I have a lot of respect for the pioneers of advertising who created a discipline that has shaped how we communicate, market and sell.  Bill Bernbach, one of three founding partners of Doyle Dane Bernbach in 1949, was one of those amazing people.  His impact lasts well beyond his own lifetime.

Bill wrote an impassioned letter to the management of Grey Advertising where he was creative director in 1947.  Here we are in 2016, 69 years later, and we’re about to host a roundtable at CES on Wednesday with top thought leaders in this same world to discuss what is relevant to our future.  In preparation for our roundtable, I thought I would “respond” to Bill’s note due to its timeless common sense.

Here are quotes from his letter and my response.

“I’m worried that we’re going to follow history instead of making it, that we’re going to be drowned by superficialities instead of buoyed up by solid fundamentals.” 

Agree.  In today’s world, we can spend too much time analyzing every new social media channel, start-up, unicorn or new technology.  The fundamentals of marketing and communications have not changed.  However, they do evolve.  The key is to stay focused on solid fundamentals, e.g. how we tell a story, how we handle an issue, how we build a brand’s reputation as we concurrently evolve that same model via new technology.  What matters is how we evolve the fundamental models.  If we focus on chasing each new butterfly, e.g. new channels, start-ups and technologies only, we do simply follow history as it is created.  It’s our job to think ahead, yet slow down enough to realize what will actually work in the marketplace.  Don’t let the endless parade of new innovations distract us.

“Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art.”

Times have changed.  Great stories now combine science and art to optimize their ability to persuade.  You can create the coolest ad in the world, but if no one sees it, who cares.  In today’s world, we focus on audience architecture, so we know where our customers are, what content they prefer, when they go online, which media outlets matter to them and who influences them.  We can see how persuasion works in a market without advertising.  Now, it is becoming our job to catalyze interest in topics, pull through stories throughout the ecosystem of a customer (e.g. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and mainstream media outlets) and identify those customers who are as persuasive as any ad could ever dream of being.  Science shows us “where”, “who”, “how” and “when”.  Great content provides the “why” and that can come from agencies or customers themselves.

“In the past year I must have interviewed about 80 people……..But look beneath the technique and what do you find? A sameness, a mental weariness, a mediocrity of ideas.  But they could defend every ad on the basis that it obeyed the rules of advertising.  It was like worshiping a ritual instead of the God.”

Agree.  In 1947, agencies could defend their actions with their own persuasive arguments.  In 2016, we don’t care, since we can see what our customers think about our campaigns, stories and general content.  Mediocre ideas are exposed for what they are in hours, not months.  Bill would probably love the fact that all of those arguments he thought were bogus would now be exposed.    Our ability to listen to our customers and create agile content that shapes behavior every day is replacing the long-winded, hard to produce campaigns that are outdated the day they hit the streets.  This raises the game for all of us.  Our only ritual now is to listen, learn and act on what the market needs and wants (or could want) each and every day.

“All of this is not to say that technique is unimportant.  Superior technical skill will make a good man better.  But the danger is a preoccupation with technical skill or the mistaking of technical skill for creative ability”. 

Well said.  The answer is never just a data scientist just as it is never just a creative director or never just a consultant.  We now live in a world where we must have the most relevant and timely insights about our target audience from data scientists to inform agile content that is informed by the industry and client knowledge of the consultant.  Creative, Data and Consulting all live as one team.  The speed of the market due to technology and the ability of customers to act self-sufficiently without any intervention from a brand demand that we all get along to build a new approach to creating, delivering and evolving persuasive content.  This is a journey with no end.

“We must develop our own philosophy and not have the advertising philosophy of others imposed on us.”

Agree 100%.  Bill left two years later to start his own firm in 1949.  Entrepreneurs know that they must respect the fundamentals of marketing and communications, yet never just accept what worked yesterday as being good enough.  In fact, those folks who say “well, we used to do it this way at our firm” are often the ones holding back innovation.  The most creative people in our world are forward-leaning in how they apply data and ideas.  They know that Insights + Industry Knowledge + Ideas = Innovation that matters.

“Let us blaze new trails.  Let us prove to the world that good taste, good art and good writing can be good selling.”

One of his most famous lines of all time and his closing sentence.  Insights differentiate.  Being dissatisfied and always searching for the edge matters.  No matter how big or how small you are, nothing changes in this reqard.  We should always “blaze new trails”.

