I’m currently writing this from sunny and warm Las Vegas as I sip a rum and coke at the airport. It’s a wonderful town that I always love visiting. I’m here specifically for the the Money 2020 conference which is a gathering of financial folks of all sorts to talk about the future of the industry. If you know me at all, you know that I love to follow the money to find out what’s actually happening which is largely why I’m here. One thing I noticed though, is the gross and, in the words of Hillary Clinton, deplorable state of the media buying surrounding this conference. There’s a handful of offenders that stick out in my mind, but I want to just say something that should be obvious to any marketer that gives a shit.
Buying a billboard that’s half a mile a way doesn’t do anything for you.
Now let me be clear I’m not railing against outdoor. In fact, I think outdoor in general is actually a pretty good deal at the moment. No what I’m railing against is lazy marketing. (Yet again). Buying on points in a zip code is easy. Buying actually relevant ads is hard, but that’s where all the ROI is. Think about this for a second. For a conference that costs $3300 to attend, do you think they’re taking taxis, or do you think they’re taking limos and ubers?
I’m waging a crusade. A crusade against lazy media buying.
The worst part is this is incredibly solvable. All it would take is doing diligence on the actual buy. That being said I don’t want to wholesale throw marketers under the bus. There are very real time and resource constraints that dictate these things. What companies need to realize is that marketing lies in 2016. We can measure ROI. Treat marketing like a profit center rather than a money pit.
If you invest in your media buying you may actually see some great returns.
A few years back, the advertising world was caught up in a debate over the relative values of “Rational” and “Emotional” messaging. Emergent digital targeting data and performance analytics made quick work of the conversation…
…or you’d think so, but that would make too much sense.
There’s a misconception that’s still all too common amongst teams that aren’t up to spec on performance data. This idea is so toxic in part because it means many believe that if they don’t berate the customer, the customer won’t know you’re selling a widget and they won’t know what to do with the information you’re sharing with them.
Don’t get me wrong: strong calls to action are important, they drive results. They promote cohesion. They keep things moving.
But teams who think this way are at a serious disadvantage when it comes to future proofing their marketing program.
For a long time, cross-device performance was a pain to track.
A company might know that you visited a website on a desktop computer. They might also know that later a user made a purchase from a smartphone.
Historically, linking events like those presented a fairly significant challenge.
It’s easy to understand that your messaging isn’t being consumed by your customers in a vacuum, but it’s a lot more difficult to take a leap of faith and trust that a % of the people who see your ad on Facebook will launch a new tab and start looking up additional information about your product or service on Google.
It’s easy to intuit that when someone engages with a Snap that features a product, they’ll have an association with that product when they see it again in a display advertisement.
One very slight adjustment to the way you look at the world can be enough to change everything. The truth is, that cross-device is still out of the budget for a lot of digital marketers. I don’t think that’s a good enough reason to stick with the old world, though.
At the end of the day, you’re very likely a native user of many of the platforms that your team uses to promote itself.
You don’t have to grasp for straws to figure out where the balance between “savvy” and “scammy” is, you’ve got to roll your sleeves and start looking for it.
Most lay people have a very poor understanding of the craft of advertising. You only have to see the entire cottage industry of awards and certifications that exist to know that for a bunch of communications professionals, we have a really hard time communicating our value.
Another example of this is a constant march of “me too” style requests that come from clients wanting some new piece of ad tech or to buy ads on some new platform in order to be relevant.
To be clear, I’m not blaming clients for this. In the vacuum of information, the veritable island of ignorance we leave them on, this sort of response is only natural. I’m going to challenge the notion that new is inherently good, and that the latest bell or whistle is going to magically going to make your marketing click.
What I’m saying is: value can be found anywhere.
Nielsen came out with a report not too long ago saying that, I kid you not, radio is actually the most valuable advertising medium out there at this moment.
You’re probably wondering why. I mean, doesn’t radio predate just about everything? Surely it’s saturated and doesn’t offer nearly the targeting options and data insights that digital does?
All that may be true, but at the end of the day it’s all about that arbitrage.
I have a unique perspective working in a media agency as opposed to other more creative agencies. While most people think of Mad Men and Don Draper making the big pitch, we’re more like Harry and the computer in the backroom.
My job has more in common with a hedge fund manager than it does with Don Draper’s pitch meetings. For people like me, it’s all about the numbers. It’s all about finding a medium, or some platform, or a place to buy ads that’s ignored by the mass market due to human bias or just plain old missed opportunity and exploiting it to make people more money.
That’s why to guys like me radio is really exciting.
A hedge fund manager may get really fired up about a really boring business, not because they’re trying to buy sexy businesses for the sake of being cool, but because they care about acquiring assets that are undervalued and making money off them. (Gross oversimplification, I know).
