Is it organizational structure or organizational prison?

I’ve recently had a lot of time to think about how organizational structures work (or don’t work). Typically some VP comes in and then decides to organize things in a different way. S/he probably picks some new way of lining people up and when some don’t fit into the box on a chart, they get a notice that their role has been eliminated. It is pretty typical and (usually) not meant to imply that the work that person does is bad but it just doesn’t fit within the vision of how that VP wants things to be anymore.

I fully admit to being one of those people who would look at my goals and how I was being measured and then come up with an organizational design (I have an emphasis in org design from Kellogg). Just like new VPs, I would put people in to boxes and if they didn’t fit, well, you get the picture.

A few years ago this happened in the consumer insights team (the team I was traded to in some sort of extremely high level backroom deal). My boss who was pretty great as a people manager (much better than me) and a woman who I very much respected was let go (if you are reading this J.M., lmk if I can use your name). I was pretty upset but I really liked my new VP also so I went along. The new VP had the longstanding opinion that people need to conform or fit to the structure rather than building the structure around the people. The previous VP organized around people. The analyst in me bought into the structure is priority argument.

But then a very important person ended up working on my team. This guy just didn’t fit what my boxes said he needed to be. Things got very tense and (A.L, if you are okay with me naming you I would love to) we started having conversations that were really stressful for everybody. Ultimately I stepped back and thought, this person is really valuable to the company. He should be in a different department but because of stupid structures, he is not where he should be. Rather than lose his amazing talents and truly special personality I just started letting him do what he did best. He is the one who taught me that structures can be prisons.

Fast forward a year and the time came for me to work for someone that I really didn’t fit with. I sucked it up because we don’t organize around people and I should find a way to make it work. Well it didn’t work and I bet you know what the end of this story is…I ended up out of the role and looking for something new. Structure became prison for me too. While trying to break free from the chains, I did lots of damage to myself and others. Ah, the irony. Some lessons are hard learned.

Our notion of organizational structure is still so 1950s. We need to be developing databases of people skills and personalities and using modern analysis to determine how they fit into each team. We need to be hiring people because of what they bring as unique beings into an organization of other unique beings. We need to be bringing people in and out of teams and changing up their “tours of duty” based on who they are rather than force fitting them into a box. Measure the person and the circumstances they are in and then feed more data into the model. If you are finding that you have too much of something or not enough of another, then adjust the organization. This business of VP reorganizations every year is killing employee trust.

We need a new way of thinking for the new creative economy. Talent management software will be a game changer IMHO. So much so that I really feel compelled to invent it myself. Feel free to take the idea though. I have a new idea every 10 minutes…

Is your corporate structure feeling pretty prison-like too? What can we do to organize around people instead?

Newspaper industry sour grapes


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I was reading an article that linked off of Drudge Report today because I’m very interested by Jeff Bezos’ purchase of the Washington Post when I was dumbstruck by a comment from a newspaper industry veteran, Chris Tolles, CEO of Topix, one of the leading news communities on the Web:

Amazon’s core competency is driving other companies out of business.

Mike Elk, economics and business writer says:

There is a demonstrated history of preferring part-time and temporary workers at Amazon’s fulfillment houses.


I just stopped dead in my tracks when I read this. Really?  That’s what you think Amazon’s core competency is?  Or maybe it is a fantastic shopping platform which allows me to find just about any product on the planet, easily purchase it at the lowest price (and get very useful recommendations for other things I’d like) and it shows up on my doorstep with free shipping sometimes in about 24 hours.  Could that maybe not be Amazon’s core competency?  Unbelievable awesome customer experience from start to finish?

Why are billionaire’s picking up newspapers for pennies on the dollar? Because they have been run completely into the ground.  Let’s take a little glimpse of this head on collision as we drive by shall we?

Revenues are down.

Newspaper ad revenue dropped another 5.9% in 2012; magazines, overall, were off 10.4%.  According to the Newspaper Association of America (NAA), for every $16 in print advertising lost, only $1 of digital advertising is added.  Why?  Because Google and Facebook are eating up all the digital ad dollars by attracting local advertisers over to their eyeballs.

Figures from Google, NAA, and Publishers Information Bureau indicate Google’s ad revenue last year surpassed the combined revenues of the United States print media industry, newspapers, and magazines combined.

Digital disruption, competition for ad dollars, disinter-mediation?

Knock, knock…hello newspaper leadership…anybody there?

Quality is poor.

What happens when you have a revenue problem?  Well you cut expenses, don’t you? And then what happens to the quality of your product?  It starts to totally suck.

