Online Marketing

Authenticity…Again


Authenticity AgainAs content and influencer marketing continue to spiral up, this post from 2015 may be even more relevant today.

Over the last decade the digital marketing business has lived through a personality crisis. On the one hand there’s the relentless march of programmatic automation. On the other, native advertising — or sponsored content or branded entertainment or whatever else we’re calling the opposite of commoditization. Throughout this whole tedious game of semantic Twister, we’ve ignored the quality we should all be striving to embody; a quality that strengthens customer commitment, forges employee loyalty and gets us all closer to purpose-driven business marketing.

The quality – and the word – we’ve been grasping for is authenticity.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by AppNexus. Join AppNexus at this year’s Yield Executive Summit, taking place on Wednesday, September 28, in New York City.  We look forward to an exclusive day of discussions and presentations with top influencers in digital advertising as we examine the essential tools that every publisher must have for successful monetization and digital acceleration.

What we all do for a living may remain ridiculously complicated, but the answer may be just this simple. What consumers want from their bourbon, their coffee houses, their granola and their politicians – authenticity – may be exactly what marketers and agencies and publishers desperately crave in our world.

Whether you make blue jeans or offer DMP services, being authentic doesn’t mean that you’re the only one who makes what you make or does what you do. It means being clear and open about your process, your motivations, your beliefs. No matter how right or left brain your company is, there is something authentic and genuine about how you build your product or deliver your service; why you’re in business at all; and in what you believe as a company. Or at least there should be.

Look at two of the world’s most powerful technology companies – Apple and Google. Despite hugely complicated technology stacks and a sometimes confusing morass of products (most of which, in the case of Apple, are mass produced overseas), both companies still seem authentic to the customer. “Don’t’ Be Evil.” “Think Different.” “Designed by Apple in California.” Should any of our companies aim for less?

The thing about authenticity is that you can’t outsource it. Too often the world-class engineers who invented your product or the visionary CEO who got the company funded simply hand off the job to the marketing professionals, the copywriters or the ad agency. Too often those who sell to and service our customers are given talking points or white papers and left to fend for themselves.

Authentic isn’t what you say. It’s who you are. So who are you, then?


Asking Better Questions.


Asking Better QuestionsYou may have started reading this post expecting tips on asking your client better questions at the beginning of your next sales call.  On the contrary, this is about you and your organization asking yourselves better questions before you even think about approaching your next customer.

Back in 2014 I suggested some of the questions the industry should be asking; questions that would help shape a better, richer future for us all. Now I’d like to get more focused on how individual sellers, sales teams and companies should start setting better agendas by framing better questions. First, let’s look at the core issue we have as sellers:  we rush the problem so we can start talking about the solution.  We’re either responding to a simplistic goal — better response rate, higher levels of visibility, improved reach or — God forbid — “branding”  — or we suggest it ourselves.  Like so many of Pavlovian pooches, we just want to recognize the stimulus and then launch into our conditioned response…usually a torrent of facts, figures, statistics, claims and credentials.  It’s time to stop the madness.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Krux. Krux helps more than 180 of the world’s leading media companies and marketers grow revenue and deepen consumer engagement through more relevant, more valuable content, commerce, and media experiences. Industry analysts have repeatedly named Krux a leader and visionary in the data management space, citing its agility, innovation, and independence. Download the reports today to learn more.

I’m suggesting that we’d all be better off if we calmed down some and asked ourselves a few purposeful — almost existential — questions about how we create value for marketers and what they might really pay us for.  Here are a handful.

What unique or non-obvious problem is our company uniquely qualified to solve for this client?  You’re not going to read about this kind of an issue in the RFP.  This question forces you to be proactive and think about how your strengths align with the client’s needs.

How might we move beyond media and advertising problems and start solving business problems for this client?  Most sellers never get beyond the rudimentary concerns of the media planner, and that’s a shame.  Framing your solutions around business issues makes them more important and urgent…and gives you a seat at the client table.

If this client cancelled 100% of its advertising budget, how might our company still create value for them and earn investment from other budgets?  This is another way to get past the traps associated with “ad-centricity.”  Remember that advertising is seen by clients as a cost center — something to be managed and economized — while marketing is a profit center and a key to growth.

