The Marketing Trend that We Should Leave Behind in 2018


The Marketing Trend that We Should Leave Behind in 2018

Hypocritical Femvertising and Faux Feminism


“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

If 2017 proved one thing, it’s that the narrative surrounding women in our world is changing.

This year featured some remarkable progress for feminism – that pesky notion that women should be treated equal to men in every facet of our society:

  • Sexual assault allegations within the institutions of media and government are being exposed to the sunlight, forcing real consequences.
  • The highly visible Women’s March (largest single-day protest in US history) and related protests drew millions to the streets (and to the polls) to represent women’s advocacy.
  • The challenges facing women in the workplace (such as equal pay or, low representation in computer science jobs, and you know, guys like this) has earned more consistent exposure thanks to a slew of celebrities and high-profile corporate strumbles (Uber, etc) keeping them in the public eye.
  • Women’s magazines like Teen Vogue have become an unexpected source to expose political news and world events to a younger generation – no longer contained to the matters of lip gloss and boy bands.
  • Terms like “intersectional feminism” have entered the larger discourse as many seek to understand the complicated nuances of the movement (and others retreat back to their echo chambers).
  • More women are running for public office than ever before due to grassroots organizations like EMILY's List and She Should Run (the latter setting an amazing goal to achieve gender parity among America’s elected officials by the year 2030. That’s 250,000 elected positions!)


What a year. It’s a kind of silver lining within our current, divisive climate.


The rise of femvertising.

But, in the world of marketing, there continues to be a disturbing trend related to feminism that is moving us in the wrong direction. As we (marketers) are prone to do, we’re trying to capitalize on something while, in effect, ruining it.

How unfortunate.

Earlier this year, I had the chance to discuss this topic on stage at the 2017 Women in Digital event. This fantastic organization provides support for women in business, akin to the advantages of the "boys club" in major cities around the US.

Note: For organizations who want to make this available to their employees, there are corporate group packages available.

My talk was “Calling Bulls%*t on Faux Feminism in Marketing” and it featured a number of ads that are part of the femvertising movement.



You can read a great summary in Business First.

I’ve covered this topic before in previous articles, but below, I've put together a comprehensive look at the hypocrisy of femvertising - and the danger:


TL;DR: Many companies using feminist messaging in their ads are poor examples of these ideals internally - for example, paying millions in lawsuits for pay inequality and discrimination against women, or by perpetuating unrealistic beauty standards.

This not only creates an illusion of progress, it cheapens the movement for equal rights. It's lip service. There is a real and present danger to decades of progress in the feminist movement if we accept this trend of faux-feminism without holding companies accountable.


To my business leader colleagues (especially marketers) – we can and must do better. If we can’t hold our organizations up to the scrutiny of true equality, we should never cheapen the movement by exploiting the narrative. It’s too reckless and there are real consequences.

To really support women:

  • Hire a lot of them.
  • Demand diversity in hiring.
  • Prove equal pay.
  • Support working parents.
  • Train employees about bias.
  • Support all women, not only those who fit your pattern bias.

To my fellow consumers – we must expect better from companies, especially before we laud them with praise (or industry awards) for what amounts to nothing more than lip service to the fight for women’s equality.

Please, let the end of 2017 be the end of this disturbing rise in faux feminism and hypocritical femvertising.

And please, don't be a troll in the comments.


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You Wrote a Research Report! Now What? 15 Ideas to Maximize Promotion

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You Wrote a Research Report! Now What? 15 Ideas to Maximize Promotion

This post is in response to a great question from my good friend, and B2B content marketing expert Stephanie Tilton. 

Congratulations on your bundle of original research! It’s so cute, all swaddled up in that new report template. It even has that new research smell everybody talks about. I’m sure you’re very proud of all the work it took to get to this point. It was nine long months of crunching the numbers, issuing surveys, mining and wrangling data, all resulting in a pioneering piece of original thought leadership for your organization. 

But this is only day one of a very long life for your new bundle of joy. 

How can you get maximum exposure for your important new report? You’ve done a lot of work, how can you create some buzz? 

Here are my top 14 ways to make the most of this new report. 


1. Announce the findings


This is not just another eBook… this is a major moment in your company’s history. It’s a rare opportunity to issue content into the world that is truly original. Don’t just send out a tweet and call it a day. 


Make sure you treat this launch like a major announcement - a press release on the wire if you’re into that kind of thing, with a short summary of key findings and a quote from an industry analyst or customer on the implications of the findings. 


2. Tell the media


Original research affords you a wonderful opportunity to provide practical insight and an interesting perspective on the state of your industry. You can tell a story informed and backed by statistically sound data - and this is perfect fodder for industry trade publications and the business press (if they cover your space.) 


Reach out to reporters with 3-4 key findings (don’t make them read the full report), offering a byline or an interview with your company spokesperson. Remember: why should their readers care? Try drafting the ideal headline and leading your pitch with that. 


PS: Podcasts count as media! Pitch your way onto a show to discuss the findings! 


3. Walk through the findings on a live webinar event


Allow your customers, partners, and prospects to experience the research with you on a guided, live webinar event. Take an opportunity to walk through the key takeaways of the report, and explain the controversial, unexpected, or critical findings. 


Most importantly, allow your audience to ask questions about the research in real-time. 


4. Create a mini self-assessment


What’s the first thing your audience thinks when reading benchmarking statistics about their industry?


“How do I stack up? How are we doing compared to our peers?”


Help your buyers make sense of your data by putting it into context for them. Create an easy self-assessment using a tool like Qzzr, or more complex logic with tools like Ion Interactive and Snapapp. Be sure to offer actionable ways for low scores to improve, and congratulate the high scores for their good work.  


5. Lights… camera… action!


Create a short video of a company spokesperson discussing the report, the top 3-4 findings, and why they matter. This is a great opportunity to make your company leaders sound smart, don’t waste it. 


