|Courtesy of Sean O’Connell|
Flagship marketing conference SES Toronto is happening this week – if you feel the need to brush up on your knowledge of digital marketing among the likes of private consultants and representatives from Google and Bing (to name a couple), this search and social conference is right up your alley.
|Courtesy of Sean O’Connell|
The event will take place June 12-14, 2013 at the Toronto Marriott Downtown Eaton Centre, covering topics from current marketing strategies, most notably to mobile marketing, Big Data, Web analytics, Email marketing, Display advertising, Content marketing, and e-Commerce, according to the site’s agenda.
The conference is into its TENTH year and the ways in which it has grown and changed with the world is immeasurable. In this fast paced world of virtual commerce, Andrew Goodman, long-standing member of the SES Advisory Board and founder of the Toronto headquartered agency Page Zero is here to answer some important questions (with a splendid amount of knowledge and humour!):
AG: Several years ago, SES made a transition from a founder who programmed every show in a workaholic fashion, to the long term vision of its management company (Incisive Media) that was looking to put in place a repeatable structure to handle global expansion and the heavy lifting of releasing new content and preparing for each new show. Kevin Ryan, the first VP of Global Content for SES after the transition from the old leadership, built this big Advisory Board. We’ve scaled it back a little more recently under Mike Grehan’s leadership.
Photo from PageZero.com
I’d been Chair of SES Toronto (there are no longer regional Chairs) and they were looking for a representative group of leaders in the industry, so because of the Canadian flag on my forehead, and as the author of (what was at that time, in 2005) one of the few known books in our field, I was asked to join the Advisory Board. Also, since summer 2002, there hasn’t been a North American SES that I *haven’t* spoken at (I think it’s like 47 and counting.) I do plan to take a break one of these days, but I get the feeling that if I’m asked to stop coming, I’ll just show up like Costanza and pretend the “firing” never happened.
So, long story short, I’ve been a huge booster and participant in SES at every level for many years. Toronto is the most important place for us to meet people, but it’s been an amazing thing catching the vibe of the industry in places like San Francisco, London, New York, Stockholm, etc. I have a lot of the various folks at Incisive to thank for being so fun to work with and so professional in carrying off all those events.
AG: Some topics feel like they are near-universal, but the answer that’s probably closer to the mark is that there’s been rapid change. The flavor of the conference has changed radically in my view. In the early days, you really had to be half crazy to be in our industry, so it’s attracted a lot of misfits and zealots (in the best possible sense of the word). Now, you can be normal and work in digital marketing and search marketing. Even “SEO” (which isn’t SEO anymore, the way many of us see it) is considered a mainstream marketing discipline.
On the social side, the role of Community Manager has already started to gain respect in companies, as a real part of one’s business planning and communications strategy. Just three years ago that wasn’t a job, it was the province of various misfit gurus and ninjas. So as the various marketing tactics we love to experiment with become normalized, the shows have lost that wild west feel, which some of us miss. The culture of the industry has changed so much.
Google held, for seven or eight years, an event in connection with SES San Jose, called the Google Dance — a big party outdoors on their campus. And then it came to an end. It felt like summer itself was ending. But in any case, if there is growing acceptance that there are best practices in digital that must be followed, and that these are a normal part of what it means to execute and be contemporary as a company… then it’s particularly grating and frustrating when companies are years behind in catching up to that reality.
Those of us who got into this industry early are, pretty obviously, impatient. We’re eager to work with agile, nimble players. All that Seth Godin stuff about acting like a linchpin and leaning in — sticking your neck out — is as true and as scary as ever to many of the folks that want to avoid standing out in their organizations. Keeping your head down and accepting a slow pace of (digital) implementation is still all too common in Canada. I feel like I’m a broken record on this, but we have to get better. Agility and bold action can’t just be for VC-funded startups.
AG: Consumers have been in the grip of what Godin referred to as the “television-industrial complex” for 50 years. The fact that folks have more control over the message they’re seeing, the fact that print flyers, phone books, and other marketing detritus are being phased out in favor of more relevant messages… are all positive developments. Better targeting in advertising is often being billed as creepy or scary. Well sure it can be. But I believe that the real shift in what consumers are working with is in the explosion of information that is — not entirely but to a large degree in many fields — making the “Brand Bubble” deflate.
The premium value placed on corporate brands will shrink, according to this view, as micro-brands pop up, as consumers order more online, as we aren’t captive to what’s on a shelf or limited to a message from P&G showing up on one of four available places to watch content. We have a client called Nuts.com that I believe benefits from the trend of “luxury generics”… people are not looking at just the names of products and feeling what the $200 million TV ad campaign wants them to feel. They are reading labels, talking about ingredients, joining online nutrition forums, sharing their favorite ideas and recipes in social media, etc. The nature of the media actually allows us to know more.
