covid-19 teaches us, again, the importance of in-person

While many states reman under lockdown, it is clear that sheltering-in-place and working-from-home are truly enabled by technology. From the internet to your phone to your tablet/computer, we communicate, get work done and do things from home.

However, not all workers can do that. Many people need to touch and interact with the everyday world. Technology helps them, but they still need to be out there helping. While the promise of robots is great, they are not ready to do everyday chores. Those that cannot shelter-at-home are teaching us the value if being in-person.

covid-19 is really teaching us the importance of being there. For those who are working from home, we start to miss the interactions with friends, co-workers and others.

I used to work in sales and delivery, and much more in sales. Interactions are key. It’s hard to develop trust over the phone although it is possible. It is almost always better to be there with a customer to work with them where they feel the most comfortable. You cannot do that sheltered at home.

Let’s hope that technology, small molecule and/or biologics, can step up to help us sooner rather than later and get our society back on track.

stimulus package shows that there is no free lunch

The relatively large, not in absolute terms, stimulus package indicates that corporate America and the marketplace, by and large, are not really working well. Over the past few years, we’ve had multiple interest rate drops, panic buying at the Fed window and other indicators that things are amiss.

If we as Americans want to reduce taxes on companies and people and take on an emergency funding model for running our government, that’s our choice. It’s a poor model but that’s where the conservative push-and-shove has led us.

However, the implications are staggering. That means that over time, as emergencies and other critical items come up, we will spend either the same or more than we would have had we handled payments more smoothly over time. We will need to print money, devalue our currency (through inflation) as well as cause substantial market distortions that are highly localized. That’s how we have decided to pay for our standard of living, print money when a bump comes.

The stimulus package also highlights the massive cost-shifting that corporations have been doing for a long time. By using more temporary workers, companies pay less per employee as there fewer taxes and commitments that companies make towards the workers. Also, gig workers need to still buy health care insurance and other important necessities. When issues come up, such as a pandemic, the government then needs to, as a matter of helping the citizens it serves, provides relief in some way. Costs that should be borne by companies are being cost shifted to the American public.

While the stimulus package seems to be a large subsidy program for companies, it also provides relief to workers directly. Essentially, its a highly concentrated form of “programs” that should have been in place already for companies *and* people.

Corporations have pushed for tax relief, deregulatory actions that they believe impose costs on themselves regardless of the costs on others and deliver value to their corporate leadership team lopsidedly (vs shareholders). Then when something happens, companies plead hardship to the government to get cheap loans. Companies did not take the benefits provided by America and use them to build rainy day funds, develop corporate planning or do things that governments normally do.

For companies and CEOS who claim to be capitalists, they act entirely the opposite.

In other words, there is no free lunch. Political ideologies on the left and the right seem to think that large imbalances either way are the way to run the government. The coronavirus pandemic suggests that a smoothly running, well, but not excessively, funded government is just easier and more responsive over time. Today, distortions build up then resolve in more convulsive and painful, acute events such as the coronavirus pandemic.

We have great and smart people in the country, we can do better.

send checks to everyone – only if you can id them

As part of the covid-19 response, the US federal government wants to send checks to everyone. Ideally, you pay your taxes individually, you would have each person’s information to send a check to.

But its not that easy and it is going to be ripe with fraud and abuse. And unfortunately, banks, who are guilty of several sins *again* around this, must play a role and take their cut. And the payments will be susceptible to fraud, especially for lower-income individuals with less sophisticated banking technology.

Ideally, we would have a way to identify people, independent of the banking world, so they could receive an electronic payment. Unfortunately, while the federal government is busy imposing ID requirements for traveling on planes, it is ignoring citizen identity that operates for broader national interests.

For years, technologists have been talking about decentralized identity and verifiable claims, based on blockchain concepts, and electronic payments using blockchain technology.

While we can hope this is a one-time event, it is a pretty clear example of how those technologies could make this effortless and cost-efficient.

Today, this type of payment effort will be bad.

Oracle needs to be Unhurded.

