You need to learn the rules of the playground first-hand

A few weeks ago, I was invited to give a talk to a large financial services firm that was having an off-site for one of their divisions.  The audience was a group of 60+ marketers that had gathered for a three-day meeting on a variety of topics.  I was there to talk about innovation and how a company could leverage digital as a key driver.  During the Q&A that followed, one of the marketers in the audience asked about keeping up with all the new digital platforms that are launching.  In particular, she wanted to know how important it is for marketers to have first-hand experience with things like Snapchat, ApplePay, etc.  Do marketers really need to try out everything new thing that comes on the market?

Well, the short answer is yes.

The thing is that marketing has changed quite a bit over the last decade.  If you think about the traditional marketing toolbox of a few years ago, just about everyone watched TV, read magazines, and drove by billboards.  So when we were making choices in the marketing mix, we were deciding between tools that we had first-hand experience with.  We knew the rules of the medium and could focus on the creative.

But today marketers are faced with more choices than ever before.  And for the first time ever, we are being forced to decide if a channel is right for our brand when we might not know what the channel is.  That is why marketers need to be prolific when it comes to experimenting with new platforms.  You need to download the new app that people are talking about.  You need to write a post on Medium or LinkedIn Pulse.  You need to support the latest project on Kickstarter.  And you need to buy that new FitBit, Nest, or Gear.  The goal is learning the rules of the playground first-hand.  You have to push yourself to experiment with everything that is new so you know what the boundaries are.  How do people behave on the platform?  What is appropriate and what is seen as shilling?

Before you can ever make that decision as a marketer, you have to be able to make the decision as a consumer.  And that means putting yourself out there and learn first-hand what all these new shiny objects are about.

Is Facebook Building the 21st Century Procter & Gamble?

Back in 2008, I had the chance to lead P&G’s Joint Business Planning with Facebook (as well as the other big digital media players).  The intent of the Joint Business Plan wasn’t about just increasing advertising dollars.  It was about knowledge sharing between the two companies with the goal of having a strategic relationship where we both became better businesses as a result.  This cultural exchange was about P&G accelerating our digital knowledge, while Facebook learned how brand marketers thought. Following the announcement last night of their purchase of WhatsApp, it looks like Facebook didn’t just learn how to think like P&G but maybe how to become P&G as well.

What I mean is that Facebook appears to be using the Procter & Gamble playbook for building a “house of brands.”  This playbook is about building a portfolio of businesses that often will compete against each other but ultimately giving your company a larger market share.  For instance, P&G’s global laundry market share is around 31%. This includes brands like Tide, Gain and Ariel, each of which contributes above $1 billion in annual sales.  But they also have brands like Bounce, Downy, Era and others that all compete in the same space.  The same goes for Baby Care with both Pampers and Luvs, as well as Hair Care with Pantene, Head & Shoulders, Aussie, and Herbal Essences.

Facebook has a history of being active in the acquisition space, with WhatsApp being their 45th purchase.  But historically, all of their purchases were either acqui-hires for the talent or a foundation for a future Facebook feature.  For instance, Hot Potato became the basis for Facebook Places and Karma became Facebook Gifts.

But this might be changing.  The first indication was the purchase of Instagram in April 2012.  At the time, Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom wrote bluntly in a blog post that, “Instagram is not going away.”  As we near the two year anniversary of that deal, those words have held true and Instagram is an even stronger brand today than it was back then.  With the WhatsApp purchase, the key message track for Zuckerberg and company is that “WhatsApp is on a path to connect 1 billion people.”  The talk isn’t around how WhatsApp will fix Facebook Messenger but instead its all about the potential of the WhatsApp brand and service.

If you look at P&G’s Purpose, they say that they “will provide branded products and services of superior quality and value that improve the lives of the world’s consumers, now and for generations to come.”    Facebook on the other hand talks about their purpose being “to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected”   With the addition of WhatsApp and Instragram, you could argue that these purposes are becoming more and more similar.  Facebook now has three “branded products and services of superior quality and value that improve the lives of the world’s consumers” to “share and make the world more open and connected.”

People were shocked at the price of Facebook’s purchase of Instragram in 2012.  And there is even greater disbelief as the WhatsApp acquisition goes down as one of the largest M&A deals in history.  But in many ways, both of these deals are similar to the moves P&G made to buy Gillette for $57 billion and Clairol for $5 billion.   With Gillette, P&G gained one of the strongest male grooming brands in the world, while Clairol was a foundation for the scale of P&G Beauty.   For Facebook, WhatsApp has the same role in Messaging, while Instagram offers it for Photos.

In the end, Facebook is following the same strategy of building a House of Brands that has built the great CPG companies like P&G, Unilever, and Nestle.  I’d say they clearly learned something about building brands during all those Joint Business Plan meetings years ago.

Social Media Cannot Be Deleted

Yesterday I happened to catch a Facebook post by Ford’s Scott Monty that simply said. “Now THAT’s on brand!”.  Of course, I had to click through and what I landed on was a BuzzFeed article entitled “Charmin Tweeted, Then Deleted, This Spectacular “Thor” Pun.”   Apparently Charmin had posted the great ad below but then pulled it down when Marvel / Disney made a complaint (around trademark, etc).

Charmin Thor Asgardian


First and foremost, shame on Marvel if they really took this seriously enough to complain.  You are trying to build buzz leading up to opening weekend for your new movie and are spending tens of millions of dollars to do so.  Tell me just exactly how the above ad hurts in that mission?  Ironic that a comic book company is taking themselves this seriously, isn’t it?

Second, this is just another example of a brand forgetting that the Internet, and Social Media in particular, does not have a delete key.  You might delete your post but I can guarantee that someone has already saved it the second you posted.

