand the appeal of getting fed small info bits that are easy to snack on. So we take shortcuts. We scan text, we read extracts, we use twitter because 140 characters does not take long to absorb.

In fact, the attraction to digi-bytes has spawned new strategies in how to write as little as possible and still get the “a” message across. I am all for a Zen approach to content – simple and lean but it seems that content has become anorexic.

Business books tend to be written with very short telegraphic chapters with pithy titles like “The top 7 ways to [fill in the blank]…Try getting anyone to read an article that is more than a few paragraphs (and thanks to any of you who got this far on this decidedly non quick article).

Worse, far worse, I find myself getting impatient with writers who might, heavens, might take a few paragraphs to get to the point (the irony of this is not lost on me). The glorious joy of reading something with depth and substance seems to be on the endangered list.

4) Harder to be efficient

I think no one can deny that technology allows us do more things, usually at the same time. Talk, IM, tweet, web browse – all while driving (OK kidding- sorta).

My point is that new studies reveal that multitasking ain’t all it was cracked up to be.  Here’s an article from Wired that makes the point well; http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2009/08/multitasking/ (I write this as I have music blaring in my ear and I am IMing with two different colleagues. I notice how my typing deteriorates in direct relation to how many tasks I am trying to do at the same. It is not a pretty picture.)

5) Harder to get face time

Any parent out there knows what I am talking about here. Even Whoopi Goldberg observed (in a TV special) that while our children are smarter than we are, we are raising a generation of “barbarians”; children who are proficient tweeters, and IM’ers but who have too little interaction with real people in the real world. They seem almost out of place in the real world.  I am convinced that in 20 years, the lack of face time will have repercussions as these techno-savvy but socially naive children start having children of their own. Technology will take center stage in the training of their children. That can’t be good.

But it doesn’t stop there. In the business world, lack of face time has real costs today. Leaders spend less and less face time with their people often using cryptically crafted emails tapped out on a Blackberry’s to give complex instructions. That leaves a lot to the imagination – again – not always a good thing.

6) Harder to learn appreciation

I remember a few years ago I bought a traveling DVD/ TV player for the car (my kids were at the irritable age when car trips were tedious). Anyway, this device had wireless earphones, wireless controls with a luxurious 12” screen and detachable speakers. I was loving it. So much technology in such a compact, tidy device.

My kids were rather underwhelmed. For them, it was a convenience not in any way deserving of the reverence that I seemed to bestow on the thing. It takes A LOT to impress my teenage kids. It takes a lot to impress any teenager nowadays. What happens when they hit 30?  I guess to get a gee-whiz out of them might require a trip to the moon. And even then I wonder….

7) Harder to be loyal

Today, loyalty seems to be a quaint, sentimental notion that seems old fashioned. There is scant loyalty to be seen in relationship, jobs, brands, technology, geography.

We are comfortable meeting our “soul mate” online and with the powers of technology there are probably a few candidates who qualify. We are easily seduced to change brands with the scantest of promises. We don’t even remain loyalty to people within our newly created social networks bouncing from one network to another as easily as one changes a password.

Loyalty is out of fashion because maybe it is not really expected anymore; so much is so replaceable so easily. I miss loyalty in others and I make it point to practice it as actively as I can. In fact, people are often surprised at the loyalty I show to previous employers. From their perspective, it is so unexpected and unnecessary. I show loyalty as a way to express my gratitude to employers who enriched my career. It seems very necessary to me.

8 ) Harder to stay current and actually find the information you need

If anyone asks me why Twitter took off, I’d say it is because it gives people who want to stay current a convenient way to do so. That about sums it up for me.

Yet despite all the digi-byte ways we can get information, staying up to date seems to be getting harder. First to explore any subject online, you have to wade through digital stacks of garbage data. You have make decisions about what to information to trust or not. It sometimes feels like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack.

Then, once you have to figured out what information is worth keeping, you have to spend a heck of a lot of time connecting the dots because as we said in point 3, no one writes meaty articles much anymore. It feels more like a scavenger hunt where one gathers little info bits and then from these obtuse clues we hope it adds up to something substantial.

