I always enjoy speaking at the Internet Retailer Conference, which is the largest e-commerce meeting of its kind in the world.  This year,  I was asked to discuss “how to choose the right social media partners”.   My deck is here and below if you’d like to read it.

I was a client for many years at Rhone-Poulenc Rorer (now Sanofi), Novartis and Dell.  And, today, I’m often asked by our clients who they should consider for various social media activities.

Here’s a brief summary of what I believe we all can do to improve the search process and identify the right partners.

We need to acknowledge that the current way that most agencies are selected is a broken process.  We have checklists, requests for information (RFI) and requests for presentation (RFP) documents that ask the same questions each time and check off the same boxes over and over again.

When questions are predictable, so are the answers.  Think of when you were in school.  If you just have to memorize material for a test, you may pass, but you didn’t learn much.  We know that is not the right way to go.

Instead, we need to move from an RFP to a Request for Knowledge or an RFK.  Clients need to test the working knowledge of the agencies who may be hired.

Every agency says “I wish they would give us a chance to show them how much we know on X topic”.  Well, in an RFK scenario, you sink or swim on what you know, what you have done and how you will innovate in the future.

My presentation walks through 12 areas that are important to address.  In each case, you’ll see the questions I recommend asking of agencies to assess who will be the best partner.  You don’t have to use all of them every time, but it is important to learn about each other in new and more effective ways than we often do today.

I look forward to your ideas on how to further improve the process.

Enjoy, Bob

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Let’s begin with an oversimplified summary of marketing macro-trends from the past five years. Advances in technology have led to rapid innovation cycles, an open door to startups, and greater competition in virtually every major industry. Increased competition places greater pressure on marketers to successfully position, target, and reach new (fickle) consumers, thus leading to increased budgets but greater scrutiny. Concurrently, channels of distribution and social media proliferation have reduced the overall effectiveness of traditional paid media (TV, radio, print). Investments in digital media continue to rise, but these tactics run the risk of becoming just another billboard until a standard measurement scheme is adopted…impressions no longer count, folks. Marketers find themselves faced with too many options but the same old dilemma…how to reach the right eyeballs with a relevant message to drive funnel activity? Relax, you don’t have to do it all alone…

Your Brand is No Longer Yours

As mentioned above, the proliferation of digital media has become an open invite for informal journalism and product critique. Consider your personal news feed, anyone with a Twitter handle, Pinterest page, or YouTube channel can pose as a resident authority for a given topic. Combine this with a human tendency to seek recommendations from trusted networks at the speed of “fiber”, and all of a sudden pay-for-play review services like Zagat, Forbes, and Michelin become a little less relevant. Similarly, a brand’s ability to tell their own story objectively is in itself oxymoronic. Consumers yield more power than ever in curating brand experiences for rebroadcast with greater organic reach than any single brand or network can provide. So how can you make heroes out of your customers and are you comfortable with passing the mic?

beck song reader site(ex: Beck’s Song Reader)

Never Discount Vanity

We are all a few clicks away from becoming professional storytellers, kickstarters, and journalists…and some clever folks make a pretty good living doing so. Since we all now have the ability to live in bits and bytes, we also own digital brands to build and protect. Consumers tend to curate the best of themselves in photo, video, and text, and if advocating your product or service can help them in their quest, you just earned more efficient advertising than you could ever pay for. Yes, altruism still exists and deep-down most of us share information with the hope of helping others. But there is also selfish pride in being viewed as a source of discovery for news, humor, products, or deals, which can double as brand sponsorship. Do you have the ability to locate your top advocates, make them feel special, and hand off something exclusive enough to share? Does this help them build their individual digital brands?

warby parker 2

(ex: Warby Parker’s Home Try-On)

Just Cause

If traditional media effectiveness is in perpetual decline, you no longer own your brand, and customers control their own path to purchase, how can you win? The most progressive brand marketers recognize that modern consumers, specifically digital natives, want to elevate beyond the transaction and require their share of wallet contribute to more than corporate profits. This can be a win-win for both brands and consumers, with corporate cause efforts (CSR) are perpetually constrained by resources and priority, when aligned with marketing they can build brand equity and also contribute to customer acquisition. As mentioned above, if this also helps consumers attach altruism to their digital profiles with minimal keystrokes, they will support your cause through commerce.


