Digital Transformation Calls For A New Kind Of Communications Leader

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Article originally appeared on Forbes Communication Council.

Digital transformation has changed how we communicate with our customers, colleagues, and friends. The digital age demands a new kind of communications leader.

In my career, I have been truly fortunate to meet some of the world’s best leaders. Although unique in how they leverage digital in business, they share common traits as great leaders.

There’s science in the art of communication.

Communicating effectively is both a science and an art.

The science of communication has led to an explosion of data. We’ve been able to experiment with this data, learning what to do and what not to do, and ultimately create new formulas. We now have templates for copywriting, best practices for Facebook ads and rules for great web design, to name a few.

The artistry is the innovation that comes when we offer up something new and unique. Great communications leaders live and breathe data — it’s the fuel behind every decision. Their scientific approach means that they are armed with knowledge. They rely on more than just digital tactics; they see the artistry behind an omnichannel approach that balances all appropriate marketing tactics.

Increasingly, colleagues and consumers alike are seeking authenticity from leaders and brands. In our digital world, it’s easier than ever to communicate. The art comes from learning how to leverage new tools to deliver an authentic, unique experience. Automation is a science; authenticity is an art.

This blend of artist and scientist can also be seen in how great leaders build and manage their teams. They understand the formula for building a great team, balancing its strengths and weaknesses. They also use data to experiment with different training and motivation techniques. At the same time, they manage a group of individuals with different needs to create a team that functions effectively and efficiently as one unit, while still promoting the needs of each individual. That is an art.

They know what they stand for.

As the expression goes, “If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.”

Out of all my encounters with great leaders, one key characteristic has always stood out to me: integrity. Every leader has stood for something, mirroring the traits of the brand they represent.

Integrity is even seen in how these leaders talk to their colleagues and industry peers. Having conviction in your message is key. Leaders create and maintain the characteristics of their brand, which builds confidence among customers and colleagues.

Great leaders also have the integrity to back new ideas and innovations, through the highs and lows, through praise and criticism. It’s easy to give up when something fails. It’s harder to push through the hurdles.

They see failure as a stepping stone.

Great leaders don’t fear failure. Thomas Edison did not fail to make a light bulb the first 10,000 times; he found 10,000 ways not to make a light bulb.

We have all failed, be it an epic public embarrassment or your social media competition getting a grand total of six entries. A great leader learns from failure. Most importantly, they encourage their team to do the same. Extract every ounce of data, experiment with it and learn what not to do next time.

A bad leader only sees the negatives and casts blame. Whether they’re sending an angry email or holding a team meeting where everyone comes out deflated, they cannot look past mistakes or failure. In fact, they cannot distinguish between the two.

They are both mentor and mentee.

Leaders constantly learn and seek learning opportunities. The best leaders have the integrity, to be honest about their own weaknesses and are not afraid to be taught by others, even those in junior positions.

In the world of digital transformation, simply hiring digitally native millennials or Gen Zers to leverage new technology is not enough.

In an interview with my company, Sarah Robb O’Hagan of Flywheel Sports said, “If you can’t understand the fundamentals of how these new technologies enable your business to grow, how can you make the right decisions?”

The best communications leaders are not afraid to step out of their comfort zones. They relish opportunities to learn from others, not just to teach — to mentor and to be mentored.

They are human.

Great leaders remember that they are human and so are their staff. They create working environments that enable open and honest communication, making their employees feel valued and respected.

A recent viral example of this: Madalyn Parker, a web developer, sent an email to her colleagues to explain that she was taking a couple of days off to focus on her mental health. Her CEO Ben Congleton replied, “You are an example to us all, and help cut through the stigma so we can all bring our whole selves to work.”

Being human in business is often forgotten. The new digital leader is human and communicates like a human.

They are followed.

Ultimately, the new digitally savvy communications leader is someone you want to follow.


Key Takeaways From Advertising Week New York #AWNewYork

Last week, I spent some time at Advertising Week New York.

A fantastic annual event, sessions included content on Data, Storytelling, Leadership, Creativity, AI & Cognitive Computing, Evolution of Video, and more.

Here is a quick rundown of the takeaways from a few of the sessions I attended.

Video: Connecting People, Reshaping Marketing moderated by Carolyn Everson, VP, Global Marketing Solutions, Facebook

2017 is the year for the “reintroduction” of video. There are so many options for video.

Video should be used to Communicate, Inform and Help. For example, video has changed the way disasters are reported and enabled people to help communities affected. Take, for example, the recent Hurricanes – Harvey, Irma, and Maria.

Collectively, they have left entire countries devastated.

The Cajun Navy used Facebook Live to inform people of where they are heading, to let them know help is on the way.

The Dodo channel used video to report on animal rescues.

