What I Hope to Learn in Orlando’s Magic ‘Data’ Kingdom

The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) inaugural 2020 Masters of Data and Technology Conference kicks off today. It will be interesting to learn how brands see themselves transformed by all the digital (and offline) data surrounding prospects and customers at this Magic Data Kingdom in Orlando.

As I get ready to embark to the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) inaugural 2020 Masters of Data and Technology Conference (beginning today), I’m very curious to listen in and learn how brands see themselves transformed by all the digital (and offline) data surrounding prospects and customers.  With CMOs telling ANA that this topic area is a strategic priority, I don’t think I’ll be disappointed this week in Orlando’s Magic Data Kingdom.

Are “they” — the brands — finding answers to these questions?

  • Do they have command of data in all the channels of customer engagement?
  • Are they deriving new sources of customer intelligence that had previously gone untapped?
  • Can they accurately map customer journeys — and their motivations along the way?
  • Are they truly able to identify customers across platforms accurately with confidence?
  • How do data science and creativity come together to make more effective advertising — and meet business real-world objectives?
  • What disruptions are shaking the foundations of B2C and B2B engagement today?
  • Are investments in data and technology paying dividends to brands and businesses in increased customer value? Do customers, too, value the data exchange?
  • Is there a talent pool in adequate to deliver data-derived, positive business outcomes? What more resources or tools might they need?
  • What impacts do barriers on open data flows — walled gardens, browser defaults, privacy legislation, “techlash” — have on relevance, competition, diversity in content and other business, economic and social concerns? How can these be managed?
  • Are “brand” people and “data” people truly becoming one in the same in marketing, and in business?

Admittedly, that’s a lot of questions — and perhaps the answers to some of these may be elusive. However, it’s the dialogue among industry peers here that will matter.

The mere emergence of this conference — “new” in the ANA lexicon — is perhaps a manifestation of where the Data & Marketing Association (acquired by ANA in 2018) hoped to achieve in its previous annual conferences and run-up to acquisition. The full promise of data-driven marketing — and “growth” in an Information Economy — can only happen when brands themselves (and, yes, their agencies and ad tech partners, too) have command of data and tech disciplines, and consumers continue to be willing partners in the exchange.

Imagination lives beyond the domain of the Magic Kingdom (where we all can take inspiration from Disney, nearby). Likewise, aspirations can be achieved. Let’s listen in and learn as ANA takes rein of this brands- and data-welcomed knowledge share. Growth is a beautiful thing.

 

To Find Your 2020 Agency Partner, Look Beyond ‘Agency of the Year’

There’s no shortage of agency rankings, highlighting the “agency of the year” for advertising agencies, PR firms, marketing technology vendors, and more. Accolades are important, but often to the agencies themselves, where recognition serves as a recruiting tool and validation.

There’s no shortage of agency rankings, highlighting the “agency of the year” for advertising agencies, PR firms, marketing technology vendors, and more. Accolades are important, but often to the agencies themselves, where recognition serves as a recruiting tool and validation.

When selecting agency partners, you should focus less on who’s the “best” and more on what a great agency partner means for your brand. Look beyond “agency of the year” and strive instead for compatibility.

Finding Your Agency Mate

Before even beginning the search, you need clear goals and must identify what you are trying to achieve by bringing in an outside resource.

Word of mouth, reputation, and recommendations can help narrow the field to a shortlist of potential partners. But what happens next?

5 Focus Areas for Agency Selection

From my experience on both the client and agency side, I recommend focusing on five areas as you assess potential partners: cultural fit, talent, success metrics, adaptability, and unique, specialized expertise.

Cultural Fit

Cultural fit is perhaps the most challenging criteria to define. Agency-client compatibility requires a set of shared beliefs and behaviors. If you aren’t able to see eye-to-eye with your agency, you won’t be able to work together successfully.

Assessing cultural fit requires spending time in-person with the agency team, ideally in their office, and getting to know individuals across levels and functions. There may be people outside of the day-to-day agency team who could shed light on the company culture, including HR and communications. Speaking to client references is another important culture check.

Talent

Strong agencies attract strong talent — at all levels. You need a consistent, tenured team that understands your business. If talent comes and goes, it is a huge strain on the relationship, because you need to invest time and energy in building new relationships at your agency partners.

During the selection process, ask about the average tenure at the agency and learn about their recruiting and training policies. These questions will help you uncover how the agency hires, invests in and retains talented employees.

Success Metrics

Great relationships are formed when the agency and client are jointly successful. Yet success can mean different things to different people. A shared point of view when it comes to measuring success is fundamental to closely aligned agency-client relationships.

Review how the agency has measured success with other clients and research the latest measures being used in your industry and adjacent industries.

