Falling into an Echo Chamber of Meaningless Buzzwords

Chor Boogie
Chor Boogie mural at Wynwood Walls in Miami by Flickr user @stephrog

Have you read Samuel Scott's latest piece on Techcrunch?

"Everything the tech world says about marketing is wrong."

It's a provocative headline, with an equally strong point of view on how the latest generation of marketers - digital and tech marketers in particular - are getting caught up in buzzwords at the expense of following basic marketing principles.

“The biggest problem in marketing in the tech world today is that too many marketers do not know the first thing about marketing...The use of buzzwords has caused a new generation of marketers to enter the field without knowing even the basic terms and practices that underpin our industry."

While I don’t necessarily agree with every point in here, it’s worth reading. Scott mentions the recent Hubspot tell-all as a case in point. I’m not sure where I fall on that particular controversy (haven’t read the book yet, although I thought Darmesh Shah handled it well in his response), but at the end of the day what really good marketer wouldn’t try to create their own category - potentially even a buzzword - in order to differentiate themselves in a crowded marketplace?

Hubspot has had runaway success with the term “inbound marketing” because they made it their own. They didn’t invent the concept of content marketing, they were just shrewd enough to package it up with the latest tools available (the Internet, plus a keen understanding of not only SEO/email/content marketing but also the marketer's desire for a simpler way to manage and report on those things) in a way that made it very appealing to the marketplace. Of course, if you hang your hat on a certain positioning, you need to make sure your brand/product/service can deliver on it (and from what I’ve seen of Hubspot, it is a nice little product), or the phrase means nothing.

That said, it’s critical for us as marketing professionals to recognize that there are a lot of buzzwords out there that can overshadow the basic marketing principles we need to employ for success. As Scott points out, most of what we do falls into "one or more of the five frameworks within the promotion mix: direct marketing, advertising, personal selling, sales promotion and publicity. (The promotion mix itself is under one of the four Ps of the marketing mix: product, price, place and promotion)." This is marketing 101, and a good reminder of it at that.

Inbound marketing, content marketing, social media marketing, search marketing. Most online marketing tactics are really just direct under another name…highly targeted and designed to elicit an immediate response that can be measured. Direct marketing is appealing to brands that are increasingly under pressure to show results quickly. But it is typically is used in conjunction with the other pillars of the marketing house (advertising and publicity) in order to build/sustain a brand and move product. They are different things, used for different purposes and (should) have different goals and success measures.

I think the buzzwords are OK, provided they aren't used as a crutch to avoid a more thoughtful approach that's grounded in marketing fundamentals. What do you think?

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Curiosity and the Power of the Liberal Arts

MaleconFlickr image of street art along the Malecon in Havana, Cuba, via @stephrog


I have long valued curiosity as a key trait in business and in life. I credit my parents (who instilled a love of reading and respect for questioning at an early age) and my Liberal Arts education from Bowdoin College (where I honed my critical thinking and communication skills in order to capitalize on the output of all that questioning). When I entered the business world and found myself working in the early Internet economy, the sector was still new and changing so rapidly that the only way to succeed was to voraciously read, listen, and question. And I strongly believe that holds true today - so much so that we included curiosity among the corporate values we have emblazoned on our office wall: "Curiosity. About people, ideas, technology, media and society."

Well, it seems like curiosity - and the constant questioning and analysis that is central to the Liberal Arts - is having a moment. Just look at all the articles published on the topic in recent months by Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, Forbes, Fortune, Deloitte, PwC, Time, The Washington Post, USA Today, and yes, my alma mater. All praising curiosity and the power of the Liberal Arts.

"Welcome to the era of the curious leader, where success may be less about having all the answers and more about wondering and questioning." - Warren Berger in Harvard Business Review

Curiosity is a critical trait for success in today’s world, particularly in rapidly-changing fields. It creates an openness to unfamiliar experiences that allows us to see things differently. It breeds hacker behavior that yields new approaches and fresh ideas. And it fosters multidisciplinary thinking that drives innovative solutions to complex problems. That's why I seek out and foster this quality when building teams.

