Marketers have never had more data at their disposal. The opportunity to glean insights by crunching all of these new sources of data is pretty intoxicating.

Yet having access to the data is only one part of the equation. Making sense of the data is the harder part.

Marketers sometimes forget the Statistics 101 maxim that correlation doesn’t imply causation. I’m also sensing a movement in business to follow data blindly without common sense questioning.

As New Yorker’s Gary Marcus put it, “Big Data is a powerful tool for inferring correlations, not a magic wand for inferring causality.”

There’s an art to data science. Big Data does not necessarily lead to Big Insights. As marketers, we need to ask the right questions to collect the right data, and probe deeply on the implications that we find.

I liked reading this insight from the Guardian that advocates Lean Data over Big Data:

“The dirty secret of big data is that no algorithm can tell you what’s significant, or what it means. Data then becomes another problem for you to solve. A lean data approach suggests starting with questions relevant to your business and finding ways to answer them through data, rather than sifting through countless data sets.

“Furthermore, purely algorithmic extraction of rules from data is prone to creating spurious connections, such as false correlations. Today’s big data hype seems more concerned with indiscriminate hoarding than helping businesses make the right decisions.”

I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences marketing with Big Data.

(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away a signed print of this week’s cartoon. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. Thanks!)

mobile app


Marketers increasingly see mobile as an integral part of the marketing mix and have invested significantly in mobile apps. 92 of the world’s top 100 brands have at least one app on Apple’s app store.

Yet most apps are completely lost in the clutter. There are over a million active apps for both iPhone and Android and 90% of people who downloaded an app are gone within 6 months. There currently isn’t a single CPG app on the Apple Store’s Top 200 list.

Many branded apps completely miss the importance of utility. As Adweek writes, CPG apps typically (and unimaginatively) focus on delivering coupons, not on the utility that a brand can bring consumers through their mobile devices.

The classic brand app case study is Nike+ Fuelband. I also like Charmin’s 5-year old SitOrSquat, a public restroom finder. It lets people search and rate public restrooms, which links nicely to Charmin’s brand positioning far more usefully than coupons.

I’ve been consulting with a mobile-only challenger brand called HotelTonight that has taught me a lot about the potential of connecting with consumers through mobile. HotelTonight is a travel app that lets you book last last minute hotel rooms. As a mobile-only business, they don’t have the legacy issues of hotel reservations, so their experience is designed entirely for what makes sense for mobile. Rather than the 40-50 taps and 100-110 seconds that Priceline and take to book a room with mobile, HotelTonight takes only 4 taps and 8 seconds. They’ve successfully challenged Goliath by taking a fresh eyes approach to mobile.

I think there’s value for any brand to look at their mobile strategy with fresh eyes. I’d love to hear your favorite case studies of bringing a brand to life for mobile.

(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away a signed print of this week’s cartoon. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. Thanks!)

Here’s a related cartoon from 2011.

The meeting after the meeting sometimes has more impact that the meeting itself. In many organizations, that’s where people share their real opinions and where the real decisions are made. A team might agree around the conference table, but then express doubts in the “safer” environment of the hallway or coffee shop.

It’s a passive aggressive way to squash ideas, because the champion of the idea isn’t there to defend it. It can also be pretty toxic to an office culture.

I’ve been working on a cartoon book idea about overcoming idea killers, and this meeting dynamic is one of the leading offenders. It’s even more sinister that the Devil’s Advocate, because it’s invisible.

An organization is strongest when people feel comfortable challenging each other in the open. Ideas are made stronger by the diversity of hands that touch them. Here’s the best rule of thumb I’ve heard on leading through differences of opinion: “Everyone has a voice. Not everyone has a vote.”

I’d love to hear your thoughts on ways to foster a culture that keeps the “voice” in the meeting.

(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away a signed print of this week’s cartoon. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. Thanks!)