6. Centralize everything on a microsite


Your study should be treated with an additional level of attention - consider hosting it on its own dedicated microsite featuring the key findings and major takeaways. This makes a great place to host the mini self assessment, the video, and a form by which to download the full report. 


7. Repurpose into multiple blog posts


Each finding in the report is an occasion by itself to give your point of view. Group like findings together for individual blog posts where you dig into the “how” the “what” and the “why” behind your data points. This is a great chance to tell customer stories in the context of these data points. 


Offer guest posts for other well-read blogs in your space, and be sure to include a link back to the original research (their audience is, of course, net-new to you.) Ensure your spokespeople are blogging on platforms like Medium and LinkedIn, where content reaches new audiences organically. 


8. Infographic gold


Research findings make the best infographic fodder, giving readers a chance to get your key takeaways without making the time investment of reading through the full report. 


9. Break the findings into sharable social posts


Social posts with images perform one-quadrillion times better than those without. I made up that stat, but we all know this to be true. Use a tool like Canva to create social-sized posts featuring the most important or surprising facts. People love to share this stuff. 


10. Bake it into your presentations - both live and virtual


Beyond your live webinar event, create a version of the report that is ideal for Slideshare - something that someone can click through slide-by-slide and still get the full story. (This is not the same deck as your webinar, but something with more text and storytelling baked in.) A great example from my friend Ben Grossman.


These findings also make great content for speaking engagements at key industry events (especially your own customer conference.) Send in a proposal that discusses your findings (with a great customer) and you’ve got a winning conference speaking submission! 


11. Work it into other people’s presentations


Check out the speakers for a few industry events in your space. Reach out to a few who are speaking about the topic your report covers. Email them a couple of stats that may be useful, and ask them to include it in their presentation. Nikki Nixon from Terminus recently did this to me preceding a recent speaking session I did at INBOUND, and I thought it was so brilliant. 


12. Incorporate findings into sales decks


I’m sure your sales presentations have plenty about your product features. Why not incorporate a couple of slides demonstrating the key challenges in the industry - using your own research to illustrate them? If your team is savvy in the challenger sale methodology, this type of research can be used by sales to guide prospects through a new way of thinking about their problems. 


13. Mail a physical copy of the report to key accounts


Research findings make great ABM touchpoints as it offers a very tangible, valuable asset to hold in their hands. Get your report printed, professionally, and mail it out to a few key customer/prospect accounts with a handwritten note. For an added touch, put a post-it note on the pages/sections that most apply to that specific account. Engagement guaranteed. 


14. Hold a lunch and learn


Invite key prospects and customers in a specific geo to lunch, where you present the findings and talk about recommended strategies to address them. Be sure to include a physical copy of the report, and pick somewhere nice for lunch. 


15. Add some paid promotion to the mix


Money talks. This report is a great candidate for content syndication, targeted LinkedIn ads, and Facebook ads (yes to a B2B audience.) Time is money, and you’ve already spent plenty of time bringing this asset to life. Give it the promotion it deserves. 



Remember, your new bundle of joy is just a baby. It needs care and nurturing to become the well-read, oft-quoted, compelling piece of industry thought leadership it’s meant to be. The golden rule of content repurposing is to write less, and promote more -  helping to reinforce your messages, reach new audiences, and improve visibility. 


Congratulations on your new asset. Go make the most of it. 



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Find an Enemy - On Demand Webcast


Find an Enemy - On Demand Webcast

As part of BrightTALK's Content Strategy & Distribution Summit

What do Salesforce, Apple, and the South Beach Diet have in common? They motivate others to action against an enemy - and it isn't the competition. 

While your buyers are certainly motivated by benefits, they are more likely to be truly galvanized when called to rally against a common foe. This is what creates movements that build momentum for brands. 

The right enemy can also be a powerful way to focus our marketing team and improve our content marketing. Join this session, and find your antagonist.


Who Will We Trust in 2018?


Who Will We Trust in 2018?

Marketers and politicians alike rely on trust to do our work; to persuade.

That trust is entirely dependent on the vehicle used to deliver it - a brand, a media platform, an institution, an evangelist, or an advocate.

And in 2017, these vehicles of information are changing faster than ever. Buyers and citizens are faced with a challenging junction as they figure out who to trust, and who to discredit.

I recently presented a keynote at Bentley University during a conference on social media strategy. My presentation leaned heavily on the current state of trust - and the reason so many of us are now relying on each other for information.

It got me thinking...

The Inversion of Trust

Influence and authority today, in stark contrast to history, has moved to the masses, whereas both were "owned" by establishments like media, government, and businesses.


ource: Edelmen's Trust Barometer Report


Today, we don't trust the media.

Screen Shot 2017-09-23 at 1.12.07 PM.png



Source: Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project


We don't trust businesses.

Screen Shot 2017-09-23 at 1.12.29 PM.png


Source: Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project


And we certainly don't trust CEOs.

Screen Shot 2017-09-23 at 1.12.45 PM.png


Source: Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project


Who do we trust, these days?

No surprise here... but we trust each other.

Specifically, Edelmen's research overwhelmingly found that we trust "people like me" as much as we trust technical / academic experts.

Screen Shot 2017-09-23 at 1.13.06 PM.png

Source: Edelmen's Trust Barometer Report

Peers, above all.

This power shift has many implications, but it has certainly impacted the world of B2B marketing, forever.

This is illustrated in's recent series "How I Buy" from Steve Woods (you may recognize him from his Eloqua days, evangelizing Digital Body Language and setting the bar for enterprise SaaS technology.)

The series features in-depth interviews with executives discussing their personal buying process - where trust matters most. I love this content for the extremely valuable perspective it provides straight from discerning executive buyers. Thanks to the team at for pulling it together.

