Lessons for Marketing Technology Companies From Cannes Lions Innovation

Last year I went to the Cannes Lions and one of the things that struck me was the volume of the conversations around data. You saw it in the presentations, the companies and organizations in attendance, and the general buzz around terms like cloud, IoT, marketing technology, innovation and data. Outside one of the conference halls, the organizers had placed quotes from advertising luminaries on the columns in the foyer. I was particularly taken by a quote from Sir Marin Sorrell, CEO of WPP, who said,

“Advertising is not an art anymore; it’s a science. I believe data informs great creativity.”

Cannes Lions Embraces Innovation

Cannes Lions marketing technology

Cannes Lions recognition of the power of data and technology in the world of creativity.

So it came as little surprise to me that shortly after the 2014 Cannes Lions, the event organizers announced that this year there would be a new “event within the event” called Cannes Lions Innovation.  Sure, the cynical among us may look at this as a new revenue stream for the event organizers, and we can talk about what agencies could have done with the money instead of a Lion, but I think it shows an awareness of the changing nature of advertising that Sir Martin clearly sees as well.  The huge growth of the Ad Technology, and increasingly the Marketing Technology, industries further demonstrates the direction things are headed in.

The Innovation jury was headed Y&R Global CEO David Sable, who I had the pleasure of knowing during my time as Creative Culturalist at Y&R New York.  David and his international jury had a difficult job to do. As jurors in a new category, there was no history to reflect on in these categories. Ultimately, the jury didn’t award any of the entries a Grand Prix. Sable commented on the situation:

“It was really quite challenging,” he said. “We were very cognizant of the fact that you’re setting a benchmark, making a statement, you’re hopefully creating a bar you raise next year and the year after.”

The winners in the Creative Data category did showcase a growing trend in advertising and marketing. It’s not enough to just push product. The best work not only delivers a message, but has real impact on the lives of people.  Gold winners included work for the Mexican Red Cross, Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Charitable Foundation “Change One Life.”

The work was diverse in terms of technology leveraged, but highlights the value of data, and the challenge of data in two key ways. From saving lives to affecting public policy, data has a potential real-world impact, but raw data is often so hard for people to synthesize and turn into something actionable that if often goes under-leveraged. That’s where the creativity of marketers come to forefront (and reinforces the quote from Sorrell). The Run That Town mobile game from the Australian Bureau of Statistics is a great example.

This quote from Sable really says it all:

[the work took] “the most shit-boring stuff you can ever imagine in your life, and turned it into something so compellingly interesting.”


Marketing Technology Needs To Embrace Storytelling

And that’s the key lesson for anyone making a mobile app or SaaS platform. How can you craft a story around the data you have? How can you make people feel something, even if you aren’t changing the world or saving lives? Changing behavior is incredibly difficult. You may have a superior product or platform, but if you don’t understand how to tell a compelling story about it, why should people take the time and effort to embrace it?

Having spent time now in the agency world and the marketing technology space I see the need for MarTech companies to tell a more compelling story. There are too many alternative solutions, in every niche, to just assume that the quality of your product alone will be enough. Regardless of what position you inhabit in the marketing stack, you have to matter to people. Saving time, reducing headaches, creating cost efficiencies, these all matter to people in business, but the story still needs to hold emotional impact as well.

MarTech companies can learn from other industries, both non-profit and for-profit, on how to tell those emotional stories. Even a technology company like Google understands the power of emotional storytelling. Now it’s your turn.


Fitbit After the IPO. Now what?

fitbit ipo wall street

Fitbit has a massive IPO, but will it remain in good shape? (Photo: Eric Thayer – Getting Images)

June of 2015 and Fitbit, founded in 2007, finds itself not so much at a crossroads or the precipice, but atop a mountain peak. Having just went public with a $6 billion valuation, the company’s founders James Park and Eric Friedman now must avoid the mistakes of other ‘first to market’ products, fend off 2nd wave rivals, and keep consumers excited about the future of the brand. This is a decidedly difficult challenge that will require no small amount of technical innovation, but also a deep understanding of changing consumer behavior, cultural trends and internal issues.