This meeting dynamic inspired one of my earliest cartoons, back in February 2003. It’s still one of my favorites.

ad retargeting

ad tech

Ad retargeting is on the rise — those ads that stalk you across the internet after you’ve even briefly visited a company’s site. Google is even testing cross-platform ad retargeting, so a site that you visit from your desktop can lead to ads served on your mobile devices.

The potential of retargeting is huge for marketers — highly relevant advertising. The ads promise to reach audiences that have already shown interest in a brand by performing some action on their website.

But retargeting is still a blunt instrument. Visiting a site is not necessarily a signal of intent. Even adding a product to a shopping cart doesn’t mean that you’re interested in advertising about that product. Retargeted ads appear for products you decided against or products you ultimately bought somewhere else. Sometime a store that actually sold you a product will continue to try to sell you that same product in retargeted ads.

Ad retargeting can also seem a little creepy as products you’ve browsed follow you around the internet for weeks. Danny Sullivan wrote an interesting article on “How Ad Retargeting Ruined Christmas” about the ads that divulged his wife’s Christmas shopping list. Christopher Ratcliff wrote about how ad retargeting nearly spoiled his wedding proposal as ads for engagement rings continually popped up on his laptop until he remembered to delete his cookies.

What’s more annoying than a badly targeted ad is an ad that acts like it’s well-targeted, but still misses the mark. This advertising assumes that it knows you, like my cartoon riffing on Minority Report.

Tesco’s Luke Vinogradov recently shared an interesting perspective on the importance of relevance in communication:

“There are some retailers that follow me around everywhere I go. I have since purchased the products they push at me, but they just didn’t pick that up. Ad retargeters do the brands they are serving a great disservice every time they bug me about something I already own.

“If you overmarket to customers they pull back. For irrelevant communications the right number to send out is zero. For relevant communications the right number can potentially be very high. Don’t ping me every day about something I only buy twice a year.”

We’re still in the awkward adolescence of ad retargeting. The promise is revealing itself, but so is the potential to irritate the very people you’re trying to reach in such a targeted way. I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts on the role of ad retargeting.

(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away a signed print of this week’s cartoon. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. Thanks!)

There’s a growing movement in Silicon Valley to replace “Marketers” with a new position called “Growth Hackers”. Some are claiming that startups should eliminate their marketing teams altogether.

I agree that marketers in general need to become more data-oriented and tech-savvy. I also respect many of the techniques that are getting categorized as “growth hacks”. But I seriously question that this narrow new job title somehow replaces or obviates the entire field of marketing. Everything that I’ve read about “growth hackers” seems like a part of the marketing role — a subset of direct marketing blended with product development.

As background, here’s how Andrew Chen defined “Growth Hacker” in a widely read piece called “Growth Hacker is new VP Marketing“:

“The new job title of “Growth Hacker” is integrating itself into Silicon Valley’s culture, emphasizing that coding and technical chops are now an essential part of being a great marketer. Growth hackers are a hybrid of marketer and coder, one who looks at the traditional question of “How do I get customers for my product?” and answers with A/B tests, landing pages, viral factor, email deliverability, and Open Graph. On top of this, they layer the discipline of direct marketing, with its emphasis on quantitative measurement, scenario modeling via spreadsheets, and a lot of database queries. If a startup is pre-product/market fit, growth hackers can make sure virality is embedded at the core of a product. After product/market fit, they can help run up the score on what’s already working.”

Dropbox marketing alum Sean Ellis first coined “growth hacker” a few years ago with this explanation:

“The reason I created the term was that I wanted to distance myself and others from the 80-90% of marketers that made me cringe with their acronyms and lack of accountability to results. These are the people that gave marketing such a bad name in Silicon Valley.”

Lastly, here’s how Ryan Holiday explains “growth hacking”:

“See, growth hacking threw out the playbook of traditional marketing and replaced it with only what is testable, trackable, and scalable. Its tools are emails, pay-per-click ads, blogs, and platform APIs instead of commercials, publicity, and money. While traditional marketing chases vague notions like “branding” and “mind share,” growth hackers relentlessly pursue users and growth — and when they do it right, those users beget more users, who beget more users. They are the inventors, operators, and mechanics of their own self-sustaining and self-propagating growth machine that can take a start-up from nothing to something.”

