Memories of #SXSWi 2013

For all the hoopla about #SXSW I can say the following:

  • I’ve never seen such a dysfunctional transportation system in my life. Cabs not being available for hours on end was really frustrating!
  • The weather was somewhat fickle. It didn’t know whether it wanted to be nearing summer or receding to dark, dreary winter.
  • On that note, the torrential downpour Saturday night, coupled with the lack of transportation did not, in the least, keep me amused.
  • Seeing Twitter and Facebook friends FINALLY IRL was amazing! The connection was the same regardless!
  • You consistently ran into familiar faces despite the multitude of parties, locations and meetings.
  • Wifi was everywhere but not necessarily accessible. Except for the convention centre, the hotels and even Starbucks didn’t allow for consistent connections.
  • Electrical sockets were few and far between. I felt like a homeless person squatting at the Hilton desperate to find any available electricity to juice my devices.
  • Food was abundant. See pics below. You could easily gain 10 pounds just by looking at the food.
  • Canadians were everywhere! It was great that we “represented”. I’m so proud of Rogers for consistently creating an environment for Canucks to hang out!
  • I finally got to meet some amazing people I look up to including Jure Klepic, Jeremiah Owyang and Michael Brito face to face, and have a bit of conversation! That made my day!
  • Talking with people who “speak the same language” was pretty awesome.
  • Innovation and ideas were everywhere. Disruptive technology was definitely present.

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My Next Journey: ArCompany


Almost four months ago, I came to a cross-roads in my career.

Having just left yet another start-up that had tons of promise but eventually began to show signs of waning, it was pretty evident that the frustration I had encountered in the last 7 years in the social media business was coming to a head.

I didn’t understand why companies didn’t get it. I didn’t understand why companies were treating social media as merely a campaign channel and nothing more. I didn’t understand why companies were ok with complacency and didn’t feel the urgency to change their ways.

Social media has proven that it’s a medium that’s not going away. Its prevalence has paved the way for pundits’ warning of the inevitable death of marketing.

Today, it’s not a do or die situation, but soon it will be. When I decided to blaze my own path, I sat down to figure out what I wanted to do. Below is a “letter to myself”.

I owe a lot to my trip to Dachis’ Social Business Summit in NY. My time there contributed greatly to this journey. It was also part soul-searching, part anger and sheer will that ArCompany came to be.

As I write this it’s becoming much clearer as to why I need to venture down this path.

Operationalizing social is going to be an inevitable reality. And the more I speak to people the more I realize that it may not necessarily be a hard sell after all.

The concept itself is harrowing but many companies may have already gone down the road of implementing it in one form or another.

What are the drivers of this eventuality of Social Business?

  • An unstable world economy that results in business flux and move towards developing efficiencies. This, in turn, affects the job market and the resource constraints that are put upon businesses.
  • Product saturation/abundance was bourne in an age of mass production and mass communication. These days, the opposite is true. Enter Mass customization that’s given rise to increased customer service.
  • Technology has also splintered communications which has changed from a one-way to two-way channel. Up until just over a decade ago, the voice of the consumer was but a whisper. Nowadays it’s being heard loud and clear.
  • In the past, the value between a company and its customers was based on transaction history. A true value has emerged that includes customer relationships and behaviours outside of the organization and provides him/her with a stronger voice that the company must heed.
  • One way static communication has changed to an interactive two-way dialogue.
  • This dialogue has drastically increased this well of data/information that has the ability to radically inform and provide more  power in decision-making

However, companies, for the most, part are not ready. They don’t have the ability nor forethought to recognize the value of the data.

Companies are not ready to shape their processes and structure around this information to properly receive, manage and analyze and action on it (in the appropriate timeframes)–all in an effort to mitigate reputational impacts, to capitalize on potential revenue streams, and to reduce customer churn.

Dave Gray of Dachis said it best:

Social Business means…. having to dismantle some of that precious infrastructure

It can be done

It seems like a daunting feat but what companies don’t realize is that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. While some fundamental mindshifts need to happen, solutions to deal with this slew of information has not radically changed.The same principals and models still apply.

The difference is how to deal with the information in its abundance and the speed at which it is moving and in its unstructured form.

What the market needs…

I need to form a company that will help companies move to that eventual next level. There remains a huge education gap when it comes to social. Many have not totally bought into the promise of social. Their implementations are weak and non-committal.

In the meantime, information and intelligence technology (to make sense of this information) is moving at a faster pace. Those companies that can adapt and leverage this information to their benefit will be ahead of the curve.

In the short term, they will be the drivers of change. They will show the world what it means to really listen and understand their customer. They will show the world how to succeed by bridging these gaps, elevating the  relationship with their customers and focusing resources in driving to market needs and expectations.

Here’s what we will do:

  • We evolve businesses for the inevitable and use data to drive validation and make smart decisions;
  • We show business how to evolve at their own pace;
  • We educate and train on best practices and how to manage and foster relationships at each customer touch point;
  • We introduce technology within the framework of the customer relationship: collaboration, workflow, business intelligence, content and community mapping;
  • We analyze initiatives to validate implementations and strategies, and ensure they map to business objectives.

