by Jake Sorofman | November 26, 2013 | Submit a Comment
What was once a term of derision is now the highest form of praise.
Hackers are the resident geniuses that—by dint of preternatural talent, interminable focus and a mildly subversive relationship with conventions—always get the job done. In the world of IT, these are the system engineers who solve the most vexing riddles in the data center and the coders who can convert caffeine into brilliant software innovations by drawing magic out of thin air.
Part artist, part engineer, hackers don’t always follow the rules. In fact, that’s part of their genius. They’re creative problem solvers. They’re visionaries with the technical chops to back it up. That’s why hackers are always on speed dial, the hero standing by the proverbial bat phone. They operate in the spirit of getting things done.
Look closely at any IT organization and you’ll find hackers. But marketing? Traditionally, you’d rarely find a black shirt in this land of khakis. But that’s surely changing as marketing disciplines become so fundamentally dependent on technology.
That’s why Gartner sees technologists rising through the marketing ranks. Today, the vast majority of marketing organizations employ a chief marketing technologist in some form or another. Sometimes it’s a formal role with a direct sphere of control. Sometimes it’s less formal, simply a highly technical problem solver sitting in the marketing suite. A resident hacker.
We’re now firmly entrenched in the age of hacks, which are in effect “best practices” that would never deign to go by such a convention. Hacks are the proven shortcuts for solving problems in best MacGyver spirit, using chewing gum and bailing wire as a functional art form. Hacks are the codified patterns of the marketing hacker.
The idea of a hack isn’t to diminish the importance of quality. It’s simply to celebrate the primacy of progress. In the age of agile, progress trumps perfection because, when we contain risk with bounded scope and iteration, we can learn by doing. Hacks tell us that good enough is often good enough.
Of course, to suggest that the marketing hacker is an entirely new phenomenon is probably a bit disingenuous. After all, marketers have been working with technology for a long time and the skills required to master the digital marketing mix have always erred on the side of hackerdom.
What’s new, now, is that the challenges have grown more complex, interdependent and pervasive. Not to mention, more urgent. Which is why, as CMOs skill up to bridge the analog-to-digital divide, they need the support of creative problem solvers who can get down and dirty with technology.
They need someone who isn’t afraid to say CPM and IDE in the same breath.
What they probably need is a digital marketing hacker.
Category: digital marketing Tags: agile marketing
by Jake Sorofman | November 20, 2013 | 1 Comment
Show me someone who enjoys change. Massive publishing franchises and consulting operations have been built on the back of the simple fact that human beings are hard wired to resist change.
By and large, we’re creatures of habit and seekers of certainty, which are characteristics that live in direct conflict with the bedeviled curse of change.
Of course we all know that change is no curse. We’ve been taught that it’s an instrument of progress. Jack Welch famously said that when the change on the outside exceeds the change on the inside, the end is near.
It’s an important quote and one of my favorites to draw on because it perfectly captures the fact that change is our most potent weapon in the battle of hyper-competition. Product and service advantages are now temporary at best.
It’s a long wind up to a question that’s been vexing many marketing leaders:
What does it take to move a marketing organization from analog to digital?
Or, as the consultants like to say, how do we get from “as-is” to “to-be”?
Personally, I think the answers are found in IT. Stay with me here …
I’ll admit that I’ve been told I have a bad habit of using IT examples to illustrate the future of marketing. But I make no apologies! Why? Because, as software has become instrumental to competitive advantage, software developers have deeply embraced change. They’ve replaced process-bound bureaucracy with lean, agile and other modern methodologies that help unlock continuous streams of value and innovation.
Look at Amazon, Netflix and Spotify as examples of software development organizations on overdrive. They’ve burned down conventions in the name of progress.
Marketers can—and should—do the same!
Why? Because, in the face of hyper-competition, brand matters more than ever. And audiences that were once relatively predictable are now a moving target. If you think about it, these are the same conditions that motivated change in software process.
Marketers must figure out how to make their brands more present and more relevant in more moments of truth. It’s a tall order when you consider this through the lens of today’s process-bound bureaucracies.
That’s why I think marketing operations are overdue for an overhaul. It’s great to see momentum forming around the agile marketing movement. That’s progress! But I do worry that it’s but a small measure of progress relative to the scale of the problem we face.
