Michael Baer's Stratecution Stories

"Strategy is overrated. We have a strategic plan. It's called doing things". – Herb Kelleher

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Still awaiting the advertising industry’s ‘iTunes moment’*


It was fourteen years ago, on April 28, 2003, that Apple introduced iTunes. The music industry had been undergoing a disruption for years, as a struggle took place between the status quo guarded by the legacy Music Industry, and the emerging consumer behavior of downloading songs. Various events had taken place (e.g., Napster, to name a big one) to fuel the disruption, but it wasn’t until iTunes that things fundamentally changed – immediately, and forever. Now, 14 years later, the music industry is nothing like what it was before.

iTune’s fourteenth birthday seems a good time to acknowledge that the Advertising business today is a lot like the music industry of the late ‘90’s. Very similar conditions that contributed to the sea change in music consumption and purchase are screaming that change is overdue in the ad-led approach to brand building. But, similar to the music industry disruption of a generation earlier, the legacy ad industry seems to be resisting wholesale change in favor of clinging to old models.

While there have been some Napster moments over the past years, how different does the ad industry look, talk and act now from how it did 10 years ago? I believe that we need an iTunes moment.

Let’s take a look at the key issues that iTunes solved which made it revolutionary – and see how advertising might also re-invent itself.

  • Ubiquity. Today’s consumer is always on, on the move, mobile. iTunes solved for that by making your music library available without your CD’s. Today’s agencies need to view problem-solving through the lens of an always-on consumer – and across all platforms and channels. This makes mapping consumer journeys hugely important – but brands and agencies should push further, devising and managing journeys in ways that create competitive advantage, not just opportunities to place more ads.
  • Consumer control. iTunes gave the consumer the control they sought – to be able to buy the songs they want, when they wanted. The ad industry similarly knows that the new opt-in consumer is in control – yet continues to interrupt them, push ads at them, and is surprised by the rise in ad blocking. Advertising must earn consumers’ attention by developing new, more consumer-centric models and approaches. Marketers should stop always selling the next product or service, and put as much effort into thinking how the experience feels and adds value for customers.
  • Instant gratification. iTunes allowed consumers an instant way to access and download a song they wanted, so consumers no longer had to drive to a store to buy it. Today’s brand users also want instant gratification – and it can come in the form of a purchase, an experience, additional content, or any other added value. In fact, marketers need to recognize that the journey itself, and the brand’s ability to simplify it, enhance it, automate it or add value to it, can bring the greatest advantage for brands.
  • User experience. While iTunes was a technology solution, more than anything it was successful due to its better, seamless user experience (as all Apple products have). Advertising needs to commit to its “users” and put the customer at the heart of the company and its marketing – and recognize that any aspects of advertising, websites, mobile apps and experiences that don’t slavishly deliver a positive user experience will be substandard and be detract from brand value.
  • Personalization. The ability to buy any song at any time gave consumers the ability to create music collections that spoke to their individual passions and interests, beyond the mainstream and beyond what the industry promoted. Data is helping advertisers to tell more and more relevant stories – and needs to continue to be more personalized. And those stories don’t need to overtly “sell” stuff.
  • A hardware solution. Let’s not forget that iTunes succeeded on the back of the success of the stylish, simple to use iPod. The oncoming wave of digital assistants (from Amazon Echo, to Google Home and beyond) suggests new hardware and technology that can create solutions for brands beyond paid advertising by bringing service, value and simplified experiences is an area brands need to explore.

iTunes’ birth seems ages ago, because it set in motion a music revolution – for both consumers and the industry. It’s high time for the ad industry to experience its own iTunes moment. What do you think?

*Originally published in MediaPost’s Marketing Daily April 27, 2017

The Case For A Branded App: 6 Reasons you should have a mobile app for your brand*

Branded App

Lately, I find marketers ‘getting out of the app business’, saying some combination of the following: consumers have deleted their apps in the past; the effort to deliver valuable content is too difficult; and they would prefer to leverage the scale of someone else’s app.

This isn’t all that surprising. The initial app years were filled with one-dimensional apps that were ‘campaign focused’, not value focused. This taught consumers to download and delete apps in rapid-fire succession. That behavior has lingered, even as apps have evolved – almost one-third of all apps are deleted within one week of downloading.

