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The data infrastructure that powers global e-commerce is so hopelessly bulky, convoluted, and outdated that it threatens the health of the digital economy.

In fact, lack of access to data and inadequate tools and technology keep some 85 percent of CMOs from implementing an omni-channel marketing strategy, according to a recent study by the CMO Club and Visual IQ.

Think about it. The process most everyone uses for collecting web-user interaction data hinges around tags, cookies, and browsers. Our browsers run trillions of these one-off data connections that must be continuously maintained.

Twenty years ago -- eons in internet years -- there were no logical, scalable alternatives to the tag/cookie/browser triumvirate. But this infrastructure wasn't developed for today's consumer behaviors in a cross-channel environment. Of all the places where behaviors and interactions can be captured, a growing number have no relevance to the tag/cookie/browser construct. Think about mobile devices and apps, point-of-sale systems, call centers, televisions, and digital out-of-home, and it's clear that your customer is well beyond your current data connectivity approach.

Many marketers are confused by the siren song of tag management. "Won't that solve my data needs?" they ask. The simple answer is no. Tag management is addressing the mid-1990s idea that centers on tags, cookies, and browsers. It does nothing to help to prepare you for the world your consumers live in today.

What is needed is a solution that addresses the issues of both data collection and integration to enable marketers to keep pace with their ever-connected, mobile customers. That solution lies in a new infrastructure where the cloud supplants tags and cookies, where servers and API connections, not browsers, form the hub of data integration.

Through this approach, cross-channel data is connected in real-time to create a cohesive, intelligent view of the customer. No more worries about lengthy IT cycles, cookies being accepted, or tags not firing. Vendors and advertisers can reach consumers with more relevant and timely messages. They can do more important work than managing a tired infrastructure.  

This new technology foundation must be built around several key premises.

For starters, it must be created in a way that generates more trust and transparency around the data being collected and shared. The lack of both is a critical flaw in the browser-centered infrastructure. It's hard for consumers, policymakers, brands, and vendors alike to have confidence in a system where there's uncertainty over what's being collected -- and shared.

Moreover, it must be open. It's not just the oligarchs of data like Google and Adobe that should benefit by the new infrastructure. The young companies with great ideas need access, as well. That's how continuing innovation, by vendors and brands, will be fueled. The notion of "innovation on demand" is at the core of an open infrastructure -- something that's blocked by the IT cycles and lock-ins that are a function of legacy data-connection approaches. 

The issue of our aging data infrastructure is coming under increasing scrutiny in an era when big data is just getting bigger, increasing the pressure for more effective connectivity. It's time to remove the silos that are trapping data to facilitate a better understanding of customers across devices and experiences, in real-time. The next 20 years of the internet's evolution start today.

Mike Sands is president and CEO of BrightTag.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

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Most brands would kill for the mega marketing dollars behind even the smallest of automotive brands. So it's no surprise that some of the slickest and most luxurious ad campaigns of all time come out of the car industry. Auto brands consistently produce the most immersive, technologically sophisticated experiences in marketing. (Have you seen Lincoln's "Hello Again" interactive music experience featuring Beck? My word.)

The best social media campaigns from auto brands

That said, while you'll often find auto brands prominent on top 10 commercial lists for any given time period -- and they regularly clean up at annual marketing awards shows -- they're not always at the forefront when it comes to social media. Some of the coolest automotive campaigns are actually severely lacking in the "shareability" realm. It's not all that surprising. The car sales process tends to be more of a one-on-one conversation between dealers and consumers than it is in other industries. But more and more, auto brands are realizing that any great ad or campaign can be even better when given the proper legs in a social setting.

Let's take a look at some of best recent social media initiatives coming out of the auto industry. What would you add?

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Years ago, I read an article about a new Sony Walkman being tested. Unlike the then ubiquitous belt-hung cassette player, this model was an "implant" -- a small device embedded near the auditory nerves. Written as a straightforward tech review, the only hint that this was the stuff of imagination was the publish date -- April 1.

Fast-forward 30 years, and we stand on the edge of that reality, from sophisticated medical implants that monitor heart activity and brain function to Google Glass and more wearable tech on the cusp of a breakthrough. Wearable devices will rise from about 13 million in 2013 to 130 million in 2018, according to Juniper Research. And the size of that market will jump from $1.4 billion in 2013 to $19 billion in 2018. But for now, we're all waiting for the must-have device that will propel the category to the top of consumers' minds.