It is an interesting case of blinders when one considers Oracle. While Oracle was quick to enter the business applications market in the 90s, buying Siebel as well as developing their own products, they started missing the mark fairly quickly shontly thereafter.

A recent article https://www.cnbc.com/2019/12/05/oracle-shows-buybacks-can-go-too-far.html discusses Oracle buyback frenzy and how it is leaving the company with net debt. There is really only one reason for that–they were Hurded.

Mark Hurd ran the company as co-CEO for a long time. Unfortunately, Hurd rips apart companies, with an eye on financials, but without an eye for doing anything useful in the marketplace. He proved that time and time again. First at NEC, Teradata, HP, then at Oracle. Hurd was good at understanding financials and I think that’s critical and good. He was horrible, always, at understanding what makes a company tick and missing big trends. He’s missed them all his life–totally blind. Mostly, he propped up a company playing with financials while undermining its core–the companies would falter after he left and he always left. Hurd would make a good 2nd in command, just not a 1st in command.

With Ellison mostly retired (now un-retired), Ellison was out of the loop of the marketplace. He’s been mostly a one-trick poney so far–a good trick that has its place of course. But not a trick that takes it to the next level. That’s why Microsoft finally got rid of its self-limiting ponies as well as, recently, google. I’m still amazed that Ellison does not understand the damage Hurd did at Oracle.

At Oracle, like HP, Hurd scared away deep, technical talent. A short-term focus on financials meant that Hurd was missing the market signals. Oracle is missing the largest IT transformation story in the history of IT–cloud computing (private/hybrid/public)–because he scared away the talent that understands the change. Locked in with just a focus on financials, he completely misread the trend. Underinvested and undercommitted in multiple ways, Oracle’s transformation story to prepare itself for the next decade is sorely lacking. If you are going to take on debt, at least do it to help you become more competitive.

I own Oracle stock and I want it to succeed. I am hoping that it does not fall into a death spiral and sold off. The marketplace needs more competitors sooner. They need to replace the senior leadership team with a new “Ellison” (Ellison was good in his time). The focus needs to be on customers and improving their interactions with them. You can see a steady stream of awful sales executives leave Oracle, bounce over to IBM and HP, then bounce around again–all while delivering little value. Sales executives who learned truly terrible behaviors at Oracle replicate their poor behaviors elsewhere while not delivering–just look at S. Cook who has bounced around at Oracle, HP, IBM, MicroStrategy et al.

Let’s hope Oracle succeeds at becoming competitive again and can direct itself to the next level.

WeWork’s collapse: the markets can still work

The recent WeWork IPO debacle shows that the markets can still work. WeWork’s IPO problems show how risk transfer mechanisms expose risks and risk management is an important part of well-performing markets.

Here’s the storyline.

Private Equity (PE) money takes risks. That’s Ok and a good thing. PE place bets across industries. That’s a good thing as well. The really smart people, we hope, that society should applaud are doing something more concrete then moving money around (yes, sometimes after a “hit” people move to PE). But hope is not a strategy. In the end, we have a bunch of PE people who want returns from their investments and they obtain returns from the work of others–say WeWork. Given all the bets PE places, many will lose, some will win big.


Since money is involved, there is bad behavior–everywhere. Money makes some people crazy. Look at WeWork. Bad behavior from people we want to succeed trickled upward into PE where bad behavior already existed. PE players reinforced and “played up” up WeWork. Of course, they played it up regardless of what they thought about WeWork. PE had significant investments in the company and they wanted to win big. PE wanted to convince people that their investment made sense so they would buy into it–a classic sell job. Their bad behavior made WeWork look like it was worth tens of billions when in reality it is a corporate office rental company.

Here’s where the “markets still work” comment comes into the story.

Imagine one party that takes many risks and plays up its investments–“these investments are great!” However, public equity markets run on a higher level of transparency. Financial documents describe a company’s organization and show investors where the “value” is. Financial reporting and transparency is a public market function and was explicitly designed to expose issues like WeWork’s. Public equity markets like hard facts such as earnings. While you might argue that public equity has its downsides and is sometimes not so smart, public equity is a much larger pool of money to tap into and much more liquid. PE wants “public.”

