Serve Somebody.


You may be a business man or some high-degree thief
They may call you doctor or they may call you chief

Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody – Bob Dylan

There was enough of a groundswell over last week’s post – Living in the Light – that I think it’s worth going a level deeper on the concept.  While last week I focused on the shape and demands on us as companies and individuals in current age of reckoning on privacy, fairness and data security, this week i want to get specific.

As I write this I’m at Terry Kawaja’s LUMA Digital Media Summit listening to an interview with author Andrew Keen (How to Fix the Future, The Internet is Not the Answer) on the very reckoning – social, political and commercial – that I called out last week.  One line from Keen is ringing in my ears right now:

Computers can’t have goals. Algorithms can never have agency.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Salesforce DMP. Salesforce DMP allows you to capture, unify, and activate your data to strengthen consumer relationships across every touchpoint. Find out more here.

Over the past two decades we’ve allowed the capacity of technology to define its morality and mission.  Because it can, therefore it may, therefore it must.  We’ve used this libertarian formula to encourage ad tech for the sake of ad tech, data for the sake of data.  What has been largely missing from the discussion is human agency:  people following purpose; individuals setting goals; all of us making values-based decisions about what we should do, why, and for whom.

You gotta serve somebody.  Perhaps the most important leadership question in any organization is simply Who do we serve?  Or maybe that only sounds like a simple question.   I think at this point the vague platitudes of Google (Don’t be Evil) and Facebook (Bring the World Closer Together) have not been particularly helpful or instructive.  Instead, they (and we) should decisively make a call about who the ultimate customer is.  If there’s a jump-ball or a conflict of agendas, who do we side with?

Is it the consumer?  If so, we make very different decisions about privacy and value that we have over the past 20 years.  Is it the marketer?  If so, then we treat their money like it is our own and become advocates for creating ever more value for their investments with us.  Is it the shareholders?  The Venture Capitalists?  The Bankers?  Well, OK, but if you are making your decisions for them, then you are by default saying it’s not really about the marketer or the consumer at all.

Human agency is a tricky business.  It takes thought, consideration and values.  It takes discipline.  But agency is a quality that can only devolve to us humans.  We are the only ones who can choose.  And it’s the choices we make as leaders – not the power of the technology – that will create the world we’ll leave to our children.


Living in the Light.


Indulge me.  I’ve been at this since the very beginning of web advertising (1994) and I’m seeing patterns.

Each massive, tectonic shift in our business has been preceded by an equally massive economic or cultural upheaval.  The dotcom bust of 2000-2001 ended the era of site-by-site buying and ushered in a period of extreme targeting and data enhancement.  The housing crash and recession of 2008-2009 effectively kicked off the programmatic era that we’ve been living for the past 9+ years.  Now we’re living through the third major upheaval…and it, too, is setting us up for a very different world.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Salesforce DMP. Salesforce DMP allows you to capture, unify, and activate your data to strengthen consumer relationships across every touchpoint. Find out more here.

Consider this:  in the past two years we’ve seen (1) the ANA’s release of the K2 Report on Media Transparency in June 2016; (2) P&G’s top marketer Marc Pritchard call out the industry’s dirty supply chain in January 2017; (3) The New York Times and the Guardian break the Cambridge Analytica scandal; and (4) the launch of the General Data Protection Regulation – GDPR – by the European Union.  Oh, yeah, we had a little Brexit, a US election and more than a little foreign hacking.  Don’t look at these as singular events, but rather as a pattern.  A big one.

So what, then, is the new look of our industry?  What will it be like to do business in the next era?   What rules might we follow?

Welcome to our time in the sun.

As I told an audience of programmatic and automation leaders in Nashville earlier today, I believe we’re already starting to live into an age of radical transparency.  Over the next several years, you won’t find anyone wearing a grey hat: there will only be heroes and villains.  It may feel selective, it may feel unfair, but it is very definitely here.  So how does one build an automated media or marketing business at a time like this?

  • Stop aiming at compliance. That bar is too low.  Focus instead on making clarity and fairness into core values for your organization.
  • Celebrate your newfound commitment. I’m looking forward to seeing a sign on someone’s office wall that says “485 days of being squeaky clean.”
  • More is no longer better. Better is better.  Get used to the idea of a smaller, better internet, one filed with real people, real attention and real connections.  When you eliminate the fraud and the stuff nobody really wants, this is what we’ll have.  It will be a great place to work.
  • Don’t benchmark around the scoundrels. What someone else may get away with is not the point.  Don’t pander to the least among us.  Instead aspire to be the best among us.
  • Work through the pain. Quickly.  Yes, there is economic pain to be endured.  But it won’t be more endurable in 12 or 18 months.  And in that time, you might find your world collapsing around you.  Time to rip off the band-aid and do the right things.

Like it or not, we all live in the light today.  All can be seen and everything will be made clear. And it will be a time of reinvention, of leaders, of new ideas.

I can’t wait.


The Controllables.


Under the best of circumstances, sales can feel like a hall of mirrors; full of distorted images, dead ends and confusing passageways.  Factor in the inherent complexity and ambivalence of our digital marketing and advertising world and it all comes right off the chain.  Almost every digital seller I meet in workshops, forums and coaching talks desperately wants more control in their sales lives.

They don’t realize just how much control they already have.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Salesforce DMP. Salesforce DMP allows you to capture, unify, and activate your data to strengthen consumer relationships across every touchpoint. Find out more here.

Controlling your controllables is no mere cliché; it’s the recipe for a satisfying, effective and full life in sales (not to mention a truly satisfying life overall).  Focusing on factors and events you don’t control burns precious hours and energy and leaves you with nothing to show for it.  What will the boss decide? How will the budget shake out?  How will the markets react to the latest world news?  What can you do about any of these?  Just worry and wait… the two least productive and most frustrating options available.  So let’s take a quick look at four things you absolutely control every single day.

