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  • feedwordpress 14:40:18 on 2018/09/18 Permalink
    Tags: , , ,   

    Dear Marc: Please, *Do* Get Involved 

    The Los Angeles Times was the first newspaper I ever read – I even attended a grammar school named for its founding family (the Chandlers). Later in life I worked at the Times for a summer – and found even back then, the great brand had begun to lose its way.

    I began reading The Atlantic as a high schooler in the early 1980s, and in college I dreamt of writing long form narratives for its editors. In graduate school, I even started a publication modeled on The Atlantic‘s brand – I called it The Pacific. My big idea: The west coast was a huge story in desperate need of high-quality narrative journalism. (Yes, this was before Wired.)

    I toured The Washington Post as a teenager, and saw the desks where Bernstein and Woodward brought down a corrupt president. I met Katherine Graham once, at a conference I hosted, and I remain star struck by the institution she built to this day.

    And every seven days, for more than five decades, Time magazine came to my parents’ home, defining the American zeitgeist and smartly summarizing what mattered in public discourse.

    Now all four of my childhood icons are owned by billionaires who made their fortunes in technology. History may not repeat, but it certainly rhymes. During the Gilded Age, our last great era of unbridled income inequality, many of America’s greatest journalistic institutions were owned by wealthy industrialists. William Randolph Hearst was a mining magnate. Joseph Pulitzer came from a wealthy European merchant family, though he came to the US broke and epitomized the American “self made man.” Andre Carnegie, Jay Gould, Cornelius Vanderbilt Jr., and Henry Flagler all dabbled in newspapers, with a healthy side of politics, which drove nearly all of American publishing during the Gilded Age.

    Which brings us to the Benioffs, and to Time. This week’s announcement struck all the expected notes – “The Benioffs will hold TIME as a family investment,” “TIME is a treasure trove of the world’s history and culture,” “Lynne and I will take on no operational responsibility for TIME, and look only to be stewards of this historic and iconic brand.”

    Well to that, I say poppycock. Time needs fixing, not benign stewardship. While it may be appropriate and politic to proclaim a hands-off approach, the flagship brand of the former Time Inc. empire could use a strong dose of what the Benioffs have to offer. Here’s my hot take on why and how:

    • Don’t play down the middle. What the United States needs right now is a voice of reason, of strength, of post-Enlightenment thinking. Not a safe, bland version of “on the one hand, on the other hand” journalism. As Benioff well knows, politics is now the biggest driver of attention in the land, and taking a principled stand matters more than ever.
    • Learn from Bezos. Sure, the richest man in the world didn’t mess with the editorial side of the house, but then again, he already had an extraordinary leader in Marty Baron at the helm. But Bezos did completely shift the business model at the Post, implementing entirely new approaches to, well, pretty much every operating model in the building. New revenue leadership, new software platforms and processes, even a new SaaS business line. He thoroughly modernized the place, and if ever a place needed the same, it’s Time.
    • Invest in the product – editorial. But thoughtfully.  First and foremost, the Benioffs should force the Time team to answer the most important question of any consumer brand: Differentiation that demands a premium. Why should Time earn someone’s attention (and money)? What makes the publication unique? What does its brand stand for, beyond history and a red band around the cover? What mission is it on? If anyone understands these issues, it’s Marc and Lynne Benioff. Don’t hold back on forcing this difficult conversation – including on staffing and leadership (I’ve no bone to pick with anyone there, BTW). American journalism needs it, now. I can imagine a Time magazine where the most talented and elite commentators debate the issues of our day. And what issues they truly are! But to draw them, the product must sing, and it must also pay. Abolish the practice of paying a pittance for an argument well rendered. It’s time.
    • Related, rethink the print business. Print isn’t dead, but it needs a radical rethink. There isn’t a definitive weekly journal of sensible political and social discourse in America, and there really should be. The New Yorker is comfortably highbrow, US News is a college review site, Newsweek is rudderless. Time has a huge opportunity, but as it stands, it plays to the middle far too much, and online, it tries to be everything to nobody. Perhaps the hardest, but most important thing anyone can do at a struggling print magazine is to cut circulation (the base number of readers) and find its truly passionate brand advocates. The company already did this a year ago, but it may not have gone far enough. Junk circulation is rife in the magazine business. It’s also rampant online, which leads to…
    • Please, fix the website. A  site that has a nearly 10-month out of date copyright notice at the bottom is not run like a lean product shop. Time online is a poster child for compromised business decisions driven entirely by acquiring junk audience (did you know that Time has 60mm uniques? Yeah, neither do they). Every single page on Time.com is littered with half a dozen or more competing display banners. The place stinks of desperate autoplay video, programmatic pharmaceutical come ons, and tawdry link bait (there are literally THREE instances of Outbrain-like junk on each article page. THREE!). Fixing this economic and product mess requires deep pockets and strong product imagination. The Benioffs have both. Invent (and or copy) new online models where the advertising adds value, where marketers would be proud to support the product. I’ve spoken to dozens of senior marketers looking to lean into high-quality news analysis. They’ve got very little to support at present. Time could change that.
    • Move out of Time Inc’s headquarters. Like, this week. The original Time Inc. HQ were stultifying and redolent with failure, but even the new digs downtown bear the albatross of past glories. It’s soul crushing. As an independent brand, Time needs a space that reclaims its pioneer spirt, and encourages its staff to rethink everything. Move to Nomad, the Flatiron, West Chelsea – anywhere but a skyscraper in the financial district.
    • Finally, leverage and rethink the cover. One of the largest single losses in the shift from analog to digital publishing was the loss of covers – the album cover (and its attendant liner notes), the book cover (and its attendant social signaling), and the magazine cover (and its attendant declarative power). The magazine cover is social artifact, editorial arbiter, cultural convener. The digital world still lacks the analog cover’s power. Time should make it a priority to invent its successor. Lock ten smart humans in a room full of whiteboards and don’t let them out till they have a dozen or more good ideas. Then test and learn – the answer is in there somewhere. The world needs editorial convening more than ever.