We’ve arrived

So here we are,  February 2013.  ArCompany has arrived. We named it so because “arc” shows steady momentum and progression. Taken together with “company” it sounds like “Our Company”. The next generation of business will have accountability to the customer– at all levels of the organization.

And I couldn’t ask for a better team to take this journey with me: They are all stellar in their own right:

  • Danny Brown, a truly amazing friend who has shown me on more than one occasion how to truly live with integrity;
  • Amy Tobin, a spunky and energetic pal who continues to challenge me and make me smile in the process;
  • Andrew Jenkins, someone I’ve come to respect for his perseverance and undeniable insight from the enterprise world.

We all live social… everyday. We understand and are passionate about the connected customer. We inherently know how this is going to impact business now and in the long-term.

We look forward to having the conversation. Join us!

 Reference for some of this material sourced from the Social Business Journal, September 2012

Big Data will Change Advertising Forever

bigdataI had several meetings today with friends from “traditional digital agencies”. [Aside] That sounds so oxymoronic! The reality is that this new course of big data, gleaned from a wealth of unstructured information on the web, has the ability to turn advertising on its head–– at least enough to make media people rethink algorithms for maximizing performance.

Coming from the ad world, I have seen the banner ad rise and fall in a span of 7 years. The value of search marketing (PPC) has had its heyday and now even some of the search pundits are realizing an eventual downturn. Consider this quote from Adam Torkildson, one of the top SEO Consultants in the country who was quoted in this Forbes Article, “The Death Of SEO: The Rise of Social, PR, And Real Content” who said,

“Google is in the process of making the SEO industry obsolete, SEO will be dead in 2 years.”

A large part of this statement lies in the the fact that expectations of consumers have changed. In advertising. In content. In brand engagement. Social content is what largely makes up Google’s search algorithm: relevance, recency. What this entails? Shares, comments and reviews.

I would argue that another factor will unseed Paid Search as providing a more relevant prospect framework: social data insights.

The Traditional Ad Model: User profiles

Think back. Acquisition targeting parameters were dictated by marketers. Marketers did the consumer research, mainly expensive focus group testing with questions that largely served to benefit the “business”, structured and moderated by the “business” and highly subject to group-think. To top it off, this “focus” group would provide the basis of “representation” of the target customer, so the results of the research were leveraged to inform the targeting strategy. So… my point: the research conducted was subject to false assumptions, questionable methodology and a strong reliance on the outcomes.

Now, these outcomes provided the demographic profile of the target customer, which was fed into the media buy. User profiles dictated where, when and the type of offer or content was served. At that time there were mediocre optimization opportunities.

The More Sophisticated Ad Model: Behavioural targeting

I was fortunate enough to work for Hunter Madsen, the Yahoo! guru who led the team that developed Behavioural Targeting for our company back in early-to-mid 2005. We were in awe as Hunter explained the mechanics of targeting users within the network, based on where they’d been, what content they consumed, what they searched for… also taking into consideration their geography, demographics and alignment with the target profile. Aileen Hernandez Halpenny, a friend who heads up Rocket Fuel in Canada, reminded me of the “smart ads” — the dynamic ad units that would be served up to you based on geography, profile, search propensity etc. These were seemingly intuitive ads that knew the right offer for you at the right time. Simply put, “Optimize each ad for each user — right down to hyper-targeted local offers — so that you can drive your objectives, from awareness to conversion.”

Now, combine that with ad retargeting that cookies a user and serves up a similar ad when they show up elsewhere in the network. Now we’re talking relevance. No longer do we have to rely on latent conversion and assume that an ad I saw 10 days ago contributed to my online purchase of that same product. Retargeting takes out that guesswork.

The Future Ad Model: Enter Social Data

Now imagine if you had the best of both worlds: behavioural data AND conversation data. Case in point: So Mary Brown searches for information about a future trip to Halifax, NS. She also goes to travel sites, reads hotel reviews and has excitedly spoken to close friends on Twitter and Facebook about her plans and preparations. Now we have not only recent behavioural activity where she’s been on the internet, but we also are aware of her conversations that validate her behaviour. It is safe to assume that Mary will “definitely” be going to Halifax. Imagine what this information does for a travel company? They now have MORE information on that user that will allow them to not only serve an ad, or respond to that user with relevant offers, but DO so with a certain degree of confidence that Mary, will, at the very least click on the ad.

What excites me about social data is that it does the job of the marketer, for the marketer. No longer do we have to guess about “who” is right for our product. The conversation data alone is enough to verify the right target audience. But, coupled with recent/past web behaviour, the two variables will increase response lift significantly.

Caution: this may be a game changer but the way the advertiser needs to treat the user must also change. Ads, for the most part, have becomes irrelevant. Even Facebook is realizing that low Click-throughs (CTRs) on sponsored stories is not enough to drive conversion. They are now relying on “impression-based” ads ie “I saw the ad” vs. “I clicked on the ad” to determine whether this can be attribution factor with conversion.

