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5 posts from November 2009

11/20/2009 Digital Leadership

On my trip to Boston this week I had the pleasure listening to an amazing group of digital pros talk about using labs and experimentation to change culture within an agency. The underlying message was that clients demanded digital expertise and solutions but that agencies still scrambled to show that they could deliver this. Traditional agencies, those weaned on the 30-second spot and the dynamic duo model of copywriter/art director, face the biggest challenge to change, as opposed to the pure digital players.

I also took the opportunity to talk briefly with Edward Boches, Chief Creative Officer of Mullen. I've been following and interacting with Edward on Twitter and in the blogosphere, which is always fun. But in person is better. And I finally got to ask him the question I find most relevant:

"What did you do to shift the focus at Mullen from traditional to digital?" Now Mullen has always had a large interactive group but so do a lot of places. But if you compare what they're doing this year, and the attention they're receiving as a digital/social media agency, something's happening. And they're starting to leapfrog the other agency giants in Boston.

Edward's answer was consistent with other successful digital leaders. He discovered digital with a passion and became, at least mildly, obsessed with it. He thought it was a blast. It wasn't that he became the best technologist or the hottest coder. It was that as he dug in and played with it, it filled him with ideas and excitement and spoke to his creative muse.

That, in essence, is what every digital leader has to have. An excitement, if not passion, for the possibilities of technology. You can't fake that excitement. I don't think you can delegate that excitement. Many of today's leaders think hiring some one or some two will solve that problem, while the leaders sit back and see what happens. This can only work if the leader cedes much of his or her control to the new people. Which almost never happens.


If you look back over the past 10+ years, that's how agencies tried to manage the digital space. They started interactive groups, hired online specialists and then put their focus back on the traditional side. They were always surprised to find that their agencies weren't further ahead.

I had the pleasure of meeting Scott McCormick of VML several times. To me, Scott is great example of digital leadership. He took a medium sized, midwestern agency and helped turn them into one of the world's digital powerhouses. When I talked to Scott, his love of technology and gadgets always came out. He thought the digital space was so much fun that he surrounded himself with incredibly smart people who felt the same way. Scott always played down his own knowledge but it was clear to me that his passion drove the success of VML. The incredibly smart people around him aren't enough without that leadership.

Digital leadership, like any other leadership, doesn't flow from logic it flows from passion. The problem for many agency leaders is that they don't have that digital passion. But few are willing to leave or cede control so that their agencies can change.

If the traditional agency model dies, you can chalk it up to the lack of digital leadership.
11/13/2009 Watch Out for Agencies Acting Like Jilted Girlfriends

The client-agency relationship has never been a life long love affair. It's like a short, intense period of romance followed by a short, sometime rocky, sometimes sublime marriage that ultimately ends in divorce. There's nothing wrong with that, it's just the nature of the business. People come and go and they realize the relationship is stale and that they each want to see new people.

Usually, that break up takes place behind closed doors. And everyone plays the game of acting nicely since you may get back together at some point. You certainly don't want other potential partners to see you acting badly or saying nasty things at the breakup because that might possible scare them off.

So I was surprised to see, on my blog of all places, a bad breakup happening. What's most odd is that I have absolutely nothing to do with the divorce; I'm like Paul Weston in HBO's "In Treatment" watching from the leather chair.

A while back, I wrote about how local ski resort Jay Peak had a hiccup in their social media program. They're doing a lot of things right, but they missed something. Everyone involved jumped in, solved the problem, and moved on.

Everyone, that is, except the agency of record Almighty Boston. The last post in the discussion was from Christopher Smith who stated that one of Jay's social media initiatives "is not an approach that we would encourage, nor endorse." This from the people who "helped design/build Jay Peak's social media platform and strategy."

It sound to me like the agency just called the client "stupid" in public. Now, clients and agencies call each other all sorts of names, but everyone usually does this behind closed doors. It's not often you see public disagreements like this, for good reason. And that reason is that once things like this become public, it's difficult, if not impossible, to find common ground.

It didn't stop there. On October 19th, Almighty Boston resigned the Jay account. When agencies resign clients they usually site "creative differences" like when Shine Advertising resigned the Go Daddy account. We all understand what that means: the agency developed what they thought were killer ideas, but the client didn't like any of them.

Almighty Boston said this instead:
"We're not comfortable moving forward without them having a cohesive plan," said agency partner Christopher Smith.  "We wish them luck."  Hmm, creative difference might simply be a matter of taste, and who can really argue with that. Not having a plan speaks plainly to intelligence. See above.

I thought it would stop there, but it didn't. Steve Wright from Jay Peak joined me for a social media roundtable in Burlington with some other local social media people. He talked about how Jay used social media to get feedback. And guess what? Almighty Boston just couldn't give up another chance to get in another jab. Christopher Smith was back with this comment:

"There must be some mistake/misunderstanding. Jay Peak has never used crowdsourcing in this manner."

Did he just call his former client a liar?

It's sad to see this happening in public, forever (it's the Web, remember). I've always heard good things about both Almighty Boston and Jay Peak. They had a good five-year run together.  I'm not sure what this public spat does (and it seems to be mainly one-sided).

Maybe Almighty Boston feels it's fighting to protect its integrity. Instead, it seems to point out the dangers in leaving an Almighty Boston agency relationship. If I were a prospective client, I'd think twice about the potential of one of my partners going out to trash my brand publicly over internal disagreements. This might one of those new business angles I just don't get.

Call me naïve; I think you can have your integrity and still break up well. No one wants to hire the Jilted Girlfriend, except perhaps out of pity.
11/06/2009 Toyota and Apple: Two P's in an iPod?