Consumers have already shifted to mobile. Now, they are shifting to mobile video. In 3 years, 75% of all mobile data traffic will be video.

Video is so popular because it shows real people running the show, helps build communities, and proves that one size does not fit all.

Sight, sound and motion are an essential part of how people connect. Instagram proves this. It’s platform allows the formation of communities around a passion. Now a platform that boasts 800 million user – video being the key driver of this growth.

Marketers need to jump on this trend. Content starts with the consumer at the center – if they favor video, so should you.

Winning with Sir Martin Sorrel & Ken Auletta 

With great power comes great responsibility. Google and Facebook are media companies with great burdens.

The world is changing. Digital has empowered the everyday individual to take ownership. Brand has never been more important.

Wired CMOs with Maya Draisin, CMO, Wired, Melissa Barnes, Head of Global Brands, Twitter, Pamela Drucker Mann, CMO, Conde Nast, David Fischer, VP, Business & Marketing Partnerships, Allie Kline, CMO, Oath and Dan Levi, CMO , Clear Channel.

This fantastic panel bought together key advertising and marketing leaders to discuss how technology is impacting our world.

For some, success is fortifying what you have. What’s worked. But, with the speed in which consumer behavior is changing, companies need to move from a transactional, “now” mindset to one of innovation.

A key trend in the discussion was the need to embrace failure. Not everything works. Creating an environment for change, means creating an environment where failure is ok. Leading the change means tolerating the risk.

It’s also important to assess who will need help balancing the changes, and where, if necessary you need new people. Stepping back and taking a step to ensure the teams and individuals are behind it. Making them feel safe. Comfortable with the uncomfortable. Unity of the team is critically important.

Briefly, the need for experiential marketing was also discussed. Really good storytelling happens, but its important to remember that you can’t skip experiences.

In another session, The Experience Economy moderated by PWC. Here a collection of CMOs came together to discuss how to create fans for your business.

I loved the example of Tough Mudder whose Legionnaires act almost like business owners. They have an emotional connection to the brand, and are not afraid to voice their opinions.

Creating an emotional connection, a lasting memory, both in real life and on digital, is vital to the creation of fans. Thought Mudder does this by creating community content for across the customer journey, be it at the training stage, during the race itself, or after the race has concluded.

Unified stories across all channels is also key to success.

The Future of Commerce with Marc Lore, President & CEO, Walmart ECommerce, Sridhar Ramaswamy, SVP Ads & Commerce, Google, moderated by Adam Lashinsky, Executive Editor, Fortune. 

Personalized shopping is the future of commerce.

Be it in store, online, in your car – the connected consumer looks for convenience and trust.

Consumer trust is hugely important. Privacy is extremely important to the consumer. They require the ability to opt-in, or out.

Keeping data safe is a priority.

Walmart is innovating, catching up with and now outpacing Amazon in a lot of ways.

Voice is coming. Voice enabled by artificial intelligence. Voice is retail of the future.

We went from store to unlimited online options. Voice requires one best answer. Filters are not readily available. Recommendations have to be spot on. Precise personalization is a necessity.

Google’s vision for personalization  is not limited to just commerce. The mobile world and the assistant world – logged with experiences.

We are learning how to use machine learning and AI.

The future is about helping the consumer with their own preferences. Advertisers are looking for ways to influence/ change preferences.

After voice – Virtual Reality comes next.

Artificial Intelligence is Finding its Feet in Retail

Ikea, the major furniture retailer, has been dabbling in augmented and virtual reality.

Recently the company launched a survey to gauge how their consumers really feel about artificial intelligence. This indicated that Ikea is looking to AI and virtual assistant capabilities, to improve customer experience. The survey, called “Do You Speak Human?,” was created by Ikea’s Space10 innovation and design lab. Questions included asking respondents whether consumers want AI to be human-like, male, female or gender-neutral, and even if it should be religious, among other questions.

An Ikea official stressed that the retailer remains at an information-gathering stage, New Atlas reports. The company recognizes that AI presents a “tremendous opportunity,” but for now it is simply curious how people feel about AI. Consumers, who took part in the survey, could see how their answers stack up to others immediately.

The results of the survey showed that 44% preferred a gender-neutral AI. 77% said they saw that AI could prevent them from making mistakes. 46% of respondents said they wanted an AI to be obedient and assisting.

Ikea has started edging its way into smart home products with the recent rollout of a smart lighting system, the Trådfri system, which leverages common ZigBee Light Link technology standards for connected light bulbs. As the smart home market matures, the ability of Ikea and other retailers to continue innovating on smart home concepts will be tested by competition. At some point, with everyone offering a gateway or hub and connected lighting systems, players will have to work harder to distinguish themselves.

