30 August 2010

We will always need Specialists

One of my four major agenda items, any given day of my career, is people development. In recent times the main task of people development has been to develop Renaissance Practitioners. Said differently, my task is to turn great specialists into great generalists.

Are you a Specialist or a Generalist?

Great specialists only see their own part of the marketing plan. Great generalists can play their position well and see how their work fits into the overall marketing solution we provide to a client. This way we provide business solutions, not just “digital solutions” or “retail solutions”.

SoMe specialist vs. SoMe generalist

Today I read two articles that show how Social Media, the industry specialty of the moment, is evolving in ways that should interest specialists and generalists alike:

A blogger at Sysomos, a business software company, opined today that while SoMe is a small slice of overall advertising investment, it will someday “rule the advertising roost”, eclipsing all known media except outdoor. Maybe so. Veteran ad people know that the #1 advertising medium cited by consumers as “most reliable” has always been “word of mouth”. SoMe is word of mouth in a publishable form.

Meanwhile, a “social media strategist” at Digitas Health laments her job title because it makes her sound too much like a specialist. “Social media,” says Sarah Larcker, “should really be viewed as an integrated part of the holistic strategy for a brand, not its own independent realm.” Sarah is an excellent example of a specialist-generalist.

We will always need Specialists

There’s no doubt that what we currently call SoMe will continue to be a major force in modern marketing. Everyone’s challenge is exactly what Sarah Larcker proposes, to make SoMe a strategic tool rather than a tactical silo.

We will always need specialists, however. Technology continues to develop daily and someone has to be on top of the changes – it’s a full-time job. New media will continue to evolve and we need specialists to show us how it can work.

The question is how much of a generalist do you aspire to be? You may always have your specialty, but having a big-picture perspective will keep your skills relevant.

29 August 2010

Automatic Advertising

As computers moved from computing to other intellectual tasks, people have wondered when computers would achieve artificial intelligence and take over tasks only humans could do, such as develop advertisements.

OK, maybe “develop advertisements” isn’t as high on the list of possibilities as writing great literature or curing cancer, but this is a blog devoted to modern marketing so please stick with me for a moment.

Automatic Advertising

Some recent news stories raise the specter of computer-generated, automatic advertising:

BETC Euro RSCG in Paris has, according to the New York Times, “developed software that can produce elementary advertisements.” It’s called CAI, for Creative Artificial Intelligence. Apparently the software requires you to answer questions such as you would consider when writing a creative brief and voila, hundreds of samples result. Industry veterans in the audience are thinking right now, “What if the brief is poorly written?” The New York Times skips over this point.

PlaceLocal, a startup that provides a similar service to local merchants seeking nearby customers, is even more automated. For example, a pizza restaurant need only provide its location, phone number, web address, et cetera, and PlaceLocal creates a simplified ad to run in local media. The program was developed by Paper G, an advertising technology company. This service strikes me as perfect for small business people who can’t hire someone to place ads for them.

It’s also perfect for local newspapers which can better monetize their web operations instead of pounding the pavement to sell ads in their print editions. That leads me to my next point.

Automatic Media

Both of these developments focus on developing an advertisement, but neither of them really addresses the best medium where the messages should be placed. Where’s the automatic media planning software? In modern marketing, finding the right place to invest the media budget is a much more interesting question than in the past. Back in the days of Ye Olde Marketing we had just a few vehicles to consider.

Today there are many choices. To be sure, there is software to help you navigate the options – Compose, for example. It’s not a substitute for decision-making, though. You use the technology to help you analyze, and then you decide based on everything you know. Similarly, after creating ads with Euro’s CAI software, someone probably decides which ad is the best (or if the brief needs to be rewritten).

Automatic for the People

Crowdsourcing is a phenomenon combining both technology and humanity. Many of you have seen or read about the various crowdsourcing experiments for Mountain Dew under the banner of their DEWmocracy project. Many of these projects sought consumer input in developing the right creative, but a recent experiment sought specific input as to what media vehicles are right for the brand. That’s worth watching.

It’s always important to determine what the right creative message looks like, but part of that determination process is writing a channel plan. A copywriter can hardly write the best print ad if she thinks she’s writing a TV commercial.

26 August 2010

Take 2: Define "advertising" in one sentence

In April we reported on a LinkedIn discussion where 200 respondents each tried to define “advertising” in one sentence. There was no consensus other than advertising has many definitions.

In the past week or so, someone restarted the conversation and we now have more than 360 responses. Talk about a long tail.

The absolute latest industry thinking

Here were some of the more interesting recent responses:

Bill Murphy, paraphrasing Claude Hopkins: “Advertising is salesmanship in print – the only purpose of advertising is to make sales.”

Ana Placinta, with a nod to branding: “Advertising is when a crispy brown beer becomes the Guinness beer.”

Al Shultz, pointing out a fundamental task: “Advertising is differentiating your product/service from everyone else’s.”

