Month 2 on the slow carb diet (SCD) experiment is now in the books (here is my post after the first month). I lost an additional 6.8 pounds of bodyfat in February, bringing the total to 21.4 pounds.
I have made no changes in exercise or supplements (I’m not taking any), so all results continue to be from diet alone. It’s also been a fairly busy month at work for me, including travel, dinners, TV appearances, cocktail parties, etc. And I continue to progress as long as I stick to the program.
Fat loss is a relative thing. 20 pounds is a lot to some, not so much to others. For me 20 pounds means I dropped a pants size, my suits are much looser, I feel much better throughout the day and there is a very visible difference in my appearance. Here’s a pic from last fall:
Versus one from this month:
Here is a typical day of eating:
Meal 1: 20g whey protein in water, coffee
Meal 2: Egg white, spinach, tomato and feta scramble (from a place near my office)
Meal 3: Burrito Bowl from Chipotle (chicken, black beans, vegetables, salsa, guacamole… no rice, no cheese)
Meal 4: Some kind of protein (steak, fish or chicken) and vegetable (easy to stick to if you are eating out)
I’ll drink espresso, black coffee and water throughout the day, have a coke zero at lunch and a glass or two of red wine at dinner at least a few times a week.
That’s it. Cheat days are Saturday and they seem to have no ill effect (other than making me sick and not want to look at non-SCD food for another week).
Generally I’m able to get 2 workouts a week in, one being focused on conditioning (lately it has been Tabata intervals on the Air Dyne) and core stability, the other a high-intensity strength workout where I use hammer strength and nautilus machines at a very slow repetition speed to muscular failure. Both of them are very intense but require little time.
There are three key reasons for why this has worked so well:
I got started (don’t laugh - this tends to be the biggest issue for many).
I stick to the rules no matter what (no matter where I am and what I am doing).
It’s not really a diet anymore. It’s become the way I eat (and I feel so much better when eating this way that I don’t want to deviate).
I still have some bodyfat to lose, but since the program continues to work I am not going to change anything (although I am tempted to in an effort to get there faster. But I know that there’s a good chance I will screw something up such as overtrain and lost muscle, so I am able to resist). When/if I do plateau, it will be easy to modify things.
Lots of travel next month, so it will be interesting to see what happens!
The last post on my progress with the Slow Carb Diet (SCD) was one of the most popular ever on this blog. Since there is clear interest in body transformation I’ll try to write more on the topic.
First, an update: 6 weeks into the SCD and I am down 18.4 pounds of body fat. I am down under 200 pounds for the first time in years. I haven’t made any changes to the program and in fact dropped the supplements last week because I got tired of taking them. In addition, I was tested for the first time last week with a trip to a conference in Palm Springs. The subject of dieting on the road is a post within itself (maybe the next one), but I was able to manage just fine.
Sometimes you read things like body transformations or bodybuilding programs are 80% diet, 20% training or some other percentage. My old bodybuilding mentor Mike Mentzer (RIP) used to make fun of these proclamations, saying that they imply that if you just eat right, you can get 80% of the results of a program.
The SCD program has challenged thinking a bit for me. I haven’t changed my training at all, yet I am rapidly losing body fat and maintaining lean body mass. In fact my training is so minimal (but intense) that you can write them on an index card. You can attribute 100% of my results to diet.
I’m sure that high intensity training is helping to maintain lean body mass. It also could be that getting the last 10 pounds off will require some changes in training. But based on this experiment with the SCD, I think that the old bodybuilding lore rings true after all.
I will be pulling for Peyton Manning (and the Broncos by extension, but really Peyton) today during SuperBowl 48.
Having had a very similar cervical spine surgery to address complications due to the exact same condition (severe spinal stenosis), oddly enough at the same time in 2011 and at the same age, I can tell you this. You are never the same after that surgery and you feel that metal in your neck all day, every day. That this man came back and is delivering the performance he is (note that I did not say, “playing the same”, because he is not, everything is different now) at age 37 is beyond incredible. It is impossible, it’s superhuman.
He was a big inspiration to me in getting back into shape this year. Today you will be watching one of the toughest and most determined athletes of our generation at QB.
How I Lost 15 Pounds of Bodyfat in 1 Month Using the Slow Carb Diet
For the last month or so I have been experimenting with the Slow-Carb Diet (SCD) from Tim Ferris’ book The Four Hour Body. In that time I lost 15 pounds of bodyfat (14.6 to be exact). This post is about how I did it.
I started tinkering with the program in mid-December but really only got strict during the beginning of the year. Most of the weight came off in the last month. The SCD program is pretty simple. The four core principles are:
Eat nothing white (breads, pasta, cereal, etc.).
Eat the same few meals over and over (ideally consisting of a protein, vegetable and legume in each).
Don’t drink calories.
Take one day off the diet per week.
Some key points about the results of the program:
I did not change my workouts at all, so all of the fat loss can be attributed to the diet.
Workouts themselves were brief, infrequent (2x/week) and simple, focused on high intensity strength training and intervals for conditioning.
100% of the weight was fat loss, as measured by an Escali bio impedence scale. In addition, key performance indicators in my strength workouts (namely, better performance with the same resistance) showed I actually got stronger during the past month. You can’t get stronger when you are losing muscle. This is huge - you want to keep every ounce of muscle you can to boost your metabolism and a million other reasons - but it’s very easy to lose it on a diet.
As far as the diet itself, here are some thoughts:
It is very easy to stick to once you get used to it. I only had a couple of instances where I was really hungry or had low energy. I seemed to naturally figure out the right quantities and combinations of foods that worked over time.
It’s a very easy diet to stick to when you eat out a lot like I do. Generally breakfast and lunch are from the same places near my office (lunch is often from Chipotle - a burrito bowl with no rice).
I didn’t have legumes every meal - generally only at lunch, and a few times a week at dinner.