Staying current was something that always required a certain dedication and investment of time. It seems now though the sheer deluge of data (good and bad) makes this so much harder on everyone.

9) Harder to gain perspective

Context makes all the difference when you are trying to understand the truth of a topic or controversy. That is becoming more and more of a challenge because of the difficulty of vetting trustworthy information. It is harder to know which person has the credentials to back up information they disperse.

Yep, gaining perspective through online information can be like making your way through a maze – fraught with dead ends and frustrating misdirection. Someone should come up with a GPS system for data navigation. I would buy that in a heartbeat.

10) Harder to establish trust – the online kind

This should come as no surprise to anyone. In the beginning, before social media became such a dominant marketing tool, customer reviews had power to influence, people you knew were trying to friend you and online connectivity was a joy because it could help you stay connected on a global scale.

But with the commercialization of social media, one consequence has been that trust has plummeted. A recent Ad Age article ; In Age of Friending, Consumers Trust Their Friends Less, explains that; “Only 25% of People Find Peers Credible, Flying in Face of Social-Media Wisdom” according to an Edelman study http://adage.com/article?article_id=141972. Simply, trust diminishes in direct proportion to the growth of social networks because it is hard to authenticate the identity of people online. This trust gap makes many online interactions harder to conduct.

To sum up, lest I leave you with the wrong impression — the upside of all this technology is amazing – in every respect. But it comes at a price that is perhaps more dear than first realized. So I advocate a new techno consciousness that doesn’t fall for the promise that “technology makes our lives easier”.

At least not on my watch.

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

A digital fairytale

Once upon a time, there was a king that owned lots and lots of content. Now this king, let’s just call him King M, controlled how the people got his content. They had to pay him a content tax or sit through commercials. Either way, the people all had to pay him and he was very very happy. And very very rich.

But then one day, the Internet threatened his kingdom because people could get content lots of ways and did not have to pay King M his due.

He was very very unhappy.

So to fight the evil Internet and it’s main warrier, Google, King M tried to make all his pages seem invisible to Google. King M hoped that the content would be safe behind his gated sites.

Alas, King M underestimated how determined people would be to get his content. And while this tactic may work for a bit – this strategy can not win the war. Content, like water, will ooze through the cracks on the Internet, and find its way out.

King M would do better to understand that content simply attracts – yes better content attracts better – but that’s all content can do in the digital world – attract audiences. No longer would people will be willing to pay for content – no matter how much King M raged.  The people will pay for interesting, new ways to engage with the content – like in rich community places or new ways to access the content. People will pay for new ways to consume the content.

But King M did not see the wisdom of this tactic. Unfortunately for the people living in King M’s kingdom, they will have to bear the brunt of King M foolish battle strategy. Hopefully, King M will learn his lesson before too much digital blood is shed.

One can only hope.

Judy Shapiro

http://twitter.com/judyshapiro

Why Google Reminds me of AT&T – Take 2. Can you spell DOJ?

Many of you will remember the July 7 article in AdAge on Why Google Voice Reminds Me of AT&T, where I broadly outlined how Google, like AT&T before it, can be undone by its ambition to dominate a key “infrastructure” sector, like the web. I contended in the article that, much like AT&T’s quest to dominate information systems, Google’s quest to dominate web services can divert precious resources from core businesses leaving it weaker not stronger.

The article generated, uh, considerable conversation; some polite, some not – but most were incredulous that I could even dare to make such a comparison.

Now, a mere 3 weeks later, Fred Vogelstein of Wired Magazine chivalrously comes to my defense (however unwittingly on his part) with his article; “Keyword: Monopoly …Why is Obama’s top antitrust cop gunning for Google.” where he explores the Department of Justice’s newly launched anti-trust investigation of Google (see where this is going?).

The article explains why the DOJ is going after Google now:

“Recently, Google’s size and ambitions have begun to obscure its halo. Advertisers watch nervously as the company’s share of the search-advertising market have jumped to 75% from 50% …Google’s largest problem isn’t what the company is today; its what is plans to become. Google aims to create a world in which web services replace desktop software.”