Category: digital marketing Tags: agile marketing
by Jake Sorofman | November 13, 2013 | 2 Comments
With all the hype surrounding digital marketing these days, it’s easy to forget that we’re in the dawn of this transformation. These are the opening innings of an early-season game. The average marketer is just learning to crawl and rarely ready to contemplate exactly what it means to fly.
But, as my esteemed colleague Marty Kihn says, “…time drives a turbo, and digital marketing is rapidly coming to look like the Wall Street of today, complete with massive automated exchanges, machine-placed trades, a focus on returns, and hedge-fund like “black boxes” that help you beat the market if you don’t ask questions.”
Indeed, time does drive a turbo, particularly in the digital age. That’s why, despite the fact that, to the average marketer, this real-time, closed-loop nirvana sounds like flying cars (or, for that matter, pigs), they also recognize that it’s an accurate forecast of the coming age.
Today, there’s a digital disconnect in the executive ranks, a leadership vacuum created by a mismatch between expertise and authority. Those are the words I used earlier this year in an HBR.org post on the rise of the digital CMO. But, here’s my revision: the majority of marketing leaders, ready or not, are inspired—not intimidated—by the possibilities.
There is an appetite for change and awareness that it’s not optional.
That’s why I believe 2014 will be the year of digital marketing operations. Because the scale and speed of this future-state vision depends upon mature operational disciplines—disciplines that will rely heavily on automation to augment human effort in the race toward real-time nirvana.
As unsexy as the concept sounds, this is really about the industrialization of marketing processes. That’s not to say that marketing staff will be replaced by robots (see “Digital Marketing and the Rise of the Machines”). But digital marketing will become industrialized in the same way that standardization, automation and data-driven processes have turned so many asset- and information-intensive industries into the profit-seeking juggernauts they’ve become.
Marty Kihn’s Wall Street analogy is spot on.
What this points to is the convergence of enabling technologies to form a digital marketing hub, which unifies first- and third-party profile data, collaborative processes for agile planning and execution, orchestration and engagement for matching content with context, and analytics for continuous optimization based on real-time feedback.
It also points to new organizational design patterns and implementation methodologies that enable speed and agility in the face of fast-moving audience dialogues.
Expect much more to come on this topic. Because, without an operational foundation, not unlike the ostrich or the emu, digital marketers will struggle to take flight.
Category: digital marketing Tags: digital marketing operations
by Jake Sorofman | November 7, 2013 | Comments Off
Some of the best advice I’ve received in business and life can be summed up in four words: Run your own race.
In the twitchy age of social everything, it can sometimes feel like a quixotic ideal, one perhaps best suited for the semi-retired or the deeply Zen. After all, if you’re not comparing yourself to others, how do you know where you stand?
It’s a dynamic that plays out in all walks of business and life, from the cul-de-sac status games of conspicuous consumerism, to the envy-seeking highlight reels played out on Facebook, to our insatiable thirst for peer benchmark data, to our collective race toward perpetual motion on the social web. If you ask me, it can all be little much.
But that’s me. Right or wrong, I’ve decided to run my own race.
As a blogger, I’ve committed to at least one reasonable thoughtful, well constructed post per week. But you won’t find me tweeting all manner of marginalia in between. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t—I follow dozens of superhuman tweeting machines who amaze and inspire me with their unending supply of insights and anecdotes.
But that’s not my race to run.
In business and in life, it’s important to know yourself. Whether you’re benchmarking performance, seeking best-practice guidance as a content marketer or searching your own version of earthly bliss, begin with an authentic and independent definition of your goals.
Then—and only then—consider what it’ll take to achieve them. Don’t look over your shoulder at your peers until you’ve done this first.
It’s simple stuff, for sure. But in our race toward perpetual motion sometimes we forget the critical lesson of independence. It all starts with you.
And once you know what you want to achieve, you’re free to run your own race.
Category: digital marketing Tags: content marketing
by Jake Sorofman | November 1, 2013 | 3 Comments
Fact: Facebook has over a billion users sharing personal information every day, which makes it the largest concentration of social intelligence on the planet. Aside from Google and perhaps a troika of data aggregators, no company knows more about you.
This knowledge is power—serious power—which makes Facebook a serious contender in the game of helping digital marketers to get to know you better.
For marketers, Facebook is not a problem. In fact, it’s an opportunity. But, importantly, it’s one opportunity among many, many alternatives.
The problem isn’t Facebook; it’s myopic thinking.