"Curiosity is what often motivates one to learn about new domains, pick up new tools and programming languages, master new analytical techniques, and engage in the type of associative thinking that leads to innovation." - James Guszcza, US chief data scientist for Deloitte Consulting LLP

Curiosity is, of course, ingrained in the STEM courses (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) which have grabbed headlines for some time now. But there is a the growing STEAM movement that seeks to insert the Arts alongside these more specialized studies.

"What can’t be replaced in any organization imaginable in the future is precisely what seems overlooked today: liberal arts skills, such as creativity, empathy, listening, and vision. These skills, not digital or technological ones, will hold the keys to a company’s future success." - Tom Perrault, Chief People Officer at Rally Health

Advances in machine learning and automation could one day commoditize tasks like coding and number crunching, but curiosity, creativity, and vision can't be programmed. They are uniquely human skills that can (and should) be cultivated. As a hiring manager, I've found that humanities students in particular possess the ability to adapt, think on their feet, frame an argument, and persuade an audience. These are critical (and transferable) skills, regardless of industry focus.

"Only people with specialized creative skills — honed from years of thinking, reading, writing, and creating — have the talent of making the complex simple and the difficult accessible...The ability to understand the world through different lenses and turn competing or disparate viewpoints into a compelling narrative is an art, not a science. It requires an intuitive understanding of the world that comes from a deep immersion in the liberal arts." - Tom Perrault

So ask questions. Seek out opinions. Consider alternatives. Talk about them. Strong critical thinking, problem solving, and communication skills - areas in which the Liberal Arts tend to excel - will lead your team to do great things.

Find me on LinkedIn here.


This is what's wrong with online advertising.

The Illuminated Crowd
Flickr image of "The Illuminated Crowd" public art in Montreal via @stephrog

"2015: The Year in Culture"

Sounds like my kind of article, so I click through.

I'm taken to Departures.com, part of the Time Inc. Affluent Media Group family of websites, which also includes Travel + Leisure and Food & Wine. All reputable publishers producing premium content. And yet this is what I encounter:


1) The beginning of the story that piqued my interest takes up about 27% of the page (closer to 5% if you disregard the large image and white space around it). There are four prominently placed ad units above and to the right (and one in the footer, well below the fold). In order to keep reading, I'm forced to click through to the next page.

2) I'm served yet another ad, this time in the form of the much derided interstitial, or pop-up, that interrupts my reading until I can either sit through it or skip it to proceed. In this particular ad the "Continue to Site" link and "[X]" to close the ad link are dangerously close, and I inadvertently click through to the advertiser's site (causing mild annoyance for me, and inflated response metrics for them).

Departures 2

3) I make it through to page 2 (0f 23!) where I am rewarded with a bit more content, but no option to "view article on one page," which is customary in this scenario. Instead, Departures forces me to click through to the next page, which - you guessed it - spawns another interstitial. This happened between ALL 23 PAGES of the article. And it was always the same ad. Most readers probably would have abandoned ship at this point because the user experience was so poor, but I played along to see what would happen.

4) Five pop-ups later (and a couple of miss-clicks through to the advertiser's site), I arrive at page 6. Which is an ad. No article content on this page, just an ad unit for Wynn Resorts surrounded by the other standard ad units. I have been served 30 ads to this point, and this new placement brings it to 31. I'm not even halfway through the article I wanted to read.

What is going on here? I have a reputable publisher, whose content I enjoy, but I feel duped. Their site seems to be more a vehicle for ad delivery than actual publishing, with little to no thought given to their readers.

Listen, I work in digital media and I understand the need for (and value) of advertising, particularly as a revenue stream for publishers like Departures. But the ad model only works if readers feel like they are getting value in return (i.e., I'm willing to view your ads in exchange for free content). When you make the content incredibly difficult to access, or overshadow it with the ads, the value exchange becomes uneven and I lose interest in your site (and content).