If you move money from PE to public equity, the risk is also moved. For example, risk shifts from a few PE companies to the public. The public risk pool is much larger. Assuming that private risk assessments were held to the same standards as public risk assessments, we can use their “results” to predict how smooth the transfer will be. While there are exceptions to the rule and bad behavior during transfers happens, when the risk profiles are more or less in agreement, there is an orderly transfer of risk. Each risk holder in the public area, in theory, holds less risk “per unit” as the equity holder pool typically becomes much larger. The public benefits because the “common” investor can invest in companies. PE benefits–payback. That’s all Ok.

However, when the risk profiles between private and public are a mismatch, we see a situation like what happened with WeWork. The risk profiles were way out of whack, and the friction between the two was exposed. The mismatch was huge, and WeWork collapsed.

Sometimes the mismatch continues for a while and gets corrected later. Most “middle-men” businesses, like WeWork, Uber, and “last mile” delivery companies, are not technology companies. They are service companies using technology–very common and mundane. Service companies get a much lower valuation/multiple. The middle-men players may see a bump for a bit, but over time, they are just a “tax.” These costs need to be squeezed out. Facebook is like this as well, but less so on this particular topic.

It’s not about lower taxes…that completely misses the point again

Republicans have for a long time focused on the “lower taxes” mantra. While recent events suggest that this mantra was probably not a sticky value, the idea of lowering taxes as a key objective is wrong and incredibly poor thinking–it’s not even good business thinking. These thoughts apply to all political parties.

The real challenge is to lower my total costs, not just lowering one part of my cost burden while jacking up other costs that’s just cost-shifting which invariably is a zero-sum game.

A recent article in the Washington Post highlights this issue. The article describes how CA will demand that all new homes have solar power installed. The payback for doing so is over the life of the home, more or less, potentially sooner. This seems like an outrageous cost burden to impose. But let’s think of the alternatives.

If we believe that we can fully identify costs, including the costs of building new power plants and the cost of pollution or even the cost of servicing the national debt, then let’s focus on lowering “total” costs.

For the solar home law, they are shifting costs to the homeowner with the anticipation of lowering or zero-summing costs away from large utilities/higher taxes. That does not really help on a net basis–the costs may be the same. Of course, if solar homes lower overall costs over the calculation horizon, then its a win and a good model. We could also speculate that the law imposes regulations on homes with the trade-off of not imposing regulations on future power generation or other utilities. While you may think that all regulations are bad, a subject of another blog, this regulation is a cost-shifting regulation with potential, we presume, of lowering overall costs.

It’s possible that cost-shifting stimulates innovation in the area where the costs are borne. We have seen, however, that when costs are imposed on companies, many companies just lobby to have them removed and play tax schemes vs innovating around them. That’s not good and we should demand more from the companies we purchase from.

If we imagine that there is widespread popular support for addressing global warming, etc. through solar power generation then shifting costs to the “people” may force the people to “demand” innovation in companies. This allows the public to have an end-run around companies not being well managed, lacking morals and civil responsibility. By shifting costs to the homeowners, the CA government may also be getting around various federal and state officials’ lack of action on this particular topic.

We face the “lower taxes” hoax all the time. Lawmakers have shown that they are not really interested in lowering total costs–which should be the real focus. In fact, they do not seem to be interesting in lowering taxes either except for a few donors. Lowering taxes (or taxes in one category) while increasing costs elsewhere is disingenuous. I do not care whether I pay one person or another for a certain level of benefit, comfort or moral objective given the two are roughly equivalent. And in some cases, forcing costs onto one party or another is not morally or tactically helpful. Sometimes it could be, sometimes it is not.