Research from Ofcom in October 2011 demonstrated that nearly 50% of respondents disagreed with the statement that they “trusted what they read in the newspaper”. News websites scored significantly better with around 20% disagreeing with the statement.

In American newspapers the number of newsroom staff has dropped 30% since 1989.  And in reality it probably should have dropped even more.  What happens to a business when it cuts to the bone?  Readers leave.

Over 30% of respondents to a Pew Report survey said they had deserted a news outlet because it no longer provided them with the news and information to which they had grown accustomed.

Well that’s really going to help win over more ad revenue next year, isn’t it?  Ooh, I know, pull more stories over from AP word for word.  Or better yet, pull them directly from other people’s blog posts (trust me this happens) and also it would be great if you do more really fluffy pieces of journalism that don’t take too long to produce. Then, oh this is a really great idea, we’ll go back to a subscription model because we have such worthy content that readers should want to pay for it.

Does this seem at all sane to you?

Technology is relentless.

Along came a tablet and sat down beside her.  This industry is, how shall we put it, technologically incompetent?  Too harsh?  Maybe.  But certainly not keeping up with what, for everyone, is a breathless pace of change.  Consider this fact.

Among IT and tech employees with mobile devices, 62% indicate that tablets have replaced their newspapers. [Source: IDG, August 2012]

Okay so now you’ve lost your channel because people don’t really want to download a different mobile app for each newspaper.  So they use….drum roll please…Flipboard wins.

Speaking of apps, this interesting little tidbit puts things in perspective. StepLeader, a mobile technology company, did a survey and found that 47% of the respondents said that they used Local TV broadcast as their primary source of local news. The next highest source was Local TV mobile apps (at 17%) which were followed by newspaper websites (7%) and local newspaper print (6%).

So despite our collective love for the printed word, people want to see video now.  Or at a minimum have a collector/aggregator curate the content for them.

Whammie.  Lost their distribution advantage (but still have all their print expenses and capital equipment oh joy).

Printed newspapers will be a thing of the past in 20 years.  I’ll keep a few copies along with my princess phone, fax machine and Apple Newton just to prove to my son that they did used to be quite popular.

But there is hope.

Okay, it looks pretty fatal as we drive by.  But here’ a fact that you must leave stuck in your head.  Yesterday 41% of adults 18+ in the United States reported either reading a newspaper story in print or digitally. That’s still a huge audience.  Why?  Because people still want to know what’s happening in their local markets.  Because the content/aggregator sites and apps link over to them.  And because they are still putting out important information despite their many overwhelming challenges.

Even more importantly, local marketing is hot right now and the ability to reach even broader audiences is ripe.  My team did a story recently on the higher time spent and engagement in local media sites.  This is a great place for advertisers to be.

When it is all said and done, I’m rooting for the newspaper business to comeback.  I think that if Jeff Bezos applies the same operational and customer experience excellence to The Washington Post, they may have a shot.  It certainly wasn’t going to go well for them if he didn’t buy them so I’ll drink (my non sour grapes) to that!

Just my opinion: Facebook Home is going to flop

First off, I need to admit up front that I’m not that addicted to Facebook and I do have a bad track record with guessing what technology is going to take off (read, I thought tablets were dumb). I check FB occasionally and I actually do read some of the email push messages. It is a good way to keep in touch with my solar system of friends so I’m by no means hating on Facebook. The hype about the new Facebook Home mobile “skin” for Android, however, just leaves me flat and, I’ll admit, just a little bit annoyed.

The idea that Facebook is redefining itself as a mobile first company just confuses me. Facebook and mobile have always been intertwined from a user perspective. If anything, I suppose that Facebook is looking to try and figure out how to monetize mobile access, but their product marketing around the launch makes it seem like their “mobile first” initiative is more user-focused. I have the Facebook app on my phone. I dig it and use it when I’m waiting around somewhere.

Then, they announce that anybody can download it, but it is coming out natively on HTC phones. HTC? Everything I see about HTC Android devices is that they’re on the way down in terms of use and in terms of shipments. Why is it so wonderful that the only partnership they could announce was HTC?  I can see why HTC might like to breath some new life into their devices, but what’s in it for Facebook? When I think about the rationale for bigger manufacturers to build in Facebook Home, it doesn’t make strategic sense.  When I think about users downloading Facebook Home and installing it over their existing interface, I don’t see that happening either. For the most part we are quite rooted to the default settings of our mobile devices.

