Can Apple reform the Ad-tech landscape?

Siri, play "Somebody's Watching Me"   

Apple is offering great opportunities to make content and experiences impactful for the members of a marketer's audience.  From Augmented Reality, to Do Not Disturb While Driving, to a new home speaker, to peer-to-peer payments directly from iMessage.  

Apple is not really an ad-tech company, although they are a content company, and other than some small business with promoted App store listings, Apple here is offering tools directly to consumers that will make them want to stay in Apple’s ecosystem: limiting video Autoplay, and “limiting cross-site tracking”. This move hits straight at the ad tech world - many advertisers use a tracking pixel to track the display ads they serve across the internet at the impression level.

Another impact will be on cross-device identification, which could be weakened by this move.  One of the biggest culprits of such tracking is actually Google, so one wonders if this will impact Adwords, Google Attribution, or Doubleclick; or Facebook’s audience network.  Or Amazon’s DSP business, rumored to be growing.  But even so, Safari’s marketshare is 15% at best – although Mac users are no doubt an attractive potential audience if they’ve shelled out $349 for a speaker.

Apple is in a unique marketing position - relying on stories instead of advertising.  Events like WWDC have people TUNE IN to their product launches – how many people watched Werner Ladder’s latest product rollout?  384. 

Instead, Werner spends millions on sponsorships like March Madness programming.  If Apple lost the tracking data on millions of dollars in digital media, would they care (according to SpyFu, Apple spends about $200K per month on paid search).  And if it hurts Facebook, or Google, or Amazon – a nice bonus- over 75% of Apple devices were on iOS 10 3 months after its release.

In Apple’s announcement, the reference to machine-learning (buzzword) seems to be, that in MacOS High Sierra, Apple’s Safari browser, will observe cross-device tracking patterns and determine what to block, compared with ad-blockers who rely on constantly updated but ultimately static lists.  So if advertisers want to use impression-level tracking in their ad campaigns, perhaps that will hurt measurement, optimization, or yield, and this might make it harder to prove that Impressions led to the success events marketers care about.  But unless Apple removes URL redirects and click-tracking, some of the data Apple is talking about probably has to stay on your machine. Adding transparency to the ad tech ecosystem should be pro-consumer – Apple’s move might create incentives to hide behind any vendor that can stay on Apple’s good side.

On the other end of the double-edged sword, these tracking technologies can also be used to properly optimize for frequency, so advertisers can responsibly choose NOT to show you that ladder for the umpteenth time.  Apple can’t disable everything without harming the user experience – the same goes for the kinds of responsible advertiser behavior I’d like to see more of.  But consumers don’t need apple to do anything to participate in blocking adtech and martech trackers- Adblock, Crystal, Ghostery, and others have plenty to offer.  Nearly 20% of US internet users block ads already, and rising [Mary Meeker charts this here].

 We don’t quite know any of this for sure, since we haven’t actually seen the new Safari interact with various trackers.  How will Apple know if the tag that is loaded by the winner of a programmatic ad auction is a “tracker” – or just part of the ad experience, like a dynamic ad creative unit? Maybe Apple will also offer publisher control or a promise that their ad inventory is going to reputable advertisers who won’t let that bicycle follow you around the internet (Apple’s use case) - which could potentially advantage PMP deals within premium publishers.  Perhaps Apple will work with the Digital Advertising Alliance to get some industry collaboration.

The desktop web is a complex place with ad tech and martech “trackers” doing many of the same things when providing functionality people like or want.  In its most devious version, this is a real jab at Google, Facebook, and Amazon – who want to gather data about you- some implicit, like browsing activity or location, and some explicit, like what you browse, watch, buy or publish.   In its most benign, this is just noise on the minority of browser sessions that even use Safari. It won’t be easy to estimate what harm this may represent to ad execution, tracking, and measurement, but I volunteer to test how it all works. I am leaning toward the HomePod in Black and the Macbook Pro in Space Gray.

A Customer-first approach to Job Titles

Does your organization design job titles and specifications to place emphasis on the customer?  When considering the ability of different parts of your team to impact the experience of your customer, where are the points of pressure?