As for the advertisers...I saw the Glenlivet pop-up 23 times in one session, and the Fathom Cruise to Cuba ad about the same. I'd like to think the excessive pop-ups were thanks to a glitch in the system (I just went back and no longer see it, but that could simply be because they burned through their impressions), but even so the site and its advertisers could follow some basic best practices to avoid this. Among them:

  • Don't chunk up long articles into dozens of pages just so you can serve more ads. If you must, at least give readers the option to "view on one page."
  • Don't place "continue to site" and "close ad" links so close together. Remember that many people may be viewing on a smart phone or tablet and navigating via touch (which can be less precise than a mouse).
  • Evaluate post-click behavior to make sure those who did click through seem to have done so intentionally. If there's an exceedingly high bounce rate, something is wrong that warrants further evaluation (creative, offer, placement, target...).
  • Set frequency caps for your ads so you avoid overexposure and ad waste.
  • Monitor ad delivery and adjust accordingly if you see over- (or under-) delivery in any given placement.

User Experience FTW.

Find me on LinkedIn here.

5 Ways to Make Your Mobile Marketing Work Harder


Image via @stephrog on Flickr

With 80% of global Internet users owning a smartphone and 47% owning tablets, we are now well past the tipping point of mobile device usage. In fact, 2014 marked the first time U.S. adults accessed the Internet more through mobile apps than they did through personal computers; over half of their Internet time (on average, 3 hours per day) is now spent using smartphones and tablets.

This presents a tremendous opportunity for brands to connect with consumers, but it is important to take the context of mobile device usage into account to ensure your mobile strategy succeeds. Smartphones in particular are incredibly personal devices—they enjoy space in our pockets and on our night stands, keeping us connected to friends and family via email, social networking, video and voice calls. They also provide high utility, allowing us to accomplish tasks and find information instantly, from any location at any time of day. It is critical to keep these usage habits and expectations in mind when developing your mobile strategy. Here are five ways to make your mobile marketing work harder.

1. Take advantage of mobile’s precise targeting ability. Digital media has given us sophisticated targeting options for years (demographic, behavioral, contextual), but mobile targeting ups the ante with its geographic precision. Serving ads and delivering experiences that are location-aware can really “wow” a consumer, and make things more convenient for them. We have had success using a technique called geo-fencing to serve mobile ads to people in the vicinity of our clients’ retail locations, providing messaging and offers that drive foot traffic. Similarly, we have used location services to dynamically generate mobile ads featuring territory-specific sales reps, complete with a head shot and a convenient click-to-call button.

2. Design experiences with small screens in mind. It is critical to use responsive design in this day and age, to ensure optimal viewing experiences regardless of screen size. While smartphone dimensions are increasing, they are still much smaller than a desktop, and rely on human fingers for touch-screen navigation. Don’t frustrate consumers by using painfully small text, images and buttons in your mobile executions, or cramming an entire desktop experience into the small screen. Also, there are several new ad formats that are optimized for mobile, like Facebook’s carousel ads which let viewers scroll to browse multiple images, and Snapchat’s vertical video ads, which have proven to have higher completion rates than horizontal mobile video ads.

3. Consider how your consumers are using mobile. As with any other channel, understanding your consumer’s mobile usage patterns is an important first step in devising a winning marketing strategy. In general, mobile app usage is still more common than mobile web usage, with the majority of that time going to social networking (Facebook), casual games, or other entertainment—not necessarily the best time to serve a marketing message.

Consider mobile behaviors, expectations, and context to identify opportunities to enhance, rather than interrupt, the experience. When we wanted to drive engagement with a client’s health plan members, we promoted a special offer via mobile but gave consumers the option to receive more information via email, so that they could peruse the details later when they were in the mind-set to read about health insurance. For one of our hospital clients, we learned that finding a doctor and looking up driving directions were the most common mobile use cases, so we made sure to optimize the mobile web experience for those two features.

4. Integrate your mobile efforts into your broader marketing mix. Some of the most effective mobile campaigns are ones that tightly integrate the mobile experience into other channels. People increasingly use mobile devices while watching television, to check email, peruse social media, and shop online. Many brands have tapped into this second-screen viewing phenomenon by including mobile calls-to-action in their television ads (Shazam to download this song, Like us on Facebook, tweet this hashtag now, etc.). We have also found success by synchronizing mobile and outdoor advertising, particularly transit placements in and around subways, buses and trains where you encounter a somewhat captive audience that is more inclined to read your article or watch a video while waiting for their ride.