Does this not sound familiar?  The government gets nervous whenever one, very large, commercial enterprise wants to dominate any key infrastructure, whether it is software, information or the web. It was why AT&T and Microsoft were targeted in their day and it explains the DOJ timing now.

This investigation is yet another element demonstrating the parallel between the two companies. Sadly, the DOJ investigation changed everything for AT&T and it is likely to fundamentally change how Google does business, even if the case is not brought for years.  You see, once the government had a “virtual” seat at the AT&T table, the lawyers started running the show. It slowed us down, blunted much of our competitive bite and even restricted which technologies we considered. It simply took the life out of AT&T. Google seems prone to face similar constraints.

At this point, I hope most of you can at least understand why I saw and continue to see a pattern repeating itself. The real question becomes what’s in store for Google? What can Google do better/ differently than either Microsoft or AT&T when they were at this critical crossroads? Maybe nothing – I don’t know. Yet, that does not seem to sit well given Google’s well earned reputation for its Google genius. So for a moment, using history as our guide, let’s consider “out loud” some of their choices – together.

In the face of a potential anti-trust suit, Google can follow the path of Microsoft to fight to keep Google whole. It can use the legal argument of “anyone can go to any number of competitors with a better mousetrap” strategy. But that approach is not without peril if the lesson of Bill Gates’ now infamous court testimony with the resulting loss of Microsoft public good will is any indication. Poof – in a virtual moment, a decade of good will was gone. And the irony of following in Microsoft’s legal footsteps is rich given Google’s corporate culture of being as much anti-Microsoft (e.g. their “Don’t be evil” mantra) as it is “for” anything.

Google has another option; one that celebrates what Google what it does most brilliantly; innovate with new business models to create sustainable, profitable and ethically oriented corporate growth. It is an option that follows the contours of AT&T’s footsteps (read on before you all descend into an epileptic shouting fit), but avoids its failures.

Here’s what I mean.

AT&T ended breaking itself up into seven companies (the 7 Baby Bells of which three are still around) after a lengthy and costly battle which left AT&T very much weakened in the process. Maybe, just maybe, Google takes the first, brave step to focus on getting smaller and better – not necessarily around becoming bigger. Google can consider innovative ways to spin off smaller, more sustainable businesses via a consortium or community of like-minded companies. This community of companies model was first tried successfully by the Bell Labs New Venture Group in the late 1990’s. It operated with a structure that let connected businesses share basic, scalable overhead services like HR or marketing, but they remained relatively small to allow for innovation and ideas to flow freely. I was there that time and I can attest to the fact that with this model, we were able to more quickly assess and launch new technologies with successful outcomes.

While getting “smaller” may echo back to the AT&T “breakup”, that’s where the similarities can end. AT&T never really embraced the notion that smaller companies could be stronger and more profitable. Perhaps Google, by staying true to its very DNA to “be a force for good on the Internet” can free us from outmoded business models where bigger is automatically assumed to be better. Google can keep its cool by being a role model for a well balanced company that’s big enough to stay strong and innovative but not too big that it drowns in its own grandeur and bureaucracy.

It has not been done yet. In this respect Google reminds me of no one. And maybe this is what saves them.

Judy Shapiro

This is a reprint from Ad Age DigitalNext column.

The Alchemy of Digital Marketing As Inspired by Renaissance Masters

Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.. Einstein

I was reading Thomas Cahill’s exquisitely written “Mysteries of the Middle Ages”, when it occurred to me that to be brilliant in marketing today is more like being a Renaissance man; trained in a broad range of skills that mesh the rational with intuition and the quantitative with imagination.  Not only that, though, I chose to plant this post in the soil of “alchemy” and the renaissance tradition precisely because the central theme of a Renaissance man that applies to us here is their ability to traverse between the rational and imagination effortlessly. They afforded equal vigor to the pursuit of scientific truths as they did to philosophical contemplation. This paradoxical and improbable juxtaposition created the fertile soil for brilliant minds like Francis Bacon and Thomas Aquinas to shape the foundation of our modern, techno-rich, hyper-fast digital world.