 (ex: Toms Improving Lives)

In the grand scheme of advertising, digital media is still in relative infancy. This is precisely why I find it so valuable to study patterns of communication and subliminal intent to predict behavior. One thing is for certain, no single brand can afford to continue feeding the diminishing returns meter, a.k.a. traditional paid media. In order to scale your brand message in the most organic way, you must enlist your customers (and their respective networks) to participate. Word-of-mouth still happens largely offline, but online sharing platforms are fertile ground for brand advocacy. However, this must be a true value exchange, whereas if a consumer offers you a piece of their digital real estate, your product or experience must deliver incremental value in their personal brand building campaign.

Google cause

 (SOURCE: LBGT Advertising, How Brands are Taking a Stance on Issues)


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I recently had the pleasure of attending eMarketer’s State of Mobile event here in New York.  It covered how marketers can leverage current mobile trends and was split into two parts:

  • Geoff Ramsey, eMarketer’s Chairman, presented data around mobile usage and offered tips on mobile success for marketers.
  • Eva Papoutsakis Smith of Pinterest discussed how the social media platform is used and how brands can leverage it.

eMarketer’s Geoffrey Ramsey 

We’ve all heard countless times over the years that this will be the year of mobile. While mobile devices now play a huge role in our lives, 2016 will be the year when mobile overtakes desktop in ad spending.

Blog eMarketer chart Screen Shot 2015-03-26 at 3.10.24 PM

People feel lost without their mobile device and marketers have reacted accordingly by increasingly investing in mobile ad spending.

With the emergence of location-enabled mobile devices, location has become the new computer tracking-cookie. This means that real-time marketing has become right-time marketing. As eMarketer’s Cathy Boyle said, “location is the cookie of the mobile world.”

Blog chart eMarketer Screen Shot 2015-03-26 at 2.26.41 PM

Marketers need to create relevant content that will serve consumers’ needs of a particular time and place.

The app store may have over a million apps available to download but 80% of our mobile time is spent with five apps: Facebook, YouTube, Maps, Pandora, and Gmail. Therefore, rather than try to change existing target behavior perhaps marketers can explore ways to participate in existing app behavior. For example, perhaps a marketer covers a Pandora commercial free day.

The eMarketer feature for US mobile ad spending can be found here

Pinterest’s Eva Papoutsakis Smith

Blog post eMarketer Screen Shot 2015-03-26 at 3.17.44 PM

Pinterest’s Eva Papoutsakis Smith joined the conversation for the second part of the session. Pinterest can be accessed across a variety of devices including desktop, tablet, and smartphone. However, it’s chiefly accessed via mobile devices, with 75% of Pinterest activity happening on mobile.

While many view Pinterest primarily as a social media website, Smith conveyed their vision as being “an individual and personal tool for users to plan their future.” The platform enables people to dream where they want to go, what they want to achieve, and what they want to buy.

Also, while the platform is very visual, pins that include text often perform better than those without text.

Transactions may not take place on Pinterest but it plays a major role in eCommerce. A whopping two-thirds of all pins are for a brand or a business!

Product pins don’t just have to be product or service based, as it could also be collecting informative content. For example, a patient could utilize a Pinterest secret board to gather information and/or articles on a medical condition. (A secret board is only visible to you and people you invite to it).

If a brand is already on Pinterest perhaps show appreciation by mentioning people by name in the description of a pin, exclusive LTO offers, etc. How about giving those in your community some love? If a brand is not yet on Pinterest, they might be missing out on becoming an aspirational brand that people hope will become part of their lives. Why not join Pinterest to become more available so that people can include you in their future aspirations?


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There is a saying… “if some is good, more is better.” Often, this saying is meant ironically because it is rarely true. But in the case of our 2015 events leading up to (and slightly overlapping) SXSW Interactive, we here at W2O Group were extremely pleased with the results. For the Readers Digest version of our events, you can check out the content capsule below (it includes a few select videos of our speakers, our PreCommerce Spotify playlist, speaker presentations and pictures from numerous events). We also led up to our events with some speaker interviews which I recommend checking out here.

We kicked things off this year with our second annual VIP Round Table — an event reserved for speakers and some of our more senior level clients. Held on the 55th floor of the prestigious Austonian building, the 40 person event was led by W2O Group President, Bob Pearson and tech mogul, David Kirkpatrick of Techonomy.

2015-03-11 14.56.00

The two and a half hour, facilitated discussion touched on topics such as innovation, the future of apps, security and mobile advertising. The day rounded out with an appearance by none other than one of the hardest working men online and on camera, Al Roker (Below is the episode of Live from Stubbs Jon Harris and I filmed with Al).

One of our two signature events this year was our fifth annual PreCommerce Summit. And while each of our past four summits have gotten better than the year before, this was the year where we really stepped up our game the most significantly. Not only was the venue a cut above (thank you Austin City Music Hall) but our event production team (huge props to Erin Disney and Team Clink) took our game to a new level. And then there were the speakers. I’ve pulled out some key quotes below but I would highly recommend spending some time reading the recaps/watching the videos for each.




Here are the speakers (note links to their blog recaps and a link to their presentations to the right of each name):

On Friday, we held our second annual digital brunch. This is technically our third or fourth but the second in our new office with food trucks and music. This is a great time for our clients, neighbors, partners and employees to mix and mingle, enjoy some breakfast tacos, Bloody Marys, take in a demo or two, all while basking in the warm Austin sun.

Here are a few pics of the festivities:

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This year, in addition to our PreCommerce Summit, we decided to take a page out of our earlier SXSW days where we had a smaller, more intimate room. At our first ever Geekfest moderated by Bob Pearson and our CTO, John Cunningham, we featured 16 speakers covering topics that ranged from the Apache Project to resonant charging to the importance of diversity in tech. It was a lot of good food for thought in a power packed four hour span. We will have the videos for these talks up soon but in the meantime, you can thumb through the blog recaps below.

Last but not least in our string of events this year was the Geekacue. It’s hard to believe bu this was our sixth annual Geekacue and also the first year we didn’t host our event at an actual BBQ joint. For the last three years, we had the good fortune of taking over Franklin’s BBQ (owner and chef, Aaron Franklin, was recently named as a finalist for the prestigious James Beard Award). This year, we made the tough call due to space constraints and took our party over to the elegant confines of the Charles Johnson House. This of course meant that we needed to find some great BBQ and likely that we would need some entertainment as well. Mission accomplished on both fronts as we were fortunate enough to land new-but-not-so-new, Terry Blacks BBQ, as our bearers of brisket. The short version of the story is that twin brothers, Mike and Mark Black opened Terry Black’s in Austin in late 2014. However, the namesake of their new establishment is their father, Terry Black, whose father, Edgar, opened now legendary “Black’s” in the BBQ capitol of Texas (Lockhart) over 83 years ago.

In addition to some amazing BBQ, we also had the luxury of not one… not two… but three bands. Some of you may have only seen Monte Montgomery who opened or Black Joe Lewis who was the feature act. But for those lucky enough to stick around, we also had the red hot blue grass band, Whiskey Shivers, upstairs at the after party. All three were amazing and left us wanting more.




terry blacks

2015-03-14 20.02.22



During the Geekacue, we also kept our clients, partners and friends-of-W2O entertained with a dance party booth (video below).

We also brought back one of the staples of our Geekacue, the photo booth. We’ll have all the photos available soon on our Facebook page but in the meantime, here are some gems to give you a flavor.




Key stats across all our events:

  • We had over 5,200 tweets tagged with our hashtag #sxw2o (I encourage you to scroll through the content there — it will make you smarter… and hungrier, I promise).
  • W2O Group held eight different events this year — our most ever. Look for that number to be closer to ten next year.
  • There were over 3,300 registrations for our events. Somewhere between 40-50% of those folks showed up plus walk ups. Subtracting out overlap, we had roughly 1,000 unique folks not including our employees attending our events.
  • There were over 60 briskets consumed at our Geekacue. Okay, I’m making that number up but it was somewhere in that neighborhood.

Last but not least, none of this would be possible without our wonderful partners/sponsors. They not only help fund (or in the case of alcohol, provide in kind donations) but they are also integral parts of our events as speakers, attendees, photographers and avid Tweeters. We appreciate you all and thank you for your support Sysomos, Clarabridge, Bayer, Datasift, Sprinklr, Business Wire, Synthesio, Sullivan Wine, Deep Eddy Vodka and Thirsty Planet.