With a sixth of the world’s population as registered users, digital marketers can’t ignore Facebook as a channel. But they also shouldn’t expect a digital marketing strategy to begin and end with this platform.
There are many other ways to engage audiences, online and off. YouTube, Pinterest and Twitter are just a few high-profile examples of where your audiences may lurk. The point is that the most effective digital marketing strategies orchestrate multiple channels, amplifying brand engagement across paid, earned and owned media, often including but certainly not limited to Facebook. Blindly throwing pennies at Facebook and expecting it spit out quarters like a slot machine is little more than a fool’s errand.
But how do you know how to pick, prioritize and engage multiple channels?
It begins with understanding your target market with the seemingly ancient practice of segmentation. Who are you trying to reach? What are their patterns and preferences with digital media? With your brand? How can you combine the two?
Next, it requires measurement. A recent Gartner survey found that the vast majority of marketers are falling short of transparency in understanding attribution linkages by channel and tactic. Of course, this makes it difficult to know which tactics, which channels—and in what combination—are moving the needle for the business.
Without this transparency, you can’t make comparative, fact-based judgments about how your dollars should flow. Let’s not forget that the conversion rates for online advertising are notoriously low. We all know this and it’s factored into CPM. But, compared to the industry average CTR of 0.07%, on this particular measure, Facebook can look like a hero with CTRs approaching 1%. Everything is relative.
Facebook is fairly unique as an online advertising platform, with more precise targeting (and retargeting) based on more attributes than many other options. How many publishers know, not only table stakes like your birthday and hometown, but exactly which brands you “Like,” what makes you angry, and the name of your dog—all on a platform you check (on average) four times a day?
That’s not to say that Facebook is a silver bullet. Far from it, in fact.
Digital marketing is what you put into it. The sweat equity of picking, prioritizing, engaging and measuring multiple channels and continuously optimizing investment are the ingredients of the magic elixir that turns good digital marketing intentions into real business outcomes. But exactly how to do this well eludes most marketers.
Which is why the problem isn’t one platform. The problem isn’t Facebook.
The problem is myopic thinking.
Category: digital marketing Tags: facebook, multichannel
by Jake Sorofman | October 23, 2013 | 3 Comments
In the world of software development, loose coupling is an architectural pattern that ensures flexibility and control in the delivery and maintenance of complex software systems. The idea is to construct software components for modularity, building blocks that are easily reused in a variety of broader use cases and system contexts.
At first blush, such wonky “below the line” ideas may sound like a far cry from the daily concerns of the content marketer. But when you probe a little deeper, you’ll see a useful analogy for the architectures that hold together our content marketing strategies.
Let’s apply the concepts:
In content marketing, loose coupling is about creating content assets that have independent value, but also fit neatly within the architecture of your broader storylines. Loose coupling gives you the flexibility to support a variable distribution cadence (e.g., scheduled, ambient, real-time), while ensuring that these assets also integrate into the architecture of your broader storylines.
Like software architects, content marketers should begin with the end in mind, allowing your highest level business goals to inform your lowest-level content elements. This provides a business context for fulfilling your content supply chain—each of your content elements rolls up to a broader purpose. Tight linkages between elements, assets, storylines, campaigns, and KPIs makes it easier to measure ROI and ensures your loosely coupled content assets fly in close formation as they work together to advance and reinforce your storylines.
Coca-Cola follows a very similar architectural pattern in their content marketing strategy. They call it “liquid and linked.” Here, loosely coupling means that content elements can stand alone, but also fit into broader storylines. For Coke, liquid means that independent assets inspire engagement and social sharing on their own rights. Linked means that these independent assets work together to reinforce broader marketing goals.
So, as your setting direction in your content marketing strategy, ask yourself “are we sufficiently liquid and linked?” Are your content assets loosely coupled, but tightly formed?
Category: digital marketing Tags: content marketing
by Jake Sorofman | October 17, 2013 | Comments Off
Oracle made a bold (if not big) move with its acquisition of Compendium, which it announced today. Compendium streamlines the workflow for creating and distributing the content that fuels social and multichannel engagement campaigns.
This is a bold move because it’s one of the first acquisitive bets on content marketing by a marketing automation vendor. This is a trend that’s likely to continue.
While the financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed, it’s reasonable to assume that this wasn’t a particularly large deal. Based in Indianapolis and launched and led by a founding member of the ExactTarget team, Compendium had raised $2.8m in angel funding. But it’s an important deal as much for what it signals as for what it means for the crew in Redwood City.
