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7 posts from November 2010

11/29/2010 What Are You Selling?

Agencies and marketers, big and small, are in the business selling services. We sell our services to clients and hope that we help them grow. Many agencies say they’re selling process or strategy or even engagement. But at the end of the day, most of them are selling the services and people they already have: creative, production and media. 

One reason why client satisfaction with agencies is often so low is that clients want agencies to recommend solutions that fit the clients’ needs. The challenge for agencies is that they make money from filling the plates of the people they already have on staff. And if you’re a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

Digital agencies are no different. It’s why we still see so many microsites out there. Social agencies are falling into the same trap.

Optimally agencies would come in and evaluate the marketing situation and opportunities from a neutral standpoint. That’s one of the things I try to do with Digalicious. Since we’re a networked agency, we have no vested interest in suggesting one solution over another, since we have no “inventory” to move. I know from experience how hard that is working with a bigger agency, since selling what you have gives you bigger profit margins.

Big agencies have tried to solve this by either having a huge array of services, or by becoming a holding company for separate specialized entities. But what we’ve seen, instead, are problems coordinating these internal groups and even political infighting between holding company “brothers.”

The problem is that clients don’t care about agency problems. They care about their own problems.

That’s one of the reasons why agencies like Co. might succeed: they have a core group of people but don’t have to worry about what recommendations they suggest, as long as they’re the right suggestions and that they have quality people and partners who can step in.The opportunity is that the collaboration will work better when everyone sits at the table as equals and shares in the decision-making. 

Looking ahead, the biggest challenge is having enough high-quality, independent collaborators to tap into. Maybe more and more people will leave the bigger agencies to start their own. Yet the agencies are making this harder every day since most of them have a lot of money to spend on talent. If that talent stays in the system, the collaborators pool will stay shallow.

Ultimately the clients will tip the scales one way or another by deciding on whether they want help from a neutral arbiter or from someone with a dog in the fight.


11/24/2010 Giving Thanks

It’s been a good year for Digalicious. And I have lots to be thankful for.

Great collaborators – I’ve had the pleasure of working with a great group of collaborators, like Bill Drew, of Cottage 10, and Corey Machanic. I’ve worked with both of them for years, but I realize that each year it just keeps getting better and we keep producing better work together.

Great clients – I’ve done a lot of different things this year for my clients, lots of thinking AND doing. I’m extremely lucky to have clients who are open to new ideas and who are willing to take some risks. The results have been great as well, but that’s only because of the people involved from the get go. What’s even better, I like all of them personally as well, they’re just a good group of people. 

Great results – Even though Digalicious isn’t solely a digital production company, a lot of what we’ve produced ended up delivering business results and gained creative recognition. We won an FCS best of show for Vermont Matters, and then took a gold and silver W3 award for Vermont Matters and a Fletcher Allen arrhythmia banner. Then we won a MITX award for the entire online campaign for Fletcher Allen. Another huge thanks to Corey, who collaborated with me on all of this work.

Great family – However good my work is, it’s the result of having a great family around me. I’m lucky to have the flexibility of an entrepreneur so I can spend time with them. They inspire my thinking, creativity and ambition.

So on Thanksgiving I have a lot to be thankful for.

Thank you.

11/21/2010 A Traditional/Digital Creative Peace Plan

Some political problems seem intractable: Democrats and Republicans agreeing to work together for the good of the country, Israelis and Palestinians working out a peace agreement to benefit the entire Middle East (and the world), and traditional and digital creatives finding a way to work collaboratively in and between agencies for the good of their clients. I’ll save the first two for another blog post or VPR commentary. But I have hope for the third one.

While I constantly read online about the gulf separating these two creative groups of people, and the challenges for agencies to move from the broadcast to the digital age, I received some stark reminders at this year’s MITX Award ceremony. The bigger, older agencies expressed frustration over attracting digital talent and implementing internal change.  The smaller, digital agencies (and big agency digital talent) still felt increasingly dissed and misunderstood by their traditional counterparts.

And I kept thinking, “We’ve come so long, why can’t we all just get along.” (Hey, I’m from Vermont and lived in Sweden, so neutrality comes naturally).

The traditional/digital divide is a real one. Somehow it seems that the talents and knowledge of each groups threaten the egos and jobs of the other. That’s unfortunately what happens when you have people involved. But all hope is not lost. Here’s a solution that I think might help bridge this divide. It’s the idea of recognizing that each group has a unique approach and that the other group usually lacks just that approach.

Great traditional creatives have the critical talent of simplification. They have to take messy ideas and turn them into an effective, easily understood and emotionally resonating message for a print ad or 30 second spot. Believe me, it is really hard to say something of value in such a small or short space. The limitations of the ad world mean that traditional creatives excel in Simplicity. And simplicity is a critical component for success in communication.

Great digital creatives have the critical talent of complexity. They can recognize complex patterns and connect seemingly disparate elements into logical systems. They take modern digital technology and build platforms for doing things, remarkable things. It is amazingly hard to build great, easy to use platforms that deliver true value. Digital creatives have mastered the challenge of complexity, a critical component in developing unique, and effective people-focused digital communications.