This is the context then within which I profile the “digital Renaissance marketing man” of today. We need to be broadly trained across a wide range of skills, yet also be trained at blending the rational with the “ephemeral”. We must learn to command quantitative statistical theory, exhibit sound creative judgment, understand commerce requirements, demonstrate keen graphic sensibilities, provide key insights on sociological trends, follow emerging Internet technologies, be sensitive to the platonic-sized demographics shifts and be masterful influencers.

In seeking to achieve such competency, we can be guided by the example of our Renaissance teachers through our commitment to a rigorous learning path inspired by the noble goal of learning simply for learning sake. In keeping with this tradition, I will advocate understanding digital marketing for the sheer joy of learning, without thought to commercial gain. With true inquiry as our motivation, truths are discovered and once insight is achieved, these newly acquired skills are yours to command to rival the accomplishments of any marketing scholar.

The philosopher’s stone of marketing

The philosopher’s stone was the legendary, magical substance supposedly capable of turning base metals into gold. I like the illusion for our purposes here, especially as it is consistent with our renaissance inspiration.

So suspend your modern sensibilities for a time so that we may begin our training into the secret alchemy of turning ordinary marketing tactics (base metals in our alchemy world) into marketing gold with the philosopher’s stone, embodied in digital marketing. Indeed, I contend that digital marketing’s transformative power similar to the philosopher’s stone can be activated if one learns the secret blend which is, in equal measure, rational analysis combined with creative intuition to use digital marketing to engage us.

That’s the rub though. Achieving this magical balance can be as elusive as catching the unicorn in the thick forest – and no wonder – it’s very difficult. The first problem we encounter is that digital marketing is so new that it cannot be analyzed with rational metrics. Then there’s the very practical concern around risking resources with new programs where it’s anyone’s guess as to how they will perform.  On the creative side, you have to rely on digital agencies or small technology companies to interpret the technology into a creative concept, often clouding your instincts given the sheer novelty of the medium.

But again disciplined training will help us rise above the challenges because we can learn new ways to evaluate these new media, and in ways that let us merge rational metrics with intuitive sensibilities. How we do it? By making a study of the Big 6 – the primary elements or ingredients of successful digital marketing.

6 Elements That Unleash the Transformative Power of Digital Marketing

I put forth what I think are the six main elements of digital marketing, as key to us today as the four  “roots” or elements of earth, air, fire and water were to Empedocles, a Greek philosopher and scientist  who lived in 5th cent BC Sicily.  With these 6 primary elements, one can begin spin magical digital marketing programs reasonably and reliably (notice that I continually merge the magic with the metric – a skill that comes with deliberate practice).

1) Seek knowledge – not just information.

A researcher once told me to be suspicious of any analyst who said numbers were objective. He helped me understand that data can provide the answer to any question – the trick is to know how to interpret the data.

I make this point to highlight how important it is in any quantitative exploratory that you be absolutely clear about what you want to know going in. You can drown in data without having learned how to do anything better. To avoid the “data analysis paralysis” trap, be disciplined and work on getting data that you can clearly see driving to a specific business result. It requires a lot of self discipline not to accumulate all types of data, but it will cost far more in a lack of focused answers than all the mounds of data will be worth. So seek out knowledge – not information.

2) Create solid information systems.

Building on the point above, creating solid business information systems is sadly often, overlooked and neglected, especially in technology companies (ironic – no?).  This is a great pity because solid information systems are a key touchstone of any successful digital marketing campaign, arguably any business.

Eventually, though, every company comes to the “OMG, we need a system to track campaigns” moment. Then “all of sudden” there is a flurry of urgency to buy or build systems that are dicey and prone to data glitches. This is a recipe for disaster for a couple of reasons.

First, building information systems takes discipline, patience and a creative approach to information architecture. If ever there was a time to spend money on outside help, this would be it. Get an information architect or business analyst to help you create a system with a management dashboard to get at high level, mission critical information quickly. Time is not your main consideration here – creating a solid system is.