I didn’t eat a large breakfast upon waking, rather I drank a protein shake with 25 grams of protein and then had a larger real food breakfast (egg whites and veggie omelet) a couple of hours later.
I used the PAGG stack (using individual supplements I bought at GNC, not the formula from the link) that the book recommends, but honestly I am not sure how much it contributed to the results.
The diet day-off is a nice change of pace but it makes me sick every time. I don’t even do a day off, I do one or two meals. I do it only to break up the monotony of the diet and for the metabolism boost.
Hardest part? Eliminating dairy, particularly from my morning coffee, but honestly I got used to that pretty quickly, too (I use cinnamon instead of creamer now).
I definitely have more to lose so I will be sticking with the program for the foreseeable future. The fact that it’s easy and has become more of a lifestyle than a diet really helps.
It’ll be tested in a few weeks when travel picks up for work. That will be interesting to see.
I may try to experiment with increasing the volume of my workouts to see what effect, if any, that has.
I’m not one for regular “cardio”, preferring instead to move quickly through high intensity resistance workouts. But lately I have been trying to figure out how I can push it even more in an effort to get into really good condition in 2014 (this is not a new year’s resolution mind you.. I started earlier this month!).
I have long been intrigued by the Tabata Protocol, which is an interval program consisting of 20 seconds of all out effort followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated 6-8 times. While Tabata has been around for a while, it has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years.
One of the challenges of Tabata is figuring out how to exercise with maximum intensity for 20 seconds nonstop safely. Enter the Schwinn Airdryne.
The Airdyne has been around for years, but you’re seeing them more in mainstream gyms thanks to the popularity of CrossFit and MMA-style training. The Airdyne uses wind resistance and the faster you pedal, the higher the resistance. It also has alternate handles to allow you to use the upper body.
I tried it this morning and found it to be perfect for Tabata, since you can exercise at your maximum right away, but given that you generate the resistance it automatically adjusts as you fatigue.
After not doing any hard cardio for years, I managed 6 sprints this morning and was totally wiped afterwards. I took this as a sign that high intensity resistance training can provide a lot of conditioning benefits, but also that I have room to improve.
Why Mobile Retargeting is a Big Deal For Twitter, Not Publishers
Twitter announced a mobile retargeting product yesterday. I spoke with Digiday about it and was quoted in their coverage today. My view is that retargeting is an incredibly effective tool for direct response but not one that is really going to move the needle for 99.9% of publishers.
Retargeting is finding the proverbial needle in the marketing haystack. Retargeting essentially tries, via cookies, to find the 1 out of 225,250,000 possible US internet users that has visited a marketer’s site with a message targeted just for them. Obviously this gets amplified by the number of consumers that has visited a marketer’s page and in the case of a business like Criteo or Google, lots of marketers, but there is still a natural limit to the number of potential consumers eligible for retargeting at any given time.
To achieve scale in retargeting an ad tech or media business needs to have high total reach (Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, Google) and/or be able to access that much reach via exchanges (DSPs, trading desks, some networks), and/or operate a network (Google via GDN, Twitter via Mopub, AOL via Ad.com, Undertone). Therefore having the best chance of seeing the users who are eligible to be retargeted. And do so with enough frequency to encourage a conversion (reach x frequency is the reason why Facebook’s FBX is such a beast).
Retargeting in mobile, as the article states, is trickier due to the nonexistence of cookies. Therefore companies that have a first party relationship with a consumer (usually via a login) AND scale are at an advantage right now. Think Google, Facebook and Twitter.
Back to publishers. The 34th largest publisher in the US as tracked by comScore in October, Fox News, sees about 32 million unique desktop users, or approximately 15% reach. A publisher of this size simply is not large enough to see a very meaningful revenue increase by working with companies to retarget users. Mobile for most publishers is half of their traffic or less. The numbers get even smaller.
Twitter, like Criteo, can certainly build a meaningful retargeting business by aggregating many of these publishers. And they will.
However this does not mean that publishers enjoy meaningful incremental revenue increase by adding retargeting ads (via Twitter or others) to their mobile sites. They should.
The real mobile money for publishers will be made differently.
The conversation about “viewability” - the initiative to count online ads that have the opportunity to be seen, rather than just served - is back. Just this week, Undertone released some data based on an industry survey, and the MRC moved its advisory back to Q1 2014.
Having been an outspoken supporter of the initiative since the beginning of the year, I had a few conversations about it with the media. Here is a collection of links.
Business Insider: This Stat Shows Online Publishers Don’t Care Whether People Can See The Ads They Run
Mediapost: MRC To Lift Viewability Advisory In 2014, Back Its Use As A Digital Currency
MediaPost: Real-Time With Eric Franchi, Co-founder Of Undertone, On Viewability
Over the course of the past year we have shifted a lot of our marketing and communications attention to social at Undertone. We use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and SlideShare as our main platforms. The majority of our activity is organic but at times we use paid placements to amplify news or content. Promoted Tweets have been effective.
After Twitter redesigned the stream a couple of weeks ago - making image-based posts 100% viewable by removing the need to click on them - I thought it was a very significant and positive change. Images can drive far more engagement than text in both content and advertising. So I thought it would be interesting to try images in a Promoted Tweet.
Right now hiring is a number one priority at Undertone so we decided to try it out on a recruiting ad. It took our team just a little while to create a few different versions and we launched it. You can see one here. Jack Marshall of Digiday, who has been following the image based tweet trend closely, noticed it right away and sent this tweet (thanks Jack!)
With Promoted Tweets you look at engagements, defined as retweets, replies, follows and clicks. Our goal was to get people to click on the jobs link. Without getting into specifics we saw a high percentage of engagements going to the link and a very high overall engagement rate. Especially as measured against previous Promoted Tweets without images.
Which is why I thought this article, again by Jack, was interesting. It challenged the notion of image-based Promoted Tweets being good for driving traffic or clicks to the link. Our experiment proved otherwise.