Ikea is one of many retailers looking to experiment with technology to achieve digital transformation. From smart products to virtual reality, it is not a huge leap to see the retailer leverage artificial intelligence.

How To Use Technology To Automate Authenticity

Originally published on Forbes via the Forbes Communications Council. 

Marketing has never been more complex. Staying ahead of the latest trends and technology is a full-time commitment.

The next challenge to arise is how you balance two competing trends.

Authenticity and automation, according to their definitions, do not mix. In fact, they are opposing ideas. However, both hold equal importance in today’s marketing landscape.

The Science Of Automation

Automation in its very nature is inauthentic. Automation technology has allowed smart marketers to manage their communications and send out targeted, personalized communications en masse. What’s more, this technology is enabling faster decision making by recognizing patterns in data that could be missed by the human eye.

Take artificial intelligence, for example, a technology that more than half of marketers plan on adopting within the next two years. The potential applications of this technology are endless. From AI-generated content to voice recognition, from programmatic media buying to chatbots, chances are by the end of 2017, your business will be leveraging this technology in some way.

While examining the marketing tactics we use, I looked closely at chatbots. The usage of messaging apps and chatbots is outpacing that of social media networks. The number of messaging app users is predicted to be around 2.1 billion by year’s end, making it a very attractive marketing platform.

Chatbots are the 24/7 answer to the consumer need for on demand services. As a marketer, you can leverage this all-inclusive one-on-one ecosystem by gathering data based on the questions asked. From there, send automated push messages offering recommendations to users to purchase additional products or services from you.

Consumers Crave Authenticity

Consumers demand authentic experiences with brands. Chatbots, in some respects, enable a level of authenticity — or inauthentic-authenticity, if you like.

By leveraging the one-on-one private ecosystem, communications experts can better target and personalize messages. By thinking smartly about the questions, responses can be automated, offering the consumer the immediate resolution they demand.

Looking past this example, there are numerous instances where the trends of automation and authenticity overlap. It’s up to us to balance the need for both and deliver the experience our customer craves. 

The Art Of Authentic Automation: How To Automate Authenticity

    1. Define your brand personality: As with any new initiative, it starts with planning. In the case of automating authenticity, it starts with a clear definition of who you are as a company. Defining the human characteristics of your brand helps you to frame your messaging and build an identity in your consumer’s mind.
    2. Smart targeting: Next step is to consider your target consumer. An authentic engagement is a two-way street. You need to choose the automation that best leverages the channels your consumer uses. Not everyone (yet) uses messaging apps. If your consumer does not favor this channel, you can’t target them using it. Targeting is also an ongoing task. Simply choosing the channel is not enough; you need to continually adapt communications based on demographics, psychographics and behavior.
    3. Personalization: Authenticity requires a level of personalization. Again, this comes from adapting your communication to the consumer. The digital transformation of business is enabling agile decision making. The ability to personalize based on changing behavior will increase engagement. Consumers will be able to engage in real-time increasing authenticity.
    4. Admit automation: Don’t be afraid to admit where you are implementing automation. It’s authentic and honest.
    5. The human touch: Technology is great until it doesn’t work, or it doesn’t meet your need. Offer the human touch with an automaton. With chatbots, know when to offer the option to talk to a real customer service rep and send communications from a real person.

Consumers love the chance to bypass queues or get answers quickly. But, at some point, they will want to talk to you. So, make it an easy option. How many times have you been on the phone with a robot and asked 10 times for “Operator please”? Enough said.

Welcome To Conversation Marketing

Noticed how your marketing gurus are all talking chatbots and messenger apps?

Well, that’s because in recent years there has been a drastic increase in the uptake of messaging apps. In fact, the usage of these apps and chatbots is actually outpacing that of social media networks. It is predicted that in 2017, the number of messaging app users will be around 2.10 billion. This is indicative of a new trend, as pointed out by Mark Schafer, the rise of the private network. Consumers are changing how they feel about public scrutiny. They’re becoming increasingly afraid of public record and are favoring privacy through apps like Facebook Messenger or Kik.

This is no longer a trend that digitally savvy marketers can ignore!

In 2016, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said,

“Chatbots are the new apps.” 

Chatbots are not new, or at least, the technology is not new. The Guardian, a UK-based newspaper, took a look at the history of Chatbots in September last year. The technology behind the bots dates back to mid-1960s. AI psychotherapist ELIZA was an early computer program created by scientists at MIT that processes natural language cues to simulate conversations. ELIZA was the first Chatbot! In the 1970s, ELIZA was joined by Parry who mimicked paranoid schizophrenia. Scientists did actually attempt a bot-to-bot conversation in 1972, between this two early chatbots. Parry quickly got lost down a rabbit hole of corrupt horse racing gambling.

