Redefining Engagement to Understand the Future of Marketing

Published in ClickZ on July 15, 2015.

Media and technology are continuing to merge providing business opportunities that will engage customers in new ways.

Digital marketing transformation is occurring within enterprise companies across the globe as they seek to better understand their stakeholders who have infinitely greater control. This is not new, we knew this shift to the empowered customer has been happening for years, but it seems to have reached a tipping point.

Businesses of all sizes are (truly) embracing the concept of customer centricity and understanding that marketing is no longer a department, because everyone (customers and employees alike) has a voice that can be amplified through social and mobile channels. Every interaction with a customer is part of their experience with your brand. It is why companies are focusing on employee engagement now more than ever - employees are the face of the company to the customer.

Effectively tackling customer engagement today can certainly be overwhelming. Look at this list of over 2,000 marketing technology vendors that's Scott Brinker has compiled.

Above: The Marketing Technology Landscape, January 2015.
Image Credit: Scott Brinker/

And while at VentureBeat's GrowthBeat Summit in Boston last month, Brinker pointedly called out that "the tech is a distraction," but the fact that marketing is changing "in fundamental ways" is what is driving the landscape so radically. We now need to weave a company’s storytelling into digital experience – and digital itself is changing.

Internet-of-Things (IoT) is coming online rapidly. "IoT provides a new channel to reach customers through devices and interaction points", with Goldman Sachs predicting that IoT has the potential to connect 28 billion "things" to the Internet by 2020, ranging from bracelets to cars," says Cynthya Peranandam. This is providing business opportunities to create new revenue streams by effectively engaging customers in new ways.

But let's take a look at some of the near-term changes in the space. LUMA Partners has forecast the top 5 trends for 2015 and beyond are:

  • Programmatic
  • Mobile
  • Omnichannel/personalization
  • Identity
  • Convergent TV

I encourage you to check out LUMA's "State of Digital Media 2015" presentation to understand these trends in detail and how media and technology continue to merge. Review it alongside Mary Meeker's "2015 Internet Trends" report for a full view into current and future state of how we will engage with customers and each other. I find it helpful to stay informed of these trends as they will quickly be upon us to develop strategic engagement strategies as part of our ever-evolving marketing plans.

We live in exciting times and I can't wait to see the incredible marketing that is created on and from these new insights and platforms!

Social Business: Shifting From Noun to Verb

Published in ClickZ on March 17, 2015.

Increasingly, businesses need to embrace social strategies in order to succeed in the digital world.

The meaning of the term "social business" needs to and is evolving from being a thing, an end-state, a noun to an action, a methodology, a practice…a verb. The idea that collaboration technology allows us to connect with one another and share ideas is wonderful, but there are fundamental strategies that are even more important.

In 2014, the IBM Social Business Category Management team joined forces with The Economist Insight Unit (EIU) to uncover how different thought leaders in a variety of industries across the globe are enabling social business in their organizations. Leadership driving social business change is diverse — in some cases sprouting up from management systems, in others from customer engagement strategies — but in all instances focused on true people-centric engagement.

The social business phenomenon isn’t just about tweeting and likes – it’s about something far more powerful. As Bryan Kramer explained in his book: "There is No B2B or B2C: It’s Human to Human: #H2H" businesses are starting to behave and sound like real people dealing with other people, rather than "business" to "consumer."

We are at a unique point in time with the concepts of social business truly starting to gain a wider foothold, and as such we see companies at various points in the maturity curve for adopting social principles. They have reached their current state by taking varied paths, and yet these pioneers have one main thing in common: action. They are actively seeking information, methods, and practices that can harness the best of the people inside and outside of the organization. These social business leaders are allowing people to share their stories and forge relationships with each other and the brand – and as change agents, they’re asking the tough questions to push their organizations out of "business-as-usual."

"The first question we had to ask ourselves is, 'Can a bank be a social business?'" a Toronto-based bank’s vice president of social media and digital marketing said at a New York conference last year. "We’re a heavily regulated industry, and we take a very conservative approach."

The study was launched publically about 10 months ago, and beyond the findings of the study itself, we have reflected on the process undertaken to conduct and drive awareness of the study, and have learned some details about the process itself. This effort was social from the start, when we leveraged social media to request nominations for social business leaders in one of five categories: Visionaries, Strategic Thinkers, Culture Shapers, Storytellers, and 'Fully Social' (Adaptive, Open, Entrepreneurial). After the advisory board finished the task of narrowing to 25 leaders and the campaign was launched, we went back to social media.

Now, the beauty of highlighting social business leaders is that they have large networks of followers, so with a social plan and content (blogs, video, memes, and more) the campaign took off.

I love when it works out that the message is the medium and vice-versa. In this case leveraging social media to reach social business leaders through a community-based nomination process that then was able to be shared and amplified through a strategic social campaign. During the campaign promoting the study we featured each of the honorees for a week, which gave us content for 25 weeks to use in our newsroom and our employee evangelism - leveraging their profile videos, creating social tiles, and writing blogs to support the leaders' various social business successes. You can see more about what we learned behind the scenes here.

