Pattern Recognition and Four Other New Skills For The Future of Marketing

4 03 2009

“To understand is to perceive patterns” – Isaiah Berlin

There’s a great (and if I’m honest, mildly terrifying) post at Chief Marketing Technologist that  discusses some of the new skills that are critical for marketing success in the future.  You can read it here.


I strongly encourage you to read the whole thing.  But here are the 5 new skills the author discusses along with some takeaways from me.

1. Analytical Pattern Recognition. We are already in a data maelstrom of firehose-velocity info feeds. This will only get faster and more complex.  Great marketers have always been reductionists at their core, and that will be true in spades in the future.

Takeaway: Diving into the data hoping to come up with a single pearl of wisdom is a formula for drowning.  We must learn to float on top of it and observe where the tide is going.

2. Agile Project Management. The luxurious days of planning a few well-contained major campaigns for the year are largely gone. Now, you’ve got hundreds — often thousands — of micro-opportunities, swirling around the extended enterprise every week, the best of which must be quickly snatched and efficiently executed.

Takeaway: This creates enormous opportunities for smaller companies doing battle with Goliaths.  But it will only work for companies who are willing to  stop aping the habits of large companies because they want to “feel big”.

3. Experimental Curiosity and Rigor. Marketing is the new laboratory. The majority of marketing activities at this point should be run as tests, continually trying new alternatives, pushing on the edges, constantly on the lookout for shifts in response that portend new threats or opportunities.

Takeaway: This sounds great, but it also means we must ruthlessly whittle down the cost of each experiment. What’s the most we can learn, the fastest and cheapest way possible?

4. Systems Thinking. Tactics in one marketing silo impact the effectiveness of others (e.g., your search marketing ads) almost immediately. Social media accelerates cross-channel effects: it’s a new, living ecosystem. If engaged properly, that can be a powerful force multiplier; if mismanaged, it can be a train wreck.

Takeaway: Marketing Integration isn’t as simple as creating “matching luggage” where the TV, print and web stuff all look alike.  That’s the starting point, not the end.  The organizational challenge is tough: how can we get the various marketing silos to want to cooperate? Here again, an opportunity for smaller companies to win.

5. Mashable software fluency. Not all marketers have to become programmers, but those who understand how software is built and deployed in the new “mashable web” — a world of mashups, widgets, and APIs — will have a competitive advantage.

Takeaway: Marketing executives who can’t understand a word of this one need to go talk with a programmer. These are not geeks: they are business partners who can open doors you didn’t even realize existed.

Photo Credit: Mathieu Struck

Should Every CMO Be A CDMO?

24 02 2009

Carol Bartz, the new CEO of Yahoo! recently said:

“We shouldn’t let marketing decisions be made by a technologist who has never met a CMO”

I couldn’t agree more. But I’m coming to believe that the reverse may be equally true. Here’s a provocative thought.

cdmoWe shouldn’t let technical decisions be made by a CMO who has never met a technologist.

I think it’s time for Chief Marketing Officers to expand their titles to Chief Digital Marketing Officer. That means meeting people outside their comfort zones.

I don’t mean meeting with a digital marketing expert. Or a social media guru. And I don’t mean a sales rep from Hulu or Yahoo or Vimeo or any other company that ends in a fashionable vowel.

I mean meeting from time-to-time with an actual living, breathing programmer. Someone who speaks programming languages fluently, and English maybe not so much.

Why Not Let Someone Else Translate?

Don’t get me wrong. Most of the time, letting someone else translate is the right idea. It’s practical.

A CMO or director of interactive has to trust the experts he or she has assembled, otherwise what’s the point of having them?

But the CMO must also recognize that each of his subject matter experts will tend to view the overall problem through the lens of their own specialty.

Abraham Maslow had it right: “When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem begins to resemble a nail.” Inescapably, professionals love their specialties. They tend to believe their specialty is the best or even only solution for a problem. Pride — and profit — can get in the way.