1991 saw the birth of the chatbot Olympics with the annual Loebner price. The format of the competition is that of the Turing Test, where a human judge holds two conversations simultaneously, one with the computer program and another with a human via a computer. The judge must then attempt to distinguish between the two.

But marketers are not (yet) concerned with computers passing as humans. Instead, they are interested in the fake! Facebook Messenger, Kik, WeChat (to name but a few), are simulating human interaction, in an unashamedly false way.

Chatbots create real-time conversation, that mirrors chatting with a friend. Expectations are, from both consumers and businesses, extremely high. Consumers are favoring the instantaneous nature of these platforms. They can now get information about products, or questions answered immediately. Chris Messina, the Twitter hashtag inventor, wrote in his blog last year,

“2016 will be the year of conversational commerce … you and I will be talking to brands and companies over Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Telegram, Slack, and elsewhere before year’s end, and will find it…2016 will be the year of conversational commerce … you and I will be talking to brands and companies over Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Telegram, Slack, and elsewhere before year’s end, and will find it normal….I’m less interested in whether a conversational service is provided by a human, bot, or some combination thereof…”

Businesses are witnessing consumers engage more and more with chatbots. It enables companies to engage in real-time with their customers or potential customers. New technology like Cloud Computing has made it possible for chatbot integration. Artificial Intelligence has enabled companies to develop a better understanding of their consumers’ behaviors. With future improvements imminent, businesses will be able to use these apps to have an even deeper understanding, which will lead to smarter business decisions. In fact, one such technological development expected is speech recognition. These will further enhance these pivotal customer service tools. Kia used a chatbot for the release of its Super Bowl commercial this year. In fact, they won the coveted Super Bowl Ad Game with “Hero’s Journey” featuring comedienne Melissa McCarthy.

The huge uptake in messaging apps and chatbots has heralded a new era.

Welcome to the ‘Conversation Marketing’ era!

It’s now impossible to ignore this trend. Chatbots and messenger apps are changing the digital marketing field.

As a CMO, why should you invest in this technology?

Its 24/7

In this time of Amazon Prime 2-hour delivery, consumers want everything now, literally. Your consumer will get frustrated if they don’t get timely responses from you and your business. The banking industry suffered from failing to adapt to the consumer desire for service at the time they want it. Don’t make the same mistake.

You’re also way more likely to get engagement within Messenger apps or chatbots than say from your Facebook page. That’s because the communication is 1:1 and 24/7. You aren’t in competition with the hundreds of other marketers who are flooding your target’s newsfeed.

Unique data to create personalized campaigns

Possibly my favorite element of this new technology is the data you can extract. Can you tell I’m a marketer by trade? You can monitor your consumer, gather data and ultimately adapt your marketing to be highly personalized. Marketing has to be personal. The customer should be at the heart of all your content.

What’s also great is that as soon as you engage with someone, you then have the ability to push messages out to them. You can even set automation workflows, just as you would on email.


Chatbots can provide an all-inclusive ecosystem for shoppers. Users can ask questions, receive answers, and based on data you’ve collected, gather recommendations increasing their likelihood to buy additional products.

Self-perpetuating marketing

This technology markets itself. Leads to more word-of-mouth, social sharing, better customer experiences…need I say more?

You can actually create a chatbot in minutes with companies like ManyChat or ChatFuel so why not try it?

A New Waze to Get in Front of Your Customer

Over the weekend, I headed upstate to Hunter Mountain in the Catskills, NY to escape the city for the weekend.

As we settled into the hire car and plugged in our phones, we downloaded Waze to get the fastest route to our destination.

Waze is the world’s largest community-based traffic and navigation app, that leverages crowd-sourcing to providing real-time traffic and road info. That’s not all. It is also a fantastic example of how thinking digitally can open up new marketing roads.

“As traditional and digital media become more and more synonymous, Waze brings to McDonald’s the ability to marry intelligent data and targeting to what would otherwise be broad reaching OOH. The learnings we’ve captured for our client have provided deeper insight into creative, daytime, geo, and consumer behavioral performance.” – LIZ WOOD, Media Supervisor, McDonald’s Northern California, H&L Partners

Staying ahead of the latest marketing technology is not easy. As consumers move away from traditional platforms, we are increasingly pressured to find the next best way to engage with our target markets.

How Waze became the World’s Largest Community-Based Traffic App

Ever sat in a traffic jam and thought ‘there must be a better way’? In 2006, a community project founded and developed by Ehud Shabtai called “FreeMap Israel” worked to provide an answer to that very question. The project aimed to leverage crowd-sourcing to create a community of users, that would work together to provide up-to-date traffic and road information.