Taking on Challengers

Fitbit will face challenges on the high end from the Apple Watch, and downmarket from brands like the Chinese brand, Xiaomi, whose Mi Band has a US retail price of $14.99. We’re going to see some serious market segmentation and here’s where it’s critical for the Fitbit brand to do some heavy lifting. If the wearable fitness tracking market gets commodified, Fitbit will be in trouble. They have to make it about something more than just a computer on your wrist. Their latest ad does that well I think:

It’s not about the features, it’s about how the product changes your life.  The question is going to be, how big a segment can Fitbit carve out. They probably won’t get the hardcore athletes, who will gravitate towards products made by adidas, Under Armour or whatever Nike ends up doing. Trendsetters (chasers?) with money will go for Apple and people who are wearable tech-curious may go for a cheap entry-level brand.  But there are a huge number of people like those in the ad. People who are just trying to stay healthy and live an active lifestyle. Disclosure: I would put myself in that category and yes, as a matter of fact, I do own a Fitbit device.

Avoiding the Icebergs

As Brandchannel notes:

To some observers, Fitbit’s position now is reminiscent of where BlackBerry was just a decade ago: “Like Fitbit, BlackBerry was the established market leader with a ubiquitous gadget and a lower-priced alternative to Apple’s shiny new iPhone,” explains Business Insider. But now BlackBerry is barely viable in any form. Could the same sort of fate befall Fitbit?

It’s a good question, and one I’m sure Friedman and Park are asking themselves. There’s no shortage of analyses on what went wrong with Blackberry, but in the end, it comes down to adaptability. How will Fitbit evolve to both stay ahead of the competition and will the leadership be able to stay united in plotting a new course for the company, something Blackberry struggled to do effectively?

A Faster Horse

Visiongain has assessed that the value of the global wearables technology market in 2015 will reach $16.1bn. Predicting too far in the future about a new technology can be dangerous. Perhaps the dark side of wearable tech will turn people off, but it’s quite likely that number in the foreseeable future the number of people buying these types of products will only rise. As more consumers enter the marketplace, it will be tempting for brands like Fitbit to incorporate more features into their products. Focus groups will tell them, “Yes, that sounds like something I would totally use!” when asked about adding something to the product or platform. 

Fitbit needs to take a cue from Apple here. Nobody was screaming for the iPod, iPhone or iPad before they were introduced, but they become products that consumers instantly understood they needed. Fitbit would be wise to hire someone like Grant McCracken to help them understand culture and their potential place in it. In fact, Grant has written about Fitbit previously:

…Fitbit is designed to capture data generated by any activity. But notice the tone, the reckless, frenetic charm of this spot. It’s not about anyone’s ego. There are no beautiful people here. No celebrities. It’s a “Here Comes Everybody” exercise, to use Shirky’s phrase. There are a variety of deep cultural reasons why diversity is so important when crafting cultural meanings.

They business world is littered with brands that caught the cultural zeitgeist, briefly, before slipping away. Do you still own a pair of Crocs?  Staying fluid enough to move with culture and consumers is a difficult thing, but critical for brands like Fitbit.



The Challenge Jack Dorsey Faces at Twitter

Via Quartz, photo credit: (Reuters/Rilk Wilking)

Via Quartz, photo credit: (Reuters/Rilk Wilking)

Yesterday, Dick Costolo stepped down as CEO of Twitter (nice headline Gawker), with original founder Jack Dorsey stepping in at least on an interim basis.  Full disclosure, I’m Head of Global Marketing for Unmetric, and we are part of the Official Twitter Partner Program. Personally, I’ve been using Twitter since July, 30 2007 and still use it just about every day.

Along with the change at the top, Twitter also announced a change to their product. Direct Messages (DM) will no longer be restricted to the familiar 140 characters. Wired wrote that this makes the platform more competitive with other messaging apps, leading some to speculate that this will just increase the amount of spam users receive.

Over at Quartz, John McDuling breaks down a pretty epic piece from Venture Capitalist and major Twitter shareholder Chris Sacca. As McDuling notes Sacca is passionate about Twitter and clearly cares about the company. McDuling jumps on a line early is Sacca’s piece:

I believe in Twitter. The company itself is improving, not worsening. The stock market doesn’t get that because Twitter has failed to tell its own story to investors and users.