On Wednesday, we’ll discuss how we stay true to the fundamentals of our business as we absorb the continual innovation of industry and blaze new trails that are relevant to today’s brands.  Our job is to stay focused on pragmatic disruption of the status quo.  Innovate where it improves sales, leads to a better health outcome or it makes a difference that our clients and our customers care about.  The rest is just noise.

Thank you Bill for a timeless piece.

Note: My next book, Storytizing (available March, 2016) will discuss more on the history of advertising and its relevance to today’s digital world. 

The annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) that takes place every January in Las Vegas is always equal parts amazing, informative and overwhelming. Many of the top CEOs and CMOs of the biggest companies in the world show up to speak, network, learn and do deals. As a result, thousands of start-ups, agency people, journalists and influencers show up to “fish where the fish” are. This year alone saw 170,000 industry professionals with 3,600 exhibitors on 2.2 million square feet of exhibition space.


With so any voices and hundreds of different events happening from 7:00 in the morning until 4:00 AM Sunday through Friday, it’s hard to keep up with the fire hose of information. To that end, we at W2O Group have found sometimes holding smaller, focused, events during bigger events like CES, Mobile World Congress and SXSW helps our clients, partners and company leaders learn, discuss and synthesize key trends being discussed at these giant conferences. CES 2015 was no exception as our company partnered with one of the brightest minds in the Tech industry, David Kirkpatrick, and his company, Techonomy, to hold a private meeting with ten clients/friends of W2O last Wednesday, January 7, 2015.

At the round table event, David kicked us off by sharing observations from trends he covered as a journalist at Techonomy combined with insights gleaned from several of the talks he conducted at CES. This included a Keynote panel David led the day before with Cisco CEO, John Chambers, Comcast CEO and President, Neil Smit and Bosch Chairman, Werner Struth, Bosch.

David’s talk featured a few key themes including the concept of the “end of industries” or the diminishing of bright lines where they previously existed; the shift of power from the center to the edges that players like Facebook are facilitating; companies’ increasing obsession with innovation; and an increasing dominance of China as a player in the tech world. One of the boldest statements during David’s discussion came from his keynote panel the prior day where John Chambers claimed that “in 10 years it’s predicted that 40% of the Fortune500 companies will no longer exist.” Chambers — and Kirkpatrick’s points were, you must disrupt to survive.

While we didn’t record our session in order to offer a free flowing discussion among the senior level brands that attended, I did take copious notes during David’s talk. You will see that they roll up to some of the high level concepts I’ve called out out above:

  • Industries are converging e.g. Technology and Health. You can find a company like Celera (biotech) and Autodesk (software) are both mapping the human genome. Increasingly, companies will find non-traditional competitors (and partners) in their own backyards.
  • Every company is a software company. David cited a recent post by NY Times writer, Farhad Manjoo, that talked about the need for companies to focus on software vs hardware (ironic given the dominance of hardware on display at CES).
  •  One of the oddities of CES is that it doesn’t feature smart phones — Mobile World Congress is where that conversation happens. Key trends that David noted from this year’s CES including the Internet of Things (IoT). David reinforced that IoT is a fascinating and important trend (including wearables).
    • IoT – will literally connect everything in life (stomach to airport control tower)
    • Unilever has 2 billion users – how can they use a product that has text on it that people pick up every day. Could they become a communications company? David said that sensors will get cheap enough to put on every product down the road.
  • The companies that have the longest histories are the ones that can mutate themselves the fastest. They have learned over time how to mutate themselves. Small group of dinosaurs that are “built to last.” Getting harder for even the good companies to evolve.
  • 2014 is being called “the year people stood up.” Hong Kong, Mexico and Ukraine and Burkina Faso – all of which had people rise up using social media (all countries where Facebook is super strong).
  • More on companies obsession with innovation:
    • If you go to any city with over 300,000 people in the world – you will find a startup neighborhood with an incubator, VCs etc. The number of opportunities emerging is incredible and threat to incumbents.
    • Trends: starting internal incubators (Samsung), partnering with companies (Tech Stars), coming together with industries (fashion) and companies are coming together to co-innovate.
    • There is a company in NYC called Bionic. Their job is to help big companies innovate.
    • Companies like GE are working to adopt a startup mentality and focusing on an imperative for speed (more here from David’s interview with Beth Comstock).
    • Numerous companies are creating innovation centers in Silicon Valley.
  • On China
    • China can’t be talked about enough. Two poles of tech innovation in the future – China and US. Important to keep an eye on Chinese social media/ecommerce sites like Alibaba, Tencent (just opened a bank), Baidu. They are the next “Apple, Google, Facebooks.”
    • PRC has extraordinary support from the government although their lack of diversity hurts them (US as an example has drawn on attracting some of the brightest minds in the world over the past few centuries — China has been relatively insular).
    • They are innovating through copying. The more they copy other countries/companies products, the better they get at making faster, cheaper and more innovative alternatives.

