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Sugarshots: The Big Picture

Sugarshots: The Big Picture Dave Chase

Seth Godin recently wrote a book entitled "All Marketers are Liars" but the subtitle ("The Power of Telling Authentic Stories in a Low-Trust World") captures the real issue of why to pursue an open source marketing plan. Furthermore, in this age of blogging and Sarbanes-Oxley, corporate transparency is de rigeur.

Any corporation that has an offering that doesn't require trickery to sell should embrace the idea of "opening the kimono" on portions of their marketing plan, so long as they have other elements of their strategy that give them competitive advantage (and thus don't want to share with their competition). In addition, marketing departments are expected to be accountable more than ever before -- both to their shareholders and even their customers. With this backdrop, it stands to reason that virtually any marketer would be interested in a case study that shared unprecedented levels of results and background that proved (or disproved) various elements of the marketing mix.

Why not an open source marketing plan?

The notion of open source marketing borrows from how open-source software projects (such as Linux) have developed. With open source software, developers collaborate to make a compelling piece of software. Likewise, an open source marketing plan should develop a compelling marketing campaign that leverages the talents of the marketing community and, increasingly, the product's own customers. For a recent example, see Joseph Jaffe new book, "Life After the 30 Second Spot," where he discusses the strong trend of customer-created marketing.

Plans could be developed in both the commercial and non-profit worlds, bringing together appropriately experienced and passionate marketers and customers. Obviously, the definition of open source marketing will evolve over time, but as the person who coined the phrase -- at least within the iMedia community -- here are my thoughts:

  • The project leader would define the overall goals that the marketing campaign is intended to achieve. In addition, they'd develop a "creative brief" that would outline more details on the organization's target customers and the actions the project leader wants prospective and current customers to take. The leader would also disclose his initial thoughts for various marketing tactics that would be considered a "stake in the sand" to start generating ideas.

  • Once the project leader shares the above information, the marketing community will get engaged by sharing their ideas and building off of other ideas.

  • The project leader/team would then be responsible for coalescing the feedback into an initial plan that gets put into action. This is where the real work begins as learning starts to take place.

  • A communications tool -- such as this newsletter or a blog -- will communicate ongoing campaign results, insights and course corrections. Through this process, the entire marketing community can benefit from the collective input and learnings. Undoubtedly, there will be active debate on how to evolve based on the results.

Wise crowds

The concept of an open-source marketing plan also borrows heavily from the ideas outlined in James Surowiecki's "The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations." (You can read my iMedia Book Club review of it here.) The author outlines four elements required to have a wise crowd:

  • Diversity of opinion: each person should have private information even if it's just an eccentric interpretation of the known facts.

  • Independence: people's opinions aren't determined by the opinions of those around them.

  • Decentralization: people are able to specialize and draw on local knowledge.

  • Aggregation: some mechanism exists for turning private judgments into a collective decision.

Why it's important to share details -- some background

My thinking about open source marketing goes back to when I was working on behalf of iMedia to look at what was holding back the interactive marketing industry's growth -- recognizing there was a major disparity between media consumption and media spend.

iMedia has a somewhat similar mission to the Interactive Advertising Bureau, where I'd previously been the Chairman of the IAB's Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) council. Here is iMedia's mission statement:

To advance the business of interactive media and marketing by serving as the primary conduit between buyers and sellers. And, to inspire marketers of all types to explore and embrace interactive marketing strategies.

After speaking with dozens of CMOs, agency heads and media publishers, one of the key findings was that decision makers -- while they found studies such as the Cross Media Optimization Studies to be useful in understanding the appropriate weight for online media -- wanted the strategy and detailed results behind the topline results that were shared. Unfortunately, the brands (Ford, Universal, Unilever, McDonald's, et cetera) that participated in these studies weren't interested in sharing details.

Sugarshots steps up

After my experience with XMOS, my question became "which marketer would be willing to share more details?"

