Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
April 23, 2017 7:17 AM

Virtual, Augmented And Mixed Reality With Shel Israel And Robert Scoble - This Week's Six Pixels Of Separation Podcast

Episode #563 of Six Pixels of Separation - The Mirum Podcast is now live and ready for you to listen to.

The future of us humans connecting to technology will not be about the web or mobile. It will all take place in some kind of virtual reality. That future is happening faster than most of us would care to admit. Whether it will be virtual, augmented or mixed reality... that is yet to be defined. We're at that unique moment in time. Remember when we were not sure if the web was going to be called the Internet, the information superhighway, the web, etc...? Two thinkers and doers on this, exact, subject are Shel Israel and Robert Scoble. They have teamed up (again) to co-author their latest business book, The Fourth Transformation -- How Augmented Reality and Artificial Intelligence Will Change Everything. The book looks (deeply and intelligently) at what we're in the midst of right now, and where technology is really taking us. In fact, they're so bullish on this space, that they've partnered to launch a consultancy business called, Transformation Group. With that, many will also recognize these two digital futurists as the co-authors of Naked Conversations and Age Of Context. Enjoy the conversation...

You can grab the latest episode of Six Pixels of Separation here (or feel free to subscribe via iTunes): Six Pixels of Separation - The Mirum Podcast #563.

By Mitch Joel


April 22, 2017 5:38 AM

Six Links Worthy Of Your Attention #357

Is there one link, story, picture or thought that you saw online this week that you think somebody you know must see?

My friends: Alistair Croll (Solve for InterestingTilt the WindmillHBS; chair of StrataStartupfestPandemonio, and ResolveTO; Author of Lean Analytics and some other books), Hugh McGuire (PressBooks, LibriVox, iambik and co-author of Book: A Futurist's Manifesto) and I decided that every week the three of us are going to share one link for one another (for a total of six links) that each individual feels the other person "must see".

Check out these six links that we're recommending to one another: 

  • Jungletown - Viceland. "Documentary filmmaker Ondi Timoner first showed up at Startupfest, a conference I chair, years ago, working on a film about a founder and his quest to build the next Facebook. She adapted that into a video series; she'd had success with things like We Live In Public and won at Sundance. This year, I launched a conference in Panama, and found out Ondi had been working on a show there too. It's about a bunch of kids who try to set up a sustainable village in the jungle. Its announcement sparked a Twitter firestorm -- is this white privilege writ large, or a slow descent into Lord Of the Flies? Whatever it becomes, with Ondi at the helm, it's likely to be an interesting ride." (Alistair for Hugh).
  • The Master Would Approve: The Cast of MST3K on the Surreal Joys of its Return - Paste Quarterly. "When I first moved to San Diego in 1995, I was confronted by a bizarre wave of US shows: Aeon Flux on MTV stands out, as does MST3K. Over the years, I eschewed MP3s, but scoured torrent sites for episodes of this weird, hackneyed, subversive program. And now, after much Kickstarter and some Netflix support, it's back. Here's what it was, how it happened, and why you might like it." (Alistair for Mitch).
  • The Other President - This American Life. "A fascinating insight into Putin's (former) chief propagandist, who implemented a program of 'managed democracy'." (Hugh for Alistair).
  • What is Technology Doing to Us? - Sam Harris Podcast. "I've been enjoying listening to Sam Harris' long conversations with smart people lately. This fascinating discussion with Tristan Harris (former Design Ethicist at Google) projects out the impacts of the 'persuasion technology' that underpins, well, just about every consumer-facing tech/web business. The impacts are profound, especially when you consider the enlightenment concepts of democracy, free will, and rational decision-making driving society." (Hugh for Mitch).
  • "Mission-driven" leaders are losing their mystique - Quartz. "Silicon Valley is learning something, as a journalist, that I have known since the late eighties: words matter. You can't be out in the world with a mission statement about making dents in the universe, if there's a ton of activating happening at the c-level and management team that says otherwise (and makes you look bad). Living and breathing a mission-driven business isn't easy, but technology puts you under the scrutiny and microscope of everyone. More than that, when one domino falls, it makes everybody, everywhere look for the next one. It's corrosive and the valley better beware." (Mitch for Alistair).
  • The Oral History Of TED, A Club For The Rich That Became A Global Phenomenon - Wired. "As someone who has been attending the TED conference for close to a decade, it's tough to read that headline. I'm not sure that it's a club for the rich, so much as it is a place for people who will spend a lot to invest in themselves. That's my take. Still, on Monday, I will make my annual pilgrimage to the TED conference in Vancouver. As usual, the energy is high and I can't wait to have my brain put in a blender and then dumped out on to a trampoline (because that's what it feels like). Prepping my Field Notes as I type this and I'm super-excited to see where this year's journey will take me. This is a good primer on the event and global sensation that is TED (with a bad headline)." (Mitch for Hugh). 

