Jake Sorofman

A member of the Gartner Blog Network

Jake Sorofman
Research Director
1 years at Gartner
16 years IT industry

A former CMO, Jake Sorofman analyzes digital marketing strategy, trends and practices, with an emphasis on mobile, social and content marketing. ...Read Full Bio

Making Digitally-Led Customer Experience an Operational Discipline

by Jake Sorofman  |  April 15, 2014  |  4 Comments

Digitalization is blurring the boundaries between product, service and brand experiences.

Take Gartner’s Nexus of Forces—the collision of cloud, social, mobile and big data—and smash it together with the forces of change in both behavior and expectations occurring in consumer markets today. The result is a brave new world that spins on the axis of digitally-led customer experience.

Today, digital natives in particular, live in that constantly connected parallel world vaguely situated between physical and virtual spaces. It perhaps goes without saying that living astride these two universes rewires your brain in substantial ways, creating a new lens on the world and an orientation to a wholly different set of guideposts on the path to purchase.

Digital natives see these two worlds as one, a blended and blurred experience undivided by atoms and bits. They expect your brand to be native, too, or at a least naturalized citizen of this merged universe. Here, physical and virtual worlds are expected to give way to seamless ensemble experiences.

Digital natives expect you to hide the seams between online and offline channels, creating memorable branded moments that delight through convenience, utility, and, frankly, exceptional design.

This last requirement may sound like a superficial party to the list, but the expectation for thoughtful design and visually rich experiences is no longer the province of the finicky digital aesthete. In no small part, Steve Jobs has contributed to the democratization of design appreciation, if not design thinking.

This brings me to the point I want to make here, which is that in an age of abundant choice and hyper-competition, it’s often the experiences that set your brand apart. Gone are sustainable product and service advantages. In their place is a promise to delight at each and every branded moment. Often, these experiences are digitally led.

But simply delighting for its own sake, in the service of goodwill or some other off-the-books advantage isn’t what I’m talking about here. What I mean is customer experience as an operational discipline.

How do you make digitally-led customer experience a discipline that delivers scalable and predictable value to your business? That’s the question I’ll riff on over coming weeks.

In the meantime, I’d like to leave you with a rough model for thinking about the operational dimensions of customer experience.

CXP Model

More soon. In the meantime, please feel free to leave your reactions here.

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Content Marketers Take Note: Vox.com is the Template for Spoon-fed Storytelling

by Jake Sorofman  |  April 10, 2014  |  2 Comments

This week, my Gartner colleague Todd Berkowitz wrote about the launch of Vox.com, a general news property produced by Vox Media with the apparent goal of focusing on substance over sizzle.

Vox, from what I can tell, operates by the original newsman’s mandate of educating its readership. This no-nonsense approach to reporting is both refreshing and rare in today’s age of faux journalism, sensationalized headlines, smarmy opinionnaring, and breaking news banners that cry wolf with every unremarkable turn in the news cycle.

Vox focuses on the facts—the news you need to know and understand to shine light in the dark corners of today’s complex global entanglements.   

As a digital marketer, the real innovation here, for me, is Vox’s modern twist on the traditional tenets of journalism. It respects both old and new. 

Instead of the attention-seeking pretence that has watered down so much of today’s media, it has returned to the fact-based roots of the trade—but it serves it up in a way that respects the diminished attention spans and superabundance of information inundating audiences today. It spoon-feeds news and insight with data visualizations and slideshow-style reporting.

In his post, Todd discussed the concept of cards, which Vox uses to spoon-feed the important facts and chronology of current news events. Cards have roots in Kanban, a lean/agile workflow methodology and they’re reminiscent of the slideshows and lists that have become a common structure for storytelling.

Vox applies cards to complex subjects where a pile of prose—or even a richly rendered infographic—are too dense or abstract to properly illuminate what matters most. Cards organize the logical arc of a long-form storyline into the bite-sized chunks of short-form snapshots.