Andrew Chen illustrates growth hacking with a case study from Airbnb. Airbnb integrated with Craigslist so that people could post their Airbnb listings on Craiglist with a few simple steps. Craigslist doesn’t have a public API, so Airbnb had to engineer a fairly complex workaround to make this integration work in such an elegant way. This allowed Airbnb to benefit from the massive platform of Craigslist. Andrew goes on to point out that a traditional marketer wouldn’t have figured this out.

I agree that this is a great scrappy way for a startup to acquire customers. I also agree that engineers should be thinking as marketers. But that’s not the only type of marketing a company needs to think about. Airbnb’s success is due not only to these types of “growth hacks”, but to traditional marketing too, including display online ads, push marketing, and even traditional print and TV ads. Airbnb marketing extends to the company’s hospitality philosophy and the touch points of individual hosts. All of this is marketing and all of this led to the success of Airbnb. Marketing is far broader and deeper than “growth hacking”.

Growth hacking alone doesn’t build a brand. And I think marketing is more important than ever, even as it evolves to be more data-driven. I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts on this.

(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away a signed print of this week’s cartoon. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. Thanks!)

It’s an irresistible temptation for marketers to see how far their brands can stretch. In the endless search of brand growth, extending into new categories as a master brand can seem like a slam dunk.

As the brand consultancy Prophet put it:

“Most companies can simultaneously manage budgets and invest in their growth by strategically extending their master brands into new categories. Why? For one, the assurance of a familiar brand provides comfort and inspiration in times like these. Plus, consumers are seemingly more comfortable letting brands extend into new categories than most brand managers are. Finally, investing in a master brand is typically more efficient for the business than allocating limited budgets across a stable of brands.”

Yet the marketing world is littered with misguided line extensions, including Cosmopolitan Yogurt, Levi’s Suits, Colgate Ready Meals, Land Rover Coffee, Bic Perfume, and Harley Davidson Cake Kits.

David Taylor calls this phenomenon Brand Ego Tripping. Marketers tend to breath our own exhaust. It’s easy to get so excited about a new business opportunity on a two-by-two matrix that we lose sight of what consumers actually want. We lose sight of what our brand actually stands for. If we’re not careful, we get distracted from our core.

Not every brand is destined to become a master brand. Sometimes, it’s better to do one thing well. I’d love to hear your thoughts on when and how to extend a brand into new categories.

(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away a signed print of this week’s cartoon. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. Thanks!)

multi-screen marketing


Arguably the biggest shift in consumer behavior in the last few years has been the explosion of devices and the number of screens in a consumer’s life. That has a major impact on media consumption and how marketers reach consumers.

As Google reported, 90% of people juggle different devices when working toward a goal. As they move between devices, they expect brand experiences to be seamless yet specific to the nature of the device.

Figuring out how to bring a brand to life consistently from the TV to the laptop to the tablet to the smartphone is tricky. The ANA and Nielsen recently predicted that multi-screen campaigns would account for 50% of media spend in 3 years. Yet it’s only 20% today.

Measurement and tracking is part of the challenge. As ANA’s Bill Duggan put it, “The industry needs to adopt measures that are consistent, comparable, and combinable across screens to provide a complete picture of a campaign’s effectiveness.”

But the greatest challenge I think is cultural. TV media and digital media are frequently handled by different groups internally and different agencies externally. As I wrote before, we’re in the awkward adolescent stage of integrated media. There is still a great divide between traditional and digital brand communication. As consumers move ever more fluidly across screens and from traditional to digital, the pressure will be on marketers to catch up.

Our brands revolve around consumers, whatever ways they choose to connect with our brands.

(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away a signed print of this week’s cartoon. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. Thanks!)