However, there are many good reasons to create a branded app. And, as Joseph Jaffe said: “If someone doesn’t download your app  — or they don’t use it regularly enough — it’s your fault for not giving them a compelling reason to do so”.

Firstly, 90% of mobile online time is spent in-app. Thus, consumers have learned the mobile web feels like in-app use vs. mobile browser usage. In addition, research shows that apps can build not only revenue (app revenue is projected to be $75 billion by 2017), but also brand trust and long term value.

Here are 6 key reasons Brands should consider creating an app:

  • Create value beyond your product – An MIT study demonstrated the tangible brand value of “benevolent” branded apps. Beyond overt selling, there is an opportunity to stand for something bigger. For example, Kraft’s iFood Assistant provides easy recipes for busy moms – that could include Kraft products or not. In addition, a mobile app can simplify your users’ lives in ways well beyond the product or service. For example – Nationwide’s app provides tools to file a claim in real time, Bank of America allows you to deposit a check with your phone, L’Oreal has AR tools to try on makeup virtually. These may not lead to a direct sale, but they create positive brand equity and sentiment that lead to loyalty and greater lifetime value.
  • A direct line to your consumer. Your app is your opportunity to communicate directly with your best customer. And that alone should encourage you – with the declining value of paid advertising and worries about viewability and ad fraud, connecting directly with your consumers is a huge opportunity. Your app customers are your most engaged customers –capable of engaging and buying more frequently and increasing lifetime value. That’s a direct conversation you want to have.
  • Deliver timely and relevant content. Apps give brands the opportunity to deliver content that is timely, relevant and personalized. What other communication channel can do that? Because the content – be it a Push Notification, Geo-fenced notification, or In-App message – is delivered based on what an app owner has done or where they are, it is uniquely personalized and relevant. When used effectively, the ROI can be staggering – and the open rates, click rates and conversion rates are tens to hundreds to even thousands of times better than other vehicles.
  • Capture data about your consumers. Having an app enables brands to gain insights into their customers’ lives and journeys. Once opted into, location awareness in an app can generate buyer demographics, geographics, journey mapping, and insights into personas that can not only help you drive conversions, but also improve customer experience and personalize content.
  • Connect the digital world with the real world. As alluded to above, apps provide a connection point between the digital world and the real, brick & mortar world. This gives brands the opportunity to connect with people when they can provide specific and relevant real-world help, from store promotions and sales, to directions, to in-store guidance.
  • Focus on retention, loyalty and lifetime value. When you pick up your phone, you tend to be focused on doing something – answering a question, getting specific information or enjoying a specific entertainment. In this context, generalized interruption is not viewed positively. However, mobile is very good at lower-funnel tactics. An an app fits into this approach perfectly – it’s a channel to connect with those who have already opted into your brand, are likely users, and are open to further engagement.

A branded app may not be the solution for all brands. And having one can be challenging and intensive. But, contrary to what many marketers are thinking of late, the benefits for a brand can be many.

*Originally published in MediaPost’s Marketing Daily 3.22.17

Are you Content with your Content? 5 ways to fail in content marketing*

Yogi Berra famously said about a popular nightspot, “No one goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”

Berra might have said something similar about the state of content marketing today –no one reads it anymore, it’s too popular.

There’s truth to that. Everyone is jumping on the content marketing bandwagon and creating more and more of it. As Yannick Bollore said in regards to Havas’ “Meaningful Brands” study, “every day 500 million tweets, 4.3 billion Facebook messages and 500 million hours of YouTube footage are sent, posted and uploaded”. And 77% of marketers plan to create even more this year than last.

There are obvious, and relevant, reasons for the growth in content marketing. Traditional marketing is declining in its influence among today’s opt-in consumers. Ad fraud, ad blocking and viewability concerns make display advertising suspect. Content marketing can cost significantly less than other forms of paid media. And, for a while, anyway, a brand that developed and owned great content could create direct engagements with its consumers – without paying intermediaries.

But the problem with content, when everyone is doing it, is that it gets more cluttered every day. The growth in Content marketing and the glut of content published has made it nigh impossible to get found, seen, read or viewed. This is what Mark Schaeffer of marketing blog “Grow” calls Content Shock. And because of this, so many marketers are not generating any benefit from their content marketing.