Sponsor Block_Updated


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Just when you thought the internet couldn’t get any more endless, ICANN, the non-profit dedicated to maintaining the namespaces of the internet, decided to release hundreds of new domain extensions known as GTLDs (generic top-level domains)  We currently have about 22 GTLDs.  These are the .com, .us, .biz, .net and other addresses you’re used to visiting.  Add to these the country level domains: .es for Spain, .it for Italy, for the United Kingdom, and so on.  Soon there are going to be over a hundred more.  Think .luxury, .cool, expert, .dating, .guru, .clothing, and more.  Particularly vexing for marketers is the new ‘.sucks’ domain.

In what amounts to super-highway robbery, the company that won the registration rights for .sucks, Vox Populi Registry – owned by the Momentus Corporation, is asking trademark owners to fork over a jaw-dropping $2,499 to own a domain.  If brand owners are not ready for that level of investment, they can block the branded domains for a mere $200 per year.  After an early-bird “sunrise” period, irate consumers will have access to what remains for $250.  It will be an arms race for brand-bashing territory, with most of the competition made up of cyber-squatters hoping for a big legal settlement once they’ve made enough noise.

Cyber-Squatter in Traditional Attire.  Source: Wikimedia Commons

This may sound complex but it really isn’t.  The one word that describes all of this is coercion.

This is a new game of internet whack-a-mole.  If you’re a proactive marketer and buy up your company’s trademarked domain during the sunrise period, you’d better account for every permutation imaginable.  Just shelling out for doesn’t cover the creative genius who will snap up and soon after.  The promise of .sucks is consumer advocacy and it could have some viable, humanistic uses through and  Some pessimists may have finally found their promised land on  At best, you can buy your domain and direct people to a customer service portal if they’re taking the time to type a .sucks domain in their navigation bar.  But the real problem with these infinite GTLDs is that there is no end for the marketer with a finite budget.

Many major brands are not bothering with the GTLDs. and are currently registered by squatters. These brands made a decision to ignore the hype and invest instead in empowering their existing domains.  This may be the best approach because it is only a matter of years before domains like .istheworst, .stinks, and .hatestheircustomers join the fray.  So ignoring it is always an option..but what does .sucks mean for SEO?

In 2012, Matt Cutts from Google had the following to say about GTLDs:

“Google has a lot of experience in returning relevant web pages, regardless of the top-level domain (TLD). Google will attempt to rank new TLDs appropriately, but I don’t expect a new TLD to get any kind of initial preference over .com, and I wouldn’t bet on that happening in the long-term either. If you want to register an entirely new TLD for other reasons, that’s your choice, but you shouldn’t register a TLD in the mistaken belief that you’ll get some sort of boost in search engine rankings.”

In other words these new domains won’t get any special ranking, but they won’t get left out of the ranking either.  Being brand new, these domains don’t have anything behind them when they first launch, but the eager consumer advocate can get a site up and running and full of torch-wielding product-reviewers in no time.  Even smarter consumer advocates will take the review site they’ve been running for years and move it to the new domain with 301 redirects and social media promotion so they can get fresh inbound links and still benefit from Google’s ‘Query Deserves Freshness’ SEO value.  New things on the internet sometimes find their way to popularity.

After reading all this you must think the sky(net) is truly falling.  The domains are going to keep proliferating, they’ll always be one step ahead of you, and even if you try to keep up, a popular .sucks site could eat your lunch.  But this game is nothing new.  We had the same emotional response to social media and the democratization of product reviews.  But social media has opened up an entirely new means of reaching and engaging with consumers.  Brands have seen net promoter scores skyrocket in response to engaging social media campaigns and a great review on Amazon or Yelp can mean the world to a brand.  Already, individuals can amass thousands of followers on twitter under a @YourBrandSucks handle and spend the whole day spitting vitriol about their negative experience.  Brands can engage with that user and do everything they can to solve their problem, converting them into positive influencers.  The means have changed and your opportunities have grown.

Brand equity is important, and if you have the money and anticipate negativity it may be worth locking up whatever you can while you still have the chance.  But for the most part, if you don’t run a vacuum cleaning business, it’s probably not worth buying into [dot]sucks.  New platforms emerge everyday.  There is far more traffic on Facebook and tumblr and snapchat than there will be on any .sucks site for a long while. If you have limited hours, limited dollars, and a legion of fans out there, focus on connecting with them in the places they spent their time.  In doing so you’ll have the back up you deserve if the haters come calling.

