Mar 282007

Marketing is Like Baskin Robbins

Marketing is Like Baskin Robbins

A couple years ago, I wrote that Marketing is Like French Fries, since you can always take on one more small incremental marketing task, just as you can always eat one more fry, even long after you should have stopped. Today, inspired in part by our ongoing search for a new head of marketing at Return Path and in part by Bill McCloskey’s follow up article about passion in email marketing in Mediapost, I declare that Marketing is also like Baskin Robbins – there are at least 31 flavors of it that you have to get right.

McCloskey writes:

I submit that the über marketer who is expert in all the various forms of interactive marketing is someone who just doesn’t exist, or is very bad at a lot of things. An interactive jack of all trades, master of none, is not the person you want heading up your email marketing efforts. What you want is someone who is corralling those passionate about search, RSS, email, banners, rich media, mobile marketing, WOMM, social networks, viral into a room and figuring out an integrated strategy that makes sense.

Boy, is he right.  But what Bill says is just the front row of ice cream cartons — the interactive flavors. Let’s not forget that running a full marketing department includes also being an expert in print, broadcast, direct mail, analytics, lead gen, sales collateral and presentations, creative design, copywriting, branding, PR, events, and sponsorships.  Wow.  I’m getting an ice cream headache just thinking about it.  No wonder CMOs have the highest turnover rate of any other C-level executive.

I think Bill’s prescription is the right one for larger companies — get yourself a generalist at the helm of marketing who is good at strategy and execution and can corral functional experts to coordinate an overall plan of attack.  It’s a little harder in small companies where the entire marketing department might only be 2-3 people.  Where do you put your focus?  Do you have all generalists?  Or do you place a couple bets on one or two specialties that you think best line up with your business?

I think my main point can be summed up neatly like this:  Running Marketing?  Be careful – it’s a rocky road out there.

Mar 262007

Book Short: Crazy Eights

Book Short:  Crazy Eights

In honor of Return Path being in the midst of its eighth year, I recently read a pair of books with 8 in the title (ok, I would have read them anyway, but that made for a convenient criterion when selecting out of my very large “to read” pile).

Ram Charan’s latest, Know-How:  The 8 Skills That Separate People People Who Perform From Those Who Don’t, was pretty good and classic Charan.  Quick, easy to skim and still get the main points.  The book lost a little credibility with me when Charan lionized Verizon (perhaps he uses a different carrier himself) and Bob Nardelli (the book was published before Nardelli’s high profile dismissal), but makes good points nonetheless.  Some of the 8 Skills he talks about are what you’d expect on the soft side of leadership — building the team, understanding the social system, judging people — but his best examples were particularly actionable around positioning, goal setting, and setting priorities.  The book reminded me much more of Execution and much less of Confronting Reality (which is a good thing).

For years I’ve felt like the last person around to still not have read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, so I thought I’d skip straight to the punchline and read Stephen Covey’s newer book, The 8th Habit:  From Effectiveness to Greatness.  Fortunately, as I’d hoped, the new book summarizes the prior book several times over, so if you haven’t read the first, you could certainly just start with this one.  The book also comes with a DVD of 16 short films, some of which are great — both inspirational and poignant.  Unlike most business books, the 8th Habit is NOT skimmable.  It almost has too much material in it and could probably be read multiple times or at least in smaller pieces.  The actual 8th habit Covey talks about is what he calls Find Your Voice and Help Others Find Their Voices and is a great encapsulation of what leading a knowledge worker business is all about.  But the book is much deeper and richer than that in its many models and frameworks and examples/tie-ins to business and goes beyond the “touchy feely” into hard-nosed topics around execution and strategy.

Now I’m looking for the DVD of the first season of Eight is Enough!

Mar 212007

Leaders Discredited from Leading?

Leaders Discredited from Leading?