Radio is just a single example of this phenomenon. There are thousands of these opportunities that exist all over the place in the modern and constantly shifting media landscape. If I can leave you with a lesson here’s what it should be; Don’t chase new for the sake of new. Chase value over whatever’s hot or sexy at the moment. If someone comes to you with an idea that seems dated or strange, consider it, but also demand a justification with hard numbers, not conjecture.
Oh and, if I were you, I’d think about buying some radio.
One of the easiest ways to get overwhelmed by new genres of production is to assume that each new platform completely reinvents the wheel.
This is almost always not the case, and because of this, I think there are actually a number of skills that are helpful to have in your back pocket as you’re looking to begin working in the new media landscape — but there are three I think everyone should have some degree of a working understanding of.
So without further ado:
You Should Have An Understanding Of The Way Online Communities Form, Grow, Die And Evolve.
This is an easy one to start with. I suspect that anyone who has invested a noticeable amount of time online in the past oh, decade or so, will have a fairly intuitive grasp of some of these concepts.
It’s important to know how changes in moderation best practice have evolved and it’s important to understand just what those changes have meant for the communities where they occurred.
Moderation occurs on a spectrum. The actions taken by a moderation team can have a dramatic impact on user engagement and a number of other similar metrics.
Aggressive moderation creates focus at the expense of stifling dissent.
Passive moderation encourages a wide variety of engagement from a diverse group of posters.
There are problems on both extremes, and in most of your work you’ll likely be working with business who tend to prefer to walk a middle path. By understanding how this works, you’ll be well positioned as an asset to any team you work on. If you find you really enjoy this, community management is a constantly evolving discipline — and you may find great value in walking down this path.
You Should Have An Understanding Of The Way Offline Communities Form, Grow, Die, and Evolve.
Some of the most vibrant online communities are successful because they manage to recreate an activity that people have long engaged with in a different way. While not every platform holds itself to this standard, an understanding of these processes can help you to think about the problems you’re likely to encounter online in new ways.
There’s a little bit of an arms race going on inside of marketing these days. MarTech companies are anxiously working to drive us closer to an era of 1:1 engagement — an era where real companies have real relationships with real people. We won’t be there for some time, and it’s going to take a lot of work to get there. But we are going to get there, it makes too much sense to avoid.
Because of that, you’ll be doing yourself a real disservice if you miss the opportunity to learn the “old world” ways before they’re forgotten. Many old world skills (like building a mailing or calling list) have direct digital analogues. Learning to capitalize on this rich history of learning will position you well for the advertising challenges of tomorrow.
You Have To Stop Saying “I Can’t Do That” And Start Asking “How’d They Do That?”
There’s this misconception I and many of the other people I’ve met in the industry seem to share. It’s this idea that around the corner is some magical budget that will allow for the use of tactics beyond that available now.
That is nonsense.
Agencies still follow that old ghost writing best practice of keeping your mouth shut about who you’re working with, but over the years this has started to change. With a little bit of diligence you can work backwards from any number of resources to identify exactly who worked on what project. You can take the direct route and ask, or you can step back and try and recreate the work.
I can’t recommend recreating other people’s work highly enough. It’s the best way to learn. When you do, you’ll find that your opinions of what make ‘good’ and ‘bad’ examples of mass communication change dramatically. You’ll get a glimpse at the problems that had to be solved to create the work and you’ll pick up new tools that are sure to be of benefit the next time you run into a similar problem.
You’ll be able to take those lessons and apply them back into your own work. It’s a great way to grow.
I probably owe bhorowitz most of a sandwich, and if you give me a few minutes, I’ll explain why.
See, I got into tech on a lark. I had nearly sworn the stuff off when back in the 90s, I remember it was early, but my dad brought a DCMA letter into my room.
“Son,” he said, dropping his tone.
“When they come for you,” he paused “and they will come for you,” I’m not going to say a word.”
That was enough to keep me away…almost.
A few years later, I found myself in the midst of it. It didn’t happen all at once, and for the sake of authorial transparency, even though I should probably spend a few paragraphs sharing a story with you, I wouldn’t know where to start.
That’s what I want to talk about.
I still pick the fastest route sometimes, and I’ve got to be honest with you, when I stumbled into a need of a copy of Hard Thing About Hard Things at 12:30 at night in the middle of an Iowan midsummer, a few hours before I needed a justification for an argument I needed to make in the morning, I didn’t really bother with the formalities, I just got a copy of the audiobook.
The trouble is, the copy that’s been circulating around the parts of the internet where such things dwell* is only like 3/4ths of the book. I was one of those english majors that had strong feelings about getting through texts efficently anyhow.
I got what I needed, but because of it, I may have a bit of skew on the parts that stuck — forgive me, it’s oft missing context.
