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.


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.

Blame Chiat/Day: Or, How Do We Solve The Agency Office Design Problem?

Here’s a recipe for disaster:

1 part novelty

1 part hype

1 part economic efficiency

The result? The open office floorplan!

Yes, the once revolutionary solve-all for workplace collaboration, innovation and cultural reinvention has fallen on hard times.  FastCo.Labs recently ran an article under the title, Death to the Open Office Floor Plan! which does a pretty good job of outlining what many people already know – sitting in a giant room, within earshot (and virus shot) of 40 co-workers may not be best for, well, much of anything. Last month Fast Company ran a piece on the Top 10 things people hate about open office which, after reading it, will likely lead you to utter aloud, “no kidding.”  It all seems pretty obvious really. So how did we in the creative world get here? Blame Jay Chiat. Wired certainly did.

Ok, not really, but certainly his legendary office transformation in L.A. kickstarted the trend. Opened in 1994, every employee got a laptop and a cell phone and entered the workplace, left to fend for themselves. Only a couple of years later, this concept was abandoned “to combat employees’ overwhelmingly negative response.” But Chiat was finished yet, the move ushered in a new era of creative workplace design. Chiat/Day moved to […] a vast warehouse designed for 500 employees by Clive Wilkinson Architects, are a microcosmic ”Chiat town” of private and group work spaces and public ”streets” and meeting places that provide for every kind of company activity. Staff members enjoy kaffeeklatsches in a ”Central Park,” mingle on a ”main street” and have a work space they can call home in surrounding ”neighborhoods.”

That 1998 New York Times piece was followed two years later by an essay in The New Yorker by Malcolm Gladwell. Now this is pre-Tipping Point Gladwell, but it’s got all the elements of a great Gladwell piece. He brings in some arcane reference points, niche experts and weaves an fascinating story on workplace design, referencing the Chiat/Day office evolutions. Gladwell, as Gladwell does so well, writes convincingly about group dynamics, psychology and human behaviors, all the while lacing it with expert testimony from people like an M.I.T. researcher who found that if colleagues were stationed too far apart, they rarely interacted, and in fact were more likely to engage with someone outside their office (and this was before email and the Internet!) than a co-worker on the other side of the building. And so Chiat’s Office Reinvention 2.0, an urban city concept seems an intriguing one. How we got from there to people staring at screens and wearing headphones is another story. [You can read the full Gladwell piece here].

In a more recent New Yorker piece, Maria Konnikova writes: In 2011, the organizational psychologist Matthew Davis reviewed more than a hundred studies about office environments. He found that, though open offices often fostered a symbolic sense of organizational mission, making employees feel like part of a more laid-back, innovative enterprise, they were damaging to the workers’ attention spans, productivity, creative thinking, and satisfaction. 

And so creative agencies in recent years have looked for other ways to promote creativity and innovation. Jorge Barba of the Game Changer blog recently wrote about office design and innovation, noting, “Up there with “innovation”, “lean startup”and “design thinking”, the latest word to make it to buzzword-bingo is “Lab”.

Writing for the Influx Insights blog in 2010, Ed Cotton notes that, “[h]aving a “lab” mentality is a must for agencies today.” He cites efforts by BBH and Ogilvy in this area, noting their different approaches to the idea. Creative Bloq takes an even deeper dive into agency labs in this piece, concluding, “If we can learn anything about labs from the agencies we spoke to, it’s that without them you can easily miss fantastic opportunities – not just to identify emerging technology and ideas, but to find brilliant people willing to push your agency to the next level.”

But ultimately it’s not the office layout that determines collaboration. Christening an area as your “Lab” doesn’t guarantee superior creativity. Those attributes are the result of culture and that’s determined by who you hire and the people in charge of leading the organization. Every agency is different – location and clients being just two factors – and who (and how) you hire is a far greater influence on culture that office design.  But even more important is the mindset and actions of the people at the top. They set the tone and if innovation and collaboration are not just what they talk about, but who they are, then the rest of the agency will take their lead.

Is that enough however, or is there another factor at play? More so than office design, is the size of the agency an inhibitor to great work? Maybe it’s not open floor plan per se that is the problem, but rather than agencies try to fit 50 or 60 people into that model. Does open floor plan work better with 10 people or less? Does collaboration in general have an equivalent to Dunbar’s Number? Perhaps, rather than putting the entire planning department together, or an entire agency, in one big room, the answer is to create a series of smaller open areas where teams can congregate is the right option. I’m sure this happens at many agencies, I’ve certainly been a part of ad hoc ‘war rooms’ for big pitches or other temporary projects, but maybe that should be instituted on a more formal, permanent basis.

#Anchorman2 Isn’t A Movie

durango burgundyAnchorman 2 is a Transmedia Experience.

Or at least that’s what it has become. If you’ve been paying attention recently you’ve seen Ron Burgundy, the character created by Will Ferrell in the modern comedy classic Anchorman, all over the place.