Since I spend the vast majority of my time studying and working with emerging businesses, I felt some of these companies might be willing to share in a quid pro quo exchange for some free exposure and opportunity to tap some of the leading minds in the marketing world. One such company has stepped forward -- Sugarshots, the test brand for iMedia's first open source marketing case study.

Sugarshots is a player in the Consumer Packaged Goods Industry selling premium liquid cane sugar specifically formulated to sweeten gourmet coffee, tea -- just about anything -- better than granulated sugar.

People often ask Sugarshots how they came up with this idea -- liquid cane sugar. Like countless other people everyday, the founders were literally having lunch one day and we started complaining about the sugar sitting idle at the bottom of their iced teas. But what choice did they have? Expose their bodies to artificial sweeteners with their saccharines and phenylalanines? All for what? Dissolvability? Fewer calories? There had to be a better way. So they looked for a better way and found nothing. Like many entrepreneurs before them, they decided to build a business to solve that problem.

Sugarshots has taken that entrepreneurial sense of adventure and boldly agreed to be a pioneer in "open source marketing." They have agreed to share some of their key marketing goals as well as their initial thoughts in key areas of their marketing mix. The goal of sharing those goals with the marketing community is to give marketing thought leaders enough information to provide recommendations.

The virtual marketing team will embrace and synthesize the strategy recommendations into an ongoing marketing campaign that we'll continue to report on and evolve the marketing strategies based on what does and doesn't work.

The question now becomes: will the marketing community embrace this collaborative effort?

My hope is that the collaborative spirit that is present at iMedia Summits will extend itself into this realm.

I hope you prove me right, as it will be a fun ride.

Dave Chase is a partner with Altus Alliance, which specializes in driving revenue traction for emerging businesses. He publishes a blog entitled Chase Market Velocity that focuses on how emerging businesses can gain market traction via the Enterprise Sales Learning Curve principles espoused by Mark Leslie. Before joining Altus Alliance, Chase spent nearly 20 years in the industry with over a dozen years at Microsoft in various senior marketing and general management roles, including his role as MSN’s managing director for industry marketing and relations. In that capacity, he was responsible for MSN taking a leadership role within the Interactive Marketing industry to grow Online’s share of the overall ad market in concert with AOL, CNET, Yahoo!, Google and other market leaders.

Chase played leadership roles in launching several new businesses within Microsoft including Microsoft’s entry into the enterprise software and server business which is now an $8B business. This included co-leading Microsoft’s first vertical marketing efforts where he grew the Healthcare vertical market from virtually no presence to a market leading position. The healthcare business now represents nearly $500M in revenue for Microsoft.

From there, he was integral in Microsoft’s entry into consumer internet businesses that achieved both critical and financial success. These included Sidewalk, Encarta and HomeAdvisor, which were among the first profitable consumer internet businesses for Microsoft. He has contributed to iMedia via articles and Summit presentations.

iMedia: You will be giving the keynote address for the iMedia Breakthrough Summit. What can the audience expect from your presentation?

Kurzweil: I will provide a broad perspective on how the exponential growth of information technology will transform communications in the decade ahead and beyond. This exponential growth is remarkably predictable, belying the common wisdom that you cannot predict the future. The price-performance of computing, for example, has been growing at a smooth exponential pace going back to the 1890 American census. Exponential growth is also very explosive. Taking 30 steps exponentially (2, 4, 8, 16... ) gets us to a billion, whereas 30 steps linearly (which reflects our intuition about the future) gets us to 30. That is why people's imagination about the future is often very limited compared to what happens. 

iMedia: You've proposed that exponentially advancing technology may be advancing too quickly for people to keep up with. And indeed, marketers are already struggling with consumers adopting technology more rapidly than they can plan campaigns around. Any advice you can offer to help marketers manage this accelerated technological pace and deliver innovative solutions for their clients?

Kurzweil: The trend so far is that communications technology is moving closer to us rather than forcing humans to become more like the classical notion of a machine. When I was a student at MIT, you did have to be an engineer to use the computer, and I had to use my bicycle to get to the one computer on campus. Today, I have a computer on my belt, and I am able to access virtually all human knowledge with a few keystrokes. And, already, 5 billion people have these mobile devices in their pockets. The technologies that succeed in the marketplace are the ones that meet our basic human needs to communicate and socialize. 