5. Commit to regular measurement and optimization. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to mobile marketing, or any marketing for that matter. The best way to succeed is to agree on business objectives and success metrics before putting anything into market, and put the proper tools in place to measure performance on a regular basis. There is an array of measurement technologies available to track ad delivery, engagement, response and subsequent web traffic activity. Most major ad servers and site-side analytics packages like Google Analytics can help here, as well as mobile-specific solutions like Localytics. We have found the latter to be especially useful in evaluating mobile app deployments.

It’s an exciting time for mobile marketing, and the best way to master it is to get out there and see what works for your particular product category and consumer base. The opportunities for mobile marketing, mobile app development, and mobile web deployment are seemingly endless, and will become even more varied as wearable devices become mainstream. By keeping the form and context of these mobile experiences in mind, you will determine the best way to deliver brand value to your constituents, and maybe even surprise and delight them along the way.

This article originally appeared in Communication World Magazine.

Find me on LinkedIn here.

Mario Trimarchi

On Wednesday morning we went to Mario Trimarchi's multidisciplinary design studio FRAGILE. Mario is one of Allessi's design collaborators that we heard about the previous day.

Like most places in Milan, the studio on via Ariosta sits behind a large wooden door and through a courtyard, secluded from the noise of the busy city street. The courtyard is lush with flowers, yellow mosaic walkways, and pale pink, paisley walls. Image
The studio entrance is at the top of an ornate marble staircase, and opens up to a bright office with high ceilings that, according to Mario, "let you fill the room with ideas from the top of your head." Image
He is an animated man with round glasses and frequent hand gestures. His passion and energy for his work is apparent as he tells us, "we are not eternal, but most of the objects we design are," and, "some of the best designs use humor" (another theme for the week). Image
He shared several of his designs with us, explaining how they went from concept (which he comes up with and draws by hand) to production (which is done with the aid of a computer and his Swiss assistant, Didier) and package design (which he also has a hand in). By way of example, he explained how as a boy in Sicily he was fond of playing cards. When the Scirocco winds blew off the coast of North Africa, they not only deposited Sahara dust on everything, they also caused his cards to flutter through the air. This image led to the "La Stanza Dello Scirocco" collection of stainless steel, geometrically irregular items like the below fruit basket: First he sketches his ideas. Image
Then they design a prototype with the aid of a computer. Image
The design gets manufactured. Not only is it functional, but it's a thing of beauty, where even the shadows it projects become part of the design. Image
Lastly, packaging is designed with the same level of attention as the product itself. Image
This was another great example of how everyday items can be beautifully designed. And how visually interesting work spaces can provide a lot of creative energy.

Can the Media Help Fix Health Care?

Martha BebingerI work with a variety of healthcare brands in my day job, so when the MGH Institute of Health Professionals and the Upsilon Lambda Chapter of Sigma Theta Tau International (Honor Society of Nursing) hosted a talk entitled "Can the Media Help Fix Health Care?" at their campus in the Charlestown Navy Yard recently, I was eager to attend.

Award-wining WBUR health reporter Martha Bebinger (right) led the discussion among an audience of mostly clinicians that highlighted several key issues that healthcare providers and marketers need to consider.

1) Shopping for health insurance isn’t – and may never be – like shopping for traditional consumer goods.

We talk about this a lot with our clients at PARTNERS+simons, particularly on website redesign projects. While it’s true that consumer expectations for how to shop from and engage with a business are being set by large, consumer brands (e.g., Amazon, Zappos, Apple), the reality is that shopping for insurance is a fundamentally different type of purchase. Access to price and quality data is spotty at best, and the ability to customize or configure products is limited by the regulatory environment. Add to that the complex nature of the product itself, the perceived low value for the money, and shoppers with a 12% health literacy rate, and you can see that this is much different from shopping for books, shoes or cell phones.

