Digital Empire State of Mind – The NYC Elective

This week I had an elective in NYC getting an incredible look into the entire digital media landscape. From brands like L’Oreal, The Met, and New York City Hall to publishers like Mashable and the New York Times to agencies like WPP and FCB. Having worked ont he technology side at Google I knew some of this but listening to how each company and each segment of the industry is looking at the future of marketing I had a couple of insights and several great quotes. While you can’t distill an experience like this into a blog post, for those who couldn’t make it on the trip or those who may look to do it in the future (I highly recommend it btw) here are the top 10 things I learned about the Future of Marketing.13002356_10154186155059090_2422219657355659803_o

1. “Big Data is like sex in High School. Everyone is talking about it but no one is really doing it. Those that are doing it, definitely aren’t good at it.” – We have moved past the era of “big data” and into the era of insight, however not everyone is there yet.

2. Customer data is infinitely more valuable than the product you are selling them that grants you this data. An insurance company is looking at giving away free insurance in order to get customer data they can sell instead because quality consumer data commands that much value.

3. Mashable (the tech publisher) is on the verge of a massive shift into a data company. They have a new product called Velocity that crawls the web and can predict the lifespan of a newscycle, how many people would share a piece of content, and what themes are reflected in the data zeitgeist. They are automatically helping provide insight not into customer data but into the media we all consume.

4. Native advertising is on the rise, even at the last bastion of journalism, the New York Times. It looks and feels like a news article with only a small disclaimer letting you know its been bought and paid for. While it feels slimy, native advertising is helping fund the work of 11,000 journalists and letting them do good work that needs to be done. While I have many issues with native advertising, it may be worth looking at early soap operas as a comparison point. After all, soap operas were content funded by soap companies.

5. “Advertising is made by creative people who hate business … approved by business people who hate creativity … and watched by ordinary people who hate advertising.” – No single quote has summed up the difficulty and friction in marketing and advertising better.

6. In order for great ad campaigns to happen the people in the room have to be empowered to say YES, not just be able to say no, because the greatest risk of all is taking no risk at all. Far too many brand managers focus on small incremental wins which are mediocre but safe. They treat these wins like buying an IBM – No body every got fired for buying an IBM after all. Brand managers need to be empowered by CMOs to say yes if the CMO isn’t making the call herself.

7. Ads can no longer simply sell their product, in today’s fragmented media landscape ads have to sell themselves as well by adding value. Ads add value by enlightening, entertaining, educating, engaging, or simply giving. Ads like “Like a Girl“, “Shadow Wifi“, “Get Rid of Cable” and “Colorblind“.

8. Great ads provide value because they tell a story. We heard two great quotes on storytelling that are worth sharing and keeping close to your heart as you present, work in marketing, or even as you communicate in your daily life.
“If history was taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.”
“Storytelling will die when the world is perfect.”

9. There are 3 questions all ad-men should make: 1. Would the idea move you? 2. Would it make a difference in the world (on any scale)? 3. Would it change people’s behavior? – If an ad can do these three things then fund it because it can be a great ad. If it doesn’t, go back to the whiteboard and keep trying.

10. “You can’t Science your way to Magic” – There is a struggle between the use of massive data to improve performance one optimization at a time vs using powerful creative that resonates with everyone. When you see Dove’s Inner Beauty campaign that wasn’t a result of “Science” but because of great storytelling and powerful, even magical creative. Its not something you can perfect in a lab, but something that takes a bit of time and appetite for risk to pull off. You can start on a smaller scale and work up to something that big to hedge your risk, but at the end of the day you can’t science your way to magic no mater how hard you try.

This trip was a wonderful experience as not only did we visit these companies we met with Alumni, spent time with MBAs, and had the chance to go to the Oxford/Cambridge Boat Race dinner where we heard from New York Times columnist and Oxonian Nicholas Cristoff. He gave a stirring speech with a handful of gems, but the biggest take away was that no-matter where we go as Oxonians we will inevitably hear someone say “me too, what college are you from?” As Oxonians we have won the educational and alumni network lottery and with that comes a great responsibility. We get to have amazing experiences like this trip that almost no-one else can get to do and that is worth reflecting on.