Following David’s talk, we had a 20 minute Q&A where leaders from the automotive, telecommunications, financial services and other industries drilled down on some of David’s talking points. This led to more thought provoking concepts:

  • Uber/AirBnB – neither of these companies are in the industry they operate in (both are marketplaces vs. a taxi or hotel). AirBnB is already doing restaurants. Ability to tap into the capacity of society. The more of these platforms that emerge, the more people can make money.
  • David worries that the pace of change today puts people in jeopardy more so than in any other generation.
  • For some large companies, people aren’t just interested in the job (good or bad) their front line employees like technicians do, but rather the role they play in the community the company serves.
  • The Dollar Shave Club was cited as a company that is truly disrupting the shaving industry. Their product may or may not be better, but their delivery model is significantly different than that of P&G or Unilever.
  • David’s take on IoT: someone needs to come along and organize IoT (David thinks Google is in the best position to do this). We probably need the government to come in and provide regulations that facilitate someone like Google curating their data.
  • You can go into your Google Maps and see everywhere you’ve ever been as long as you have sensor turned on. If it’s not turned on, you can’t use services like maps.
  • Privacy is a cultural thing (not nearly as big a deal as in Asia as it is in US).
  • Right now, China is growing at 7% and are crying (we would kill to grow at 7%). It helps to have 1.3 billion people/test market (closed).
  • In China – company knows well enough how to unfairly advantage its own businesses (US doesn’t according to David).

Last but not least, W2O President, Bob Pearson walked through 12 thought provoking trends (technology and marketing) with the group that facilitated some fascinating discussion. Bob’s deck is embedded below via Slideshare.

All in all, a thought provoking day building on some thought provoking time spent at CES. Have additional questions based on what you read? Let me know and I can elaborate or can reach out to David to get more information.

When reflecting on the past year, so many emotions come into play that it is impossible to adequately put them into words.  What I will say is that the words of the late Steve Jobs were incredible markers for me as we progressed during the year.

We started 2014 with an intense focus on strengthening the bottom-line – improving margins and profitability — and we ended the year exceeding both of those goals with strong momentum going into 2015.

Probably even more importantly, we got back to what made this firm so successful:  We put our clients first as well as the work we do and results we deliver for them.

We also refocused on a core set of priorities and investments — people and technologies that matter, and are truly aligned with our strategy to “disrupt the status quo” – clarifying our Software as a Service as a Service (SaaS Squared), positioning and introducing new offerings in Analytics, Corporate and Strategy (Crisis, Change, Reputation), CCX and Media and Engagement (PESO).

As Steve Jobs once said:  “I’m as proud of the many things we haven’t done as the things we have done.  Innovation is saying no to a thousand things.”

We made improvements in Infrastructure and expanded our footprint with new offices.  And of course we continued to do what we do best – partner with world-class organizations and brands – to transform the way they connect with customers, engage employees, beat the competition in the marketplace and forge new pathways to the future.


None of this could have been accomplished without YOU.  I’m most proud and humbled by all of you – the dedicated professionals comprising our firm.  There is not a challenge, a roadblock, a problem or an issue that you can’t overcome.  There’s not an opportunity or a change that isn’t embraced by you.

Once again, Steve Jobs’ words resonate:  “I think if you do something and it turns out pretty good, then you should go do something else wonderful, not dwell on it for too long.  Just figure out what’s next.”

An important symbol of that mentality was the formal restatement of the firm’s Values.  The very essence of what make us, well, us.  These Values were forged at the beginning – when I first embarked on what has become an incredible personal and professional journey — battle-tested and honed over the years.  And these Values truly reflect the set of principles and beliefs guiding our behavior.

When I talk about Values, I’m also speaking about career development and growth.  We will continue to support and expand W2O University and I’m asking all of our leaders to recommit to content and facilitation of specific programs and courses to build our individual and collective competency and confidence.  Our Center for Social Commerce at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University is a premier example of what a modern academic-business partnership is all about – we are training the next generation of marketing and communications professionals.