  • Jocelyn Brown, VP of Customer Success at Allocadia, says about her buying process, "within an hour I can have opinions from 5 or 6 trusted peers on something I am struggling with."
  • Jay Hedges, SVP Revenue at Uberflip says, "If we're on the fence we will ask around. References and case studies from the vendors are not really all that important."
  • Cheryl Kerrigan, VP of People at BlueCat explained in her interview, "I have access to a wide community of HR professionals in similar environments where we are constantly sharing our experiences with vendors and solutions... We have a Slack channel set up so we can ask questions and get responses in real time. I wouldn’t make a decision without asking them first."
  • Megan Eisenberg, CMO of MongoDB puts it succinctly with "...there's no hiding." She continues, "with access to a network of peers, the business world is becoming so much more transparent... Customer experience matters, and your ability to deliver to other CMOs like me matters."

Satisfying the herd mentality

In a way, this reliance on peers in an age of institutional distrust goes back to our most basic instincts.

"Conformity is inevitable" says psychologists, who argue that pressure to conform may not be experienced as pressure, but relief. Human beings survive only in highly coordinated groups.

Disapproval provokes the brain's danger circuits. Conformity soothes.

Using others to figure out what's going on can be a good thing. "Consultation, compromise, education, and information exchange are the levers of civilization."

But misinformation - look at the effect of propaganda - has obvious implications.

What this means for B2B

I know, drawing parallels from war propaganda to business is such a cliche, and a bit trite, but great marketing undeniably persuades in a similar way.

But here's the rub; what works today is drastically different because of this increase in mistrust. Marketers have shot ourselves in the foot by publishing volumes of our own "fake news" - hyperbole, exaggerations, and other bullsh*t.

No wonder buyers don't trust us.

We've conditioned buyers not to, meaning that today we all operate at a disadvantage when we work on behalf of any brand - that's simply the truth.

And this is the crux of our biggest challenge as marketers. As I wrote in a recent post, buyers don’t do business with companies they’ve never heard of, and brands they do not trust. 

Deciding who to trust.

Yet Peterson, the Robert L. Joss Consulting Professor of Management at Stanford Graduate School of Business, wrote a book on this topic, The 10 Laws of Trust.

He provides three tests for deciding who to trust.

  1. Character “We can’t trust a leader without integrity, who we can’t count on to do what he or she says,” he explains.
  2. Competence. "You trust your mom, for example, but would you trust her to fly a 747 to London?"
  3. Authority to deliver. "There’s no point in trusting a pilot to fly to London if she doesn’t have permission to take off."

“It’s folly to trust anybody if all three aren’t present,” Peterson says.

Can we trust you?

I believe thought leadership is a powerful piece of our toolkit in an age of distrust. Done right, real thought leadership can increase faith in a company. 82% of execs say so according to a recent study.

But, the majority of companies are wildly missing the boat, as 56% of decision-makers say they do not gain valuable insights from what companies are purporting to be "thought leadership."

What a missed opportunity - and, frankly, inexcusable in an age of distrust.

Carlos Hidalgo and I recently had a conversation about what constitutes real thought leadership. He had just returned from an industry conference where he was disappointed in what he saw on stage. Read his full post on LinkedIn.

Carlos literally looked up "thought leadership" and found this from the Thought Leadership Lab:

"Thought leaders are the informed opinion leaders and the go-to people in their field of expertise. They are trusted sources who move and inspire people with innovative ideas; turn ideas into reality, and know and show how to replicate their success." 

Carlos: "I believe sometimes innovation is simply doing it the right way. It is not all glitz and glamour. It is not always sexy, sometimes innovation is pretty boring, but it is what works and can truly create better results."

I couldn't help but agree with this sentiment -- I like to think of myself as a bit of realist about the true impact of marketing. Yes, it's powerful and persuasive, but it's also... still just marketing. The best I think we can do, as we present a better world for our buyers, is to remain firmly grounded in reality.

Distrust is a serious reality in our world that marketers all must be sober about, and willing to tackle head-on. 77% of consumers do not want a relationship with a brand. When they do have one, 64% say it's primarily because of shared values. Kind of like a marriage.

This, to me, is what our ultimate goal should be. To show buyers we can be trusted, that we share a common outlook, that we are fighting a common foe.

Anything else isn't trustworthy - it's just more of the same BS that got us into this mess in the first place.


Hear me speak more on this topic next week at INBOUND in my session "Find an Enemy: How the Right Foe Can Motivate Your Buyers to Action."



Every week I send out new ideas, writings, and interesting links on marketing, business, and life. It’s free & curated by me. Get on the list.


Great Marketing Can Transform the Aftermarket Service Industry; Here's Why


Great Marketing Can Transform the Aftermarket Service Industry; Here's Why

I believe great marketing can transform aftermarket service products.

This past week in Chicago, I had the chance to speak at The Service Council’s Smarter Services Symposium (whose eponym pays no respect to anyone with a lisp), a gathering of executives responsible for service products - aftermarket purchases - such as service warranties, contracts, parts, and more. 

My discussion focused on addressing one of the biggest challenges facing service executives - service marketing.

The emerging role of aftermarket services.

This service function is facing a period of immense change (what department isn’t?) 

The days of field service, parts operations, call centers etc. as a cost center which is solely the result of a product sale are nearing their end. Today, there’s a growing idea that there should be revenue driven from a service business. 

This department no doubt faces a perception problem - something we can empathize with in marketing - one that limits it to a “cost center” vs “profit driver.” 

The reality is, this function can drive tremendous strategic value within the organizations it serves. (TSC found this year that 92% of Champion organizations consider service to be a competitive differentiator compared to 42% of the entire community.) 

Sure, NPS will increase and CSAT scores will improve, but I’m talking about cold, hard cash. 

Training, installation, and consulting offer another method by which to exceed customer expectations and differentiate the organization. With many companies now looking for an advantage in competitive markets, aftermarket services can offer an edge - one that is sustainable, high-margin, and low-risk. 

One McKinsey analysis across 30 industries showed that average earnings-before-interest-and-taxes (EBIT) margin for aftermarket services was 25 percent, compared to 10 percent for new equipment.