Anthony Butler, who understands channel planning: “The right message to the right customer at the right time.”

Damian Jozane, who understands common sense: “Advertising is finding what people know, but nobody has said.”

What is your definition of “advertising” in one sentence?

My answer appears in the LinkedIn discussion and in my last post on this subject. What is your definition of “advertising” in one sentence?

Please use the space below to add your thoughts. Maybe we’ll keep it to less than 100 answers.

20 August 2010

Who "owns" Mobile around the world?

Yesterday's post suggested that "Who owns Mobile?" is the wrong question for turf-conscious agency people. It's better to focus on learning about Mobile, because clients will ask "Who knows Mobile?" Who can give me a business solution?

In the other words, learn the territory instead of trying to grab it.

By the way -- it's a global territory.

Roaming charges

A colleague used to joke that any self-proclaimed mobile expert was required to say, at least once a day in a meeting, "The U.S. mobile market is in the Stone Age compared to what they have in Hong Kong."

It's no joke. Mobile has evolved in different ways and to different degrees all over the world. Many Africans depend on mobile services to do their banking. Britons driving into London can pay the commuting tax on their mobile phones.

It's 4G, comrade

The Economist reports this week that Yota, a Russian start up, has laid 3,000 km of its own fiber-optic lines to start a 4G network. Yes, 4G is coming (see the chart above).

You may also want to read this Economist article about the mobile market in South-East Asia.

Learn the territory

Yesterday's post advised: learn the territory. Today's corollary lesson is: learn the global territory. That way when clients ask "Who knows Mobile?" you can answer them with confidence.

19 August 2010

A Note to Readers

Two recent posts on Ad Majorem strayed a bit from our usual subject matter -- the changes and challenges of modern marketing -- into more general territory about Internet regulation.

To be sure, Internet regulation intersects with modern marketing. The Internet governs many aspects of 21st Century life, including marketing, and regulation has been discussed here before.

Still, this blog doesn't take sides politically. On the subject of Net Neutrality, for example, I invited a collaborative discussion which turned into a small political kerfuffle.

A bit of Internet research showed me that Net Neutrality has become a partisan issue of our times: Red vs. Blue, MoveOn.org vs. Tea Party, Newt Gingrich vs. Al Franken.

A related finding was that in place of thorough, inductive discussion there is a lot of back-and-forth argument and even name-calling. I'll stay out of that debate until it calms down.

The question I'd like to ask you, dear reader, is: Any advice? Anything you want to see addressed on this blog? Is there a subject you want me to drop? I'd love to have your opinion.

Thanks very much.

Who "owns" Mobile?

Smartphones will eclipse feature phones as a percentage of the U.S. mobile device population by the end of 2011. Clients are discovering smartphone apps that offer an opportunity to engage and continue consumer relationships. Agencies each want to be the one to help their clients leverage these apps. All kinds of agencies: traditional, new breed, media and of course digital.

Which agencies own Mobile?

First we ought to properly frame the question. An AdAge.com article this week took the view that "creative agencies" and "media agencies" are fighting over the right to "own" Mobile. Apparently they put digital agencies into the "creative" category, which is fine as far as it goes.

It doesn't go far enough, however. Missing from the discussion is retail. Some promotion and shopper marketing agencies are starting to create mobile apps for their clients, and retailers themselves are developing programs in which their vendors - uh, partners - can buy into - uh, participate. One example described in Tuesday's NYTimes.com is Shopkick, currently backed by Macy's and four other retailers.

The gigantic Venn diagram

The landscape of agencies, clients and retailers is more complicated than just "creative" and "media" agencies. This shouldn't surprise us in an era where all available marketing channels form a gigantic Venn diagram that shifts and overlaps in new ways every week. We've observed this before (here and here) and in a way it's the point of this blog.

Asking who owns mobile is like asking who owns television: the agency who develops a 30" commercial, the agency who plans or buys, the network or station, the program developer or the cable service provider.

It's the same with mobile. Someone has to decide there's an opportunity to engage consumers via a mobile device. Someone has to develop the app or ad. Someone has to figure out the way to engage the consumer, which in some cases will be a display media buy and other cases something resembling word of mouth marketing.

Mobile survival guide

There are two implications here:

Who knows Mobile? Clients won’t ask which agency owns Mobile, they’ll ask who knows Mobile. If you’re an agency person, worry less about whether you should handle Mobile and more about whether you’re prepared to handle it.

Mobile is not a silo. This actually applies to all disciplines, but you can’t treat Mobile or anything else as its own discipline. It has to be considered as a strategic option from the beginning, and made part of the plan if and only if the business solution demands it. Planned that way, it will work well together with advertising, digital and retail.

05 August 2010

"Net Neutrality"

Following Wednesday's post about the role of government at the intersection of Marketing and the Internet comes the latest news about "net neutrality".

