The “Big Six” digital marketing trends

I’ve been getting up to speed with Cheil’s global digital capabilities, visiting with our teams in Korea, the US, China, the UK, and India. In speaking with our professionals around the world, my beliefs are further confirmed that there are six key digital marketing trends that all brands must master in today’s operating environment:

  1. Brands are back in the driver’s seat.
    I’ve always believed that this notion was a bit sensationalist but today, organic reach has plummeted and brands with big budgets are the highest priority for sites with investors in mind.
  2. Everything is shoppable.
    From Instagram to Pinterest to Twitter to Facebook to YouTube, all sites are adding functionality to shortcut the path to purchase.
  3. Show me, don’t tell me.
    We have seen the shift from blogs to Twitter to emoji. People prefer snackable pictures to the fine dining of text.
  4. Data drives mass personalization.
    Curation and customization can happen today at a fraction of the cost to serve, but yesterday’s service models must evolve.
  5. The Internet of Everything.
    Just now beginning to become commercialized and show its true potential in the Age of Context.
  6. The sharing economy.
    Old business models and human behaviors are new again, but this time brands are powering their collaborative economy efforts with new technology.

While the impact of these digital marketing trends may differ by country and industry, they are all relevant now. The Big Six are here today and will absolutely evolve tomorrow. Smart marketers will get to the front of the curve and have a front-seat view as new trends emerge.

The answer is no.

Seeking Shambhala

Last year, I wrote a post asking “Can brands be human?

A year later, I’m certain the answer is “no.”

Now, this may seem obvious. But for almost a decade we’ve been hearing about how social media “humanizes” brands.

After another year of social media strategists trying their best to be “modern marketers” with “content marketing strategy” and “real-time marketing tactics,” many brands have missed the mark on their 9/11 tributes.

Brands can’t be human but the operators of their social media accounts are (for the most part). So what motivates a brand manager to plan and publish a post that belittles a tragedy like 9/11 into an opportunity to sell? I wonder if it’s the same profit mentality of individuals trying to profit from the Boston Marathon bombing or missing Malaysia Airlines flight. Or maybe it’s a more simple issue that has stuck with advertising forever — people act differently when concealed behind the shield of a corporate logo.

In either case, it’s clear that brands should stop trying to be human and just stick to being businesses. Don’t forget to be respectful of your consumers along the way.

Six years, $60 million, and all I got was this stupid hoodie.

Voting for SXSW 2015 sessions has started.

Austin panorama during SXSW 2014

If I get the chance to speak next year in Austin, I’d like to tell you about the last six years of my working life.

Between 2008 – 2014, I committed my time, energy, and intellect to build a startup company as the first employee into a multi-million dollar, multi-national social business advisory and big data analytics company. We received quite a bit of funding from Austin Ventures along the way. The company was ultimately acquired by Sprinklr and the only tangible reminder of my experience I have left is the classic cliched symbol of a startup company: a logo hoodie.

I could probably write a book on what I wish I knew then. (Maybe I will someday.) In the meantime I’d like to share the highlights of what I learned about startup life. The great reads out there make even more sense to me after having lived the experience.

I guess it’s only fair to disclose that I don’t intend this to be a sixty minute smack-talk session. Even without the snark, somewhere in between the trips to Las Vegas, managing people managing their personal brands, working with acquired companies under earnouts, writing a book, and creating an entirely new category of advisory called “social business,” there are some lessons worth sharing.

This would be my seventh year speaking at SXSW Interactive; if you’re interested in hearing more, I’d appreciate your vote.
Vote to see my session at SXSW 2015!

After a month in Seoul

Sunset over Itaewon

It’s been a month since I left Austin and started as chief digital officer at Cheil Worldwide. I’ve been almost entirely focused on work and in many ways, “the work is the work.” Strategy formulation, change management, and matrix operations are fairly straightforward. Of course not everything is the same and after a business trip to New York last week, here are some differences that surface in my mind, in no particular order.