Curiosity.  This is as simple as asking one more genuine question to learn more about the customer or how their business works.  It’s saying “tell me a little bit more about that.” Don’t be tricky or clever with your questions: it’s not about how much you know, but rather about how much you want to know.  When people feel interesting they will be interested in return.  And you control this action completely.

Organization.  To say you’re simply not organized is a cop out.  Every one of us can stop and make a list, gather notes into one document, close a few windows on our desktop.  Disorganization isn’t charming or quirky; it’s a choice you make and a form of self-sabotage.  Just a few minutes each day to pull things together before you start responding is all it takes.  You don’t leave the house without looking in the mirror and checking your appearance; just add five minutes of intellectual organization to your routine.

Response.  Challenging stuff happens.  But none of us is ever really responding to what’s taking place or what’s being said.  We are responding to the story our ego is telling us about what’s happening. Your ego tells you unreliable stories about the other guy’s intentions or the fact that it’s all a big conspiracy against you.  Instead of responding instantly with the harsh comment or defensive email, pause and consider other possible backstories and motivations. Your emotional IQ soars. Slow down, reconsider, control.

Attention.  The root word here is attend; literally, being present.  With just a modest amount of discipline, you can choose to give just a minute or two of your full, undivided, undistracted attention to those you rely on and those you serve. Those 60 or 120 seconds will be more productive and constructive than all those endless meetings you half-attend.  Put away your phone and let your full attention nourish the quality of your relationships and your work.  It’s controllable and it’s transformative.

This all requires zero talent and you depend on no one but yourself. Enjoy your new superpowers.


The Right to Target.


Look hard at the title of this post.  If you sit with it for just a few beats you may see irony, a contradiction in terms … or you may not see much of anything.  But our interpretation of this simple phrase – The Right to Target – says a lot about each of us and when we probably got involved in this whole digital marketing thing.

To those who came to the business between 2000 and 2010, there may seem little to discuss.  Of course there’s an inherent right to target advertising to users… they’re getting their content for free, right?  Indeed, in the first decade of the millennium the machinery of targeting and its rationalization were both cranking full force.  Technologies were invented and businesses were launched to do nothing else.

To those who came earlier – and probably to those just joining the party now – the irony and inherent conflict in the term seems rather obvious.  To target someone seems like an overtly aggressive and invasive act.  Seen in a vacuum, the verb alone is rather jarring.  How could anyone have a right to target someone else?  It’s a question I raised way back in 2010 (@ 18:45 of the video) just as programmatic buying and technology were crashing over the business like a tsunami.   Back when it was raining money, this question may have seemed quaint or naïve.

Doesn’t seem like that anymore, does it?

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Salesforce DMP. Salesforce DMP allows you to capture, unify, and activate your data to strengthen consumer relationships across every touchpoint. Find out more here.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal the onset of GDPR regulation may not be causing a sea change in attitude and practice, but they are vividly reflecting it.  Zuck’s well-rehearsed damage control exercise on Capitol Hill brought the issues of targeting and data control out of the server closet and into mainstream consciousness.  I don’t think this dies down now, do you?

So if targeting is no longer a right, then what is it?   It’s a privilege.  It’s a pact.  It’s a knowing transaction executed in simple terms that have nothing to do with the insane legalese of the user agreement.  It’s not even targeting anymore; it’s customization and content selection.  And there is going to be very little in the way of gray area.  There will be great companies who uphold the highest standards and there will be scoundrels.

Semantics?  No.  Brands both established and emerging have woken to the social and business cost of being on the wrong side of history.  They’re in the room now with their eyes wide open.

The change has come.  Welcome to the sunlight.


The Zen of Wooden.


As a kid in 1960s Los Angeles I ended up watching the same show every week. The UCLA men’s basketball team would play even-up with some other college for the first ten minutes of the game. By halftime, they’d have a double digit lead. Then a romp. Game after game, season after season…victories…NCAA Championships. An astonishing ten of them in a twelve year stretch.

The ironic part was the guy running the team: dark suit, horn rim glasses, every so often shouting out “goodness gracious sakes alive!” In the middle of the turbulent 60s and 70s, at the apex of the protest movement, in ultra-trendy L.A., the guy in charge looks like…a schoolteacher!  The schoolteacher, of course, was John Wooden, the so called Wizard of Westwood…part Professor Dumbledore, part Indiana farm boy, part ninja philosopher. Here are a few of his best bromides, as applied to selling and leading in the digital age.

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Salesforce DMP. Salesforce DMP allows you to capture, unify, and activate your data to strengthen consumer relationships across every touchpoint. Find out more here.

“Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.” Far too many of us – individuals and companies – focus on what’s missing, what we lack. Winning is about making the most of our strengths.

“Adversity is the state in which man most easily becomes acquainted with himself, being especially free of admirers then.” The economic crucible of the past few years was a great time of learning. What did you learn…about you?

“Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.” The great people and great companies don’t over-react to failures and they always adapt. In fact, they celebrate their ability to adapt.

“If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?” Time management tip: Slow down.

“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” Many people in our business are crippled by the weight of their own knowledge and experience. The only guy who really worries me is the one who thinks he’s got it all figured out.

“Never mistake activity for achievement.”
 Question your own process constantly. Much of the sales day is taken up by “stuff we’ve always done” that’s not really making any difference.

“The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team.”
 Sustainable, long term success is always built across carefully cultivated team environments. Always. So whenever you think it’s just your own mad skills that are making it all happen, remember that…

“Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.”

Amen.

This is an edited version of a Drift originally posted in 2010, shortly after Coach Wooden’s death.  I’m sure he’d be humble and grateful that we’re still quoting him.