Feel free to share these links and add your picks on Twitter, Facebook, in the comments below or wherever you play.

By Mitch Joel


April 19, 201711:40 PM

The Pending Influencer Marketing Bubble

If you're looking for growth in the marketing industry, look no further than influencer marketing.

The global advertising business will see a slight slowdown in 2017, according to Magna. The industry will only grow by 3.7% with total advertising revenue expected to reach $511 billion. That's over half a trillion dollars. The slowdown could be related to a lack of "big events" like a major political campaign or the Olympics (which usually pushes incremental ad spend). We're also seeing something else happen: the chairs on the deck are being shuffled around. Ad spend is bleeding from traditional media channels and being reallocated to digital. Digital budgets will see double-digit growth and will become the top media category this year, over-taking television advertising sales for the first time ever. Every other media category will not feel this kind of wind in their sails.  

This is a big deal, but it does not tell the story...

It's not just money going from tv ads and newspapers over to Google and Facebook. Influencer marketing has shifted from the new and shiny bright object to becoming the fastest growing channel in digital marketing today. TL;DR: brands love paying influencers hefty fees to get them to shill their wares. For every advancement that we're seeing in the marketing technology world (think marketing automation, programmatic, artificial intelligence, self-serve tools, etc...), there's a hot new startup replicating these platforms specifically for influencer marketing. There are multiple and big agencies who have one sole focus: connect brands to influencers. And, of course, influencers are loving it. In the past short while, we've seen companies like Google, Twitter and Adobe make acquisitions of businesses in the influencer marketing space. It still seems to be heating up, with no signs of slowing down. Even Amazon has been (somewhat) quietly renaming their affiliate marketing program as an influencer marketing platform (and targeting some of the influencers with larger followings to create more traction and opportunities). 

If everything is so exciting in influencer marketing, why is there a pending bubble to burst?

Influencers build significant audiences. It's not just a consumer watching a piece of media. Fans of influencers are (usually) "all in." They're attracted to these influencers for a myriad of reasons (the influencer's knowledge, likeablity, how the influencer is a part of the community rather than someone pushing content down to an audience, etc...). Influencer marketing is working, because the relationship between the content creator and the fans is built on trust, and how close the influencer gets to the audience. This makes things (somewhat) tenuous for brands. The brand is not just running a pre-roll ad before the content. For a true influencer marketing campaign to work, the influencer has to really believe in the brand and be able to create content that is reflective of both the brand's needs and the audience's receptiveness to this content. Brands need to tread carefully here, but the influencer is really the one who has to be the most careful. Any mis-step, any sign of shilling without belief in the product/service, and it could cost them audience, growth and long-term staying power. You would think that this would make influencer marketing one of the most powerful forms of marketing and endorsement. 

Yes... and no.

It's not that money corrupts. It is that money can skew things. Influencers can be quite convincing. Influencers can be quite manipulative. Even with full transparency that the content is sponsored (an ad), money can sway influencers. This is especially true in more mature influencer marketing categories like beauty and fashion. Becoming a beauty and fashion influencer these days, is like the new mommy bloggers of a few years back. It's all the rage, and brands all want the hottest, biggest and brightest rising stars of Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, etc... to shill their latest products. Influencers of the day are like celebrity endorsements of yesterday-year. 

What happened this week is a glimpse of what's happening (and what's to come) in influencer marketing.