The virtue of talking with someone who is completely outside these individual specialties is that they are OUTSIDE. That’s where all the fresh air usually is.

What Can A CMO and a Programmer Talk About?

I’ve been lucky enough to meet great CMOs and great programmers. In their day-to-day work lives, they might seem like they live on entirely different planets. But they share a critically important common ground.

That common ground is an openness to possibility, and an appetite for magic that is un-constricted by org charts and silos.

The best CMOs and the best programmers are able to climb out of the quotidian muck and get an overview of the whole situation. They almost have to talk to each other now and then, for things to change.

The Beauty of Misunderstanding

The great thing about CMOs talking directly with programmers occasionally is that it almost always opens up new possibilities. This happens, at least in part, because neither side entirely understands what the other person is talking about.

A completely misunderstood question tends to upend our established ways of thinking. We’re forced to discard our usual habits and patterns of thinking, because we realize they’re not going to work. If we can just relax and go with it, there’s a lot we can learn from straying from what we “know” and exploring what’s possible.

We Learn By Teaching

The other great benefit is that we often see new aspects of what we do when we have to explain it to someone who has no idea what we do, or why. Someone who’s a stranger to our world can ask very basic questions about why we do what we do without fear of looking dumb. Especially now, it’s good to revisit those basic questions: how much of what we’re doing is smart, and how much is simply an unexamined habit?

Smart People Are Smart People

The main thing I’ve learned from talking with techies is that most of them are scary smart and have a fantastic sense of humor. Maybe everybody in marketing should have a “Take A Techie for A Tequila Day”, and everybody in tech should have a “Meet A Marketer for a Martini Day” once a year.

Worst-case scenario? Everybody has a few laughs and learns a littlle. Best-case scenario: new ideas happen.

Smart people are smart people. Who can you learn from?

About Hard Times: A Closing Thought for 2008

23 12 2008

hardtimesA lot of people now, especially in marketing, are worried about hard times.

Hard times aren’t all bad.

They encourage us to be resourceful and to improve our focus.

They teach us to appreciate the things that go right, and to learn really useful lessons from the things that go wrong.

They teach us to be grateful for having a good job that challenges us, a family who loves us, and all the other things we tend to take for granted when times are easy.

Just as important, hard times weed out the charlatans — on both the agency and client side — who hurt the long-term growth of interactive marketing.

Hard times are about focusing on what works, and learning how to do our jobs even better.

Einstein said “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”

You don’t have to be a genius to find opportunity in 2009.

You just have to look around for it.


14 11 2008

Update 11/15/2008: Only a few days before the largest BitTorrent tracker will celebrate its 5th anniversary, the Pirate Bay reached a new milestone. The site now tracks 25 million peers, which is more than the entire populations of Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland and Denmark combined.


We’re at an important inflection point for marketing. And, it’s going almost entirely unreported and unremarked upon.

Here’s the thing. With video, consumers want “What I want, where I want, when I want.”

If the TV industry gets it right (see Hulu as a good example), we’ll have an amazing future with lots of opportunities for marketers and everyone in that food chain to do very well indeed.

brokentvIf the TV industry gets it wrong, it’s very likely that consumers will cobble together their own infrastructure. They will use torrents, peer-to-peer networks, DVDs,and whatever else they can to get “What I want, where I want, when I want”. If that happens, people will be able to get what they want for free, without seeing any advertising at all.

if that sounds impossible, ask a friend in the music business how it’s going for them today.

The technical hurdles to putting your own infrastructure together are getting lower every year, and once people get used to it there’s no turning back.

The smartest guy on this subject bar none is Shelly Palmer. If part of your job is selling things to people, I suggest you start reading what Shelly is saying right away, starting with today’s article on Jack Myers.

You should also read Shelly’s book, “Television Disrupted: The Transition from Network to Networked TV“. This is important stuff, and these are important days.

Photo Credit: The Union Forever

Can The iPhone Kill CPG Copy Testing?