Why? Because the content supply chain feeds more than the social graph. Content marketing techniques cut across multichannel engagement strategies.
It’s authentic, engaging content that draws audiences like a magnate. This content is created and distributed against a three-part cadence: scheduled, ambient and real-time. And this cadence puts pressure on traditional work process and governance models.
The Holy Grail for marketers is continuous engagement, which comes from continuous storytelling and continuous optimization. The path to this Promised Land is found at the intersection of creative and operational domains, where the content supply chain and data-driven automation meet.
Think of it this way:
- The content supply chain enables story sourcing, manufacturing and distribution
- Data-driven techniques enable precision-targeting and personalized experiences
- Orchestration tools provide the automation for engagement at speed and scale
By combining its investments in Eloqua, FatWire and even Stellent (remember them?) with this latest acquisition, Oracle is thrust into a very interesting place. Of course, whether they can combine these pieces in a way that wins the hearts and minds of the marketing community remains to be seen. Also, it’s worth noting that, while Eloqua has B2C ambitions, they’re experience is largely rooted in B2B.
In the trail of this acquisition will be a certain amount of heartburn experienced by other B2B-centric marketing automation vendors. But, for their B2C counterparts, it should yield only appetite. If nothing else, Oracle has tipped its hand on a strategy that others are bound to adopt. HP, IBM, Salesforce.com and Adobe are strong contenders on the digital marketing frontier. Frankly, I’m surprised to see this forward-thinking move by Oracle, a player who had yet to really throw down the gauntlet.
The upshot is that the content supply chain feeds modern customer engagement. It’s a key control point. And owning a control point in the hunt for the elusive mantle of the digital marketing hub is a very good thing, indeed.
Watch this space.
Category: digital marketing Tags: content marketing
by Jake Sorofman | October 16, 2013 | 8 Comments
At the heart of any successful content marketing strategy is a vision for something larger than your traditional brand promise. It’s a point of view that represents the deepest interests and aspirations of your target audience. It’s a point of view that lives or dies by one overriding principle: Empathy.
What exactly is empathy? It may sound like a high-minded ideal better suited to pop psychology, but it’s really the essence of good content marketing. Empathy is little more than understanding and sharing the feelings of others.
Any good marketer is tuned to their audience, but it’s typically for the purpose of their own thinly veiled commercial agenda. Of course, content marketers also have an agenda, but they know better than to lead with their brand. Such brand-forward attempts are often rejected like a foreign body in the bloodstream, undoing any efforts to make an emotional connection.
Empathy means putting your audience first.
Pawan Deshpande, CEO of Curata, recently published The Four Steps to Content Marketing Enlightenment which illustrates a stepwise path from ego-centric to truly audience-centric content. I agree with the concept entirely: The best content marketing isn’t only informed by your audience; it’s fundamentally designed for your audience.
It’s about giving to get. It’s about what Ted Rubin calls “looking people in the eye digitally.”
Who does this well?
- Unilever’s Dove brand shows empathy with its Real Beauty Sketches, which tap into the aspirations and insecurities of its target audience, rendering a series of authentic documentary-style videos that connect emotionally without pandering.
- Nike inspires its audience to reach for their personal best as athletes and adventure-seekers. It tells us to get off the couch to push harder.
- Red Bull excites audiences by transporting them to the outer frontier of what is humanly possible with space jumps, bird men and other adrenaline-charged extreme sports and thrill stunts.
- HubSpot advocates for the modern marketer by providing relevant insights and useful materials to help its target audience in their roles and careers.
Each of these brands has a commercial agenda, but through finely tuned empathy, they’ve learned to put their audience first. In doing so, they transcend their traditional brand promise, building deeper engagement with their audiences. They’ve learned to sell less to sell more.
This translates to preference and loyalty in an age of abundant choice.
And that starts with giving to get. It starts with empathy.
Category: digital marketing Tags: content marketing
by Jake Sorofman | October 11, 2013 | Comments Off
October 5th was the second anniversary of Steve Jobs’ death. I vividly recall the night Apple announced his passing. I was at a Boston launch party for a newly funded cloud startup, standing in the company of dozens of product design obsessives—true Jobs acolytes.
What struck me at the time—other than a sense of sadness and loss—was our shared reverence for this man few of us knew. Setting aside the script for the launch celebration, people reflected on what Jobs meant to them. They spoke of their first Macs. They talked about the desire to build something insanely great. They reflected on beautiful product design.
