Pride or Pandering?


Pride or Pandering?

What is the danger of rainbow-pandering?


This is the age of woke-washing and virtue-hustling

Breast Cancer has been pink-washed. Women’s rights have given rise to femvertising and faux-feminism. For decades, environmental concerns has led to green-washing in an attempt to fix public image issues.

Now, during pride month 2019, cities around the world are celebrating their support for the LGBTQ community with parades, marches, parties, and festivals, all marking the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.

And that means we are neck-deep in pride marketing. 

What’s Up with All the Rainbows?

You’ve undoubtedly noticed some extra rainbows this month. Around the world, brands are signaling their support for the LGBTQ rights movement in their marketing, aiming to drive sales, awareness, social impressions, earned media, and employee acquisition/retention. 

  • Changing their logos to a temporarily rainbow version on social media

  • Highlighting LGBTQ team members in branded content this month

  • Using models this month in ads who represent gender and orientation diversity

  • Hanging rainbow banners and flags in retail locations and offices

  • Having a group of employees and allies marching in their local pride parade

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It’s rainbow-washing. It’s everywhere.

And in 2019 there is more than ever.

Why Do Companies Do It?

In short, it’s just good PR, baby.

Public support for LGBTQ rights is at an all-time high after decades of activism, most recently marked by the US Supreme Court ruling that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry in 2015.

24% of US internet users are more likely to do business with companies known to be LGBTQ+-friendly. Particularly, gay and lesbian individuals (71%), bisexual people (54%), millennials (32%), and high-income earners (34%) all said they’re likely to spend money with LGBTQ+-friendly businesses. (eMarketer).

Organizations seek to align with where the future is going, where the groundswell is, and more importantly, where the conversations are happening.

This year, plenty of major corporations are rainbow-washing in an attempt to connect with consumers to earn their affection, preference, and trust. This year in my hometown of Boston, over 400 groups were registered to march in the city’s largest pride parade in 49 years. 

What’s the Upside to Pride Marketing?

On one hand, this is thrilling – it indicates a wonderful cultural shift towards equality. Any of us would gladly take the current onslaught of rainbows over the senseless anti-gay cultural norms and legal realities this community has endured through US history and around the world. 

So, to get this point out of the way because it has to be said:

Corporate backing and public support for this community is something that should be appreciated for its intentions and as an alternative to a darker time in our not-so-distant past. This is the second anniversary of one of the worst mass shootings ever in our country, and it was targeted at the LGBTQ community. 

It may also help sway government policy towards equality as businesses like Netflix put pressure on individual states because of anti-LGBTQ laws.

Consumers even expect this from businesses. The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer Reportfound more than three-quarters (76%) of the general population want CEOs to take the lead on change instead of waiting for government to impose it.

(Ask me another time about my concerns with the amount of trust consumers place in the institution of business. Hint: it’s alarming.)

With that consumer trust comes power.

And, that means there is some room for optimism. Advertising and marketing as a ubiquitous, every-day agent in our world has the potential to drastically change attitudes and opinions. That’s what it does fundamentally, and that’s why companies pour billions of dollars into it.

Cause for celebrating all pride-related marketing, right? If you’ve read my previous takes on this subject, you know the answer…

Not quite.

The Problem with Rainbow-Washing

The truth is, most rainbow-washed marketing doesn’t align with any real action or represent the reality of being LGBTQ inside the companies using it. Hell, most campaigns don’t even donate a portion of the proceeds to nonprofits benefitting the community – the literal least a brand could do.

So, let’s call it what it is: rainbow-pandering.

Rainbow-pandering is when companies exploit LGBTQ rights in their marketing without meaningful action at their organizations, or in the greater world.

This is a form of virtue signaling – defined as “empty gestures intended to convey socially approved attitudes without any associated risk or sacrifice.”

Just like faux-feminism, there is a fundamental risk to the movement for LGBTQ equality when companies signal their support on the surface through marketing and fail to live up to these ideals.

7 Examples of Rainbow-Pandering:

  1. Adidas sells rainbow merchandise in a “pride collection” but spent millions in Russia as a major sponsor of the 2018 World Cup. Russia’s anti-LGBTQ laws made the event “unsafe for fans and athletes.”

  2. Six of nine corporate executives who signed a letter criticizing then Indiana governor Mike Pence’s anti-LGBT legislation represent companies whose CEOs or political action committees donated to Pence while he was campaigning against LGBT rights per Chicago Sun Times.

  3. PINK, a lingerie and apparel line from Victoria’s Secret recently tweeted support for LGBTQ associates and customers. Twitter users were quick to remind the brand of its CMO’s refusal to include transgender models for its annual Fashion Show. (Similar exclusions were made about plus-size models. This is hardly equality. Hell, it’s hardly trying.)

  4. Goldman Sachs is facing a high-profile allegation of sexual orientation discriminationand retaliation from a gay former executive who says a supervisor excluded him from an important conference call because he “sounded too gay.” Sigh. The company flies rainbow flags and marches in pride parades globally, supports an LGBT employee affinity network (which this executive led), and even published advice on “how to be a good ally.” Maybe his supervisors should read it.

  5. Major retailers including H&M, Primark, Target, and Levi Strauss all sell rainbow apparel like rainbow fanny packs and sequined caps. But, as the NYTimes pointed out, much of it is manufactured in countries where it’s either illegal to be gay or where persecution is commonplace such as China, Turkey, and Myanmar. Each brand quoted in the full piece point out the good work they are doing to truly help the community. While their PR efforts are on full display, it doesn’t hide the underlying conflict.

  6. YouTube, which has branded all its social media channels to rainbows this month, has come under fire for failing to remove hateful, anti-LGBTQ content, “putting LGBTQ support and hate speech on the same platform.” It has also struggled with categorizing LGBTQ content as restricted or potentially inappropriate. Internally, Google employees have petitioned YouTube to strip its social channels of Pride branding calling it “hypocritical co-opting of their community.”