13 10 2008

Last week I spent three days in a dark room in Philly at one-on-ones. 

They were OK, but still: is this any way to learn how consumers will really act? Or is there a marketing variant of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle that somehow renders all of our learning uncertain?

Maybe CPG marketers should borrow an idea from the researchers at IBM’s Almaden Research Center.  According to WIRED’s Blog Network, Almaden is:

“seeding Apple’s iPhone Applications Store with research projects in a bid to see how users in the real world take to them. (…) “

“In the first 24 hours of the program’s release on the App Store it bagged about 60 reviews from real users. Now more than 500 reviews have been written of it,” he says.

“You can never have a total sense of user experience by doing lab studies.” 

According to Tim Bajarin, president of consulting firm Creative Strategies,  “Researchers as well as software developers often come up with great ideas but don’t have ways to test them, especially from the standpoint of getting them to a lot of people. So this could be invaluable.”

It would be just as fair to say, “marketers as well as their agencies often come up with great ideas but don’t have reality-based ways to test them”. How can the iPhone and other interactive media help?

Three Ways To Turn Digital Marketing Into A Lab

If we’re paying attention, digital offers us all brand new opportunities to trade market research theory for a deep dive straight into reality.  If we’re wrong, we can learn and adjust quickly. If we’re on to something, we have the chance to learn while we earn.

Here are three ideas to consider:

  • Use Google To Test Ad Copy. Paid search is a dirt-cheap way to find a set of consumers who are in the market for your product and find out what words and ideas are motivating.  Direct marketers do this today. There’s no reason why brand marketers can’t learn here too.
  • Use YouTube To Get Feedback On TV Commercials. Every marketer I’ve ever worked with has had ideas that they love, but are so far outside of the box that they can’t figure out how to test them. Why not do some cheap production of these ideas and put them on YouTube and see if the idea has any traction? Obviously, you can’t do that if you’re announcing major news that you don’t want competition to know about. But, let’s be honest: most of the time, our brands don’t have major news.
  • Pay Attention To How Your Users Are Talking About You. People who like your product may be talking about it in a fresher, more imaginative, clearer way than you are.  The atmosphere at corporate HQ is unavoidably polluted with corporate lore, personalities, and competing egos. Your users are free of all that. There’s an excellent chance that they’re more free to get your communication right than you are. Same goes for product images on Flickr. Look at how people shoot photos of products in your category. I’ll bet those shots are a lot more exciting and a lot less constipated than what most of us have been shooting.If you have the budget, you can do what General Mills and Kraft have recently done: start their own word-of-mouth networks. General Mills’ “Pssst” gives members the inside skinny on the latest product news. Members can also test new sample kits via snail mail. similarly shares news, coupons and sampling offers. (Hat-tip to Prophet, who picked up the Brandweek article before I did.)

I appalud both companies for not falling prey to the notion that “marketers are not in control of their brands anymore”.  These marketing execs are doing exactly what they should do.

They’re learning to move as fast as their consumers do, and to operate in the same reality. That reality does not exist in sterile conference rooms, or thick binders, or behind two-way glass in Philly.

It’s where reality has always been: out there. General Mills and Kraft are out there.

Has your company been there lately? You may be surprised how different it looks lately.

The “Don’t Vote” Viral Video

6 10 2008

Very smart, well-produced viral video with Hollywood stars urging people to register to vote.

I believe cause-related marketing is one of the very best uses of social media. Whether you agree, or not, please pass this along to five friends :-)

Will The Crashes of Lehman Brothers and AIG Take Your Brand With Them?

17 09 2008

The already-skittish economy is making a lot of brands sea-sick. And, the relentlessly bad news out of Wall Street is making the seas even stormier.

Today’s Wall Street Journal reports store brands accounted for a record 26% of its grocery revenue in the quarter.

“In this economy, customers are much more willing to try a private-label item,” says Kroger CEO David Dillon.

