Staying Afloat Amidst Higher Ed’s Next Wave

Disruptions and distractions abound in today’s digital marketing ecosystem. New touch points and platforms are popping up every day. And yet, we’re expected to master it all in real time, and absorb the waves of data that come with it.

From student recruiting and philanthropic outreach to content engagement and brand positioning, higher education is facing unprecedented disruptions in the form of new prospect expectations, rapidly evolving technologies, and heightened competition.

Surviving and thriving in this dynamic digital ecosystem requires challenging ourselves to not only adapt to change, but to lead it.

In my opening keynote at the Converge: Higher Ed event in February,  I’ll share my insights and strategies for staying afloat in this digital deluge, including:

  • An overview of emerging trends and challenges
  • 3 key strategic frameworks for navigating digital disruption
  • Road mapping the essential intersections between marketing, technology and data

Learn More: Converge 2017: Higher Education Inbound Marketing and Recruiting
February 21-24, 2017 at the Omni Rancho Las Palmas Resort & Spa, CA

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Posted in Big Data, Branding, CMO, Digital Marketing, Disruption, Marketing

Let’s Get Disruptive: A CMO’s view of the future of technology and marketing

Digital Disruption

Throughout history, agile organizations have adapted to disruptions that have affected their customers and, ultimately, their brands. Others have fallen behind or collapsed. Yet, digital disruption is proving to be a uniquely unprecedented accelerator for creating winners and losers in today’s warp speed, often volatile omni-channel marketplace.

Want to stay ahead of the curve? Consider these six trends that are just around the corner.

Thing 1 and Thing 2

There are about 14B connected devices in the world today – and that number is projected to grow to 42B within the next five years. The growing ‘Internet of Things,’ or ‘IoT,’ will be transformational, with sensors becoming commonplace across entirely new classes of devices. Those sensors will elevate some of these devices into marketing channels.

Through the IoT, consumers will soon be interacting – both knowingly and unknowingly – with hundreds of sensors each day, creating new opportunities for brands to deliver tailored offers in real time.

Imagine receiving a coupon code for a cashmere sweater from Macy’s while turning up your thermostat. If this sounds like a stretch, consider this: 15 years ago, few would have believed that we’d be shopping on our phones.

You are what you wear

As technology becomes more human, humans are becoming more technological.  With wearables, our bodies will become both the controller and the interface for countless applications.

Wearables are accelerating the “oversharing” phenomenon spawned by social media, where consumers constantly self-report on their most minute, mundane activities and preferences.

Through a constellation of connected sensors embedded in wearable devices, brands will gain an array of customer insights, from the distance, duration and route of your latest run, to your peak heart rate, to how tightly you laced your Nike’s.

And while the data stream we have today will soon look like a leaky faucet compared to the Niagara Falls, ideally, consumers and brands alike will benefit from better products and more relevant offers derived from these data.

Don’t show me the money

As the iPhone 6 series achieves critical mass, consumers, banks and brands will increasingly adopt Apple Pay for both security and convenience.

Biometric data – validated by the device’s fingerprint sensor – verifies the user’s identity. And because Apple Pay transactions use near-field communication (NFC) and a dynamic security code, payment card data never leaves the device – it’s not sent to Apple or the retailer – and purchases can’t be transacted more than a few inches from the phone.

But Apple Pay won’t just disrupt how transactions are made; it will create a new front for giant retailers like Wal-Mart and Best Buy, who are already developing their own app-based payment systems that process mobile payments directly from customer checking accounts, cutting banks out of the equation.

Expect retailers around the world to come on board as they look to minimize exposure to the liabilities of massive credit card data breeches (à la Target and Home Depot).

Phone, home

There’s a long history of change caused by new channels and technology. Yet, most cycles took decades and the pre-existing mediums greatly influenced the format and design of the newcomer. Because of that, change was often more evolutionary than revolutionary. For example, in the 1920’s, commercial radio was designed to emulate plays. Early TV emulated radio. Internet 1.0 emulated libraries and newspapers. But the unprecedented pace of web innovation soon disrupted everything. And today, mobile is disrupting the disruptor.

