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

The surprised entrepreneur – I’m having the time of my life.

I am not sure what I expected to be doing at this point in my career. I have been blessed to have been at the center of the changing, blossoming technology landscape of the last 20+ years.  My earliest days were at an advertising agency called NW Ayer which gave me a broad perspective on Corporate America’s practices, problems and possibilities for triumph. I then gracefully made my way into the tech stars of Corporate America itself with stints at AT&T, Bell Labs, Lucent Technologies and Computer Associates. I also had the great good fortune of working at small innovative technology companies led by visionary innovative leaders. Two prime examples include Melih Abdulhayoglu, CEO of Comodo and Jason Katz, CEO of Paltalk.

This unusual combination of corporate marketing experience coupled with the feet on the streets training born of working at tech startups, gave me a balanced perspective of how the marketing business is evolving in this technology driven world.

So here we are.

The marketing business is going through a fundamental shift that throws into question almost every tactical practice built over the last 20 years. And, amazingly, it seems that just as marketing becomes this new discipline that weaves creativity into an interactive user experience that is tech heavy – it’s a perfect fit for my peculiar type of networking meets technology marketer experience.  

This seems nothing short of extraordinary. Which is why I am all the more stunned at the work I am doing today. I had not planned on any such seismic move in marketing, so I certainly did not plan on launching a marketing tech venture.

But here I am.

My journey has been one of surprising excitement at the possibilities in marketing excellence that was simply not possible before. The vision of this venture, therefore, is to take advantage of these new trends to deliver a sustainable and productive “marketing machine” (a phrase I attribute to Melih) that can turn the tables on how marketing gets done.

In our vision, we don’t approach monetization like Google or Facebook’s who are about pushing more accurate marketing messages to consumers. We are looking to deliver a marketing platform that lets consumers decide what content they see, what ads they see, how their social networks are managed, how they conduct commerce, even how they communicate within the social networks. The organizing principle for this platform is not ad-driven monetization but oriented around Judy Consumer. Our vision is to create the kind of system that we want to live with for the next 10 years . In effect, we want to give Judy Consumer the tech power to create her own personal “Trust Web.”

To the few friends we have shared our vision with – all have come to a similar conclusion – it is an ambitious (maybe too ambitious) vision. They are correct. But as I entered marketing in the 1980s most of marketing at first was human powered with marketing systems emerging later on.  

And here we are – again.

This next generation collection of marketing technologies is rich in creativity but is not organized for sustainable marketing programs for brands. This is work that I, among others, are focused on – creating v1.0 systems to operationalize the business of social marketing.  

We are all at just at the beginning of this journey and it’s a journey I didn’t expect to be taking at this point.

But here I am – and much to my surprise – I am having the time of my life.

Judy Shapiro

What does …”But I am not in marketing means” really mean?

If you’re in marketing, I know you’ve heard it. You’re in a meeting, and the CFO or the technology person prefaces a marketing idea with that phrase, “but I’m not in marketing”. It can mean a few things depending on who is saying it. It can mean; “Don’t blame me if this is a stupid idea – after all I am not in marketing.” Or it can mean, “Even I, who do not work in marketing, can figure this problem out.”

Either way, the implication is clear – don’t attach any stigma to them in the high likelihood that the idea fails. It is, in other words, their disclaimer and they are throwing you under the bus.

That’s not so unexpected given the fate of marketing as the corporate sacrificial lamb. But the perpetuation of that type of thinking is entirely misguided because modern marketing should not be thought of as just a functional organization. It should be thought of as a company wide discipline inclusive of everyone that touches any part of the customer experience. That probably covers most people in most companies.

So once that new type of marketing thinking is adopted, let’s turn our attention to understanding what people really mean when they say it (beyond the obvious CYA dimension of the expression).

The answer lies in why Judy Consumer was born, back in the halls of the Bell Labs New Venture Group of Lucent Technology on this very day about a decade ago.  Judy Consumer I was in marketing then and my job was to help developers determine what (if any) market value their innovations may have. I had to thread lightly – after all each technology was the personal creation of a developer. I had to understand a technology clearly before I could give the developer the news about whether their technology “baby” could have market value or not.

But getting a good understanding of a technology proved to be more of a challenge than you might think. Developers, as brilliant as they are, tend to be quite esoteric when describing the benefits of a technology. In other words, more often than not, when a developer explained a certain technology to me, I had no idea why anyone would use it.

It was then that Judy Consumer made her debut. I was working on a cool audio technology (5 point surround sound delivered with just 2 speakers), but the developer would speak in terms of decibel and sound perimeter and so forth. I understood the basics, but not the real benefit.

Then, in a moment of inspiration (or frustration – who knows), I told the developer, “Talk to me like I am Judy Consumer and not an employee here. Pretend you are explaining this technology to a friend in a coffee shop”. Then, I could see the light in his eyes and he started to describe why Judy Consumer would love this innovation.

It was then that I began to use the notion of Judy Consumer to help me get developers in the right frame of mind. I needed Judy Consumer to take these clever developers out of their technical world and into the real world where Judy Consumers really live.

But as I continued to use Judy Consumer over the years she helped me understand the phrase, “But I’m not in marketing” better. She helped me realize that what people really mean to say is that they don’t believe they could put themselves in the shoes of a Judy Consumer and see the world through her eyes. They lacked confidence that they had the imagination to get it right.

This is what people mean when they say they are not in marketing. And to some degree they are right. The ability to understand how someone else will respond to technology is what often separates the “marketing pro’s” from the hacks. But that does not let everyone else off the hook. Great marketers learn how to train their corporate and technology partners into seeing the world from the perspective of Judy Consumer.

That’s why I have become so attached to her. She helps me teach everyone in a company that they too are in marketing and Judy Consumer likes the company.

Judy Shapiro

%d bloggers like this: