Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Marketing Agency 2.0?

While reading Tim O’Reilly’s brilliant article “What is Web 2.0” ( where he summarizes the fundamentals of the concept of Web 2.0 (for which he is one of the original co-creators), one thought stuck with me: There seems to be an apparent lack of marketing agencies who try to align themselves with the fundamentals of Web 2.0. Some agencies try to incorporate Web 2.0 values into their Digital work but only a few attempt to harness the “Web 2.0” fundamentals beyond the Digital space into the core value proposition of their work. I strongly believe that Web 2.0 has implications for the whole value creation of marketing agencies, not just for the Digital side of the business.

Let me summarize the key Web 2.0 fundamentals that Tim so eloquently describes:
  • Services not packaged software
  • Control over unique data sources that get richer as more people use them
  • Trusting users as co-developers
  • Harnessing collective intelligence
  • Leveraging the long tail through customer self-service
  • Software above the level of a single device
  • Lightweight user interfaces, development models, and business models

Having experienced in my career the beauty and pain of both software-as-a-service firms as well as traditional marketing solution agencies, I think we marketers can distill a few key components by translating Tim’s Web 2.0 elements into our service centric world of marketers. Let me try this:
A Marketing Agency 2.0 needs to:

  • Distribute problem solving beyond its traditional internal functional silos (e.g. Planning, Creative, Data) and outside its own employee base to leverage the Collective Intelligence of its employees, clients, and consumers
  • Create Marketing Solutions that are beyond traditional central controlled and time bound campaigns or programs (Not just brands have lost control, the agencies, too) to enable the consumer participation and improvement of marketing solution throughout the life cycle of marketing ideas, brands, concepts and beyond
  • Put Data as an expression of Consumer Attitudes and Behaviors in the center of every marketing strategy and tactic. Data is not the cold number expression of some analytical geeks but is the “Intelligence Inside” of every marketing thought.

Marketing Solutions providers who embrace these core elements and change their overall value production will be not just active participants in the Web 2.0 universe but will change the marketing landscape within and beyond the Digital sphere. Marketing firms who follow this path can claim the “2.0” brand.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Research within Second Life

Understanding the mind of consumers remains one of the biggest challenges of any marketer. Many of us are trying to decipher consumers by utilizing well designed proprietary or syndicated consumer panels. These panels are supposed to represent as closely as possible the “true” consumer. They are used to provide the marketer with insights about the consumer’s motivation, feelings, attitudes, purchase intents, and many more things. P&G’s well designed Tremor business unit, representing more than 500,000 mothers and teens, or long established panels like Nielson, Simmons, or MRI are good examples of pretty successful panels. All of them are increasing their consumer reach and depth in order to provide more fertile insights and guidance for us Marketers.

But I feel that something is missing. Real, fresh, fast insights that can stimulate a marketer not just on a quantitative level but that can function as a springboard for insight driven ideation. So, what about Second life? Even the New York Times wrote last week about the increasing presence of major brands in the avatar world of Second life. Second life is an Online virtual world, in which every participant can create their own identity and pursue a multitude of activities without a limited number of rules. Wouldn’t it be great if you could deploy an idea, concept, or a brand into Second life and see in real time how the community reacts to it? It would definitely not replace the quantitative validation of a big size panel but it could instill faster and more refreshing feedback loops.

Why? Let me give you three reasons. With 2nd life a marketer has …
  • …real people interacting with your concept in a non-research environment
  • …the opportunity to change the concept within minutes and observe immediately changes in consumer’s reaction and interaction
  • … a low cost test implementation with a never ending lab environment

I think these three reasons justify exploring the validity of 2nd life as a research medium. Just to be clear, I believe a research strategy with 2nd life would be one component, but not the only one. But it could combine the power of real time input, creative stimulus and true reflection on consumer behavior.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Paradigms of Visual Understanding

In last week’s Sunday’s New York Times Magazine Steven Johnson writes about the game developer Will Wright (Creator of SimCity and Sims) and his soon to be released game “Spore”. I am not a huge virtual game fan but one driving metaphor of the game “Spore” intrigued me tremendously This metaphor tries to explain our current state of perceptional intelligence; let me quote Steven: “Most eras have distinct “ways of seeing” that end up defining the period in retrospect: the fixed perspective of Renaissance art, the scattered collages of Cubism, … Our own defining view what you might call the long zoom: the satellites tracking in on license-plate numbers in the spay movies, the Google maps in which a few clicks take you from a view of an entire region to the roof of your house…” If we talk about intelligent visualization, then we have to comprehend the current paradigms of visual understanding of our world. The dominant paradigms of visualization are not just driven by the time that we live in but also the cultural context that we are growing up in.

What are the dominant visualization paradigms that we use to understand our environment and thereby our data, too:
  • The long zoom: defined above as the: “… moving conceptually from the scale of a DNA to the scale of a personality all the way up to social movements and politics – and back again”.
  • The dancing bars: Pretty much driven by the utter domination of Excel for most number crunching personalities, the simple view of bars stacked against each other to compare one metric across multiple groups or clusters. A more sophisticated version lets you choose a wide array of metrics that allows you to compare multiple differences across these clusters.
  • The Multi-Screen view: Doesn’t every marketing executive would like to feel like the Agent in hundreds of Hollywood movies where Intelligence is feed in a wide number of screens, all stacked up around the Data Geek who is able to monitor everything in real time (the TV show “24” made this image on of its most dominant ones). At least most executives (following Bill Gates office desk set up) have 2-3 screens at their desk to convey the message of successful multi-tasking.

I am sure that there are a multitude of other visual paradigms, especially in other cultures that could become dominant over the next years. It’s just fascinating to attempt comprehending the correlation between visual paradigms and our understanding of the world. Maybe we all should start playing more games.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Netflix Challenge

You might have seen Netflix’ announcement about challenging all of us data driven Marketers: Who can come up with a better consumer recommendation algorithm for Netflix’ consumer base by analyzing the publicly available data set of over 100 Million consumer recommendation? The winner will receive $1 Million. Doesn’t this sound like real fun? Check out details at

Besides my true excitement for this analytical and intellectual challenge, I believe that Netflix is pursuing not just an interesting self serving marketing trick but positions itself as a pioneer of solving intricate marketing problems. Putting consumer data into the public domain (while protecting consumer’s privacy) to request solutions from all over the world without constraints will not just solve an individual Netflix specific problem but it will enrich the overall wisdom of our marketing community. Especially since Netflix promised to publish the winner’s approach and methodology.

A couple of months ago I outlined the vision of companies who would publish the results of their marketing programs. The intent would be to enlist interested individuals to improve the relevance and effectiveness of their programs. Netflix’ approach starts earlier before any marketing program is even designed. It starts at defining the data driven marketing problem with clear expectation of what a successful solution needs to accomplish. Four key elements make this approach for me so attractive:
  • Setting up the marketing problem in a well described manner
  • Publishing Customer Data into the Public Domain
  • Defining Success criteria with a clear expectation of what a solution needs to achieve
  • Publishing the most successful solution

How does one or a team solve this or any similar analytical marketing problem? I believe its solution does not solely reside within the most sophisticated data mining or mathematical tools approach (Netflix believes that this is a pure machine learning challenge, I dare to disagree) but by looking at the described challenge in an unconventional manner. The winning methodology needs to combine analytical intelligence, tools, and methodologies with rephrasing the challenge. How? My bet is on an unique combination of analytical smartness with several deep qualitative insights into the mind of the DVD renting consumer, this is true Consumer Intelligence. And it’s definitely worth $1Million. But please keep in mind, it’s less about the money than about changing of how we solve data and insight based marketing problems.