A commercial transaction is an experience, wrapped around a promise.  The value which is exchanged (monetary, utility, emotional) and the extent to which the transfer is well-balanced, affects the experience of the promise.  Over time, a brand's meaning is the sum of the promises made and kept.

People and organizations can make promises in different ways.  What levels of people your firm, or people on your team, have influence on the consumer experience?  Do they:

  • Greet or interact with customers in person
  • Answer inquiries on the phone or those that come in by email?
  • On-board new team members?
  • Decide on employee compensation, perks, or benefits?


The people who do any of the above are not just employees; these people can make, keep, and break promises.   Now think about the number of those people whose job title is coordinator, specialist, or assistant?  How many of them receive instruction from managers, directors, or VPs?

I recently came across a posting for a "Director of First Impressions."  Here's the line I liked best from the requisition:

"Candidates should only apply if they can provide the highest level of customer service, with a smile on their face, no matter what the position throws their way." 

To handle the unexpected, to be sure about your motivation and commitment to customer success?    It's not always easy to keep your promises - having people who take that seriously, and who know they are empowered and expected to do so, can make all the difference.  Don't waste an opporuntiy to think about how your next "Assistant" will delight a customer, and maybe even lead by example.



The Rise of Digital Product Managers at Time Inc.

Digiday has a nice look at "product builders" at Time, Inc., who in their independent existence (free of the Time Warner mothership) begin with an idea and a landing page, find some early adopters, and refine their products.  The "Cooking Light Diet" app appears to be one example.

Under SVP digital Kevin Heery (it appears) that a team of 4 product managers, who work in conjunction with the editorial staff have figured out how to build interesting products  - not just more pageviews.


Race Review: Tough Mudder San Diego

Tough Mudder has been somethign of a facscination for me ever since I began work at Competitor Group.  I personally admired their approach to social marketing, and it was clear that the mud run category offers somethign much diferent from the bands-along-the-course marathon celebration.

Rachel and I have been doing crossfit now for almost a year, mixing Monday-Friday workouts in with 2-3 runs per week.  This worked well for preparing us for the overall enducrance challenge.  The fact that we had completed the Rock 'n' Roll San Jose 1/2 Marathon a few weeks prior seemed to confirm we were up to the challenge.  

Our course at Vail Lake was billed at 10+ miles, so while there was less running, I definitely felt more exhausted by the experience than running 13 miles  - this event challenges everyone in different ways.  TM is a brutal athletic event with lots of people and plenty that is frightening, intimidating, and yet very memorable. 


The Meta-Battle for SKUs

Apple's identity (account and Touch ID) stategy comes into focus here in this Chart via BusinessInsider.

The meta-battle is now: 

# of exclusive SKUs, Total SKUs, and ease of purchase.  Apple might have the digital content piece (apps, movies etc) but Amazon and Paypal have the physical (and second-hand) universe on lockdown.

TouchID certainly is going to help with ease of purchase, and the rest of the battle is: how can we get consumers to buy ____ with Apple.

The November Project

"Now, i'm going to ask, Are you good? And you just say back, F*ck yeah!"

"Are you good?"
And we all respond, "F*ck Yeah!" 150 strangers fill the stadium with our unified voice. We are ready.

I got up at 5:45am, to go to a workout I'll never forget at a place I have never been. It was kind of like crossfit meets fight club.

Taking up the charge to avoid gym memberships and motivate peers, the November Project seems well-suited to Boston's cold winters. On a temperate Wednesday, I joined the Harvard Stadium workout and it was both exhilarating and utterly abusive.

A key point, we are encouraged to hug the person next to us, even better if it's a stranger, and say, "Thank you for being here" I imagine Jack Shepherd and Desmond having the same conversation on LOST. If it was just two people in the November pre-dawn, can you imagine that gratitude that your buddy wasn't a no-show? If you have ever been the person who showed up, you know what I mean. And that gratitude is displayed at scale: we give thanks for the community. I hug a fresh-faced 20year old.