The success of the project and potential commercial application led to the creation of Waze in 2008, later rebranded to Waze Mobile Ltd in 2009.

Waze answered a growing consumer need that traditional GPS navigation software failed to respond to. Similarly to traditional software, Waze learns from its’ users’ driving times to provide real-time traffic updates. What makes it more efficient, is that users can report accidents, traffic jams, speed and police traps, and from the online map editor, can update roads, landmarks, house numbers, etc. providing users intelligence to speed up their journeys. By January 2012, Waze had expanded globally and boasted 12 million downloads worldwide. In just one year, Waze reached 50 million users and became one of the most successful apps of all time, winning Best Overall App award at the 2013 Mobile World Congress.

In 2013, the app was purchased by Google for $1.3 billion and from there has continued to grow. This acquisition enabled the app to leverage social data to provide more value to the user.

Waze as a Marketing Tool

CMOs are having to think innovative. Choosing the smartest tactic to stand out from the competition is not easy.

Google’s acquisition of Waze has opened the door for marketers to engage with this pre-built community.

How does it work?

Waze Ad ExampleThere are several ways to leverage the Waze platform.

Branded Pin – Using location-based data, brands can now choose to place their digital billboard informing Waze users that their business is on or nearby. By tapping the pin, users open up the creative and are provided with more information about the business, including how far away it is. They can then opt to reroute their journey. One more tap and Waze provides directions.

Zero-Speed Takeover – This option is designed for brands to get their creative in front of Waze users when their attention is at the highest.

Nearby Arrow – Great for local businesses looking to attract more walk-in traffic. Again tapping the arrow displays your creative. Another tap and the user is one their way!

Promoted Search – Get your brand image to the top of a search. We all love being top of a Google search.

Essentially Waze has disrupted the traditional ideas of signposts and billboards into something new, that is user-friendly, targeted, mobile-friendly, and track-able. By leveraging their existing expertise, Google has created another ad platform.

Targeting & Reporting

Waze’s power as a marketing tool is driven by its targeting and reporting capabilities. Marketers are given the power to target their consumer by who’s driving, operating system, place type, weather, traffic type, route length, time of day and more.

Marketers are also provided a wealth of powerful data. From average ‘distance driven from ads’ to ‘driver loyalty’ statistics, this platform is providing unique consumer insight.

The success stories are numerous and can be found on the Waze website. Here a links to a few that stood out to me:

In this digital world, staying on top of the latest technology and choosing smart marketing avenues is front of mind for all CMOs. Whether you’re looking to build brand awareness or drive traffic to your store, Waze is a platform you should consider.

Marketer in New York heads to Nashville – the home of country music, and venue of Digital Retail Transformation Assembly

Had a lovely week hanging out in the home of country music, Nashville for the Digital Retail Transformation Assembly.

As my first event for my new company, I was super excited to see what our products look like in real life.

It was fantastic!

IMG_0835I had the chance to also sit down with a marketing hero of mine, Sarah Robb O’Hagan, who has just written a book EXTREMEYOU.

Once the video is edited, I’ll share! 😉

But what was also great was the conversations that delegates were having. There were 7 key trends that the marketers in the room were keen to discuss.

Here’s a rundown:


As the digital retail landscape continues to grow, it is important not to forget the in-store experience for the consumer. Connecting the digital experience into the physical space, by bridging the physical and digital divide. In other words, the Phygital is now an imperative for many retailers.

Retailers are searching for innovative technologies to bridge the digital and physical worlds. There are many new companies out there looking to help retailers merged their digital and physical realms into one.

Leading retailers have invested heavily in physical locations. But today, every business must also invest in delivering a rich online experience.

Today’s consumers are more tech-savvy than ever. They don’t just delight in seamless omnichannel commerce, they expect it. Some enterprise-sized brands forget that shoppers are humans, not just segments. Not only do retailers need to merge the digital and physical, they also need to think human. Companies that succeed in marketing to the individual will thrive, those that don’t are destined to fail.

It can be difficult for large companies to shift quickly. Nobody does it well, and consumers don’t care about your legacy platforms or IT roadmaps. They care about personalized experiences and getting access to the most relevant digital content. Potential customers interact with a brand on multiple channels.


PlaceIQ at Digital Retail Transformation AssemblyWe are “data-reach but knowledge-poor” (Sarah Robb O’Hagan).

The explosion of digital has enabled businesses to gather an extraordinary amount of data. What’s missing is the knowledge on how to use it. Retailers consistently adopt the latest technology but do not take the time to investigate how it adds value for the consumer.

Take location data for example. Mobile means more of today’s brands are empowered to gather in-depth insight into the true customer journey. Innovative brands are embracing location data.