In Bill McCloskey’s Email Insider column on Mediapost today (hopefully the link will work; sometimes Mediapost isn’t open if you’re not a subscriber), he decries the lack of passion and industry evangelists in the email marketing space and compares it to the search world with at least one example involving Dave Pasternack, co-founder and president of Did-It.  He then goes on to say that there are a few evangelists in the email world, but that two of us — myself and Rich Gingras, CEO of Goodmail, don’t count because we “have a vested interest in being passionate.”

While I appreciate Bill’s main point and appreciate his recognizing that I do evangelize our space and am passionate about it, I have to take issue with his comment on a few points.  I have already privately emailed him about this, and Bill and I have known each other for a long time, so this isn’t meant to be an attack on him at all.

First, the internal inconsistency in his argument is glaring.  By his definition of “vested interest” (company founder/leader), Dave Pasternack has about the same vested interest in what he does as I have in what I do and Rich has in what he does.  So why does the passion count for search and not for email?

Second, I’d argue that we as an industry need more passionate CEOs and founders and executives to step out and be evangelists for our cause.  Just because we started companies or run business units — we’re somehow discredited or unqualified to speak out and lead the charge on something?  I think it’s the exact opposite!  The industry needs more of its leaders to do just that.  And Bill of all people (CEO of Email Data Source) should know that.

But finally, I’d argue that we (meaning we humans) all have a vested interest in what we do, whether it’s Baker or Mullen or McCloskey or Melinda Krueger or Stephanie Miller.  All people who work for a living , at any level (and I am certainly on that list), have a built-in reason to support their field/cause/company — they want and need it to succeed.  But beyond that, high quality people are always emotionally vested in what they do, even if they didn’t start a company or have equity in it.  They throw themselves into their work and treat it like a cause.  Discredit all those who have a vested interest in something as legitimate evangelists — you eliminate most evangelists, at least in the corporate world.

All that said, I agree that more people should be out there sharing their passion for the email space and evangelizing it, and kudos to the Bakers, Mullens, Kruegers, Millers, McCloskeys of the world (and there are more of them than that group) for doing just that every day.

Mar 162007

Staying Power

Staying Power

I interview a lot of people.  We are hiring a ton at Return Path, and I am still able to interview all finalists for jobs, and frequently I interview multiple candidates if it’s a senior role.  I probably interviewed 60 people last year and will do at least that many this year.  I used to be surprised when a resume had an average job tenure of 2 years on it — now, the job market is so fluid that I am surprised when I see a resume that only has one or two employers listed.

But even the dynamic of long-term employment, as rare as it is, has changed.  My good friend Christine, who was a pal in college and then worked with me at MovieFone for several years before I left to start Return Path, just announced that she’s finally leaving AOL — after almost 11 years.  Now that’s staying power.  But most likely the reason she was able to stay at MovieFone/AOL for over a decade is that she didn’t have one single job, and she didn’t even work her way up a single management chain in a single department.  She had positions in marketing, business development, finance, operations, planning, strategy.  Most were in the entertainment field, so they did have that common thread, and some evolved from others, but the roles themselves had very different dynamics, skills required, spans of control, and bosses.

That’s the new reality of long-term employment with knowledge workers.  If you want to keep the best people engaged and happy, you have to constantly let them grow, learn, and try new things out or run the risk that some other company will step in with a shiny new job for them to sink their teeth into.  Congratulations, Christine, on such a great run at AOL — it’s certainly my goal here to keep our best people for a decade or more!

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Mar 132007

I Hope I Didn’t Make You Sick, Too

I Hope I Didn’t Make You Sick, Too

Fellow entrepreneur and MyWay blogger Chris Yeh takes me to task for my post last week entitled Humbled at TED.  Although his blog post was pretty harsh on me — saying essentially that I’d lost my brain and made him sick by fawning over celebrities (which I didn’t do) — his comment on my blog was a little more measured, just reminding me that people like Bill Clinton is human and puts his pants on one leg at a time just like the rest of us.

