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Posted by Jeromy Sonne on

You’re Losing Top Talent and It’s Your Fault.

I am not a recruiter. I am not an HR expert. I don’t really even have that much management experience. I just see the people around me, especially the ad industry, losing top tier talent left and right with no real actionable plan to stop the root problems. First, we need to frame the problem.

“It’s 2017″- Some Canadian Guy.

Freelance opportunities are exploding. In fact there’s more freelancers in the US economy than there have ever been. Platforms like Fiverr and Upwork are only accelerating in popularity.

Companies like Stripe, Etsy, and Shopify are making concrete steps to make it easier to get started freelancing or starting boutique businesses than ever before. Not to be overlooked, but doing a startup is in vogue. Lots of people want to be an entrepreneur, or at least pursue what they envision entrepreneurship to be. The point is that your top tier workers don’t need you as much as you need them. If you give them a raw deal they can and will forge their own path.

Now this isn’t the cause of why you’re losing talent. This simply is the reality that the modern economy makes switching costs much lower than they were in the past. As I’ve seen it, there’s 3 core reasons this happens.

You’re Punishing Innovation.

I’m sure you’ve had lots of meetings about how you’re going agile, and you have a growth mindset. Totally.

The truth is most organizations aren’t ready to accept the other side of the coin when it comes to innovation. Failure.

They repeat mantras about the path to success is filled with failures etc. etc. But very few people are ready to actually accept the reality. Failure hurts, and more importantly it doesn’t fit into the modern spreadsheet driven projections that is the modern corporation. You aren’t setup to let people try, and by extension, fail and you’re losing the most innovative and highest performing people because of it.

You’re Optimizing for Pedigree Rather Than Performance.

Be honest with yourself. A resume comes across your desk that says Yale you give that person an interview. When you have people with an advanced degree on your team you give them deference in their decision making. You think you’re giving your best performer the ability to drive productivity and results, but are you? Going to an Ivy League is the ability to optimize for a legacy system when they were 17. That’s literally it.

It’s not just education. I see these biases all over with lots of things. You’re ignoring the people taking the chances and doing truly bleeding edge things, instead focusing on the person who takes safe options and moves the needle just slightly. Most people wholesale aren’t willing to deal with their biases so I expect this section to get hand-waved away. If you are willing to look though, think about how you’re treating employees that take the chances versus the ones truly trying to build and grow new things and initiatives in your company.

Your Business Model Doesn’t Reward Performance.

I’m going to make a bold statement. There would be a lot less startups today if large companies did revenue splits with the teams that built the products that make them so much money.

To quote Office Space “It’s a problem of motivation, all right? Now if I work my ass off and Initech ships a few extra units, I don’t see another dime; so where’s the motivation?”

Your top performers are leaving in droves because they can be making more money doing their own thing and they know it. Truthfully though these people shouldn’t have to be leaving. Big companies have the resources to make many the failed startup a success. The reason they’re leaving though is there’s no upside to being innovative. You’re already punishing them if they fail, and on top of it all, there’s currently 0 financial upside to fighting through the organizational issues to try and make it work anyways. So what happens? They leave and start a company, or freelance, or whatever. You lose top tier talent and then years later your company, or your competitor, ends up spending tens or hundreds of millions of dollars to acquire the company they built. Why? The reason is you wouldn’t give them 20% of their time to work on their idea and wouldn’t profit share with them.

I realize this comes off as a rant. I realize I’m likely missing tons of nuance as people read this shaking their heads going “Yeah but you don’t get it man”. Which is fair. Life isn’t fair though.

These issues are very real and are pushing out the best resource your company has and is making you less competitive at a time when the world continues to get smaller and smaller and your industry is getting more and more competitive.

You’re Losing Top Talent and It’s Your Fault. was originally published in Thoughts On Best Practices.

Posted by Karl Taylor on

How Can You Make Sure That You’re Getting Social Media Reach?

One of the rather curious things I have observed in my time working in this space is that overtime a particularly nuanced term will become adopted by a large class of folks who seem to understand it very shallowly. It will then be rebuffed by a smaller class of more vocal folk who feel everything is subpar. After a while, the term’s meaning can become so bruised as to defy resemblance to the original concept.

I think that if you’re asking yourself this question it’s probably a good idea for you to take a few minutes with me to explore some ideas about what we really mean when we talk about impressions, reach and frequency.

I think there are many ways one can explore these relationships, but I want to a moment to write up one I’ve always found more helpful than the others.

If you’re reading this, there is a nonzero chance that a smartphone is within armspan. If you happen to be reading this in a crowded space, it likely holds true for a significant percentage of the people you observe as well.

When I was first beginning my career, I got a piece of advice that was really helpful. It was suggested I spend a little time looking at people in public on their phones.

I found a spot and decided to stop by each day at the same time during lunch. I sat for ten minutes as I ate and counted the number “phone checks” I saw as well as the number of people. Coming at the same time and sticking to the same place was fairly helpful because I could compare my numbers and come up with averages based on what I found out.