Our sponsor PlaceIQ led an extremely popular workshop during the Digital Retail Transformation Assembly, They were key to emphasize the power of this data if used right. Location data has helped brands to make holistic marketing decisions, which have led to creative marketing plans built on customer behavior.


Storytelling is a huge trend, not only in retail but in marketing across industries. New digital channels have not only provided an unprecedented amount of customer insight but also present a unique opportunity to personalize experiences.

What is vital to remember is that brand purpose is still as relevant as ever, especially when you consider the consumer desire for authenticity.

“The “four P’s” have changed significantly. Not Product, life solutions. Not Price, time/knowledge (privacy could become currency too) have emerged as alternate perhaps more valuable currency. Not Place, but context (access/immediacy), not Promotion, but storytelling/co-creation/trust-building. And the 5th P for People is now personalization.” (Russ Klein)

Understanding and delivering content that really connects with the consumer is critical to marketing strategy. Storytelling is more relevant than ever. There is no debate on who owns a story, only on who has adapted their business in a way that delivers truly integrated and effective real-time experiences. Clients who want this level of integration and simplicity, look to brands who are using data to understand what content they want and deliver authentic stories to engage with.

Unified Brand

Delivering unified brand experiences is heavily linked to the previous trend, Phygital.

Marketers must deliver a unified brand message across multiple channels, including in-store. With digital tools, it is possible to change and deliver messages directly, in a quick way.

At Digital Retail Transformation Assembly, the unified brand session leaders emphasized the importance of authenticity.

Marketing according to the dictionary definition, isn’t authentic. Brands try to position themselves in the best light, omitting the negative and do everything they can to woo consumers. In this age of unprecedented consumer empowerment, where the reality of products and services is just a Google search away.

In today’s marketing landscape, consumers trap brands who fail to be authentic, or as is often the case, fail to unify their brand message.


IMG_0806The definition of mobile is changing, expanding past the apps you have on your phones or tablets. Mobile is about the user, and understanding how their physical environment and digital technology interact.

Leading businesses are getting closer to their end-user by leveraging technology to create contextually relevant and more personalized experiences.


Social media is a vital tool for retailers. It can be used in multiple ways.

Firstly, it’s a listening tool. Social media’s greatest power is that it enables brands to listen, by monitoring their target customers and learning about what they are talking about.

Due to this listening aspect, social media also offers marketers the opportunity to collect in-depth data on their customers. This analysis can impact the direction of a company, ignite future growth, and help stay ahead of competitors.

Social media is a tool of engagement. It really is the first example of conversation marketing, which with chatbots and messaging apps, is becoming more important.


IMG_0794Influencer marketing has made a huge impact in retail.

Americans spend 1.8 hours per day on social networks, which is more time than on personal email and search engines combined. As a result, we’ve become a society whose purchase behavior is heavily influenced by those we choose to connect with online. We’re also a society suffering from ad fatigue, ad fraud, and ad blockers. When people get overwhelmed, they tend to revert back to the things they trust, like human relationships.

In the context of marketing, this gives influencer marketing a major advantage over other digital advertising methods. Following the best practices from leading consumer brands, learn how to harness the power of influence and content consumers trust.

Had an amazing time in Nashville! would highly recommend the city to anyone visiting the USA.

Can’t wait to go back!

The Marketing Unicorn – Myth or Reality?

A Unicorn, a mythical creature of legend, that is as rare as it is majestic, has ignited a craze recently that many a marketer is looking to leverage.

Take Starbucks for example, who last week launched their ‘Unicorn Frappuccino’, a brightly colored drink that changes color and taste as you drink it.

Starbucks announcement of the Unicorn Frappuccino on Twitter
Starbucks announcement of the Unicorn Frappuccino on Twitter

With all this talk of unicorns, it got me thinking about if the Marketing Unicorn exists.

Who is the Marketing Unicorn?

Marketing in recent years has become strategically vital to any company’s long-term success. It has also developed the reputation for being a creative, agile, and digital career choice. Whilst this is in part true, marketing is indeed a job for the creative and agile, the Marketing Unicorn knows not to limit the focus to the digital.

Instead, they limit their focus to the customer. The increasingly rare Marketing Unicorn sees the customer first and foremost, and understand that the customer does not always favor digital.

Customers use multiple channels, and yes absolutely, a large proportion of the most popular channels are digital. Whilst, it is foolish not to leverage digital marketing tools in this age of digital transformation, there is something worse – not using the tools that will spark the desired response from your customer. The most powerful examples of marketing can all be traced back to one common characteristic. They put the customer first.