I consider myself to be pretty good at strategy so the fact that I can’t see any good reason for this new mobile opportunity to really work gives me pause. If I were in upper management at Facebook, aside from driving a much nicer car, I would be investigating purchasing a device manufacturer the way that Google did. Google saw the opportunity to establish permanent default setting status for their technologies while they continue to feed the broader mobile agenda.  Since Facebook wouldn’t ideally be beholden to Apple or Google (Android), I would throw my chips in with Blackberry and try to turn that company around with a triple scoop of Facebook coolness.

With both Yahoo and Facebook beating their chests about mobile strategy, I wonder if it has become rather fad-ish.  The data I’m seeing tells me that mobile is profoundly impacting everything about technology, but the real driver underneath the mobile strategy is actually tablets.  All of that reminds me that I originally thought that tablets were unnecessary, so maybe I’m all wrong.  The good thing about being me, however, is that I keep thinking I’m right about everything.  It helps me sleep better.  What do you think about Facebook Home?

Intuitive versus data-driven marketing decisions


I have pondered the wisdom of philosophical debates around marketing superiority for over 20 years now. When I first became a marketer I was challenged and disappointed by the “shoot from the hip” decision-making which guided marketing decisions and content in the high-tech industry. It seemed more art than science and, somehow, that seemed entirely wrong. I investigated various approaches in other industries and discovered that CPG was using more data-driven decision making. I wanted to bring that level of rigor back to the high-tech industry so I set myself on a course to attend Kellogg so I could study the masters of CPG marketing methodology.

Recently I am troubled that only data-driven decisions exist in high-tech marketing. Specifically, most marketing budgets are evaluated on the basis of the number of qualified leads that they bring in. The notion of a purchase cycle or awareness funnel seem to be entirely missing from modern day high-tech marketing. Suddenly I realize that in my own small way, I have created a monster.

As I ponder the problem more, I realize that really we have just traded one form of lazy decision making for another. As marketers we remain unwilling to bring marketing decisions to a level of nuanced, yet empirical, thought. Instead we rely on a single source of decision making information entirely too often.

The spark that caused me to write this post came from a course on Sociology that I’m taking through The professor, Michael Duneier, assigned reading from William Ogburn. He argued for entirely scientific methods for the field of Sociology but noted,

“This decline in the prestige of intellectuality will be only amongst the scientists themselves.”

In essence marketing intellectuality is the gut feel that marketers have that they cannot prove. It is based on experience and judgement. Whereas the scientists will only make decisions based on proven, measurable results. I was struck by the tension that all fields of study have between the proven and unproven, feeling and facts. It just didn’t occur to me that other fields of study have the exact same ongoing debate.

What can we as marketers do about finding balance in our field? I admit that I am by nature a scientist. But I have come to appreciate the other viewpoint for which as a young and inexperienced marketer, I held total disdain. Maybe after you think about the question more for yourself you’ll agree and together we can tame our monster.

Quotes from “To Kill a Mockingbird”

I just finished reading this classic novel for the first time. Don’t know how it escaped me all these years, but I finally got to it. Wanted to share some quotes from the book that struck me as relevant to our times.

“When asked what entitlement was, Jem described it as a condition of having your tail in a crack”

“There is a tendency in this year of grace, 1935, for certain people to use this phrase [all men are created equal] to satisfy all conditions. The most ridiculous example I can think of is that the people who run public education promote the stupid and idle along with the industrious–because all men are created equal, educators will gravely tell you, the children left behind suffer terrible feelings of inferiority. We know all men are not created equal in the sense some people would have us believe–some people are smarter than others, some people have more opportunity because they’re born with it, some men make more money than others, some ladies make better cakes that others–some people are born gifted beyond the normal scope of most men.”

The Coming Wave in Digital Marketing

I feel another wave coming in the Digital Marketing world. As you probably have guessed, I read quite a bit of digital marketing related news. So when I start to see multiple articles from totally different sources which are touching upon the same topic my instinct tells me that there is a wave coming so tighten your belts because it’s going to get bumpy.

For those of you who are not familiar with the CPG space, it has historically lead the pack in terms of data-driven marketing. Using grocery data and Nielsen in-home shopper panels, CPG Brand Managers are probably the best in the world at using multiple types of market research to drive their extremely large advertising budgets.

In the age of the Internet, however, they have not used their own web data to any great degree to inform their marketing programs. It makes sense because why would anyone want to click on a CPG brand ad?

CPG has been held back by the very metrics that have driven Digital Marketing for other industries. But you already knew all of this.