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A Brief Recap of the Digital Marketing and Design Panel – part of Saturday’s GeekFest events

In a continuation of the day’s theme of emerging trends in the technology and communication landscape, this panel featured experts sharing their experiences and perspectives on new ways to foster connections. While each of our four experts shared their very approaches, all of them were all rooted in active listening and seeking more meaningful connection points.

Learning from each other

Daina (1)

Daina Middleton, Head of Global Business for Twitter, shared her personal passion for seeking connection through identifying the unique perspectives different team members share in approaching leadership and problem-solving. Middleton has been studying communication phenomena in different time periods, specifically the Old West, when traditional male and female work roles expanded because of need and the harsh environment. Her research has focused on identifying how to create stronger teams by recognizing and valuing the different approaches women and men generally take in the workplace.

Middleton organizes these different approaches with the monikers ‘grace’ and ‘grit’, with ‘grace’ representing the attributes females tend to employ, and ‘grit’ representing the male approach. Middleton explained that, “women use communication as a tool to enhance social connections and create relationships,” while “men use communication to achieve tangible outcomes and establish power.” While neither approach is patently right or wrong, each can be polarizing or limiting. It is only by listening to each other, and working to each team members’ best strengths that we overcome the limitations of a single viewpoint and have the greatest chance to succeed.

Pattern identification on social

Matthew Zito

Matthew Zito, VP of Products at Synthesio, shared his approach to listening to and exploring social patterns and data to create behavior-based profiles of customers and more individual buying journeys. These highly personalized profiles offer insights into customer preferences and personalities in a way that goes beyond demographics or clicks, and demonstrate a much deeper need for marketers to get to know their users as humans, not just buyers.

Zito shared examples of how profiling customer interests (beyond just interest in your product), brands can align their marketing plans with more personal and directed customer journey steps. These plans can even include specific times of day that will be most relevant to your customers. As Zito says, “don’t just measure your customers, understand your customers.”

An anthropological approach

Jon Kolko

The best way to learn how to help customers is to immerse yourself in their personal experiences through living them – challenges, successes, and

all.  That’s the message from Jon Kolko, Director and Founder of the Austin Design Center, speaking about how to listen better and use empathy to create products people love. Sharing some of the principles of his newly-released book, Well Designed, Kolko shared some of his experiences in designing products that are natively customer-first.

For Kolko and his team, customer-first means literally living with your end-user to get hands-on with their experience, hear how they absorb the world in their own words. Kolko shared that in one project, this immersive process involved living with college students, recording and analyzing their comments, and then designing an app to offer specific recommendations about the job application and recruiting process. This work highlighted expectation gaps between the students and recruiters who were filling jobs. Without having that deep experience, Kolko said the team would not have learned certain key insights, including what messages to focus on, what platforms and language to use, and how to make the app useful, while still being fun and appealing to students.

Learn by watching

Kurt Holstein

In a presentation called ‘Personalization – Are the ads from the movie Minority Report almost here?’ Kurt Holstein, President of Azoic Ventures, shared the current status of dynamic ‘DOOH’, or Digital Out of Home display advertising. This is the kind of advertising that is often placed in large environments like Times Square, but is also emerging in smaller footprints like interactive digital signage (think directional kiosks) and in proximity sensors like beacons. In keeping with the theme of learning from listening, Holstein shared the benefits of these types of dynamic ads – both to the marketer and to the end user.

End users will soon have the opportunity to have a much more personal experience with a brand based on customization (assuming they opt in) to share data with brands. In its current form, these beacons and personal approaches rely on apps and active input from the customer, and are best for driving offers or location-based information.

For marketers, new technology like Active Camera Technology (ACT) can recognize visitors and respond to visible demographic data. Age, gender, ethnicity can be combined with location, time of day, dwell time, as well as more individual characteristics like facial emotion markers – all to allow a display to respond and react to the identified characteristics. Combining the more personal beacon technology with the ACT will allow marketers to achieve the ‘Minority Report’ level of personalization – but only if our customers want it. It will be up to us to keep listening to them to balance promotion and privacy and foster good relationships.

For more information on our SXW2O events and speakers, please visit our website:

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gayleAs I mentioned in our set up post for our PreCommerce thought leader series, we are interviewing several of our speakers during our events the week of March 9. Next up is Gayle Fuguitt, CEO of the Advertising Research Foundation. For more information about our events during SXSW, go here.