Mobile has quickly become the connective tissue in today’s omni-channel, always-on world. It’s the lens through which all other channels are being viewed and redesigned. Beyond responsive and adaptive websites, brands must adopt a real-time mindset to keep pace with consumers, who measure everything against the yardstick of the mobile experience.

We’re all publishers now  

Social forces typically drive market forces – rarely the other way around. For example, the diet soda category (which spawned the healthy snack segment) was born from baby boomers’ desire to shed the 20 pounds gained during their 30s and 40s.

Similarly, social media and the technologies behind it, didn’t drive our innate desire to communicate and bond, they merely exploited it.

Social media’s true disruption lies in how it’s enabled an entire generation to create expansive, real-time multimedia auto-biographies and reviews. This constant, public sharing of personal information has led digital natives to largely abandon the privacy filters of prior generations. How these privacy – and even security – trade-offs fully shape culture and commerce remains to be seen. What is likely however, is that “opting out” or choosing not to participate may, over time, be viewed well outside the social norm.

Baby, you can drive my car

Self-driving cars are in our not-too-distant future, and they won’t just transform roadway safety – they’ll trigger a wave of just-in-time, location-based commerce.

With windows made of Google Glass featuring augmented-reality ads and entertainment options, the smart cars of the future will transform vehicles into personalized, mobile malls. And while today’s wearables may be designed to simply monitor our biometrics, it may not be long until the Mystics of Mountain View and the Carnaks of Cupertino figure out how to send us inputs through our devices that trigger sensations.

Is it really too far-fetched to imagine receiving a transmission of cravings for Chinese food – coincidentally, of course – as your Google smart car approaches Golden Wok – which, as your windshield informs you, has 275 4-star Zagat reviews, is 500 feet ahead on the right and has four Google Earth-verified parking spots available?

I think not. Buckle up – it’s going to be one wild, disruptive ride.

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Posted in Advertising, Big Data, Branding, CDO, CMO, Consumer behavior, Content Marketing, Customer Journey, Digital Marketing, Disruption, Marketing, omnichannel, social media, wearables

Why Marketing is Like the Family Road trip of Yesteryear

Road Map vs. Road Trip

Many of us have vivid childhood memories of the old family road trip. Of course, whether they are fond memories depends on if it was “Destination: Disney”, or cross country to Uncle Dan’s.

Yes, the long road ahead was daunting, but Mom and Dad were well-equipped with the state-of-the-art technology of the day to help them: the trusty road map. Surely you remember it – crisp, colorful and neatly creased – a navigational thing of beauty.

What could go wrong?

At the start of the journey, the map remained in the front seat, carefully consulted and well maintained. But it was just a matter of time before the map made its way into the back seat – or worse yet – the rear of a station wagon – the parent no-fly zone, the wild west of childhood automotive habitats.

Despite the best of intentions by you and your siblings, boredom and creativity soon took over. The map became a fort, a Japanese fan, an airplane, a bull horn, a plate for countless snacks, and ultimately a floor mat.

It wasn’t until a wrong turn that Mom or Dad would pull over, find the map and attempt to fold it back up to figure out where they went off course. Five minutes and a few choice words later, the best they could do was fashion something with more sides than a tetrahedron and thicker than a hubcap. A crumpled shadow of it’s former self, that map was no longer quite so useful.

That was then, this is now. Right? Not so fast.

As digital marketers today, we strive to position our brand as the destination. To accomplish this, we too rely on a roadmap – our plans – and the latest and greatest technologies to track the customer journey, chart its intersections and study the conversion pathways.

But if we’re completely honest with ourselves, even today, with all our data, careful monitoring and dashboards for our dashboards, we still get lost from time to time. While the road map is clear, the actual road trip can be unpredictable and even bumpy.

Whose journey is this anyway?

Like the kids, our customers don’t always follow directions. They turn left when we want them to turn right. They blow past the toll booths we thought they’d stop for. We open the front door, they run in the back. The very pipeline of engagement data that is the lifestream of customer insights and personas, can at times become as clogged as a ten-mile backup.