Blockchain will change everything…wait…Blockchain 2.0 will change everything…wait…

Much has been said about Blockchain and how it will, literally, change the entire world. Blockchain is the hip and relatively new technology that has been described as the second coming of the internet. Most people are familiar with it based on the cryptocurrency, bitcoin, a pseduo-anonymous, distributed, public distributed ledger of currency. Depending on how you use the vocabulary, bitcoin/blockchain could refer to a variety of things ranging from the algorithm, the protocol or the currency. It’s been claimed that the  blockchain can be applied to “all human endeavors”–as has been foretold since bitcoin came into the public view. It’s important to remember that blockchain technology is part of a cryptocurrency but a cryptocurrency is focused on payments while blockchain technology can be used for more than payments.

Regardless of the risk, legal or moral issues surrounding blockchain as a currency, bitcoin technology allows parties with various trust levels  to  transact together. Blockchain 1.0 really viewed the world through a  currency and financial lens–financial transactions between two or more parties. Blockchain 2.0 is based on the idea that “all human endeavors” can be coded (you pick your programming language) into little programs that are baked into the blockchain and “run” based on triggers or other criteria i.e. smart contracts. These little blockchain programs allow you to execute conditional logic e.g. if it rains on Tuesday, pay party “A” 2 bitcoins. Obviously, as soon as a “program” is executing, you run into a large variety of issues such as the ability of that program to run a “trusted” fashion or who gets access to what and whether access can be limited (talk about risk mangement!). Blockchain 2.0 technology also has additional features to serve diverse needs of their users e.g. blockchain tokens/coins for use in  representing physical (or even non-physical) assets.

Newer projects such as Ethereum, Hyperledger and others have been created to deliver the Blockchain 2.0 vision. They add the ability to run these programs, control access, create trusted execution environments, etc. I will state for the record that all of these things are needed to create a Blockchain that is useful to business interests e.g. B2B type activities where additional privacy, control and capabilities are needed–governance in general. You could easily imagine taking Blockchain 1.0 and using it carefully to create Blockchain 2.0 capabilities, but Blockchain 2.0 is a bit more a rewrite than a tweak.

This is all very good, but the questions you should start asking yourself is “who gets to cash the check–who really benefits?” The person “cashing the check” really determine how fast things will move and whether they will share the benefits with others.

Blockchain promises to reduce the cost of transactions and make it easier for parties that do not trust each other, to conduct transactions. Does that mean that banks are not needed and the cost of a transaction becomes minuscule unlike today? I’ll mention that the concept of “transaction” related to banks may or may not mean exchanging payments, it could also mean “asset management.”

If so, the consumer benefits, the banks do not. Or does it mean that banks are still needed, maybe they are not called banks anymore, but a middleman is still needed. If so, then the “new middleman” benefits at the loss of the old middleman (ala Platform Scale). Consumers may lose for awhile due to an increase in choices/confusion.

The technology can deliver benefits. However, it is interesting to consider:

  • You will still need alot of computer servers and people to feed and care them.
    • The actual blockchain can be viewed as a database that talks to other databases to sync up and update itself. Sometimes the algorithms require alot of computational power.
  • You’ll still need to administer the process e.g. in Blockchain 2.0, someone has to give “permission” to transact.
  • There are legacy assets that need to be retired over time and sometimes this takes a really long time–as in decades.
  • There will probably be multiple, maybe thousands, smaller transaction networks setup for specialized interests and uses. This means that all the above issues are multiplied by “n.”
  • It is hard to get people to agree to use the same standards across the entire stack of an application unless it gives them an advantage.
  • New technology and its applications that enable new scenarios can create challenges to managing risk—not transaction risk but overall risk of the activities the transactions support.
  • Perhaps most importantly, if you transact with Bitcoin 2.0, you have to trust the platform to execute, which means you have to trust the people running the platform, which is exactly the issue we have today, “who do you trust?”