From a Thought Leadership standpoint, our efforts at JP Morgan, SXSW, Page, CES and IPR, to name just a few, are increasingly strategic and precise in terms of ROI and reach.  Adding to this was our first-ever European-focused Social Intelligence Summit hosted by our London office and attracting both a significant on-site and Webex presence extending our Brand throughout a region still less familiar with us and what we can do for them.

One of the more impactful aspects of 2014 was the realization to continue our growth and globalization aspirations, the opportunity to partner, acquire or join up with another organization must be considered.  To that end, we held numerous discussions with a variety of larger global players who could provide capital, footprint and resources if we were to choose such an option.  However, my priority in doing something like that rests with having the confidence that such a partner is compatible with our culture and respectful of our people.

At this point, my belief is that we can continue to do what is necessary ourselves – given our strong leadership, incredible staff, improving financial position and operational infrastructure, and, most importantly, our unique culture of entrepreneurialism, innovation and collaboration.  If, at some point, we identify the right partner or partners, and it feels right, we will explore the validity of such a move.

To quote Jobs again:  “Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me . . . going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful . . . that’s what matters to me.”

From where I sit, I could not be more proud and excited about where we are.  And after 13 years, it’s safe to say our journey is just beginning.  There are three things that I ask you to think about often during the coming year:  1) Be interested, not interesting; 2) Think Big, but act in small, focused and effective ways; and 3) be creative by being curious.

Thank you all very much for all you do . . . from my family to yours, have a healthy, prosperous new year!

And to paraphrase Steve Jobs once more:  “In 2015, let’s put a ding in the universe.”



“SXSW may be becoming more corporate, but CES is becoming more social” – WCG’s Aaron Strout summing up CES 2013

The first Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was held in 1967.  Back then, only big businesses had the need, and the budget, for computers.  Even in 1984, when my cousin Jenny got her first computer, no one in her family knew how to use it and did not come with a monitor.  Much has changed since then, obviously, and not just in terms of the hardware.

As social has taken over the marketplace in the last five-to-seven years, the exhibitors at CES have been able to gain valuable insights into the wants and needs of consumers and businesses.  Fluid communication in a “digitally-connected world” through social media, mobile connectivity, and cloud computing is paramount. Yes, it is true; CES has always been focused on “a digitally-connected world” and they have probably been using that term since 1967, as well.  What has changed is how these companies go about bringing their products to market. The status quo used to be set by the large OEMs: “Here…we’ve created a piece of hardware and the software to run it. Have at it.” Now, thanks to this socially, digitally, connected world, the voice of the people – do you hear the people sing?—and the tools to listen (that’s where we come in), are influencing the marketplace in a way that demands action. Big brands glean inspiration from the social world, and, at the same time, take responsibility for leading the movement.

The most newsworthy products at CES 2013 varied across the board from small start-ups to big businesses. For those of you who were not able to make it to Las Vegas for 2013’s edition of CES, please find below highlights of product launches and announcements:

CES 2013 – Themes and Trends

Next Generation Tablets
Panasonic’s 20-inch tablet turned heads, while the Razer Edge, a new PC gaming-oriented Windows 8 tablet, won accolades for Best in Show from CNET.

Eye-Popping TVs
Samsung unveiled their $20,000 UN85S9 85 inch Ultra HD Quad Core TV, featuring a new upright easel design, while the world’s largest UHD TV, the Westinghouse 110 UHD, was also on display.
Flexible Displays
Samsung’s Youm Flexible Screen for smartphones and tablets was a part of Samsung’s keynote. Corning debuted their Willow Glass, a flexible display soon to be in tablets, smartphones, TVs.
Both Samsung and LG showcased curved OLED TVs. The semi-circular shape is designed to provide a more immersive, panoramic experience than a traditional flat panel set, and also provide a wider viewing angle.
Fitness/Lifestyle Tech
Withings’ Bluetooth-enabled Smart Activity Tracker is the first to track heart rate.   Additionally, there is now a robot for cleaning pools, iRobot’s Mirra530 and one for cleaning windows, the Winbot.  Swimmers can finally listen to music underwater with the Sony Waterproof Walkman, available in stores for only $99.