Second, know that information systems take time to mature to work out the kinks. If the success of any program is wholly dependent on the data from these new systems … hold your breathe and be extra sure to manage everyone’s expectations. It is as likely to fail as it is to work in the first try at it.

If you find yourself in this “OMG” position, take firm hold of this project and drive it an actionable conclusion. Do not leave it solely to data architects or business analysts. Apply your judgment to create an information system that permits you to give data its due without ever being enslaved by it. If done correctly, this type of infrastructure will illuminate your business because you can trust the information to be solid and reliable without ever blinding you in the process.

3) Every program has a purpose and a place.

Yes, there are loads of new technologies out there and more to come and in greater frequency too, so it becomes difficult to evaluate all of them. To stay head of the curve, learn to apply the “rule of purpose” to each new idea. This rule requires that before any new technology is considered, it is linked to a specific marketing program or goal. By applying the “rule of purpose” you will evaluate only those programs that can drive business results today without wasting a lot of time on programs that are cool but not useful at the moment.

4) Use common sense in evaluating new approaches in digital marketing.

We’ve all been there. The sales person, properly groomed with the right amount of product to sculpt his perfected coiffed style, is giving you all the right promises; low CPA, low CPM, low CPR or high conversion, high efficiency or high impact.

But by the time he is done, it sounds almost too good to be true. If you find yourself getting that, “too good to be true” feeling, that’s your first red flag. Your common sense is trying to tell you something and you should listen with an appropriate amount of skepticism. Ask for business cases, be clear about how the program will be measured and include a contingency in the contract if something goes wrong.

Yet, the seduction of these programs demands we consider them seriously. We can heed the call only if the programs adhere to some basic requirements:

  • It can not divert more than 3% of budget in terms of time, cost and labor
  • It can not exceed your cost per acquisition metrics – and in most cases, these programs should beat current CPA metrics to make it worthwhile to divert efforts
  • The program does not rely one just one business metrics – but includes at least two success metrics
  • There is a clear “out” clause

Finally, after you have done your due diligence, be sure to apply the good old common sense filter again to the mix. If the program can withstand that scrutiny, then give it a whirl. Win or lose – you win because you learned something.

5) There’s no substitute for “hands on” experience.

Sorry to say this but nothing replaces personal experience. Renaissance training required lots of experimentation and we would be well advised to follow their lead. Unfortunately, sometimes agencies insulate us from this practical, real world experience much to our disadvantage. If they are a digital agency, then they advocate programs that are very technical, so no real personal learning is gained.  The larger agencies kinda avoid the whole mess by sticking to the mass media programs they can execute efficiently within their fees (labor intensive programs like social media is a nightmare for larger agencies given falling fees).

That pretty much leaves you on your own. So to understand this stuff, you gotta simply roll you sleeves up and play with it yourself. Use social media (be safe please) to tweet and twine so you can experience the interplay within the digital social world. Explore how Facebook is viral but within a limited sphere. Try new approaches within semantic and real time search engines.

It’s critical to stay curious and maintain a willingness to experiment and play. As we all know, play is a great teacher, so avail yourself of this powerful method of learning.

6) Celebrate the creative mind.

For those of us on the marketing front lines, we want silver bullet marketing answers. For instance, Martin Lindstrom’s book, Buy-ology, is highly seductive because it gives us a well organized list of mechanisms that can be used to evoke specific purchase responses. Yet, his well documented set of markers and triggers obscures the real art of creating successful marketing – the creative spark that draws us in and compels us forward in the purchase process. This creative magic is the powerful pixie dust we all desire in our marketing programs, but make no mistake – it is creative magic steeped in science. Really? You bet and here’s how it works.

First, learn to trust the accuracy of your inner voice to guide your judgment of a campaign. Love or hate – allow yourself to first appreciate your reaction and then try to understand why you reacted as you did.