    There’s so much more, but I didn’t actually set out to write a post about how to fix Time  – I was merely interested in the historical allegories of successful industrialists who turned to publishing as they consolidated their legacies. In an interview with the New York Times this week, Benioff claimed his purchase of Time was aligned with his mission of “impact investing,” and that he was not going to be operationally involved. Well, Marc, if you truly want to have an impact, I beg to differ: Please do get involved, and the sooner the better.

     

     
  • feedwordpress 18:39:22 on 2017/06/08 Permalink
    Tags: Digital Transformation   

    Digital Transformation Journey: An Infinite Loop 

    Screen Shot 2017-06-08 at 12.54.58 PM
    Last week I had the opportunity to both attend and participate at the Chief Digital Officer Forum in New York. If I had one macro take away from the conversations and topics covered—it was that a Digital Transformation Journey is an infinite loop. There is no destination. There is no summit to be reached. The more things change the more they look the same—and while this sounds simplistic in nature, it's actually the opposite because Digital Ecosystems have only become more complex over time and adoption has exponentially exploded with no signs of slowing down. 

    Disruption Happens
    One of my favorite speakers from the forum was Melinda Richter who heads up the Johnson and Johnson Innovation Labs (JLABS) function at the company. JLABS is a network of innovation Hubs across multiple geographies that focuses on bringing external innovators into the Johnson and Johnson fold providing a value exchange which offers some of the things a large organization can bring in exchange for the opportunity to learn from or potentially partner with innovators brought into the system. Without using the "D word" (Disruption) it became clear that JLABS was focused on ensuring that the broader organization could future proof itself but needed an operations system to do so. 

    Melinda's philosophy in dealing with internal stakeholders who grappled with the value of her initiatives is to probe whenever she got a "no" response. "Tell me more about your no" she explained is one of the ways she uses to get deeper insights into what drives resistance to change. She also advocated a three pronged approach to navigating change in a complex organization:

    Championship (Find and leverage executive sponsors)
    Grit (The most valuable soft skill)
    Never Give Up (Change is hard)

    Digital Transformation is a Journey: It Never Ends

    Digitaltransformation
    The panel I facilitated included one of Edelman's clients in the food sector—Barilla. The brand began its Digital Transformation Journey before we starting partnering with them, but in the past few years, decline in the Pasta category (a trend beginning to reverse) acted as something of a catalyst which accelerate Digital Transformation across the organization. Proof points can be found in the form of activations in content and influencer marketing as well as social intelligence—all activities that the brand prioritized as a way to help combat disruptions in marketing and business. 

    Topics ranged from artificial intelligence, to bots (both the good and bad kinds) to the potential of voice technology to integrating data systems and many more. All have roots in digital whether from a tech perspective or a human usage point of view. And while the technology advances as does human adoption, the discussions had weren't all that different from when business began migrating to the Web or mobile. 