Adaptability

If you want the relationship to be long-term, then the agency must be adaptable. Leaders change. Mandates evolve. The industry transforms. Agencies that are flexible and adaptable can serve their clients, regardless of the circumstances.

Request specific examples of long-standing client relationships and ask about the evolution of those relationships. Discuss scenarios that illustrate how their mandate might shift over time and see how the agency would respond to those hypothetical situations.

Unique, Specialized Expertise

Most agencies have a secret sauce — something that sets them apart. If the agency has expertise specific to your industry or competitive set, you will need to decide if the institutional knowledge outweighs the potential client conflicts.

Throughout your discussions with possible partners, dig deep into their unique and specialized capabilities — technologies, data, processes, knowledge, etc. These differentiators could be the determining factor in selecting your agency partner.

Keep an Open Mind

As you search for agency resources, consider unconventional solutions. An agency isn’t always the answer. For example, ask yourself, should I build this capability in-house? Additionally, for some brands, a consultant or group of consultants can provide a nimble, strategic support model.

Don’t get caught up in the “best agency” hype. Seek a partner that is best for you.

Vote for SOW Reform to Stop Agency ‘Manslaughter’

Even as digital marketing was born — websites, search, email — were often described, rightly so, as “direct marketing on steroids.” But Google didn’t invent analytics.

SOW reform
Credit: Clipart Panda

The 1991-92 recession was a boon to database marketing. Fed up with ad spending that wasn’t producing results, many brands — advertisers — turned to databases and data-based marketing to deepen their understanding of customers, and learn how to attract new customers who looked just like them.

The economic growth of the 1990s only solidified database marketing’s reputation, with its ability to produce and refine predictive models, enable better A/B and multivariate testing, and bolster acquisition, retention and loyalty business objectives. These were the days when direct marketing agencies, many acquired by the ad holding companies in the 1980s, were — at last — the rising stars of holding company stables.

Even as digital marketing was born — websites, search, email — were often described, rightly so, as “direct marketing on steroids.” Google didn’t invent analytics.

Yet how many of the traditional direct marketing methods of data stewardship, testing, research, response analysis and data-derived strategy were really ever adopted by the earliest digital darlings — with their appetite for speed, scale and Super Bowl ads? Living on VC riches, the first wave of dot.com e-business held some spectacular fails.

Enter social, Big Data and “walled gardens.” The second wave of digital disruption has indeed been successful as it basks in the spotlight — with scale, testing and ROI analysis discernible (or seeking to be) on each new wave of innovation (not always successful). Digital has been growing its share of marketing spend without interruption, at a quickening pace — displacing or discounting print, direct mail and broadcast. Ad tech, marketing tech and data are indeed today’s advertising stars.

But for how long?

In this brave new ecosystem, are brands performing much better in their business results, overall?

Michael Farmer, author of “Madison Avenue Manslaughter,” who spoke at a recent Marketing Idea eXchange event in New York, says they are not — and their ad agency partners, alongside CMOs, are paying a dear price for this lack of achievement. This domino effect screams “help!”:

“What’s going on with advertisers? Since 1980, advertisers have been governed by ‘increased shareholder value,’ which means executives must deliver results or find another job. CMOs jumped on the digital / social bandwagon and migrated media spend. At the same time, they significantly increased digital / social SOW workloads for their agencies, reasoning that digital / social work was either cheap or free compared to TV / print / radio. Lurking in the background, though, were the non-consuming Millennials, who became the largest demographic group; e-commerce (i.e., Amazon); and the financial melt-down of 2008. The net result: brand growth ceased, and digital / social spend did not provide a solution. CMOs lost credibility, and their job security declined to 3-4 years.”

So where do we go from here? How well do we advertise and sell to Millennials, Plurals and the diversity of America today? Well many brands have turned to consulting companies who have the C-suite relationships, hardly bastions of creative genius, but perhaps more understanding of how to make all this technology, process and content connect best to customers.

Can agencies get back to performance? Farmer believes scope of work reform is one place to start for agencies: they must say “no” to transactional tasking, and “yes” to strategic ideation — and insist on being compensated for it. Even if this means firing clients who balk at paying up. The race to the bottom has served no one.

“What’s going on with Scopes of Work? Digital / social marketing altered Scopes of Work significantly. A 1993 “traditional” SOW requiring 50 creatives contained about 400 executions – 8 per creative per year. By 2013, the count would increase to 600 executions, 12 per creative per year. By 2018, the integrated SOW could contain as many as 15,000 deliverables – involving email marketing, Facebook posts, and a variety of little social executions that would see a typical creative cranking out 300 deliverables per year, or one per day, with little strategic content. Predictably, few clients think that they need high-cost agencies to do this kind of work, so the SOWs are migrating elsewhere, particularly to in-house agencies and to low-cost countries like India. High-priced Chief Creative Officers have no obvious role in this high-volume world, so agencies may begin cutting them out.” 

