How did you first become interested in branding and social media? I’ve always been very intrigued by how brands and reputations would be shaped in a world where they no longer controlled the narrative. This set me off on a really interesting journey through the evolution of tech and media. I started my career in a few disparate areas: a think tank in Europe, financial journalism and then strategic communications. This led into tech-centric advertising, where I find myself now.
What’s one trend in social media advertising you want to see more of? And one you want to see less of? I’d like to see less of brand A.D.D. (jumping from one platform to the next in a way that isn’t strategic). There is a lot of that right now. There are so many platforms and vendors and not a lot of differentiators between them. It’s just sales hype. I’d almost argue for fewer, more strategic channels with a lot of time devoted to the content that goes on them.
What I would like to see more of is really substantive, interesting native integrations with publishers. Things like what Netflix did with the New York Times for the TV show Orange Is the New Black. It wasn’t scalable, but it wasn’t supposed to be. It brought a really interesting level of rigor and interest into the marketing mix, which was awesome.
What can ad agencies learn from the rise of native advertising? I just gave a talk about how the world of branded content needs more editing. There’s a ton of Melba toast (boring branded content) because people aren’t editing rigorously.
Some of the most powerful journalism lessons can be applied to branded content. Brands and agencies need to find angles. They can’t just slap an editorial title on someone who hasn’t logged time in a newsroom. There is an unwelcome trend of giving the title of “global brand editor” or “editorial director” to staffers who have done nothing but buy attention their whole careers. It is difficult for a journalist to pitch a story to a salty, cynical editor; this difficulty is something that is missing from native advertising today. There’s no angle, no pop.
What trends in advertising are you most interested in and why? I am most interested in how digital, mobile and social are going to change customer experiences for the better. There’s so much data in the world. Unfortunately, it seems right now that it is being used against us, like retargeting me on Facebook and through display ads to buy some sweater I looked at a month ago. At the same time, there’s still this huge disconnect between data and customer service. I’ve checked into a five-star hotel that I’ve stayed in ten times before, and they still ask, “Is this your first time with us?”
I think the future for interesting, high-touch brands in the luxury and hospitality sectors will be to corral user experience, data and mobile into something harmonious that their customers might use and enjoy. It will take some time, and there are legacy IT barriers. But when done well, it is an incredible kind of branding.
What emergent technology or platform should agencies start taking advantage of? Dan Frommer just wrote a fantastic piece about why Vine is way under-hyped in a world of Snapchat saturation. His main point is that there’s a scalable audience and a ton of creativity happening all over the Vine platform. Plus, it is cheaper to do interesting, short-form stories there than in other mediums.
What’s a brand that’s using social media in a creative or particularly effective way? Why? I think Mailchimp is an unsung hero. Their social media presence helps people become smarter, more effective email marketers. Data driven and well written, it has a great sensibility. They have also been really great at podcast advertising and taking a native approach. I just feel a lot of personality and vibe from Mailchimp, for an email marketing company that could be really boring otherwise.
What advice would you give to a creative who’s building their personal brand on social media? The portfolio is just table stakes. What really sets you apart are experiments, hacks and things that show the way you think about the world.
For example, my good friend Noah Brier built Brandtags, a crowd-sourced brand research site, as a side project and also organized Likemind, a global coffee meetup. Although they were just side projects, they were so interesting and well executed that it said a lot about him as a thinker. These two things early in his career helped to build and accelerate his brand in an incredible way. Sometimes, experiments are more important than a long, linear resume.