Top 5 Social Business Leaders From the 25 Leaders Named in the Study

Scott Monty
Former chief of global digital communications, Ford Motor Co.
MAKING MESSENGERS: Using old values to make new connections

B. Bonin Bough
Vice-president of global media and consumer engagement, Mondelez International
FUTURE FACING: Embracing the ethos of a start-up

Gilberto Garcia
Director of innovation, Cemex
SHIFT WORK: Making communication simple within a global enterprise

Marisa Thalberg
Vice-president for corporate digital marketing, Estée Lauder
ONLY CONNECT: Using social causes to connect with customers

Chris Laping
Senior vice-president for business transformation, Red Robin Gourmet Burgers
COMMUN(ICATE): Giving employees a sense of purpose and ownership

Thanks again to our advisory board for selecting such a varied example of inspiring social business leaders: Brian Solis, Cheryl Burgess, Lisa Gansky, Nick Blunden, Maria Winans and my special thanks to Maria Huntalas for leading the project.

New Content Economy? What’s Old Is New Again!

Published in ClickZ on February 19, 2015.

As the marketing ecosystem evolves, we can look to our past for inspiration on how to deal with the new challenges we face.

"What will it take to win in the new content economy? The best way for publishers to earn more is to interrupt less. The best way for brands to emotionally connect is through meaningful content. But for the new content economy to thrive, all of these efforts need to happen at scale." - The Rise of the New Content Economy, VentureBeat

I was reading the above article - by now you know I read a lot; philosophically agreeing with B. Bonin Bough’s thought "I'm so scared to become irrelevant so I try to spend time constantly learning what’s new" – and struggling with a massive case of writer’s block for this piece when an epiphany hit: as with most things, we’ve been here before! I actually agree with what is stated in the article, that we, as marketers, need to think through how we properly engage with our audiences given the latest advances in technology. But with that said, the fundamentals of marketing are just that: fundamental. They still hold true even if we think of "modern" ways of applying them.

Recently I had the privilege of presenting at TEDxUniversityofReno. My talk was called "How Technology Can Make Us More Human," focusing on how we, as people and as brands, are leveraging technology to enhance or interrupt our experiences with others. In preparing for my talk, I researched current data points, forward looking global trends – but I also reflected back on past predictions of what our future may hold. I re-read Fahrenheit 451 (written 1953) and 1984 (written 1949) - which, if you haven’t read in a while, I highly encourage you to do so! I’m also adding Brave New World to my "on deck" reading list – and was reminded how our human history is cyclical. Our discovery and re-discovery of how we engage with one another is both fascinating and humorous.

Currently in the headlines as being new and "must execute" trends:

  • Native Advertising and Content Marketing: While I’m sure it goes back further, native advertising in our modern world can be traced back to the 1930’s advent of radio soap operas - where the brands were in charge of creating original content with which to engage their target audience: housewives.
  • Social Technology: This is really a technological application of our human nature in "word-of-mouth" conversation. Applying this to promote products, brands, and services is as old as time immemorial. Yes, we need to continue to refine our methods of speaking authentically through these channels and yes, tools and analytics can help us do this more effectively, but the concept is not new.
  • Relationship Selling: The latest resurgence in building out sales teams is a trend resulting from our over-reliance on technology (marketing automation, etc.) and people’s true desire to seek advice from a human during complex buying decisions. This seems like common sense to me and apparently customers are beginning to demand it, as shown by the business models supporting the headcount to fund for these new teams.
  • Print Marketing: I’ve been saying this for a while now - print marketing is not dead. In fact, as we focus more on digital channels, the physical, tactical, and experiential nature of print makes it even more special, and I agree whole heartedly with Tessa Wegert in her recent ClickZ article on the topic.

What can we learn here? As we are faced with new and more complex marketing challenges, we can look to our past for inspiration on how best to use these seemingly new obstacles. Tried-and-true foundational marketing practices can be re-imagined and re-engineered to meet today’s expectations.

I love that that as people seek to engage with one another, they are looking for more "natural" ways to do so, a la Snapchat. "'You know this conversation we just had? Snapchat is just like that. It’s like real life. It’s just between us and you’re left with nothing but the memory.' It sort of puts the fun back in social again; just like when some of us were kids," says Steve Tobak.

So, as we look forward, take a moment to look back – we’re an amazing human race, and we have likely already thought through similar challenges.

PS – I also love that Millennials have this affinity for nostalgia; I consider it a proof point of the above, plus it makes me smile to see the toys from my own youth on the shelves today!


Published in ClickZ on February 4, 2015.

A look back at this year's bevy of ads from the big game - the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Now that the Super Bowl is over, it’s time for us marketers to have some fun analyzing the advertisements. There are lots of articles already talking about people’s reaction to the ads – the fact that many of the ads put a damper on the celebratory mood of Super Bowl parties around the country, and that a few (foot fungus, especially) made people just plain uncomfortable (most of us are eating after all!).

I can say that at my house, we were taking to guessing what we thought they were advertising in some cases. Honestly, I can’t recall a more uninspired Super Bowl commercial lineup (not all, but in aggregate). I had hoped for and expected better. It felt to me that only some of the advertisers had invested in "Super Bowl-worthy" ads, instead running standard ads in the prime spots due to the expense of the placement itself.

All this said, I won’t delve deep into the commentary I already see posted, instead choosing to observe some of the general themes.