The key is to remember that it’s not our journey, it’s theirs. It’s our job to connect with customers along the route by resonating with their wants and their needs – where and when they want – and to have the sensors in place to know when we’re off course.

Kids will be kids and customers will be customers.

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Posted in Advertising, Branding, CMO, Consumer behavior, Customer Journey, Digital Marketing, Personas

Digital Transformation: The Digitization of the CMO Role

Digital Transformation

The only thing evolving faster than technology today is consumer behavior.  And, the two are inseparable.

Some stats to ponder:  By the end of this year there will be nearly 2 billion smartphone users globally – more than one quarter of the world’s population.  App Store downloads are projected to reach 100 million per day by 2017.  There are currently more than 2.4 billion active social media users.  More than 51% of U.S. adults bank online.  Google processes 400 million searches each day.  And, e-commerce in the U.S. will reach $431 billion annually by 2017.

Keeping pace with these trends requires a new level of agility, digital savvy and technological fluency.  Today’s Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) role is all about curating a connected customer experience while staying on top of the steady stream of innovations in social, mobile, web and data analytics.

Forward thinking CMOs are plugged into an array of digital platforms and strategies and are increasingly focused on the data generated from customer engagement.

Ads as sensors: Digital assets are the marketing drones of the information age.

While ads are generally thought of simply as vehicles of brand awareness and offers, they have in fact become sensors. Ads, content, sm posts, apps and sites generate the digital pulse signals of a brand’s health.  Data about where, when, how and how frequently these assets are “activated” by our audiences, deliver real-time feedback about our market share and ROI.  

These touch points, combined with enterprise-level conversion data, can provide a 360 degree view of the customer path and engagement, from first contact through to purchase, delivery and service.  Today’s CMOs and Chief Digital Officers (CDOs) need to have a balanced analytical, creative and strategic mindset and the vision to design and deploy this constellation of sensors to generate returns in an increasingly technological future.

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Posted in Advertising, Branding, CDO, CMO, Consumer behavior, Content Marketing, Customer Journey, Digital Marketing, omnichannel, social media

From Content to Conversion: Personas as Marketing Roadmap

Personas as Marketing RoadmapContent marketing is gaining momentum as a highly effective lead generation strategy.  When done well, it bypasses banner blindness and consumer skepticism.  And, by providing utility and value, it establishes a reservoir of trust between a brand and its prospective customers. But great content is content that converts to customers and sales.  Great content also takes time to create, and time is money. So it’s important to get it right.

How can marketers ensure that content – videos, photos, apps, blogs, SM posts and info graphics – will generate a return on investment for their brands?

Just as real estate is all about “location, location, location”, marketing is all about customer context. One of the most effective tools to gain insights into distinct customer segments and needs is personas.

Personas are essentially portraits of prototypical customers.  Personas allow us as marketers to gain empathy and key insights around specific costumer aspirations and pain points.  And this, in turn, allows us to make informed decisions on how to market to each segment.

From Salesman to Sherpa

While personas can function as a highly effective marketing roadmap, you’ll need some rules of the road to create them and corresponding content.

  • He said, she said: Your sales and customer service teams are treasure troves of insights about your customers.  They know things such as: What drives them? What worries them? How do they buy?  Collecting and parsing this data is highly valuable and will accelerate your process.
  • Can I quote you on that?: Similarly, feedback from customers from testimonials, surveys and interviews or focus groups should be included in your research phase.
  • Identification please: Give your persona an identity by using a name, an image and perhaps even an age.  Leverage the feedback from the above bulleted steps to identify the behavior and tendencies of actual customers, rather than making it up based on assumptions.
  • How may I help you today?: Content marketing hinges on providing utility.  Bring a customer-centric mindset to the persona development process. What is it your prospective customer is searching for?  It could be as simple as free shipping or something as profound as becoming a leader. Identify their specific needs, aspirations, pain points and barriers and you can then create content they seek, remember, value and share.
  • It’s not you, it’s me: Review the information from your internal teams as well as customer quotes and outline content ideas around the customer objectives and obstacles.  This is not an opportunity for you to highlight the features and benefits of your product.  Instead, play the role of thought leader or sherpa.  Stop and ask yourself: How is this ad, landing page, blog post or tweet relevant to this persona? What have they learned? Have I given this persona confidence around taking a specific action?