Summarized succinctly in One HBR article

“Being on par with your rivals in performance, price, and quality gets you into the game; after-sales services can win you the game.” 


A massive opportunity to shift perception.

Historically, these after-sales services have been seen as a burden, not an opportunity.

I recently spoke to the fabulous Claudine Bianchi, CMO of ClickSoftware, who markets to service executives. She described this perception challenge, saying, "many executives still don’t look at customer satisfaction in terms of the valuation it can have on a company."

In the aforementioned HBR article, its authors revealed many “perceive after-sales services to be a necessary evil… like taxes.” 


This problem of reputation is due in part to the legacy of services businesses. Seen as a reactive team, many demonstrate their success on the basis of solving a customer's problem - historically measuring (if at all) impact in terms of customer satisfaction. 

That’s a really limiting way of demonstrating value, when the true potential of this team lies in a term well-adopted by marketers - Customer Lifetime Value. In this case, Service Executives should focus on the aftermarket lifetime value of their customers. 

For some industries (gas turbines, helicopters, data storage) the aftermarket lifetime value of a customer can be 40-75% of the initial sales price of the product. In others, it can be 5x more. See more in this detailed benchmarking study by McKinsey.

Talk about leaving money on the table. 

A fundamental switch from reactive to proactive.

To achieve these kinds of growth potentials, Service Executives need to switch from their reactive nature to a proactive culture. 

This was the crux of my recommendations at TSC's event, and I leveraged their own data to make this point.

  • 58% of champions frequently educate customers on products/services compared to 17% of the entire community. 
  • 91% of champions consider it a priority to increase the coverage of their installed based, compared to only 50% of the community. 

Proactive Services Marketing is an enormous opportunity for services teams to dramatically improve their perception by unlocking the value of their aftermarket services.

ServiceMax (another vendor in this space) found that proactive selling can increase revenues by up to 160% within a year.


Does the future of aftermarket services depend on marketing?


I think the way to look at it is that we are in this together. 

Marketing is increasingly responsible for the customer experience, of which post-sale is certainly part. We are seeking differentiation in competitive markets, and are held accountable for more and more revenue. The insights gleaned from the front lines of field service technicians can be a gold mine for improving our customer understanding and intelligence. A feedback loop between our teams can help us to tailor products and messaging accordingly.

Marketing needs the aftermarket services function. 

Services, on the flip side, should consider marketing to be an important ally in the business. We can drive growth with engagement marketing that earns trust and compels buyers to take part in services programs. We can leverage your incredible amount of data coming from IoT and connected devices to better segment and personalize our efforts. We can help build the foundation for a cohesive customer experience by helping to integrate service data with sales and marketing systems so that each touchpoint is… the magic word... consistent. We can help to segment customers by their role in the buying committee, or by their specific need based on their usage or product history. 

Marketing can maximize the potential of services, and in turn, drive more impact in our organizations. This is truly a win win. 

And, while we can be your best ally, we can be your worst enemy. “The best service intentions can be derailed by poor sales and marketing activities.” (TSC).

Now is the time to invest in proactive service marketing.

In an informal poll of the room this week in Chicago, 50% of the audience had a dedicated team of service marketers on staff. The other half, did not. 

One attendee from an electronics company followed up with me after the show, sharing that he was the very first product marketing manager for their services department in the organization’s history. That’s 84 years without one.

The need for marketing services is here - and while many organizations aren’t there quite yet, those that win are waking up to this reality. 

Champion organizations are 2X as likely as others to have dedicated service marketers in place to support commercial business growth - TSC.


Thank you to Sumair Datta and Aly Pinder for inviting me to this year's event, and to Claudine Bianchi of ClickSoftware for her insights.


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4 Essentials of Startup Branding from The Ad Club’s 2017 Brandathon


4 Essentials of Startup Branding from The Ad Club’s 2017 Brandathon

What happens when ten Boston-area startups meet ten of Boston’s best creative agencies?


Brandathon, that’s what.


The Ad Club President Kathy Kiely admitted in her opening, “we’re not supposed to pick favorites… but this is our favorite event.”


And I totally get it.


This event checks every box. It’s a pure celebration of the sheer work that goes into brand building, the creativity behind well-loved marketing ideas, and the strategy and research required to deliver a message that is both relevant and remarkable.


But, perhaps the most entertaining piece of this evening is the art of the agency pitch.


Imagine if Don Draper had access to Photoshop and embedded .gifs in PowerPoint slides. Then, add puns. Brandathon’s audience is given front-row access to see the type of performances that win these agencies global name-brand accounts. A truly remarkable experience.


This annual Ad Club event (now in its fourth year) includes 10 marketing teams who work for 72 hours to develop a new brand for 10 of Boston’s most promising startups.


It’s a coveted position to be in, as evidenced by the swell of applicants this year. 150 companies applied for ten spots. These startups, many lacking dedicated marketing resources of their own, know the competitive advantage of a strong and well-conceived brand.


For example, a 2016 Brandathon startup Tranquilo took the new branding work developed by 36creative all the way to Shark Tank, ending up with a deal from Robert Herjavec, and going on to grow “from 5 figures to 7 figures in less than a year” according to CEO and founder Melissa Gersin.


This year, Arnold took the top spot for a hilarious rebrand of Kulisha chicken feed. (Yes, really, chicken feed.) In second place was 36creative for their work with OatShop, and finally, Genuine Interactive secured third place for their meaningful revival of CommonWealth Kitchen.




Other participating startups this year included WA11.ST, HipChip, Janji, Nomsly, Sheprd, and Solstice, receiving new brand design and ideas from creative teams including Forge Worldwide, GPJ Experience Marketing, Racepoint Global, SapientRazorfish, Small Army, and W-9.