Perhaps, maybe a little direct marketing discipline needs to be discovered (or rediscovered) by brand chiefs here — who learn to become unafraid of data, data insights, data testing, data quality, data stewardship, all working in tandem with creative storytellers to produce the “big idea.” Creative storytellers working alone — without data — may produce some gems, but without achieving business objectives, these ideas are simply creative but unproductive.

Accountability in ad spend should never be out of style. It’s time for agencies to regain the strategic mantle, or indeed rest in peace.

Parting tip: Do you want to see some agency and client work that is producing business outcomes. Become an International ECHO Awards judge. Currently the Data & Marketing Association has an open call to recruit agency, ad tech, consultant, and brand professionals for judging this year’s competition (online and in New York). If you love data-driven marketing and the business results that can be achieved, then the ECHO judging experience can give you a phenomenal idea store of what’s working now, and likely tomorrow. Consider the 2018 judging application here.

The Importance of Celebrating Great Advertising

Certainly, we’ve read headlines about ad blockers, agency burnout and click fraud — but these challenges are not the reality of our entire business. Yes, each concern listed here needs to be managed, but they hardly define advertising’s truest landscape.

Echo AwardsOn April 7, there is an agency party happening in New York. Creatives and strategists will be in attendance, but what will the party be celebrating exactly? The simple chance to win an ECHO Award, and the call for entries is now.

Full disclosure — I’m on the Direct Marketing Association’s International ECHO Awards Board of Governors (and the only compensation of being a BOG member is the opportunity to see firsthand the greatest advertising idea store in all of data-driven marketing).

What’s so timely or unusual about celebrating advertising now?

Certainly, we’ve read headlines about ad blockers, agency burnout and click fraud — but these challenges are not the reality of our entire business. Yes, each concern listed here needs to be managed, but they hardly define advertising’s truest landscape:

  • Compelling content that drives consumer interest and engagement — and is increasingly measured to prove it. Data wins the purse and the consumer.
  • An economic contribution that DMA identifies as a $202 billion proposition in the U.S. alone, with more than half of that directly related to responsible collection, sharing and application of data. However, the ECHOs are not all data and numbers – they are informed strategies and executions that are breathtaking, first and foremost. They also drive action.
  • Advertising that wows the CMO, keeps the CFO happy and enables the CEO to look good — because it’s advertising that works to meet defined business objectives.

Very few ad competitions explore this angle, yet, this is where advertising is going and growing. An ECHO trophy proves, “We understand where advertising is going.”

Making waves, disruptive, arresting, dominant — the adjectives fail us, but the work doesn’t. Even the ECHOs are transformative this year with 21 categories to conquer tackling sector, channel, craft and special award categories.

Instead of partying in Manhattan on Thursday night, I will be six miles high eagerly flying home, awaiting this year’s stellar realm of dominant ECHO entries to celebrate this fall. Dominators have until June 27 to enter.

Your Best Marketing Investment: Recent Grads

My longtime colleague Jon Roska used to say, “If the army can trust a 23-year-old to drive a $5 million tank, surely we can trust them to write a marketing plan.”

My longtime colleague Jon Roska used to say, “If the army can trust a 23-year-old to drive a $5 million tank, surely we can trust them to write a marketing plan.”

Throughout my career as a marketer, mentor and teacher, I have learned that recent college grads are capable of creating remarkable work if given the chance. “Millennials on Marketing” in the Jan/Feb issue of Target Marketing features four young people who created a plan for increasing referrals for DirecTV that won the Gold ECHO in the Collegiate ECHO Competition. You can hear them tell the story of their winning campaign in this video. One of the comments from the DirecTV team: Cohesive strategy that fit real-world application from assessment, strategic planning, defining objectives, execution, reading results and optimizations.

Of course, the army doesn’t hand the keys to an M1 Abrams tank to just any 23-year-old, particularly without adequate training. Nor should we let just any 23-year-old write a marketing plan without adequate training. Jon Roska was relentless in his quest to prepare recent graduates for success, and those who worked at our agency are making meaningful contributions at the best agencies in New York and Philadelphia, as well as client-side at companies like Ticketmaster and Google.