Nandini Jammi, part of the massive (and Cannes Lion winning!) Sleeping Giants advertising accountability movement (read about them in the NYTimes), said this about brands advertising on YouTube:

The company said last week that they intend to protect hate speech and harassment as "free speech." But what brand marketers heard is that YouTube will continue placing their ads next to harmful and offensive content indefinitely. In other words, brands cannot expect to be kept safe on that platform.

I get it. This is a total buzzkill.

Alex Abad-Santos at Vox says it best:

“It’s a hell of a lot easier to commodify a party than it is a political act.”

But political acts, policies, and real action are what’s necessary to create lasting change.

Rainbow-pandering masks the real work to be done. It hides the reality of the situation facing LGBTQ people in the workplace and creates an illusion of progress.

Ultimately, this kind of marketing creates a dangerous blind spot, as those exposed to it come to believe the world to be fairer and more equitable than it really is.

We don’t even have standards to measure the way LGBTQ workers are affected economically. Even the way we measure economic recovery since the 2009 crash masks what’s really going on:

“Post-recession economic analysis should take into account the ways in which discrimination in hiring and firing, wage gaps, workplace harassment, and other employment barriers limit economic prosperity for all workers, including LGBTQ workers.” Source.


Consumers Are Not Buying It

eMarketer found that customers “pick up on this as a marketing ploy.”

Half of internet users in the US said that if a company debuts Pride-related merchandise or content, they’re more likely to see that as a marketing tactic than as a true reflection of the company’s values.

Any time spent on Instagram, Reddit, or Tumblr lately will show you the true feelings of consumers who are increasingly skeptical and wary of capitalism painting its nails with the colors of the rainbow. I offer a few memes for your consideration:

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God, I love the internet.

What it’s Really Like to Be LGBTQ in the Workplace

The real problem with rainbow-pandering is the fact that there is so much real work to be done to reach the glossy rainbow-colored reality that pride campaigns seem to indicate exists.

Consider the reality of the LGBTQ worker, please:

  1. Millions of LGBTQ Americans can be fired, legally, due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

  2. There is no federal statute addressing employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity (rights within individual states vary, and the Supreme Court is taking up the issue later this year related to how the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is interpreted. Fingers crossed.)

  3. More than half (53 percent) of LGBTQ employees reported that they have experienced or witnessed anti-LGBTQ comments by co-workers.

  4. LGBTQ millennials face larger financial struggles and economic instability due in part to average lower income rates.

  5. Conscious and unconscious bias against LGBTQ applicants often prevent them from getting hired. Research finds that up to 68% of LGBT people report experiencing employment discrimination.

  6. Many employees at tech brands are scared to speak up about addressing problematic LGBTQ issues for fear of retaliation – not just being fired, but being doxed (when private or identifying information is made public online maliciously.)

  7. 1 in 10 LGBTQ people reported removing items from their resume to hide their sexual orientation or gender identity from employers.

  8. Between 11 percent and 28 percent of LGB workers report losing a promotion simply because of their sexual orientation.

  9. 1 in 6 transgender people have been fired from a job because of their gender identity (according to USTS) and they experience violence at an ever-increasing, alarming rate across the country, often without much national media attention. In many ways, transgender members of the community are treated as disposable.

  10. Many LGBTQ community members hide personal relationships, delay health care, change the way they dress, or take other steps to alter their lives at work to avoid discrimination.

This is the everyday reality for millions of American workers.

This is the ugly truth behind rainbow-washed marketing.

This should be a wake-up call that this community is in need of real support and policy, not just a rainbow color treatment during the month of June.

The Pride or Pandering Marketing Litmus Test

So, which campaigns should we celebrate? Which are simply virtue-signaling and rainbow-pandering, and which are appropriate for brands to celebrate? Are you a marketer considering applying the rainbow treatment to your brand or client?

Campaigns fall somewhere on this spectrum:

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And because it's important to name the enemy here… meet Pandering Panda. 

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He looks cute, but he’s deceptive.

Pandering Panda will claim to support any movement, as long as it’s not too risky and he doesn’t have to make any real changes to his organization. He'll profit from the sale of rainbow-colored merch without any donation to LBGTQ groups, while continuing to discriminate his employees.

Don’t be like Pandering Panda.

Follow my handy litmus test before leveraging all the colors of the rainbow in your campaign next June:

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If mostly “no’s” - don’t risk it. Find something else to use in your campaigns. Find another way to get your brand into the conversation. You threaten the very real struggle for equality by perpetuating a false narrative that the world is more equitable than it is.

As this is absolutely about your bottom line, you also risk the reputation of your organization. Brands have to realize they’re opening themselves up to scrutiny when they go all-in on pride month.

Via Branding Strategy Insider, “…attempts to cash in on the rainbow (or really any color associated with a cause) without giving back to the community could send a tone-deaf message that might do more harm than good.”

If mostly “yes’s” then, right on. Thanks for actively supporting your colleagues and a community fighting for acceptance, acknowledgement, and freedom from persecution.

The bottom line: If you want the benefit of aligning yourself with the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement, be prepared for the commitment.

 “The days of simply slapping a rainbow on your packaging and calling yourself ‘LGBT-friendly’ are long gone,” said Justin Nelson, president and co-founder, National LGBT Chamber of Commerce. “The community demands a yearlong, enterprise wide commitment to the LGBT community within the company and in every market the company hopes to engage.” 

“I don’t have any friends that only speak to me in June. I would hope that brands would treat the LGBT community the same way,” says Jay Porter, president of Edelman Chicago

This whole topic is summarized perfectly by Shannon:

What Real Support Looks Like:

  • It’s year-round: Dell supports its LGBTQ team members “all year long.”

  • It addresses real community concerns: Via TheDrum's excellent piece on this, "Smirnoff has been praised for its Soho Angels initiative, that enlists a team of specially trained volunteers to keep the LGBTQ+ community safe at night throughout the year. This year, the drinks brand is bringing the volunteers to Pride, to ensure the safety of its attendees."