Few marketing tactics are as hated as the pop-ad ad. A Harris Interactive poll last year showed that Americans find irrelevant pop-up ads even more annoying than ads for male or female enhancement.

Yet marketers continue to use them, aggressively (MacKeeper is a personal pet peeve). Pop-up ads are 49% more noticeable than other online ads types. I’ve heard marketers tout the high conversion rates from pop-up ads. It’s hard to argue with the numbers.

However, I wonder if marketers are really factoring in the long-term costs of annoying their audience when they base decisions on short-term conversion factors alone.

The pop-up mentality extends beyond online ads to marketing in general. The numbers can lead marketers to focus on interruption gimmicks rather than building long-term relationships with their audiences.

There’s an arms race underway for attention span. Marketers continually find new ways to interrupt people’s attention and consumers continually try to block or ignore them. There’s not nearly enough emphasis on creating a reason to actually hold someone’s attention.

I like Dharmesh Shah’s synopsis, from Hubspot:

“Humans dislike interruption. People hate ads–especially pop-ups–when they’re trying to do something else. It’s an irritating experience, and irritated people won’t buy from you.”

Or as Copyblogger put it, “There is no question that pop-ups “work” — but to what end?”

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the marketing line between annoying and effective.

(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away a signed print of this week’s cartoon. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. Thanks!)

Superbowl is always a showcase of the state of marketing. This year’s Superbowl was dominated by social media war rooms all trying to replicate last year’s Oreo moment. During the Superbowl power outage in 2013, Oreo tweeted “Power out? No problem” with an image that simply said “You can still dunk in the dark”.

Oreo was signaled out as a brand that stole the marketing show on marketing’s most expensive day of the year. Real-time marketing has been on the rise ever since, with brands chiming in to any major cultural event, from the Emmy’s to the Oscars, to the 9/11 anniversary. Digiday live-blogged real-time marketing examples from the Superbowl this year.

As Victor Pineiro put it in Ad Age:

“Brands are going to be surrounding the Super Bowl like a thousand hyenas circling their prey, ready to pounce at any semi-memorable moment. Your brand’s jokes and commentary will be competing against countless others, choking up your audience’s feeds. Don’t get drowned out in the cacophony.”

We are sure to see a number of awkward real-time marketing attempts in the year ahead, as brands try to “join the conversation” as it happens. I think the key to remember is that brands are guests of those conversations, which means that it’s not all about the brand. Brands can easily come across as party crashers.

I see more of an opportunity for brands to invest in long-term relationships with their audiences, not just the one-off war rooms. Instead of chasing the Oreo moment, they should find the moment that’s right for their brand.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on real-time marketing, and any stand-outs, good or bad.

(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away a signed print of this week’s cartoon. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. Thanks!)

It’s common for marketers to exaggerate the importance of their brands in consumers’ lives. Brand positioning statements are often written as if consumers constantly think and obsess about the brand. Social media from brands can make it sound like every consumer is a cult follower.

In reality, even “brand loyalists” have complex lives completely separate from our brands. Brands can play important roles, but we should be careful not to overstate how much consumers give thought to our brands.

One of the most emotional brands I ever worked on was Cheerios. Parents would recount, sometimes with tears in their eyes, the first time their children could pick up and eat a Cheerio with their own fingers. That “first finger food moment” became (rightfully) a cornerstone of the Cheerios brand, and that “nurturing” insight underscored everything from literacy promotions to heart health packaging.

But Cheerios wasn’t the star of that moment. It was a supporting character. The Cheerios brand didn’t cause that moment for these parents. It had the privilege of sharing it. Brand loyalists are loyal to a brand only as long as a brand complements their own life and priorities.

As marketers, it’s important to remember to keep our brands in perspective.

I first drew a version of this cartoon in 2007. A lot of people have told me that it’s one of their favorites, and it’s still one of the most licensed and syndicated cartoons from the last 12 years. I decided to redraw it to make it a little easier to read, and because my drawing style has evolved. Here’s the original.

(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away a signed print of this week’s cartoon. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. Thanks!)