This was a night of creativity and humor, but also a reminder of startup branding basics:


1. Branding goes beyond packaging


When you think of branding, you may consider a website, logo, business cards, and of course the packaging a product may come in. But, we were reminded this evening that a brand is truly comprised of all the touchpoints a customer may have with an organization.


Agencies tonight presented each startup with ideas to bring their brand recommendations to life far beyond the initial website or package design, well into the lifecycle of a customer. Many entrepreneurs forget to consider that their brand is the sum of an experience a buyer has from before the purchase to after the sale, not only the wrapper to their product.


2. Customer-centric branding wins


Many startups describe what it is that they do in terms of the products or technology they provide.


But, as each brand makeover demonstrated, product-centric branding is only so effective. When a startup is ready to for real growth, their brand must reflect customer-centric ideals.


This begins with the audience being served, and working backwards to design an identity and a message that speaks directly to them - in their language, and addressing their problems, first.


3. Simple and approachable is best


For many of these startups, the biggest change to their original messaging came in the form of simplification.


These agencies know through their work with consumer brands worldwide that less is often more, especially when a consumer is faced with a new brand for the first time. Buyers (and all humans for that matter) make a split-second judgement call. That moment of truth is where the power of a good brand comes into play - and where the danger of complex, confusing branding creates problems.


Throughout the evening we saw taglines shortened, websites streamlined, and jargon/buzzwords banished. Each agency helped to make their startup clients more approachable, their mission and value clear, and their relevance to the buyer easy to understand.


4. Startups need a cohesive brand narrative


Many startups will cobble together their initial attempts at branding using an affordably-made logo, accessible Wordpress template, and whatever free stock imagery they can access. (Resourcefulness is the name of the game for early-stage businesses, right?) But for those companies seeking to grow, a cohesive brand narrative is a paramount component of building a business.


Each pitch tonight featured a narrative that reflected the brand’s founding story, values, personality, beliefs, and identity. The art of articulating all of this in a set of imagery, colors, and copy is exactly what makes this profession so difficult - and what made each pitch so impressive.




Brandathon 2017 was special - the energy and passion of both brands and agencies were on full display. Nearly every startup here knew the biggest problem they faced in this nascent stage of their businesses was creating awareness, and for each of them, a cohesive brand is an invaluable gift, as it serves as a launch pad for all future growth.


Diane Hessan, Brandathon Committee Chairperson summarized it best, sharing in her introduction, "when I founded my own company, the idea that I could have this level of access to the great, creative agencies of Boston was simply incomprehensible.”


This was an event that really could have only happened here in Boston, reflecting this city’s unique mix of entrepreneurial strength and world-class marketing fortitude.

See you in 2018.



Being Heard in a World of B2B Kardashian Brands

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Being Heard in a World of B2B Kardashian Brands

You know them - the “Kardashian brands" of the business world.

These are tech companies like Facebook, Google, Twitter, Tesla, Slack and Apple that make headlines anytime an intern sneezes.

At least it feels that way.





It’s the power of the name. Publishers know if they put “Kardashian” in an Instagram post or article headline they’ll see an increase in traffic, clicks, follows, likes, shares, comments, and all the other things modern media needs to stay viable and earn ad revenue today.

In business press, these aforementioned "Kardashian brands" seem to carry the same clout as America’s royal family, nearly guaranteeing traffic and boosting view counts. What’s old Zuck up to this week?

Despite the obvious fact that their tech impacts billions of people every day, another contributing factor may just be that former Google PR leaders now work at Facebook, Twitter, Tesla, Square, Uber, Lyft, Yahoo, Pinterest and Snapchat -- a fascinating diaspora. Read more here.


There is value where there is attention and buzz.

... especially if you’re operating a media business. Facebook has cracked this code, making $9.16B in ad revenue last quarter alone based on its ability to serve up the kind of timely, instant news and content cycle that users crave.

Pubs that cover politics are reaping the benefits of a highly-engaged readership now more than ever as readers share their content as a way of defining belief systems and political leanings.

Please, some empathy for the journalist in 2017.

I don’t mean to knock the newsroom workers or journalists who cover these brands.

My friend, the brilliant communications strategist Katelyn Holbrook recently spoke at a General Assembly event on PR.




She explained what it’s like to be a journalist in 2017. (A little empathy goes a long way in understanding what’s going on here.)

Many newsrooms are shrinking, with fewer staff and yet more responsibilities than ever to create enough content to keep up with traffic demands (huh, sounds a lot like marketing.)

The news cycle is constant, yet fleeting, with events happening in 24/7 real-time. Our trade press is declining (RIP) as brands have become content hubs of their own, and trust in the media varies by source.

It’s a difficult time to be writing for the press. The institution of “media” has given way a bit to other platforms for discovering news and discussing ideas and opinions. This is one of the major shifts that’s rocked the world of communications, PR, and B2B digital marketing, and created an opening for a new role - buzz builder.

Buzz - the evolution of PR.

In my POV, PR has evolved to a more ambiguous discipline of buzz-building, which involves a highly orchestrated combination of tactics (like anything else, any tactic that exists in a silo doesn't work.)

“Buzz” just may be the evolution of PR in an age of digital marketing.

You could consider buzz-building as the new intersection of thought leadership, content marketing, social media, awards, speaking, influencer and media engagement, and events. But to be honest, every company features a different application of these tactics depending on their industry, staffing, budget, experience, and expertise.



As I wrote in Samantha Stone’s Unleash Possible (named a top 25 must-read marketing book this summer!):

"Creating buzz is a continuous and very intentional,strategic act of positioning your brand as a trusted resource in your industry, of raising the profile of your executives and brand stewards to a position ofauthority, and of earning air cover while your business does what it needs to do - grow. It takes into account who matters in your space, what they’re talking about, and works with timely precision to insert your brand message into that narrative."

And when it works, it amplifies.

Great buzz commands attention, changes narratives, and creates a platform upon which to build relationships, drive sales, secure funding, or hire great talent. Buyers don’t do business with companies they’ve never heard of, and with those they do not trust. Creating the right kind of buzz impacts both.