  • It impacts policy: 161 corporate sponsors urged Congress to pass the LGBTQ Equality Act, which will give civil rights protections to such individuals if the measure is later approved by the Senate. Converse Inc., Macy’s Inc. and Under Armour Inc. are among them — a stark contrast to when the bill was introduced four years ago and the only companies publicly supporting the measure were Apple, The Dow Chemical Co. and Levi Strauss & Co. (Footwear News)

  • It’s part of your history and future: As early as 1984, IBM has included sexual orientation in their non-discrimination policy. Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Tia Silas told Glassdoor: “We continue promoting and defending LGBT+ rights around the world and actively influenced legislation and policy in Louisiana, North Carolina, and Texas.”

  • It’s measurable: The Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index recognizes businesses that are inclusive of the LGBTQ workforce. Nearly 600 firms are recognized as earning a score of 100% in 2019 for action like non-discrimination policies, equitable benefits, diverse supply chain programs, and inclusive culture/CSR programs.

  • It aligns to accepted standards: The United Nations publishes standards of conduct for business. These are best practices regarding LGBTI employees and inclusive workplaces.

  • It translates to real work: Brands like Intuit and Google foster employee resource groups for LBGTQ employees, some professional services groups do pro bono work for this community. Read more about brands like this who are hiring now.

A New Standard for Marketing

It’s a kind of golden era of marketing. We have more tools, channels, insights, data, and opportunities at our disposal than ever before. With such a massive platform comes responsibility to market with integrity to both our shareholders and the larger world.

Bottom line impact. There’s a massive risk of losing consumer trust once brand hypocrisy is exposed. Once you lose that trust, it’s an uphill battle to gain it back, and it becomes a non-starter for immediate affinity and sales. Downstream, you risk valuable long-term loyalty.

Woke-washing, virtue-signaling, and empty lip-service stunt marketing campaigns are a short term, high-risk strategy.

(They are infuriatingly lazy, to boot.)

Societal impact. More broadly, you have a responsibility to the very movements you’re appropriating to operate with some measure of integrity.

Marketing with integrity is always going to be an aspirational concept, but a girl can dream, right? It indicates to consumers that we’ve considered the implications of where our products are used, and who our marketing budget dollars are supporting.

While so many brands jump on the bandwagon, my calls to action are as follows:

  1. Consumers, only patronize those brands who live up to the promise of support for this community. Be discerning consumers of marketing. Vote with your wallet.

  2. Employees, recognize your collective power in whistleblowing, and give your talent to those companies who understand the importance of equality.

  3. Marketers, agencies, founders, and all in positions of decision-making authority, put the kibosh on campaigns when your client / company doesn’t live up to the very basic standards of integrity, here.

In a world still filled with discrimination, fear-mongering and “otherness” based on our differences, pride celebrations around the world are a call for each of us to treat LGBTQ community members with the acceptance every human being deserves, in all our forms.

It’s not worth risking what this movement stands for in order to gain some short-term brand lift.

In the words of Ru Paul, don’t f*ck it up. 


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Note: This talk had its world premiere last week at the Boston Leadership Forum with Lesbians Who Tech. I tend to tell it like it is on stage. You can book me to speak here.


Should Marketers Think Like Journalists?


Should Marketers Think Like Journalists?

The answer is somewhere in the middle.

In a time when the freedom of the press ("the only named profession in the U.S. constitution" - TechCrunch) is under threat, I'm interested in how the definition of journalism is shifting in a time of business-model pressure-cooker cuts and how we hold powers to account.

From a marketing perspective, I believe we need to be crystal clear where journalism serves as a good example for what we do, and when it's simply ridiculous to call ourselves journalists. Here's my take - I'd love to hear yours in the comments. (Be nice.)

Note: This post originally appeared on (the excellent) Managing Editor Magazine.


Content marketing was first lauded as the future of marketing (“the only marketing left”) in 2008. It was positioned as an opportunity for marketers to serve their audiences as journalists do.

So content marketers frequently hear the advice that they should think like journalists.

I don’t disagree — but I don’t think we should take this guidance at face value. It’s more nuanced than that.

A Deficit of [Thought] Leadership

Former President Barack Obama recently gave a speech in which he said he wanted to inspire new leaders.

“We have a deficit of leadership,” he said, “and we need new blood.”

In many ways I think the same is true for business leaders — we’re facing a deficit of original thinking, strong brand points of view and clear guidance for customers in the chaotic, fast-changing worlds of technology and media.

Consider that we operate in a world where the barrier to entry is low for starting a company and bringing it to market. It’s a world where 7,000-plus vendors compete for a share of the CMO’s wallet while thousands more compete in the worlds of accounting, financial tech, HR technology and every other function-based technology landscape you can imagine.

There’s simply more competition for B2B buyers’ attention than ever.

Also consider that our efforts in marketing to differentiate through content are falling flat. Where content marketing was once the future of the industry (“content is king” and all that) we’re waking up to the realities of its economics.

The vast majority of B2B organizations (91 percent) use content marketing, while 60-70 percent of B2B content goes unused by our sales counterparts. Only 14 percent of buyers think the quality of the thought leadership they read is “very good” or “excellent.”

That’s terrible.

If we can’t lead with our ideas, how do we expect to break through to buyers? You can’t afford to play a passive role in the narratives affecting your industry.

What’s the Difference Between Journalism and Marketing?

Here’s the heart of the issue for me: Journalism is objective. Marketing is not.

The ultimate goal of marketing is to create change. Having an agenda is part of our purview.

Without one we’re doing nothing more in our content than reporting on the way things are — and adding to the noise. Reporting on the way things are is only half the battle. Marketing is meant to provide a prescriptive set of insights about what to do next.

Content should help a buyer see their world differently. It should move them toward the reality created in part by our products. Each piece should play a clear role in helping them make a decision.

Anything else is purely adding to the noise of a buying experience inundated and overwhelmed by information.

Clarify Your Point of View

Some of the most effective marketing distinctly aligns itself with customers on the basis of what both company and customer believe.

Look at consumer brands like Nike, with its well-targeted Colin Kaepernick campaign, and Gillettewith its recent “We Believe” campaign. Look at what was able to achieve by taking a stance against on-premises software. Look at the success of Moz in railing against black-hat SEO techniques and moving an entire industry toward a better future.