In Effort to Be Real, Brands Went Serious.

We all realize that brands are trying to demonstrate authenticity and truly engage with their audiences via storytelling – but I think we may have gone a little far, forgetting the context of the outlet and the mood of the audience. The Super Bowl is an annual national sporting event, a cause for gatherings and parties – a celebration! A show. People are seeking entertainment. For years the Super Bowl ads were equated with creativity, humor, and surprise. Marketers, let’s please remember context!

This year, it felt like the surprise was figuring out the brand and their angle – I’m still scratching my head at the relation between a Nissan Maxima and an absentee father. (By the way, there’s a debate online as to whether this was a positive or negative commercial – to me, if it was meant to be positive, I think they should have rethought the choice of sound track.).

Fewer Hashtags.

Overall, I noticed fewer hashtags for commercial campaigns than the last few years. My speculation as to why resides in that fewer of the campaigns were made especially for the Super Bowl AND had less entertainment factor (versus the Public Service Announcement aka PSA feeling) and therefore less engagement. Generally, I found it an interesting observation and am curious as to how we’ll see this play out – do advertisers feel they don’t need to add them any longer? However, some of my favorite campaigns did have hashtags: #BestBuds#Sorta#500X#TheBigRace.

New Push for Mobile Game Apps – Paired Up With Celebrities.

One of the few topical areas that felt to me like we were moving forward and not backward with our advertising. Mobile is a growing part of all of our lives, and gaming is certainly part of that. Pairing celebrities with enhanced graphics vividly bringing the games to life made sense to me, especially for this fun-seeking audience.

Squarespace and Wix Went Head to Head.

These ads took a few more steps toward our future, as we evolve from advertising just hosting companies to the design-your-own-website platforms - as we as a nation become ever more digitally sophisticated. I thought both were clever and well done, if not earth-shattering.

Television and Movies Made a Big Push.

This was telling to me, it was further proof of our segmented and multi-device viewing trends. It was estimated that 110 million Americans tuned in to watch the Super Bowl, so this was network TV’s opportunity to showcase their latest series to an audience that consumes content in very different ways than in the past; asynchronously, binge-watching, streaming, multi-device, and without commercials. I was surprised to see so many ads for entertainment, and yet it makes perfect sense given the consumption trends for the industry.

Lots of Car Commercials.

There are always automotive commercials in the Super Bowl, but this year it seemed like more than usual. And the mood of the auto ads were all over the place. You already know my favorites if you’re familiar with the hashtags above, Fiat and Mercedes; they were clever and well-produced. The Chevy commercial was also a standout for innovative attention-getting in tricking Super Bowl fans into thinking their TVs cable or satellite just went out – very clever way to promote their Wi-Fi enabled truck! I thought Dodge’s #DodgeWisdom was a great balance of authenticity and fun – it felt real, connected both to the brand and the audience, but wasn’t a downer the way some of the commercials were.

Nissan, I think was a big miss in execution, though I can see their good intentions directionally. The Jeep ad was trying to promote environmental responsibility, but for me just struck the wrong tone for the day (somber again). Apparently, it is sparking this years’ debate about national pride given the historically American song paired with international images – we’ll see how this plays out over the next few days.

I’m hoping that the sheer number of auto commercials is representative of stabilization in the national economy, as people begin to think of replacing those that they’ve made do with during the down turn.

…and the Super Bowl Wouldn’t Be Complete Without Some Snacks!

The Doritos ads were irreverent and fun – perfect for the Super Bowl. Doritos had run a "Crash the Super Bowl" contest to crowdsource the best ads for their placements. I love this concept – this is true fan engagement, especially leveraging social leading up to the big event! The winner won $1 million and a dream job at Universal Pictures. Mars delivered two spots for Snickers and Skittles; Snickers was great, Skittles was on-brand silliness that was just OK for me. Mars created a clever teaser campaigns leading up to the Super Bowl:

Snickers said it would release the ad early if its teaser generated "2.5 million social media engagements," which could include views, likes, comments and shares on Youtube, Facebook or Twitter.
The brand, which debuted the full spot on NBC's "Today" show on Thursday, told Ad Age that that final results are still in being tallied but the teaser had accumulated more than 2.7 million views on YouTube alone.
- Watch Snickers' 'Brady Bunch'-Themed Super Bowl Ad, Ad Age

So despite a lackluster commercial lineup this year, I found the trends fascinating to observe.

  • Brands are struggling to engage with their audiences authentically and appropriately at the same time, but some are starting to get it right.
  • Social and mobile continue to push forward in their presence in our lives, and smart brands are finding ways to leverage them in their effort to engage us as consumers.
  • Our world is becoming more digital – yes, we know this because this is the world we live in as marketing professionals, but hosting and Web design platforms now have a viable market across the majority of middle America firmly rooting themselves into our (national) new normal.
  • Changing entertainment consumption patterns are impacting how the entertainment industry showcases and promotes new franchises.
  • And hopefully, we’re starting to get on more stable economic footing across the country.

More Interested in the Game Than the Ads?