Bitcoin 2.0 thinking is designed to be more business friendly e.g. less computational power needed and more access controls. As Bitcoin 1.0 becomes Bitcoin 2.0, the types of issues present in today’s systems crept in and imposed an overhead and burden similar to the way the same requirements burden today’s environments. The key issue though is that IF companies can agree to use these new technologies together, then their total cost of ownership CAN go down. In other words, if companies collaborate smartly to transact, then yes, costs can go down and benefits can increase. This was true 30 years ago as well–standardization can benefit the entire ecosystem.

So its clear there can be a benefit. Most likely companies will benefit first as they will incur the initial investments and most companies will not fully transfer everything over to the new platform. Eventually, consumers will benefit as existing goods and services can operate under cheaper transactions. Cryptocurrencies are where people can obtain a benefit fairly quickly if you can become comfortable with the use of non-fiat currency. Government regulations will eventually catch up.

So back to the title, Blockchain can definitely change everything. Companies could benefit the most first, incrementally. There can clearly be a shift in the players and there are opportunities for startups to disrupt if they can get out far enough ahead using Christensen‘s definition of disruption.

But I am not convinced that it is a tidal wave about to hit me this year or next (2019 looks like a strong blockchain year with 2018 being a ramp) especially since large corporations most likely hold the keys to deployment speed and deployment functionality. For example, today, there are only a few firms that really hold the “ledgers” (custodians) for financial accounts. These players are enormously powerful and “trusted” for good reason. That’s not going to change. They are the only ones that will really lead the charge in the financial sector because they own the “transactions.”

They are not going to go away quietly or at all. They will probably create a bitcoin-based system that benefits them–the new market makers. Whether good or bad, they will deploy blockchain first and reap the benefits of the investments and they are the ones who will create a system beneficial to them. It is doubtful if they will ever pass along the benefits since they must still maintain legacy systems, they’ll have two systems to maintain. More importantly, why should they pass along the benefits to others? A smart person, with morals not strictly aligned with public benefit, will seek to make money and enhance their position. It is known that this is exactly what they are doing, right now.

Sure, there are other types of “custodians” who hold the ledger today. But due to a variety of factors, once you back away from a “single, transparent system that untrusted parties can transaction with” which is what bitcoin 1.0 is today with its “proof-of-work”, the collaboration and standards benefits start bouncing up against creeping costs to “use.”

Today, there are over 100 cryptocurrencies. Beyond payments, will the future hold tens of thousands of “bitcoin 2.0” ledgers? Fragmentation, even using the same technology, also seems like the bogeyman of the benefits story. In order to try and gain control from current owners, disruptors will try to “own” the bitcoin 2.0 ledger platforms to run smart “contracts.” In the in process the “ledgers” will fragment.

Also, since its doubtful that there will really be any disruption quickly (but it is coming), the limited set of players who deploy these capabilities will reap the reward in the short and near-term. There will be benefits from Bitcoin 2.0 but maybe we (the public) will need to wait…until Bitcoin 3.0, wait, until Bitcoin 4.0, wait, …

Disclaimer: I own a few bitcoins.

 

Drink the Kool-Aid? Yes, But Pick When You Drink It

In the business world, drinking the kool-aid refers to an employee’s willingness to commit fully, without hesitation and without cynicism, to their organization’s and boss’s objectives–to be a fully engaged team member.

I was thinking about a friend who recently changed jobs. He is a smart guy and always has two or things running in parallel–backup plans in case the primary activity fails. I had suggested that for the moment, he needs to drink the Kool-Aid on his primary activity. He needed to stop keeping options actively in play once he made his primary choice as maintaining options sometimes has its price. The idea was to stop thinking that the current gig was temporary. Was I wrong to recommend this?

HBR recently had a short article that suggested there is a real cost to making backup plans. The fundamental question goes something like this:

“When we think about what we’ll do if we fail to achieve our goals, are we less likely to succeed?”

The answer, according to Jihae Shin the principal investigator, is mostly a “yes.” His research concluded that people who made back-up plans achieved their goals less often than others who did not have back-up plans. But his findings did not say *not* to make back-up plans. Instead, you should be more thoughtful about the timing and level of effort you put into your backup planning.