In this environment, it’s easy to get it wrong. Here are 5 major reasons your content fails:

  1. You don’t bother with a content strategy. It shocks me that only 35% of marketers have a documented content marketing strategy, according to Content Marketing Institute. “We need to be on Facebook” is not a strategy. Nor is “our competitors are blogging”. And “Let’s do a funny viral video” isn’t either. Your brand’s content is only a means to an end, not the end in itself. Know why you are producing it, and what you want to occur because of it. Have specific strategies for each platform. And the consistency and focus driven by a documented strategy will be critical to your growth.
  2. You aren’t maniacal about your reader’s needs, desires or behaviors. It also amazes me how many brands create content that’s more focused on themselves than on their prospects. Brands on Twitter or Facebook acting like millennials instead of the B2B customer they’re seeking. Or behaving in a way that flies in the face of the type of thought-leadership their industry would spark to. Instead, be slavish to understanding those you seek to connect with – what are their needs? What else do they read, do, like? What are the key challenges in their category? And what do you want them to do once they’ve engaged?
  3. You think quantity is more important than quality. There’s some truth to the fact that consistency, persistence and increasing the volume of your content helps grow engagement. But brands are much more well-served with fewer, higher quality pieces of content than content-for-content’s sake posts. As Eric Wendt at Brafton says, “do you want your website visitors to associate your blog with substantive, in-depth posts or a barrage of shallow content with keywords haphazardly stuffed in?”
  1. You believe that if you build it, they will come. This may have been true years ago. But today, a distribution plan is as important as a creation plan. Quality content simply pushed out on social platforms and owned channels has little chance of getting the attention and subsequent distribution necessary to drive results. So marketers need a coordinated distribution strategy including owned, earned, and paid (yes, paid) media that’s tailored to the audience and customized to their goals and objectives.
  1. They aren’t measure and optimizing. If anyone still says you can’t measure the success of content marketing, they’re wrong. Just like any marketing activity, if you can’t identify if and what is working or not, what’s the use of doing it? Of course, what you measure and optimize against will depend on what your objectives are – website visits, shares, leads, etc. So by all means, set objectives, measure and learn. Constantly.

Today’s content marketing landscape is challenging. So avoid these fails to find more content-ment with your content plan.

*Originally published in MediaPost’s Marketing Daily, 2.14.17

Happy ‘View’ Year

Over the course of the past year or so, ad viewability has become one of the hottest topics in digital media. Marketers and advertisers are demanding the digital ads they buy be “viewable” by users. Now, when you plainly state what the quest for viewability is, it sounds pretty ridiculous. “Paying only for ads that can actually be seen by viewers” – how would anyone conceive of paying for any other kind of ad?

And the new focus on viewability points out that for 20-plus years, the industry has been selling ads that provide only an outside chance a reader might stumble across them. Can you imagine if other products or services were sold without even a chance to work as planned? Food that can’t be eaten, clothes you can’t wear, a car that doesn’t drive. Emperor’s new clothes, anyone?

How did we get here, a place where demanding that ads be viewable is necessary, and where 54% of all ads aren’t viewable? There is no doubt that we brought it on ourselves. The digital media world was growing so fast, it seemed that there was limitless inventory to place ads. We force-fit the old media, “push” model into a new media advertising eco-system, unconcerned with the fact that it clashed with new consumer behavior. And deflationary pricing and race-to-the-bottom CPM rates forced inventory to grow and quality to decline, leading buyers to be accustomed (or addicted) to CPMs of $1 or less.

Advertisers should demand higher quality digital media.  And to me, viewability seems to be a pretty low threshold. Nevertheless, here are the reasons I’m interested in this evolution:

1. A focus on viewability will drive advertisers from their “efficiency at all costs” position. Advertisers and their agencies have been focused on gaining ad impressions as cheaply and efficiently as they can. But, as I’ve said before, too much efficiency can be a bad thing. The reason CPMs are so cheap is because they include huge quantities of impressions of extremely low quality. And those impressions don’t make any impression at all. While it’s natural for advertisers to say they only want to pay for ads that are seen, they should be prepared to pay higher costs for them. Imagine that – paying more for higher quality. There’s a concept that would be reasonable.

2. It will make advertisers consider digital ad models, not just old analog ones. Fewer campaigns will simply take display ads (that likely originated as print concepts) and spread them around as many places as a surrogate for awareness. Instead, more teams will consider how a digital media consumer actually engages with content and wants to be engaged.