The problem today is that a lot of the digital creatives make things TOO complex. They over think their solutions and often times develop systems that are way too hard to use, implement or understand. I’ve found that keeping digital creatives and technologists from over-thinking is a huge challenge.

Traditional creatives, on the other hand, seem to have the problem of not being able to construct systems or platforms, even on an idea level. Somehow they think they’ll end up having to do math, so they turn away from it. Their solutions tend instead to be overly simplistic and one-offs. I’ve found that moving traditionals into more complex discussion makes their eyes just glaze over.

My peace plan is this:

Digitals need to recognize the power, and sometimes brilliance of the traditionals’ simplicity. They need to learn this power from them and embrace it as part of their thinking. The power of simplicity when applied to complex ideas is astounding.

Traditionals need to recognize the power, and sometimes brilliance of the digitals’ complex thinking. They need to learn this power since, at the end of the day, this complexity connects to the actual, real world experience of everyday people. The power of creating complex digital systems for the good of consumers is brilliance in motion.

And just to show that this can work, just look at the hackneyed example of Apple. They’ve combined brilliant, complex technical systems with an elegant simplicity of use. It’s no wonder their products are wildly successful.

There is a way to work together in the creative marketing spaces. Of course, recognizing and embracing each group’s unique talents means keeping egos and titles in check. It means accepting the idea that each group and person in that group needs to grow and evolve. 

Otherwise, we'll just keep on fighting, and losing.


11/19/2010 Great Fun at MITX last night

I always love going down to the MITX awards in Boston. I’ve been involved in MITX since 1998 (when it was called MIMC). One of my first jobs was preparing a children’s entertainment product for a MIMC exhibition at the Museum of Science.

The awards ceremony brings together some of the best digital talent around, and clearly shows the vibrancy of the Boston digital scene. I’ve always tried to bring members of my team down from Burlington to have them experience the energy of that community.

It also helps that some of the top agencies are there, competing with medium, small and even in-house teams. When I started entering (and winning) work here, the Barbarian Group reigned supreme and were the bar the rest of us sought to reach up to. Nowadays we have firms like Mullen who’ve re-energized their own internal teams and the rest of the Boston community along the way.

Last night I was lucky (extremely lucky) enough to take home my first award for Digalicious. Being a virtual digital marketing firm, based in Vermont, competing in something like this forces me, and my virtual team to continually push each other to the level of some of the top digital firms around. While winning is a blast, it’s also an affirmation that we’re on the right track, and that the virtual model can be successful. This year Digalicious won for Best Direct Response Campaign for the work we did for Fletcher Allen Health Care.

 In all honesty, though, the highlight of the evening was spending time with people like Steve Curran of Pod Design, Mike Schneider of Allen & Gerritsen, Troy Kelley of Arnold and Edward Boches of Mullen. Awards are nice, but the people are what inspire.

Congratulations to all of the winners and to all of the finalists as well. And keep up the great work, MITX, of bringing together this group of talented and creative people.


11/12/2010 Treat Social Marketing as a Constant Learning Opportunity

You’ve identified your need to participate in social media. Check.
You’ve developed goals and created a social strategy. Check.
You’ve chosen a few members to run the initiative. Check.
You’ve launched your social channels. Check.

Time to site back, watch what happens, and put that in your list of marketing goals accomplished for the year, right?


One of the mistakes I see around me is the misconception that there’s a clear playbook for social marketing. There’s not. There’s an assumption that you do what you’ve set out to do and if it works, great, but if it doesn’t, you can turn it off.

The problem with this, somewhat linear thinking is that social is a new channel and constantly changing. Even if you have a dialed-in content strategy that feeds it, your social marketing deals with unpredictable individuals and, sometimes, platforms every day. Successful social marketing involves a high degree of iteration and improvisation.

A smart approach is to treat social marketing as a constant learning opportunity. From a process standpoint, it makes the work a lot easier and more understandable to the people doing it. From a marketing standpoint, it’s what you should be doing anyway!

Your social team needs training, discussion, and more training.

Here are some things you can do to make your team more effective:

Start with Training – Before your team gets too far down the road, or even if they’re just starting, invest in some training. The training could include best practices, reviewing your social policy and strategy, training on the tools and scenario based training. The idea with initial training is to make sure people are both prepared for the unexpected and that they know where to turn when they have questions. If you’re sending your front line employees to do battle, make sure they’re armed.

Keep Talking – One of the reasons companies put together inter-disciplinary social teams is to keep a discussion alive about what people experience when they’re managing your social marketing. Every person can provide new teachable moments to the others, based on her or his own experience. This support group helps build consensus and aligns your social voice. More importantly, it gives your social team a needed safety valve for problems, or sounding board for new ideas.

Ongoing Training – As noted before, new things keep popping up in social media. It’s a good idea to provide new training at regular intervals to the team. You can’t learn everything at once; so multiple training allows the team to learn new tools and to help develop newer, evolved strategies, once you’ve tested your initial strategies. It’s also critical to offer newer team members who might have joined the group. 