Based on what I’m reading recently I’m convinced that CPG is about to invest heavily in digital measurement and given their background in grocery store scanner data, predictive modeling and all other forms of qualitative and quantitative market research, the digital measurement industry is going to get a great big shove from these demanding and astute marketing people. I envision a number of start-ups taking advantage of this wave and a number of incumbent measurement leaders will either have to turn their focus to CPG functionality requirements or face extinction because where CPG ends up going, the rest of the digital marketing professional world will follow.  Quite simply they are the best trained marketers in the world.

Here are some quotes from articles that support my theory. I know this hypothesis has been propogated many times before, but instinct tells me that the time is really coming soon. My guess is that by 2013 companies will start to hear the new requirement requests and by 2014 new start-ups and existing incumbents will be actively working on building that functionality. Here are some quotes from recent articles that lead me to believe that the time has come.

P&G’s New Approach to Digital
Publisher:  Digiday By:  Giselle Abramovich Publishers:  March 13, 2012

According to Marc Pritchard, global marketing and brand building officer of P&G, “The power of everyday people is driving monumental change and people power favors brands like ours. We have trusted brands that are part of everyday life. We genuinely care about serving people with superior benefits and doing good.” Also noted in the article, P&G’s Facebook page has about 71,000 followers which is a pretty unimpressive number which underscores how little CPG has really utilized the Digital Marketing thus far.

Study Finds Marketers Don’t Practice ROI They Preach.
More Than Half Don’t Use ROI Metrics to Plan Budgets; 28% Rely on Gut Instinct

Publisher:  AdAge By: Published: March 12, 2012

“To address the discrepancies and move toward marketing-effectiveness measures that might gain broad acceptance, MASB is preparing to launch a Brand Investment and Valuation Pilot study as soon as next month. The intent of the study, to be concluded by 2014, is to develop a widely accepted methodology that marketers can use to value their brands and guide their investment decisions. It will include an analysis of a Kimberly-Clark Corp. brand, among others, Ms. Blair said. ”

Consumer Packaged Goods:  Invest in Shopper Marketing
Publisher:  Strategy + Business By:  by Matt Egol, J. Neely, and Richard Rawlinson Published:  February 17, 2012

This article makes the point that shopper marketing for CPG is changing and the combination of mobile and digital marketing opportunities are still wide open.

“No consumer company has yet figured out all the ramifications of shopper marketing or created the capabilities required to fully exploit it, especially when combined with digital media.”

Expect mobile to be the pivot point for CPG in the digital marketing world.  They have to figure it out because engagement is the new marketing aspiration.

Note:  Shopper marketing is a term given to efforts to engage with and influence consumers at the time of purchase.

The best thing Steve Jobs ever did

Looking back on the impact of Steve Jobs I must admit have mixed emotions. On the one hand, the guy was absolutely brilliant and insanely focused on delivering great products. I marvel at my iPad and miss my iPhone. iTunes changed music for me forever. And I don’t think that these things would have ever been brought to market without his leadership and demand of perfection. On the other hand, by insisting on closed marketplaces, technology and OS he drove a bunch of small upstarts out of business and I happened to work for one of those businesses that was stymied by not being allowed to be in the App Store. And I really lothe that his success at building a monopolistic businesses has resulted in business leaders and boardrooms across the world asking the question, why can’t we be Apple and close down our business to only those we “like”. I think it is 99.9% of the time a bad idea for customers, partners and the general goodness of being forced to fend off competition regularly.

So all in all, Steve’s parting thoughts upon his Death struck me as the best thing he ever did. Which is not a business message at all, but a personal one that I found to be extremely relevant and thought provoking.

“No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” – Steve Jobs

What do you think was Steve’s most important contribution to the world?

RIP Steve Jobs

Streaming Video + Tablet = WOW!

Last night we watched the first two episodes of Entourage on HBO Go with our tablet. We have the rest of the season DVR’d, but we missed the first two and were waiting for the replay that never happened. So my takeaway…WOW! Awesome user experience. This morning my 4 year old was watching the original Power Rangers movie on it. We also have Netflix. And we’re going to keep both because HBO had more adult programming and recent movies. Netflix has a huge library of streaming kiddy stuff. BTW, we really appreciate the parental controls available on these apps since it doesn’t take long before a really young kid can figure out how to use it.

BTW, we switched to TV when we got to the episodes DVR’d because of screen size, but in hindsight we could have saved space on the DVR by connecting the tablet through the HDMI cable and streaming. I can’t believe I just said that because I really don’t know much about tv technology, but I’m catching on. I’m going to declare right now that if I can speak to this subject, HBO Go and Netflix streaming are crossing the chasm!