If you were around in the early days of Twitter, you’ll remember the regular occurrence of the Fail Whale. That species went extinct several years ago. They’ve made other additions and enhancements that, on the whole, I think have been good.  But read the other part of the statement by Sacca. Twitter has failed to tell its own story to investors and users.

I think Sacca nails it here. It’s not about the ‘what’ anymore, people know what they can do on the platform. It’s about the ‘why.’ Why should someone use Twitter as opposed to the dozen or so other options they have when looking to communicate with someone else? I certainly have feelings about using Twitter, and the interactions I have engaging on the platform elicit emotions as well, but I don’t know if enough people have feelings towards the company in a way that makes them feel loyal. Sidebar for all marketers – check out these Fast Company stories Researchers Explain How Brands Make You Fall In Love, and Why Do We Like Brands As Much As We Like People? 

Google has done a great job of making you feel something about them as a search engine through their powerful Google Stories advertising efforts:

So many people use Twitter for reasons that have strong emotional resonance. Sporting events, politics, TV shows… but I don’t think people ever stop and think “Thank you Twitter for making this possible.” That’s the psychological shift that Jack Dorsey, or whomever becomes CEO, needs to address.

Marketing Advice from President Frank Underwood

I’m catching up on Season Three of House of Cards right now. I really enjoyed the first two seasons, but had heard mixed things about the latest season. I’m not completely through it, but so far it’s been great. The writing is so sharp. It’s interesting to compare it to the work of Aaron Sorkin, specifically The West Wing and The Newsroom. Sorkin is a brilliant man, but even at his best, his writing style seems of a different era. It feels dated compared to Beau Willimon, Andrew Davies, Michael Dobbs and their crew have created.

The quote in the picture is a perfect example. Obviously it helps when it’s delivered by a guy like Kevin Spacey, but the line itself, delivered in the context of the scene is genius. Spacey, as President Underwood, says it in one of his frequent 4th wall shattering comments as an aside while admitting that he’s telling a lie. Not just a lie, but a lie that will form the bedrock of the Underwood creation myth in a book about him. The lie revolves around the notion that a young Underwood made an heroic attempt at a two mile swim but had to be rescued. This is framed not as a humiliating defeat, but rather as an example of Underwood’s bravery in the face of overwhelming odds. In this context, “Imagination is its own form of courage” becomes a brilliantly insightful glimpse into the soul of the character. This isn’t a man who has convinced himself of a long ago false memory, but rather a man very much aware of his chicanery and a brazen acknowledgement that he doesn’t care.

For marketers however, I think a more honest reading of the quote is possible. Historically, artistic expression has indeed been a form of courage. Writers, painters and filmmakers have all put their reputations and livelihoods on the line by going beyond what we as a society thought was possible.  Marketers, despite the seemingly inexorable drive towards a more scientific approach, still need to exercise a degree of imagination. They often face strong opposition when doing so.




An Open Letter to Silvia Lagnado, McDonald’s New CMO

In the spirit of Bud Caddell’s, An(other) Open Letter to Marissa Mayer, let’s talk about McDonald’s, and the challenge facing their new CMO, Silvia Lagnado. Her task is not an easy one. It’s been reported that the company has shut down 700 stores in the first half of this year. The Wall St. Journal had this graphic which puts things into sharp relief:

Josh Bernoff has a pretty sharp criticism of McDonald’s and their roll out of the new Sr. management hires with, McDonald’s Announcement of Marketing Hires Isn’t Very Meaty.

I don’t think McDonald’s problems are a quality issue, or an economics issue. I don’t think it’s bad management or paradigm shifting technology. What McDonald’s is facing is a culture issue.

A new generation has grown up with different attitudes towards food, marketing and brands. They have different expectations about their experiences.  I think it would be wise of Lagnado to look at McDonald’s longtime partner, Coca-Cola, to see how they have managed to stay relevant as times have changed. Coke has down a wonderful job of understanding the key role it plays in consumer’s lives. It’s not merely a beverage, it’s a social catalyst. Coke continually looks for ways to engage people in new and interesting ways.



