Digital Memories

I came across a tweetstorm of mine from years past on Timehop today. It was after the Bills had just drafted EJ Manuel, a pick I accurately assessed misguided. The memory of the draft pick, my reaction, and the tweetstorm also brought me back to how I learned about the pick. I had been traveling for work and had been keeping up best as I could, but was about to hop into a taxi. My dad called me and stayed on the phone with me as the Bills made the pick.

My dad is no longer with us, and I think about him regularly every day. Moving on is difficult, but making sure he is still a part of my life is one of the things that brings me comfort. The fact that social media forces me to think about him from time to time helps me see the good in it. I, like many others, have been hard on the social/tech giants lately. It’s important to keep in mind that there are many hiccups along the way to the future (think about the car). The lesson for me is to keep social/digital as a piece of my actual life, and not let it occupy an out-sized amount of my time or energy. The small ways it enhances our real-world relationships and experiences are good.

Go Bills.

Ads That Follow You

Do you ever buy something online, and then have an ad promoting that same product follow you to every website you visit for the next two weeks? I remember complaining about this to someone at Google, who told me “that should never happen”. I took this to mean that technology and digital media buyers were savvy enough to know the difference between me buying a product and me showing interest in that product.

I think it is now time to draw the conclusion that we have not reached that point. My experience was not an aberration, I still see this consistently. I don’t think it’s a technology or a strategy issue, it’s an incentive issue.

Media buying companies want to connect supply with demand, and remove as many barriers as possible. If I fall into a bucket of customers that are interested in a product,  they have more supply and demand to make money off of. I believe the technology exists to segment me out from the people that never actually purchased the product, but that would require more effort on their agency’s part. Effort = cost, and for now clients aren’t screaming loud enough for that extra effort.

I am not inclined to be overly critical of clients here. These media buys are likely a small piece of their marketing plan. They correctly allocate their time elsewhere, generating the demand that got me to buy their product in the first place. However, there has been a lot of talk about major CPG companies reviewing digital spend, so maybe there is hope.

I hear clients talk about personalization to the point that the term loses its meaning. I think Seth Godin makes a great point when he says that personalization is overrated and personal marketing is underrated. Market to me like you know me, and we might develop a relationship. Showing me ads for a product I’ve already bought is not how you do that. Marketers should seek to use technology to return to the days when we’d shop at stores where everyone knows us by name. The recommendations should make sense, and further our trust with the brand. It really isn’t that difficult to just show me a similar or complimentary product to the one I already purchased. Unfortunately, I think we have a long way to go.

They Grew Up on Instagram

As a millennial, I am used to being talked down to by older generations. My generation had and has many perceived weaknesses. One of those weaknesses is an addiction to our phones. I think this is a real weakness, but is by no means exclusive to our generation.

Cue Gen Z. This is a generation so addicted to their phones, they supposedly have no real-world skills. They don’t understand the difference between the virtual world and real world, and will have no skills to contribute to the economy by the time they reach a working age. Or so we were told.

What happened after the tragedy in Parkland has flipped a lot of that on its head. The day after the shooting, students looked straight into CNN’s cameras and spoke eloquently and directly to those that hold power in our country. At first, skeptics said it was like outcries for change following previous tragedies. But this time felt, and still feels, different. The actual victims of previous massacres haven’t been so direct in their response. Also, never before had victims of a tragedy seemed so prepared to lead a movement.

I don’t think this is an aberration or even a coincidence. Instagram and Snapchat are designed to make us feel like celebrities. We pose for the camera, select the picture that will most impress our followers, and we send it out into the world. Then…we get feedback. From the likes and comments we receive, we determine the best time of day to post, the best subject matter, and the best filters to use. To those that know social media the best – those that grew up on it – the lessons run deeper. They learn how to pose, how to engage the camera, the best facial expressions to use, the best way to posture. When I was entering the real world, we called these presentation and interpersonal skills.

It struck me about a month after the tragedy in Parkland that the students always seemed so poised in front of the camera. They know how to interact with all forms of media, social and otherwise. It is very clear that this generation understands how to navigate the complex world we live in today, which has been exacerbated by social media. Older generations have scoffed that high schoolers only know how to communicate through tweets and snaps. Guess what, those teens engaged a US Senator face-to-face on national television. It was clear that they weren’t fighting fair. Rubio was engaged in a game of the past, they were playing by the new rules. Just because they are effective on Twitter, doesn’t mean they can’t communicate effectively in person too.

Gen Z possesses skills for the world that is coming. Whether they possess all the skills society needs for them to move the world forward is something that we will only learn with time. All I know is that the brief glimpse we have gotten into the future through the actions of students from Parkland has me feeling better about the future than I have in a long time.

Running

I was just sitting down to write a post that I had already written in its entirety. My only issue was that I had written it in my head while I was running. And now the details are gone. I remember the general theme of the post, but I struggle to replicate what had come to me so naturally while I was running. This isn’t entirely surprising because I had been running a few days ago, and never bothered to write anything down. It was also a reminder of how valuable running is to my creativity and productivity at work.