Exhilarating- what a great community. A lot of brands try to be everything to everyone, and it takes true courage to say, "we are from the midwest and we wanted to create a community where you can make actual eye contact and have physical contact with other people.  If you aren't willing to hug a stranger this morning, this might not be for you."

A brief lesson in the numbers;

A Full Tour is the 37 sections of the horseshoe-shaped stadium, for a total of 1,147 steps. Newbies start separately and do their workout beginning in the middle and working out from the ends. Run up, walk down, repeat. Half take the sunny side, half take the shady side.

I decide to listen to their boom box easily filling the stadium with rock and high energy.

I bound up the first 20 or so steps, and then my legs start to scream. I slow down to step ups, make it to the top and pause. What have I done? There are people of every fitness level. Some determined walkers, and equally persistent Atlassians who are running up the steep grade faster than I run downhill.


As a Cornell alumnus taking his first visit to the Harvard campus, it is as though I must climb a step for every time I called the Crimson's goalie a Sieve at Lynah Rink. It is all my fault.

I take my punishment in about 35 minutes. I'm determined to do so, grateful as I reach the top step and terrified of the next section. My legs stop working. As I walk back along the path under the uppermost bleachers I see small groups doing sit-ups and other core work. I try to run and can barely trot.

I make it back to Section 19 for the group photo. I meet a blogger for the and introduce myself to Bojan. He's intense, fit and positive. His energy is infectious. I learn that he did his workout at 5:30!!!! I stand still and my legs are shaking.

What a morning. As a marketer, it was wonderful to see community building for its own sake. The level of ritual helps inculcate shared values and aspirations; simple enough to grasp and eventually you know you belong.

I'll be back.

Thank Ten Customers Today

About a month ago, some of my customers got upset that they were ineligible (US sweeps rules being what they are) for a promotion I designed around an event they planned to attend.  They complained on Facebook, and I thought they had a good point.

I looked them up in our database and sent them a handwritten note and some brand swag, just thanking them for being a Facebook fans and customers.

The couple hours I spent on that was 100% worth it. One of them even posted an Instagram photo of my note on our brand page.

Every marketing manager, VP, or exec should try this.  But don't wait for a reason to apologize.

Sit down and thank 10 customers.  They'll love it.  Reflect on why you do your job, whether you really value their business,  and keep that moment close to you.  

Relatisonhips matter, and having a great relationship with every customer should be your goal.

Monetizing the Point of Sweat

I went on a nice little bike ride this weekend.  It was memorable, because it was my first with a road bike. You know, the ones with the thin tires, and the potentiaal to cost many thousands?  I rented a Felt Z85, and was pretty happy with it. I took my iPhone along for the ride.

I mapped my ride with the MapMyRide iPhone app.  After the ride, something crazy happened - I became a marketing opportunity. Hey, I just wanted to map my bike run! A women's antiperspirant had other ideas! 

Interesting- why in the lord's name would I tweet their hastag?  I'm dripping with sweat!  My legs are shaking!  I am a man, BTW, and I have never heard of your product!

I tapped "Close" on the ad  - and started looing at some of the details. I tapped "Route Details" and up came another ad.  Well, at least this one was for men...


As an athlete, I would never have wanted to see these ads. What could they be offering? However, being in marketing, I am accustomed to trying to find out. As my wife set about cleaning her bike, I lingered on the driveway, still dripping in sweat from an agonizing final climb. I tapped the Gilette ad.

Interesting. I signed up for a half marathon Training program...we'll see how they take it from there. Nice setting of my expectations on when the plan will arrive.

As an athlete, I can't think of anything I wanted less than those ads. The targeting for the first ad was hopelessly off, the second execution mystified me because I had to interact with what looked like an ad in order to egt what I want: content.

 The utility and content of MMF is what keeps people engaged - but what happens when all you see is ads?  When monetizing the "point of sweat" - content goes further than interruption.

Testing out Nitrogram

Testing out Nitrogram to see how this all works.

Our Photos

#Runrocknroll hashtag Photos

Where is Event Photography headed?

I hadn't really spent time checking out Wedpics.  I know that when  I heard about it, I thought it would be a hit.  When I was planning my own wedding, I thought that the obvious place we were going as a country was that instead of a wedding web site, we would have wedding apps.  