Currently, social media conversations about wearables reveal both a lack of clarity around the category and the dominance of brands over devices -- brand mentions outpace device conversations 20-1. Prior to this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Google Glass dominated brand mentions in social media. While Google Glass still remains the most visible, new product debuts at the event drove up share for LG's Lifeband Touch and Sony's life-tracking Core wearable.

Whether any of these introductions take off in a big way remains to be seen. Immediately following CES, wearable conversation volume tailed off dramatically, indicating that even the ardent fans in attendance quickly lost interest. The most common sentiments found in our social listening -- beyond enthusiasm -- were confusion and skepticism.

"I frankly don't get the point of a smart watch...they seem to me to be unnecessary, trying to create and fill a niche at the same time," read one comment. A recent Harris poll found that 59 percent of Americans don't understand or see the need for wearable technology. Overcoming this resistance will require a device that makes wearable simple and seamless.

There are a few key factors that need to align to bring wearables into the mainstream. First, it needs to be stylish: not fashion-forward, futuristic, or high-tech, but of the here and now. Until wearable technology fits in with the rest of our accessory choices and moves seamlessly from work to play, people will be slow to adopt. Second, it must be accessible. It's not about having the piece that is the most aspirational; it's about having the piece that is obtainable. And it's quite possible that a breakthrough is on the horizon. Already, Intel is partnering with fashion powerhouses like Barney's New York, the Council of Fashion Designers of America, and Opening Ceremony to create cool, design-forward wearable technology. 

So while we await the breakthrough device that brings wearables from idea to indispensible, what can marketers do in the meantime? Healthcare companies looking at CRM systems and database upgrades should be planning for the influx of new data coming from these devices. Retailers should investigate the potential of wearable devices for customer service and inventory management. But most importantly, brands can use this time to help shape the conversation about wearables. We've already seen that consumers associate the market more strongly with brands than devices. This puts brands in the unique position of being able to steer conversations and build consumer engagement alongside developing technology.

We're already seeing agencies and other content creators using wearable devices. GoPro is creating immersive video content, and the PGA Tour is using Google Glass to bring players' POVs directly to fans. With enthusiasm growing for both brands and consumers, the best way to stay ahead of the coming wave of devices is to start moving now.

Jay Wilson is vice president at Wunderman.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

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"Brian Williams Raps 'Gin and Juice'"

Jimmy Fallon and his crew are at it again, this time with a brilliant mashup of Brian Williams' "NBC Nightly News" stylings and Snoop Dogg's (Snoop Lion's, Snoop whateverhe'scalledthesedays') "Gin and Juice."

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Attention marketers: You're now part of the resistance. Machines and humans have already gone head to head in ping pong, in Jeopardy, and also in marketing. In fact, algorithms are monopolizing the search marketing process, and it's time to fight back.

In the beginning, marketers assumed that machines were their friends. They selected a few keywords, hit the optimize button, and walked away as PPC campaigns seemed to manage themselves. A self-managing account, however, is a myth. The account required human input to put it in motion. Why would marketers believe that once they've provided input, their job is done?

Implementing what we call "intuitive search intelligence" -- campaigns in which engines and experts coexist and share insights as if they were partners -- can redefine how your customers find and perceive your business online. Here's how you can embrace human-led campaigns supplemented by technology:

Ask the all-important question: Why?

Asking why separates a good campaign from a great one -- whether technology is involved or not. Without human expertise, campaigns can be stuck in an endless loop in which the same mistakes are repeated and suboptimal tactics influence new ones.

Humans are instrumental throughout the process because only humans can ask why. An algorithm knows that a given campaign works, but it doesn't know why a word or phrase resonates with a human audience. Further, only a human can implement positive changes based on intelligently questioning success or failure. For example, an algorithm might think that "handyman Chicago" is an OK search term when customers are actually searching for "Chicagoland roofing contractors." An algorithm can optimize within its channel, but it can't translate the improved keyword into other channels.

Knock down walls between silos

Within too many companies, or even the marketing department itself, teams lack solid communication. For example, the SEO team and PPC team won't share strategies even though their jobs are made to influence one another. Keyword research, onsite content, website architecture, title tags and meta descriptions, image alt tags, and more are all integral to success in SEO. Much of this same research into ideal keywords is completed on the PPC side. So why not share insights?

Although the paid search channel will perform differently than the SEO channel, in most cases the relative performance of keywords will be similar. If "Denver athletic shoe store" has a high conversion rate in paid search, it is likely to have a higher than average conversion rate in SEO as well, even if the rates are not identical.

