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.

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.

Here’s A List Of The Least Despised U.S. Brands

On Wednesday, AdWeek ran an article titled, The Best Perceived Brands of 2013It was a recap of a recent YouGov Brand Index survey that “measures consumer perception of brands by asking consumers if they’ve heard anything negative or positive about them and assigns a score ranging from 100 to -100 by subtracting the negative from the positive feedback.”  Here’s a look at the top brands courtesy of a AdWeek graphic:


Now here’s what I find fascinating. Everyone one of the top saw a year-on-year decline in brand perception. And these are the cream of the crop! On average the Top 10 brands dropped nearly 7 points. Put another way, the Top 10 brands averaged a score of a little over 26 points. The 6.9 average drop amongst them from 2012 represents a more than 25% decline in brand perception.

If I follow the methodology correctly the Top 10 are receiving roughly three negative pieces of feedback for every positive one. Nike, the darling of every marketing case study has a score of 16.5. What in the world is going on here?

It seems to me that there is something fundamentally wrong culturally. The would appear to be a massive gap between how brands would like to be perceived and the reality of the situation.  If the scores are any indication, there isn’t a magic bullet solution here either.

Dissecting the Top 10 is a fascinating exercise as well. You’ve got old, traditional brands like Ford, V8 and Cheerios right next to Amazon and YouTube. Media outlets like History Channel and brick and mortar locations like Lowe’s.  If I were to take a stab at it, I think all 10 are perceived as providing value, or empowering people in some way. Take control of your health (Walgreens, Subway, V8, Cheerios), DIY (Lowe’s, YouTube), on-demand (Amazon, Kindle). Ford and History channel are interesting. They both are a nod to nostalgia, perhaps even patriotism on some level, but neither brand feels stuffy or out of date.

It would be worth a deeper dive to see if there aren’t some other insights that can be derived from this survey.





Should a Fast Food Outlet Employ an All You Can Eat Strategy in Social Media?

Burger King Norway has decided to “Think Outside The Bun” when it comes to social media. Wait, that’s Taco Bell’s tagline. Ok, let’s just say BK Norway is taking a decidedly unconventional approach in regards to their Facebook page. FastCo.Create has the details. The short version is that BK Norway offered followers to their Facebook page a coupon for a free Big Mac – the key product of their chief rival! – to those people who would unfollow BK Norway. That’s right, they gave away somebody else’s signature item in an effort to lose followers. Why on Earth would they do that?

Social Media strategy, brand loyalty and community engagement all put to the test

Social Media strategy, brand loyalty and community engagement all put to the test

Here’s the thing about Facebook “likes,” especially for brands: Likes are a cheap, and I would say frequently arbitrary and misleading metric. Especially when you lure an audience with free goodies and coupons. Those are fans of your brand, those are fans of a brand called “Gimme Free Stuff.” Listen to what Burger King Scandinavia marketing director Sven Hars said in explaining the rationale for the move:

“This campaign gave us the opportunity to get rid of all the fans that just liked us because of freebies,” says Hars. “We stopped focusing on how many likes we had, and put time and resources into finding out what to talk about and how to engage our fans.”

Bingo. Several key insights here. Let’s break ’em down:

1. They got rid of the “fans” that were just there because of the freebies.

Those people are going to be nothing but a drain on resources. They’ll want to know when they are getting their free food, and then they’ll likely complain about the quality when they do — both in public. Don’t believe me? Go ask TGI Friday’s.

2. They stopped focusing on “likes.”

Quick, go to your Facebook profile and review the brands you’ve “liked.” My bet is that you can’t remember ever “liking” about 30% of them, you have patronized another 30% in the last year (or ever) and then there’s another 30% that you do use/buy, but their Facebook presence has nothing to do with it. Focusing on “likes” is a never-ending race to nowhere. What’s a successful number of “likes” to have? One million? Ten million? Who knows. Likes are a result of doing the right thing, not a means to and ends.

3. They decided to do some research and focus on the people who matter

Most brands, especially in this category, just pump out product promotions, but Facebook – and by extension social media – isn’t, or at least shouldn’t, be about that. It should be about understanding how people live, what they really want, and being part of culture. Then figure how your brand (not your product) fits in.

Yes, BK Norway has a lot fewer fans on their Facebook page. But these are people who, when given the choice, declared they would prefer to stay loyal to Burger King over their chief rival. Now BK has set up an us vs. them situation, just the type of thing that can be the catalyst for building a true community.  Again, here’s Hars on the results of the move…

 “There are so many more conversations going on between both us and the fans, and the fans in general,” he says. “Focus on quality for us has led to a dedicated and loyal fan base, and has also made it easier for our fans to connect to the brand.”

Conversations are a better way of measuring than mere “likes.” In a category where quantity usually trumps quality, at least when it comes to products, it’s great to see a brand focus on the latter.