The wedding app would manage RSVPs, tell guests where to be and when, make last minute announcements and adjustments and customize all this info down to the guest level. Obviously this would take a lot of the drab paper and social hand-wringing out of it.

Enter Wedpics. Check out their take on wedding photography, which couples can spend thousands of dollars to pay a professional, when most of the enjoyment is the Facebook album you create of the pics you get right away. I think this is the future of event photography - beyond weddings  - where the most meaningful photos are captured, viewed and showcased in real time.  

Multichannel monetization should beat piracy

Nick Bilton writes, "Internet Pirates Will Always Win" and provokes some interesting ideas: is preventing piracy just a game of whack-a-mole?  Certainly, in the current paradigm, it can seem that way.  

I wrote to colleagues in 2007, when Razorfish was in discusions with NewCo (the nascent NBC/Fox JV that would become Hulu) that fighting the desire of content to be easily available (even if not free) was not a viable business strategy.  

Then, as now, this is a matter of ideology, because the people with the biggest ideas about content are rarely in charge of setting its price or licensing terms.  

But in the multi-channel world, with connected devices now a threatening alternative to STB-connected distribution, content players should not forget the power of an engaged audience.  They are a monetizable asset, and even if watching for a far lower prixce, creating a low-price tier with identifiable audience members can produce email opt-ins, social discussions, merchandise/DVD/other revenue, and tune-in for other programs.  

Mr. Bilton quotes Holmes Wilson, co-director of Fight for the Future, in the article:

The hit HBO show "Game of Thrones" is a quintessential example of this. The show is sometimes downloaded illegally more times each week than it is watched on cable television. But even if HBO put the shows online, the price it could charge would still pale in comparison to the money it makes through cable operators. Mr. Wilson believes that the big media companies don?t really want to solve the piracy problem. "
"If every TV show was offered at a fair price to everyone in the world, there would definitely be much less copyright infringement," he said. "But because of the monopoly power of the cable companies and content creators, they might actually make less money."

Mr. Holmes is not wrong about the exciting power dynamic in play - it certainly could be empowering to do something the "man" doesn't want you to do. Nevertheless, exercising our inner Che Guevara is neither an effective mechanism of revolution against the industry nor a stricly pleasurable experience (corrupt and low quality BitTorrrent downloads mostly waste our time, if not our money).  Wouldn't a low-price on-demand stream or download just be...easier?

It's myopic to think that adding many more low-revenue streams is going to lose money; it certainly will if the HBO/HBO Go are your only revenue source.  The MSOs and the premium TV providers have to work together to create experiences and tiers whose scope is beyond the cable system, and where even if the price is lower, the experience is better than piracy, which is, after all, a pain in the butt.  But I'm just an idealist, I know.

Teen Attention Shifts to the Behavior Networks

USA Today reports on a non-story: Teens turn from Facebook to fresher social-media sites

Drawn to niche sites such as Foursquare and Tumblr, teens appear to be expanding beyond Facebook. According to market research firm YPulse, 18% of teens prefer to "check in" on Foursquare instead of Facebook, and 10% say Pinterest is a better site for browsing.

These behavior networks have experiences rapid growth largely because they ride atop identity networks like Facebook.  These networks do not challenge the core business of Facebook, particularly because: Facebook, and its advertising platform, are everywhere.  There are glimmers of what the Facebook Sponsored Stories will be on Zynga, while playing games like Words with Friends:

How Advertisers Catch Up to Consumers in Social

Facebook and other identity and behavior networks have created new behaviors - and these behaviors have had no trouble attracting the attention of consumers.  The new behaviors have been so empowering of consumers, that as they adopt new behaviros, they have learned to tune out advertising even more effectively.  Consumers have even learned to kill ads, concepts, and brand strategies they dislike en masse.

Debra Aho Williamson, principal analyst at eMarketer in Seattle, noted that when the firm published its most recent forecast for digital advertising back in February, it projected that Facebook revenue would probably double again this year to $6 billion, a number she said is likely now out of reach.