I have a couple of thoughts as to why this could be the case. The biggest thing is that we really tried to create something in the right context for a Twitter user who is quickly moving through the stream and looking for content. We did not just redesign a standard banner ad.
First is the message. Despite Promoted Tweets going to a targeted audience, we have no idea whether they are in the market for a job. Thus the passive, playful message. Second is the creative. This is a shot from a company team-building outing and there are a lot of folks clearly having fun on the beach. This creative is about as social as it gets! Third is finally call to action. We’re not going for the hard close with a “click here to apply”. It’s a softer message but still gets the point across to the user.
So overall, I think that adding images to tweets is a big plus and our data proves it out. I do also think that, just like with all advertising, you need to think about context, creative and message to truly drive better results. Just adding an image is not going to be the game changer.
Jerry Neumann of Neu Venture Capital did a great presentation on ad tech investing at the Appnexus Summit in NYC last week. He used actual data to take a close look at where the funding market is and where it may be going.
He was nice enough to quote my recent post on “Buckets" as well.
You can see the presentation here starting at 1:49 and his discussing the “buckets” theory at 1:54.
Thanks to the Kindle Cloud reader, its pre-ordering and auto-delivery features and my ever-present iPad, I have been reading more than I have in years. And I’m very happy about that.
I’m not much of a fiction reader, preferring instead to dive into topics, stories or people that I am interested in. Here’s the list of books that I have read over the last month or so and some thoughts on each.
Growth Hacker Marketing by Ryan Holiday: I am obsessed with how marketing is changing given the influences and capabilities of things like mobile and social. This is a quick and interesting read from someone on the bleeding edge.
Crush It! by Gary Vaynerchuk: A good primer, although a little dated, on building social presences for business and personal brands. If you like Gary V’s style, you will love this book.
UnLabel by Marc Ecko: Probably my favorite book of the lot. Marc is a big inspiration for me professionally. In this book he takes the reader through many ups and downs over the past 20 years, and gives a lot of practical and unique advice. What I appreciated most is that he doesn’t hold back one bit; talking about difficult times with his business partner, getting depressed, even gaining weight. Most books by and about successful execs tend to just focus on achievements. This book was as real as it gets and a far more accurate depiction of the entrepreneurial journey. A bonus: the illustrations are incredible. I’m going to get a hard copy for my collection.
Hatching Twitter by Nick Bilton: I just finished this. It reads like a movie. It is a big departure from the story of Twitter and its founders that many of us know. This one was hard to put down.
So that was my reading list. I’m actually looking for a book to read next. Any recommendations?
A (thing) recently announced their launch along with a big venture round. I used (thing) intentionally not to omit their name but because I have no category to put them in. In their press coverage they refused to be put in a category, instead calling themselves a new kind of digital media solution or something like that.
While this can work for a launch since it gives an angle to the story, it can also be dangerous. The reason is because customers need to put you in a bucket. Physical or mental.
If you are looking to sell media to agencies, you better be able to align to one of the buckets that they use to plan and buy media against: site, portal, network, dsp. Otherwise you literally don’t have a place on a media plan. That’s the physical bucket.
If you are calling on publishers or brands, it can be a little easier, but you then spend more time educating them on why you’re not a x, y or z but a (thing)! And then potentially having the conversation go in a direction other than talking to them about their business and how you can help. That’s the mental bucket.
In both cases the LUMAscapes are good bucket guides.
A lot of this stems from companies not wanting association with a category since they don’t like the current players’ recent funding valuations or exits. Which I understand, but I don’t agree with.
If you started this business than you believe in it no matter what the category. So rather than spending time talking about what you’re not, just own it. Talk about why you started it, the limitations of the current solutions and why you are better. Your clients will appreciate it and you’ll gain credibility as well.
I read the post, sat back and realized that I disagreed with none of it. The author was 100% accurate. Scale and performance matter. Relationships matter. Salespeople are expensive. You start from (not quite, but closer to it than quota) zero every quarter.
Welcome to the past 12+ years of my life, pal.
It’s not until I read something like this, or have a conversation with someone that is new to the business and in their acclimation/adjustment phase that I realize all of the above isn’t normal. But it’s all I have known.
But isn’t any business hard? Isn’t that one of the reasons why the startup success rate is so low? Businesses are hard, not only in terms of work but figuring it all out. I go to the pizza place on a busy night and think, ‘Wow, this looks hard’.
Or are advertising businesses, with all their ups and downs, really ‘harder’ than others?
Back Away From PowerPoint and Pick Up The Dry Erase Marker
I’m at a conference right now and have seen more than a dozen presentations over the course of the past couple of days. I have reached “Death by PowerPoint” and have been thinking about it.
I have definite views on presentations and have written about them before. As I see it there are basically three parts of the presentation: the story, design (the slides themselves) and delivery. All things being equal, my rule of thumb is to spend equal time on all three.
Most people spend >10% of their time on story, about 70-80% on slides and the balance on delivery. Which is why many presentations that are just filled with slides are so difficult to sit through… the logical flow is not there.
As far as story, the process is simple. I use a whiteboard or legal pad to sketch out a story that has a beginning, middle and end, features an antagonist/protagonist (and obviously your company’s product or solution is the protagonist) and hopefully a surprise at some point to keep people engaged. Plus this makes putting together slides a lot easier - just pick images and stats that support your story and points.
This is hard to do in the beginning but it gets a lot easier with practice. I think the world of conferences, meetings and sales calls would be a lot better if most people backed away from PowerPoint, closed the laptop for a bit and picked up a pen or dry erase marker instead.
Dear Ad Tech Entrepreneurs: Please Don’t Start The 857th Mobile Ad Network or DSP. Start this.