See the Super Bowl game stats that tell the story behind the story. As fantasy sports have grown from a niche pastime into a multi-billion dollar industry, sports fans have gotten even more obsessed with statistics.
IBM's Watson Analytics, a new cloud-based platform that finds patterns in data and uses that information to make predictions about the future – giving fans access to similar tools that executives of pro sports teams consult to understand, say, how many yards Marshawn Lynch averages after first contact, or in which situations Tom Brady is most likely to throw to Rob Gronkowski.
- How IBM is bringing front-office data analysis to Super Bowl fans, Business Insider

Live Online Shopping Data: The Gift That Keeps Giving This Season

Published in ClickZ on November 26, 2014.

This holiday season, real-time analytics could help marketers keep up with the successes (or failures) of their campaigns, and make the necessary adjustments.

I don’t know about you, but this year flew by for me and I cannot believe that the holidays are officially upon us. That said, it is one of my absolute favorite times of the year, with the opportunity to spend time with family, enjoy the season - AND watch how brands and retailers pull out all the stops to engage with their customers with all of the latest tech trends and innovations! From TV commercials to digital initiatives and in-store experiences, I love to see how brands differentiate from one another and the way with which the strategies differ depending on their target audience.

Reading advertising and marketing publications like this one is a favorite pastime as pundits comment on the strategy and success of what is working out in the market. It’s the season where brands test like crazy, because the stakes are so high, and that gives us a window into what will be on trend for marketing in 2015 and beyond. Even better is getting right into the numbers, and now we can do it ourselves much more easily. Though I am not currently managing B2C profits and loss for the season, being a data geek, I love keeping a pulse on the success of the season as it happens. So I thought I’d share some of the exciting insights from the U.S. online shopping transactions observed this past weekend (the weekend before the Christmas shopping season "officially" begins with Black Friday) – you’ll be interested to see the data behind the early start consumers, retailers, and marketers got on the season.

IBM's real-time analytics reported these online shopping trends during the weekend before Thanksgiving:

  • Online sales were up 18.7 percent over the same two-day period in 2013
  • Mobile traffic accounted for 48.8 percent of all online traffic, an increase of 24.4 percent year-over-year (YoY)
  • Mobile sales accounted for 26.6 percent of all online sales, an increase of 23.9 percent YoY

This early data clearly shows the continued growth of online shopping (in general) and a drastic increase in mobile traffic and sales, as many predicted. But let’s take a quick look at some highlights to understand the drivers behind these trends (full analysis available here).

  • Consumers Cash-In on Online Bargains: Average order value was $112.86, a decrease of 5.4 percent over the same period in 2013.Shoppers also purchased an average of 3.2 items per order. This trend may indicate that shoppers are becoming more comfortable and digitally savvy in how they use online coupons and rebates to secure the best bargains.
  • Smartphones Browse, Tablets Buy: Smartphones drove 31.8 percent of total online traffic, nearly double that of tablets, which accounted for 16.5 percent of all online traffic. However, tablets are winning the shopping war. Tablet sales accounted for 17.3 percent of online sales, nearly twice as much as smartphones, which accounted for 9.2 percent of total online sales.
  • The Desktop Is Not Dead: Even as mobile shopping continues to grow, many consumers chose a more traditional online experience. Desktop PC traffic represented 51.2 percent of all online traffic, and 73.4 percent of all online sales. Further, consumers spent more money on their desktops $123.29 than their mobile devices at $105.37, a difference of 17 percent.
  • Facebook vs. Pinterest: As marketers continue to rely on social channels to drive brand loyalty and sales, IBM analyzed trends across two leading sites, Facebook and Pinterest. Facebook referrals drove an average of $101.83 per order while Pinterest referrals averaged $103.87 per order. However, Facebook referrals converted sales at twice the rate of Pinterest.

This real-time data will allow marketers to fully analyze the success of their holiday campaigns as it occurs. Enjoy the data and the insight – it’s our gift to you. I hope it will be helpful to you as you drive your season to success, and hope that it will allow you to plan and optimize your time during this busy time of year so that you can enjoy extra time with your friends and family.

Happy Thanksgiving and best wishes for a fruitful holiday selling season!

For free access online shopping data live as it happens throughout the season, check out the IBM ExperienceOne Benchmark Live self-service data application and/or stay tuned to the IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark Hub for detailed analysis of the metrics for the biggest shopping days of the season.

How Social Is Your Business, Anyway?

Published in ClickZ on October 29, 2014.

Evolving into a truly social business is a tricky task, and one that can take a while to accomplish. How does your brand stack up?

#IBMSocialStudy -- new research from the IBM Center for Applied Insights

I think we, especially as marketers, can all acknowledge that whether or not companies admit it, all businesses are already social. After all, customers post comments and reviews and employees are individuals with lives they share with their friends and families - including thoughts about their employers. In fact, there is even a coined phrase "dark social" to describe referrals that aren't trackable by Web analytics (here's a great real world use case of dark social in action). But for those businesses that have knowingly picked up the gauntlet, where are we on the path to real social engagement?

New IBM research has some interesting insight into this social adoption, including how companies themselves are defining what it means to be social. Three-quarters of the respondents in our latest study believe a social business is one that uses social technologies to foster collaboration among customers, employees, and partners - and we agree. So social is about helping people work together more effectively to make better business decisions. But this transformation isn't easy and organizations can't realize all of their social aspirations at once, as evidenced by the fact that only 20 percent of executives we surveyed say their own enterprises have attained the social interaction mentioned above.