Gayle became the first woman to lead The ARF when she became CEO and president in April 2013. She spent 32 years at General Mills, where she was lauded for bringing the voice of the consumer to the decision table. She has served on the board and executive committee of The ARF from 2005 to 2012.

[Aaron Strout] How is the advertising industry changing (beyond the obvious)?
[Gayle Fuguitt] The future is here, it’s just unevenly distributed”  (William Ford Gibson). We are obviously in a fragmented, dynamic, complex world filled with new fears like bots and fraud, but it’s more important to see the amazing opportunities that have been created for marketers today, and I’d like to make that distinction:  The c-suite is asking “do my marketing dollars drive growth and sales?” and “where should I spend my next dollar?

We have an amazing opportunity through our measurement mandate to embrace and advance new technology for better business decision. Media buying and planning is more sophisticated than ever before.

At the end of the day, it’s important to get down to our number one ground truth, first declared by the ARF in the early 60’s and then again in 1989:  Advertising Works.

[AS] Where do you think we are headed?
[GF] New technologies will catch up with the consumer today, but in pockets, and we will need to find the best of the best and evangelize and scale them across industries to drive the kind of business sales growth that our C-Suites are demanding.

The best insights will still come from a keen understanding and quantification of  “heart”:  What consumers’ values are and what they value that can be translated into brand value. We will get better and better at those insights, but the exciting breakthroughs are in the measurement of how the “heart” and emotional reactions connects to the head. Our second Ground Truth:  Brands are built in the brain, so we rely on neuroscience to unlock deep insights and predict sales growth better than ever before, to the feet where sales data can now be more easily aligned to media delivery.

[AS] If you had one piece of advice for marketers, what would it be?
[GF] Set aside 10 percent of your budget for pure experimentation and give it to the next generation to design and execute.

[AS] What are your thoughts on the rising importance of Storytizing (using the art of storytelling via paid, earned and shared channels)?
[GF] There’s nothing more important than a powerful story to drive personal connectivity to behaviors. Word of mouth is more important today than ever before. Consumers want and need to be connected, they seek each other out for ideas, inspiration, affirmation and solutions.

[AS] If you’ve attended SXSW in the past, what was your biggest takeaway?
[GF] I’m not even at SXSW, and I’m already blown away!

[AS] What is a trend that you expect (or hope) to see talked about most at SXSW this year and why?
[GF] Growth and Innovation, Art and Science combining to drive to new, never seen before solutions. Storytelling of successes AND failures, experimentation, trial and error. These are exciting times, and there’s never been a better time to be in marketing advertising or insights and analytics. Our time is now.

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As many of you know, we are fast approaching SXSW Interactive. As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, we will have our 5th Annual PreCommerce Summit on the Thursday before SXSW (March 12). Leading up to that event, I’ve asked a number of our speakers to do brief Q&A blog posts. The questions vary depending on the speaker but you will start to see a common theme emerge.

Scheduled contributors include:

There will be several others that we add to the mix but as you can see, we will work hard to make your brain hurt leading up to our events.

If there are any of our speakers in particular that you would like to see an interview with, just let me know in the comments section or tweet me at @aaronstrout.

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Although it is rare, every now and then, I get to just sit back and listen to leaders talk about innovation and entrepreneurship.

In the last two weeks, I had an opportunity to keynote at a Nestle/Purina meeting in St. Louis and a Sysomos meeting in Toronto.  Here is what I learned.

#1 – Local Innovation is Important to Monitor & SharePete Blackshaw, global digital chief of Nestle, showed example after example of social media/digital/paid media innovation from India, Pakistan, Turkey and many other countries.  It made me reflect on the past and remember how many times leaders have shared examples from the largest countries, rather than the most innovative.  Pete is a born innovator who identifies what’s next and then shares it better than anyone I’ve seen to help his team build a unique advantage.  Internal center of excellence focus matters and Pete and his team are a great example.  Plus, there is A LOT of innovation occurring in the media world in Asia and in emerging countries overall.  We need to keep an eye on this to learn ourselves, particularly in the US where we navel gaze too much. 