Within 20 years, computers will match human intelligence and pass the "Turing test," in which they will be indistinguishable from human intelligence. But this will not be an alien invasion of intelligent machines to compete with us and displace us. We will use these machines as we have always used our tools -- to extend our own reach. We will put these machines inside our bodies to keep us healthier, and in our brains to make us smarter. We will send these computers, which will be the size of blood cells, into our brains noninvasively through the capillaries. If it sounds futuristic to put computers in our brains, I would point out that Parkinson's patients do this already, and the latest generation of this FDA-approved neural implant allows new software to be downloaded into the computer in the patient's brain from outside the body. That's today, and in the future we will all be doing this with millions of such computers in a noninvasive fashion. So we will need to merge with our technology in order to keep up with it.

But my advice for the decade ahead is to consider basic human needs that go back millennia. It was by serving those needs that current technologies such as the cellphone and social networks have been able to succeed. 

iMedia: Through your work, you have been able to accurately predict the internet's content explosion, and the ubiquity of wireless communications (on devices that are ever decreasing in size). What current breakthrough platform do you find most compelling? And which ones do you expect to see in the next few years that will transform the landscape of interactive media?

Kurzweil: Every device we handle will become intelligent and part of the ever pervasive network. We will be online all the time with a seamless blend of real and virtual/augmented reality. Our everyday reality will essentially be one encompassing interactive media. 

Jodi Harris is senior editor at iMedia Connection.

On Twitter? Follow Jodi at @Joderama. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet. 


Comprehension of the digital landscape

To determine if the candidate has an overall sense of what companies are prominent in the digital space, ask:

  • "What is the difference between a DSP, an SSP, and a trading desk? Name a few companies that provide each service."

  • "Describe how an ad network operates versus a DSP. A DSP versus a DMP? Name a few DSPs and DMPs."

  • "Which companies are known for ad serving mobile?"

  • "As programmatic buying takes a larger and larger share, what does it mean and which companies offer it?"

  • "What does transparency mean, and why is it such an issue?"

  • "What is 'heat mapping'?"

  • "What does viewability mean, and what are the pitfalls of measurement?"

More personal questions can be equally revealing. Here are some examples:

  • "What is your favorite digital marketing campaign? What is your favorite creative?"

  • "What is your personal digital routine? What sites and applications do you frequent?"

  • "Where do you think the industry will be in five years?"

  • "How do you see your career as a digital seller evolving?"

Even if the candidate doesn't always come up with the perfect response, the conversation allows you to see how they think. The questions also illuminate who came prepared for the interview.

Displays a knowledge of digital marketing strategy/technology

These questions are designed to mine the sophistication level of the potential sales executive around strategy and setting client expectations.

  • "What is your approach for a client that wants to retarget a mobile campaign?"

  • "How do you respond to a marketer with unrealistic expectations on engagement?"

If their response is something generic like, "We'll do our very best to deliver exactly what the client wants," it indicates their ramp-up-time is going to take a while. As a follow-up, ask specific questions with the hope of eliciting a more distinctive, concrete response.

  • "Explain an addressable marketing strategy versus a look-a-like modeling strategy."

  • "What do VAST, VPAID, and MRAID stand for? And when would you advise using VPAID tags?"

Engage further by inquiring:

  • "What's the most complex marketing campaign you have ever sold?

  • "How did it perform? What were some of the barriers present in this type of execution?"

How do they handle technical challenges and the inevitable adversity that accompanies failure of operational execution?

The nature of advertising -- whether driven by software or operations people -- is that something will go wrong. It is unavoidable. No matter how great the product or service is, eventually there will be bumps in the road that need to be remedied with speed, accuracy, and grace. How a seller handles this stress, both internally and externally, is key to their long-term success.

  • "Describe your most challenging operational issue. How did you navigate your way through it?"