Background: media companies (publishers) are always looking to grow their audience. In this era of larger entities growing larger and audience-based buying, scale is important and keeps a media entity relevant. Scale has cache: it can be a proxy for quality and market leadership. It’s better to say you reach more of “X” audience than anyone.
Problem: there are lots of ways to grow audience. Most of them – SEO, social, email subscribers – take time. There are others that are more direct, such as buying traffic. This can be a short term fix but have ramifications. We are seeing more and more articles about bots (non-human traffic) being a growing problem. And we are seeing that traffic from vendors are highly susceptible to bots. This is a problem on my number of levels. Not only is it fueling a bad part of the ecosystem, non-human traffic does not deliver high quality affinity users. The other way to attack this is some of the audience/content ad networks which get varying reviews in terms of audience quality. Again we are focused on the upper end of the market.
Startup idea: A closed premium audience development exchange. Call it a consortium of publishers who are frenemies or maybe even enemies. The reality of digital is that audiences move quickly. Get content, move to the next thing. So if a publisher is going to “lose” a user once they have finished reading an article or watching a video, why not use it as a biz dev opportunity? For example, a user who is ready to leave a Conde Nast property that matches the audience of a Hearst property would have the opportunity to discover similar content. Hearst would then reciprocate in a 1:1 relationship. I have no idea what the actual mechanism to do this would look like but have some ideas.
There you go. Rather than see the 857th mobile dsp, I would love to see someone tackle this problem. Feel free to throw tomatoes, give feedback or run with it… and if you do the latter, please let me know, I would love to help.
EDIT: a couple of folks asked how this is different from audience/content networks like Outbrain (including the founder of Outbrain:) https://twitter.com/yarongalai/status/390664135480184832). I’ll use a digital media analogy. This would be a private exchange, if you will, versus an open exchange or network. Very focused and “premium”.
I used to take a laptop everywhere: to and from work, home with me on the weekends and when I went on the road for work or vacation.
Over the past year or so, especially as apps have gotten better, I find myself taking the iPad home most evenings instead of the laptop. However it has never felt quite right leave the laptop behind on a business trip for fear that I’d need access to a file or program.
So this week I decided to take a laptop-less trip as a trial. This was a low risk proposition, as I would be in Chicago and have access to a laptop if I really needed it at our office there.
Now that I’m back I can honestly say that I never missed having one. In fact it was pretty awesome not having to deal with it at the airport, taking a separate power cord and lugging it around town.
I used my iPhone for primary communication and the iPad for the rest. The following iPad apps were what I used to get the work done that I needed to:
OWA (Microsoft 365’s Outlook Web App) for email and calendar (plus it’s cloud based, allowing me to find files as I needed them) Slideshark for reviewing and annotating presentations Cloud On for spreadsheets (I prefer Office Mobile but it’s not on iPad yet) iPad Notes app for taking notes and working on blog post
Plus the Kindle Cloud Reader for reading on the plane.
Now if I needed to do some hard core content creation (presentations or big excel-based projects) I might have been looking for a laptop, but I knew there was a low risk of that happening on this trip.
I think that between the apps and LTE connectivity, the iPad/iPhone combination is so good that the laptop is going to stay in the office from now on.
I use Tumblr for this blog for a few reasons: simplicity and ease of use, having a place to call “home” and park my personal domain, and honestly because I just like the layout (this is a premium template by the way). But I realize that most of my posts and content are not really “Tumbly”. They are geared towards a specific audience of mostly professionals.
So while my posts “live” here, I link them out to a number of places. And while Twitter is a must for amplifying content, increasingly I am finding LinkedIn to be the platform of choice.
In fact this week I had a real lightbulb moment when LinkedIn started showing stats on “Who’s Viewed Your Updates”. It’s similar to “Who’s Viewed Your Profile”, in fact it’s right underneath it on my homepage. I realize that this might be in beta. Essentially it gives you a look at the views and engagement of your posts.
I was very surprised at the reach of some of my latest posts. But if you think about how LinkedIn promotes content and the network effects of being being a degree away from tens of thousands of people at all times, it’s not surprising at all. And I’m not in the “Influencer” program, promoting them or anything like that.
The other thing that I find really interesting is LinkedIn’s SlideShare. I do a lot of presentations at conferences. In fact after teasing out a few slides for my last one at IAB MIXX during advertising week, I got a few requests for it, but it wasn’t recorded or posted by the IAB to my knowledge. So unless you were one of the 100 or 150 people in attendance during our track, you missed it.
So we created a version for SlideShare and posted it. A day later, with very little promotion (just a couple of Tweets) it was sitting at 500+ views. That’s 5x reach to a new audience in just a day. At no cost. Talk about content marketing.
And this is just for me as an individual. It gets even more interesting with the possibilities for a business with sponsored posts, etc. I think as a platform for thought leadership and PR for businesses LinkedIn is already an indispensable tool, and they have a chance to own this space very soon if they don’t already.
Yesterday I had the honor of being nominated to the Board of the Governors Island Alliance.
Governors Island is an incredible, historic part of New York City. It is the closest you can get to the Statue of Liberty and only a few hundred yards from the Brooklyn waterfront. Here are some amazing recent images.
You may know Governors Island from its summer concerts, parks, and arts and educational programs. And while those will continue to be a focus of development, there are a lot of questions on what comes next. There are historic buildings that can be developed and used for education, the arts or the hospitality industry.
This is where the Alliance comes in. The Alliance takes an active role in planning, building a constituency and fundraising. Upon visiting the Island, I was motivated by the idea of playing a part in the development of something special for future generations. I plan on leveraging my experience in digital media, technology and social media to help in a variety of ways. I am very excited.
It was a good question. Think about that fact that there is a fixed amount of time any agency person has to evaluate new opportunities while they are still managing accounts. Then think about the fact that are cumulatively 3,000 funded startups and public companies across the various LUMAscapes, all vying for attention. Breaking through the noise is not only important, it’s everything.