In addition, changing how media is measured and bought will drive publishers to consider new ad units, new ways to engage with their readers, and more ways to deliver on the needs and expectations of their consumers. It will lead advertisers and agencies to re-think about how to develop campaigns, leveraging the media in new ways to create new stories. And agencies will consider new KPI’s and success criteria beyond impressions delivery for campaigns that relate to the medium, the consumer behavior and the types of conversions that happen along the purchase path.

3. It will begin to orient the discussion around the consumer, not the ad message. If the key is reaching a real person, then ad messaging should be designed to deliver a better user experience. The digital media ecosystem should be built around user expectation, desire and need. It should be about “pull” and no longer about “push.”

My one worry, however, is if, instead, publishers and agencies solve for maximum viewability by creating more and more intrusive ads, more and more pop-ups, more and more interruptive units. Then, it won’t be a happy new year at all. It will be a train wreck.

Is Annoyance A Media Strategy?

Again and again, I have ads served to me that interrupt my digital and mobile actions. Popups are delivered that force me to landing pages and app store opens I didn’t ask for. Digital ads presuppose my interest in irrelevant products and services with no frequency cap. Despite the well-documented death of push marketing and the rise of the era of consumer control, it seems that many marketers believe that annoyance is still a viable strategic approach.

So, if you want to up your “annoyance marketing” quotient, here’s a simple five-point plan:

1. Ignore user experience and expectations when serving your advertising.

The new world of digital advertising affords marketers a plethora of tools and strategies for developing brand programming and campaigns that are relevant, timely and in-tune with a user’s mind-state and expectations. But flying in the face of this could also certainly help your brand stand out — and never mind the negative light it might shed on your brand.

With this in mind, it makes sense to serve an interstitial to an app user looking for a quick answer to a question like a train schedule or sports score. Or a page take-over to a mobile web browser looking for a phone number to tell a restaurant he’s running late. Don’t worry that you’re annoying them, slowing them down, preventing them from accomplishing a task – they’ll remember you!

2. Count impressions not engagements

By now we all know the hoopla and to-do caused by viewability concerns, ad fraud, bots, and ad blocking. The industry is beginning to realize that, in general, a media “impression” is unlikely to actually make an impression. But the addiction to low-priced CPMs and flowcharts with tens of millions of impressions is too hard to kick.

So, since all we care about is the delivery of quantities of impressions, then be unconcerned about repetitive ad messages and overly high frequencies. If we believed the old rule of thumb that reaching someone three times was an effective reach, then reaching them with the same message 30 times is 10 times effective-er, yes? So Lyft, please continue to serve me dozens of mobile app ads, unabated. And Game of War, bravo, for your 100+ ad frequency!

3. Do not waste time creating customized and diverse content

It’s been proven repeatedly that having personalized, contextually relevant messaging improves effectiveness for advertisers. And that simply cutting and pasting executions from one platform to another is not only lazy but also frustrating to consumers and sub-optimal for advertisers.

But all that work and thinking is hard. So by all means, take that TV ad and use it as pre-roll. Use your print ad as a banner. And don’t worry about creating multiple executions, stick with a single one and run it to death. Ideas, creativity and likeability are over-rated, right?

4. Ensure click-throughs by all means necessary

Making life painful for your consumers can’t be a good thing. Forcing them to jump through hoops, lengthening their process or experience, and providing disappointment are recipes for disaster. After all, customer experience is the new favorite buzzword of the industry.

However, since getting clicks is often an important data point, let’s make click-throughs unavoidable. Hide the “x” box on the interstitial. Or make the box insensitive to a mouse. Or even better, just open the link anyway even if the user tried to click away. I’m sure there will be some folks who will be happy with where the link leads them, right?

5. Spam away

I subscribe to lots of blogs and e-newsletters. But somehow I get many more than I subscribed to. I don’t like getting what is essentially spam; does anyone?

However, since newsletter subscribers are an important metric for many marketers, it’s a great idea to start sending your email to people who have never asked for it. Or ever expressed interest. And perhaps the best idea is to hide the unsubscribe link. That way you can count them as a subscriber for another mailing!