In Dodge commercials

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On local news in Bismarck, ND

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At the Canadian Curling Trials in Winnipeg

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Of course this is all promotion for Anchorman 2, which hits theaters later this month. But it seems to me it is more than that.  I’m sure Ferrell, like other celebrities will make appearances, as himself, on Leno, Letterman, The Daily Show, etc., but it’s not often you see actors, in character, going to places like Winnipeg or North Dakota, and make no mistake, those locations are carefully chosen. They are chosen so as to be discovered, and shared, by Ferrell’s fans, who are rewarded for scouring the Internet and sharing their discoveries with the community.

No, Ferrell is engaged in another form of storytelling. He’s created a transmedia experience that is well, experiential.  Ron Burgundy now inhabits a sort of pseudo-fictional, quasi-reality that doesn’t just promote the “Anchorman Universe,” but expands upon it.  The Burgundy character is a cartoonish trope familiar to those well-versed in the Judd Apatow school of comedy. He’s the buffoonish man-child, egotistical, self-centered and infantile. In other words, he’s a lot like people you see on TV.

Burgundy’s appearances at various events and within car commercials break the barriers between performer and audience, but not in the same way that say, Garry Shandling broke the 4th wall on It’s Garry Shandling’s Show. Usually when performers engage more directly with the audience they break character – a knowing wink or nod, an admission that they know this is fiction, and they know that you know. But not with Ferrell/Burgundy. It’s more of a McSweeney’s style of humor. An “I know you know, and you know I know you know, but I’m not going to acknowledge it”-sort of performance art.  By maintaining the illusion, Ferrell/Burgundy pull us into their world while inhabiting ours. Ferrell’s comic forebearer is more Andy Kaufman than fellow SNL alum Chevy Chase.

But like another SNL ‘Not Ready For Primetime Player,’ Mike Myers, Ferrell is gifted at creating characters infused with a certain humanity that makes them believable while at the same time fulfilling the requirements of comic absurdity.  Their genius being the ability to inhabit these beloved characters but not be totally typecast by them.


So we come to the question, what can a brand learn from this? How can a car company or a QSR or a CPG manufacturer leverage this sort of cultural capital?  Surely there is no shortage of brand characters out there. GEICO has come pretty close with the Caveman characters. (Full disclosure, I thought the Caveman-spinoff TV show was cleverly written.) Old Spice achieved a certain degree of transmedia traction with The Man Your Man Could Smell Like via the YouTube response videos.

But most brand mascots don’t have the multi-dimensionality or talent of Ferrell/Burgundy.  Perhaps the best move is in fact the one played by Dodge. Borrow the equity and interest of an existing character. It seems to be working, as sales of the Dodge Durango is up 59%.

With notable exceptions like John Carter we live in a world where the blockbuster hit is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Anchorman 2 is going to be a huge hit (BoxOfficeMojo predicts the film with double its predecessors take, raking in a total of $165 million). From movies to video games to awards shows and events, the opportunities for a brand to create a transmedia experience, rather than just a sponsorship or TV spot, are endless. Kudos to Dodge for not simply hiring Will Ferrell, but for understanding culture and figuring out how to triangulate between the product, the character and the actor.


Further Reading:

Transmedia Planning

Entertainment Weekly on Burgundy/Dodge Partnership

The New Yorker Explores the Viability of “The Blockbuster” 

Innovative Storytelling

Great. Fast. Cheap – Pick Three. Marketing Today

This piece was originally written for the Advertising Week Social Club. Lots of great content over there, check it out.


For many years the phrase “Great, fast or cheap – pick two” has been a favorite of mine. A delicious bon mot that creatives throw around amongst each other, rarely however having the courage to actually say it to a client. It was an understood but unspoken truism that was proven correct time and time again.

Thanks, Oreo

Thanks, Oreo

Even as desktop publishing and various technological barriers to entry began to fall, there was still a feeling that truly great work was something that needed to be crafted over time, and that that effort deserved an appropriate level of compensation. The corollary of course would come after a project turned sour. “Well, you get what you pay for.”

I was recently in a conversation with someone at a marketing agency and we were talking about this and he noted that for those of us who work in the social media field the truth was,  “great, fast or cheap – pick three.”  Indeed. The rules have changed thanks to the #1 advertising buzz-word of 2013: Real-Time Marketing.

Now, the truth is that the majority of brands putting a marker down on ‘fast’ have done so at the expense of good, and many have thrown away cheap as well, opting to eschew the ‘get the intern’ approach and instead hiring a specialist agency.  Of course the brand wasn’t set up for this sort of thing, so legal, marketing, sales and other internal groups hindered the use of the outside agency. But every once in awhile everything comes together and that little part in the middle of the ‘great/fast/cheap’ venn diagram lights up. Oreo now being the primary example.

And so an outlier becomes the perceived default. Now brands are trying to find ways to quickly turn out great content at little cost.  But right now that’s a bit like seeing someone win the lottery, asking them their strategy for picking numbers, and heading down to the liquor store to buy your own winning ticket. If it were that easy, everyone would be doing it.

So how does an agency respond to this?  How do you manage client expectations while still proving your worth, and the worth of the strategy and tactics you’ve sold in? Here are some tips:


Sure events like the Super Bowl or MTV Video Awards are a prime opportunity to strike Real-Time gold, but make sure your plan is bigger than that. Your strategy should be an on-going one, not all or nothing.