Knowing that your customer has more than enough places to run advertising (and doesn’t need another one), what’s the very best purpose and role our company could play for them?  This question is indeed an existential one:  At a time when ignoring swim lanes is becoming the norm, you don’t want to be the last one sitting politely in your silo waiting for the next budget. If you’re not trying to be more for your customer, you will almost certainly end up being less.

My standing recommendation to creative sellers is to buy a copy of “A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas” by Warren Berger.  It will change you.

There are just five seats left for the Seller Forum on June 7th in New York.  If you’re a qualified media sales leader and want to hear from key clients, analyze original research on seller mobility and understand how to retain your best sales people, request your invitation today.


The Meeting That Ate My Day.


The Meeting That Ate My DayOK, so maybe it’s not actually one endless internal meeting that’s consuming your entire business day, draining your company’s resources and crushing the spirits of those around you.  But it can sure feel that way.

In most of the companies I work for, meeting culture is out of control.  Unnecessary meetings are needlessly scheduled, badly planned and horribly executed.  Instead of providing clarity and moving critical initiatives forward, meeting culture creates even more confusion and uncertainty.  Its principal outcome is more meetings.  As a public service, here are a few rules and questions to help you end the madness of meeting culture and make the meetings you do end up holding productive and empowering.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Krux. Krux helps more than 180 of the world’s leading media companies and marketers grow revenue and deepen consumer engagement through more relevant, more valuable content, commerce, and media experiences. Industry analysts have repeatedly named Krux a leader and visionary in the data management space, citing its agility, innovation, and independence. Download the reports today to learn more.

Do We Even Need a Meeting?  The best meetings are sometimes the ones we don’t have at all.  Many of your meetings are automatic:  the weekly update, the kickoff meeting for the project and so on.  Before hitting send on that calendar invite, ask the question:  can we accomplish what we need to do without bringing everyone into the same physical or virtual space?  You’ll be surprised how often the answer is yes.

Don’t Use Meetings to Convey Factual Information.  If you can write it down briefly and clearly, don’t call a meeting to tell people the exact same stuff.  And here’s a tip:  if they won’t read your emails, they’re probably not going to really hear you in the meeting either.  The problem may be your own.

Answer “Why?” With a Verb.  Always ask “why are we having this meeting” (especially for the automatic ones) and challenge yourself to answer with an action verb.  Meetings should be about doing stuff.  Deciding.  Planning.  Prioritizing.  Choosing.  If the point of your meeting is to get everybody together or make sure everybody understands, then you’re setting up a pointless gathering.

Does It Have to Be a Half-Hour?  And Do We Need to Sit Down?  We always assume half-hour blocks for meetings, and we always book conference rooms.  A ten-minute stand up meeting can force clarity and action you won’t get around a conference table.

No Electronics.  If you simply have everyone leave their phones and laptops behind (or put them in a basket upon entering the meeting) you’ll have shorter, more productive meetings and breed a culture of respect and attention.  Knowing that no one else in the meeting is accessing their devices actually creates a sense of calm resignation.

No Hop-Ons.  There are almost always too many people in the meeting, and the reason they are there is too often political or based on fear of missing out.  Keep meetings as small and tight as possible.  And don’t be afraid to invite yourself to not attend a few of them.  You’ll be delighted by the new time you find on your own calendar.

If you’re a digital media sales leader and have not been invited to The Seller Forum on June 7th in New York, request your invitation today. Hear directly from top marketers, preview original research about seller mobility and retention, and discuss the wacky state of Q2.


Peoplematic.


PeoplematicThe dawn of this decade pretty much marked the beginning of the programmatic era of digital advertising and marketing, and the promise of smaller staffs and easy money was all the rage.  At its apex, publishers and agencies were told that the placement of a few tags was all that prevented them from making money while they slept.  Call it the dawn of the machines.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Krux. Krux helps more than 180 of the world’s leading media companies and marketers grow revenue and deepen consumer engagement through more relevant, more valuable content, commerce, and media experiences. Industry analysts have repeatedly named Krux a leader and visionary in the data management space, citing its agility, innovation, and independence. Download the reports today to learn more.