The “one and done” model is old thinking, still prevalent in a lot of marketing departments and agencies. For a fluid medium as social marketing, every day is an opportunity to learn something new. If you want your social team to perform to their optimal ability, you should build in formal learning opportunities along the way.


11/08/2010 Bogusky, Gladwell and Revolution

Advertising legend Alex Bogusky has left his ad agency to start a new company of his own, named Fearless Revolution. Its mission is to help support a new consumer revolution because

“To be a concerned citizen requires that we become concerned consumers because the reality is, corporations will impact our future as much as governments will. Voting beyond the ballot box with our purchasing power is rapidly becoming a powerful individual tool in the democratic experience.”

The first thing Alex wants help with is to crowdsource a writing of a new consumer bill of rights. The old one had things like the right to safety, the right to be informed, the right to choose and the right to service. Fearless Revolution wants to update this for the digital age.

I am all for more power to the consumer. Right now, individual Americans are at such a disadvantage compared with corporations, interest groups, and super-rich people. This is the U.S. where money is king. Those with it get to decide. Movements like Fearless Revolution look to turn that dynamic on its head by weighting collective numbers and influence against greater economic wealth.

But is that what Alex and Fearless are really doing? Are they really providing a forum or impetus for consumers to join and act collectively in opposition, it seems, to business and corporations? Is Alex looking to head a new Social Consumers’ Union?

While all this sounds great, I don’t think that’s what Alex Bogusky is doing at all. Actually, if you look at the business model behind the new company, it seems to be this:

“We help big companies and titans of industry uncover the consumer advocate hiding inside the layers of corporate BS.”

Whoa! What happened to the revolution? Is Fearless trying to crowdsource consumer advocacy to sell to its corporate clients in the same way that Alex’ former partner John Winsor is doing with the advertising business at his new shop Victor & Spoils? If so, it seem like Mr. Winsor is the more honest of the two, since he’s not promising that any of his collaborators will be Creative Director at the next big agency.

All the talk about revolutions made me think of the article Malcolm Gladwell penned in the New Yorker on social media and revolution. Gladwell argues that real revolution is hierarchical, strong tie, high-risk activism. 

Yet what Fearless Revolution describes seems to be weak-tie, horizontal, low-risk activism. It's the kind of activity Gladwell paints as good at gaining participants but not very effective at actually changing anything. 

And the question hanging over all of this is: what is Alex Bogusky really willing to risk here? He says he wants to be another Ralph Nader, but Ralph Nader always risked everything he had. His passion and risk taking are what made him successful.

Alex, what are you willing to risk? Clearly you should have enough money to tide you over for a while. Are you willing to risk your business connections and past clients for this new cause? Are you willing to take on Burger Kings unhealthy offerings as a consumer’s right to a healthy food?

Right now it looks like Fearless Revolution is a great marketing execution aimed at gaining corporate clients for the business. And if that’s the case, it’s the worst example of marketing possible.

Alex, you are THE guy to do this. But you can’t do this in the same way you worked at CPB. Are you ready to let go and really lead change?

To paraphrase John Lennon:
You say you want a revolution, well, you know, you better free your mind instead.


11/01/2010 Research and Buying Online

The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project reported last month that the number of people research and purchasing goods online continued to rise. In 2010, 58% of adults reported they conducted product or service research online , compared with  49% in 2004.

From 2000, Americans purchasing products rose from 36% to 52% today. While it’s not a one-to-one correlation, it would seem that most of the people researching end up buying online as well.

Probably the big news was that 24% of Americans said that they posted comments or reviews online about the product or services they buy. That’s almost half of the people who do buy online. It seems like there’s a lot of room to get this talkative audience to share more.

I’m actually surprised that the numbers aren’t higher, at least for researching and buying. Basically, a little more than half of Americans are online searchers and researchers. Half. Why aren’t more people in the e-commerce habit? From what you read in the media today, it sounds like everyone is there. 

The same report said that those in higher income and education brackets do more product research than those in lower income and education brackets.

So the digital divide is bringing that number down. You have to guess that if people can’t afford a computer at home, then they’ll do their research at work. Unless, of course, companies and organizations they work for have restrictive Internet policies, which many do.

It seems that, for the good of all e-commerce, that workers should have the right to a certain amount of time, while at work, to conduct personal business on the Internet. Just like they probably do, when it comes to talking on the telephone. Two technologies you can use for personal and business reasons.

I wonder too if this also shows a digital divide between the stores people shop at and their online capabilities. Maybe there are still a group of businesses whose Web sites and e-commerce capabilities are close to non-existent, so there’s no real reason to do any research online in the first place.

If the challenge is an income issue, then we, parents, taxpayers and policy makers, need to do a better job of educating people, in schools, at work centers, and at work, on how to use the Internet. If these numbers hold out, our economy may depend on it. 

50% isn’t good enough.  

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