"Hypotheses and assumptions abound, so we turned to science to help us determine what's really happening. Through cluster analysis of 19 different social capabilities that executives are currently implementing or planning to implement, we discovered that companies tend to deploy certain groups of capabilities together. These five distinct clusters of capabilities - or 'social ambitions,' as we've called them - reveal the particular goals enterprises are aiming to achieve as they become more authentically social.

Charting the Social Universe: Social Ambitions Drive Business Impact, IBM Center for Applied Insights, September 2014

It's a journey, and one that companies are tackling from different starting points based on their business needs and specific market conditions. Data showed that common (and logical) starting point for many organizations are to deploy capabilities around internal and external collaboration. Foundational social capabilities - like infusing social into basic business processes - still seems more difficult to attain, and is one of the least-deployed social ambitions.

So what are the five distinct social ambitions?

1. Drive Internal and External Collaboration


  • Increase employee productivity
  • Increase customer loyalty and advocacy


  • Collaborative applications
  • Enterprise social networks
  • Social media marketing

2. Build, Educate, and Protect the Workforce


  • Increase employee productivity
  • Optimize workforce talent


  • Security intelligence
  • Workforce training
  • Recruiting
  • Policy communication

3. Understand and Engage Customers


  • Increase customer loyalty and advocacy
  • Increase sales


  • Customer analytics
  • Customer support
  • Social CRM
  • Social analytics

4. Mine Community Expertise


  • Optimize workforce talent
  • Increase employee productivity


  • Onboarding
  • Locating experts
  • Crowdsourcing/Idea sourcing

5. Improve Business Processes


  • Reduce costs
  • Increase sales


  • Workforce analytics
  • Sales software
  • Supply chain
  • Business process management
  • Workforce performance

Evolving into a truly social business is new and uncharted territory, so we can all learn from the pioneering companies on the forefront of this journey. To learn more about what surveyed companies tracked as success metrics, lessons we can learn from their experiences, as well as a checklist of the four key considerations of strategy, implementation, involvement, and metrics that you'll want to apply as you chart your own course for social success, I invite you to see the details about the study and access the ungated research report.

Data Tidal Wave: Opportunity and Responsibility

As marketers, we need to think carefully about how we can maintain a balance of using data to improve the customer experience while also allowing for visibility and control for individuals who want to understand how their personal data is being used.

In the last two weeks, I have had the good fortune of participating in The Corporate Social Media Summit, Social Media Today’s “Social Media Shake-Up”, TED@IBM’s “Reimagine our World”, The Churchill Club’s “Churchill Awards”, and upon arriving in New York City from home in San Francisco, (at least the Twitter stream of) the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s MIXX conference.  I need to pause for a moment and express how full my brain is, and how keyed up I am with the possibility of the future!? Whether engaging as a speaker or an attendee, it is clear to me the marketing (and global, for that matter) transformation that we have been speaking about for many years is truly upon us – AND it is coming like a tidal wave. 

Over the course of these past two weeks, I’ve had a unique opportunity to look both micro and macro at how the digital transformation is impacting us as brands and as individuals.  From how corporate brands are innovating to engage with their increasingly elusive customers, to how individuals are participating in and creating a collaborative economy.

Bryan Kramer key noted at the Social Media Shake Up, and discussed how there is no more business-to-business (B2B) or business-to-consumer (B2C), that there is simply human-to-human (#H2H). Bryan took this even deeper in his TED@IBM talk where he discussed how he learned the importance of this concept in his own life.

The Tesla Design Team discussed the importance of Design Thinking, from utility to beauty to brand building and acceptance in the mainstream.

Jeremiah Owang spoke about the rapid disruption and empowerment brought on by the birth of the collaborative economy, key noting at the Social Media Shake Up and interviewing the Head of Data Science, Riley Newman, for AirBnB at The Churchills.  Most inspiring to me about this economic shift is the power individuals reclaimed during the economic downturn to sometimes save their homes or businesses through this supplemental income, and in doing so, creating a new model for trust that is creating truly human experiences in an old-turned new fashion.

Airlight Energy, a Swiss-based supplier of innovative technology, shared their vision for solar production that offers the bi-product of desalinized water.  Gianluca Ambrosetti, Head of Research for Airlight Energy, shared the promise of bringing solar energy to remote parts of the planet using sunflower-shaped panels.

Kare Anderson reinforced the importance of reciprocity, mutuality and truly being present in order to engage with one another as people; really encouraging us all to step out of our comfort-zones and connect with people who are different than us to expand our thinking and reach new levels of innovation.

These are just a few of the truly next generation topics that I have had the wonderful opportunity to explore with some remarkable thought leaders!!  I am overwhelmed (in a good way) with things to ponder for a good long while ;)

What I'd like to delve into with you all, as fellow marketers, is the specific topic data privacy. In all honesty, it has been on my mind quite a bit and growing over the course of the summer and the many events that I've attended recently. Through discussions about platforms, mobile marketing (or as this tweet so eloquently points out: "It's not mobile marketing. It's marketing in a mobile world"), digital engagement, customer-centricity, and the like, paired with the discussions of social analytics, psychographics, and predictive profiling, I had already been thinking about both the amazing and scary future enabled by the data footprints we all leave just by going about our daily lives. Amazing because we can interpret real insight from this data, and scary for just the same reason - data scientists can see where we go, what we do, and when. And it's becoming more and more visible in the press, from retail to sports. Take this recent article about how theSacramento Kings basketball team is leveraging data; it talks about analyzing visual data, like plays via video of the court, as well as statistics. And this one about Facebook's re-launch of Atlas. Suffice it to say: It's here.