"Consumers have adopted social media a whole lot faster than advertisers," Williamson said. "It's taking them a lot longer to figure out how to fit social media into their plans. []

This gap in "monetization" should be viewed in the context of how all innovation takes time to conquer relevant adoption curves and settle into a business model that works for all participants.  With the pace of today's change, we have cases like Groupon, where the vectors of growth point one way, while the sustainiability of the business is highly questionable.  This phenomenon in the information sector is likely to continue as the flow of information between market participants becomes effortless.  It is even worthy of excellent satire from McSweeney's: Ponzify 

So it's not just about your 2 Million app downloads that net you some nice venture funding for "traction" in the marketplace.  Make sure you're paying attention to how your users behave, as well as how their behavior change when you add "monetization" strategies.  

Watch Facebook's Mobile ad product introductions carefully.  If the users hate the products, and find them annoying, intrusive, or unstable, that's bad for the Facebook ecosystem and engenders the kind of hatred consumers have for companies like AT&T, in which they stay with the company but hate it because they cannot easily leave.  Conversely, if the consumer ignores the ads,  and skps right through them, that's bad for advertisers, who need at least some user attention to get value out of the ads.  The holy grail for facebook is helping to identify the ads in the middle: the ads so content-like that consumers will see them as a net benefit.  

This is small thinking strategy for Facebook, at best.  Which are the two or three brands whose social engagement strategies you like as much as you do their products?  Those are the ads that will be premium inventory in your newsfeed.  The social experiences that consuemrs want, which are so attractive consumers will seek them out for their value, are the name of the game for Facebook, because these experiences will have to rent access to Facebook's identity network.  And that is where the money will be.

Don't worry about Time Spent on Facebook

Is this BI/comScore chart bad for Facebook, or is this what we would expect? BusinessInsider says the time spent is shiftting to other social networks. I am not convinced.

Look at the Facebook developer site: Build Facebook for Websites. Build For Mobile. Build Apps on Facebook. These are strategically important initiatives, all taking the Facebook platform and making the digital world more social, but also taking time and attention off of “Facebook”.

From Facebook's Developer Homepage: this is what Facebook is betting on, and consumers are flocking to it. I can't prove it with the data above, but if you're only looking at minutes on the site, that's what you'd see.

Behavior Networks like Pinterest are easy to start because the Facebook Identity layer is there for support - if Facebook were Microsoft it would probably have shut off Pinterest's access to the open graph; Facebook is a very different kind of company.

Read more:

Could your ISP track your Roaming via CableWiFi?

The downside of the CableWifi roaming partneship is clearly about privacy.  TheNextWeb reports that five major ISPs team up for massive Wi-Fi sharing effort across the US.

Imagine the ad targeting possibilities – with a single sign on as you roam the country, your ISP/MSO record is now going to follow you around he country.   Now with a slick landing page over wifi, or a flag on your addressable cable box, your surfing and travcel habits are now even more interesting fodder for multi-screen ad targeting.  It would be fascinating to know whether the CableWifi folks will be partnering with an offline/online cookie solution.  

According to the article:

In what will be a massive win for US cable company subscribers, five of the country’s largest cable providers have announced that they will combine to offer each other’s customers access to their own metropolitan Wi-Fi networks — the largest such project in the US to date.

The partnership will include Bright House Networks, Cablevision, Comcast, Cox and Time Warner Cable and will include access to over 50,000 Wi-Fi hotspots across the US under the CableWiFi brand.


In order to connect to the hotspots, subscribers simply have to look for a CableWiFi network and then connect using the same details that they use when connecting to their existing provider’s networks. Over the next couple of months, those networks will automatically connect to these networks when they are near a CableWiFi hotspot.  

Reminder: free wifi is hardly EVER free.

My Googa Mooga Experience: Yum, Poor Lexus

Spent 5 hours at the free event today; I felt pretty happy about getting a Spotted Pig burger instead of waiting 4 hours for a table, but the 200 people in line for Luke's Lobster was incomprehensible. What really bothered me, though, was the atrocious AT&T and Verizon service.