There you have it. If you believe that annoying your customer is a great way to market, follow these tips and you’ll be up there with the best. Of course, you could also try the exact opposite — if you’d rather avoid annoying them for a better customer experience.

Alexander Hamilton: A Would-Be, Modern-Day, Marketing Genius*

It’s our nation’s 240th birthday on Monday, so it’s time for a shout-out to our Founding Fathers. And there’s no founding father currently hotter or hipper than Alexander Hamilton. However, despite what many current Hamiltonian bandwagon-jumpers may think, he was neither a singer nor a dancer. But, as a thinker, doer and creator, Hamilton was in many ways a master marketer. Here are seven marketing tips from this brilliant man and Tony award winner:

1. Challenge the norm: Hamilton was a classic challenger. First is the fact he came from nothing in an era of limited upward mobility — bastard child, abandoned by his father, living on a poor Caribbean island without education — and ended up at the highest reaches of government and power. And then there was his very vocal opposition to the British rule, an unpopular position to take.

2. Be an innovator and experimenter: The “maker” culture and the idea of being “always in beta” may seem like new ideas, but Hamilton was a constant ideator who came up with and initiated the 1.0 of many great concepts. These included the U.S. Constitution, our national finance system (completely his idea, which he fought tooth and nail for), our U.S. Coast Guard and the New-York Evening Post.

3. Execute off of a defined vision and a core idea: Hamilton had a core belief that the United States needed a strong central government in order to deliver on the promise and opportunity of the young nation. He built his actions around that to demonstrate and advocate his point of view. Nearly every action, argument and proposal supported this and brought it to life. This is exactly what a good brand should do.

4. Create content to demonstrate your ideas: There’s no hotter current trend in marketing than content marketing. But Hamilton was all over this as early as 1774, with his anonymously published (“un-branded,” that is) essay supporting the colonial cause against the loyalists. In 1787, he initiated and wrote an overwhelming majority of the Federalist Papers — 85 articles and essays that supported a strong central government and defended the development and ratification of the U.S. Constitution. This content was so influential and effective, it not only swayed opinion of its time, it remains one of the foremost expositions on the Constitution. Wouldn’t any brand salivate for that kind of engagement? In addition, Hamilton was an early progenitor of the idea of creating “owned media” for the distribution of ideas, and he began his own “content hub,” the New-York Evening Post.

5. Solve your consumer’s problems: Hamilton didn’t just deliver pie-in-the-sky ideas or points of view, he recognized that, to get buy-in and engagement, he needed to wrap his thinking around the needs of his readers and “prospects.” For example, his creation of a naval police force in 1790 (universally recognized as the birth of the Coast Guard) was an action in response to the needs of shippers and ship employees.

6. Create a “tribe”: The idea that your brand should either create or tap into a tribe is a modern one. But Hamilton proposed a similar idea at the advent of our country. He recognized that for the United States and its government to succeed, Americans had to view themselves as national citizens, not just citizens of their home states. This idea slowly took hold – and soon U.S. tribalism became a reality along with the growth of the U.S. power.

7. Create mashups: Most people think mashups started in 2004 when DJ Danger Mouse combined Jay Z’s “The Black Album” with the Beatle’s “The White Album” into his seminal bootleg “The Grey Album.” But as a voracious reader and researcher, Hamilton created positions that were mashups of everything from Adam Smith and Montesquieu to Hume and Hobbes. His ideas leveraged “combinational creativity,” just as yours should.

In 1776, the stakes were much higher, yet innovation and creativity persevered. Alexander Hamilton and the Founding Fathers courageously forged the path we’re on today. They worked together, demonstrating the impossible is possible when you share a vision and believe in something strongly enough.

As Hamilton once said, “Real firmness is good for anything; strut is good for nothing.” This advice is as welcome today as during his time. So let’s all dispense with posture and superficiality and get on with the hard work of marketing and innovation. It’s what he’d want us to do.

Originally published in MediaPost’s Marketing Daily, July 1, 2016

Mobile isn’t just ANOTHER screen…*

When the dawn of mobile media occurred over 10 years ago, the ad industry dubbed mobile phones the “third screen”. There was the TV, computers, and, now, phones. The mobile screen was simply another outlet on which to engage with consumers.