On her CommonHealth blog this week, Bebinger shared “The 26 Steps I Took To (Try To) Comparison Shop For A Bone Density Test.” She simply wanted to compare prices for this exam at three different labs, and she failed, because despite the hope of transparency promised by the ACA, cost data is not easily accessible (if at all) and requires consumers to wrangle with a myriad of websites, phone calls, and industry speak like “CPT Codes” (the Current Procedural Terminology used to designate a procedure).

Likewise, quality and safety data is difficult to find and assess, as there are no industry standards on how to measure or report it. Outcomes can vary widely depending on the procedure, the precision of the machine, the experience of the people administering the procedure/test, and the body being tested. There is no industry standard that accounts for these variables.

We need to create a culture where it is ok to collect and use these kinds of measures, and Bebinger is hopeful that by covering experiences like her own in the media, we will start moving in that direction.

2) Health Plans need to revamp their phone, web, and mobile experiences to begin to address these challenges.

MA law requires managed care health insurance carriers to “establish a toll-free telephone number and website whereby insured members can obtain the estimated or maximum allowed charge and the out-of-pocket cost that the insured member shall be responsible to pay for a proposed admission, procedure or service” within 2 business days of requesting it. Harvard Pilgrim members can use a tool called NowiKnow to shop for care, Tufts Health Plan says it will launch its own online shopping tool, EmpowerMe, in July, and BCBSMA says it, too, will have an online shopping tool ready for October when insurers are supposed to be able to give patients requested prices in real time. Nationally, Aetna has figured out how to do it.

WBUR runs an online community called Healthcare Savvy designed for patients trying to figure out how to shop for healthcare. At the time of this writing, it was suffering it’s own technical difficulties.

3) It is critical that we use the language of the public, and find ways they can personally relate to our products and services.

As a journalist, Bebinger spends a lot of time translating healthcare topics into language that the general public can (and wants to) understand. She urges healthcare practitioners, legislators, and marketers to get off of the system level and down to the patient level. The cost, quality, and safety measures mentioned above are 3 major disconnects with consumers not only because of lack of availability but also because consumers don’t understand how to read/evaluate them when they are available.

Similarly, NPs confess that they are “caught in the medical model,” using the coding technology and limited by time constraints that don’t support their holistic model. They are hopeful that the switch from fee for service to outcomes-based billing will help the situation, but they have not seen any real changes on this front yet.

Bebinger doubts that healthy people will ever see enough value in these policies to pay for them, especially if we keep talking about them the way we do. She cited cases wherepeople were gaming the system (signing up for coverage in time to get a specific medical procedure and then drop it) and noted the 15% of enrollees who failed to make their second payment were responsible for 70% of the costs.

She urged the audience to present their messages/stories in a way that makes it personal for the reader/listener (and acknowledged this is the best way to pitch her a story). “Scope of Practice” isn’t a phrase that patients know or care about, but hearing a specific success story about a person’s experience with their NP (backed up with sufficient data) may get them to pay attention. This theme of telling human stories and finding ways to emotionally connect with people, was very consistent throughout the talk.

Lastly, Journalists need to steer clear of creating alarm (e.g., “death panels”), reporting errors, and not having the courage to explore the stories that are difficult to tell.

4) As scope of practice rules begin to change, there is an opportunity to educate consumers on alternative care options.

There’s still a lot of speculation around whether the ACA will create a shortage of Primary Care Physicians as predicted. Regardless of that outcome, people don’t currently understand the roles of Nurse Practitioners and Physicians Assistants and how they could support broader coverage.

The AMA and other medical societies have been pushing back on expanded scope of practice to NPs. As it stands, scope of practice is currently determined at a state level, with some states being very liberal (NH allows NPs to run their own practices) while others are not (AL doesn’t allow NPs to write a script). Unfortunately, the ACA doesn’t address this.

The fact is, there is no variation in how NPs are trained from state-to-state, and the healthcare system has become so complex that NPs now get more education than they did in the past. Nursing organizations want the public to know that NPs provide affordable, safe, high-quality outcomes; is there a role that the media can play so that the general public will be more accepting of these options?  The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is currently doing a study comparing NP expanded scope of practice with outcomes that will hopefully support their case. There have been studies in the past showing that NPs have better outcomes with chronic disease management cases than MDs because they take a more holistic approach, but it hasn’t been widely publicized.