As I watched, I couldn’t help but to think of something.

Each one of those phones has a world inside of it — for many of us, more than one.

They exist on forums accessed via webapps. They exist inside of native streaming content apps. They exist on albums and in digital newspapers.

While those worlds are accessed through programs, the truth is that in most of those sorts of cases the digital activity has an obvious offline analog. Though purists may object if you’re looking at the world from a post as media nutritionist, streaming an album isn’t that much different from spinning a CD.

If you wanted to, you could measure how long someone spends on each activity.

In the years since, it’s gotten a little more complex. Whole universes can exist on native chat apps clustered into message threads. You can’t always track those — yet. The truth is, we miss a lot of details.

When you’re buying an ad, a lot of times you’re renting access to an audience for a chunk of time. When you’re designing a marketing program that includes an advertising plank, you’ve got to ask yourself about what percentage of your target audience’s media consumption you can afford to purchase. If you aren’t thinking about the whole person, you’re missing out.

A lot of advertisers I’ve had the pleasure of working with learn a version of that trick to help evaluate which channels make sense for which business. That same trick makes thinking about these concepts feel a little more intuitive.

I think maybe that’s why sometimes as a business owner you may encounter the rather frustrating situation where every communications professional you meet seems to give you the same news. While it might seem like that would feel like a sign, I’ve heard it can feel a lot more like being ignored.

When your team plans that advertising program, they should be asking themselves questions about what they expect from each channel they include in the mix. Without answers to those sorts of questions, you end up setting performance expectations that are vague and poorly defined.

Without that bit of context, you won’t know how to interpret your initial results to figure out the rate at which your prospects convert.

That can in turn mean that when it comes time to scale up your budget, figuring out how many people you need to target and how often they need to see your message is also more difficult than it needs to be.

When you start off by asking “how can we get reach,” you’re leaving opportunity on the table.

I would suggest that if you find yourself here you instead stop and ask yourself if the activity you’re promoting is the sort of thing an interested customer would want to share with their family or friends.

(quick editorial note here: I know that some colleagues find it’s easier to ask if a content idea is something you would show your own family, but I always worry this encourages an overweighting of personal experience. If you’re capable of putting your experiences back in context, great. If not, I don’t think it’s easier to observe the dynamic at work in the lives of others. It’s a little different for everyone.)

While it’s likely most of your audience has Facebook, the truth is even if you’ve made the best most authentic experience out there, they can only see your content if they’re active on the platform. A lot of people just aren’t.

The percentage at which the general public has encountered the “new digital economy,” isn’t quite as ubiquitous as one might think.

Stop and reflect on the percentage of time each user could spend exposed to your channel and the percentage of time they spend on those channels. Ask yourself how long you’d like to linger and what sort of impact you’d like to have.

If you’re particularly worried about encouraging additional “earned” engagements, spend some time considering the rate at which your existing content is shared. In many cases, you may find that simple modifications to process can result in big performance wins.

In others, you may find that some of the most popular advertising channels just don’t make sense for your business right now.

There isn’t anything wrong with that.

When I first learned Facebook Ads, they were new. They were cheap. No one understood them. It isn’t like that anymore. But the truth is that Facebook becoming an evergreen channel doesn’t mean that those opportunities or opportunities like them are gone forever.

At the risk of overindulging that old entrepreneurial cliche you really can find one wherever people spend their time.

How Can You Make Sure That You’re Getting Social Media Reach? was originally published in Notes On Digital Marketing.

Posted by Jeromy Sonne on

Your Metrics Obsession Is Killing Your Marketing.

I’ve always been a stickler about metrics. I’m actually known for a phrase that has led some people to dub me as “inflammatory” or an “asshole” that has to do with my love of marketing metrics.

“Your opinion on marketing doesn’t matter.”

Now of course that’s nothing but a truism designed to shock people into changing their mindset about how marketing works. For the vast majority of people data driven marketing is a new thing. For even more people interpreting the results correctly is even more difficult. Let me explain.

You’re reading this on Medium. Likely you came here either from one of our social properties, reddit, Hacker News, or some other similar technologically savvy community. You likely have made the jump from 0 to 1 when it comes to thinking about marketing and data. That is, you understand that modern marketing can be measured for it’s effectiveness, it can be tested and iterated on, and marketing can be tied to revenue.

You are probably just dangerous enough to kill your own marketing program.

Now this isn’t intended for me to be a jerk, although as I re-read this I’m starting to see why I have that reputation. Rather it’s to point out that knowing enough to be dangerous isn’t the same as truly knowing. When you know the lingo and jargon but don’t truly understand what it means, you can often do more harm than good.

A great example. I hear people, especially in the tech community, running around saying things like “value” and “conversions” as goals of their marketing programs all the time. Yet very few people understand what either of those things mean, nor how they’re defining it.