When a client is upset and starts the blame game, it is important to know what steps the seller takes to diffuse a potentially hostile conversation and resolve the issues at hand. Do they apologize and quickly lay out a plan to mitigate the circumstances, moving past the issue by effectuating a solution, later analyzing and determining where the missteps occurred? Or do they rush to "let me get you a make-good?" Do they point fingers at operations or, in the case of self-serve clients, the product itself?

  • "How do you cultivate relationships with their account managers?"

The manner in which a seller relates to their internal operations team should be collaborative and communicative. The seller and account manager are two pieces that must fit together as a cohesive unit. Always hire a team player, someone who perceives their operational account or project manager as their partner, not their peon. Some sellers tend toward the narcissistic, a quality not normally constructive in cooperative relationships. Charlie Koones, former publisher of Variety, tells a story about a problematic, self-centered seller. In an effort to get her to be more collaborative, he tells her: "There is no 'I' in team." She retorts, "But there is a 'me.'" This type of self-absorbed thinking is counterproductive to the success of any sales organization.

Determine a mover/shaker from a hopper/dropper

In our ever-growing industry, there is a necessity for change, which is valid for the right reasons. A person who changes jobs often can be either a motivated, ambitious climber or a job hopper. Resumes that show a pattern of a candidate's length of engagement with a particular employer as one year, two years, or six months immediately jump out as hoppers, and I tend to avoid them. This does demand closer scrutiny because sometimes there are appropriate reasons why people are continually on the move -- and not all of them negative.

A manager must determine why a candidate moves around often and what kind of impact, if any, they had on revenue in the short time span they were employed. What did they close? How much of it was new business? Where were they against quota and what did they learn in their previous positions? Did they grow and develop?

As technology continues to improve, digital sales will become less of a transactional sale and more of a longer, complex selling cycle that requires patience, determination, and keen intelligence. Does the candidate possess the ability to go the distance and see through a longer sales cycle? Or are they going to give it up after time and money has been invested in ramping and training them? Ask them to provide examples of how they have tenaciously pursued a difficult win.

Cultural fit

You may have heard the story about the traveler who comes into a new town and meets up with a resident sitting on his front porch. He asks the townie, "Can you tell me what this town is like?" The townie responds, "What was the town you're coming from like?" The newcomer's face lights up with a smile as he reflects on the kind, generous people, bountiful opportunities, and positive environment of his former community. The townie says, "You will find the same thing here. The people are kind and generous, the opportunities are bountiful and the environment, most positive." The following day, another newcomer strolls into town and meets up with the same townie. He asks the same question, "Can you tell me what this town is like?" The townie again responds with the question, "What was the town you're coming from like?" The newcomer sighs, looks to the ground, and shakes his head. He says, "The people were mean and rude, there were no opportunities, and it was a very depressing environment." The townie responds, "I'm afraid you will find the same thing here."

External realities are a reflection of internal belief systems.

Ask what was the most successful culture they have worked in. Why were they so happy and productive there? Ask what they disliked about a previous culture in order to get an idea of where they hold limitations.

I often hear from digital employers that they want their potential sellers to be the right cultural fit for their company, which is a valid concern. But adjusting to various company cultures is an inside job. If a person is a flexible achiever, they will be able to find greatness in their new environment, so long as they remain willing, open, and adaptable.

Unlike Donald Trump, most of us take no pleasure in telling someone, "You're fired." Isn't this one of the most unpleasant parts of being a sales leader? Therefore, be hyper-vigilant in the recruiting phase. Avoid the trouble of a mistaken hire and the misery of having to fire them later. Ask as many questions as possible, and then ask some more.

I'm eager and interested to hear from other sales leaders as to what they deem to be the most critical questions in their own hiring process.

Dea Lawrence is RVP of sales at TubeMogul.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"Image of successful females listening to colleague at meeting" image via Shutterstock.

Dave is the CEO and Co-founder of Avado. Avado is a Patient Relationship Management platform that empowers the healthcare parternship between individuals and their health & wellness providers while giving the individual a Connected Health...

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