The challenge for B2B brands.

Ok coming back down to Earth for a minute… Kardashian brands like Google fueling traffic for ad-revenue-dependent media companies has created a paradox for smaller organizations.

Brands need attention to grow, but it’s never been harder to break through.

This has been true for every team I’ve been part of. In my career I’ve worked primarily with B2B companies from 2 to 200 people. I like startups. I’m drawn to their pace of growth. These companies are full of ambiguity and ambition rolled into one ugly beautiful mess of a job.

The ones that have broken through all the Kardashian clutter look similar.

They want to grow, create change, and punch above their weight.

They’re ascending brands.




You’re an ascending B2B brand if you demonstrate continued growth and momentum, punch above your weight against often larger competition or bigger ideas, and operate with a sense of ambition that is reflected in the thoughts you put into the world.

Ascending brands are those who earn buzz.

As I wrote recently in Chief Marketer Magazine, “Merit alone does not a market leader make.”

Some still believe that a remarkable product alone is enough to earn customers and grow over time. That's simply not the case, not even for a tool touted as a model for modern-day organic SaaS growth, Slack.

This company's very famous founder, Stewart Butterfield (who once founded Flickr), brought strong media contacts to his new role at Slack. The company invested heavily in content and social (see their Medium posts.) Combine this with their strong product/market fit, smart and pervasive integration strategy with hundreds of tools (my favorite is /giphy), and boom... The holy grail of buzz that results in awareness, word of mouth, 1.25M paid users, 4M active daily users, and a casual $4B valuation. Read more about Slack's journey in this excellent post.

But, we’re not all Slack, and we’re all not likely benefitting from the diaspora of Google’s PR team infiltrating our ranks.

Maybe that’s why the majority of our B2B buyers are disappointed in the quality of insights produced by companies. 56% of executives in a LinkedIn / Edelmen study said they do not gain valuable insights from the “thought leadership” they consume. When it’s good, it works. 45% of these execs report that thought leadership has directly led them to decide to do business with a company.

If you’re not a "Kardashian brand," your best chance at breaking through, earning attention, and convincing buyers to trust you is to become really really good at creating the right kind of buzz.

Get people talking about your ideas, start to change how others see their own world. Act like an ascending brand.

When I worked for a PR industry luminary, Maura Fitzgerald, one of the most consistent pieces of advice I heard her give to marketing leaders, CEOs, and founders was that they needed to behave like the kind of company they wanted to become.

The late poet Leonard Cohen (RIP) said it another way “Act the way you'd like to be and soon you'll be the way you act.”

If you want to be a market leader, act like a market leader.

If you want to disrupt the market, act like a disruptive brand.

Market leaders and disruptive brands set the agenda of their space – not only in what features they build, but how the market thinks and talks about their category. These brands have the ability to influence the overall narrative because they are confident in their point of view, and highly strategic in how they make that POV heard.

"Displacement technologies compete with incumbents on the same buying parameters. Disruptive companies change the way a buyer thinks about solving their need. Most SaaS products today are displacers."
Tomasz Tunguz, VC at Redpoint


In spaces that are fast-moving and full of confusion (hello, MarTech) – ascending brands are those who continuously lead with assurance in their world view. They are relentless in their ability to publish opinions, thought leadership, and guidance that create a kind of crescendo effect as their ideas take hold.

Important note: Ascending brands don’t achieve continued momentum without a killer, solid, remarkable product. Nothing kills a bad product faster than good marketing, as the saying goes.

In contrast, descending brands sit still, off the radar. They stagnate. To stakeholders like prospective buyers, investors, and partners, if you’re not seen to be growing or otherwise moving in the right direction, you’re doomed.

Momentum, in business, is everything. Descending brands are dangerous.

To compete for attention with "Kardashian brands," make sure the world knows you’re an ascending brand.


Let’s talk about this -  Join me at Connect to Convert, August 21-23 in New York Cityor the upcoming MarketingProfs B2B Forum, October 3-6 in Boston. I'll be discussing this paradox for ascending B2B brands, and sharing some ideas that have worked in the past.

I’m continually fascinated by the concept of authority, leadership, and attention. What gets people talking about an idea? What earns a buyer’s very limited focus and head space? Who shapes their opinions and informs their point of view? It’s a very powerful position to be in - and I welcome a conversation (or, you know, a non-troll comment here) on this topic if you’ve got something to share.

Feel free to reach out at


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On-demand webinar: Are You Set Up for ABM Success? What to Know Before You Go.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to present a live webinar with Jon Russo, founder of marketing performance firm B2BFusion.

Jon is often a voice of clarity to me in what has become a complex world of marketing and sales technology. Choosing the right vendor is enough of a challenge, but making systems work to their full potential is another story.

What's more, making tech work together in stacks can be a major challenge preventing organizations from seeing value in their investments. 

I asked Jon to present his worldview working with clients to find success with ABM tools. Watch the free, on-demand recording of our event, below. One-time registration is required (but is soooo worth it, trust me.)

Are You Set Up for ABM Success? What to Know Before You Go.

Account-Based Marketing tools like Engagio, DemandBase, and Terminus are powerful, exciting pieces of technology. But without the right data and decisions in place, it's like putting really nice shutters on a house without a foundation.

B2B companies must be thoughtful about their ABM setup. 

Join Katie Martell, on-demand B2B marketer, and Jon Russo, B2B marketing operations expert and high-tech CMO as they walk through EXACTLY what companies need to get these tools to work. They'll share a real-life example of how to wrangle data and MAP/CRM integrations to get up and running with account-based strategies. 

Everyone's on a journey with ABM, but some are in different places than others. This session is ideal for anyone who's interested in getting started with ABM, who has bought an ABM tool and wants to improve their implementation, or who wants to see more value from their investment in ABM.