That makes sense. Different people operate differently. For example, we want a backup plan for our son, who is focusing on a music career in college. But we do not want him spending a lot of time on the backup plan *now*. We do not want our son to be distracted from his focus on music *now*, in order to prepare later for a different career later which he may never pursue. We encourage him to think of options but to the point that at the expense of his current focus.

I think my suggestion makes sense specific to my friend’s situation. I was not suggesting that he forgo multiple threads running, but that he fully commit to the one in front of him and assume that this choice would be the solution for a very long time.

The idea is to take the opportunity as far as it will go and only then get the backup plans moving along. It was really a suggestion to stop thinking that the current objective would not be achieved and to avoid the distraction of trying to line up alternate plans prematurely.

At the right time, even temporarily, go all in, get the tee-shirt, buy the mug, think that your organization is great even if it has warts, adopt its strategy–drink the Kool-Aid. Pick a time, later, to consider options.

The future of CRM application software – today’s tech can rebaseline the norm

CRM applications used by the frontline have been around for around 20-30 years. My first consulting job was designing a CRM portal for wealth management advisors distributed around the country. Technically, it was web based and was a bit of a reach at the time but it was highly innovate and essentially had all the moving parts you see in CRM applications today. Over time, I went on to design and launch many more CRM applications covering a broad range of areas some of which won awards or were highly placed. CRM apps cover a wide range of touchpoints usages and my focus here are those CRM apps used by the frontline when the engage with the customer.

The world of CRM apps has not changed much. Today’s CRM apps are slicker, more integrated an easier to be program. But overall, they still fundamentally are hard to use, hard to enforce a process with and generally try to force you to enter in structured data all for the explicit purpose of using that data an the backend side.

In other words, the way you interact or want to interact with a customer–a fluid dance of conversations and touchpoints–comes to a jarring halt when you have to type your customer “data” into a relatively fixed, confining CRM application on your screen. Even the marketing automation space has learned that it screwed up as it realized that email campaigns have become old school and the nuances of social media marketing and messaging are the new black. After all, a growing majority of people today use email less than the previous generation, significantly less.

What is the future?

The future is not narrow list of checkboxes, pick lists, small text boxes or small fields to capture one specific concept, like the first name.

Instead the future is fluid and free flowing, much like many of the newer collaboration tools just now gaining prominence in small companies and now larger companies. It’s more about “notes” and small snippets of information versus structured screens. It’s more about searching different locations for data about customers and not requiring that all information be managed in a single tool. It’s about automating the interactions so that the right information is available to personalize a touchpoint.

Evidence for this model abound:

  • CRM applications now have “chatter” or “posts” that capture a stream of unstructured notes and objects like pictures or audio clips.
  • Applications like “slack” show that collaboration and documentation is easier when it’s fluid, in context and completely searchable. Trello is the same way.
  • Many CRM applications capture only a few structured fields and most of the complexity is really around trying to capture additional customer information–which is where the application start becoming unwieldy.
  • Most CRM software tries to tie together a 360 degree view of the customer using various ad-hoc methods of integrating with other applications.  They shoehorn that “app’s” data into the CRM application to get a 360 degree view of a customer. These integration costs are often the largest costs in a CRM project.
  • CRM has started to rely on data mining and machine learning algorithms to help the advisor/rep become more productive about how to spend their time at the same time they personalize communication to the customer.
  • CRM automation is increasing as bots and other automation techniques become more prevalent…for some products and channels, customers prefer automation.

Now CRM is more than just capturing information about customers, it’s also about servicing them and using information, again in context, to order their products, resolve their issues or try to understand their behavior. Getting information from other applications into the context “flow” has proven to be very tricky.

It’s true that some data, like an order, is highly structured and needs to be in sequence properly to support the supply chain, that’s fair. But a lot of CRM data does not need the same amount of structure. When interacting with a company’s rep or a automated systems, the needs are much different. CRM apps do need to digest data of different media types and tell you what’s important. Or, at the very least, sort through the data and summarize it for you.