Social media is a lot less active when most of your connections are time shifted 13 to 16 hours from regular business hours. More signal, but lower volume.

I’ve been consuming most of my English-language news from BBC and CNN. Lately most of the coverage has focused on Gaza and Ukraine. Korea’s English-language media outlets focus very little on these topics and instead discuss regional politics, e.g. relations with China and Japan, celebrity dating gossip, and continuing Sewol ferry issues.

There are many, many coffee shops in Seoul. Some of them have outlets in the US, mainly California. One popular chain is called Paris Baguette; recently, it opened a store in Paris.

Seoul has a lot of traffic. You can expect to spend a lot of time sharing the road with many other Hyundais and Kias.

Korea is one of the most wired nations in the world. Broadband internet penetration is almost 100% and high-speed wireless is almost everywhere. Subways tend to be quiet with every other person watching TV on a Samsung mobile phone. Step into an elevator and most of the younger people will be KakaoTalk-ing. A mobile phone number is the key to making many services work.

However, when it comes to tech infrastructure, especially e-government, Korea is stuck in the days of internet past. As described in this blog post which Jeremiah Owyang pointed out to me, Microsoft Windows, ActiveX, and Internet Explorer are still the only way to get many sites to work. Even running a virtual machine on Mac won’t work in many cases. Maybe Seoul could follow in New York City’s footsteps and hire a chief digital officer, or learn from Code for America and start up a Code for Korea.

There’s a lot of baseball on TV in the evenings, showing Korean professional league games. During the day, there are LA Dodgers and Texas Rangers games. If the Red Sox picked up Ryu or Choo, it would save me the cost of a MLB.TV subscription.

It seems increasingly strange when I read articles in the marketing and advertising trade press mentioning “global” topics. Usually, these articles are mostly about a US topic, with mention of a foreign country. It’s one thing to be a business tourist — it’s quite another to do business globally.

The cost of living here for an expat is steep and surprisingly higher than New York and San Francisco, but more affordable than Beijing and Shanghai. Times have changed quickly.

I wonder what will seem different after I’ve been here for a quarter…

Bringing digital innovation to the retail experience

I’ve spent the past couple of weeks in Seoul getting up to speed on my team’s capabilities as well as our assets across the network.

Last week, Cheil client Samsung introduced a new digital showroom experience called “CenterStage.” I just got here so I can’t take any credit for the build, but I can certainly be proud of everyone who was.

Samsung CenterStage from The Barbarian Group on Vimeo.

The concept was built by The Barbarian Group, based in New York and part of our network. My digital experience team in Seoul provided input into the prototype, along with our brand experience team, which designs physical spaces like Samsung retail stores and installations at CES, IFA, and MWC.

Barbarian Group’s Cinder is the installation’s underlying code, which won the first ever Cannes Grand Prix in the Innovation category. Samsung products are the heroes of course and looking good is easy when your client also happens to make massive 4K digital and LED TVs like the ones used in CenterStage.

Everything that can be digital will be, even the traditional home appliance department, which for years has looked more like a scrap heap than a 21st century shopping experience.

Week One at Cheil

Today marks the beginning of my first full week as chief digital officer at Cheil Worldwide. I arrived in Seoul last week and have been getting settled into my new role, meeting the teams resident at headquarters and starting to plan forward.

As word got out last week regarding my change of scenery, I appreciated all of the kind words and mentions on the interwebs. Now the hard work begins.

Digital division office

So what exactly is the role of a chief digital officer? Broadly speaking, this executive’s charter should include formulating digital strategy, implementing operational initiatives, and managing organizational transformation, all with a particular focus on emerging technologies. In a service-based company like Cheil, a top priority for a CDO like me is to expand our digital proficiency across the global network in order to deliver innovative client work. A related goal is to harness the inherent talent, creativity, and curiosity of our people and give them pathways to bring great ideas to life.

For further exploration on the role of a chief digital officer, you can request a copy of a related report I wrote for Constellation Research.

I’ll continue to publish thoughts here as we build, change, and explore the future of digital ideas that move.