Dove’s Ad Blunder Shows the Bar is Set Higher for Marketing to Women


Dove’s Ad Blunder Shows the Bar is Set Higher for Marketing to Women

Let me start with a question. Have you seen Dove’s most recent campaign?


Now, Dove is owned by the same parent company, Unilever who sells Axe, male-targeted grooming products with a looooooong history of ads like this:



Don't get me wrong - this ad is hilarious, just hypocritical coming from the same company promoting the "real beauty" narrative.

Yes, Unilever, tell us again how you lead the fight against unrealistic body standards in the media.

Dove (Unilever)’s body-shaped bottle campaign in the UK (in partnership with Ogilvy London) is yet another example of a company stumbling and crashing head-first as they attempt to traverse the space between women’s body-image in the media, and selling consumer goods.

While the notion that society needs equality between men and women has been around since the 1700s it just happens to be f***ing trendy right now.

I have written before about the exploitation of marketing to womenMore than once.

But the Daily Dot says it best:

“When is a movement not a movement? When it’s a marketing campaign in a movement’s clothing.”


Movements in marketing, done well, are powerful. I just presented on this very topic at Oracle’s Modern Customer Experience in Vegas. But they must strike a tone of authenticity. The most recent ridiculous body shape bottles from Dove miss the mark. I particularly enjoy Jeff Beer of Fast Company’s take on it:

“Dove itself conditioned us against this type of thing. It's too easy. Too shallow. The quality of its past work, means there is no room for half-stepping.

When you raise your audience's expectation, you're simply not allowed to sink back into common gimmickry.”


While the marketer in me empathizes with the intention of this latest campaign (I get it, it’s difficult to think of creative ideas to break through the noise,) I can’t help but cringe at the thought of a room full of my peers nodding in agreement at this stunt, saying “you know what - this is a GREAT idea!”

And it’s not just me – the body-shaped bottle nightmare has driven headlines and mockery online:

“I’ve yet to meet the woman honoured and celebrated by plastic bottles on supermarket shelves." – Ruth Mortimer in Marketing Week

“Dove, I have arms, please advise” – Rachel Handler on Twitter

“With this campaign, Dove has moved from celebrating the diversity of the human body to celebrating the diversity of its products’ packaging,” – Clayton Purdom in AV Club

“Have you ever been in the shower, picked up your smooth, perfect soap container and screamed ‘I CAN’T LIVE UP TO THESE STANDARDS!’”? – Aimee Lutkin in Jezebel



Another buzzword nobody needs: Femvertising

Perhaps the worst thing to emerge from all of this is a term that nobody needs - “femvertising” or what Forbes defines as “harnessing feminism in advertising” something Dove has apparently created.

Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” back in 2004 in partnership with Ogilvy & Mather, Edelman Public Relations, and Harbinger Communications was… cute. And it was praised heavily for its message for women – love thyself (then go buy our stuff). The buzz around the campaign drove 30X the exposure than the paid-for media space.

But I have some qualms about this word, “femvertising.” Let’s recap:

·     Feminism = the idea that women should be treated equally to men

·     Advertising = paid announcement meant to sell product

·     Exploitation = taking advantage of someone to benefit from their work

So before we all celebrate the ridiculous concept of “femvertising!” let’s stop and consider the importance of actual feminism, the motivation behind these attempts-at-exploiting feminism, and the very real consequences.

Dove (and every single company for that matter) can do more to support women instead of these dopey, minimizing, lazy, exploitative bottles.

Within the tech space, an industry with devastatingly unequal gender parity set against a narrative of lawsuits, it’s encouraging to read stories like this one, a real SaaS company (client) with two female co-founders who have built a culture of gender equality. They don’t just talk a big game, they bring the concept of equality to life in real business decisions.

Passing the mic back to Ruth Mortimer:

"I like that a brand wants to celebrate women. But here’s a useful guide to doing so. Employ lots of them.

Demand your agencies and suppliers are diverse. Celebrate women for their actual achievements, not just their appearance. Align yourself with causes that benefit women. Continue to show diverse people with diverse figures in your advertising.”


If basic decency isn’t enough motivation for companies to support women, women are the ultimate economic accelerator.

Companies with a strong track record of gender diversity are 15% more likely to have higher earnings than their peers. In fact, among all Fortune 500 companies, the ones with the highest representation of women on their boards significantly outperform the others. Read more.

This backlash about Dove shows it’s time to set the bar higher.



I’m going to take this moment to again share pioneering activist Jean Kilbourne’s incredible work to expose the power (and danger) of advertising, since the late 1960s. Take a few minutes to watch her videos. Just do it.

You know what, don’t get up, I’ll embed one right here if you’re skimming this post for the good stuff:




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MarTech, AI, and that Time I Met Fabio at Oracle MME / Modern CX


MarTech, AI, and that Time I Met Fabio at Oracle MME / Modern CX

By Accenture research, Artificial Intelligence could double annual growth rates in 12 developed countries. It has the potential to change the very nature of work by creating a “new relationship between man and machine.”

Investors are pouring millions ($1.3B in 2016) into related startups, and meanwhile, Elon Musk is working double-time to “save humanity from machine-learning overlords” in response to Silicon Valley‘s rush to embrace AI.

As for me… I spent the week in Las Vegas, high-tailing past the smoke-filled rows of slot machines and navigating the maze of the Mandalay Bay convention center during Oracle Modern Marketing Experience.

No wait, I mean Oracle Modern Customer Experience.

Same event, two names.

It’s like when Prince became the Artist Formerly Known as Prince. Whatever you call it, it’s still somehow both iconic and complicated at the same time.

PS: I never got to meet the real Fabio, but I did spend some quality time with his cardboard cutout. I love marketing conferences.

Screen Shot 2017-05-06 at 9.52.40 AM.png

Besides Fabio-FOMO... here's what I took away from the event.

Post-acquisition, Eloqua is the same, only, very different.  