But that isn’t actually what I wanted to talk about.
See, I can sort my friends into three categories.
the ones who are wondering when they’ll get welcomed into the world with roadmap and circumstance.
the ones who wonder where everyone went.
the ones who resist broad categorization in overly wrought linguistic thought exercises.
I had a chance a little while ago to spend some time thinking about the first group.
I think a handful of more eloquent folks have said better things than I could about how there really isn’t anyone standing over your shoulder waiting to approve the plans you might have for doing something, or going somewhere or for that matter making something new show up out of thin air like it’s been there all along and how could we ever live without it?
there’s a real sense of calm that comes when you realize that, and I think after you’re supposed to recognize that that’s one of those insights that comes with an obligation.
what would be the good of knowing what was going to happen next, if you couldn’t do anything to influence it? it wouldn’t be any good at all. it’d be a torment, really.
can you imagine?
that’s why I think that it’s so important people recognize the power of engaging with what’s going on right in front of you. it isn’t always easy, and it’s a roller coaster of feelings — but aren’t the things that really matter in life supposed to be? don’t you measure the shine of a good day by the somberness of a bad one?
so, even though I should probably dust off my shelf copy and find some quotations from the chapter that starts around page 85, I think I’m going to point you to the relevant blog article, here.
if a CEO hears that engagement for her application increased an incremental 25% beyond the normal growth rate one month, she will be off to the races hiring more engineers to keep up with the impending tidal wave of demand. On the other hand, if engagement decreases 25%, she will be equally intense and urgent in explaining it away: “The site was slow that month, there were 4 holidays, we made a UI change that caused all the problems. For gosh sakes, let’s not panic!”
Both leading indicators may have been wrong, or both may have been right, but our hypothetical CEO — like almost every other CEO — only took action on the positive indicator and only looked for alternative explanations on the negative leading indicator.
So if you read this and it all sounds too familiar and you find yourself wondering why your honest employees are lying to you, the answer is they are not. They are lying to themselves.
the stories we tell ourselves are powerful.
they’re almost as powerful as the stories the people we surround ourselves with tell us. (I think some people call this mentor whiplash?)
but, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last few years I’ve spent working to make sense of our media landscape, I think there’s one more powerful influence we aren’t talking about.
people have spent a lot of time trying to sort out what a story is. the contemporary excitement, though at times irksome, is all together understandable. but struggling to describing a thing that isn’t easily understood? people have been doing that for a long time.
it’s not always exciting, and it doesn’t always make sense.
but it’s what we’ve got, and it can work alright if you let it.
I’ve been meaning to spend a little more time talking about all of the different ways that you can leverage digital tech to lower the barriers of entry to getting into print.
I think that’s the kind of topic I might think would be easier to cover one bit at a time. The trouble I’ve been having is that picking which of those bits really is a bit of a sport.
There’s one thing I learned a few years ago that I think might have been helpful to me a few years back, and because it’s a flow we use so much these days, it’s easy to forget that it can be helpful to play with.
One of the stranger challenges in marketing a book is building up an audience of people who are enthusiastic about something that doesn’t necessarily exist yet.
The amusing thing is, it’s as staggering as trying to invent a story about something that doesn’t exist.
I suspect reviving the techniques honed during the era of serialization will prove to be a blessing in disguise for anyone looking to start sharing stories.
Let’s take a look at what you’d need to publish ten different stories and message them to ten different audiences of people.
10 Different Chapters Or Short Stories
A Working Knowledge Of Getting A Website With Paygate To Download Functionality Online.
Access To A Tool Like Canva.
Access To A Collection Of Stock Photo Resources
Ability To Spin Up Social/Platform Profiles
A Layout Tool. (I prefer InDesign, but there are a number of good tutorials available for a staggering number of platforms.)
I’m assuming that if you’re reading this, you’ve already sorted out that I’m going to have you prepare each of those segments of a story for publication. I’m also assuming that you’ve got a working command of a some of the more formal steps of this process like uploading your book file, preparing a cover etc.,
That might be a lot — but the truth is, if you don’t, you can find loads of delightful tutorials on these topics. With roughly 50–60 hours of well-intentioned study you could comfortably be familiar enough with the mechanics of the basics to get started.
And what you would do afterwords, is to put those samples in front of an audience of likely readers. You’ll be able to find those readily on just about every network of users on the internet — and you’ll spend time trying to get those individual stories some measure of attention.
Decide what “success” will look like before you get started. Spend the same amount of time for each one. Use a similar process. Use a different property for each story.
When you’ve put in the effort to seed all ten stories, take a step back and look at the results.
Did any get early traction?
If so — write the second chapter, and share it with your audience. If you want to expand the pool of people paying attention, you’ll already have done the hard work of beginning to build a promotional universe!