Two weeks ago a hand-picked group of beauty influencers were given a new brand - Evaus - to try out. These paid influencers were then brought into a studio to uncover their honest and true thoughts about this new beauty brand. "It's a game changer," said one influencer on camera, "It's edgy. It's modern. It's sleek," said another. Nobody realized that Evaus was really Suave spelled backwards. This "gotcha" campaign was actually an agency stunt in conjunction Unilever (owners of Suave) to demonstrate that more expensive beauty products are more trustworthy, but that lowered-price hair products don't always sacrifice quality. The influencers went along and agreed to still be a part of this campaign once the reveal was made, but it does prove an interesting point: This isn't about a smart ruse on influencers. The influencers often don't dig deep or have the depth of knowledge to understand the full scope of what they're saying "yes" too, and many influencers might inflate how they feel about a brand to ensure that they're invited back (or paid) for other interesting opportunities. This isn't all influencers, but as the playing field intensifies, values, morals and quality tends to wane. Suave (and their agency) proved it... and it's only going to get worse (for more on this Suave campaign read: AdAge: Unilever Turns Tables on Influencers With 'New' Hair Care Brand).... And yes, after watching the video below, there's a whole whack load of additional conversation around brand perception, positioning and what the beauty industry does to a consumer's mind (even the professional influencers).

What this means for influencer marketing...

With so many influencers (and many more coming online daily), brands will have more and more options for where their growing ad spend can be placed. When this happens in any marketing marketplace, the quality of the content tends to drop and the pricing model tends to drop too. Brands are no longer spending big bucks to get one or two influencers to tweet about their product. Things have progressed quickly in this space. Competition drasticaly changes the marketplace. For brands, there are countless more places to get that kind of bang for their buck. The ad dollars are being spread out among several influencers, across multiple social media platforms, and for a much longer period of time. For influencers, they're now being connected to multiple brands. Influencers are getting signed by agents and managers. Influencers are trolling automated marketplaces for revenue opportunities, and spending a good portion of their time developing influencer marketing content (or ads) instead of focusing on the content that built their audience in the first place. For the audience, they're seeing more and more advertising and marketing in their content (whether they like it or not). For the marketing industry at large, we're seeing more and more dollars stream into an industry, because these influencers have eyeballs - and this is always where the money follows.

If everyone can't piece this together and see the bubble, we're simply not paying attention.

By Mitch Joel


April 18, 201711:45 PM

The Audience (Formerly Known As The Audience)

Who is your audience?

On my early morning drive to the airport, I caught the tail-end of Howard Stern interviewing Sheryl Crow. Crow was live and in the studio promoting her upcoming album. The constant reflections and self-commentary on how she's just a middle-aged white woman, were both self-deprecatinglty funny and illuminating. Even rock stars question their own relevancy every now and again (maybe brands should come at it with the same self-reflection and humour?). As the interview was winding down, Stern asked Crow who this album was created for? Without missing a beat, Crow responded: "who knows who my audience is anymore?" It wasn't meant to be sarcastic. It wasn't meant to be self-deprecating. Creatively, Sheryl Crow is in a place, where she's writing and creating the music that she wants. Her sentiment was meant to mean that if the music feels right, it will find an audience, but it did give pause.

Do you know who your audience is anymore?

At a recent speaking event, the Chief Marketing Officer pulled me aside to ask for some advice. The company was launching a new product aimed at business travellers, and was curious about the best travel apps for these types of consumers. Immediately, a persona of the modern business traveller was being compiled in my mind's eye...

  • Male.
  • White.
  • Middle-aged.
  • Salt and pepper hair (male pattern baldness).
  • Business suit.
  • Shined shoes.
  • Tumi briefcase.
  • Travelpro carry-on roller (4 wheeler).
  • Bose noise-cancelling headphones.
  • iPhone but PC laptop.
  • Funky socks.
  • Interesting glasses.
  • Airline status luggage tags.
  • Lounge access.

Do you see this modern business traveller persona in your mind's eye?