The shame in all of this is that Charmin is actually one of the better brands when it comes to Social Media.  As Jason Falls conveniently pointed out in a post this morning, a lot of brands could learn something from how Charmin handles Social Engagement.  As Jason writes:

What Charmin teaches us is that engagement on social channels is absolutely worth while. Social marketing in this context is not about getting people to buy Charmin. That would be a direct response approach that would be awful in the social space.  Who wants to see tweets of, “Make sure you go out and buy some Charmin today!?  Social marketing in this context is about getting people to choose Charmin. Whenever it is they are faced with that choice.  Top of mind is worth millions of dollars to many brands. Social media engagement helps brands like Charmin get there.

Hopefully in the halls of P&G this morning, someone isn’t being blamed for this ad but being celebrated for the success they are having with making Charmin a darling of the Social Media landscape.  This ad was just as good as Oreo’s “Dunk in the Dark” when it comes to tapping into pop culture.  After all, how often does a toilet paper brand end up with over 200K views on BuzzFeed?

Innovation Generation: Why brand–startup partnerships are a must for marketers

This article originally appeared in Upstream, Rockfish’s newsletter that shares our insights and points of view across technology, marketing and strategy; our take on current trends; and a look ahead to what’s on the horizon for marketers. You can sign up for the next issue at

Smart businesses thrive on the right amount of chaos – in the form of disruptive innovation. At Rockfish, we embrace innovation – and the disruption and chaos it brings. Why? Because innovation drives progress.  And growth.

That spirit of entrepreneurship runs deep in our organization. It’s how we approach every project, and why we call ourselves a digital innovation partner (not just another digital agency). We don’t want to just create work. We want to help our clients redefine industries, change models, find explosive growth and create partnerships.

I believe every marketer should be finding ways to drive innovation both from inside their own organization and by partnering with outside agencies and startups who can partner with them to push these goals forward. As an enabler of disruptive innovation, Rockfish partners with startups to deliver best-in-class thinking and the technology and mobile innovation that drives our clients’ brands forward. We innovate both externally and internally by:

  • Partnering with and mentoring innovative startups
  • Driving innovation within our organization with a startup process model

Supporting innovation

Rockfish also has deep ties to the startup world in each of our markets. Take Cincinnati, for example, where Rockfish is one of the partner agencies that guide startup companies through the development and growth process at The Brandery during its four-month program annually. The Brandery is a nationally recognized startup accelerator and the first to focus on applying the principles of brand marketing to startups. (Myself and Rockfish colleague Bryan Radtke, VP, Client Services, are both co-founders.)

Specifically, Rockfish experts provide strategic  branding mentorship and design guidance to help startups focus their brand, find their message(s) and make true connections with their target audience(s).

Collaborating to innovate

Rockfish also thrives on introducing our clients to smart startups that may help them meet a business or industry challenge.  One example of this is our participation in Brand Fusion, an innovative gathering that introduces top-level brand managers to startup founders, for collaboration and networking. In a fast and efficient round-robin format, brand managers get to meet 8 to  10 startup leaders that could help them solve digital marketing challenges. It’s both inspiring and practical for all parties involved.

Innovating from within

We talk the talk, but we also walk the walk by baking innovation into our operational model and our hiring practices. Our internal innovation starts with a workforce that thrives on it. If you can’t bring new ideas to the table, you won’t be a good fit at Rockfish.

Each new hire brings an entrepreneurial spirit to work every day. Our core value of collaboration plays out into our hiring must-haves: Smart people who are innovative, driven and versatile.

Quick-turn innovation

In early 2013, we hosted our first-ever Rockfish Hackathon. The inaugural event pitted cross-functional teams of Rockfish employees against each other with a deadline for rapid innovation – and an accompanying lack of sleep. Over two days, nearly 75 employees formed 10 teams and dove in to develop working demonstrations of groundbreaking digital ideas, based on ideas they had developed leading up to the competition.  The all-nighter took lots of coffee and tons of teamwork.  The results blew us away. Browse the projects and see for yourself.

Rockfish Labs

Our internal startup incubator, Rockfish Labs, has generated some amazing products and services that we have spun out to deliver innovation to clients. They include:

  • YouEarnedIt, an employee rewards program that encourages teamwork and peer encouragement.
  • Media Multiplyer, a platform that provides rich-media technology to optimize digital ads across channels and devices via self-contained and sharable ad units.
  • Sygnl, a social-local-mobile diagnostic tool that provides a holistic picture of your current so-lo-mo efforts

A continual learning model

Generating innovation around here also means investing in our communities, to fuel the next generation of disruptive innovators. Rockfish employees are also involved in groups including:

  • The Ark Challenge in northwest Arkansas, a mentorship-driven business accelerator program for technology startups. []
  • Hosting Meetup groups to share Android development skills
  • Volunteering for local schools to help develop mobile apps

The Rockfish point of view is that by innovating from within, we can keep our clients and partners at the cutting edge of technology, digital marketing and communications.

The next issue of Upstream from Rockfish will be released soon so sign-up to receive it in your inbox at

The Modern Marketer [Infographic]

Through my posts on Brand Manager 2.0, I have written quite a bit about how technology is changing the job of a marketer today.  Of course, that means I was quite a fan of this infographic from Pardot which talks about a Modern Marketer being part artists and part scientist.  In their words, a modern marketer must master:

  • Written Content
  • Visual Assets
  • Social Media
  • Email Marketing
  • Performance Tracking
  • Budgeting and Operations
  • Analytics
  • Campaign Performance

Courtesy of Pardot, an Exact Target Company