I hear a word like value, and that doesn’t mean anything particular to me. It’s so vague that, to me, it could mean any of the following:

  • Return on ad spend
  • Return on investment
  • Shiny things people like
  • Things your nephew who is good with computers likes
  • Awareness
  • Brand Recall
  • Market Penetration
  • Authority
  • etc. etc.

The truth is value is defined by each individual largely as what’s important to them. They substitute their own biases for objective reality and expect, either maliciously or in a more benign sense, for everyone to perceive and anticipate what they want. What’s dangerous about this is that data driven marketing is not a personal experience of marketing, it’s a thing. More so it’s a thing that you don’t get to decide, your customers do.

Conversions is another one of these. People shout from the rooftops they need conversions, but conversions to what? Conversion to get an email to a newsletter? To a customer? To visit a specific page or perform a specific action? This is a term that has great value (ha!) that has been stomped into the ground by people posturing and trying to say the right things. When you think about conversion as literally just x to y in a granular sense, you can work on your funnel piece by piece rather than running around like a chicken with its head cut off.

This also manifests in other ways like optimizing for a specific metric like click through rate, or cost per click etc. People start focusing down on these things like they’re a silver bullet that will fix everything. Nah.

Metrics are only valuable in the context of other metrics. Having a dirt cheap cpc isn’t worth anything to me if it’s an irrelevant and un-engaged audience. A great ctr is meaningless if the people clicking through aren’t my audience. A form completion conversion is wasted if the potential customer isn’t qualified. In fact I can envision many scenarios where these metrics could be in the metaphorical toilet where I would be happy. It’s all about how they work together, not alone.

I’ve seen it before, and I’ll see it again, otherwise smart people getting stuck on specific points for seemingly random or emotions based reasons. I say all of this not to be a jerk, but to help you. Too many companies and teams that I see have brilliant insights in front of them that could make them successful but they’re too blind or self interested to seize very real opportunities. Don’t be the team that focuses down on specific things you feel are important. Be the team that looks at all the data and knows what the market is saying to them.

The point of this long winded rant is basically this. It’s awesome there’s a lot more people thinking about data than there were even 6 months ago. If you’re thinking about data that’s great. Learn more. Try stuff. Ask lots of questions. Don’t get tunnel vision, and understand that you know enough to know there’s a lot that you don’t understand. That’s okay. I wake up every day learning about things I’ve never heard of as a marketer. If you don’t you’re stagnating, and in this industry stagnation is akin to death. So be confident and bold, and always keep learning and testing. Just don’t become arrogant and reliant on your incomplete knowledge set.

Your Obsession With Metrics Is Killing Your Marketing. was originally published in Observed Reflections.

Posted by Karl Taylor on

What Private Branding Should Teach You About Competing On Price.

If I had a dollar for every meeting I’ve sat through where a team member felt that a product could best be served by the initiation of a pricing war with a competitor, I probably wouldn’t still be working in client services.

The truth is that private branding makes a sort of sense that’s hard for many client-side teams to ignore. When you can offer an adjacent line extension that can cash in on the benefit of the brand equity your team has worked hard to build, it can seem as though you’d be foolish to ignore the easy profits.

I think one of the best examples of this sort of reckless line extension might be the ease with which the major production studios began to adopt “direct-to-DVD” in the early 2000s.

When you can readily offer a product to a baked in audience, it’s hard to pay attention to downside you may not have to face for a few years.

If you walked into my shop and asked for a coupon campaign, the truth is, I’d probably laugh before I said anything useful. That’s why we agency types have to take some of the responsibility for the current state of a competitive landscape where it really feels like people care more about getting a “good deal,” than supporting “quality products.”

The reason for this is, that when you offer someone a discount you’re doing more than giving them a time-sensitive opportunity to “buy now!,” you’re communicating that the value of your product or service is fungible.

You can read textbook studies about department stores that learned the powerful consequences of demand shifting all too late. You might think your product is different, but you may then be surprised to discover the varied opinions surrounding a service like Groupon.

Discounting is a powerful tool, but much like private branding the source of the power is, in large part, the impact such positioning has on the perception of the consumer. In recent years you can observe a trend towards branding private labels. It is little doubt that such efforts stem in part from a desire to repair a perceived value issue.

From time to time, startups disregard powerful lessons like these because they come from the history of marketing. It doesn’t seem like running a sale on an in-app purchase can have any real impact beyond driving up sales one week.

The trouble with this is that it also tends to drive down sales the next week.

Before too long, a team is planning another sale. You have to do this to keep up, because your customers have come to learn that they shouldn’t take your first few prices seriously. They’ll get a better deal by waiting.

Before too long, you’re trapped in a pretty vicious feedback loop.

It’s hard to break out of. To tell you the truth, I can only think of a handful of people who have ever managed to pull it off.

That’s how powerful a perception of value can be.

What Private Branding Should Teach You About Competing On Price. was originally published in Thoughts On Best Practices.