Yes, brands may receive some backlash for having a point of view and taking a stand. But, to quote the creative director Bill Bernbach, “If you stand for something, you will always find some people for you and some against you. If you stand for nothing, you will find nobody against you, and nobody for you.”

Nike’s value went up by about $6 billion in the first three weeks after launching the Kaepernick campaign. It’s an example of the reality that 76 percent of buyers say CEOs should take the lead on change rather than waiting for government to impose it. Many consumers in fact are looking to brands to be stewards in society, to use their influence to move industries in one direction or another.

And that’s where content born of a journalistic mindset tends to fall short. It carries no agenda, brings no North Star, and gives buyers nowhere to go.

The mattress brand Casper found out the hard way that brand journalism isn’t always a viable model. In 2015 the company launched a standalone online publication, Van Winkle’s. It was lauded by industry awards as “the second-best content marketing effort of 2015” and the “best branded editorial experience” in 2016. Two years later Van Winkle’s was gone.

Per Digiday:

“… despite the accolades, Van Winkle’s had no monetization strategy, and Casper’s senior management started questioning why they were producing the publication a few months after its launch.”

“At the end of the day, brands are performance marketers. If you don’t deliver business results they will let you go,” Van Winkle’s former editor-in-chief said.

In other words, we can’t be successful with content marketing if we’re opposed to the ultimate responsibility of driving business. If driving sales feels “icky” you need to re-examine your priorities as a marketer (and possibly your career choice).

Journalistic Content with an Agenda

I’m sure I’ve now riled up everyone who sees their job as a mix of journalism and marketing. You’re not wrong!

There are brands that are killing it with journalistic content at the top of the funnel. Look at WeWork’s site, Creator, dedicated to “covering all of the things that make WeWork’s community tick.”


Originally “WeWork Magazine,” this site tells the WeWork story and builds brand awareness through stories of its members and related values. Traffic brings brand awareness and new tenant leads, and it serves as a powerful differentiator (show me another commercial real estate firm dedicated to journalistic endeavors like this!).

It is also 100 percent aligned to the company’s core offering:

“Our product is community and the magazine is a digital extension of our community,” says Christina Choi, former editorial director (now in brand marketing for the firm).

This is content with an agenda that looks and feels like journalism.

3 Things to Steal from Journalism

At the risk of Dr. Jekyll-and-Mr. Hyde-ing this entire narrative, I do believe there’s a lot about good journalism that marketers can learn from.

Note that I said “good journalism.”

“There is good and bad everything — movies, film, food and especially journalism,” says Melanie Deziel, someone who has taught me a lot about native advertising and branded content.

Melanie helped me clarify an important point:

“Bad journalism is a bad model for content marketing.”

As she explained, great journalism provides a framework for the content people trust, what they’re interested in sharing and what kind of relationship they expect with an organization (like a publisher) that’s worth subscribing to.

For us to get content right, we need to follow certain tenets of great journalism, specifically:

Sourcing. The point of view of your CEO/CMO/CTO must be balanced by outside perspectives, namely research studies, customers and other industry experts.

Newsworthiness. Ask “why does our reader care, and what makes this story special?” There’s an inherent challenge here to say something different, to come at it from a different angle or to present it in a new way that’s valuable for your audience.

Face case. News stories often open with a personal story — an immigrant or federal employee affected by policy, for example. That allows the audience to instantly relate before they go into the broader story. It’s hard for humans to relate to macro trends, charts and big numbers (as important as those are for credibility). Content marketers must, like journalists, find a face in the story. It could be a customer, employee, community partner or vendor. If your story doesn’t have a person in it, readers can’t put themselves in that story.

Caught in the Middle

As I mentioned, this issue is nuanced. Like most business advice, there’s no silver bullet or one-size-fits-all guidance to give every brand, especially in B2B.

Customers need to fall in love with our brand and our ideas through our content. But marketers who operate like bad journalists, adding to the noise and ultimately abdicating the responsibility of driving business results, will find their tenure cut short.

Strike a balance. Find a happy medium between hype-filled product content and objective journalism meant to inform, not persuade.

Let’s meet somewhere in the middle.

Note: This post originally appeared on Managing Editor Magazine.


Hear more of my POV on content in my session at this year's Content Marketing World 2019 -- I have a lot to say (and a discount code!)

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“Super Pumped:” Taken to Marketing Church at Adobe/Marketo Summit 2019


“Super Pumped:” Taken to Marketing Church at Adobe/Marketo Summit 2019

It was part reality check, part call-to-arms, part sermon for marketers from Marketo CMO, Sarah Kennedy at last week’s Marketo Summit @ Adobe Summit keynote, where she said:


“You don’t have to be in sales to talk to prospects. You don't have to be in customer success to advocate for the customer. You don’t need to be a CIO to advocate for better technology."


Ultimately it was a mandate; step up and lead.

“Do it,” Kennedy said, “even if you’re scared.”

Kennedy stepped into the role of CMO at Marketo one year prior to its acquisition by Adobe (the largest to-date from Adobe), and just 18 months before this keynote, in which she bluntly admitted her own fear: 

“If you don’t feel ready, I hear you. I didn’t either.”

Vulnerability on a keynote stage is rare - when it happens it’s like a fleeting glimpse of humanity in an otherwise scripted, highly-produced (note: beautifully designed, Sergio) performance that audiences come to expect from a major tech keynote presented to a room holding 17,000 chairs.

Did all 17,000 attendees stay to watch this Marketing Nation Summit keynote, held on day three of the broader Adobe Summit? No.

Boy, do I wish they did. 

Maybe you opted out of the event this year as well, couldn’t make it, or found yourself elsewhere. Whichever camp you were in, hungover or hung up on other responsibilities, here’s what you missed, through my eyes.

Note: My travel and ticket were covered by Adobe, but my POV is 100% my own.

(Thank GOD she remembered the disclosure, says their PR team with a sigh of relief.)

Carrying the heavy torch of marketing to marketers

I’m of the mindset that great leaders make no secret what they believe. 

Nowhere is this practice more important than in the weird world I’ve found myself in for the last decade: marketing to marketers.

Marketo was always heralded for its ability to teach, guide, and relate to marketers. “Marketing is hard” became a simple, but effective hook back in the days of the earliest Marketo Summit. 