Bake the social strategy and tactics into other above and below the line executions. Social, real-time efforts should be one leg of a stool – remove it and the whole thing topples over.


Make sure your definition of “fast” and your client’s definition of “fast” is the same thing. Does one day for you = one week for them? Does one day for you = one hour for them? Either way it can be a problem.

Great, Fast, Cheap may be the present for marketers, just make sure you slow down and think about how you are going to make it happen.


Untethered: How People Will Shape, And Be Shaped By, The #FutureOfRetail

Back in October of 2013 I was asked by PSFK to write an accompanying piece for the 2014 Future of Retail report. My essay, republished below, originally appeared here.


Perhaps more than anything else, the 21st century has been marked by its ability to disconnect long-held paradigms from what were previously perceived to be sturdy moorings. Many of the things we’ve long held as truths, be they in relation to work, family, religion, media or technology have been blown apart by cultural upheaval and scientific advancement. The result has been that people – let’s do away with terms like ‘consumers’ for now – have been thrown into a new reality (or emancipated from the old one, depending upon your viewpoint).  This sort of disruption inevitably benefits some and hurts others, especially in the short term. But as an equilibrium is achieved, people learn how to maneuver in the system.

PSFK’s Future of Retail report, not unlike a William Gibson novel, provides a provocative peek into the very near future. As Creative Culturalist at Y&R New York, it’s my job to observe, and ideally directly experience, these trends and help our agency, and by extension our clients, make sense of them.  Having digested an executive summary of the FoR report, I’d like to propose a sort of macro-macro trend. One that speaks to the larger societal evolution we are experiencing, manifested within the retail category. I call it untethered.

As retailers slough off the physical back end of manufacturing via off-shoring, and outsource other, ‘soft-cost’ functions such as tech support, we’ve seen the retail industry ‘untether’ from local communities in many ways.  I think we’ll see this continue and, combined with other advances in technology, the ‘untethering’ will also appear ‘at the front of the store’ as the very notion of the “store” itself changes.

We’ve seen the dramatic affects on retail as the way people buy products has changed, first from home computers and more recently from their mobile devices, or the ‘showrooming’ trend.  Now as content becomes a sales channel via mobile and 2nd screen technology – the report provides interesting examples of this – the very nature of the ‘storefront’ changes.  Is a shoppable music video a piece of content, an advertisement or a digital shop? The answer is “yes.” Omni-Point-Of-Purchase as the report refers to it blurs lines and removes friction from previously discreet interactions.

An intriguing knock-on effect of this could be how this alters the roles of employee, customer and ‘brand advocate,’ that elusive yet highly sought after super fan that has been the Holy Grail of corporate social media efforts. You could also easily throw in ‘producer’ to the salesperson/customer/advocate mix. Sites such as Etsy now allow virtually anyone to become their own retail brand, further ‘untethering’ the individual from the systems of the last century.

Can a retail brand exist purely in the digital world? If so, what does it mean to be a ‘salesperson’ of such a venture? Does that role cease to exist? Or does that person become ‘untethered?’ Could there be a new role, in the vein of an Avon representative, where you become affiliated with a number of brands, earning money for selling and promoting products? Now a person can use the entire arsenal of social networks and tools to act as a salesperson, customer service rep and brand advocate, and it could be done anytime, from anywhere.

Retail brands have long courted influencers with large networks, but the efforts usually lacked real strategy and it was difficult to track success. Now however the tools exist, from real-time big data dashboards to personalized customer profiles that remember purchasing histories, to allow a new type of employee to really drive the bottom line for retailers, and provide retail value to people.

We’ve seen the rise of the curator in recent years. Those clever and resourceful folks with impeccable Pinterest boards and finely appointed email newsletters. In an ‘untethered’ world these people will become ‘retail consultants’ perhaps getting paid a commission from an company, but perhaps also benefitting from a customer subscription service. The purchase funnel is now a purchase network and those savvy enough to understand the game – from all sides – will surely figure out how to benefit from it.

The ‘untethered’ retail environment opens new interpretations and opportunities for loyalty programs as well, another trend noted in the report. We’ve come a long way from the ribbon cutting ceremonies of old. Gamified, social experiences disconnected from a retailer’s physical space (if they even have one), will encourage new and novel partnerships.  There will be an opportunity to re-imagine the loyalty program from the individual to the community – especially in an ‘untethered’ world where people will have a greater need than ever to connect.

In an untethered world the role of advertising, and the advertising agency, will – must – evolve. The same pressures being brought to bear on retail will also be evident in the world of marketing. Communications will need to be further customized, personalized, relevant and delivered in real-time. But the nature of the message will need to change as well. Instead of a brand sponsoring a movie, perhaps a movie will sponsor a brand? Young directors will offer to make films about a retailer or their product, imbed sales opportunities directly within the film and receive a percentage of the sales.

All futures are possible at this time, but this we know for sure – those that don’t embrace the future, be they retailer or person, will find themselves in a world in which they will struggle to succeed.