How do traditional media people feel about this? An ad ops person put it this way: “Conversation data may yield us potentially top 20 people who have a higher propensity to buy. Is this enough? The client wants more volume.”
…to which I responded,

“Social data allows you to target to very niche groups — the tighter the targeting the better. After all would you rather have a much higher response rate, spending less on advertising, targeting a more finite group than doing a blanket campaign across a larger volume with a standard .15% CTR? ”

The value of social data is the amplification value and allowing social strategies for outreach to augment the ad performance. This results in BOTH a higher response rate as well as word-of-mouth effects. It also allows the marketer to spend more wisely and opens the door to developing sustaining relationships with the consumer.

…. after all, why should our work as marketers get any harder!

The Promise of Big Data: The Evil Twin

dr evilThis post is a follow-up from my previous article, The Promise of Big Data: For Good.

As a database marketer, I relished in the richness of information that data gave me. Unlike traditional advertising which, to me, had no real basis for tracking or performance optimization, I took comfort in knowing that I had data to validate decisions.

The world today has emerged into data ubiquity and it is generating immense excitement among data scientists about the ever-growing strength of predictability. This is the essence of Big Data. According to Wikipedia,

Big data is a term applied to data sets whose size is beyond the ability of commonly used software tools to capture, manage, and process the data within a tolerable elapsed time. Big data sizes are a constantly moving target currently ranging from a few dozen terabytes to many petabytes of data in a single data set.

This wealth of information now provides an avenue that allows ever-complex data sets to be analyzed like never before. This can include where people are more likely to live in the next 20 years based on population, migration patterns, geographical economics etc. Or, it can include the likelihood of people drinking less coffee in the southern states of the U.S. in the next 10 years.

Amazing stuff! The probabilities to affect change in a positive way are absolutely boundless. Now organizations are relying more on data to drive critical organizational decisions. On the same note, there is an equal and opposite reaction to Big Data.

I have introduced the endless possibilities of a world that benefits from Big Data. However, there are personal and cultural consequences to the use of Big Data to serve the greater good. Data can lead to a loss of privacy. Face it, you are going to be asked to opt-in to sharing your data more often. Privacy as a hot topic is bringing issues of disclosure and data usage front and centre. Customers are becoming more and more aware and alarmed by how their data is being used. Consider two recent events in the news:

1. Job Seekers are being asked for Facebook Passwords

Laurie Dillon Schalk brought this article to my attention through Twitter. This was shocking to me. Imagine: you are going in for your dream job and you are asked, as part of the interview process, to divulge your Facebook information so the potential employers could peek into your profile. How would you react? This goes beyond privacy. Laurie tweeted to me,

Completely unacceptable to ask candidates 4 FB passwords. Violation of the worse kind. I don’t know how & if widespread.

This has gone beyond a standard security check. The wealth of data on every individual now gives employers more information at their disposal. Think of it: the more information you create, the more fodder you are feeding to this data well. The long term implications: you as a user will be less transparent in your posts–more guarded about what you share. Will big data encourage the antithesis of social media?

2. How Companies Learn Your Secrets

This is the story of how “Target was able to use their predictive analytics to determine a customer was pregnant. They had mailed her some promotional material, much to the surprise of her father, who made the discovery. According to this article: “Most of the people I spoke with here agreed that Target made a mistake in that case, but they believed the error wasn’t in collecting the data and then using it for marketing so much as doing so without permission.”

It’s one thing to use data to analyze and predict competitive pricing like Walmart’s Rollback Price model, however, organizations are just starting to see the “massive amounts of data to predict everything from what their customers are going to start buying to which of their employees will complete a certain project on time.” Data is also increasingly easy to collect and store, ripe for analysts to sink their teeth into.

The Government has a lot to gain from the information we feed them.

And maybe the Enemy of the State is humanity’s eventuality. We are already seeing instances of it today right here in Canada:

Canada’s “tabled” web surveillance legislation seeks to “monitor and preserve the Internet surfing activities of internet customers” in an attempt to prevent electronic criminal communications. This will further suppress or elicit more guarded online and mobile usage.

Michael Geist, Law Professor at University of Ottawa, and esteemed critic in Internet law states, “One thing (the government) has never provided is the evidence to show how the current set of laws has stymied investigations or created a significant barrier to ensure that we’re safe in Canada.”

It’s clear that we may not be able to stop he growth of big data and its evolution. That would mean we would have to change our practices: limit our usage of internet, mobile, and social networks. By virtue of using these technologies we are putting bits of our information into servers about what we’re doing, where and when. The power of this information presents amazing possibilities. But along the way, as consumers, we must become cognizant of its impact to our personal information, more importantly information that we prefer to keep private.

I’d be interested to hear what you think. What’s your impression of Big Data? The Big Brother of tomorrow or the purveyor of a better society?

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