Over the years at Undertone I have been in the position of wanting to develop new relationships (less so today than in the beginning, but there are always new agencies, personnel and account changes) and talking to agency leaders about what works.
There are two tactics I have found to work incredibly well. I talked about them on the panel and will expand upon them below. Before getting into them, I am going to make a very big assumption that the startup in question has a good product and a differentiated market position. Without those it will be very difficult to get in the door, and the conversation won’t be very long once you are in. That said, here they are:
Rule # 1: You Only Need One
Someone once told me that you only need one customer to be in business. This is a phrase that stuck with me. It’s an interesting perspective to have with the agency business. Large agencies will have typically have a bunch of accounts. Depending on your model, some may not be a fit, some may be a fit, and a couple might be absolute no-brainers. And while the temptation to try to talk to everyone is understandable, DON’T.
My advice is to focus only on those that make sense. Give them a compelling reason to take the meeting. Really listen to what their needs are and if your offering needs a tweak or two to meet them, do it. Bend over backwards, service the hell out of them and make sure their campaign is a success. Make them a rock star at their agency. They will become evangelists and help you with other accounts within the agency. And hopefully turn into great case studies that can be used to win other business.
Start with one.
Rule # 2: Make People Smarter
One of the best things we ever did at Undertone back in 2007-2008, when there was a boom in ad networks (literally hundreds and hundreds of them!), was put together an “Ad Networks 101”. The space was moving quickly and agencies really wanted to understand the landscape, how the companies worked and how to evaluate them. We got a ton of mileage out of it and would present it anytime, anywhere. Sometimes to a few people, sometimes to 50+. By focusing on education we were able to elevate ourselves from the pack who was just looking to do a sales pitch and meet a lot of new potential clients. It was a total home run. Despite the fact that the slides themselves weren’t all that much to look at, in retrospect.
When I think about all the new and emerging categories today like big data, programmatic, social, mobile, etc. I think the opportunity is even more relevant. Don’t complain that buyers don’t “get” what you do… Do something about it!
Beyond the 101 presentation, I think ongoing education is extremely valuable. There are a lot of ways to do this that range from easy to more resource intensive. Sending relevant articles, compiling benchmark data for a custom post-campaign report, newsletters, doing surveys of your client base, developing an index that is reported on quarterly or yearly, etc.
Breaking through is hard. You will see that the common thread in both of the above is taking a long-term interest in adding value versus just going for the sale – another element that will separate you from the pack.
I love this topic so would be happy to do more or answer questions. Tweet me or send me a note with your feedback.
Last week in NYC was Advertising Week. I gave one presentation and participated on three panels. It was a busy, fun week.
One of the panels was really interesting. Advertising Week’s Nasdaq Venture Series brought together a group of us within the ad tech/media space to talk about a variety of topics. The video is posted here.
If you want to see my comments on various topics you can skip to them.
6:52 - I was asked about attribution but threw a little cold water on the previous comments about Rocket Fuel’s first days of IPO results “changing everything” (I eventually got to attribution).
15:23 - Mobile ad formats and why I am excited about them (one of my big topics all week).
22:43 - Industry consolidation - is it happening and what are the drivers behind it?
27:43 - My tips to media/tech sellers on breaking through to ad agencies.
33:32 - One of the things I am most excited about at Undertone for 2014: Media Labs.
MoPub’s acquisition by Twitter marks the seventh mobile deal over the past few months. The ad tech space is heating up with M&A. It is largely driven by some larger players’ need for mobile tech combined with the fact that it’s getting harder for smaller/single screen/point solutions to compete in this market.
There was a previous wave of ad tech consolidation. Think 2007/early 2008. It’s pretty wild to look at all the large deals that happened over the span of about a year.
•AOL buys Tacoda and Third Screen Media
•Google buys Doubleclick and Feedburner
•Microsoft buys Aquantive and AdECN
•WPP buys 24/7
•Yahoo buys Right Media and Blue Lithium
Based on the scale of these deals, it’s fairly difficult to make a comparison to now vs. then.
Innovation in digital requires the use of creative, media and technology. The application of each is obviously individual.
This morning Complex Magazine took it to the next level with their cover story on Korean pop star G-Dragon. I can honestly say that I was so into the interactive elements that at some point I started skimming through the article to see what came next. You can check it out here.
It feels like Complex built on NY Times’ Snow Fall feature from last year with this.
Facebook’s stock price is back to its IPO levels. Cracking the code to mobile advertising is a big reason. I appeared on Fox Business news to discuss Facebook and the overall mobile advertising market. You can check it out here.
The author highlights retargeting as an effective, but inelegant and possibly soon-to-be-extinct, targeting technique for banner advertising. And then offers social advertising, powered by direct marketer-to-consumer interactions, as the future of online.
While I have no doubt that social “VRM”, as it is referred to, sounds like a powerful tool, it’s clearly too early to proclaim it as the future of online advertising. Just as it is premature to proclaim the death of the broader category of display advertising, a $15 billion market in 2012 and growing.
I found the focus on retargeting to be interesting and ironic. Especially since Facebook - who owns the social graph - saw such growth with FBX after introducing it as a targeting option for its right rail section.
While social - and for now, that means Facebook, with Twitter and LinkedIn not far behind - has incredible potential, there is a lot of room for innovation across the board in digital. Making banner ads more effective via targeting has been disproportionally emphasized (one area I agree with the author on). We need continued improvement in formats and measurement as well. It’s still early innings for all of digital advertising - despite the banner’s coming 20 year birthday.
The digital advertising industry sold the idea of “clicks” and the metric of “click-through rate” (CTR) to marketers early on. Clicks were the one thing that other forms of media couldn’t offer and became an instant selling point. Run a campaign with us and we will show you a report of all the people who clicked on your ad to visit your website. The measurable medium!