Simple, but damn powerful. An exceptional truth.

Starting a decade+ ago, Jon Miller (one of Marketo’s original founders) executed a content marketing strategy full of “definitive guides” and step-by-step instructions on how to navigate the changing waters of marketing in the digital age. The company educated its buyers, a move wildly appreciated by marketers just trying to figure it all out, and a fine example of what happens when you get buyers to think of their world in your terms.

It was one of many reasons Marketo succeeded in becoming a beloved brand. (Its rivals, Eloqua and, downmarket, Hubspot, saw similar success with a comparable content strategies.)

A major part of the brand’s ability to support the evolving role of marketing operations was Marketing Nation, a community of marketers helping marketers through user groups and peer-led champions.

“We get you” the brand seemed to say, in a kind of Oprah-like delivery. We see you, you’re doing okay. You’ve got this.


That sense of confidence instilled was as important to signing the dotted line to buy Marketo as the quality of its cloud technology. 

What will happen to Marketo?

To me, this is what made Sarah Kennedy's keynote so powerful in this particular moment in the company’s history.

Uncertainty abounded before - and during - the show, as myself and many others asked: What will come of Marketo and the Marketing Nation now that it had been scooped up by Adobe?

To be fair, it’s early yet, the acquisition only six months old.

But, at the Summit, positive signs emerged early-on from Adobe itself: CMO Ann Lewnes was asked “What excites you most about adding Marketo to the portfolio?” 

She responded, exuberantly, “Using Marketo! We are customer zero. This is the best B2B marketing solution, bar none.”

 At a broader level, the acquisition was framed within Adobe CEO, Shantanu Narayen’s opening statement “we aim to change the world through digital experiences.”


He explained Adobe’s creative cloud empowered people to create (with a belief that everyone has a story to tell), that their document cloud activated all digital documents, while their experience cloud (of which Marketo is now part) would “transform how businesses compete in the digital era.”

A shared vision to help companies make digital a headwind, or a tailwind.

As Steve Lucas bounded on stage with his trademark energy and “SUPER PUMPED” mantra (it’s infectious), it was comforting to realize some things would never change.

He delivered some expected lines (“with Marketo now part of the experience cloud, it unlocks new capabilities across advertising, analytics, and commerce”) and some B2B surprises like ABX - a new account-based experience that is still vague but will somehow incorporate Adobe’s capabilities with Microsoft and its Dynamics CRM and LinkedIn (owned by MSFT.)


The promise (to be fulfilled): “With addition of Marketo, Adobe Marketing Cloud enables you to personalize, optimize, and orchestrate cross-channel campaigns across B2B and B2C, enable end to end marketing for B2E (business to everyone.)”

B2E, clever.

This was all in line with the messaging coming out of the initial acquisition.


A powerful example of leadership.

But it was Kennedy who left me reeling.

Her keynote ended the morning’s talks, but it did so with a bang.

 It gave me, someone who has grown up with the company as a customer, technology partner, sponsor, and now contractor, the confidence that this brand was still by and for the marketer. 

Kennedy chose to share three “forever truths” that guided her as CMO; revealing, as she put it, what “a little more time in the chair” taught her:

  1. The customer (in moments of doubt, lean into the voice of the customer.)

  2. The community (we’re not going through this alone. Never forget whose brand this really is.)

  3. The calling (your time to lead is now.)

She spoke to the emotional state of nearly every marketing leader in that room:

 “If you don’t feel ready, I hear you. I didn’t either. The calling is for us to jump, find that parachute on the way down, and step into that divide. Lead your companies from the front without fear, and do so with [Marketo/Adobe] as a partner. You have a passionate and powerful nation behind you.”


In one fell swoop, Sarah broke down that enormous barrier that exists between a speaker standing in front of a football-field-length keynote screen, and the audience they are there to connect with. 

She reminded marketers that she, like us, was in the same strange boat of digital transformation amid choppy waters. She had been asked to lead transformation when she joined just 18 months prior, rebuild a team, rearchitect their go-to-market. She was asked to lead change, doing whatever it took to guide the organization through transformation.

It was the same charter laid before any marketer at any high-growth firm, in any industry.

(All the while with the reminder of that short, average-CMO-tenure hovering overhead like a personal storm cloud.)

This was personal, powerful marketer-to-marketer messaging that I connected with stronger than any other given through the duration of the Summit. This was what I had worried would be lost in this acquisition. This is what attracted so many to the Marketo brand and why, as Narayen said in his opening talk “Marketo’s empathy for its customers” was a major factor in its acquisition.


Recognizing Marketo’s role as career catalyst

What her personal, vulnerable story indicated was that Marketo, with her as a brand steward, still understood its chief role for many of their strongest customer advocates, that of “career catalyst.” 50,000 individuals have "Marketo" in their profile on LinkedIn. It has accelerated and carved a path of success for many in the marketing operations field.

Later in the event, I sat down with two Marketo customers, Sydney Mulligan + Amy Connors, who each agreed Marketo changed their careers (and lives) for the better.

(I’ll update the post with videos once they’re live, for now here's a behind-the-scenes shot. Oprah for hire, here.)


Marketo is now part of the larger, broader, more substantial behemoth that is Adobe, which is also undergoing its own digital transformation, brilliantly led by Narayen who has pushed through major shifts to its business model (from creative software in a box to a subscription model,) expanding their focus (squarely a marketing company now with its acquisition of Magento’s eCommerce capabilities and Marketo with it’s end-to-end lead management engine), while maintaining its dedication to a community of creators and designers.

Ultimately what left me feeling super pumped (thanks Steve) was this final point that Kennedy made: the calling.

“Each of you needs to be ready to lead. To be a catalyst for growth, to take ownership over every step of your customers’ journey. Transform teams into marketing growth engines by making engagement your top priority. Make every experience epic.

It’s marketing’s time to lead. Your company, customers, and communities need you to do so.”

Here was a rallying cry for marketers amid a chaotic world of change.

Here was earnest confidence from one of our own.

Here was a stage featuring two admirable CMOs (Kennedy and Lewnes) who were both shining examples of what each marketer was not only tasked to do, but could do within our own organizations.