Which is what brings me to Marie Wallace's presentation at TED@IBM, "Privacy by Design: Humanizing Analytics." Wallace is an analytics strategist for IBM. I already knew that she has led the research and creation of some incredible projects, including the small Natural Language Processing (NLP) research project that turned into an enterprise technology that underpins dozens of IBM products, including IBM Watson of Jeopardy fame. What I didn't (yet) know was her core belief that as a data scientist there is an inherent obligation to protect the individual. I also didn't realize that she was applying - and advocating for - a serious code of data ethics. She discussed the power and responsibility data scientists have. Wallace's example was one of analyzing internal employee data created through the use of enterprise social networks (IBM's own) and the request to provide insights and reporting. In her example she discussed the insight that can be garnered from aggregate data without invading the privacy of the individual, and she called data scientists to carry the banner of privacy protection for the individual, as she herself does.

As a marketer who is thinking about how we can better optimize cross-channel digital engagement and match up cookies, mobile IDs, social identities, and others, while also realizing the implications to my own personal data security, this was a fresh perspective to know that (at least some of) those designing the data analysis systems are approaching their work with privacy and ethical responsibility in mind. As consumers become more educated through news coverage, it will be interested to understand how the market (may - OK, very well likely) shift. Stories like George Clooney using "burner phones" to prevent hackers or leaks for his wedding plans or wedding photos, to new social networks like Ello, built on the foundation of data privacy, consumers and individuals are starting to demonstrate their desire for control.

We marketers will need to think carefully how we can leverage behavior data to improve the customer experience, while allowing visibility and control for individuals who are going to want to understand how their personally identifiable information could be used.

The Future is Now

Published in ClickZ on September 4, 2014.

Recent partnerships between unlikely brands are an indication that the prediction that consumers will shape how businesses are run has come to fruition.

One of the fascinating things about my role in market strategy is the frequency in which I delve into research of upcoming trends and major transformations. We all know that technology is being adopted and changing at an exponential rate, but it really struck me a few weeks ago when I heard one of the Apple vice presidents speak to a large group of IBMers about the Apple/IBM partnership recently announced.

What struck me specifically was that the prediction that technologically empowered consumers will shape how businesses are run, down to the fundamental business models - and that it would cause some unlikely partnerships and "co-opetition"/frenemy-type relationships - had just come true on a major, global scale. Of course, the legacy contentiousness between these two iconic brands is decades behind us, especially with IBM having moved out of the personal computer business, and the partnership offers huge advantages for both sides - yet it is still a historic moment.

Recently we saw some other interesting partnerships announced, with Uber, the market-disrupting, sharing-economy-model car service, partnering with both traditional and non-traditional partners: United Airlines, Hyatt Hotels, Starbucks, and Yelp. For me the fascinating partnerships are with United and Hyatt. Uber shares a business model close to that of Airbnb, which is competing with major hoteliers, and while I don't know of any pilots offering ride-shares yet, it might not be that far off, so it's interesting to me to see these major brands affiliate through a partnership of this type. However, I think it's the type of out-of-the-box thinking that traditional brands are going to need in order to keep up with the demands of their customers, because in business we are running to keep up with the pace of change that our customers are expecting.

So what's fueling these partnerships? Empowered consumers with the knowledge of the world in their pockets who can force organizations to operate in an ever-more transparent fashion, and expect immediate responsiveness. Customers are expecting seamless experiences. And these expectations of seamless experiences go beyond the boundaries of a business' purview. We see the need for organizations to partner to create engagement ecosystems with companies that may provide a service that somehow relates - and sometimes doesn't - to their own customer value proposition.

I think of integrations like Zillow and other real estate apps integrating with services like Yelp so that prospective home buyers can see the number, type, and ratings of restaurants in the neighborhood around a home that they're looking at. Partnerships and integrations like this are fairly intuitive. But what about less intuitive partnerships? Think about Citi's partnership with LinkedIn. Citi recognized that women were the "CFOs" of their home finances, so they wanted to engage them with meaningful content and a sense of community. What that led to were requests for career support, and the partnership with LinkedIn was created. This was an innovative way to engage with a key audience even in a way that isn't directly tied to the organizations business proposition, and it has boosted their brand affinity.

These partnerships are just another visible trend of the impact of the major global shift being caused by technology advances and adoption that Gartner calls the nexus of forces. The shift of power from an organization to the customer is impacting many changes across the globe, from how we communicate to how we learn and work. It is captivating to me to see some of these trends and predictions that research has been pointing to for years come to fruition on the global stage.