And besides Google, who built one of the greatest business models of all time (AdWords) on the basis of clicks for search, and more recently the retargeting companies, the rest of the industry has been trying to get away from CTR as a way of measuring performance ever since, because clicks only tell part of the story (a tiny part as you can see below).
Efforts to kill CTR have been admirable. There have been studies showing how users who click on ads are not the most desirable. Folks constantly highlight the low CTR of display ads (roughly 1 person clicks out of every 1,000 ads served). There are brand lift studies, engagement metrics, attribution mapping, offline sales measurement and more.
But at the end of the day, unless you work in ad operations or account management, you would be shocked at the number of campaigns that claim to have brand metrics such as awareness as goal, use rich media or video to enhance the creative experience, and then use CTR as the primary measurement of performance. In fact don’t take my word for it. Look at theseTwitter strings to see what other industry insiders have to say.
This is nothing new. People have been saying we need to move beyond the click for years now, with little to no progress. And digital spend continues to grow.
However, that growth is going to be limited unless we can show marketers more proof points around the value of digital. I think that coming up with simple, common metric that is an alternative or compliment to the click is one of the most important things the industry needs to focus on for digital to really grow.
The question is, what is it? And is the industry finally ready to do it?
Reading: I downloaded “Antifragile” by Nassim Taleb after Evan Williams (Twitter co-founder) kept tweeting quotes and concepts from it. It is a long, challenging book that pushes you to think differently. I haven’t finished it yet, but from what I have read so far, I highly recommend it.
Watching: I rarely watch TV anymore but the one show that I will commit to is Mad Men. This season was great. I look forward to seeing what becomes of the new Don Draper.
Listening: I’ve been listening to nothing but Yeezus since it came out and still feel like I need to listen to it some more. It is dark, raw and intense. Only Kanye West could do this, and only at this point in his career.
Following: More brands on Instagram. Nike has impressed me so far with their quick embrace of Instagram Video.
Wearing: Soludos. You will never catch me in a pair of sandals, but these are awesome and comfortable. I wore them all week in Cannes.
This week, I attended the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity in Cannes, France (along with 12,000 others). It was my first time and suffice it to say that it is something that anyone in advertising or media should attend at least once in their lifetimes.
Like with many conferences and events, I attended with the expectation of learning and networking and was not disappointed. However I did not anticipate coming away completely inspired and by whom.
During the early part of my trip I spoke at the Cannes Young Lions Media Academy. The Young Lions is a structured week long program for the world’s top media agency executives under age 28. Together with Ran Harnevo of AOL, I spoke on the evolution of technology in media and consumer behavior.
The best part of the session was not the discourse between Ran and me but the questions that followed. They were intense and challenging: how to prove digital ROI to clients, how to provide creative ideas within structured agency organizations and what the role of the agency becomes in a world where technology makes current capabilities ubiquitous.
We hear a lot about the “24 year old media planner”. What we don’t hear about is the many who are choosing a career in a world being disrupted by technology, mobility, social, media fragmentation and a consumer in control. Take it from me, they are ready.
Last week I had the opportunity to speak and participate in a panel hosted by the IAB about Viewability. Moving from impressions to viewable impressions is a massive, long-term project that has significant opportunity in bringing brand advertising budgets to digital.
It also has significant implications to media sellers, who are trying to figure out how their revenue models are going to be affected when viewable impressions become standard (and make no mistake - it will be).
During the discussion part of the event, a media seller asked one of the agency representatives if they are going to be paying 30% higher rates to make up for the amount of non-viewable impressions “lost” by the publisher (this question is asked during every viewabilty conversation). You can imagine the response by the agency.
I offered a suggestion to the media seller: try to sell as many of the new, higher-CPM Rising Stars units as possible instead of standard banners. It was a simple suggestion. Publishers need to re-create their site experiences for viewability, but what will happen is a re-imagining of digital for brand experiences as a result.
It’s already happening. HTML5 versus flash to allow for creative to run across screens. Responsive design versus multiple site versions. Site redesigns that are more conducive to viewable impressions. Larger, brand-friendly ad formats.
Mary Meeker talks about the re-imagining of the digital world in her annual report. I think we are also seeing a re-imagining of digital media for the better.
Publishers (that’s digital media speak for media companies) are at a critical juncture. Most everyone believes that their businesses are in a state of transition due to digital that is only accelerating. Quite frankly I believe that more attention should be placed on solutions and strategies to help them grow their business digitally.
But if you pay attention to the content for publishers discussed on stages at industry events and in trades, it’s generally centered around a few topics: programmatic, data and the general erosion of the banner-based business. These are important topics but in my opinion, have been somewhat exhausted.
So, in the spirit of advancing the conversation for publishers, here’s a little brainstorm by me. If someone handed me the strategy reigns at a major publisher tomorrow, here are five areas that I’d look to focus on right away as opportunities.
Viewability. I was surprised to see relatively little attention paid to the recent Google announcement that a viewability solution would be added into DFA sometime in 2013. I believe that this will accelerate the adoption of a viewable impression standard which is currently somewhat stalled. The implications for publishers are numerous and significant, and could unlock a lot of value. However right now, too many publishers do not know or understand the viewability of their own site. I would begin working with a variety of vendors to understand the viewability levels of my own site and built a roadmap for late 2013/2014 that would put my business in the driver’s seat when it comes to viewability.
Rising stars. The IAB Rising Stars - larger, brand-focused banner units - play to several current trends: viewability (see above), increased brand budgets, and native/content distribution being a few. Undertone released some research earlier this year that showed that budgets for Rising Stars would increase if buyers had more trust that publishers could implement and scale. This is a signal for publishers to get serious about Rising Stars. I would build a roadmap for implementation for all of them, understand what inventory levels would look like, and roll out packages for the sales team ASAP.