    What's Next In Digital Transformation?
    We shared our broader perspective on Digital Transformation with this group of practitioners in terms of what's likely coming next. From our perspective brands will be grappling with opportunities across three core areas with specific connectivity to marketing and communications:

    ContentMarketing_VA-28The On-Demand Expectations of Consumers:

    Apps, automation, artificial intelligence, mobile connectivity and a mature tech infrastructure now allows consumers to get what they want, when and how they want it like never before. These elevated expectations are highly disruptive for brands who are now dealing with loyalty-based responsiveness, convenience and a customer experience that feels frictionless and on-demand.

    ContentMarketing_VA-27  The Complete Fragmentation of Media:

    With ad blockers, false reporting bots, a decline in traditional television viewing, the rise of digital video and influencers—marketing has finally been hit by the meteor it always knew was coming. Media is completely fragmented and programmatic solutions have resulted in unfortunate ad placements that put a brand’s reputation at risk. The benefits of data driven insights have yet to deliver on its potential. Marketers must adapt or die in the pursuit of finding new ways to reach and engage audiences at scale.

    ContentMarketing_VA-29The Activist Economy:

    On the cultural front—consumers are not only empowered to behave as activists thanks to social media—they are now polarized and motivated to do so and no brand is immune. Millennials in today’s polarized environment are causing brands to anticipate and respond to consumer’s needs in ways that transcend transactions and even emotions. Brands increasingly find themselves associated with societal issues where consumers, employees and even media demand to know their stance. In this economy, brands will be forced to re-examine and re-align their societal values and not just the value proposition of their products.


    Digital Transformation runs the risk of being an overused buzzword (it likely already is) but those of us doing the heavy lifting to help our organizations evolve know it's just shorthand for the never-ending task of adapting to a dynamic business environment fueled by cultural social and technological shifts. It's an infinite loop and the journey never ends. 

     
  • feedwordpress 19:15:49 on 2017/03/15 Permalink
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    SXSW 2017: Should Age Diversity Matter? 

    Solis_carlos
    This was my tenth consecutive year attending SXSW. This means I started attending in my mid thirties during a very different time in tech, marketing and culture. There's no need to go into how different these things were or bask in the memories of those early years. What's still special about SXSW is that many of the people who were pioneers during that time still attend joined by a new generation in a now mature market where the Googles, Facebooks, Snapchats and Sprinkler's of the world operate. 

    BUT, outside of the informal conversations in the convention hallways, the restaurants and bars I noticed an interesting trend. There was almost a theme in terms of the panels that addressed inclusion in tech—mainly defining that inclusion through diversity in gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. This is obviously a good thing as many organizations are dedicating time and resources to address gaps and divides in these areas especially in specific industries. Diversity in these areas should be challenged. How women are treated in tech should be discussed. What hurdles minorities face should be issues we speak about out in the open... 

    Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 3.44.17 PMVisa's Everywhere Initiative supports and encourages female led startups

    What About Age Diversity?
    What was absent from debate and discussion is an increasing reality that in the start-up, tech, and even marketing worlds (to name a few), there's increasingly less diversity in age especially at the 50 plus range. This dynamic affects all people regardless of background and it begs the question if people in this age range have a fair shot at applying their years of wide experience to compliment the energy and distinct skills of younger colleagues. As a forty something GenXer, this is something I am thinking about a good deal—what happens when I cross that threshold of 50? Will my experience be valued or viewed as antiquated? Tech and marketing especially are fast moving spaces and even if you adapt your skills and stay ahead of the curve—age may be held against you. They are also industries where you are expected to look and act the part, especially if engaging with millennial audiences is a part of the job. 

    Being The Change
    Despite the lack of age diversity or inclusion for that matter in these industries being a topic—it's something that's worth talking about. Mixed generations who work together, Boomers Xers and Millenials reflect the same generations we create both digital experiences and build brands for. This goes well beyond these two industries. We have much to learn from each other, and should band together ensure employers both know and see the value in it. I'll be thinking much more on this topic and have some ideas. If you'd like to be a part of it—let me know in the comments or shoot me a note

     
  • feedwordpress 21:57:04 on 2017/02/13 Permalink
    Tags: Activist Economy, ,   

    When Should a Brand Take a Stand? When Values are Clearly Defined. 

    Soapbox_webWhether SNL knows it or not—they have just nailed the kinds of meetings marketing executives on both the brand and agency side will be having for the months if not years to come. While one team pitches "Cheeto executives" the same idea over and over again involving political hot topics—the other team in futility keeps trying to bring the brand back to more basic truths. People eat Cheetos because it's fun and they taste good. 


    The spoof was in reaction to the 2017 Superbowl, where several brands in reflection of a polarized climate took a definitive stance on where they stood. Knowingly or not, SNL hits a very real chord that marketers must carefully evaluate. Brands don't like being irrelevant or out of touch with culture, and when a culture is divided and polarized—it puts pressure on the brand to become or stay relevant. But in that rush to relevancy, brands are going to have to answer some key questions or risk out of touch with what they actually are. 