Running has helped me solve some of the more challenging riddles I have faced in my career. I don’t receive the spark of a brilliant idea, like you see in the movies, but I seem to gain better perspective on the problem I am working on. This is especially important, as it is often crucial for me to understand what my client’s true motivations are. This isn’t to suggest anything nefarious, but client requests can often be filtered through several layers of people. Or situations aren’t necessarily well understood by senior leaders that engage consultants.

I think there is a larger lesson here about stepping away. Stop working and go do the thing that you enjoy, relaxes you, helps recharge your batteries. No matter how “in it” we are, how close we are to a looming deadline, how much work there is to be done, sometimes you need to step away. As strategists, we don’t solve problems through brute force. There aren’t always linear progressions to the right answer. Life can be messy, and it can help to step away and just let your mind wander.

We’re all addicted to this?

That’s what I think any time I log into Facebook anymore. Clickbait quizzes, horribly off-target ads, pictures of people I don’t really know or care to know anymore. Why do I keep going back? It’s unclear to me whether my actual friends don’t use Facebook anymore, or if Facebook’s algorithms are just that bad.

The one thing I do believe Facebook knows about me is the number of times I am so bored that Twitter and Instagram no longer hold my attention. Although, I guess Facebook does understand what I’ve been up to in Instagram.

Another piece of data I think might be interesting to these data hungry companies is sleep habits. Netflix knows (or could if it chooses to) my sleep habits. When I can’t sleep – it knows. When I’m about to go to sleep (I usually watch the same show before I go to bed) – it knows. I don’t think they are using this to sell ads yet, but they certainly could. And how long will their investors ignore this obvious revenue stream?

I guess what confuses/disappoints me is not that we have gotten addicted to something and willingly allowed it to harvest our data to the detriment of society. That makes sense to me. I guess I’m disappointed by how lame the product was that did us all in. Maybe Aaron Sorkin can make this interesting for us in the movie version.

Bob Dylan is an Intovert

I just finished reading Another Side of Bob Dylan, which I recommend to Dylan fans. I try to read a book on Dylan every year or so, because the man is a fascinating genre and many people that know or studied him have written extensively about him. This book is written by Jacob Maymudes, with help from tapes recorded by his late father, Victor, about his relationship with Dylan.

What is unique to this book is Victor Maymudes’ proximity to Dylan as he wrote many early songs. I was heartened, as an introvert, to hear Dylan’s introversion described as an asset to his writing. I guess it’s always been pretty obvious that Dylan is introverted, but I always kind of assumed it was part of his eccentricity or reclusive nature. I never thought about his introversion contributing to his brilliance and creativity. That is exactly what Maymudes describes. For Bob Dylan, the world happens inside his head. He takes in world events, and formulates the ideas and words that changed the world through introspective though. When workshopping a song, it was almost always complete by the time he was sharing it with Maymudes and others.

As introverts, we are often told that our introversion is something to overcome. I have actually received feedback that said “seems introverted”, as if my personality is a professional misstep to be corrected. Sure, meetings with large personalities can be a challenge, and we certainly don’t excel in networking situations. But while extroverts are busy proclaiming every thought that comes into their head to the world, introverts are observing, learning, thinking, formulating ideas, arguments and beliefs.

Extroverts are absolutely capable of complex thought, I would never suggest otherwise. However, it is refreshing to hear introversion described as something that aids critical thinking, creativity, and the development of Nobel-prize winning poetry.

 

Coffee / Beer / Sleep

I’ve been on the road for work all week, which almost always leaves me drained. As an introvert, this can be especially tough since it often involves long days surrounded by coworkers and clients. They are great people, but as any introvert can relate to, I need my down time in order to recharge.

It has reminded me of the three things I use to recharge. The first is coffee. I love coffee. I drink it several times every day. I spend a lot of time searching out great new coffees. When I was studying for the GMAT or applying to business school, I would get home from work every day drained, but knew I had to march to Starbucks to load up on caffeine and study/write. Coffee is how I power through when I need to.

Grabbing a drink with friends is another way I recharge. When I was younger, it seemed like the natural course of action. I needed to make sure I wasn’t burning myself out from too much fun. In my 30s, and as an introvert, I actually need to make sure I make time for this kind of thing, especially with coworkers. It’s important, and a night spending quality time with people, especially those I haven’t seen in a long time, can do far more to recharge my batteries than anything.

Finally, sometimes you just need to go home and rest. It’s obvious that this will need to take priority over social outings, but there are times when it is critical that it takes priority over the coffee. Pulling an all nighter might seem like the right thing to do, but it’s important to consider the quality of your work. If faced with the option of working from midnight until 2am or shutting down and working from 5-7am, I will always do better work after getting some sleep.