Kickstarter’s most successfully-funded product, the Pebble Smartwatch, gained attention as the new product debuted at CES. The smartwatch syncs directly with Android or iOS smartphones providing information like Facebook updates, text messages, music controls, and of course the time.  Another watch on display was the I’m Watch, an Italian Android-based smartwatch with similar features as the Pebble, touting “The World’s 1st Smartwatch” title.  There is an imminent cross-over with the functionality of the smartwatches and the activity trackers like the Nike Fuel Band and the Fitbit Flex. The trend seems to be going towards the merging these two products into the same category in the coming years.
Weird & Wonderful
HAPIfork is a smartfork that syncs with a smartphone app to monitor a person’s eating habits, while The Node, from Variable Techonologies can take body temperature and even scan for home improvements.  The Node works using a Bluetooth-enabled sensor that looks like a mini-flashlight.

News & Announcements:
Qualcomm’s Paul Jacobs was the first non-Microsoft opening keynote ever at CES (Microsoft pulled out as the lead sponsor); which speaks volumes about Qualcomm’s desire to get on the radar of consumers for the first time. They launched a marketing campaign, “Born Mobile” to capture the hearts and minds of attendees. The biggest announcement Qualcomm made at the show was the next generation Snapdragon Premium Mobile Processors for high-end mobile computing.  Paul Jacobs’ keynote highlighted several partners using the new technology.  He also shared the stage with a tricked out, custom-modified electric Rolls Royce to preview Qualcomm’s Halo wireless charging technology, which will debut later in the year.

Even though Microsoft did not attend in an official way, they did participate with sponsors. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer joined Qualcomm’s Paul Jacobs for its opening keynote, and Microsoft’s Chief Technology Strategy Officer, Eric Rudder, joined the Samsung keynote to showcase the IllumiRoom technology.  Microsoft gave select journalists a preview of its upcoming Surface Pro tablet with Windows 8, receiving positive reviews.

Intel, the world’s biggest chipmaker moves beyond its comfort zone with new mobile chips, TV streaming, and unconventional interfaces.  To highlight its Fourth Generation of Core processors, Intel revealed a convertible computer/tablet, the North Cape.

Two laptops from HP debuted to positive reviews: The Elitebook Revolve, a laptop with a revolving screen won Best Notebook at CES and the Spectre XT Touchsmart showcased the best of Windows 8.  Also, HP’s Pocket Playlist lets the user take streamed shows on the go.

What else were people talking about during #CES2013? Salesforce Marketing Cloud gave an insightful breakdown of the conversation: Social Media Trends From 2013 International CES

Attending the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is always a daunting experience, particularly navigating noise generated by announcements hailing the latest “breakthrough” products. This year’s star is the Tablet computer and the revolution it’s purportedly bringing. Mashable has a real good summary of the trends to look for at CES and, in a not-shocking development, Tablets rate number one. Seemingly, every company on earth is releasing their version (trying to make a dent into Apple’s iPad market dominance) and the show hasn’t even officially kicked off yet.

But through all the hype of Tablet-thon it’s important keep a larger perspective on what Tablets exactly mean if this revolution truly takes hold. A series of announcements (originating from the show and elsewhere) highlight how the evolution of “mobile” is the true story here. And while that might not come as a shock to technophiles, its ramifications certainly could for folks in other sectors.

To wit, cable provider Comcast today announced they’re releasing an app that will allow subscribers using iPads and Tablets running the Android to stream live television to those devices. Though streaming will initially be confined the subscriber’s home, a new means for consumers to consume live broadcast content has been opened. Until now, it’s been the domain of streaming content, such as Netflix.

Also today came news of eBay generating nearly $2B in mobile sales, nearly tripling the total amount from the previous year. Additionally, mobile ad platform firm Millennial Media raised nearly $30M in funding from several top-tier venture funds, confirming (along with Google and Apple’s acquisition of other players in the space last year) advertising on mobile platforms as a very real market. Mobile is now a premier place to sell content and consumables.

Lastly, Mashable reported on the trend of schools dipping their toe into using iPads in the classroom, ordering thousands of the devices for their students to use. Alas, a new means to educate students is taking hold, via mobile devices.

So what does all these seemingly disparate news stories mean? The Tablet noise generated out of CES and the announcements I discussed underline how mobile devices and content are becoming must-haves. This means marketers (and those of us who help them) should start thinking “mobile first” when creating and distributing content, and educating core audiences.

Are you ahead of the curve by already thinking mobile first for your company or clients?

If so, how? If not, what are the barriers keeping it from happening?