Following this process will help turn your content into conversions.


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Posted in Advertising, Branding, CMO, Consumer behavior, Content Marketing, Customer Journey, Digital Marketing, omnichannel, Personas, social media, Uncategorized

Avoidable losses: Integrating Online and Offline Content

Lost in translation.

The irony of offline or traditional media today is that every word, every photo, every graphic design is born as pixels. That photo? Digital. That headline? Digital. That chart? Digital. And not just digital, but intrinsically able to be measured, clicked, pinched and zoomed, liked and shared. And yet many brands and publishers take these assets and convert them to magazines, newspapers, tv spots, and direct mail where these key features are “lost in translation”. Most importantly, what gets lost is the essential opportunity to get what we ultimately seek from our customers – direct engagement and connection.

Customer journeys are omnichannel.

In order to avoid this loss of connectivity, planning for the full customer journey is essential. Your reader goes online. Your viewer shops on her phone. Your subscriber pins, tweets and likes. Design your owned, paid and earned media investments around these realities and your customers will take your brand on their online and offline journeys.

Pixels In, Pixels Out.

So the next time your designer is cropping a photo for a print layout, and your copywriter is tweaking that perfect headline, make sure the image is also saved down for web and the character count is 140 or less.  A pixel is a terrible thing to waste.

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Posted in Advertising, Branding, CMO, Consumer behavior, Customer Journey, Digital Marketing, omnichannel, social media

Don’t Fear the Machine: Why Marketers Should Leverage Programmatic Buying

Audiences are changing before our eyes, and therefore marketing strategies must also adapt.

For generations, the traditional approach to marketing has been to try to pinpoint where and when your prospective customer will be. And then, to get there first and wait, offer in hand, to make the sale.

The problem with relying on this strategy today is that there are far too many pathways, platforms, and devices to possibly be in ALL the right places at the right times to reach our omnichannel customers – even if your budget somehow allowed. So while marketers can still find some success placing ads in dedicated channels and sites, the smart play is to target profiles and behavior – wherever they happen to be – versus to try to pick the spots.

Enter Programmatic.

Programmatic or automated buying allows marketers to tap computerized trading systems, similar to the trading desks on Wall Street, to enter bids on impressions across the web and even some traditional media. And the added benefit is that the impressions are typically available for pennies on the dollar, compared to direct buys.

Yet, a recent study by Forrester Research and the Association of National Advertisers states that 67% of marketers have not yet explored automated buying technology due to a lack of understanding and, in some cases, concerns about transparency. Specific worries center on fear of click fraud and poor ad visibility.

However, leading brands across many sectors such as Netflix, Unilever, P&G, Ford, Kellogg and The University of North Carolina –  just to name a few – have been early movers in programmatic.  Don’t wait too long to get started.  Your audiences – and perhaps your competitors – are already there.

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Posted in Advertising, Branding, CMO, Consumer behavior, Customer Journey, Digital Marketing, omnichannel, social media

The Always-On Consumer: Marketing Strategies for the Brave New World of Commerce, Collaboration and Customer Experiences

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“Where, when and how we want it.” This phrase pretty much sums up the consumer behavior demands of a group which now makes up 48% of adult U.S. population.

This highly influential segment colors outside the lines of traditional demographic and socio-economic labels. A recent Respondi research study identified five distinct types of behaviors which drive their connectivity with brands: Social Bumblebees, Mindful Explorers, Deal Hunters, Focused Problems Solvers and Ad Blockers.

What does this mean for brands today?

For one, these consumers believe that brands don’t have a right to have their attention. Therefore, marketers need to focus on ways to  “earn” the opportunity and privilege of creating a connection. These opportunities need to be found across the variety of purchasing paths and touch points along the customer journey.

Solutions need to go beyond just integrated marketing communications. And, the strategy needs to include ways to get past the technical and behavioral barriers that consumers use to filter out the noise. Brands need to form a new matrix model of collaboration, commerce and communications with these consumers –  on their terms and turf.