We all know now that the “easy RTB” chapter didn’t last long.  But like a weekend bender, it left the place a mess, with fraud piled up over in that corner, viewability issues spilled all over the carpet and marketers walking in and disapprovingly shaking their heads.  But this post is not about denying the onward march of programmatic automation; that would be silly.  No, I’m instead questioning one of its central principles: that the rise of programmatic means the exit of people.  I don’t believe it has and don’t think it ultimately will.  Let’s call this the Peoplematic age.

In today’s Peoplematic age, programmatic spending is most certainly on the rise.  Very large pluralities of total digital spend are being booked programmatically, and by all accounts there’s even more to come.  Yet at the same time, we are realizing that buy it programmatically isn’t the end of the sentence, it’s just the first phrase.  The easy RTB chapter came crashing down because marketers demanded sophisticated data plays and access to quality content environments.  This ushered in private exchanges, private marketplaces, programmatic direct and a host of other more sophisticated strategies.  And those strategies in turn demanded talented people to construct,oversee and execute them.

The idea of a centralized trading desk with a tiny handful of people and a fancy logo is now anachronistic.  Equally out of date is the publisher with one “programmatic guy” who jumps in as soon as somebody says the word.  In the Peoplematic age, programmatic trading is something that every agency and planning team must do, and programmatic sales is something every relevant seller must engage in.  Then there are the specialists — experts in data, programmatic process ninjas and more – who will continue to appear and propagate.

I think we’ll be in the Peoplematic age for a long time because of the inescapable fact that the system just runs better with talented people overseeing it. Managed service may sound awful to a venture capitalist or investment banker, but it’s how the lion’s share of successful programmatic campaigns and programs end up happening.

It’s as though HAL 9000, the sentient supercomputer from 2001: A Space Odyssey finally becomes self-aware.  And then realizes how much he really needs Dave.


Life Beyond Swim Lanes.


Life Beyond Swim LanesTwo years ago in this space I posted some thoughts on how the media and advertising world was getting curiouser and curiouser (“Crossdressing,” July 2014); how publishers were running creative studios, agencies were taking positions in media and marketers are becoming content producers. Thing have only gotten curiouser still.

I thought about this in light of the recent Publicis Groupe reorganization.   It seems that PG is doing what big agency groups do when bad things happen (like losing major business from Wal-Mart, P&G and Coca-Cola); they’re shuffling the org, merging a few divisions and creating some new agency and service brand names while retiring others. But while some of this may be window dressing, there is a profound identity crisis afoot that challenges us all to rethink our roles in the marketing mix.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Krux. Krux helps more than 180 of the world’s leading media companies and marketers grow revenue and deepen consumer engagement through more relevant, more valuable content, commerce, and media experiences. Industry analysts have repeatedly named Krux a leader and visionary in the data management space, citing its agility, innovation, and independence. Download the reports today to learn more.

Not too long ago, one could look at Terry Kawaja’s LUMAscape chart and say “that company is a DSP…that one is an ad server…and the one over there is a trading desk.” But that all seems quaintly anachronistic now. Big agencies are spinning out their own ad tech companies – Xaxis, for example – that look a lot like next generation ad networks. Companies that once positioned themselves as disinterested ad exchanges are now offering a range of tools and services to work the system. Other firms – the artists formerly known as SSPs (sell-side platforms) – now offer convenient services to the buy side as well. Fluidity is the name of the game now. But the danger is that a company that can be anything to anyone can easily end up standing for nothing at all. So how then to understand your place in the world and create a leadership vision in such a muddled, asymmetrical landscape? I believe it comes down to a handful of questions:

Where is the market underserved? What do we believe marketers and media companies deserve that they are currently not getting?

What non-obvious problems is our company uniquely qualified to serve?   What opportunities are we in a good position to help the customer explore?

Where are the gaps? Where do the handoffs and connections too often fail in current processes?

Once you and your team have really explored these questions (there are no quick answers), it’s best to assume no identity at all and instead work backward from the potential opportunity. That’s right: stop explaining how you’re no longer a DSP or that you only used to be a trading desk….nobody cares. Self-classification is the quickest path to marginalization.

The most successful companies in our world have always rejected labels, crossed borders and connected disparate ideas and markets. For others, it may just be that your box on the LUMAscape has turned into a prison cell.