Industry PR. PR is important for overall awareness and competitive leadership and being able to tell one’s own story in the media. And demand for publisher stories are high - ask any editor or conference organizer. However, there are very few publishers that have a consistent presence in trades and on stages. Look at The Weather Company. They are everywhere and I’m sure it’s paying off in awareness of their new direction, interest and ability to connect with customers as a result. If internal policy was an issue, I would work aggressively with my team to figure out how to work within existing guidelines.
Social. Digiday had a good article last week that showed how the Harvard Business Review is using social. It is a blueprint that any publisher can follow. The reality is that social is (or can be) driving a significant amount of traffic for any publisher. At the same time it’s important to understand the various platforms and how user experience should be optimized for social visits.
Mobile web. Similar to the point above about social - a typical publisher can see up to 30% or more of traffic going to their mobile and tablet websites. It’s also related to the point above since increasingly, social is a discovery vehicle for the mobile web. It is critically important to create a mobile web presence that is conducive to user and advertising experience. In fact, unless my mobile native app was a hit, I would divert all mobile resources to the web and have my social/mobile teams work closely together for the above reasons.
These are just a few ideas. There are more (and I’d love to hear from people who have them). In my opinion the opportunity is wide open for publishers to get creative and take a leadership position.
There are essentially two paths in the lifecycle of an advertising technology/digital media business when it comes to the big questions on when to raise money.
Path A is most common, thanks to a healthy funding environment that still exists for ad tech. Have an idea, raise some money, build the tech and go to market to validate via customer sales. The ideal scenario, which happens in the minority of cases, is that the market likes it. Next step is either raising more money and becoming a pure play technology business or take the technology and combine it with a media offering and build a digital media business. The reality is that this linear path is rare and most of the time, companies get stuck somewhere trying to find a model that works on their investors’ dime.
Path B is less common. Thanks to the ubiquity of ad serving solutions that are available to “rent”, it is fairly easy to take an idea to market from the start completely bootstrapped. For example a mobile rich media play. Assuming the distribution channel is in place, a company can skip right to validation via direct sales, channel partnerships or a combination of both. And once the right formula is in place, that company has more choices: either raise money and be in a much stronger position due to that early traction, or self-fund and build out the technology that truly meets the market needs that are clear from time spent in market.
I am completely biased since Path B is the one we chose at Undertone but I believe that it leads to a more differentiated and stronger offering in the end.
Last night, as I reflected on the flurry of recent news about the Facebook Exchange (FBX) moving into the News Feed, it dawned on me that you really don’t hear much about standard display units - good old banners - in the context of real-time bidding (RTB).
Even beyond FBX, the discussion about banner-based RTB has sharply declined. AppNexus’ latest partner summit was largely about mobile. Most of the supply side platforms (SSPs) and exchanges are talking about “programmatic guaranteed/direct/reserved”.
Will Ecommerce Drive a Wave of Digital Media Innovation?
Last year I posted a quick piece on the trend of big retailers and Ecommerce companies moving into digital media.
Since then we have seen things continue to play out with eBay being the most recent expansion into the market.
eBay was very visible at Ad Tech in San Francisco earlier this year.
One thing that is not discussed enough - credit to Terry Kawaja who has been evangelizing it - is this: Ecommerce is a trillion dollar business that may start driving more innovation and opportunity in digital media.
Think about it. Premium publishers such as Conde Nast’s are demand generation vehicles. Imagine if they were able capture some of the dollars generated by their efforts? What would it take to do it?
In business there are ‘and’ markets and there are ‘or’ markets.
I define ‘or’ as markets where based on the need the customer has to choose. It’s company A or company B. For customer CRM, which feeds into marketing, accounting, workflow and all other business processes you are either going to use Salesforce or SugarCRM, for example (after a full assessment of course). Payroll processing is another example: Paychex or ADP. It would make little sense to use both.
Digital media is mostly an ‘and’ market. No matter the objective (brand vs. DR) or media acquisition model (direct vs. programmatic), a variety of media properties and partners are used to build reach and frequency, optimize, etc. Even on the technology side of things, with vendors having such varying capabilities and offerings such as DSPs, you often find that multiple platforms are being used. Probably the only ‘or’ decisions in digital are in ad serving (Doubleclick or ATLAS) and media logistics/workflow. Similar to the CRM example, the switching costs are extremely high.
The ‘and’ nature of digital means that its unique.
Mostly it means that things move faster. Planning and sales cycles, redistribution of funds, inventory management, product releases, marketing… everything moves fast.
It means that there is more opportunity for startups and new companies. People love to hate the clutter, confusion and LUMAscapes but the fact that things move so quickly, switching costs for most things are low and buyers like options is a boon for companies looking to start up and quickly gain traction and attract investment.
It also means that the rules of engagement in the field are a little different. Everyone is competing but it’s also a relatively congenial environment, particularly since with the speed of transactions and innovation partner opportunities abound.
I find that unless they have worked in an ‘and’ market it’s something that investors and execs new to the space need adjusting to. And to be honest, since I’m having trouble coming up with a single B2B example of an ‘and’ market, I can understand why. Maybe it’s us!
This week the senior management team at Undertone met offsite for our quarterly business review (QBR).
QBRs are a time to review the company’s performance as a whole, KPIs for each functional area, the annual plan, priorities, challenges, opportunities, strategy and big picture ideas. Also, given geographies and travel schedules, it is often the only time our senior team can be together in the same room for more than a few hours.
We have been doing them or a few years now. I think they are something that companies of any size can get a lot out of, but few do them. I highly recommend doing so.
Last week I met with Jonah Goodhart. Jonah is an online advertising pioneer (Colonize), investor (Right Media) and founder/CEO (Moat). This was the first time we met, and we hit it off. His company Moat is up to some really interesting things with respect to measurement and analytics.
One thing Jonah and I have in common is that we share a vision and focus for helping brands navigate digital. We also have similar industry backgrounds. A decade-plus ago, we were both helping advertisers in a media buying capacity when online, and display advertising in particular, was dominated by direct response.