More recently, their “Share a Coke” campaign has struck a chord as well:

In both of these cases, Coke, the mass-iest of mass products, has taken themselves down to the individual or small group level to connect. Could McDonald’s have created a similar video to the vending machine one above? Of course. Imagine a video of someone placing a regular order via the Drive-thru, and receiving instead any number of ‘surprise and delight’ moments.  What if you could order your Big Mac any way you wanted it, and the wrapper said Big ____ and the fry cook put your name on it with a Sharpie? Now you go to your table full of friends not with four Big Macs, but with a Big Steve, Big Susan, Big Jay and Big Ashley.

Adweek put together a piece recently, compiling tips on making The Golden Arches a “Modern, Progressive” Burger Brand” from several experts. I think all the experts made good points, but didn’t necessarily address a larger cultural issue and the real opportunity that McDonald’s has.

The first tip, from David Gaspar, managing director at DDG, is titled, Embrace Innovation.  Gaspar encourages McDonald’s to be aggressive in trying new ideas. In principle it makes sense, but McDonald’s has a very thin line to walk.  Those turned off by McDonald’s right now aren’t going to come running in the door because Ronald McDonald is hitting them up on Snapchat or to try some new faux-artisanal sandwich. You also run the risk of alienating the core base with too much innovation.

The second tip is to Create Transparency. Alla Gonopolsky, planning director at Havas Worldwide, New York noted the ‘Our Food, Your Questions‘ campaigns, but thinks they need to go further. She’s right, and going further is considerably harder. The challenge becomes building transparency into the process, rather than making it a reactionary tactic.

Next comes Rebuild Loyalty. According to David McIninch, vp of marketing at Acquisio, “McDonalds always owed its success to customer loyalty.” I’m not sure I agree with that premise. I think it was more a matter of ubiquity or uniformity. But loyalty is a key element. How can McDonald’s make people loyal to the brand through ways other than, as McIninch suggests, “technology and [a] move toward mobile loyalty programs.”

For the fourth tip, Adweek went back to Gonopolsky who urged them the Brand Globally. This is an interesting idea, and Gonopolsky notes that, unlike Coke, the McDonald’s product does indeed differ regionally with unique menu items. There’s a missed opportunity here. Why not do a cultural exchange with items from the McDonald’s Japan menu making their way to South Africa, and vice versa. Create videos recording the experience and you’re ripping a page right out of the Buzzfeed playbook:

Finally, Martin McNulty, CEO of Forward3D encourages McDonald’s to Be Proud of the Burger. Listen, within five miles of my house I can instantly think of five places I would go if I wanted a really good hamburger. McDonald’s is not on the list. Fighting a burger war is not a winning proposition for McDonald’s.

So, what do I think McDonald’s should be doing? I don’t think it’s about the product, and I don’t think it’s about technology. Beyond my earlier assertions to follow in the footsteps of Coca-Cola, I think McDonald’s should explore a broader societal/culture positioning that can have a real impact.

McDonald’s could define itself as a leader in training and education for the youth of America. It could do so by raising the minimum wage of it’s workers and for those in high school, the addition wages could be put in accounts to be used for college. The company could partner with institutions of higher learning and Coursera to create affordable education programs in management, food science, marketing and other fields. In this way, McDonald’s could return to its roots – how many successful people started their careers at the fast food joint? – and also firmly embrace innovation.

Education, poverty, equality, opportunity. Those are big issues, and maybe they are more than a burger place can handle. But I think they’re worth taking on if McDonald’s wants to regain its position in the hearts and minds of a new generation.

Content Marketing Stacks – Do We Need A Universal Framework?

So, you wanna be a CMO? Great, I’m sure you’ve got a lot of creative ideas, but being a marketer today means being able to get your head around a plethora of tools, platforms and services all built to help you and your team do your jobs faster and more efficiently. Sounds great, right? Well, there’s a little problem. The Marketing Tech ecosystem is completely out of control. Scott Brinker, co-founder over at Ion Interactive blogs about this from his Chief Martec site and earlier this year he dropped the Marketing Technology Landscape Supergraphic on us:

Marketing Stack

The Marketing Technology Landscape Supergraphic has 1,876 vendors listed.