In other words, the future of CRM is really more like an instant messaging program like Slack or a free-form note taking application OneNote or collaborative management tool like Trello then an application framework like popular CRM platforms today. Think tweets and hashtags and AI driving data record enrichment.

It’s not about checkboxes anymore. Sales people do not really like check checkboxes. Text mining, or unstructured analysis–whatever you want to call it–is mature enough to sort through the data and fined postal addresses, email addresses, phone numbers and linkage information to connect all the dots and prepare the data for analytical use. Network analysis is mature enough to create a graph of contacts, with context, from your email and notes. This crystal ball thinking is true for both B2C and B2B although B2B has regulatory issues that suggest that it does require some additional “structure.” In fact, these techniques are in play in extremely advanced CRM scenarios such as Know Your Customer in the AML/BSA space.

A lot of what passes today for CRM software is just a jumble of straight jackets that are unneeded and run counter to how people communicate, create information and collaborate today.

Branding, advertising and social media

There were two articles this week/month on social media advertising that did not seem to overlap per se but are related.

The first is in HBR, March 2016 issue titled “Branding in the Age of Social Media.” (here) This article suggests that companies have spent billions on trying to build out their brands using social media but most of the money and effort has been a waste. The basic idea idea is that branded content and sponsorships in the past used to work because there were limited channels of distribution for the content and therefore most consumers had limited choices and had to watch what was shoved into those channels.

Today, it’s a bit different. The mulitude of channels means that consumers can filter out ads, shape their own customized content flows and create their own flow of entertainment content–much of it created by their friends. Rather suddenly, brands no longer could command the audience. The article mentions that most heavily branded companies such as Coca-Cola command less viewership than two guys sitting on a couch narrating video games (“e-sports”). Now, brand must fit into the flow of either “amplified subcultures” (groups of people with more narrow interests) or “art worlds” where new creative breakthroughs occur. Either way, you have to fit in via cultural branding where you align the brand around the culture of people in those two areas. So the brand can be there but only in the context of say, for example, the subculture of people who do not like smelly socks that come from running 10 miles a day. You have to create a story about smelly socks and positioning your laundry detergent as part of addressing the smelly socks problem (I made up the smelly socks example).

You essentially align the product/brand around a more specific theme that resonates with the target audience. Because the specific themes are more narrow, the amount of creative customization increases.

This is not a new concept. The article is really just saying that you have to create content about your brand/product that aligns with you target audience and is delivered to them through the “channels” that they watch.

I was also scanning Bloomberg Businessweek and their article “If You Don’t Know It By Now You’ll Never Make Millions on Snapchat.” (here) It described the “snapchat” phenomena, with its rapid rise, as well the challenge many similar companies have on maintaining their user volumes. The biggest issue is that they need to generate revenue and Snapchat is considered “expensive” advertising with little insights into “returns.”  One of the strategies Snapchat has taken is to focus their sales time on helping customers create stories to fit into their Discover channels and Snapchat’s model of perishable content. Still, a slightly talented musician posting just his daily musings and activities garners more views than all the biggest networks combined, daily. Ouch!

But it is just another lesson in what we already knew.  Find the audience you want to reach, find out where their eyes are especially now that they more choices about how and where they engage, tailor your content with a message and delivery that will engage them to watch, take action or whatever. Segment, segment, segment…

That’s about it. So yes, branding (and really just general advertising) has changed. It has to be more clever/entertaining, more thoughful and more tailored to a smaller group. You cannot rely on a famous name to push your product alone and you cannot count on blanket reach to communicate.

So there is not really a lot of new news here, just a recognition that we as companies and marketers have to be more clever because the easy ways no longer work and it’s possible to get a huge ramp (given the viewing numbers) if we put that cleverness to work.

Perhaps the real news is that some people in their current jobs need to become more clever quickly or find some clever people to help them with their branding/marketing. What is wonderful at least to me, is that the volumes of eyeballs in some of these channels makes them worth paying attention to.

Got it.

Check.

Roll credits.