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Seeking the Human at Web Summit

One of the fascinating aspects of the annual Web Summit in Europe is the astonishing array of new technologies and start-ups on display. But as everyone at the Summit in Lisbon this month obsessed over the alphabet soup of technologies (AR, VR, bots, AI, IoT, etc.), there was an eerie discomfort that permeated the space. While the excitement about new technologies justifiably keeps increasing — the annual festival grew significantly this year! — there is a basic perspective that our industry is in danger of losing.

Attendees, particularly marketers, are intensely focused on chasing the next technology. The promise of finding more targeted and engaging ways to interact with consumers is our holy grail. But in a world of robots taking over the Earth, an evergreen truth remains: We are all (so far, at least) human first. This is the core truth that drives us. And it’s how we unlock the ways that brands, products and services can and should earn a meaningful role in people’s lives. As an industry, we need to shift from a technology-first conversation to a human-first conversation.

Brands can play a major role in this rebalancing. When people are separated from their mobile devices or technology, an increasing number suffer from what has been recently termed “nomophobia,” the anxiety or discomfort caused by being out of contact with a mobile device or computer. Brands can counteract this fear when they create digital experiences that provide seamless assistance to people.

When we think about the notion of bots creating efficiencies for customer service or transactions with brands, the interaction can feel distant and alienating. But what if the brand could sense how you are feeling as you interacted with it? What if it could sense your anger, frustration, or anxiety?

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What to Do With Your Marketing Budget Windfall (Yes, It Happens)

As the year (and, for many, fiscal year) draws to a close, are you burdened with a marketing budget that’s too large to spend?


More common is the experience of a pharmaceutical client of ours, who went on vacation for a week in August and came back to a 19% smaller marketing budget. Such experiences may help explain why Americans chronically short-change themselves on vacation time.

Even so, organizations are budgeting so tightly these days that the occasional windfall isn’t uncommon.

Sometimes, an executive VP likes a creative presentation so much that she “finds” a bucket of money to add to a spend; sometimes, the boss is so frustrated with how slowly an internal marketing push is progressing that he “steals” money from another budget; sometimes, a company pulls back on trade show appearances, “transitioning” these dollars to marketing.

In response, we’ve had to become adept at making fast suggestions to our clients about spending.

In general, when money hasn’t been planned on, we suggest investing in something other than day-to-day marketing operations. For example, don’t throw money into the pay-per-click budget because, in some number of weeks or months, it will be gone, and the value of the spend will be gone too.

What should you do with a marketing windfall? Here are a few ideas:

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What You’ll Need to Build the Agency of the Future

In 2010, the CEO of an upstart digital agency was asked by the IAB to predict the future of advertising agencies and how they needed to adapt if they wanted to be around 10 years from now. Rather than give a eulogy, the thesis of that talk was that we were on the cusp of the golden age of advertising and that agencies could and should play a critical role in helping brands transform their marketing.

Well flash forward six years, and I’m reprising this talk at IAB Mixx during Advertising Week. Then as now, there was deep pessimism about the future of agencies and a clear implication that agency survival was an open question. Then as now, in spite of things being far from perfect, I am very bullish on the opportunity and need for agencies to play an essential leadership role in the future of marketing.

There is both peril and promise for everyone in this industry whether agencies, media owners or brands. In the last six years, consumer behavior has continued to change exponentially, to the point where two of the most dominant platforms — Instagram and Snapchat — didn’t even exist when I first visited this topic. And yet the infrastructure at most clients and agencies still feels heavily analog. Marketing, as a profession, is in real trouble if we keep letting consumers lap us.

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Let Machines Do the Advertising Grunt Work

Artificial Intelligence Is a Tool, Not a Replacement for Marketers

In 1950, computing pioneer Alan Turing posed a heretical question: Can machines think?

Some 66 years later, the answer is clear. Evidence of machine learning is all around us. Execute a Google search and you’ll reap the benefits of machine learning. When Google presents results to a user, the user votes on those results via a click. The machine records that click, and then uses that data to inform future results.

Even though such technology is now commonplace, some fear machine learning. That’s because we have been inundated with science fiction stories and movies over the past few decades about machines taking over. Some in the advertising industry may also dread the idea of a machine taking over their jobs.

IBM Watson avatar

IBM Watson avatar Credit: IBM

Actually, tools likeIBM’s Watson that are capable of making decisions and “thinking” aren’t replacements for people. They’re tools that let marketers do their jobs better. They are well positioned to do the advertising grunt work.

Why marketers need AI

The advertising world got by for a century or so without artificial intelligence. Why does it need it now? The short answer is that the media environment has gotten far too complex. It is beyond human capability to reach an individual online via his or her various devices. To have a clear conversation with me — Bruce the consumer — you would have to process huge amounts of data. That’s not because I’m unusually complex, but rather because I switch between devices, like many consumers.