Things have moved full-tilt since then, as the mass adoption of the smartphone has seismically changed all of media, marketing, and information access for consumers and brands alike. Mobile is now most often the first place people search, look things up, and access info. In addition, the reasons, contexts, and ways that people use the mobile screen have evolved to be vastly different than those of other screens.

With all these changes in the media screen eco-system, why are most marketers still approaching mobile as just another screen, and adopting old models of advertising and engagement? This is destined to fail – because it clashes with the fundamental user behaviors and expectations on this newest of screens.

You see, in my opinion, mobile isn’t just a screen:

  1. Mobile is a behavior

People aren’t doing typical web browsing activities on mobile – meaning they aren’t open to clicking away, exploring links or general “serendipity”. Their time is constrained; meaning long copy, elaborate design, and multiple steps are anathema. And, there are many more distractions and complexities due to the real world context – so KISS.

  1. Mobile is an expectation

You expect immediate answers from your smart phone. Who directed that film? How late is this store open? What is the phone number for the restaurant?

You expect the web to be easy and smooth – sites need to load fast, information has to be accessible and readable, and pages need to be designed for size and utility.

And now, consumers have similar expectations of brands on these devices. So why does your mobile site take so long to load? Why is the information I need hard to find? And why is it so hard to find the ‘x’ to close your irrelevant ad that’s interrupting my task?

  1. Mobile is a transaction and tactical

People use mobile to solve and complete specific tasks. And because of this, mobile hates interruption. Which I find ironic, because most advertising on mobile is highly interruptive. If you don’t think that this type of tone-deaf marketing isn’t why a majority of millennials have installed ad-blockers, then you’re as out of touch as your marketing.

  1. Mobile demands relevance

When I see, say, a contact lens ad on TV or the web, I ignore it. But if receive a mobile ad for contact lenses, it feels like an invasion. Due to the intimacy of the device and the amount of personal information and activity that happens on it, there’s an expectation of relevance and individualization. So when marketers choose ‘mass’ over ‘relevance’, they take a big risk of getting it wrong – and earning the enmity of those they are aiming to influence.

The flip side of this danger is the opportunity it presents. Consumers actively seek out relevance and are willing to pay for it with their personal information and data. For example, 61% of smartphone users say they’re more likely to buy from companies whose mobile sites or apps customize information to their location (Google/Ipsos, 2015) and 76% of people who opt in to location sharing do so to receive more meaningful content (Salesforce, 2014 Mobile Behavior report). It’s pretty clear that consumers will share their information for relevant value-added offers and information – that respect their time, preferences and actions.

Marketers have finally hailed the ascendance of the mobile screen. So, let’s treat it more than just another screen.

*Originally published in MediaPost’s Marketing Daily 9.13.16

The ‘Reverse’ Job Description: A Company’s Responsibility to Employees*

reversejob description tabhuman resource

There’s a “war for talent” out there. It’s an increasingly competitive landscape for recruiting and retaining talented employees, and companies talk the talk about how they are focusing on acquiring the best of the best. They call their HR people “Talent Directors”. Job description after job description describes their searches for “rock stars”, “gurus” and “ninjas”. And each job spec is chock full of the myriad incredible feats and accomplishments that each talented new hire has to achieve to be successful.

But so many new hires don’t stick – the data shows that almost half are gone within 18 months. And it’s not about skills – only 11% fail due to lack of skill, with the other 89% due to “attitudinal reasons”. With the high investment in time and money in recruiting, wouldn’t it makes sense for companies to make more of an effort to enhance stickiness and raise long-term success? The way I see it, every open role should have not just a job description, clearly iterating what is expected of the new employee, but would also have a “Reverse Job description”. That is, what are the required tasks of the company to ensure the success of the new employee.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? Success is a collaborative thing, especially in today’s interconnected, matrixed, ‘new normal’ organizations. So I say that every critical role to be filled should have an equally important role for the organization and the leaders. Here’s what it would be made up of:

Build an on-ramp. Coming into a new organization is always hard – but nowadays, you’re expected to get moving at light-speed, stat. So it’s important to provide the tools, resources, and support to enable the new hire to merge into the fast lane as smoothly as possible. How can you provide support during the early days? Who and what are the right resources for each type of problem and opportunity? Where can he or she find the tools they might need? Anything that keeps a new employee feeling new and un-integrated keep him or her puttering along on the shoulder of the road.