And there was a shiver going through my spine as I felt something sitting in that audience. Please note this was the final of seven, yes seven events I had attended this month alone (not complaining. Just putting it in context.)

That’s what a great keynote should do. That’s what a powerful leader should do. That’s what a brand must be in an age of confusion, noise, and change.

For overwhelmed buyers, clarity amid the ambiguity, confidence amid the change, a vision for the future, and honesty about the challenges faced is like cold-as-ice lemonade on a hot Vegas day. (OK, gin and tonic, let’s be real.)

I don’t envy anyone who has, like me, chosen to market to marketers. It’s a thankless job full of skeptical eyes, with buyers well aware of the moves being made (for the most part) and setting the bar sky high as a result.

Ultimately, what a brand like Marketo must do is inspire its marketing buyers to see themselves in that brand. Customers need to relate to brand leaders who serve as spokespersons for their technology, and shepherds for their flock.

How refreshing to see exactly this, last week, from Kennedy.

Forgive all the church references, Easter is coming soon and my recovering-Catholic self is feeling the optimism of springtime, but for all intents and purposes this was a beautiful example of evangelism on-stage.

We were taken back to marketing church. 

And I, for one, was converted.



Thank you, Adobe, for having me as one of your 65 Adobe Summit insiders from around the globe. While I will always bristle at being called an "influencer," I was grateful for the chance to be part of this year's event.

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3 Takeaways and Action Items for Marketers from Modern CX 2019


3 Takeaways and Action Items for Marketers from Modern CX 2019

The question that was proposed by the Oracle Marketing Cloud team ahead of this year's event was simple:

“What does it take to be a great marketer in the age of the customer?” 

Modern CX 2019 tried to answer it for attendees from 37 countries, with 323 sessions and 424 speakers across 3 very busy days.

I was part of this year’s event as a speaker, correspondent (follow me on Twitter) and researcher (if you haven’t taken my 7-minute survey, please do!)

My POV comes as a marketer who was part of Eloqua Experience for years as a sponsor and partner, then a speaker and attendee at Modern Marketing Experience after the acquisition by Oracle, and now as a freelance consultant and observer at Modern Customer Experience. 

Here are my top three takeaways + action items (with bonus one-liners at the end) for marketers:

1. Oracle wants to help you outsmart time.

New EVP and GM of Oracle CX Cloud, Rob Tarkoff, first asked if there were any clocks visible in Las Vegas.

His point:

“Time is the currency of the Experience Economy."

"It’s now. It’s urgent. CX is a race against time… It’s about looking at the world through your customers’ eyes and asking yourself: Is every experience that my brand delivers worth the time a customer invests with me?”

This focus on time was a common thread of the main stage talks. 

New updates to the Oracle Marketing Cloud reflect this focus, allowing marketers to make the most of the limited time they do have with prospects, and optimize the “micro-moments” that occur in the process of a buyer engaging with a company. 

The best place to read about those is within Ginger Conlon's thorough piece for The Drum:

Updates to Oracle Infinity and Oracle Maxymiser include an integration between the two designed to provide marketers with the ability to visualize user behaviors with heat and zone maps — allowing them to improve the customer experience on their website. [Maximizing their time on-site.]

Additionally, the new Oracle Infinity Action Center provides insight into behavioral data from across touchpoints that marketers can use to improve segmentation and better personalize communications in real time. And a new Recommender engine uses that behavioral data to support one-to-one targeting at scale.

Collectively, these updates aim to provide marketers real-time intelligence so they can respond to customers’ nearly unpredictable actions in the moments that matter.

For B2B, a new Oracle Eloqua integration with Oracle Data Cloud + Oracle DataFox (purchased in October 2018) lends new insight into intent and account behaviors. It allows teams to know the best, most relevant time to engage with target accounts based on their noteworthy behavior across 5M digital properties, 70k daily news articles, and other “growth signals” across the web. 

Is every experience worth their time?


Marketers need to remove our rose-colored glasses, take a hard look at the current experience a buyer has with our brand, and ask (as Tarkoff recommends): “Is every experience that my brand delivers worth the time a customer invests with me?”

2. New UX for sales raises the stakes for marketing’s thought leadership.

From the main stage, Hillel Cooperman, SVP of User Experience Design at Oracle, shared a peek of what is to come within the Oracle Sales Cloud. 

He walked through a beautifully designed experience for a sales rep: A Facebook newsfeed-esque layout shows a history of a prospect’s behavior (what they read, downloaded, or what Marketing sent), while AI transcribes their call, conducts a sentiment analysis, and recommends what to say next to move the deal forward.

These contextual insights were instant, prescriptive, and powerful. Oracle’s vision is that more time can be spent “focusing on sales priorities, and less time spent on non-selling, administrative tasks.” 

I was impressed by this demo, and felt it looked beautifully constructed for the reality of a sales rep day-to-day. 


From a marketing perspective, none of this very cool tech matters unless we’re able to equip the sales team with original, prescriptive, and relevant insights to help that buyer move forward, and see their world differently. 

Tarkoff echoed this sentiment later, saying "If the majority of buying journey happens before a customer talks to sales, how do we ensure they are prepared as experts?” 

3. In the experience economy, Marketing must learn from UX

Cooperman’s talk demonstrated a renewed commitment from Oracle on the user experience of their applications.

“Good enough is not good enough anymore. We're reconnecting with design and want to be the best at user experience. Not functional, not just helpful but delightful. We want you to fall in love with it," he said.

His POV is excellent advice for anyone designing or marketing products. We can’t dream about creating a great customer experience without working to improve the process post-sale. A beautiful user experience for our tools is paramount to keeping customers loyal. 

It's also what makes or breaks the adoption and success of any tool, a sentiment echo’d by Motorola Solutions’ Andrew Sinclair later on the main stage as he described how Oracle helps them to provide contextual, just-in-time insights to workers in a 911 call center, who daily deal with "moments of terror":

“A dashboard filled with information during a moment of terror helps nobody.”

Here, Motorola Solutions puts the user first, giving them clear guidance on "what to do next."