Toyota and Apple have something in common. Both the Prius and the iPhone (and the iPod before it) appeal to people who like high tech, who want to feel as if they're a little ahead of the curve and who are ready to embrace products that change behavior.

The iPhone is clearly one of these products. It's changed how we use and what we expect from mobile phones (and mobile carriers). It's created a completely new Apps sector, one that other companies have rushed to copy. It is a brilliant product.

The Prius is also one of those products. It's slowly changing our expectations of cars. The car itself is one of the first high tech automobiles available and it should usher in a completely new wave of electric cars. It's changing the way we drive now and in the future.

You'd think that the Prius and the iPhone is a match made in heaven. Actually, Toyota does believe this. They've created an iPhone app about the Prius. Recently they launched an innovative interactive campaign using AR and Times Square billboards to connect iPhone users with the Prius. Toyota realizes that people who own iPhones should feel the same attraction to the Prius. And they're probably right.

What's wrong, though, is that unless you buy an upper-end Prius (Prius IV or V) there's no built in support to listen to and integrate iTunes in the car's system. There is an AUX connector in the car, but you have to buy a 3.5 mm audio cable, and even then, you can't control your iTunes through the stereo.

You can purchase an iPod integration kit for $250, but that's more than some iPhones cost. Or you can opt for the stereo/GPS upgrade for $1,400 but again, it's a lot to pay for listening to your own music. This Prius/iPod integration should be a standard feature, not an add-on.

Toyota, you have an outstanding product in the Prius. It's a product Apple and iPhone users should go crazy for. But if you're going to target and seduce this audience, you better make sure you deliver the goods. Otherwise they'll steam up the car windows but in the wrong way.
11/05/2009 When Products Change Behavior

Last week I purchased a new Toyota Prius. I had been eyeing this car for a while and when I realized that no pure electric car would be available for a while, I took the plunge. I used to drive an old Ford; the car I bought when I moved back to the U.S. and realized the American public transportation was an oxymoron. It always got great gas mileage, still chugging along at 30 MPG even after 10+ years, and I don't drive that much so it was a perfect little car for Burlington, Vermont.

But all things must pass, and I wanted to make a move before the old car had any major issues.

And let me tell you, I LOVE my new Prius. Love it. I'd driven a rental Prius last year in Florida and that got my attention. This one is even better.

Here's the weird/exciting/new part about it: Speed is no longer my key driving metric. I've driven a long time, and since I started driver's ed when I was 15 years old, the number I've always watched intently and allowed to direct my driving was always my MPH.

No longer. My Prius has a number of electronic indicators showing me my Miles Per Gallon, how well I'm charging my battery, whether I'm using Power or Charging, and more. I find that I'm driving less frantically and more carefully in order to get my numbers up!

While I drove somewhat economically before, this car is training and rewarding me for driving green, or ECO, as the Prius calls it.

And it's not just me. My seven-year old son who used to shout at me from the back seat to pass everyone now shouts every time we charge up and don't use the gasoline engine.  It's like he's changed our old car video game of PassEm to our new car video game of ChargeEm.

Yes, I'm driving more economically but I'm also driving more carefully. Measuring your driving simply on speed, whether you like it or not, encourages drivers to take more risks. Driving to efficiency encourages drivers to take fewer risks. This has to be a good thing for everything that has to do with driving.

It also shows that you can teach old dogs new tricks. When products supply people with a new way of gauging how they're doing, or provide features people never even knew they needed, they can profoundly change the way we act and live.

You know, the last time I experienced a product changing my behavior to this degree was with my iPhone. But more on that tomorrow...
11/03/2009 Social Marketing in the Old Days

I had a great conversation with a friend of mine the other day about social CRM. We talked about the challenge companies face trying to gather all customer data and social media comments and put them into a system where brands can act on them.

It made me think about social media and how marketing is coming full circle, only we don't have the tools yet to do it right.
Shopkeeper2.sepia In the days of my parents or grandparents, you usually went to a local shop owner to buy something. Most of these stores were family owned and run. The owner would great you, make chitchat and then recommend something for you. His CRM tool was his brain. The next time you came in, he remembered you bought that green shirt and he had some sox and a tie that would go perfectly with it. When you bought both, he gave you a little discount.

You were so impressed you started sending your friends to this store. And they were also impressed. The challenge for the shop owner was transferring his knowledge to those of his employees (or his kids who worked for him). Some employees had lousy CRM skills and other had great CRM skills.

His business grew and times changed. He opened up a couple of stores in neighboring towns. While his brother ran one, he had to hire completely new people to run the others. But that was okay. Business was booming.

Rather than word of mouth and social marketing, he started advertising. The experience became less personal, but the assortment and pricing of the goods more than made up for it. So what if the sales person never remembered us? It was still a good deal.

And then the national chains moved in. The shop owner tried appealing to our sense of local commitment but the reality was that he didn't know us and we didn't know him any longer.  The chains knew or cared about us even less, but at least they were cheaper with even greater assortment. And they advertised everywhere.

Then, somehow, that wasn't enough any more. We realized we want personal. We want businesses to treat us like people, not like a "prospect" or a "target." We want them to remember what we like and to hear us when we complain. All of those things we loved at that original store we found that we want again.

The question is: can we get it back? Maybe social CRM other social media tools will help. But the tools themselves are not enough.

The original storeowner had his own CRM system in his head. He had to find people who could understand it and, more importantly, who wanted to use it and who were good at using it.

It's the same with social media today. It's about the culture you create and support in your organization. It needs to come from the top and you need to treat each other, co-workers and employees in the same way.

Otherwise no super CRM or social media tool in the world will help. Because at the end of the day, we want to hear you say to us that we look great in that green shirt, that you have sox to match, and you're going to give us a deal. Then, and only then, will we go tell all of our friends.

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