Still want to be a CMO? Because it’s cool if you want to bail out now, I get it. But let’s say you’re determined to stick it out and make a go of it. Fantastic.  In fact, I’ve got a little something that might help. In my role as Head of Global Marketing at Unmetric I have to deal with this stuff every day. So, before I headed off to the MarTech Conference this year  I asked 10 experts for advice on building a Marketing Stack. These pros represent a new breed of marketer that more accurately might be called CMTOs – Chief Marketing Technology Officers. These people may still be outliers, though I don’t think so, but they certainly won’t be for long:


The Rise of the CMTO

The Rise of the CMTO

Now, putting these pieces together, a couple of things need to happen. First, we’ve got to see a shakeout. 1,876 vendors is just too many. Consolidation and the law of survival of the fittest should take care of this. But there’s something else that I think we need to see maturity in and that’s the way we collectively think about marketing technology.  Let’s go back to Scott Brinker, and his recently concluded “Stackies.” Scott asked marketers to visually represent their marketing stacks and share them with his audience. It’s a fun idea, but it also reveals some interesting insights.

While the growth of the CMO service industry has exploded, it may have outraced our collective ability to discuss it. The entries Scott received, and I encourage you to study them, run the gamut:


I caught up with Scott via email to get his take on the various entries. I asked him if he thought a more formalized framework was necessary and he didn’t think that was necessarily the case at this time:

I was very interested to see how different marketers conceived of their marketing technology stacks. I think it’s important to note that these are not necessarily technical diagrams — actually, most of them aren’t. It’s more conceptual. The high variance among them, I believe, mostly speaks to the different businesses, markets, strategies and processes represented among them.

I think some are probably more helpful than others in communicating their core concept and aligning their technology, process, and strategy. But I’m not sure that the lack of an established visualization is a significant concern at this stage. Hopefully, through sharing of stacks like this, we will start to converge on some best practices.


Scott brings up fair points, and I certainly respect his knowledge in this area. I do however think our ‘grammar’ needs to coalesce around some sort of standard for mapping out a marketing stack.  Having a certain established and accepted way of talking about this, visually, would be of great help to everyone. Sure, one company’s needs are going to vary from that of another, and you may not be able to create a single universal ‘one-size-fits-all’ form, but having some type of structure would allow those just building stacks to have a sorely needed foundation.

While I don’t have an answer for this issue, I would like to put forth the elements I think are key in the development of this framework. Any visualization would have to take into account the following:

  • Interconnectivity – Where is the handoff made from one tool to the next? Understanding these connections highlights the need for smooth integration as well. If you have great tools that don’t work well together, you’re going to be in trouble. A framework helps work this out in advance. You don’t want to find out Tool A and Tool B don’t speak the same language after you’ve made that 12 month commitment.
  • Customer Journey – Related to the above, not only should you understand the connections between the tools, but also how they connect to the customer. This will help when you are building your marketing strategy. Understanding the order in which a prospect sees your search ad, landing page, retargeting ad, email, etc. can help ensure you are properly moving them through the funnel with a coherent message.
  •  Future-proof – Chances are the marketing stack you build today will be different than the one you have in 16 months. Don’t build a framework that fits together so tightly that it leaves no room adaptability. If you remove one piece as the features of another grow, will you still have a coherent system?
  • Elegance – If your framework is so convoluted that you can’t make heads or tails of it, it’s not much good to you. This is often overlooked by non-coders who tend to believe that complexity connotes intelligence. In fact, a simple, clean and easy to scan framework will be the most helpful. On some levels this is the hardest element. Taking what is potentially a very complicated issue and keeping it from becoming something unmanageable.
  • Aesthetics/Design – Different than Elegance, aesthetics is more about form and less about function. Font/logo size, color-coding, shapes, lines… all these things play an important part in putting together a framework as well. Even the best thought out system will suffer without proper consideration given to design.

If you’ve got a great idea for designing a marketing technology stack framework, I’d love to hear from you.