In fact, marketing failures can also be traced back to the customer and failing to put them first. Take Pepsi, who recently found out how disastrous misreading customer sentiment can be with their television commercial featuring Kendall Jenner. Instead of inspiring of a message of unity, it provoked a huge, negative reaction on social media. Many accused the Pepsi of adopting the spirit and imagery of the anti-Trump resistance, Black Lives Matter, and other movements to sell soda.

How to recognize a Marketing Unicorn?

  1. The word Customer, not the word Digital, makes up 50% of their sentences.

It’s almost impossible to have a conversation with a marketer these days without them talking digital or social media. In fact, if you were to ask a marketer to explain what’s integral to their strategy in under 60 seconds, I guarantee you’ll hear digital or social media a minimum 5 times.

The Marketing Unicorn, however, would say customer 5 times. Their explanation would be littered with references to customer needs or experience. They talk of personalization, targeting, the value of customer feedback, and continually work to engage differently with their target markets.

Not to say that digital tools, like social media, are not extremely effective. But what is more effective, is choosing the tools that engage the customer directly, in a unique way. Successful examples of digital marketing do just that.

  1. Their Power comes from Data.

Mythical creatures often have a source of power. In the case of the Unicorn, the source is the single large, pointed, spiraling horn projecting from its forehead. For the Marketing Unicorn, this source is data.

Data is more abundant than ever. Marketers who use data to their advantage are more powerful. They come armed to meetings with statistics and have consumer insight that sounds almost fabricated in its specificity.

The Marketing Unicorn can also take this data to the next level, channeling their power to predict the future. This ability enables them to stay one step ahead of consumer trends. It also helps them assess marketing channels, and choose the MarTech that will enhance their efforts.

  1. The Supervillain of their Story is…

Dr. Buzzword! An evil force that focuses on the latest trend, not the customer. In other words, a business leader who thinks trend-first, trapping the Unicorn in a cage and preventing the formulation of a marketing strategy that thinks customer-first.

What to do if you find a Marketing Unicorn?

Don’t scare it away.

Don’t be Dr. Buzzword and trap this rare creature in a cage.

Nurture it.

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5 Indicators That Marketing Is Taking A Step Back

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The headline of this blog is purposely provocative. Marketing is not taking a step back in the sense that’s it’s not innovating.

If anything, it’s the opposite. Marketing has never been so innovative, so forward-thinking.

By taking a step back, I mean to denote that Marketing is looking back to roots, examining its purpose.

“Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.” – American Marketing Association

In other words, as marketers, we are tasked with the challenge of figuring out how best to communicate a product or service to our target market. This starts by thinking about who the customer is and how they behave. This need to understand the customer has never been more important.


Because marketing is shifting once more.

With the advent of digital technology, came a myriad of marketing tools to increase the views to your website exponentially, or grow your social following from the hundreds to the millions.

As we begin to settle into this new digital world, marketing is looking back to targeting, personalizing, and thinking of the customer as an individual once more. We’ve reached a digital maturity.

Here are 5 indicators of this changing trend and what to keep your eye on:

  1. The Rise of Individualism

The success of ChatBots and messaging apps like SnapChat illustrate a shift in consumer behavior.

Social Media opened the opportunity for the individual to create and develop an online, public persona. For marketers, this was an invaluable source of consumer information.

Now, the consumer is looking to more private platforms to seek information. Consumers are protecting themselves by being pickier about the public persona they portray online.

The consumer is also looking to platforms that generate conversation, be it with a human or a robot. This indicates that the consumer is looking to engage with a brand as an individual, more authentic basis.

As a marketer, the rise of individualism indicates the consumer’s desire for authenticity. Keep this in mind when writing copy. You need to speak to the individual with a voice that resonates with them.

Whether you are a B2B or B2C marketer, you are talking to a human.

  1. Personalized Messaging

The need for personalized messages is not a new trend. It links neatly with the previous indicator of the rise of individualism.

As consumers and brands move to engaging on ChatBots and messenger apps, the use of other digital platforms like email will not diminish.

Marketing strategy needs to take a holistic view of every customer touchpoint, close the loop, unify the message, and adapt the message in real-time to react to consumer behavior.

  1. Facebook Targeting Features

Back when Facebook first launched its advertising platform, it was simple and allowed businesses to target local students or businesses for a small fee.

As the social giant grew, it became a powerful platform for marketers to get in front of millions of potential consumers in one hit. In 2009, came the first launch of what we know today as the Facebook Advertising platform. Its success is down to its advanced targeting options, that outstrip those of other platforms like Twitter.

Facebook remembered what marketing is all about. Talking to your target market on a platform that they use. Now Facebook advertising is a staple of every marketer’s digital marketing strategy.

Compare if you like the decline in advertising on television commercials. Since the launch of “binge” streaming platforms like Netflix and Hulu, TV viewers no longer patiently sit through 5 minutes of commercials. Instead, they now have the power to avoid them completely, except during a live sporting or music event.