Cards are, in a sense, spoon-fed journalism.

Content marketers should take note: Vox’s approach to data journalism and spoon-fed storytelling are more than a pretentious modern-day conceit.

It’s the new architecture for digital storytelling.

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8 Tips for Feeding the Content Marketing Beast

by Jake Sorofman  |  April 2, 2014  |  4 Comments

Maybe you’ve heard me say that I try to blog every single week. Without exception. Ever.

Why? Because I live by the flywheel effect, that inertial force of momentum that’s fed by the consistent application of force. Here, consistency and predictability matter more than the degree of energy expended. A slow trickle counts more than the occasional burst in the service of such things.

The moment an exception creeps in is the moment the flywheel stops spinning. It’s the moment that a writing habit becomes as compromised and discretionary as that forgotten gym membership.

But I have to be honest: it’s not always easy. Some weeks are just blindingly busy, deprived of the space and time to think reflectively on ideas for feeding this content-hungry beast. This week, for example.

Of course, this is a challenge that’s hardly unique to me. It’s perhaps the challenge for content marketers. How do you, against the competing demands of all else, sustain a healthy content supply chain?

Here are eight tips to consider when you’re searching for ways to feed the beast:

  1. Carve out space—I often rise with the roosters to capitalize on the quiet moments before dawn. Interestingly, since creativity comes from what might be best described as “dream space,” this can be a disproportionately productive time. For me, at least. It precedes the frenetic hurry of the day and taps into unfiltered thinking. Find your creative moments and build them into your daily discipline.
  2. Cast a wider net—Look beyond your core team to contribute content. Find the guest contributors and natural evangelists hiding in plain sight. The best content marketing programs are supporting by a community of occasional contributors, a roving band of stringers. Find them. Put them on assignment.
  3. Make lists—Do as I’m doing now: Take a topic—any topic—and distill it down to the key dos or don’ts. Everyone loves a list—it’s spoon-fed insight, which is nourishment for the frazzled soul.
  4. Flip the argument—The most interesting perspective is often the other side of the conventional argument. Flip the conversation and see what it yields. Probably something pretty darn interesting.
  5. Phone a friend—When my thoughts flow like mud, I call on one of my many whip-smart colleagues (holler, Julie Hopkins). When you’re on the edge of an insight, it often takes the exercise of talking it through to push it over the edge. Sometimes it’s a new perspective. Sometimes it’s just the act itself.
  6. Curate—Find, filter and annotate third party content and lend perspective to the conversation. Think like an editor as you organize and add value to other people’s content. Make it accretive, not recycled. And, of course, never, ever plagiarize. Contrary to Picasso’s view, great artists do not steal.
  7. Reuse—Design content artifacts from the inside out with an architecture for reuse. Every asset should have a plan for subsequent use. Take a page from Martha Stewart’s book: Artfully recycle.
  8. Revisit—Don’t be afraid to return to topics that may benefit from fresh perspective—or just because. Don’t forget that nobody is watching as closely as you. What feels, to you, like old hat is often fresh insight to the next guy. And brand experts understand that influence campaigns are about frequency and reach. Never one and done. But don’t be boring—tell your story in new ways. How do you do that? See tips 1-7.

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Martha Stewart Thinks Content Reuse is a Good Thing

by Jake Sorofman  |  March 25, 2014  |  6 Comments

Last week, my colleague Jennifer Beck made the case that content marketing is something like the art of flower arranging. I happen to know exactly, precisely, absolutely nothing about this particular craft, but I thought she made some great rhetorical points in an effort to describe the artful orientation behind brand storytelling.

Such florid images made me think of Martha Stewart, perhaps the original modern-day content marketer.

We all know Martha Stewart as the domestic dynamo capable of turning an errant doily into a charming centerpiece. Whether or not you like her style, you have to admit: she has a gift for creative reuse.