Provide a pit crew. The most seasoned and successful race car drivers know they have a pit crew awaiting them whenever they need re-fueling, or if the dashboard is filling with warning lights. Well so should the greatest rock-star employee. A company should make sure there will be regular get-togethers to review the road behind and the road ahead. And expecting there will be some blow-outs and oil leaks is a pretty good idea, as well, since there will be.

Plan for some speed bumps. As I mentioned above, every journey has bumps in the road. Especially at work. In the best of circumstance, with as many knowns as possible, there are surprises that wreak momentary havoc on existing teams. But for the new employee, everything’s new and unknown – new partners, new clients, new dynamics, new culture. Do them a favor and set the expectations for some bumpy moments. Expecting perfection is never a good idea; but in these situations, it’s an absolute mistake.

Implement an instant network. I don’t care what level the candidate is, they’ll need some advisors and mentors. Sounding boards for problems and opportunities. Folks to look to when building their thinking. Or when the going gets tough. New employees don’t have instant credibility, respect or trust – so it’s important to provide a few internal contacts where they won’t have to immediately earn it. Each reverse job description should allocate several of these partners and comrades.

Provide a core of complementors. Generally, when hiring someone for your team, you are looking for one or two key skills. The skills and experience that are critical for the success the company is looking for. However, when placing this person into the organization and onto a team, there are likely some complementary skills that are required – skills that might not be immediately native to the new hire. So ensure you have embedded the complementary partners needed to help get past the initial growing pains.

Give some early cheers. No matter how talented and experienced the new employee is, the new situation will feel a bit alien. And without a sense of belonging, the new hire may find the honeymoon wearing off quickly. A little recognition can go a long way towards making new employees feel at home and part of an organization. Which leads to more success and longer tenure.

What do you think? Does this seem like too much to ask from a company? Should an employee’s success be all up to them?

*Originally published in TalentZoo 9/2/15

Meet the new model. Same as the old model.*

It’s fair to say that the fact that the advertising and marketing world has gone through a complete revolution is a given. Everyone now accepts that old models are through. “Digital disruption”. “Media fragmentation”. “Consumer in control”. “Push marketing is dead”. These are the ways our industry has been speaking of the new normal. Business as usual is kaput.

So if the old model is dead, what is the new model? Well, I think I’ve seen an indication of what the market thinks. Game of War. The digital game (yes, the one with Kate Upton). You may expect that I’d be speaking of a wonderful case study and demonstration of how to leverage the liquidity of media, of the new cross-channel consumer, about access to and leveraging of the reams of data we have on each consumer and their individualized path.

But as the French say, “plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose”. Because this example is really just the old model, in all its moldy glory. And on steroids.

I discovered this example because I play a solitaire game on my phone. I’m not proud of it – but I find it a relaxing way to kill a few moments in-between (let’s not get into the psychology of it…). The app I use recently had an “update”, where once you’ve downloaded it, you now get ads between new solitaire hands. An unwanted interruption. Irrelevance. Not connected to the game, the user experience, the context or anything about the player. But that’s another story, as well.

About six months ago, one of the interruptive ads I began getting was for the Game of War. And six months later, that I’m still getting these ads. By the hundreds. Yes, lots of different ads, different visuals, different scenarios, different calls to action. But the same game and the same campaign. They also appear in Facebook and in digital and mobile banners. It still boggles my mind.

I wonder what the strategy that spawned this campaign looked like. “Bombard annoy interrupt badger consumers as often as possible and with a frequency unmitigated by any half-reasonable notion”? That’s what it looks like in the real world. And with all the varied, available approaches for leveraging advanced targeting, who could their target be? I’ve never downloaded a video game or displayed any interest to do so before. I guess bored solitaire players represent a large part of their target.

And how could they be leveraging campaign performance data? I’ve never displayed any interest in their ads or in playing the game. I’ve never clicked, watched, or viewed additional content. I’ve never liked, posted or shared anything on social media. In fact, I’ve never even played any online games such as these. But I keep getting Game of War message interruptions every day, dozens of times. I am not kidding when I say that I have seen a Game of War ad at least 1,000 times.

Clearly data, an assumed key component of the new marketing model, plays no role in their campaign. How could it? Data is supposed to help find the right people, optimize the effort over the course of the campaign, deliver more and more relevancy, timeliness and value over time. Move me closer to conversion, across platform, time and action. No, no and no.