Think, also, about what people had to do if they wanted to invest in the stock market just 20 short years ago. They’d have to have a certain amount of money. They’d have to develop a relationship with a full-service broker at one of the full-service firms like Nesbitt Burns (now BMO Nesbitt Burns, formerly Burns Fry). If they wanted to make a few trades themselves, they’d pay a giant commission. There was no information about companies other than big, heavy chart books and annual reports, and of course the customers were much more dependent on the broker’s advice and their firm’s research departments. How about now? Even without unusual degrees of digital tool savvy, a smart investor can trade pretty much anything at any time for their self-directed RSP, online, for a commission of $7-10. Mutual fund management expense ratios have even been driven way down by the proliferation of Exchange-Traded Funds (ETF)’s. If you like preferred shares but don’t understand them, you can buy an ETF dedicated to that investing theme, as you drink your morning coffee, after having researched the information on the vendor’s site and read articles by mainstream media, analysts, as well as the “pro-ams” on sites like Seeking Alpha. These kinds of developments are present in every field. The information revolution has made it all possible. Keeping people in the dark has always been a way to gain an unfair power advantage in any society, and that’s never going to go away entirely. But there’s a lot less dark today.
AG: As a culture, we typically adapt to these tools and capabilities in too superficial a way. And there *isn’t* very much pressure on us to adapt and experiment to these transformations. Otherwise, we’d be rioting in the streets in Canada over simple things like the unavailability of many digital services here; roaming charges; etc. You certainly don’t get a society of great problem-solvers or entrepreneurs merely by putting cute phones and sleek tablets in everyone’s hands. I don’t have the formula for how that happens, but we do need to be patient with the fact that institutions that foster science and technology, health care research, and all forms of investment in emerging knowledge — i.e. both basic and applied research — will lead indirectly to the fostering of incredible discoveries and communities of achievers and creators. On another front, industries themselves need to develop, and so do creative clusters in the geographic sense. Personally, I’d like to see more varied styles of people using tools like Twitter. If someone with a more intellectual or professional bent just wants to follow more learned folks or nerdy updates from a certain museum, then we’re probably all going to be better off. Similarly, it’s the tools that aren’t necessarily easy-entry but rather ones with long learning curves that confer the most benefit. Architects must study for a long time, apprentice with greats, use hard-to-use tools. A research tool like Evernote is said to have a steep learning curve, but those who do structured research do their jobs better if they take that trip. I’m lucky enough to be friends of web design and user experience pros who are so adept with their tools that users get great interface design when all is said and done. In our world, AdWords is an advertising method that takes a lot of diligence to crack, and inside its seemingly simple interface lurks many pitfalls. Few people are willing to “strain themselves” to go along the journey to learn complex systems. When you do, I think the rewards are there. You won’t learn the right mindset from media coverage, most times. One thing I’ve discovered about many authors and journalists is, as smart as they seem, they “never log in”. One of the most famous books about Google Search out there is by one of the top technology journalists and entrepreneurs of all time. At least two years after his bestseller was published, he blogged about wrestling with certain AdWords features he should have known like the back of its hand. It was evident that during the entire time of researching his famous book on Google, he’d never even logged into an AdWords account! And this man today heads up a leading online ad rep firm! Another time, a Toronto-based environmental journalist wrote an article in the Star about how terrible AdWords was working for his own personal purposes… something like nine years after AdWords had launched. It was like he expected Larry and Sergey to drop everything, get on a plane, and customize the platform for his personal $100 account! If there isn’t pressure on some of the leading minds in our culture to really dive in and geek out on the nuts and bolts of how a lot of these tools work, then it’s certainly safe to say that anyone who takes the trouble to read and learn voraciously, and to try to solve hard problems, will be in elite company. Hey, that’s OK. The Radian 6’s, Freshbooks, Acquisio’s, Cory Doctorow’s, Skoll’s and Omidyar’s, HomeStars’s, Wave Accounting’s, etc… these Canadian entrepreneurial outliers know who they are. Investors and analysts often ask about a company’s “barrier to entry.” There is a barrier to entry into the world-view of anyone who is ridiculously obsessed with creating online communities, tools, and marketplaces that scale. Their efforts don’t always turn into billion-dollar businesses, of course. But as to anyone with ordinary (or less) levels of stamina, passion, innovative spark, networking ability, etc. trying to simply “knock off” another’s idea… those folks have very little hope of succeeding. Insane passion is certainly a barrier to entry.
As for the “digitization of the world” as daily personal practice, I’m self-consciously retro and certainly not “all-in”. No Google Glass for me. No smartphone on hiking trips. A distinct unease about the concept of drone strikes. I know how to use many cool tools, but choose to ignore many others. I like to go “analog” frequently to avoid total alienation from body and earth. A client asked me today if I was into fly-fishing. Imagine that! Fly fishing. If there is one cause that is emerging that will be important for all concerned to get interested in, it is both the threat and promise of Big Data. In every field, from epidemiology to climate change research, the massive explosion of data points has so much to offer society. And via the magic of crowdsourcing or “wikinomics,” folks can voluntarily upload their own data sources to improve any number of collective efforts. The looming threat is that too large a proportion of the outcomes from, and control over, Big Data, become proprietary. Much like the battles that have come and gone about the open and non-proprietary nature of the World Wide Web standards, it’s possible to win or lose such battles based on how many people have decided they have a personal stake in them, and become permanent advocates. Are we going to become a society that fritters away its valuable attention span on saving a few dollars by “buying a Groupon,” or one that joins up with causes that fight to keep public benefits of massive data collection? Our attention spans need to become longer.