In a similar vein, marketers need to take a page from the book of UX when we consider what kind of experience we’re creating for buyers pre-sale. 

As I shared in a 15-minute talk at this year's show, CEB found that the majority of B2B buyers are well-informed, but overwhelmed and uncertain.

Much of this is because marketing overloads them with information, instead of making the buying process clear, simple, or easy. 

Some quick tips here:

1. Make it clear in your content about why change matters in the first place. Your buyer will come back to this point more than any other during the long sales process. 

2. Be prescriptive about what their process will be to change. Get ahead of their concerns. 

3. Help a buyer sell the vision internally by equipping them with answers for the questions and priorities that all stakeholders will have in the deal (yes, in your marketing content.)

4. Audit your resource library of content every single freaking year. 60-70% of all content churned out by B2B marketing departments sits unused by Sales (SiriusDecisions.) Less is more.

5. Start with the buyer. I know this is old news but I will never stop beating this drum. In a time when all vendors have access to the same tools, the team that knows their buyers best will win. Challenge your assumptions about the people you’re selling to, and ensure every piece of content you produce answers one of their hard-pressing questions.

This is what vendors like Oracle mean when they make big bets to re-focus their products/conferences on the “customer experience.” 

We’re being asked to design an experience. That means great marketers are already thinking like their UX counterparts. After all, we have the same goal; make a product as desirable to a customer as possible.


Marketers, think like UX designers do. Remove what’s unnecessary. Make it beautiful. More is not better. Clear is better. Intentional is better. Customer-centric is better. 

My favorite one-liners from the show.

“It takes 80 touches to sell an app to a customer at Oracle. The first 20 are the hardest.”

-- CEO Mark Hurd speaking truth to the need for strong, bold early-stage messaging and content. Amen.

“If asked to lead, do so with empathy, thick skin, and a great team.”

-- Donna Epps at Ricoh

“NO to me are the first two letters of ‘not now’”

-- Mick Ebeling, CEO of Not Impossible

“The Olympics is about people who go from ordinary to extraordinary”

-- Jennifer Storms, CMO of NBC Sports, as she explained the company’s “persona plans” which highlight the amazing stories of athletes. We fall in love with them. Who are your olympic athletes? What are their stories?

BONUS TAKEAWAY: There’s no such thing as TOO dressed up for the Markies. 

Thanks to Oracle Marketing Cloud for having me! You can see more in my Twitter momentwatch the keynotes on-demand here, and learn more about their 2020 event here.

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Pay Attention, Be Astonished: Thoughts On That Gillette Ad


Pay Attention, Be Astonished: Thoughts On That Gillette Ad

Mary Oliver died this week.

The beloved poet once wrote:

“Instructions for living a life: / Pay attention. / Be astonished. / Tell about it.”

Also this week, Gillette launched its campaign, “We Believe” and many friends and colleagues shared it with me, asking for my POV.

Taking a cue from Mary Oliver, I am paying attention. I am (a bit) astonished. And, so here I am telling about it.

Like I’ve done in the past, I want to address this campaign with a question:

“How should we respond?”

The ad shows men and boys acting a fool - sexual harassment, bullying, and setting poor examples for their children. The spot ends with a question of whether this is indeed “the best a man could be” (a riff on its now 30-year-old tagline “Best a Man Can Get”) and encouraging men to “strive to be better, to make us better, and to help each other be better.”

Here’s how some consumers have responded:

In a world where media outlets profit from sensational stories, publications like Business Insider have made it seem like a barrage of angry men (with pitchforks, no doubt) are boycotting the ad.

Certainly, some loud voices like this guy with guns in a field (.......WHAT……) are stomping their feet, throwing their razors into the toilet in “protest” and generally being angry on social media. The reactions on the video's Youtube are overwhelmingly negative (trolls will be trolls.)

But, a survey this week of over 2,000 adults by Morning Consult found that the “backlash may be overblown — most people surveyed said they had a positive opinion of the ad after watching it.” FastCompany found the online response to the ad has been mostly positive.

How P&G has responded:

P&G has no plans to pull the spot despite the backlash.

“We recognize it’s sparking a lot of passionate dialogue — at the same time, it’s getting people to stop and think about what it means to be our best selves, which is the point of the spot,” said Pankaj Bhalla, Gillette brand director for North America via MarketWatch

That's in line with the microsite for the campaign on Gillette’s site, which explicitly states:

“It’s time we acknowledge that brands, like ours, play a role in influencing culture… From today on, we pledge to actively challenge the stereotypes and expectations of what it means to be a man everywhere you see Gillette.”

WIRED found that the campaign came out of “the wake of #MeToo and a national conversation about the behavior of some of the country’s most powerful men.” The company conducted focus groups with men and women asking them how to define being a great man.

“...we asked ourselves the same question as a brand. How can we be a better version of ourselves?” said Bhalla.

Though some have rightfully highlighted some pretty sexist marketing moves by the brand, the statement above indicates the company is looking to admit it’s got to do better, and pledge that it will. (We should all pay attention to see if that’s the case.)

In addition, there seems to be far more to the campaign that simply this video. This particular spot is getting far more attention than the whole of the campaign, which features more positive stories in other spots. Via FastCompany:

“The idea of giving more meaning, depth, and accountability to Gillette’s decades-old slogan led the brand to create a series of ads exemplifying what it’s dubbed “bestness” from every conceivable angle. There’s the NFL spot with Shaquem Griffin, exploring how the one-handed Seahawks linebacker has achieved bestness against adversity, and there’s the YouTube ad for Gillette’s Treo razor, which showcases a middle-aged man taking care of his father (partly by shaving him). In the coming weeks, these ads will be joined by a new installment revealing what firefighters have to do to save lives.”

Was this a good move from Gillette?

From a marketing perspective -- Gillette is facing increasing noise from insurgent brands such as Dollar Shave Club (now owned by Unilever) and Harry’s shaving club (which recently netted $112M in new financing). The advent of contract manufacturing has made it easier for these brands to enter the space, and consumers are far more familiar with the subscription-style purchase that underpins their business model.