But the campaign keeps on going. So, against all odds, it must be working. So the question is – is this the new model? Take the old interruption model, and simply apply it to modern channels, at enormous scale and insane frequency. Rinse and repeat.

Am I wrong? Is this an okay strategy? Is it okay to seek results by any means necessary? Perhaps this is a game of war we are playing.

*This post was originally posted in Troyanos’ Groups “Gamechangers” newsletter 7/25/15.

Guest Post: 8 Leadership Challenges You Can Solve With the Leadership Matrix

20150419 Lead Inside the Box Book Cover20150419 Headshot - Mike Figliuolo

Mike Figliuolo and his Thoughtleaders blog has been a blogging hero of mine for a while. One of the highlights of my blogging career took place last year when I wrote a guest column in his blog. And now, I’m happy to say, Mike’s written a guest post on my site. Mike recently co-authored Lead Inside the Box: How Smart Leaders Guide Their Teams to Exceptional Results (you can get your copy by clicking here). You can learn more about Mike and the book at the end of the post. Here’s Mike:

The phrase “think outside the box” makes me physically ill.  It’s trite and isn’t at all practical.  But inside the box?  That’s where great leaders go to get more out of their teams.  You can too with a simple assessment tool that provides insights as to how to most effectively lead the unique members of your team.

Preface: I’m an idiot.  My friend and fellow thoughtLEADERS instructor Victor Prince hoodwinked me into co-authoring a new book: Lead Inside the Box – How Smart Leaders Guide Their Teams to Exceptional Results.  The premise is you need to evaluate the amount of output you get from a team member and compare that to the amount of time and energy you have to invest in them to get it.  We call that second piece “leadership capital.”

The result of those comparisons is the Leadership Matrix (or “the box” for short).  Within that matrix, we define behavioral archetypes from Slackers to Rising Stars and everything in between.  The real insight lies in practical advice on how to lead those folks to improve their performance.  By understanding the behaviors your team members will demonstrate and how you invest (or don’t invest) your time and effort into them, you’ll get a clearer picture of the 8 archetypical behaviors that can show up in the box.  With that understanding, you can begin leading differently which will improve your performance.  Those archetypes are as follows:

Exemplars can be categorized based upon their career aspirations. Some Exemplars want their great performance to provide them a stepping stone to larger roles and responsibilities. These are the “Rising Stars.” Other Exemplars are content remaining in their current roles. They’re experts and they’re satisfied with delivering outstanding results without much interference from their boss. These individuals are the “Domain Masters.”

Detractors are defined by the root cause of their performance issues. Some don’t have the skills they need to do their job. These individuals are the “Square Pegs.” We call Detractors who have the skills to do the job but they lack the will to do it the “Slackers.”

High Cost Producers break into subtypes based on the kinds of costs they incur. Some get results but at the high cost of damaging team morale and destroying the goodwill you and your team have accrued with others. These individuals are the “Steamrollers.” High Cost Producers who get results but require an inordinate amount of hand-holding from their leader to get them done are the “Squeaky Wheels.”

Passenger subtypes are determined by the kind of output they produce. Some only work to get their paycheck. They expend the bare minimum amount of effort required to keep getting paid. These are the behaviors of your “Stowaways.” Other Passengers exert a great deal of energy but they focus on tasks they want to do, not tasks you need them to do. We refer to Passengers behaving this way as “Joyriders.”

To make it easy for you to evaluate your team, we built an easy (and slick!) assessment online.  You can use it to categorize your team member’s behavior and get practical advice on how to lead them. The better you understand how much leadership capital you’re investing in someone and the results you’re getting from those investments, the more effectively you’ll be able to lead them.

– Mike Figliuolo is the co-author of Lead Inside the Box: How Smart Leaders Guide Their Teams to Exceptional Results and the author of One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership. He’s the managing director of thoughtLEADERS, LLC – a leadership development training firm. An Honor Graduate from West Point, he served in the U.S. Army as a combat arms officer. Before founding his own company, he was an assistant professor at Duke University, a consultant at McKinsey & Co., and an executive at Capital One and Scotts Miracle-Gro. He regularly writes about leadership on the thoughtLEADERS Blog.

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