But what’s far more interesting to me than doilies and glue guns is her brilliant approach to content marketing. Here, she applies her gift for artful recycling to her own publishing efforts. A recipe in her magazine is demonstrated on her TV show. TV segments become how-to spots on her website. A craft project first introduced on TV appears again as detailed instructions published in her magazine.

Every content asset is stretched left, right and center in search of broader reach and audience engagement. Such leverage pays dividends for Martha far beyond the obvious goodness of initial costs that are amortized across a broader set of eyeballs.

As content marketers, we can learn a whole lot from Martha.

Last year, I suggested that content architectures should be loosely coupled and tightly formed, an idea that takes inspiration from IT architectures that emphasize modular design principles to enable software reuse. Here, the idea is similar: design your content architecture from the start with reuse in mind.

For example:

  • An eBook becomes a series of whitepapers
  • A whitepaper becomes a podcast
  • Then it becomes a series of blog posts
  • An infographic becomes a series of snackable stats
  • A case study becomes a series of short testimonials
  • Testimonials become a Vanity Fair-style Q&A
  • A long form video becomes a series of snackable short-takes

You get the idea.

The longer-form assets are the foundations for their shorter-form derivatives. These more snackable bits live upstream in the distribution cadence to whet audience appetite and drive deeper engagement apace.

So, when you think content marketing architectures, think reuse. Then do as Martha does: recycle.

Because, as Martha Stewart would probably say, Content reuse. It’s a very good thing.

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Enabling Two Speeds of Modern Marketing

by Jake Sorofman  |  March 19, 2014  |  3 Comments

Gartner analyst Jennifer Beck and I recently threw down the gauntlet in a public declaration of friendly disagreement over the fate of campaigns as the basic organizing principle for marketing.

If you recall, what began as a vaguely polemic debate converged on a compromise: campaigns will indeed live on, but they’ll represent just one of the two speeds of the modern marketing cadence.

The second speed, we suggested, looks more like continuous storytelling. This always-on variant is scrappier, often more human in tone, tenor and scale. It’s what we think of when we talk about modern content marketing.

This distinction brings me to a point that I believe many traditional marketers—and many traditional web content management vendors—often miss. Content publishing is now faster, more frequent, involves a broader set of non-expert contributors and often curation of third-party content. These new realities upend traditional content authoring and publishing workflows.

In the face of this new pace and rhythm, executed by a broader set of “casual” authors, traditional WCM-style workflow often looks downright rigid, wonky and poky.

That’s why content marketers are rising up, demanding lighter-weight, more extensible and flexible tools that deal with the new realities of expanded content types and sources, diverse publishing endpoints and a broader community of non-technical content contributors.

Niche content marketing vendors are emerging to fill this gap, but it raises the question of whether we’re only papering over a broader issue. After all, while the cadence of marketing may be two speeds, the function itself should be unified. Both speeds must be factored into the design of a digital marketing hub, particularly as it relates to creative and collaborative workflows that fuel the hub with engaging content.

Oracle’s acquisition of Compendium last year was a bet on the necessity of modern content marketing workflow to feed the beast of multichannel engagement. It’s a pattern that reflects the unification of old and new, the alignment of the two speeds of modern marketing, and an acknowledgement that content authoring and publishing done the old way is a stubborn chokepoint on the path to always-on marketing.

Patterns, by definition, tend to repeat. This one, in my opinion, is unlikely to be an exception.

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Mind the Gaps in the Digital Marketing Transformation

by Jake Sorofman  |  March 13, 2014  |  4 Comments

Last week, Laura McLellan and I co-presented a webinar on digital marketing spending trends (public replay available here) where we talked about some of the new roles rising on the marketing team roster.

To me, it’s a fascinating topic as much for the reactions it elicits as for what it says about the challenges marketers face as they shift dollars to digital (a shift that we see increasing by double digits annually). “That’s a whole lot of chiefs” is the conventional refrain we often hear when we wheel out c-level titles for everything from digital to data to content to technology to operations.