Did no stories get traction?
The best way to find out why is to write ten more!
Did the story you wanted to get traction, not?
World’s not ready. Shelf it. Try another round of experiments.
The beauty of this approach is that there really isn’t anything new about it. It’s the same approach that’s been used to test messages or build hype for…really…generations. I think the only real thing that’s changed is the ease with which something this historically complicated could readily be executed by the person who put together the story.
I should really get into a more regular flow of blogging. I have the same trouble with writing for myself these days though; it’s felt a lot like just one more thing.
One of my favorite parts of my job is that I get to have the tremendous responsibility of having a very pragmatic view of how long it takes to have a good idea. I also get to estimate the amount of time it actually takes to put something together, which means I’ve got to be really disciplined when it comes to metering out production. There’s really only so much you can do to fiddle with the ‘quality’ lever, and even though I spent a lot of time raging against it, I’ve found that time alotted really is the easiest way to get something done.
I’m sure this infuriates anyone whose taken a moment to ask me for perspective on a resume or a glance at a presentation…”oh, that’s just a forty-five minute fix, what are you doing right now? let’s do it now!…” that sort of thing.
But I understand the tyranny of the blinking cursor, and I’ve come to appreciate just how quickly trying to do something that requires you to stop and think for a few minutes can feel like it’s just a little too much.
I think one of the things that compounds that feeling is just how uncomfortable it can be to take a moment to think outside of yourself. That isn’t easy to do under the best of conditions and when you’re trying to represent something as important to your identity as the thing you spend nearly a third of your life doing, it’s easy to lose sight of the priorities.
I got into advertising because I liked incomplete data and interacting with large groups of people. What I didn’t I realize until I got into it for myself, was that it’s also about a lot of other things, too.
For the past few years, I’ve been obsessed by some troubling data I ran into. I noticed a real discrepancy between the people who were engaging with a team’s content organically and those who were engaging with the pieces we were promoting.
The two weren’t in alignment — even within networks where a tremendous amount of effort had been performed to ensure the same people were being reached in both swaths.
At the time, I wasn’t sure how this could be possible because frankly, for reasons that will drag us off topic, it shouldn’t have been. We were running a really disciplined cadence, and I was tracking who had seen what and when — and we were marching towards a 3 or 4x frequency.
And while I don’t want to really get into the numbers, I think there’s a useful lesson to be learned there about scale.
These days, I’m the kind of person who only eats at restaurants who have menus online. It’s not because I’m taking a hard stand on website development deals, it’s just that I like to have my mind made up before I walk in the door.
The other night, I was debating ordering a meal from Uber. I had the app open for an hour and a half before I had made up my mind about getting anything.
Once you get into the flow of tapping boxes, you really get caught up in it. And it’s not just Uber, it’s happened with Postmates, with Favor. It’s probably driving a user analytics person insane somewhere, but I want to talk about one thing I noticed in particular.
See, one of the nice things about apps like these is that they allow you to query their database by item. It’s slow going to build up these asset libraries and a lot of really great people make a lot of heroic sacrifices to work out deals between agencies, restaurants and all the other stakeholders in between.
I’ve developed an affinity for bison burgers. The way I see it, I’d have to have several years worth before I was responsible for offing one of these noble creatures, and when you consider the (IMO) superior nutrient profile and flavor, I’m in.
One thing I’ve really been curious about is how the industry has grown by forging partnerships with local restaurants.
So, with a few searches I quickly got together a list of every restaurant that had a bison burger on the menu. Once you’ve done that, it’s easy to spot the patterns and work backwards to map up distributors and take a look at what those businesses are doing. If you wanted to, you could even figure out which of the employees were actively using a network like LinkedIn (last I saw, it’s generally 1/3rd of employees…staggering but valuable…and a dated stat) and figure out what those people did online.
“Imagine 33 6-year-olds around an ice cream truck,” Platte River Power Authority spokesman Pete Hoelscher said.
You might notice that for whatever reason, Bison people are really into cake.
And maybe, you’d take a step back and think up all the great ideas you have for content about cake. (Since you’ve already gone through the trouble of figuring out exactly who you need to reach with your message, it won’t be hard to get it in front of the right people.)
You know what got me?
It didn’t matter, I still had to order something.
I’m not even close to being the first person to make this comparison, but I think it’s one of those things that should get talked about a little more than it does. Because when you’re trying to put something together, at the end of the day doing the thing is a lot more important than the process that goes into getting it together.
Process matters, and I rave about it enough that this probably sounds like a horrible contradiction, but I think somewhere there’s a happy medium. Trains still have to go out on time.
So, the next time you’re staring at a screen try and take a step back and remember why you’re doing what you’re doing in the first place.