So how can you prepare to keep up with the future? On the surface it's quite simple - think through your customer experience. In practice it's a more challenging. In order to engage with their customers, organizations are thinking through the entire customer experience, well beyond just the interaction with their own organization. They are devising sophisticated engagement strategies to define that customer journey, profile them appropriately, and pass relevant data to their partners and their systems. We'll see more flexible and integrated platforms to support this data sharing between partners - for us, as marketers, we'll see further increases in API-integration between data sources so that we are able to further hone our objective of truly personalized offerings and campaigns.

Over the next few years, with business models truly being impacted by the empowered customer, the access to data, the ubiquity of connectedness, and ever-increasing expectations, we'll continue to see these market disruptions impact business models and how companies operate, partner, and compete.

And this is just a look at one of the many impacts these changes will wrought. The future is now, and I can't wait to see what will happen next!

Connect, Engage, Collaborate: People-Centric Engagement in a Digital World

Published in ClickZ on July 11, 2014.

New innovations in social and mobile are helping to change the way marketers can engage with consumers. How can we deliver a valuable, personalized experience?

In my marketing strategy role, I've been recently focusing on the idea of people-centric engagement because, as we all know, as social and mobile technologies become increasingly pervasive, the opportunity to engage people in new ways is profoundly changing the way we operate. Individuals empowered by technology expect to engage with brands when and how they want; organizations are tasked with encouraging and supporting collaboration for employees, customers, and citizens while keeping an unrelenting focus on user experience. How can they do this, while safeguarding the integrity of both the business and the brand?

It's a complicated challenge to deliver a personalized and valuable experience - one that is challenging brands to metamorphosis to truly engage with their customers and would-be customers through understanding what they want (through analytics), providing them what they want (through valuable content and storytelling), and when and where they want through a consistent omni-channel brand experience (mobile, Web, and physical).

It means putting people at the center, to create open and authentic ways of engaging with individuals instead of segments or categories. This is possible today like at no other time in history because of the convergence of technologies for social, mobile, cloud, and security. This convergence is giving organizations and brands the means to meet people where they are. It is arming them with the data and the expertise required to personalize every human-to-human interaction. And it is giving them the credibility that is the foundation of trust. In fact, 80 percent of individuals are willing to exchange personal information for a personalized offering (IBM 2013 Annual Report, page 21) with brands they trust to keep their information safe.

The wonders of technology are impressive, it's true, but in order to effectively engage with people we must look back to some of our intrinsic and ancient human qualities: storytelling, substance, empathy, and the value of specialized skills and talents. All of which is made most daunting to brands by the rapidity of the change and the fact that multiple shifts are occurring simultaneously...and the changes will keep coming!

As we know by the growing "buzzwordiness," storytelling is becoming an ever-increasingly important art for us all to engage with one another - person-to-person to cut through the barrage of messages we're presented with at every given moment. We now need to heighten our focus on creating an emotional connection. I love how Pilar Alessandra describes successful brand storytelling in an interview with Buddy Scalera:

Years back there was this wonderful commercial that always made me cry. In it, a grandfather affectionately holds his arms out to his granddaughter. She toddles toward him... then passes right through him. It was an anti-smoking ad. And it made its point by telling the story of a smoker who'd missed out on his life.

To me, that's when brands make their point best - by telling us stories. Rather than showcase the brand, tell a story about the need for or effect of a brand, and your audience will pay attention.

As a marketer, I believe the power of storytelling comes to life through the need to relate to your audience - it is true customer centricity. To do so, we must truly understand our audience. I've discussed how important analytics is to this understanding in the past (and will again); right now, however, I'd like to focus on the human-side of understanding (understand (ˌʌndəˈstænd): ( tr ) to be sympathetic to or compatible with: we understand each other): empathy. Because digital technology is increasingly transparent, it requires us all to be more authentic, sincere, and empathetic. It also allows us to be fun, personable, and relatable - both as individuals showing more of our true, full selves or as a brand that can create a more human persona.

Here's a fun content marketing #DearKitten video created by Friskies. It is brilliant content marketing. They completely understand their audience of cat owners and have created socially relevant (not sure if the tone was intentionally similar to Grumpy Cat) and viral video content. They have developed the characters, it's a longer format, and is ripe for episodic storytelling,which will only help further engagement and brand impressions with their audience over time. Friskies has created a community for their loyalists and increased engagement through the invitation to co-create content featuring their beloved pets.

IBM research shows that there are compelling reasons to foster this cooperation. Outperforming enterprises are 54 percent more likely than underperforming enterprises to collaborate extensively with their customers (see Figure 9). In fact, deep collaboration is a universal ambition: nine out of 10 CxOs foresee doing so in the near future (see Figure 10). (Exploring the Inner Circle: Insights from the Global C-Suite Study, IBM Institute of Business Value 2014.)

Of course, the crucial bridge between the organization and its customers is the workforce. The ability to engage, develop, recognize, and support employees is essential in the high-stakes battle for customer loyalty. It is these individuals who represent - and effectively are - the organization's brand in the market. They interact with customers on a daily basis. It is they who monitor and analyze changes in customer preferences and who develop and maintain the technologies that help connect the physical and digital worlds. This is why a motivated and properly prepared and engaged workforce will be indispensable for success in the customer-activated world. (New expectations for a new era: CHRO insights from the Global C-suite Study, IBM Institute of Business Value 2014.) And it is why organizations are recognizing the importance of employee engagement as part of the customer experience and are creating a workforce of brand ambassadors in their employees - "involving employees in spurring social sharing of happy customer moments," eloquently summarizes Kare Anderson of Cheryl and Mark Burgess' book The Social Employee.