But, to me, the title itself isn’t really the point here. What’s more important is the role the title implies and the need it implicates. What’s more important is the gap it illuminates in the marketing leadership structure.

I’ve talked a lot about the conspicuous gap between aptitude and authority in digital marketing leadership today. CMOs have the authority, but it’s the digital natives who have the innate aptitude for the digital disciplines. Until the natives come of age, there’s a mismatch that will constrain marketing performance.

Of course, with revenue and retention on the line, very few companies are inclined to wait out the glacial pace of this evolution. They’re looking to accelerate digital maturity by filling gaps.

Here are some of the gaps you ought to mind:

  • Technology—that digital marketing depends on technology is obvious. What’s perhaps less obvious is how paralyzed many marketing leaders feel in the face of it. That’s why we see so many (81% at last count) appointing the role equivalent of a chief marketing technologist. Sometimes it’s a growth hacker in a black t-shirt, the MacGyver-like character who may lack the title but knows how to make magic happen by dint of talent and fearlessness. Other times, it’s an executive level appointee who formally bridges the gap between marketing and IT and acts as marketing’s resident CTO/CIO hybrid.  
  • Operations—running marketing like a business with accountability to cost and revenue impact requires a level of operational rigor that most marketing organizations simply lack. That’s why we see new roles forming around the operational aspects of planning, executing and optimizing digital marketing. Like the chief operating officer of the marketing function, the particular chief leads day to day execution, acting as de facto chief of staff with a sharp eye on the dashboard and a steady hand on the helm.
  • Content—feeding the content-hungry beast of multichannel engagement is not for the faint of heart. Many marketing leaders now recognize that the content marketing discipline depends on someone who wakes up and goes to sleep thinking about content quality, timeliness, expense and impact. Like a symphony’s conductor, the chief content officer turns a cacophony of content into stories that soar.
  • Data—much is said of the power of big data—and much of it is true. But most marketers still have small data problems to contend with. Their first-party data is scattered from hither to yon. They don’t know what questions to ask or how to turn data into insight into action. They need to get their own house in order, addressing their waking realities before they can realize big data dreams. That’s why we see so many marketing organizations hiring data pros. Part data scientist, part marketing analyst, this chief plays a visible and vital role in making marketing truly data driven.  

So there are four new roles we see on the rise. As you mind your own gaps, remember not to get too hung up on the titles themselves. Instead, focus on the roles the titles imply and the needs they implicate.  

Which other gap-filling titles or roles do you see on the horizon?

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Has Authenticity in Marketing Jumped the Shark?

by Jake Sorofman  |  March 4, 2014  |  5 Comments

There’s a lot of talk these days about authenticity versus transparency as the prevailing value for brand storytelling. Cynics suggest that authenticity and marketing make strange bedfellows, two ideas forever divided by conflicting goals. After all, authenticity, by definition, speaks truth without agenda. And marketing, as an instrument of commercial persuasion, is agenda writ large.

Cynics say that marketers’ application of authenticity is, in and of itself, inauthentic. They point to examples like Dove Real Beauty Sketches, one of the most successful viral campaigns in history, as the rare exception to this rule. More often than not, they say, authenticity in marketing looks hollow and false. In its attempt to reach the heart, it lands squarely in the stomach, turning it vaguely queasy.

Enter transparency, the brash, but believable cousin to authenticity. Cynics say that authenticity, which despite its guileless appearance, is really just an agenda wrapped in an earnest sugary coating. Transparency, on the other hand, may fail to warm the cockles of audiences’ hearts, but it succeeds in earning their trust with no-spin straight talk.

But transparency, itself, is also driven by agenda. This spin-free attempt to dazzle audiences with honesty is often just a judo flip designed to disarm.