I imagined this individual pulling into the airport in their Audi and whisking through security with their Global Entry. Back to this morning and Sheryl Crow. As I sat in the airport lounge (the modern business traveller's home away from home), I reflected on my conversation with this CMO and looked around. There must have been about 150 modern business travellers in the mist. Maybe four of them looked like the persona above. In fact, even if closer to eighty percent of them matched the persona above, I wondered how many of their personal interests, traits and purchasing habits were similar? I'm guessing close to zero beyond their own self-image desires to look like this "modern business traveller."

Personas and analytics are not the audience.

Is it possible that personas and your analytics are not your audience? Is it possible that it's getting harder and harder to gather up all of your audience members, and paint a brush of similarity across them all? Think about the last concert that you went to. Think about your last shopping experience. Diversity isn't just about how brands hire or how your kid's playground looks at recess. With so much access to information, connectivity, global marketplaces and more, perhaps everyday is a winding road (as Sheryl Crow sings) when trying to figure out who your true audience is?

Who is my audience?

Often, before I start recording my podcast, this is the question that a guest will ask me. I'd like to think that the audience for Six Pixels of Separation - The Mirum Podcast is senior marketing professionals and the senior leadership of large national and multi-national brands. This is what the persona and analytics would lead me to believe. Then, the reality of emails and meeting people out in the wild and in their protein forms completely cracks that model. In fact, many brand leaders act surprised when they meet their consumers, mostly because they look nothing like the personas that were built and are being marketed against. 

New thinking around audiences and targeting.

Who do you think has a keen understanding of their audience? Which brands have nailed it? And, most importantly, is it truly able to lump them all into a similar bucket (or two)? Candidly, when I think of a "senior marketing professional" and counter that with the thousands (yes, thousands) of marketing professionals that I have met over the years, perhaps the only thing that they have in common is their job title and interest in the field of marketing. Is that enough to get a fair beat on who the audience is, and how to best connect with them? Doubtful. Brands that think they know who their audience. They may well have data, but may also be lacking a true depth of perspective into their consumers' true wants, needs, desire and personality. We've built this world for diversity. Now that we have it, perhaps we need to re-define what a brand's audience truly is?

Building an audience is critical. Understanding their diversity is the new brand imperative. Would you agree?

By Mitch Joel


April 17, 201711:36 PM

What Makes A Great Brand?

Not a good brand. Not a successful brand... a great brand?

In fact, before attempting to answer this question, it's probably important to define what, exactly, a brand is? For me a brand is the complete experience and manifestation that a company produces, and how it is then internalized by the consumer. Candidly, that's a little bit vapid when you consider that piles of business books and courses have been written and conducted to explain what a true brand is. Still, the brand is the experience that a consumer has when it comes to product, price, promotion and place.

Now, what brand is truly "great" in your estimation? 

It's not always the biggest, the most profitable or the most well known. One could argue that you would need to hit those three mountaintops to be considered "great," and that's fair enough. Does size make a brand great? I know many great brands that many of you would question. Some think Apple is a great brand. Many hate it. Same could be said for just about any brand. Still... let's push on this together: What makes a great brand?

Let's make a list of what makes a brand great...

  • How it makes a consumer feel.
  • How it is mission-based and driven.
  • How it is on the consumer's side.
  • How trustful it is.
  • How its inspires confidence.
  • How it handles customer support.
  • How it aligns with consumer's values.
  • How it prices itself in relation to perceived value.
  • How well it communicates.
  • How well it knows its customers.
  • How unique it is in relation to its competitors.
  • How well it demonstrates its passion.
  • How consistent it is.
  • How well distributed it is in its market.

Any more to add?

Candidly, many of the answers that we give to this idea of "what makes a brand great?" Feels more tactical and post-purchase, than what got them to be considered great in the first place. Is a great brand one that understands the power of innovation while injecting a lot of money to make their products/services known? That's not always the case. We have seen countless instances, when the 800 pound gorilla of any given industry has attempted to introduce a new brand... and failed spectacularly. These are companies with hefty research and development teams and the funds to push an idea through to the market and still... crickets and tumbleweeds. 

There's something about great brands that many of us don't want to/never will admit...