Net Neutrality

The actual term is "network neutrality", a concept where all Internet access would be treated equally. All access to all content would be available at the same speed. There's a complete article on Wikipedia describing it fully. In any case, it sounds like an appealing concept, doesn't it?

Not so fast...

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission tried to enforce net neutrality last year, but the courts ruled that the Internet falls outside their jurisdiction. The FCC regulates broadcast communications only, not even cable television, while the Internet counts as an "information service".

You get what you pay for

The opposite of net neutrality is a tiered system, where Internet users would pay their service providers a premium to access certain content faster. This would depend on an arrangement among Internet service providers such as Verizon, content providers and users willing to pay more.

The latest news

Since the FCC is powerless (for now) to enforce net neutrality, those who own the networks are starting to arrange tiered systems. This week the New York Times reported that Google and Verizon are close to such a deal; today Google and Verizon denied it, saying they were continuing to talk to the government. The FCC says that the talks are on hold for the moment.

What's my position on net neutrality?

No one can say how this will play out. The starry-eyed idealist in me wants to believe in net neutrality because it sounds fair and equal. Yet the Internet is not a government program, it's a commercial enterprise. Said differently, it's publishing.

If net neutrality had been applied to newspapers and magazines, then every consumer would have paid the same price for each magazine they received, no matter how premium the content or how many pages it required.

You may perceive that I haven't decided what I think about this. Please use the comments section to sway me to one side or the other.

04 August 2010

The "marketing kill switch"

You just arrived at this page from somewhere else on the Internet, perhaps by link, RSS feed or a tweet. Thanks to a combination of 1s and 0s, a microprocessor, some network switching technology and electricity, everything worked. We take this for granted.

No Internet?

When you can’t get a connection, it’s usually a problem with your server or your Internet service provider. But what about a mass outage where no one can get online? This situation was memorably captured in an episode of South Park, but some recent news items report very real threats.

“We’re from the government, and we’re here to help”

The U.S. Congress is considering the Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act (S. 3480), which has been reported as an “Internet kill switch”. The truth is a little more complicated, but undeniably the law would allow for circumstances where the executive branch of the U.S. Government could shut down the Internet. You can read the law for yourself and this letter from civil liberties groups opposing it.

Force majeure

NASA reported earlier this summer that an expected increase in solar activity will threaten our telecommunications infrastructure. “Our technological society has developed an unprecedented sensitivity to solar storms,” said NASA scientist Richard Fisher. The good news is that they’re watching the Sun carefully. If you’re reading this today it means we suffered no consequence from a “solar tsunami” that hit Earth last night.


By act of Congress or act of God, a major shutdown would be catastrophic and few people would care if we couldn't sell our clients’ products. Fortunately, everyday life is much less dramatic. Technical downtime happens here and there every day, affecting about 0.1% of operating time in most commercial applications. Someone fixes it and we get back to business pretty quickly.

Marketing kill switch

The bigger concern is protecting commercial speech. There has been a lot of press lately about how corporations invade privacy via Internet data collection, and we should take those concerns seriously. At the same time, let's be aware of government abuse. Just as a local government used Google Earth to spy on residents' backyards, there are other efforts to restrict how we advertise and sell products online. These amount to a "marketing kill switch" that would a cause a scene in your office like the one in South Park.

Tell me your thoughts, readers, in the comments section below.

02 August 2010

Copywriting versus Copypasting

In my morning e-mail summary from MediaBistro, the following two items appeared next to one another (click the above image to read for yourself).
  1. New York Times item about how digital technology is redefining for young people the concepts of authorship and plagiarism.

  2. Media Bistro class on Copywriting for the Web.
One was about Copywriting and the other was about Copypasting. Now that's product placement!

01 August 2010

Reducing Assortment II

About a month ago we posted on the subject of reducing assortment, or retailers removing brands and SKUs from their shelves in an effort to make shopping simpler for their customers. In other words, reducing assortment is a matter of reducing complexity. Unfortunately it also seems to be a matter of reducing sales.

Ad people discover retail

This situation is starting to hit the radar screen of ad industry people. For example, this month AdAge.com published a comprehensive report, focusing mainly on Walmart and its Project Impact. The article comments were pretty good, mentioning other retailers' initiatives

Other articles worth reading

Walmart’s “action alley” started getting crowded again in March, with big displays from Pepsi and the New Moon DVD that month. For a hybrid industry/consumer look at the effect in stores, check out this post from Wallet Pop last week.

Hub Magazine -- a publication worth reading in general -- ran an article called "The Walmart Crapshoot", which offers an insightful analysis of Project Impact, including an important historical comparison between Walmart and Kroger.

What will Walmart look like this Christmas?

You can read a lot on the Internet, of course, but there's nothing like a good store check to figure out what's really going on. The next few months will be interesting as Walmart decides how their stores should look as we approach Black Friday and the Christmas shopping season.