I’m a bit of a marketing trade show veteran, on the circuit back in the day when this was Eloqua Experience. There were familiar sights, including the Markies - and Adrian Chang’s glamorous gold accoutrement putting us all to shame. 

New for 2017: drone delivery.

New for 2017: drone delivery.


This had always been an event born of Eloqua’s innovative, smart brand, a celebration of marketing excellence, the spirit of which carries on as alumni move on to roles at SiriusDecisions, Allocadia, Nudge, Fuze and LookBook, solidifying each of these as companies to watch by the sheer quality of their teams.

During the awards show dinner, I spoke to one attendee who was new on the MarTech scene (ignorance is bliss.) They remarked at the expanse of the Oracle Marketing Cloud – and the number of solutions within the famous Scott Brinker landscape slide. I held back from lamenting “when I was your age… we had 100 marketing technologies to choose from… and we liked it!”

Easy, grandma.

Given my appreciation for who Eloqua was and what they were able to accomplish, I was eager to find out how this event had changed since Oracle’s acquisition of Eloqua (for a cool $871M), and what I found validated what we’d heard all along would happen.

We were told consolidation in the chaotic marketing technology world would come, and it has. The Oracle Marketing Cloud boasts six solutions all working in alleged harmony to meet the needs of an orchestrated customer experience (hence the name change).

That consolidation drove a 65% increase in net-new logos for the business, according to CEO Mark Hurd in the press room, part of an overall 72% growth rate – one that he was sure to point out as faster than that of Microsoft and Amazon.

And all this means…

The barrier to technology adoption is lower than ever

Mark's point was clear: GE can now access the same technology stack as BlueApron (both customers.)

This is a unique point in the history of business. With the ubiquity of the cloud, we all have access to the same tools and technology.

This means every business faces an unprecedented level of opportunity. My smaller clients can buy the same tools as my largest clients, leveling the playing field such that it’s back to basics for marketers.

No longer is having the best tool or tech a competitive advantage. That’s all table stakes. Our ability to build sound strategy and put these tools into practice to achieve that strategy is what will separate the long-term winners from those who fizzle out.  


Artificial Intelligence is not going to replace jobs 

The technology du jour for Oracle MME (ok ok, ModernCX) 2017 was AI.

As mentioned before, the world is abuzz with the potentials of this sexy capability, but with that comes some misconceptions.

Mark (who, by the way, is remarkably approachable for a guy worth $35M at the helm of a 136,000-person organization) sounded a lot more like an entrepreneur than a blue chip CEO when he took aim at our obsession with jargon.

He bemoaned the habit of an industry that often wants to come up with a new term and find problems to solve later – sound familiar?  

"We're not lacking data, we're lacking the ability to use data at the specific moment of contact with customers,” he said in his opening keynote.

Here’s what I heard loud and clear: AI will not replace jobs.


Sure, some jobs will go away - but really, AI will create new opportunities, new capabilities, and provide assistance to the next step of the customer lifecycle.

Just look at what Oracle is introducing behind the scenes for support professionals. A service rep armed with customer data like their VIP status, lifetime value, at risk status and more has amazing context to make the right decisions.

My interpretation is that this functionality will play out the same way automation did – smoke and mirrors at first as we all figure out what the hell we can do with this technology, but eventually some sound use cases as the smoke clears and the dust settles.  

Steve Krause, Group Vice President of Product Management at Oracle Marketing Cloud shared his stance on the world of AI. According to him, the use case for AI is already here.

“Marketers have a fundamental need to match the right offer to right person - AI makes this possible. What’s manual today instead gets a smart copilot in the future.”


Creativity is the endgame of AI

Is creative problem-solving the ultimate goal of AI?

According to Jack Berkowitz, VP of Products and Data Science at Oracle Adaptive Intelligence, yes.

"AI is about having a machine understand the context of the situation, and give you aid to amplify your abilities in that situation. AI is a partnership between people and their systems.”

During the invite-only panel about AI, Jack made this clear: The point of AI is to unlock creativity, to give talent the time they need to do their job.

He told the story of Netflix, beginning as a delivery channel, an innovative new way of accessing content. It’s now a content company because it’s got a foundation of incredible technology that allows it to deploy sophisticated market segmentation in order to free up their time to bigger, more important things.

FYI, Netflix boasts 94 million global subscribers, and some analysts predict Netflix will continue to add 19.2 million new subscribers annually moving forward.

The gap of tech promise and adoption

All in all this event reminded me of the cyclical nature of technology adoption. What’s old tends to be new again, and it tends to be hyped up again… just look at the fact that AI companies have existed for 20-30 years.

(And the fact that, inexplicably, everything I wore in the 90s is suddenly back in fashion. WHAT.)

Consumers today welcome a credit card fraud warning, said Steve. That’s driven by AI. But, he points out, the excitement fell apart. Where these concepts reach adoption – when they’re truly valuable – is when they can be applied to a real business problem.

Marketing automation – taking this full circle and back to Eloqua - demonstrates this cycle of hype and adoption. What was exciting and new in 2008 is moving right along the bell curve. Slowly.

Some studies have the adoption of marketing automation at 42% of companies (Ascend2). Other surveys have it at 4% (VentureBeat). But talk to vendors, and the media, and it can feel that everybody is doing it, and if you’re not, you’re the freak.

It’s like high school all over again.


And yet the industry and its media is ready to move on to Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and what’s next.

Oracle Marketing Cloud’s SVP and GM Laura Ipsen called it “apps anxiety and innovation insecurity.”


I think it's a timing problem. Our trade shows are annual. Every year begets a new theme, a new buzzword, and a new focus. Readers are hungry for something fresh and new.

What earns a click, however, rarely matches what a practitioner is ready for (but how else are digital publications measured?)

Our adoption of tech does not fall neatly into a 365-day package.

Marketers are left to bridge the gap between the hype of the industry, and the reality in their companies. They operate somewhere between pace of real change, and the consensus of the status quo.

That gap, some days, seems wider than ever.