Savvy advertisers have spotted this trend and adapted their practices. Take Kia, the clear winner of the 2017 Super Bowl Ad Game according to USA Today’s Super Bowl Ad Meter. Interestingly, they launched their Super Bowl campaign with the Nirobot on Facebook Messenger.

Kia identified that the mass message would ignite interest, but the need to engage on an individual level would ultimately lead to sales.

  1. Growth of Customer Experience

The rise of Customer Experience is the fourth indicator that marketing is shifting back to being more targeted.

With the emergence of new job titles like CXO, coupled with the rise of experience technology like Augmented Reality, marketers are increasingly having put their consumer at the center of an experience to gain their business.

Take the retail industry. In-store shopping has been declining in recent years, with the online and mobile platforms winning the holiday battle in 2016.

Virtual reality (VR) and its sister technology augmented reality (AR) are adding a new dimension to retail, by transforming how people shop. You are no longer limited to the 4 walls of a store or the limits of a website. In the future, the consumer will be able to try on that dress without going in-store or test if a dining set fits in their dining room, without having to take out a tape measure.

This technology is creating a unique, individual experience for customers.

Retailers like IKEA, Lowe’s, Topshop are ahead of the game here. Marketers in all industries need to watch this technology in 2017, as those who use it effectively (with their customer in mind) will certainly come out ahead.

  1. The Abundance of Data

Data is a driving force behind the success of digital technology in marketing. Gone are the days of spending thousands on a product launch without hope of knowing its impact or ROI.

The availability of consumer data and the use of it is another indicator that marketing is taking a step back.

We can now message individuals based on their behavior, on a specific action they’ve taken on our websites.

The data-savvy marketer or marketing team will be able to harness this shift to back to targeted, consumer-centricity faster than others.

With each of the indicators, it is not possible to emphasize enough the importance of taking the time to understand your target customer.

5 things you need to make sure your marketing team is doing:

  1. Using profile to understand your customer
  2. Think about the individual consumer, not just the target of thousands of web views
  3. Closing the loop on all consumer touchpoints, sending out unified, personalized messages
  4. Choosing technology that adapts in real-time to consumer behavior
  5. Gathering data, analyzing it, and making smart decisions based on what they discover

As marketing takes a step back to focus on its core function and purpose, new technology makes it ever easier for the marketer to forward-think and grow their businesses.

A Visit to the Museum of City of New York

IMG_0463We found ourselves in Central Park this last weekend, after getting up early for a typical Saturday stroll. After a cookie the size of my face from Le Pain Quotidien, we decided to walk up Museum Mile and visit the Museum of City of New York.

This museum is one of the best in New York and on my recommendation list to anyone visiting the city.

One of the exhibitions that stood out to me was the recently opened Posters and Patriotism. As a marketer, I’ve been interested in the history of the business function. The marketing orientation or the marketing concept did not emerge until the 1950s, post World War Two. Walking through this particular exhibition, it became clear that what we now know as marketing, has actually played a vital role in how we communicate long before it became a recognized business practice.

Many marketing studies have found evidence of advertising, branding, packaging, and labelling tactics as early as the antiquity.

During the Middle Ages, market towns sprang up across Europe. Some historians have theorized that the term, ‘marketing,’ may actually have first been used in the context of market towns, to denote the process of buying and selling.

Marketing first appeared in dictionaries as early as the sixteenth century, where according to etymologists, the term referred to the process of buying and selling at a market. The more contemporary definition of ‘marketing’ as a process of moving goods from producer to consumer first appeared in 1897. It was this definition that was the first to emphasize sales and advertising.

WW1 Propaganda PosterThe Posters and Patriotism exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York focuses on the use of propaganda to essential “sell” the Great War (First World War) to the American people.

The Second World War is a case in point of the power of marketing. Hitler, a famed orator and propagandist, used marketing tactics to take his party from a small faction in 1919, to power in 1933. Using these tactics in the following years, he also swayed many to his extremist views.

Likewise, the US used propaganda to promote its own war effort; raising money for its troops, and encouraging those at home to do their duty and support those fighting abroad.

Propaganda is an interesting case, as it has both negative and positive connotations. If you think of modern marketing, branding is much the same. It can ignite negative, or preferably positive reactions in a target consumer.

The first reference to ‘modern marketing’ came in 1957 when Hollander and others debated the emergence of the marketing as a business function. From then on Marketing was defined as a planned, programmed professional practice that incorporated activities such as segmentation, product differentiation, positioning and marketing communications. ‘Marketing’ was no longer seen as a simple form of distribution and exchange.

Throughout history, be it a political movement or a theatre production, people have used marketing tools to communicate a message.