So suggests a fascinating article by Heather Havrilesky in this week’s New York Times Magazine. It explores the Lego Movie, a surprisingly well-reviewed kid’s movie that represents what may well be the post-modern frontier for modern marketing. My kids haven’t dragged me to this particular movie (yet), so I can only make inferences. But it appears to be an infomercial wrapped in a storyline and pretending to be nothing but precisely that.

This absence of pretence—this agenda laid bare—is the subversive conceit. And somehow it seems to work. Haverilesky says, “In the movie’s final moments, big tears stream down my face. I am weeping over a 90-minute infomercial.”

Crocodile tears. Now that, dear reader, is persuasive testimony for the power of transparency.

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Gartner’s Intelligent Brand Framework Helps Marketers Find Balance

by Jake Sorofman  |  February 27, 2014  |  3 Comments

Earlier this week, Andrew Frank and I published a post on HBR.org called “What Data-Obsessed Marketers Don’t Understand.” Here, we unveiled Gartner’s Intelligent Brand Framework, which we believe will become very useful for helping marketing leaders build and balance broad interdisciplinary skills.

Why is this so important? Because high-performing marketing organizations lead by both head and heart, exhibiting strength in a broad range of data-centric and human-centric competencies across both strategic and operational domains. The Intelligent Brand Framework (below) helps you identify your power center, flex zones and areas of weakness as the foundation for purposeful, balanced thinking.

Intelligent Brand Framework
But don’t marketing leaders already do this by habit or accident?

Isn’t this pretty much a reptilian reflex for marketers?

Actually, not at all.

Too often, marketers submit to the insidious, inexorable force of the shiny object. It’s human nature to bow our heads faithfully to the gravitational pull of shiny and new. Social. Mobile. Big Data. The next new thing can become like the broaching humpback drawing overzealous whale watchers blindly to the starboard rail, as each passenger’s good-intentioned enthusiasm adds up to a precarious loss of balance.

The same thing happens in marketing organizations. All the time. These shiny objects may not measure up to the majesty of megafauna in full breach, but they do capture our collective attention and imagination perhaps more than you realize. The risk? Irrational exuberance and inflated expectations for the areas of active investment and the opposite for areas perhaps less shiny and new.

This imbalance is a silent threat to sustained marketing performance.

Thus, the Intelligent Brand Framework.

But think of this as more than a static model. We expect this framework to become the basis for prescriptive patterns that help guide your organization through dynamic digital marketing terrain.

Stay tuned. More to come on the Intelligent Brand Framework.

In the meantime, tell us what you think. Oh, and read the full article here.

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The Coming Age of Digital Ethnography

by Jake Sorofman  |  February 19, 2014  |  3 Comments

The lead story in this week’s New York Times Sunday Business section caught my eye. It’s a fascinating profile of Dr. Genevieve Bell, Intel’s director of user experience research—essentially, their resident futurist responsible for discovering innovation opportunities in subtle moments of human behavior.

This approach to participatory observation—known as ethnography—is certainly nothing new. For ages, marketers have known that the truth is often found between the lines, in the dark corners and shades of gray revealed by what people do, not necessarily what they say.

Often, it’s found precisely in the dissonance between what consumers report as fact and what’s observed as truth.

Today, ethnographers play an increasingly important role in tuning into the voice of the customer. Surveys and focus groups, it turns out, often suffer from groupthink and false reporting. And big data, while a powerful source of insight, can hide the truths only found in human observation and inspiration.

My colleague Andrew Frank and I have published research which seeks to correct the imbalance between head and heart—to ensure we don’t ask too much of data or expect it to deliver the whole truth and nothing but the truth (see “Introducing Gartner’s Intelligent Brand Framework” [subscription required]).

Stay tuned for more on this particular research in a future post.

In the meantime, consider what happens when you bring this now somewhat ancient idea of participatory observation to the digital domain. Here, sensors, quantified self and the Internet of Things become a source for new insights revealed through close observation of reflexive, utterly human patterns of behavior.