I think Chris missed my main point, and since he decided to go public blasting me, I’ll repeat here what I emailed him privately before he decided to blog this:

Oh I don’t put them on that much of a pedestal, although perhaps my post sounded like that. My comments are more driven by a combination of:

- the great things they’ve done for humanity as opposed to the more mundane commercial that most of us do

- the immense knowledge of specialists in fields I know little about

- the level of intellectual discourse among the regular attendees…more than I see on a daily basis by 10x

Plus, pedestal or not, it isn’t every day that one sees Clinton, Bezos, Khosla, Branson, and Brin/Page all in the same room at once. :-)

Anyway, thanks for the comment. I may blog it and my response.

Still, Chris’s main comment to me is probably a good one, which is that “treating the successful as if they were on another plane simply perpetuates the belief that you’ll never achieve the same kind of success.”  And on that point, he’s 100% right.  There is greatness and success in all of us, whether we’ve tapped into it yet or not.

Mar 102007

An Execution Problem

An Execution Problem

My biggest takeaway from the TED Conference this week is that we — that is to say, all of us in the world — have an execution problem.  This is a common phrase in business, right?  You’ve done the work of market research, positioning, and strategy and feel good about it.  Perhaps as a bigger company you splurge and hire McKinsey or the like to validate your assumptions or develop some new ones.  And now all you have to do is execute — make it happen.  And yet so many businesses can’t make the right things happen so that it all comes together.  I’d guess, completely unscientifically, that far, far more businesses have execution problems than strategic ones.  Turns out, it’s tough to get things to happen as planned BUT with enough flexibility to change course as needed.  Getting things done is hard.

So what do I mean when I say that humanity has an execution problem?  If nothing else, the intellectual potpourri that is TED showed me this week that we know a lot about the world’s problems, and we don’t lack for vision and data on how to solve them.  A few of the things we heard about this week are the knowledge — and in many cases, even real experiences — about how to:

- Steer the evolution of deadly disease-causing bacteria to make them more benign within a decade

– Build world class urban transportation systems and growth plans to improve urban living and control pollution

– Drive down the cost of critical pharmaceuticals to developing nations by 95%

– Dramatically curb CO2 emissions

We have the knowledge, and yet the problems remain unsolved.  Why is that?  Unlike the organized and controlled and confined boundaries of a company, these kinds of problems are thornier to solve, even if the majority of humans agree they need to be solved.  Whether the roadblock is political, financial, social — or (d) all of the above — we seem to be stuck in a series of execution problems.

The bright spot out of all of this (at least from this week’s discussions) is that, perhaps more than ever before in the history of mankind, many of our most talented leaders AND our wealthiest citizens are taking more of a personal stake in not just defining the problems and solutions, but making them happen.  They’re giving more money, buiding more organizations, and spending more time personally influencing society and telling and showing the stories.  It will take years to see if these efforts can solve our execution problems, but in the meantime, the extraordinary efforts are things we can all be proud of.

Mar 092007

Humbled at TED

Humbled at TED

I’m at my first TED Conference this week, and while I’ve watched countless other bloggers around me pounding out post after post summarizing different presentations (which I won’t do — feel free to see the site for official stuff), I’ve been struggling to find something to write about.  Then it hit me today.  I kind of feel at this conference the way I did when I started college.  Totally humbled.

I was #2 in my class in high school.  Straight As, a few A+s thrown in for good measure.  Then I got to Princeton and felt like an idiot.  I was convinced I was bottom quartile at best.  Everyone around me was either like me or better, smarter, more intellectual, more well rounded, taller, thinner, better looking, better teeth, the works.

This conference so far has been the same, and I mean that in a good way.  The sessions have varied from fascinating to boring to Bill Clinton cool to Paul Simon and Jill Sobule entertaining to completely over my head.  My fellow TED attendees include royalty, billionaires, captains of industry, Oscar winners, and dignitaries.  Add it all up, and there is a giant aura of accomplishment and intellectualism in the room that makes me feel like bottom quartile at best, maybe more like bottom decile.  That’s a great thing, though.  It’s always good to have a reminder of the larger global issues, picture, and opportunities, and a window into the people thinking about solving them.