Steve Jobs reminded us of the importance of getting the details right. He sweated every surface, intersection, edge and interface to deliver products that we love to use. He said that great design isn’t just how something looked; it’s how it works. He brought these principles, so familiar to high-end industrial design, to every-day products. Everything he touched was with the eye of an artist and the mind of an engineer and he helped design products that respected end users.
In doing so, he reset our expectations for user experience.
Back in the day, user experience design (UXD) was often seen as an obscure or even pretentious discipline that lived or died as a discretionary line item on the R&D budget. It was frequently overlooked, underfunded or performed by non-experts. For technology-based products, the result was often something resembling the soul-sucking green screens of early ERP. Perhaps you also recall the menace of that blinking cursor!
User experience was underappreciated because end-users often had little choice. But as products and services have migrated to the web and cloud-based delivery models, the battlefield shifted. Competitive advantage has migrated up the stack—from infrastructure to applications to services to interfaces … and now to experiences. It’s the consumerization of IT. End users don’t care whether your product is running on SQL or Hadoop, VMware or Xen. What they care about is how easy it is to use. They care about how it makes them feel.
These same principles apply to brand experiences. Audiences are drawn like a magnet to brands that seek to delight through thoughtful, authentic and engaging experiences. Great experience design inspires social sharing and word-of-mouth advocacy that drives viral growth.
In many cases, product, experience and marketing become an entangled gestalt that you really can’t tease apart: To consumers, the product and the brand are really about the experience itself. Great experience drives loyalty and advocacy. As my colleague Richard Fouts says, when it’s done right, the product experience is really your best marketing.
Of course designing great user experiences is only complicated by the multi-screen realities of our connected lives. Getting it right generally means optimizing for multiple formats, which creates new technical and design challenges.
Here’s the reality. We live in an age of information overload, frayed nerve endings and gnat-like attention spans. We also live in an age of abundant choice. That’s why exceptional user experience matters so much: because your audiences really won’t tolerate anything less.
I call it the Apple Effect.
Category: digital marketing Tags: user experience
by Jake Sorofman | October 7, 2013 | Comments Off
It’s for no particular reason that my last few posts have been somewhat ominous in tone, hinting at the rise of the machines and a world where all that’s knowable is known.
It’s heavy stuff, for sure, but it’s also the reality of these digital days. Our hyperkinetic, hyper-connected lives mean that third parties will inevitably snack on our data trails.
Last week, we saw two significant examples of this trend. Adobe warned that 2.9 million customers’ credit card data had been compromised as part of a sophisticated cyber attack that included the theft of software source code. Separately, Bloomberg reported that Yahoo! was sued by a San Bruno, Calif. resident seeking class-action status against its practice of scanning e-mail contents to target ads and its services.
On obvious levels, these are very different storylines. But, in both, there’s a threat to personal data—one real, one perceived—but both indicative of the fact that, when your data is out of your own hands, its potential use and misuse is nothing but possibility.
There’s nothing new about cybercrime and there’s certainly nothing new about the debate over data privacy. But these high-profile incidents make it clear that the data centricity of our digital lives is the new frontier for legislation and security. Virtually every news cycle reveals evidence to this effect in the form of crimes perpetrated or lines blurred.
Google says that there’s nothing untoward about e-mail sniffing. In a separate, unrelated lawsuit filed against the Mountain View, Calif. giant, Google contends that non-Gmail users who e-mail a Gmail account have “no legitimate expectation” that their e-mails are private. According to a recent UPI article, the lawsuit cites a 1979 Supreme Court decision in Smith v. Maryland, which says “a person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties.”
But this raises an important question: what, exactly, is voluntary?
Of course, this 1979 verdict was handed down well before the pervasive use of digital surveillance techniques, but it could (at least theoretically) leave the door open to interpretation. For example, what is voluntary in an age of digital tracking? Is visiting a website permission enough? Does this constitute voluntary data sharing?
I’ll leave these thorny legal questions for others to answer. But this I know: We can expect more debate. The boundaries around what constitutes permission and authority to collect personal data remain muddy waters. Where the rules come down on this topic will shape the future of data-driven marketing.
As for the security element of the debate, this should be red meat for innovators. Personally, I can’t think of a single technical challenge with more urgency today.
Category: digital marketing Tags: Data, privacy