As we reminisced about those days and how creative was such a focus (largely to drive high click-thru rates), Jonah raised a good point. Given how users interact digitally, a marketer only has a short amount of time to get noticed. This is why early banner ads, designed for the click, were very offer- focused (and at times flashy).
As much as digital has changed over the past ten years, this aspect of it has not. As a marketer, you only have a short time – approximately one second – to have your message noticed by the user and make an impact. I think that we should think about time (and units of time) as a native digital concept.
Picture how you navigate a site after clicking a link to an article. The site loads, you begin to scroll and within a second, you will have noticed an ad and/or engaged with it, or ignored it and kept going with your reading. Time is everything, whether you are looking for a click, an engagement or to influence a user from a brand standpoint.
What are the implications of time and how can we optimize for it?
It underscores the importance of good creative. Understanding that you have a second or less to be noticed, it’s crucial to have creative that makes an immediate impact. It means giving the user the good stuff up front… or giving them a reason to want to see more, whether that is a longer ad experience, a click, or an engagement. It means clear messaging and calls to action.
It means that page delivery and design is important. A page should render quickly to avoid user abandonment. Think about the homepage of Google – Larry and Sergey understood this early on. They resisted early pressure to add display ads and other content to the main search page so as to be as user-friendly as possible, thus creating the opportunity for maximum revenue on the search results page. Google notwithstanding, a site page should not be cluttered. Featured content and advertising should be up front with a minimum of scrolling (cluttered pages are unfortunately the rule, rather than the exception, today). The page should be configured to give advertisers’ messages the opportunity to be viewed, via impressions that are viewable by the user for that crucial one second of time.
Frequency becomes a factor as well, as in measuring and understanding the optimal level of depending on campaign goals. This is an area that is very under-researched, but also highly individual. Credit goes to Ari Paparo for pointing this out. His belief is that because of the immediacy of digital, more frequency than is standard these days is likely best (by the way, check out the Twitter debate that exploded when I teased out this topic on Saturday morning).
The concept of time to digital marketing is fundamental and significant. I’d love to see more conversation and research around it. The more we understand this, the better job we will be able to do for marketers.
Gary Vaynerchuk had a good, short video blog last week elaborating on his frustration with a recent mobile advertising experience: namely, receiving a “roadblock” ad from Samsung prior to landing on ESPN.com. Check it out here (warning, language).
Gary is a smart guy and I think he articulated some of the challenges of mobile advertising well from the user perspective. Most notably that mobile is a different medium than any other and for many, is an intensely personal experience.
Mobile display advertising simply must get figured out by this industry. At the pace mobile web is growing, it represents not only an incremental opportunity but a threat as it takes share from the PC-based Web. Mobile revenue lags time spent with the medium for a variety of reasons; one being that the advertising units themselves are not compelling. It seems mobile ads are either tiny (and thus easily ignored by users and not very valuable for marketers), or fairly intrusive such as the one Gary received. It’s a dilemma: how can advertisers stand out on mobile?
I had a good exchange on Twitter with Gary and Adam Kmiec (head of digital for Campbell’s Soup Company) and a couple of others weighed in as well. You can see it here. Consensus of this group was that a more customized and native approach is the best solution. This is not surprising. Besides search, native units are clearly what are working on mobile today based on the momentum of Facebook and Twitter.
So, is that it: is a custom, native approach the future of mobile display advertising? If so, what does that mean for ad exchanges, which are built for standardization and scale? Or smaller publishers, who may not be on the radar for native advertising experiences? Is there a display unit that has not been invented yet, one that can help advertisers stand out while preserving the user experience?
Clearly there are more questions than answers when it comes to mobile advertising, at least today.
This is something that I have been thinking about since Twitter launched Vine. I would love some feedback on this thesis.
Are shorter online video ads native to the Web, and are they going to be the norm in the near future?
YouTube seems to be doing well with its :05 video ad format, after which it allows the user to skip or continue on to watch it. This creates a user-friendly ad experience that matches the clip-based nature of YouTube while still most likely most likely improving brand lift. It also potentially delivers a much more engaged and qualified user who decides to watch the entire message.*
In addition, some video advertising technology vendors are providing brands the ability to allow users to “watch the full video”, after a standard ad time. Somewhat consistent with the YouTube model.
Vine limits users to :06. I think that Vine will be huge, for the same reason that TV is huge and online video can’t grow fast enough: sight, sound and motion beats the alternative every time Brands are already experimenting vine for creating neat video ads. Check out Wheat Thins and GE. These videos are native to Twitter and its experience, easy to produce, distribute and share.
When online video first started, brands used their :30 TV spots because they had nothing else. Today, you generally only see :30s in full episode player (FEP) experiences. :15s are the norm, but perhaps they are even too long for the consumer Web and (importantly) mobile Web experience. Maybe :05s and :06s are the online equivalent of the TV :30.
Starting vs. Scaling: What Do They Have In Common?
Starting a company requires, amongst other things: an idea, the guts to go out into the world and create something around that idea, the passion to attract a team to work on that idea, the leadership to bring out the best in them and a business model to make it real.
Scaling a company requires, amongst other things: a business model that is appealing to a much larger customer base, the systems and processes to support that larger customer base and activity, professional management in all functional areas, a focus on people, culture, performance and retention, and the leadership to bring out the best in a much larger base of people time and time again (no matter what the business challenge and economic climate).
There is a lot of information out there on starting a company and a lot of press coverage devoted to startups. And that’s a great thing. Startups are the engine of growth and innovation. There is much less on what it takes to get from $10,000,000 to $100,000,000, growing from 10 to 200+ employees, managing that growth successfully, integrating acquisitions, and everything that it takes to scale a businesses. It’s understandable since the number of companies that get there is small.
Having been a part of both starting and scaling, I can tell you there’s a common driver. Can you find it?