More importantly, by tearing down silos, online marketers will advance overall business goals instead of focusing on isolated metrics. The metrics they're tracking will be the metrics that matter -- those that have an effect on the entire company rather than just the marketing team.

Share insights across channels

The benefits of defining your business through keywords don't end with online display advertising. Open communication improves the overall marketing strategy. Brands should be managing their SEO, SEM, display, email, and social media campaigns holistically, sharing insights from one channel with the others. SEO and PPC are a natural, but insights from these two disciplines can benefit social strategy, email marketing, and display advertising. Insights aren't confined to a single channel, as the effect of incremental improvements is magnified over several channels.

For example, the PPC team might find that the term "luxury cars Los Feliz" performs better than "car dealers Los Angeles." That knowledge can be used to influence SEO strategy, social, and content marketing. By knowing how consumers define and categorize a business, marketers can shape how their company is perceived across channels.

Humans have to level with their fellow humans and realize that at the end of the day, they're not talking to a machine; they're talking to people. Machines are a means -- not an end -- to a successful marketing program.

Michael Mothner is the founder and CEO of Wpromote
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Change happens a lot in our industry. If you're not comfortable with it, you're probably not in the right place. Companies experiment with new roles and angles by which they can find an edge and better serve their clients. Some of these roles "take" and can explode into whole new industries themselves or can create new demand for the pioneers within the space.

The marketing jobs with the fastest turnover

Fifteen years ago, I look back on search engine optimization. Entrepreneurial spirits discovered that search engines drove sales, so they played around with their websites to find ways to make their sites rank better than competitors. After a while, there was incredible demand for people who'd figured out these tricks, and those people had command of their employment destiny. There is still today a fraternity among that small group that you see at conferences and on the speaking circuit; they fondly remember those days as they brush aside some now graying hair.

Social media took SEO's place with another group of early adopters who put their skills to work and now speak frequently on the topic. They built legions of believers and yielded a burst of activity across our industry. People jumped onto the bandwagon with fervor, and jobs for them exploded. Now that area of marketing has settled in, and we await what's next.

Across the board, companies and the employees within them are maturing -- some more than others, if you know what I mean -- and there are enough options for people in our industry to move around to find an environment that meets their needs. There are agencies, both broad and specialized, software companies, technology companies with consulting arms, and client-side, but on the other hand, there is also the option of taking specialized skills on the road as an independent consultant. However, the questions remain for employees, "Where is the opportunity now? What are the hottest skillsets required to relive the marketing gold rush?" And companies are asking, "Where should I expect the turnover within my ranks? How do I hang on to my good people? What aspect of marketing should I invest?"

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ADC announced the winners of the 2014 Tomorrow Awards, as well as all the awards presented at ADC Festival of Art + Craft in Advertising.

Adiant announced the launch of its new real-time bidding exchange for native ads.

AdTheorent announced its partnership with Civolution to release a media mix correlation study for brands.

Beckon announced that it has raised an $8 million round of Series A funding, bringing the total raised to date to $10 million. August Capital, who led Beckon's $2 million Seed round, is now joined on the Beckon board by Canaan Partners.

BrightRoll announced the expansion of its executive team with the appointment of Beth Steinberg as vice president of people.

Centro announced Matt Davis has been appointed to National VP of platform sales. An eight-year veteran at the company, he was previously regional VP, West. Mike Olson has been promoted to regional VP, West.

Drawbridge announced the addition of video ads to the company's cross-device solutions, allowing advertisers to reach over 1 billion devices in the United States, Great Britain, Brazil, Germany, China, and other major markets with high-quality video placements on brand-safe inventory. Drawbridge and Somo announced a partnership wherein Somo will utilize the self-service Drawbridge Cross-Device Advertising Platform to run targeted ad campaigns across real-time and reserved inventory from premium publishers.

Dstillery announced that Paul Cushman, an expert in cross-screen digital marketing, has joined the company as a key advisor. Dstillery also named Ori Stitelman as senior data scientist and Tobey Van Santvoord as senior director of the West region.

I.Predictus hired Peter Seed at its new director of marketing.

iAcquire announced the appointment of a top talent to further strengthen its content marketing division. Gabriella Salas has joined the agency as associate director of content strategy.

Invoca announced Invoca Signal, an all new patent-pending voice intelligence technology, and its deployment with one of the world's largest retailers. In addition, the company announced it has added as an investor in its Series C round.

ion interactive announced its pivot to focus on helping customers create marketing apps.