In another sign of how the weak economy is changing shoppers’ behavior, Kroger has experienced “noticeable improvement” in sales at its discount-oriented stores, such as Food 4 Less, in the past three to six months.”

Need to fight off Private-Label pirates? Here are a few ideas.

Future of Media Roundtable

15 09 2008

Today, doubtless most of us are thinking more about the future of the banking industry and our 401Ks than about the future of media.

But if you’re in the mood to be distracted, read Media Post’s worthwhile recap of its “Future of Media Roundtable” held in New York. A bit more print-centric than I would have expected, but I guess it all depends on your perspective. Panelists included Bant Breen of IPG Emerging Media Lab, David Kenney of VivaKi, and Esther Dyson.

The Media Post story is available here.

Chaos Theory and The Italian Tourism Website

27 08 2008

CONFESSION:This post does not, in fact, have very much to do with CPG and digital marketing. But… it does speak volumes about culture, and why progress is often so difficult even when (especially when?) everyone seems to want it.

If you substitute individual city names or regions with “department” and the Italian Government with “top management”, this story may seem uncomfortably familiar.

I couldn’t love Italy more.  My wife and I got married there. The country is beautiful. But the government may be the world’s most fascinating trainwreck.

Here’s something I just read about:

Five years ago, Italy decides “let’s build a tourism website”. How hard could it be?

So far they’ve spent $66 million dollars.

Of course, the site still doesn’t work.

They can’t customize their homepage. They have two main databases; each flatly refuses to talk with the other. One assumes that if a conversation did become possible, it would quickly degenerate into an argument over wine, Sophia Loren, or the proper way to prepare veal.

When the Web site went live in February 2007, the first name of director Federico Fellini unaccountably became “Gioacchino.” Nobody knows why, or how.

Typical seafood dishes from the coastal region of Marche featured “pork roast with prunes.” Hugely popular in Poland. In that region of Italy? Not so much.

It’s hilarious and odd and feels entirely Italian; in fact it may be impossible to really understand unless you’ve been there.

Read more here.

P.S. Why is the Italian government such a mess? Maybe because while the history books claim Garibaldi unified Italy, each town still considers itself to be the center of the universe. And even if Reunification actually DID happen, nobody is sure when. Scholars think it started around 1815. When did it end? Was it around the 1871 Franco-Prussian War? Maybe. Except for the fact that the last città irredente did not join the Kingdom of Italy until after World War I. 

P.P.S. The photo is of an authentic Italian traffic jam, caused by an Italian trucker strike. It is not Photoshopped. More photos here.

Must-Read: CPG and Paid Search

17 08 2008

Ad Age has a must-read article on new research by Publicis Groupe’s MediaVest and Yahoo. It’s a pretty strong endorsement of paid search. But, since paid search basically means “Google” I’m not exactly how it benefits Yahoo. Am I alone in this?

In any case, the full article is here:


  • Sponsored text ads boosted awareness 160%
  • 20% more likely to have positive perception of brands in the top paid-search position
  • 30% more likely to consider purchasing a product when the brand is at the top of paid-search results
  • “Challenger” brands benefit more than category leaders from being at the top of both paid and natural search results.

“The implication is if you’re present, your awareness goes up, and if you’re not present, your awareness goes down,” said Matt Wilburn, senior category director for CPG at Yahoo.

What Do CPG Companies Currently Spend on Paid Search?

EMarketer estimates that CPG companies allocate only ~$140M-$180M (15-20%) of their total online spending to search. CPG search outlay amounts to only about 1% of the $16.4 billion the industry spent on other media last year.

What It Didn’t Test: Open Questions

  • Do paid-search ads increase offline sales? (That’s the subject of an upcoming third phase of the research)
  • Do strong rankings in organic search compensate for not appearing in paid search?

I’ll confess I was a late convert to paid search for my company’s brands. But, I’ve come around: the cost-benefit is too strong to ignore. Plus Google’s content network has been a strong performer.

Predictions? Will this article move more CPG companies to adopt paid search, or not?


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