It all comes full circle: customer experience -> employee engagement -> innovation.

The exciting future of all of this is that we truly have the opportunity to co-create and innovate as both employees and as customers, allowing us to connect, engage, and collaborate as people - together - to create value and invention.

Join my session on the same topic at ClickZ Live in San Francisco on Wednesday August 14 at 11:50 a.m. to learn more and see how some brands are successfully engaging customers.

Insights for Business Transformation in This 3rd Platform Age

Published in ClickZ on June 11, 2014.

There are many challenges that come when attempting to transform a legacy brand into a modern customer-focused organization. Here are some tips for making the process simpler.

I am lucky to live in Silicon Valley and have the opportunity to be a part of the lively gatherings and discussions that occur as people come together to think through this changing world we are all a part of.

Last week I attended a particularly interesting event that I think you'll enjoy sharing in: The Churchill Club's open forum event "Business Transformation Insights and Strategies: D&B CEO Bob Carrigan with Advisory Geoffrey A. Moore" - two extremely well-known thought leaders who combined made for a fascinating discussion about business transformation. Bob Carrigan assumed the chief executive (CEO) role at Dun & Bradstreet eight months ago; prior to that he was CEO of IDG Communications. Geoffrey A. Moore is a renowned author focusing on market dynamics surrounding disruptive innovation; his books includeCrossing the Chasm and Escape Velocity.

Geoffery A. Moore and Bob Carrigan at The Churchill Club event at the Rosewood Sandhill on June 3, 2014

The conversation was broadly centered on business transformation and some of the key elements Carrigan is focused on in his role as CEO for Dun & Bradstreet as he tackles the challenge of modernizing a legacy brand of a 173-year-old company into a modern customer-focused organization.

Third Platform Age

Moore explains that there are basically two reasons a company undergoes the terrifying process of transformation: 1) to catch the wave of the next big thing and if we don't transform we're going to miss it or 2) to react to an existential threat and a competitor will take our business away from us. He cites 45 iconic tech brands that he has worked with no longer exemplifying the high stakes of business transformation.

As we all know, cloud, mobile, social, and big data are changing everything from the way we shop to the way we interact - analyst firm IDC calls this the "Third Platform Age" (first platform: mainframe, second platform: client/server). For established organizations to survive and thrive as the pace of change quickens exponentially is a huge challenge as everything become more digital and Internet-based - creating the need to foundationally change how their businesses are run, especially as threats like commoditization and pure-play digital upstarts loom.

Organizational Transformation

After spending time with numerous customers, Carrigan started his tenure by investing in innovation - that isdiverting returns - which can be difficult to explain to investors. One of the (I think brilliant) ways that Carrigan worked with his strategy team to look at investment options was to visualize the decision-making process by setting up a table with poker chips and different investment options. The strategy team physically moved the chips as they considered how to spend their investment dollars for the company, all the while keeping customer needs top of mind. Of course as some budgets are diverted to fund new projects; this raises the cultural issues that surround business transformation as it changes standard practices and the stakeholders who grasp onto the "this is how we've always done it" mentality.

In this modern organization transformation, Carrigan took some of the following actions:

  • Creating a more transparent and flatter organization: reducing his direct reports from 13 to six
  • Hiring of a chief people officer: someone new to the organization who is an experienced change agent focused on people and talent development, who looked at new compensation models, who was intentionally not "human resources" (this role is one of the six that report to Carrigan)
  • Allowing for employee advocacy: their social media policy had been more restrictive than open; they now encourage employees to socially engage inside and outside of the organization
  • Hiring the first chief marketing officer in D&B's 173-year history: recognizing that today the "medium is the message," that look and feel needs to be modern and crisp and clearly convey what the brand stands for (this role is one of the six that report to Carrigan)
  • "Moving from arthritic to agile" infrastructure: look inside (customer-centric) out, instead of outside (company-centric) in to figure out what should no longer be done so that technology supports the strategy
  • Thinking globally: breaking the silos of "U.S." vs. "rest-of-the-world" to address the growing global economy and his client's global growth needs, and the data consistency to support them

The Way Forward

Like many organizations in this Third Platform Age, D&B sees its future in the power of data. It is moving forward by holding on to its foundational value for its clients in the "DUNS Number" (the unique identifier in its global commercial database) and coopting data from other sources - like social data and interaction data - combining structured and unstructured data into system that can be leveraged by predictive analytics capabilities. Carrigan sees the company's evolution forward as a goal of "liberating content" (data) - making it more accessible to their customers: in the cloud, through easy API integration, and data feed services. They are hosting hackathons for API development and strategically acquiring companies (and with them "aqui-hired" talent) to support that goal.

As a professional immersed in these strategic changes around cloud, big data and analytics, mobile, and social daily as I approach my work, I found it fascinating to hear how a company with such a long history is transforming itself to compete in this hyper-competitive, digital landscape. I'd like to thank Bob Carrigan and Geoffrey A. Moore for an insightful conversation and The Churchill Club for organizing it. You can watch the full exchange here on YouTube.