Overall, it was a really interesting conversation from both a professional standpoint and a personal one, as health care - and health reform -  affects all of us.

Lulu, Alethea, Monkeys, and Banksy

Today's musings:

1) If you happen to see my French Bulldog Lulu, wish her a Happy Birthday. She turned 10 today.


2) My friend Alethea Black, an immensely talented author and speaker (I love her her collection of short stories, I Knew You'd Be Lovely) has done it again with this incredibly inspirational story she told at the Moth GrandSLAM (a storyteller's collaborative):

3) The bewitching hour is upon us. Send your loved ones a cute Halloween e-card, courtesy of Helping Hands: Monkey Helpers for the Disabled.
4) Graffiti artist Banksy again disses the Advertising industry (my industry!) while simultaneously showing he's a master at brand building.
5) If you have money to burn, check out IfOnly, a "marketplace for experiences" that just raised $12 Million to continue offering its members unique and memorable experiences with top sports/film/music/lifestyle luminaries (think dinner party for 12 with chef Michael Chiarello at his Napa Valley vineyard).  For every item or experience sold, a donation is made to the charity of each luminary’s choice.

6) I finally finished reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed, and I really enjoyed it. Now I'm itching for an adventure. And want to write a memoir.


A Delicious Year

This email I received recently from restaurant reservation site OpenTable made me chuckle: I sure do eat out a lot! And the funny thing is, it doesn't even include the nights out when I didn't use OpenTable or when someone else made the reservation.


But it's a great tactic on their part, and a great walk down memory lane for me. I didn't realize I'd been using the site for so long - I registered way back in 2002! Back then, it was strictly a web-based solution, but now I primarily use their Android and iPad apps.

And look at all the fantastic places I've dined!



Truly a delicious year decade.

Zappos Tweet Sweeps

Opened up this month's InStyle to find this:

As if I need any more encouragement to shop on Zappos.com! But their use of digital variable print on demand to personalize the ad certainly got my attention. That, and the 5-page pull out spread that followed this one - all touting their $2500 Missing Piece Tweet Sweeps.

Simply tweet @ZapposStyle with #zapposcloset and indicate what Fall piece your closet is still missing, and you'll be entered to win a Zappos.com shopping spree and fashion consultation via video chat.

Or, you could just head on over to Zappos and buy it yourself. I do it all the time :)

Happy shopping!


Marketers + Entrepreneurs = MITX Up

Last May I was invited to participate in a new initiative by the Massachusetts Innovation and Technology Exchange called MITX-Up. Billed as a "marketing hackathon," it was designed to introduce local marketing professionals to the city's thriving start-up scene in a mentor capacity. Most of these companies are affiliated with incubators that provide extensive counsel on product development and raising capital, but less on the marketing and communications front. This is where MITX-Up comes in...to give entrepreneurs practical marketing advice to help grow their businesses.

Debi Kleiman, MITX President

Debi Kleiman, President of MITX, kicks off the MITX-Up event, above.

The inaugural event was held at TechStars Boston, a mentorship-driven seed stage investment program. Twelve marketing professionals mentored three start-ups over the course of about four hours (with pizza and beer thrown in to get the creative juices flowing) and it was a great success. So much so that MITX decided to hold a second, larger event this week at MassChallenge, a $1M global start-up competition and accelerator founded by a fellow Bowdoin alum.


It is amazing to see the array of ideas born right in our own backyard, and feel the collective energy of these entrepreneurs bringing them to market. They get a few hours to learn about marketing and develop actionable ideas for their businesses, and the marketers get a chance to work with companies and brands they might not normally meet in their day jobs. It's a great networking opportunity and a fun way to get plugged into the local start-up scene (not to mention a chance to see some really cool work spaces - these incubator offices rival any ad agency in terms of creative & quirky spaces!).


If you're a marketer or a start-up who would like the chance to participate in the next MITX-Up event, contact MITX President, Debi Kleiman. Help support New England's innovation economy!