#2 – Being an Entrepreneur Takes Guts Jim McKelvey, creator and founder of Square along with Jack Dorsey, provided this analogy.  He showed a picture of a car on a road where it was snowing.  You can’t see ahead at all.  He said “this is what it is like being an entrepreneur when you are really innovating.  You can’t see clearly ahead.  You can’t stop your car because the plow will hit you from behind.  You aren’t sure if you are going straight, but every mile you see a marker and you are ok for a second.  You keep going straight…..or think you are….your gut is you are right…..and then finally, after you have run scared for what seems like a long time, you see the landscape.”  He said that he has been scared to do every great thing he’s done.  But he did it anyway and ended up creating some pretty cool companies.  He’s right.  Innovation can be a lonely, frustrating place.  If you can stay focused long enough, the windshield will clear and the trip will be worth it.

#3 – We Can Innovate Far Faster Than We RealizeBen Kaufman, founder of Mophie, dropped out of school and still did ok.  He now leads Quirky.  They crowd-source ideas for new products and produce three new products each week!  They built a new air conditioner for GE in 140+ days.  A new smart lightbulb in less time.  His message is that if you really crowd-source views and care about innovation, you can greatly accelerate what you create.  He was pretty clear that companies move way too slow, point to bureaucracy, wait for others to make decisions and they are actually the real problem.  Ben said “you need to overpromise and over deliver to unlock innovation.  You need to set very ambitious deadlines to get things moving.”  We experienced the power of crowd-sourcing with IdeaStorm when I was at Dell.  Why don’t we see more of this?

#4 – Patterns Matter in Analytics – Cynthia Storer, one of the original six members of the CIA’s analysis team (all women) tracking Bin Laden from 1988 through recent times, outlined the importance of looking for clues, finding patterns and then determining what to analyze.  If you closed your eyes, you would think she was working with us.  Great analytics has the same intensity.  We always assume there is another clue to find, another pattern we missed.  We can learn a lot from listening to how Cindy’s team operated. 

#5 – Digital Media is now the Mainstream Media for Major CompaniesRob Norman, Chairman/CEO of Group M and board member of WPP spoke.  Rob clearly stated that strategy starts with digital and that is where the focus is for WPP.  Rob said “every plan at WPP now has a significant digital component”.  He also said that “ecommerce is changing.  Point of sale is determined by consumer choice, not brand”.   We are now in a world where it is normal for 40-60% of marketing spend to be digital worldwide. 

#6 – Facebook is a S²aaS firm – Facebook understands that software is optimally used when you combine education, training, ideas and the software.  I see their teams at every big company these days.  They are highly dedicated to their client’s business and they make a difference.  It makes me wonder why every SaaS firm doesn’t get this.   Software does not sell itself in a marketing environment.  Kudos to John Patten and friends at Facebook.   

#7 – The Future looks like Buzz Feed – publishers will move closer to the Buzz Feed model where the publisher works with you on how to leverage your ads.  They help create content with the advertiser.  It is past due for the advertisers of the world to ensure they also become relevant members of the conversation.  We have a lot of evolution ahead in the ad space. 

#8 – The New Celebrity Looks like Us – people are not connecting as much with celebrities these days.  Instead, they are connecting more often with the emerging stars on YouTube and other channels who are more like them.   We now have more potential spokespeople…..

#9 – It’s Hard to See Change & Embrace ItGuy Kawasaki pointed out how companies too often hang on to the models of the past and make excuses as to why they can’t change.  This works until they become obsolete, over and over again.  Couldn’t help but think he was referencing the advertising world as he said this.  He said “the key is what is the core question we are solving for and why?  What is the next curve?”

#10 – Great Innovations Polarize People – Guy said that when real innovation is occurring, it can divide before it unites, since so many people hate change.  This from a guy who used to work for Steve Jobs. 

#11 – Don’t be a Bozo – Guy told the story of how he turned down the CEO job of Yahoo! in the early days.  He didn’t make the time to figure out the opportunity.  And it passed him by. He figures he lost about $2 billion.  His point is that great ideas and great opportunities are often right in front of us…….but can we see them or do we refuse to see them?

#12 – Make Decisions with SpeedLindsay Sparks, new CEO of Sysomos, talks about how the need to make quicker decisions outweighs having perfect information or waiting for a scheduled call/meeting.  Our world is moving too fast and demands better/faster decision-making.  As Lindsay said “if someone can’t make a decision, I’ll make it for them”.  I love that.  What it really means is that we all need to work at how to become more empowered and make our own decisions earlier. If we’re waiting for leaders to break the tie, we are part of the problem. 

All of these insights can apply, in some way, to our daily lives.  My advice is to think about it…..and think of how we can each improve the company or organization we work at today.

All the best, Bob

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