Latinum Network announced two new hires. Dave Jackson joined as Latinum's VP of business development and Mike Murakami joined as the senior director of research and insights.

Marketsmith Inc. announced the appointment of Reema Verma as social media manager.

MediaMath announced its strategic partnership with Yahoo, Microsoft Corp, iSocket, Shiny Ads, and Yieldex to provide direct marketers with automated guaranteed premium media buying through its TerminalOne Marketing Operating System.

PK4 Media announced that Carol Terakawa joined as SVP of sales and Patrick Gacoscos joined as account executive.

ROKKAN is pleased to announce the launch of its newly formed media and planning offering as well as the arrival of three key additions to the agency's leadership team. Sean Miller joined as SVP of strategy, Lindsay Williams was named VP of media and analytics, and Joe Meanor joined as VP of client partnership.

Spree Commerce welcomed 15 additional members into its certified partner program.

Telerik announced it open sourced its library of UI tools with Kendo UI Core, giving back to its developer community with the opportunity to rapidly advance UI innovation.

Vevo announced it has extended its partnership with Yahoo to bring Vevo's 100,000 HD music videos, live concert events, and original programming to Yahoo Screen.

Visual IQ and Marin Software announced the companies have officially partnered to help joint clients maximize the effectiveness of paid search campaigns through attribution-powered insights.

Waterfall announced the expansion of its sales team with Jay O'Sullivan as general manager West, Michael Weaver as general manager East, Michael Ahearn as VP of customer development, and Mark Shelley as VP sales.

Editor's note: This column publishes twice per month, and we are always looking for industry announcements. Please email press releases to

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Emmy award-winning producer and show runner of the hit web series "The Lizzie Bennet Diaries," Bernie Su has become a thought leader for marketers as well as a creative luminary. Why? Because he's trailblazing the ways solid business models can be implemented for online content creation. His hit web series has proved that you don't need a huge budget to accomplish huge things.

Su has now turned his attention to the creation of a new online show called "Emma Approved." In this exclusive interview, Su speaks with iMedia's David Zaleski on the lessons he learned from the completion of "The Lizzie Bennet Diaries" in relation to the business model, as well as what marketers can learn from how his team approached the "Emma Approved" monetary strategy.

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Here's a scenario: It's lunchtime. Today it's your job to make lunch for the family. You decide to make sandwiches. In the kitchen, rummaging through cabinets, you realize you're fresh out of bread, so you make a run to the store.

Once there, what do you buy? Bread? Or bananas?

If you responded "bananas," you may well be a content marketer.

Recently I have been busily crunching data for a new research report on the content marketing software landscape (the full report will be available in late April/early May from Altimeter Group at no cost). We're sifting through piles of survey data about marketers' content marketing pain points, their budgets, how they make buying decisions, and how these wants and needs correspond to the existing offerings from a highly varied, complex, and rapidly changing vendor landscape.

Surveys often reveal surprises, and this time is no exception. We broke content marketing solutions into a total of nine categories and asked content marketers two key questions:

  • What types of content marketing software solutions do you most urgently need?
  • What software solutions do you plan to invest in over the next 12 months?

Overwhelmingly, their answers fall into the realm of complete disconnect (i.e., buying bananas when you know you need bread).

I'm not going to give away all our research findings (besides, we're still working on the report), but when the data started coming back, we learned that overwhelmingly, content marketers intend to spend money this year on tools that help them to create more content. "Feeding the beast" is no longer a term reserved for journalists and newsrooms; it's a very real problem facing organizations that are working hard to create content for a proliferating number of channels, primarily in owned and earned (social media) channels.

But ask these same marketers what they actually need in terms of content marketing software solutions, and you'll get a very different answer. They are saying that they need tools to help them find and target the right audience for all the content they're so frantically trying to create.

There are clearly many reasons for this disconnect, but the most glaringly obvious one is a focus on tactics over strategy (i.e., on cart-before-the-horse content marketing coming before content strategy). The overwhelming majority of the content marketers we surveyed say their organization lacks a formal, documented content strategy -- a statistic borne out by similar studies. For example, according to the Content Marketing Institute half of B2B marketers don't have a formal strategy).

If there's a clarion call for a documented content strategy, it's spending money on bananas when what you really need is bread (or, in this case, content creation instead of finding the appropriate audience for what's created).