As the digital and analog universe becomes wholly instrumented for measurement, this approach to digital ethnography will go mainstream and it will shine light on the truth like never before.

But the question this all raises: at what cost? This is something that Richard Fouts, Mike Gotta and I explored last year in our Maverick Research project, “Personal Surveillance as the New Barter System” [subscription required].

The instrumentation of everything will only fuel an inequity that consumers will seek to correct by demanding remuneration for the personal data marketers seek to collect.

Consumers will rise up, demanding a fairer exchange of value for the recycled byproducts of their connected lives.

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“Big A” or “Little a”: Two Types of Agile Marketing

by Jake Sorofman  |  February 12, 2014  |  3 Comments

A lot is being asked of marketers these days. Many stand flatfooted at the edge of the precipice, disoriented by what exactly it means to find, engage and convert customers in this new digital dimension.

They’re asked to become data wranglers and marketing technologists.

They’re asked to become brand publishers, social and mobile marketers.

They’re asked to personalize—but to never, ever be creepy.

Against this backdrop is another less heralded challenge: Executing apace with digital.

How do you get work done when the digital afterburners engage? How do you keep pace when planning and execution cycles are compressed from quarters and months to days, hours and—gasp—minutes?

Enter agile, a methodology that practically saved the hide of software development when markets became hypercompetitive and business got wise to the magic of software innovation. I’ve written before about the burgeoning agile marketing movement, which seeks to apply agile principles to our discipline. But now the question becomes:

“Big A” or “little a”?

What sounds like a silly, Dr. Suessian turn of phrase actually raises an important question for aspiring agile marketers: What type of agile marketer do you want to become?

The “big A” variant of agile marketing implies a somewhat strict adherence to the conventions of the methodology. For example, agile often asks you to:

  • Decompose your work into small chunks, executed in short iterations
  • Create backlogs as a dynamic inventory of work (which you “groom” regularly)
  • Focus on use cases and stories instead of detailed requirements documents
  • Assemble cross-functional, nonhierarchical and often self-governing project teams
  • Conduct daily standup meetings to keep work on track and aligned to priorities
  • Display “burn-down” charts to measure progress, Kanban charts to manage workflow
  • Measure continuously and hold post mortems to capture learning for the next iteration

These artifacts of agile software development don’t always translate perfectly to the world of digital marketing, which is why many aspiring agile marketers opt instead for the “little a” variant.

Here, the approach is more philosophical:

  • As much as possible, break work into smaller chunks and execute shorter iterations
  • Test multiple variants before scaling your investments
  • Meet every morning to discuss the work of the day
  • Flatten hierarchy, encourage experimentation and discourage politics
  • Eliminate or substantially reduce paperwork and administrative process
  • Organize cross-functional teams that work outside of silos
  • Measure relentlessly and ask questions that allow for continuous learning

More often than not, agile marketers are disciples of this “little a” variant. They embrace the principles of agile, if not the prescribed process. They cherry-pick, applying just the elements that add value. They look beyond the methodology itself for other creative ways to improve velocity, adaptivity and efficiency.

For example, Zappos is reorganizing around the principles of Holacracy, which seeks to flatten hierarchies and makes work products—not people, titles and politics—the central driver of business. The goal is self-organizing, self-governing teams that adapt dynamically to changing market conditions.

Sound like too much, too soon for your organization? Look to freelance communities like Content.ly, Skyword and Visual.ly, which aggregate creative talent that brands contract on demand, as an elastic utility. “Talent on tap” is a simple way to throttle up your resource-constrained marketing team. Or, better yet, look for ways to offload work to your customers and audiences by harnessing the wisdom of crowds, cultivating user generated content, and building advocates who amplify your marketing efforts.

 “Big A” or “little a,” the lesson here is that you’ll need to find creative ways to accelerate and scale if you expect to—as Dr. Seuss absolutely never said—meet the daunting demands of the digital dimension.

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