Often what makes a brand great is simply tapping into the zeitgeist at the time and a lot of luck. Chief Marketing Officers, brand architects and marketing professionals don't like to talk about it/admit it, because it diminishes their impact, and continues the human narrative that we're all in deep control of the outcomes in our lives (not to get too spiritual, but we're often not in control). This is not hyperbole when it comes to building a great brand. It is fact. I spent over a decade speaking to rock stars and musicians. If I had one genuine curiosity at the time, it was why them... and not someone else? This is where I netted out: it's not always tangible, definable or something that went according to plan. Sometimes, it just worked (most often, it did not). When this happens, there is no formula, prescription or reasoning. These bands (and, yes, bands are very similar to brands), just happened to hit a weird intersection between capturing the zeitgeist and lots of luck.

How is this possible?

Throughout my years as a music writer and publisher of music magazines, I have seen countless amazing bands with major record deals, massive production budgets, a hit producer on their album, amazing support tours for when they were road-ready, the best managers in the business. and more. Many bands like that have simply fizzled and faded. Nobody knows or understands why. In fact, that happens more than those small few that break through to become great. Sadly.

Building a brand and building a band have the same components in them.

When asked, "what makes a great brand?", everyone tends to describe the output of the brand (the experience of the brand... the music of a band)... Everyone is talking about the end result, and not what it takes to "make a brand great". Many smart marketers believe that you can see greatness in hindsight, reflect on that, plan against it and leverage another brand's past success as way to chart a more successful path forward. This will help a brand more than it will hurt them, but this is not the code of what creates a great brand. Look at some of the greats: Led Zeppelin, Starbucks, The Beatles, Disney... why one over the other? Why one entertainment company over another? Why one type of cafe over another? Why one rock riff over another? Consistency? Passion? Quality? Attitude? Pricing? Management skills? Marketing acumen? Or was it something else? Something that looks more like the zeitgeist and luck? It's also often not just a question of money. Again, think about how many major corporations have tried to launch a new brand and succeeded? Now, think about how many more often these big corporations wind up acquiring the brands that had zeitgeist and luck on their side.

Plan but don't expect brand greatness... and it's not all luck.

Don't be depressed. This is not about working hard, planning and optimizing with data only to discover that a brand's success will be predicated solely on hitting a particular moment in time and getting lucky. It's not entirely the lottery. Still, it would help if more leaders understood the power of capturing the zeitgeist and how often simply being luckier than your competitors is much more truth than a best laid plan. It's also important - as you plan for brand greatness - that leaders not look simply at the outcome (what lived up to consumer's expectations) as the ingredients for what makes a brand great.

What makes a great brand? What do you think?

By Mitch Joel


April 16, 2017 7:50 AM

The Business Of Addictive Technology With Adam Alter - This Week's Six Pixels Of Separation Podcast

Episode #562 of Six Pixels of Separation - The Mirum Podcast is now live and ready for you to listen to. When a business and marketing professional asks me which thinker and author they should be paying more attention to,... Read more

By Mitch Joel


April 15, 2017 5:47 AM

Six Links Worthy Of Your Attention #356

Is there one link, story, picture or thought that you saw online this week that you think somebody you know must see? My friends: Alistair Croll (Solve for Interesting, Tilt the Windmill, HBS; chair of Strata, Startupfest, Pandemonio, and ResolveTO; Author of Lean Analytics and some other books), Hugh McGuire... Read more

By Mitch Joel


April 14, 201711:48 PM

Fidget Marketing For A World That Won't Stop Moving

How should brands connect to consumers who just can't stop moving? Social psychology and marketing professor, Adam Alter, has a new book out. It's called, Irresistible - The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked (you can... Read more

By Mitch Joel


April 13, 201711:55 AM

Automated Creativity Is Inevitable (And A Good Idea) - Strategy Magazine Column

You can't throw a marketing professional down a flight of stairs these days without the words "artificial intelligence" tumbling out of their mouth. We've seen a slew of announcements about just how much artificial intelligence is going to be used... Read more

By Mitch Joel


April 12, 2017 3:18 PM

Be The Brand That You Wish To See In The World

Brands have done a wonderful job of stepping in it over the past little while, haven't they? Usual gaffs and poor advertising judgment aside, brands may have crossed a new line when they are physically accosting and having their paid... Read more

By Mitch Joel