Following footsteps, in reverse

Seoul from Namsan

Decades ago, my parents left Korea and immigrated to the United States. They were 30 years old, had no family in the US, and left almost everything behind in the country where they had grown up.

I have always respected the courage they had and wondered if I could hypothetically do the same. When I turned 30, I was working at PUMA in charge of global marketing operations as well as digital marketing, living in a Boston suburb with a top-rated school system, and making a decent salary (but shoveling a LOT of snow). I was settled and to follow in my parents’ footsteps seemed infeasible and inadvisable for the path that I appeared to be on.

But now, a half-century later, I have the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of my parents. It just happens to be walking back the way they came, as I’m moving to Seoul.

Revisiting the Connected Agency

In February 2008, I co-authored a Forrester report called The Connected Agency with Mary Beth Kemp (who is now at Ogilvy in Paris).

At the time, we observed that different types of agencies faced different challenges:

  • Traditional agencies were stuck in mass media mindsets
  • Digital agencies understood interaction but lacked branding chops
  • Specialists were creating new silos instead of integrating

Our solution was a model called The Connected Agency, focusing on three key shifts:

The Connected Agency

This prescription was based in no small part to the shifts underway in the digital marketing and social media landscape. While we didn’t get the answer entirely right (i.e. that agencies would integrate with communities), the shift from blasting out push messaging to facilitating consumer experiences is well underway.

Coincidentally, four years later my colleague Dave Gray wrote a book called The Connected Company. His take on why the future is podular:

If you want an adaptive company, you will need to unleash the creative forces in your organization, so people have the freedom to deliver value to customers and respond to their needs more dynamically. One way to do this is by enabling small, autonomous units that can act and react quickly and easily, without fear of disrupting other business activities – pods.

The future is podular

A pod is a small, autonomous unit that is enabled and empowered to deliver the things that customers value.

Six years after The Connected Agency, I think it’s time to revisit the model and incorporate the lessons learned from years of social business design.

Adios, Austin

Austin panorama

I moved to Austin four years ago to grow a company and it was acquired earlier this year.

The skyline has changed a bit since I’ve been here and it’s already very different from four months ago when the picture above was taken.

I’ve also enjoyed my time working remotely with Constellation and recently published my first piece of research, which points in the direction I’ll be heading.

More on that next week. But for the last week I’m here, I’ll enjoy some breakfast tacos, barbecue, and local brews.

Review: Connected by Design

Once in a while a big idea comes along that helps make perfect sense of what’s going on out there. As companies continue to struggle with digital disruption, R/GA’s Barry Wacksman has identified one (perhaps the) key pathway to success: functional integration. Now, along with Chris Stutzman, he has expanded on this thinking in a must-read book: Connected by Design.

Connected by DesignThis book expands on the concept of functional integration originally introduced to the world at Cannes in 2012 and explains how world-leading brands including Nike, Apple, and Google have driven digital business transformation by building connected ecosystems that enhance customer experiences, lock in loyalty, and create competitive advantage. I’ve been thinking about this idea for a few years now from a different angle: own the experience, own the future, watching how the companies above as well as Amazon, Microsoft, and Facebook have been building out their businesses.

The seven principles of connecting by design are:

  1. Utility is relevance
  2. Context is king
  3. Synergy captures customers
  4. Reimagine value creation
  5. Redesign value delivery
  6. Redirect toward value capture
  7. Lead like the world depends on it

Business leaders need to understand these principles in order to break free from legacy brand-building approaches including aimless product line proliferation, oversaturating media spend, and incremental innovation. Barry and Chris explain not only what is going on, but why the model works and how other brands can employ it, even if they are not in a high tech industry.

Connected by Design is a must-read book for anyone who wants to understand how to survive and thrive in the digital age. You can download and read the book’s introduction here. While you’re at it, check out Part 3 of this video to hear Barry explain the concept of Functional Integration. Congrats to Barry and Chris on a book well-written (and Karen Murphy at Jossey-Bass/Wiley on editing)!

Social business and beyond.