Three Key strategies: Build Brand Utility, Drive Social Engagement and Embrace Omnichannel

Brand Utility: Increasingly, connecting with consumers through marketing hinges on providing utility.  Employing a customer-centric mindset to the creative and content development process is essential.  Personas help Identify specific customer segments.  Understanding customer needs and pain points allow marketers to create content they seek, remember, value and share. With App Store downloads projected to reach 100 million per day by 2017, brand should carefully consider, not just creating apps, but how their apps can attract customers through facilitation.

Social engagement: Social media continues to transform how audiences connect with brands. There are currently more than 2.4 billion active social media users, so finding your future customers among them requires planning, creativity and resources.   The most widely used tactics focus on promotions, videos, utility content, voting, soliciting opinions or use of polls and encouraging various forms of user generated content (UGC).  UGC is about turning brand fans into contributors and collaborators.  Whichever ideas you employ, make sure you tie your social engagement tactics to specific goals, such as social landing page referrals, inquiries, downloads, etc.

Omnichannel: Consumers are everywhere, all at once. According to Google research, 90% of multiple device owners switch between screens to complete tasks, using an average of three different combinations every day. In addition, mobility is accelerating – smartphone users worldwide are projected to reach 1.75 Billion this year. A recent MIT study found that 80% of store shoppers check prices online, with one-third accessing the information on their mobile device while inside the actual store. Presenting connected customer journey across multiple channels is essential.  As CMOs, while our budgets don’t magically grow to allow us to be in all places at one, the imperative is to continuously measure and test a balanced share of voice across key platforms and channels to match your audiences and objectives. Remember: 80% of success is just showing up.

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Posted in Advertising, CMO, Consumer behavior, Customer Journey, Digital Marketing, social media

The Digital Marketing Divide of Art and Science

Marketing is now as much science as art due to the confluence of two simultaneous revolutions.

The first is technological advances in platforms by the leading marketing analytics suites that allow marketers to gather, analyze and elegantly visualize large and complex data sets to gain customer insights. The second is the explosion of digital devices and channels – from smart phones to social media – which are the common currency of digital natives whose lives are transacted in pixels.

Competitive advantage and revenue growth will come from being at the right digital intersection at the right time with the right offer. Digital Marketing and Data Analytics training is essential to prepare tomorrow’s marketing leaders to be as much Chief Revenue Officers as Chief Marketing Officers.  Fluency in marketing analytics will be a pre-requisite for these roles.

Not unlike the Renaissance, our digital age had enabled new methods, questions and technologies to shift the paradigm of nearly everything we do.  It’s a time of renewal, growth and disruption. Creativity, long the dominant driver in advertising and branding, is no less important.  But, it now shares the podium with data.

Winners will emerge with stronger brands, deeper conversations with their customers and superior business intelligence that delivers growth for years to come.

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Posted in Advertising, CMO, Consumer behavior, Customer Journey, Digital Marketing, social media

Marketing: What’s Now and What’s Next?


The only thing moving faster than our customers is the seemingly constant stream of digital marketing strategies and tactics. Here’s a snapshot of what CMOs are planning.

Today, 75% of marketing budgets is still spent offline.  However,  few can argue with the the importance of online and mobile channels as key drivers of brand awareness, engagement and conversions.  And in fact, from automation to content, these are the areas of focus and growth for the majority of marketers.

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Why is that? For both B2B and B2C organizations, generating leads, driving sales and improving awareness are  the 3 top marketing priorities.

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And, digital channels, given their inherent ability to target and measure, allow CMOs to build and track segmented strategies and engage the customer across devices and platforms, including social, apps, content and advertising.

So, while offline is still the dominant spending category today, tomorrow’s dollars will increasingly be spent on data, social marketing and targeted email.

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As you evaluate your marketing allocations, keep one eye on what’s working well now and one on testing and integration of tomorrow’s tools – they’re where you customers are already headed.

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Posted in Advertising, CMO, Customer Journey, Digital Marketing, social media