It's hard to think of a more apt metaphor for why organizations require content strategy than this disconnect between need and pain on the one hand, and budget allocation on the other.

Bear in mind it's not an either/or proposition. Strategy is also planning against goals and determining what tools and workflows are required for an efficient and effective content marketing program. I'm by no means debunking the need for creation tools. Anyone creating content for digital channels needs them.

But they also require distribution, targeting, optimization, metrics, and mechanisms to ensure legal and compliance guidelines are honored. These various categories of content software have barely been taken into account, much less assessed and budgeted for, by organizations that have nevertheless plunged wholeheartedly into creation tactics.

Our forthcoming research will, hopefully, help marketers to recognize these problems and make more rational, informed decisions based on real needs and pain points. I'm looking forward to sharing it soon.

Rebecca Lieb is an analyst, digital advertising/media, for Altimeter Group.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet. Follow Rebecca Lieb at @lieblink and Altimeter Group at @altimetergroup.

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One of the primary features of marketing automation is the ability to trigger brand messaging at the right time across multiple channels. Marketers can benefit by having a lot of this work automated, but will that efficiency undermine creativity and humanity?

The question isn't new. It's found in "Jurassic Park," "Frankenstein," "The Terminator," and "I, Robot." The films ask whether advances in science and technology necessarily result in a greater good. Most of them don't. They portray a world in which the potential good is outweighed by the bad. Crichton's dinosaurs get loose. Shelley's monster murders. The robots in "The Terminator" and "I, Robot" try to exterminate the human race.

If the plots sound similar to modern arguments about marketing automation, it's because they are. One side posits the benefits of productivity and the ability to dedicate more time to meaningful work. The other argues that automating messages results in less human, relevant, and creative marketing. Is the latter correct?

The second argument has some merit. It is easy to abuse marketing automation. It can be put on autopilot and treated as a shortcut. Data can remain in stasis and not be used to create relevant, personalized messaging. Email campaigns can go without testing and finessing, resulting in them being dumped into spam folders or responded to with a visceral unsubscribe.

But like most advances, the tech shouldn't be blamed. I believe marketing automation is a force for good rather than evil. If we can learn the warning signs of too much automation and how to combat them, we will be able to use marketing automation to develop relevant and creative marketing consistently.

Here are three warnings from the future to avoid:

Creativity is dead

Marketing automation has been given rule of the place, and it squashes creativity underneath its technical-driven thumb. It is based on mathematical probabilities and analyses. The messaging goes forth for the benefit of the company alone and not because it meets a need or desire found within the target audience, which has been painted with a neon-red bulls-eye.

The irony of painting an audience with a bulls-eye while shooting "me, me, me" automated messaging is that the company and its marketing automation will never hit the center. The only way to do that is to focus on the audience and let creativity run wild. Assess messages, images, color schemes, and timing with split A/B testing. Risk the zany idea. The metrics will say very quickly if it succeeded or fell flat on its face.

The marketers are victims of analysis paralysis

The marketing automation machine churns out data, but it's too much. Marketers don't know what data is important, much less what data points to a pattern of behavior. They are lost in the data and don't know what to do next.

To combat analysis paralysis, marketers need to study a maximum of four metrics. The metrics need to be relevant to end goals and bottom lines rather than to attempted measurements of influence or something of that nature. Once bounded by real metrics, marketers can look at the data and determine if and when goals are or are not being reached.

The marketers are conversing with the robots

Google now penalizes content that is meant for its spiders and bots, but some marketers still act like Agent Smith from the "The Matrix." They share information with no thought to relevancy, context, or humanity. Their information may be good, but if it isn't timely or placed within the right environment, it doesn't really matter.

To return to talking with humans is to become Neo. Data and information is only as good as the time, environment, and audience in which it is placed. The machine of marketing automation can help figure out some great times, places, and audiences, but the human is needed to cut to the right context the most quickly.

Like most software, marketing automation is a tool. How it is used determines its quality. When it's bad, it's bad -- email addresses are scalped. Data is misused. Messages are scattered about, and nothing is personalized, relevant, human, or creative. The robot has gone to work, and it is making a mess of things.

Good marketing automation is creative, human, and relevant. It tests messaging and imagery. It pays attention to data so that goals can be reached. It segments its audiences and heeds context. The robot may be going to work, but it is accompanied by a marketer who wields its intelligence responsibly.

You Mon Tsang is the chief marketing and product officer of Vocus.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet and You Mon at @youmon .

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