Next, marry your creative instincts with the science of digital testing. Exploit the internet’s ability to let you test incessantly and iteratively. It provides a great learning laboratory for new ideas and combinations. This is how art can be realized through science and how we can bring the best of both the rational and the creative to work together.

Finally, utilize all the new learning in neuro-marketing courtesy of Lindstrom and others to add a fully integrated and optimized approach. Mix it all up and you get the magic potion that transforms mudane marketing into marketing that sustains businesses in these transformative times.

In conclusion, dear students, we are reminded that in the Renaissance, men understood how to merge the ethereal, sublime nature of art and magic with logic and rational thought. With that as our model, we can create the new “magic” of today’s brilliant digital marketing world.

Men of science are men of art living on the edge of mystery… borrowed from J. Robert Oppenheimer

Judy Shapiro

http://twitter.com/judyshapiro

PS – Given my training as a historian, I am deeply grateful to (and envious of ) Thomas Cahill for his clarity and precision with which he brings the lives of people from 800 years ago to life with relevance in today’s seemingly removed culture.

I hope the tone of this post is appreciated for its attempt to playfully discuss challenging problems in marketing.

BING versus Google: Will “Judy Consumer” get the difference?

We consumers seem to becoming just pawns in the power struggle between the two Internet born behemoths of Google and Microsoft. To Google, we are “products” to be sold to highest bidding advertiser and to Microsoft we have been reduced largely to a software license.  When I see the battle of these two corporate super powers play itself out on the grand stage, I am left feeling awed and also feeling rather puny too. 

 So when I read the plethora of opinions being spun by experts about whether BING is better than Google, I wonder what “Judy Consumer” thinks. I do suspect that no matter what the experts think, both views introduce largely technology benefits whose subtleties are probably largely lost on the vast majority of “Judy Consumers” in the real world who use this stuff.

 What the “Judy Consumers” of the world do know is the new BING advertising campaign which promises that BING is not a just search engine but a decision engine. I can imagine the agency/ client meetings assessing this positioning versus that. I can hear the focus group comments that came from the testing that no doubt went into the creation of this campaign. And I can certainly feel the excitement (maybe even a little tension) as the agency reported on the research results in support of the recommended campaign. Been there, done that.

 Clearly the BING campaign is meant to communicate that people will get to the relevant information they want faster than Google. But this almost a technical benefit (aka better filtering of search results) is lost in the grandiose nature of the BIG BING promise as a decision engine. Maybe I am just too independent minded (and not the primary target), but I can’t help resisting the notion that Microsoft technology will decide anything for me.  What I really want is technology to give me the information I need to make the decision I want. So the premise of a decision engine falls flat to my ears. But hey everyone’s a critic.

 So then I went to look at how does BING delivers in its decision making promise. I did the first search that came to mind – I searched my name. Ya’ know what? Google did much better and was more accurate than BING by far. In fact, I could compare results very efficiently via a site called bing-vs-google.com that David Pogue of the New York Times was kind enough to introduce me to in his recent article.  http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/09/technology/personaltech/09pogue.html?ref=technology   

 I tried again thinking that I am not nearly important enough to have a depth of results to get an adequate idea of how BING works. So I decided to search the term “online trust”. The results were no more satisfying this time. True – BING does have a few nifty features like the related searches and the excerpt from the site without having to click around, but beyond that, TBH, I could see no perceptible difference.

 Maybe I am not looking hard enough and I certainly did not put it through its paces as David Pogue did for his NY Times article. Or just maybe the differences are too subtle for “Judy Consumer” to notice or for anyone to even care enough about to look for these extras.  And this is where BING is at a distinct disadvantage because inertia is one of the most powerful marketing forces on the planet. While that’s good news for Google, it’s bad news for BING because I suspect people will try BING for kicks, but drift back to their inertia induced Google search patterns.

 So what will “Judy Consumer” really think? I don’t proclaim to know but I hope “Judy Consumer” makes up her own mind and not rely on either Microsoft or Google. Or the pundits either for that matter. They know too much.

Judy Shapiro (http://twitter.com/judyshapiro )

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