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


How To Save Brand Advertising Online

3 03 2009

It’s not unusual for people to complain about the depressing state of brand advertising online.

What IS unusual is when somebody actually has an idea about how to improve matters.

What’s HUGELY unusual is when somebody has a lot of ideas and they’re all really, really good.


Troy Young, CMO at VideoEgg, has a bunch of really good ideas you need to know about. Read his post here and make sure you download the PDF. (Sorry, can’t direct link to the PDF.)

Way to go, Troy!

How Lucky Are You? And Why?

27 02 2009

There’s a great piece from Max Kalehoff in today’s MediaPost: “What Are Your Best Interview Questions?

There are a lot of good ideas in there, but one really made me think.


“On a scale of one to 10, how lucky are you — and why?

This question has received some attention lately amidst its application at Zappos, a customer-service company praised for its culture.

The question is based on research by psychologist Richard Wiseman, who explored psychological differences between people who consider themselves exceptionally lucky and those who consider themselves unlucky.

His work revealed that people are not born lucky, but, without realizing it, use four basic principles to create good fortune in their lives. They tend to:

– Have an attitude that maximizes chance opportunities;
– Be in touch with and cultivate their intuition;
– Expect good fortunes, which become self-fulfilling prophecies; and
– Thrive on bad fortune by taking control and creating positive outcomes.

According to Wiseman’s Web site, he’s developed techniques that help people increase their good fortune by thinking and behaving more like lucky people. That’s probably a great clinic for any organization, but I’d like to hire lucky people in the first place. I want them on my side!”

At the risk of being preachy, I’d say that too often, we forget how incredibly, insanely, foolishly lucky we are.

For example, if you’re reading this you’re alive, and reasonably healthy. You can see, you’re educated, and are computer-literate. Best of all, you have the unimaginable luxury of being able to think about philosophical issues instead of just survival issues.

There’s a lot of pessimism out there today, and I’m as guilty as the next guy about focusing on what’s wrong. A little optimism wouldn’t hurt.

Here’s a quote I just read that I thought was worth tacking up in my office:

“An optimist is someone who goes after Moby Dick in a rowboat and takes the tartar sauce with him.” – Zig Ziglar

What are you bringing to your job? Sour grapes? Or tartar sauce?

Photo Credit: Jeremy Brooks

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?

The General Does Battle Against The Private-Label Pirates, And Wins

19 02 2009

UPDATE 3/4/2009: Ad Age reports General Mills has given Target a month-long exclusive on retro box designs for Cheerios, Honey Nut Cheerios, Lucky Charms, Cocoa Puffs and Trix. They’re even giving away T-shirts with the old designs as part of the deal. Brilliant: these will stand out on shelf vs. private label, provide a nostalgia kick to Boomers, and it fits perfectly with Target’s image. I love this.


Private label pirates accounted for more than $81 billion in U.S sales in 2008. That’s a 10.2 percent leap over the previous year. And, it’s no secret that the worsening economy has put significant wind at their backs.

According to a Nielsen survey conducted in June/July 2008 (when the economic outlook was comparatively rosier than today), 72% of American consumers believed that private label products are good alternatives to name brands. And only 24% believed that name brand products are worth the extra price. No wonder that in late March, Wal-Mart plans to reintroduce its Great Value food line, with new packaging and more marketing support.

cheepiosYet General Mills (which gets about 19% of its revenue from Wal-Mart, by the way) is successfully fighting off private label, against the odds.

What are they doing right? What can we all learn?

No Retreat, No Surrender

General Mills knows that brand perceptions are built on marketing. Instead of pulling back, they’ve increased their spending 19% in the first half of fiscal 2009, which began in June. That’s a big investment in their brands, and it says a lot about their confidence. Private label pirates thrive on big-brand complacency: when companies innovate and go to market with those innovations, private label is forced to play catch up.

50 Year Olds Can Still Be Hot

This marketing spending includes major support for 50 year old cereal brands like Cheerios. There’s a significant effort to reach Baby Boomers, who will make up about half the U.S. population next year, and who apparently eat a whole lot of cereal.

This is smart because Boomers watch more TV than their kids and grandkids. Plus, keeping core brands vital and marketing to the right segments makes it harder for private label to make inroads.

Barriers to entry are critical when your product is just cereal in the shape of an “o”.

Betty Crocker’s On Your iPhone. Do You Have Any Cilantro?

The consumer spend is about more than TV and advertising.

It’s also about digital and utility.

General Mills is marching to the grocery store right next to Mom, on their iPhones.bettycrocker_iphone

General Mills just launched a free Betty Crocker iPhone app that includes a lot more than cake frosting. They’ve got everything from Chicken Enchiladas to Cactus, Zucchini and Red Pepper Salad.

It also makes smart use of technology with a “Surprise Me” button that brings up a random recipe. Pretty good for bored Moms who are tired of wracking their brains. The app is perhaps not as slick as Kraft’s iPhone app, but the utility is there.

General Mills is fighting the war where it matters.

Who else in CPG is doing this well today?

Can you point to other examples?

Can Social Media Scale For CPG After All?

9 01 2009

Ripple6 has a very good 11-part series of blog posts about social media and communities including video with Susan Ross of P&G.

It’s clear that both Susan and P&G have a strong understanding of this subject. I’m impressed.

modomatic1I’m intrigued by the Ripple 6 notion of “cloud communities”. Think of it as an RSS feed (aka syndicated content) to multiple communities all at the same time. What’s neat is that you can also select which communities get a piece of information — if a marketer exercises intelligent restraint, this enables them to participate in each community effectively.

It’s the most promising approach I’ve seen yet for getting social media efforts for CPG companies to scale effectively.

The series starts here. The page with P&G’s approach to Social Media starts here.

I’d love to hear comments from anybody who has worked with Ripple6. Anybody?

Photo Credit: Modomatic. Thanks to Creative Commons!

Fried Chicken, Pizza and Dumbbells

7 01 2009

A lot of marketers are talking about authenticity. And some are even getting pretty skilled at faking it.

Still, occasionally I see things that are so surprising I can hardly believe my eyes.

Yum Brands restaurants–Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Long John Silver’s and A&W–are offering consumers a free month-long trial membership for the online eFIT4Me tool. Created by fitness experts, it offers customized exercise programs, identifies eating patterns, and recommends nutritional habits.


Seriously? If this tool has any value, the very first advice it would offer is “stay away from KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and every other fat-laden, artery-clogging fast-food restaurant on the planet”.

I get that Yum Brands is trying to walk the walk of getting healthier. And I get that their corporate messaging is stressing that each of its restaurant chains offers “lower-calorie, better for you” menu options.

But still… isn’t there something startlingly disingenuous about putting a dumbell in a consumer’s hands for a month and helping them stuff their bellies with fried chicken and fish, pizza, burritos and french fries all year long?

If we’re going to be rigorously authentic, they should offer a free balloon angioplasty as a promotion instead.

If you worked for Yum Brands, would you have the nerve to suggest that?