    Key Questions Brands Will Need Answered Before Taking a Definitive Stance

    Do we have a right to weigh in on a specific societal issue?
    When marketers wax poetic over the effectiveness of value-driven campaigns such as #Likeagirl, they often overlook that the brand in such case (Always) has a built in right to cultivate a conversation around woman empowerment. Without a genuine right to join or lead a conversation—a brand stance will fall flat. 

    Have we uncovered and articulated our core values?
    Brands have personalities like people—and they can often hold values. Not all brands have done the work needed to define what that guiding "north star" is and without this—they risk sailing into consumer activist waters without a compass. 

    Do our core values align with our value proposition to the consumer/customer?
    Does the average Nordstrom consumer have the same values as a Budweiser consumer? Brands must go beyond traditional demographic data and see their consumers in more nuanced ways. 

    Is our brand's business operations a good representative of the values we are championing? 
    Audi's Superbowl ad looked different from the faces and gender of their executive ranks. Brands that haven't aligned marketing with business operations must way the risk and rewards of taking a stance especially if there is a gap between communications and operations. 

    Does the societal issue fit into our higher purpose at the company/corporate level?
    Does your brand operate under a broader "corporate" brand structure or are they the same? Either way when engaging with consumer's and taking a stance—a brand's values should align with the corporation. 

    Who will we possibly alienate—who doesn't share the same values we do? 
    Taking a stance doesn't guarantee that everyone will agree with you even if the company and CMO think it's the right thing to do. Brands will need to be prepared to handle scenarios where even the most positive messaging may be as interpreted as offensive or disingenuous.  

    SNL's Cheeto skit may have been fictitious but it's closer than they likely know in terms of how brands will wrestle with when they should stand for something or not or if so, how. And in polarizing times—the stakes have never been so high. 

     
  • feedwordpress 17:23:21 on 2017/02/06 Permalink
    Tags: , ,   

    Superbowl Helps Brand Activism Go Mainstream 

    Screen Shot 2017-02-06 at 10.47.23 AM

    This year's Superbowl was historic on two accounts:

    1. It is the first Superbowl to have ever been won in overtime 
    2. It will be known as the Superbowl that brought Brand Activism into the mainstream

    What Is Brand Activism?
    Simply put—it's when a brand decides to take a definitive stance on a societal issue and bring it front and center into its messaging or value proposition. And it's not totally new—one of the most well known examples of Brand Activism is P&G's #Likeagirl campaign which artfully brought the societal issue if gender equality into its core message of empowerment. Brand activism is part art, part science and part sociology. When done right, it aligns the brand and company's values with the values of consumers. When done wrong—it's heavy handed, forced, contrived or disconnected from how the company and brand functions. 

    When Should a Brand Take a Stance?
    A complex question to answer and it's a different answer for different brands. Some brands will look to Brand Activism as a way to remain or obtain relevancy with consumers and audiences. Others will do it because it is in line with either the company's or brand's stated values. And yet others may have a direct stake in the issue. 

    84 Lumber for example (a brand most people have never heard of) is in the midst of a recruiting campaign and logically who and how they hire is an issue likely on their minds:

    "Under owner Maggie Hardy Magerko, the daughter of founder Joe Hardy, 84 Lumber currently operates more that 250 stores across the U.S. and it's planning to expand further by putting up new outlets on the West Coast.

    Sunday's Super Bowl ad comes as the company is in the middle of a recruitment campaign."

    Source: Fortune

    But there may be more than just employment at stake—from 84 Lumber's Website:

    Screen Shot 2017-02-06 at 11.11.23 AM
    Brand Activism When Done Right Means Both Living and Speaking a Brand's Values 
    One can make the case that what 84 Lumber is doing is using a platform and compelling storytelling that supports the values which are true to the company. It took a chance to communicate those values on such a large stage and as a result—has the attention and awareness of a broader audience. Is this what the brand hoped to achieve? Likely—but there may be deeper foundational forces at play.

    Brand Activism in a Politically Charged Climate
    Given recent events regarding Brexit and the election of Donald Trump in the U.S.—the world is debating with itself. Individuals are questioning traditional institutions such as government and media and an air of uncertainty remains constant. In this world, brands are beginning to become more vocal around the issues they know their consumers think about and in the next four years at minimum, as brands look to fill the trust gap left by government and media—Brand Activism will become part of how they are built and maintained. 

     
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