There’s a lot of talent out there that’s ripe for the picking, and with the proper nurturing, you can reap big benefits from it. Here are five things I learned about nurturing young marketing talent by working alongside Jon Roska:

  • Choose Carefully. Pick those who are both busy and successful in school. Good grades are important, but not enough. You want people who achieve results while juggling several balls at once – involvement in student organizations, sports, internships and employment ensure that you’re getting someone who is dedicated. Screen for desire – it’s the most important component of success.
  • Empower Them. Make them fully responsible for something right away. Start with something small, like creating a weekly report. Raise the stakes quickly as they deliver. Make them accountable.
  • Support Them. Give them access to the resources they need to figure it out for themselves – books, webinars, face time with senior people, etc. Quiz them on their understanding and redirect them, as-needed. Share best-example models of the assignments you give to show them what good looks like. Take them to important meetings to observe and have them summarize their notes to gauge their understanding of the key issues. Most importantly, invest your time in them. You may think you’re too busy, but ultimately, they will lighten your load.
  • Let Them Fail. I don’t mean you should allow them to blow up a major project or an important client. Rather, foster an environment where it’s OK to be wrong. You’ve empowered them, and you can’t expect them to be right all the time. But we learn more from our failures than we learn from our successes. Frequently ask, “What did you learn from this?”
  • Maintain High Expectations. If you don’t expect much, that’s what you’re going to get. The converse is true, as well.

Judging the 2013 ECHOs: A View of Data-Driven Marketing’s Best

Two weeks back, I had the opportunity to judge Rounds 1 and 2 of the ECHOs this year—and while sworn confidentiality requires me to remain mum on actual campaigns I encountered there, I want to comment on the value of judging itself, from my perspective as a public relations practitioner in our field. The ECHOs have been around a long time—since 1929 to be exact. But what really makes me excited to see the campaigns as a judge each year, is that they represent agencies’ and brands’ self-selected choices on what they consider to be award-winning and innovative work

This past year, I had the honor of joining the Direct Marketing Association’s Board of Governors for the International ECHO Awards. That’s my disclaimer.

Two weeks back, I had the opportunity to judge Rounds 1 and 2 of the ECHOs this year—and while sworn confidentiality requires me to remain mum on actual campaigns I encountered there, I want to comment on the value of judging itself, from my perspective as a public relations practitioner in our field.

The ECHOs have been around a long time—since 1929 to be exact. But what really makes me excited to see the campaigns as a judge each year, is that they represent agencies’ and brands’ self-selected choices on what they consider to be award-winning and innovative work based on the three criteria: marketing strategy, creative and results in equal parts. 2013 is no exception. The honors—which will be announced on October 15 in Chicago—will be the world’s best in data-driven marketing. (Breaking News—comedian Jake Johanssen will be this year’s host.)

There are no longer media categories among the entrants—a reflection of how marketing has converged. Instead, channels serve as brand engagement vehicles, and what matters most is their effectiveness in design, dialogue and generating responses to calls for action—from leads, to sales, to audience engagement on a measured scale. So a direct mail piece that is entered may exist (and be judged) alongside entries that represent Web sites, search campaigns, mobile apps, call center efforts, or—most often—integrated marketing campaigns. Again what matters—and only matters—are the strategy, creative and engagement metrics that define marketing effectiveness. Both consumer and business-to-business markets are incorporated.

The categories where entrants are recognized are by industry—15 altogether. You can review the list here.

This is what being an ECHO judge tells me every year:

  1. How are brands and their agencies measuring effectiveness in data-driven marketing? What metrics have they chosen to index or communicate? How is marketing return on investment conveyed? Increasingly, marketing dashboards appear to be in use—with relevant components part of the external results story.
  2. What creative trends are in play? What constitutes break-through creative? What is the unusual and innovative? Where has risk been met with reward? And who (clients and agencies) are being the most courageous worldwide—while also being effective?
  3. How are data being collected, analyzed and—in some cases—visualized? While the entry forms this year were streamlined and don’t have as much budget information in the past—this really has served to heighten visibility on the data, analysis and segmentation techniques being deployed in the strategy.
  4. What is state-of-the-art in data-driven marketing on a global scale? This year, as always, entries were submitted through various partners and submitted to early judging in Denmark, Australia and the United States, comprising dozens of countries in nearly all continents. It is great to see how globally data-driven marketing is practiced—and the creative genius and extraordinary results achieved in both mature and less mature markets.
  5. Finally, judging happens on an individual basis—as a judge you evaluate a campaign, providing your own perspective. But the judging is a collective one—bringing together experienced peers from all over the nation and world. Once the entries and judging scores are in, we do tend to share with each other our impressions of the experience in the aggregate—and meet great people in the process.

In brief, the ECHOs are an idea store for marketing strategists, creative professionals—and the PR folks like me who support my clients in entering awards. I’ve learned not just about how to create great marketing—but how to tell the story behind great marketing. Both count when it comes to crafting an award entry that wins.

You can find out who the winners are firsthand by attending DMA2013 in Chicago, USA, this year (October 12-17, 2013). Make sure to indicate in your registration for a ticket to the ECHO Awards Gala where a separate registration is required: http://dma13.org/registration/

Come October, I’ll definitely be sharing in this blog snippets from some of my favorite campaigns this year!