Harry’s is taking advantage of the buzz to deploy ads like this one below, which links to their mantra that “big razor brands have lured consumers into paying higher prices for razor models with new features.”


But, even though they’re loud, these brands only capture 8% and 2% of the $2.8 billion market, respectively. Gillette is still the big dog, competing mostly with Schick.

My take: I think this campaign was launched to make a very stark point -- we are not going to compete with any longer only on accessibility (delivered to your door) or blade quality and technological innovation. Now, it’s going to be a battle over values and cultural relevance.

As Scott Mautz, who used to work for Gillette’s parent company for 20+ years, said,

“At least it makes me feel something… I successfully ran the marketing for multiple billion-dollar brands at P&G and evaluated more advertising than I can remember. The criteria I always started with when reviewing a new ad was, does it make me feel something? Does it make me think? Laugh? Cry? Make me angry?”

Looking back, a decade ago, Gillette controlled 70% of the U.S. Market. Last year, its market share dropped to below 50%, forcing it to slash razor prices by 12%. (Note, it claims to have 70% of the market share on online retailers like Amazon and

This was a bold move from a brand that needed to create a bold, emotional reaction - and with 20M views on Youtube and a slew of press coverage, that’s exactly what was created.

This move is not totally radical for Gillette.

The company has a long history of associating their razors with values like virtue, potential, and mastery.

Salesman King C. Gillette invented the disposable safety razor at the turn of the last century, according to this CNBC piece.

“Clean-shaven faces were synonymous with virtue and manliness, a Western preoccupation that dates back to when Alexander the Great ordered his men to scrape off their beards before battling the Persian armies in 331 B.C., according to Christopher Oldstone-Moore, historian and author of the book, "Beards and Men."

"The country's future is written in the faces of young men," one blurb from 1910 declared, continuing, "The Gillette is a builder of regular habits. Own a Gillette—be a master of your time—shave in three minutes."  

Another ad from the same year indicated that Gillette's razors separated independent, civilized men from brutes and effeminate males: "Woman is the great civilizer. If it were not for her, man would revert to whiskers and carry a club. . . . "


So, why the backlash?

Truthfully, this particular ad felt like a patronizing PSA. It also inflamed tensions between genders further at a time when we are at our most polarized in the US, and when movements like feminism and #metoo are villainized by some as a threat.

“When we talk politics today, our voices are loud and fractious, always passionate and often divisive. Our conversations are rarely rational debates; they either become therapy sessions with like-minded partisans or devolve into shouting matches against the other side.”

- Thad Kousser, professor of political science and department chair at UC San Diego.

Part of me was astonished at the backlash.

How hard is it to support the idea that men should set good examples for their children, stand up for women, and refrain from sexually harassing anyone on the street or at work?

But let’s be real - it’s human nature to double-down on our identities and convictions when challenged.

(Anyone who’s had to suffer through a political discussion with family at the dinner table, or *shudder* in the comments section of a heated Facebook post knows the feeling.)

When confronted with our worst habits, or assumed stereotypes about us, we naturally bristle with defensiveness. It feels like a personal attack. When it happens in such a one-way medium as an advertisement, it can feel like we are not being given a chance to defend ourselves.

We feel voiceless.

And so, off to Twitter we go, to say f*ck you, Gillette, f*ck you for supporting “anti-men” sentiments. Not all men are this bad. Not all men are assholes. Not all men. Not all men. Not all men. On and on with this chorus until we feel justified in our anger.

When challenged directly in this fashion, asked to confront the worst of their behavior, many men (and some women) responded, as social media allows us to do, instantly and in an emotionally-charged, defensive, reactive way.

Proving the point.

Unfortunately, lacking much critical thought or empathy, these responses exhibited exactly why the #metoo movement exists: to call attention to real and uncomfortable instances of dangerous, toxic behavior in a world where few are held accountable for it.



These individuals who spoke up in anger demonstrated an incredible lack of self-awareness or integrity to admit that maybe, just maybe, the depiction of men in the ad was not entirely made-up.

That just maybe there was some accountability to be had.

How does it feel?

Now, I have to laugh, because the crux of the backlash, from where I sit, is that these men feel uncomfortable being shamed by an ad.

Yet, ads for decades have shamed women. We’re used to it.

What these men are feeling is an experience women have had viewing advertisements for much of our lives. See Jean Kilbourne’s Killing Us Softly for hundreds of examples.

Screen Shot 2019-01-18 at 5.39.57 PM.png

Our new normal

Part of me is resigned to the fate that we now exist in a world of marketing corporate morality, where brands in commoditized industries like razor blades for men feel that the only frontier left to compete on is that made up of the values they portray through their marketing, in an attempt to connect with consumers on a deeper level.

They know that many consumers won’t ever see the ad live, say, on a TV media buy — but look how many are talking about it. The viral nature of these ads means if brands take a position, the benefit of exposure is there.

Part of me is glad Gillette is using its reach for good - elevating an important message to millions. Another part of me is rolling my eyes that a razor company is advising anyone how to live their lives. Alas, this is the time in which we live. Lines are blurred between CEO and activist. (See Patagonia and Nike.)

I’ve written in the past about the danger of making it seem like the world is more ready to embrace progress than it really is (I call it an illusion of progress).

As an example of where we actually are in the real world, just heed the end of Gillette’s microsite, which presents us with an ironic call-to action.

“Follow how men are taking action!”

Screen Shot 2019-01-18 at 6.05.44 PM.png

Unfortunately, the action taken by many men in response to this campaign serves to remind us how far we have to go to combat the very real issue of toxic masculinity.

The Good Men Projects defines toxic masculinity as:

"a narrow and repressive description of manhood, designating manhood as defined by violence, sex, status and aggression. It’s the cultural ideal of manliness, where strength is everything while emotions are a weakness; where sex and brutality are yardsticks by which men are measured, while supposedly “feminine” traits—which can range from emotional vulnerability to simply not being hypersexual—are the means by which your status as “man” can be taken away."

Personally, I’m not convinced corporate morality is the best solution to this very real problem. But, ads like this are certainly better than the alternative.

Now, gird up your loins, boys, for International Women’s Day is only 49 days away.  


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