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Despite All This Data, Empathy Is Still the Greatest Tool in a Marketer’s Toolbox

A Top-Down Approach Needs to Be Balanced with Consumer-Centric Thinking

Imagine having to watch an hour’s worth of commercials before a two-hour movie. Or being tapped on the shoulder before each page of a novel with an “exclusive offer.” It sounds ludicrous, but this is essentially the way we experience ad-supported content today. It’s no wonder ad blockers are proliferating.

This is because something strange happens to ad execs when we walk through the doors of our corporate offices: We somehow forget that, just before stepping over that threshold, we were a part of the population we’re trying to reach with ads. With this perspective mysteriously erased from our minds, we begin describing people as “users” that “consume” content in a “cross-screen” environment. When was the last time you thought to yourself, “I’m done watching short-form, snackable content on my mobile screen and now I’m going to watch long-form, premium content on my OTT device?”

This collective amnesia can be cured by simply reminding ourselves that we, too, are the viewers. People don’t think in silos. They just want to watch their stuff where and when they want — and so do we. This is indicative of what I see as the major problem in our industry: We need to balance our top-down approach with consumer-centric, bottom-up thinking. As we begin to make this change, what should serve as our beacon is a sense of balance and empathy.

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What Marketers Should Know About Snapchat’s Update

Stickers, Video, Audio Calls and Notes Provide More Robust Interaction

Snapchat today announced a significant update to its chat function, a move that could give other messaging apps increased competition.

Snapchat, which says it has more than 100 million daily active users and more than 8 billion video views every day, is calling its update Chat 2.0 and gives users a much broader way to communicate with other Snapchat users. Among the updates are more than 200 stickers (a very popular feature in messaging apps); video and audio notes, which lets you send videos up to 10 seconds long; or just an audio one if you can’t type but want to communicate; and audio and video calls, which can now be made even if the friend you’re trying to reach isn’t in the chat at that time.

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Love Him or Hate Him, Marketers Can Learn a Thing or Two From Trump

GOP Hopeful’s Focus on Live Events, Earned Media and Proactive Speech Make for Interesting Case Study

Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Donald Trump may be the most polarizing figure of this election cycle. And he’s ridden a wave of social media and earned media to go from political oddity to the man to beat in the Republican primary, besting competitors who’ve outspent him exponentially. So it’s no surprise that many in adland might be tempted to see him as a marketing case study.

There’s no arguing with the results so far, but a lot of what works for Mr. Trump would seem like brand suicide for a traditional marketer. The juvenile attacks on the competition, his lack of messaging consistency over the years, the absence of a detailed product benefit and a questionable relationship with the truth — which has been called out by fact checkers, the media and the competition — are all things that would likely sink a brand tempted to embrace them.

But there is a method to the madness, and from finding a need and filling (or exploiting) it to the use of engaging live events to tapping into consumer emotions, lessons can be gleaned from the campaign.

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Martin Sorrell on Mobile: ‘We Haven’t Adapted’

Yet Another Conversation at Mobile World Congress Where Industry Execs Lament Lack of Mobile Focus

If there’s one thing that’s become clear at Mobile World Congress, it’s that marketers have a lot of work to do on mobile.

Industry execs grappled with ad blocking on a panel on Tuesday, and before that a panel talked about how the industry has failed to create trust in the security of consumer information and offer value to people when it comes to mobile. Now Martin Sorrell, chief of WPP, in a talk with Recode’s Ina Fried, said that “the mobile revolution hasn’t registered yet with companies” and there’s an underinvestment in mobile in the marketing industry.

“We haven’t adapted,” said Mr. Sorrell. “When people talk about creativity in our industry, they’re talking about Don Draper. They’re not talking about the new definitions. Believe it or not, people inside media agencies are creative. Software engineers are creative … It’s the definition of it — we haven’t contextualized it correctly yet.

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Three Best Practices for Branded Video in 2016

What Brands Can Learn from the Success of ‘Zen Baby Zen’

2016 must be the year of content marketing if you pay attention to the top 10 predictions by leading market analysts and advertising trade publications. Brand marketers are expected to double down on their investments in content, and in particular, video content — with the expectation that branded content, if done right, will generate greater consumer attention and engagement than tradition pre-roll or display ads.

Take, for instance, a recent campaign launched by Sam’s Club behind its Member’s Mark Comfort Care diapers and wipes store brand. The brand was relaunched with significant product improvements and a complete redesign of the packaging and marketing program to support the launch. The online video ad campaign for Comfort Care, known as “Zen Baby Zen,”debuted on December 11 with a million views in the first 24 hours and has since generated over 8 million views, 15,000 social shares and interactions, and rave reviews by leading mommy bloggers, including the Hot Mom’s Club that boasts over 2.5 million subscribers.

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Marketing’s 10 Biggest Thought Leaders of 2015


One of the best ways to excel in marketing–and in life–is to surround yourself with smart people. And while you can’t get folks like Guy Kawasaki and Mark Zuckerberg in close proximity unless you’ve got the big bucks, you can choose to follow them online to see what they find important.

During a recent team call, one of our teammates asked us to name some of marketing’s biggest thought leaders. We came up with a short list and then reached out to our Twitter followers and some contacts to round out the list of top 10. Here they are, in no particular order:

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