Posted by Jason

By this point in the technology cycle, the recent Cisco and IMD survey findings that four out of 10 top-ranked companies within their industries won’t last the next five years is not surprising. Even the study authors note that there is an “historical parallel to what occurred after the advent of the Web in the mid 1990s: Just 25 percent of the Fortune 100 top U.S. companies were still in existence 15 years later.”

We get it. Businesses need to reinvent what they do and how they do it, and they need do it at the speed of digital. But that’s hard, and there are a lot of reasons why businesses, and especially B2B ones, can’t just wave a magic app and “do” that. But there is a group within every B2B that doesn’t have any excuses for not innovating: The Marketing Department.

Consumer marketing is defined by its innovation, by its ability to come up with new ways to get to consumers, new ways to be memorable. B2B marketers should be sharing that same imperative to innovate for the same reasons.

But B2B marketing is often stuck in the same old dinosaur tracks, doing the same old things and hoping to Warren Buffet that the status quo will hide them. That’s why B2B marketing is often just a factory for quick collateral, amateur presentations, emails, and conference booth wrappings. In other words, things that are low-risk and expected.

But as a marketer, it’s your job to make your company stand out—and to stand out inside your company while you do so. And today, there are all kinds of ways to do that.

We’re in the experience era, where everything must be contributing to a unique, high-quality, brandable experience, whether that’s a simple microsite or a PowerPoint presentation. We’re in the apps era, where new tools are being invented every day to aid the sales force. We’re in, well, a lot of eras. So there’s no reason to not jump in and start experimenting and innovating. Well, there is a reason, it’s called “hide, squirrel away budget, and hope to survive.” But that’s not a good one.

When B2B companies inevitably tighten belts, it’s often the marketing department that’s sliced. Why? Sure, it’s partly because in the B2B world, it’s easy to mistake marketing for a luxury as it’s not easy to gauge its impact on sales. But mostly, they’re in danger because it’s extremely obvious that the marketing part of the business isn’t innovating, so the loss is a minimal one that can be remedied later in more liquid times.

The marketing department is there to help make the sale, either indirectly through brand awareness or directly through how it equips its sales force. Just like the digital business, to continue to do that effectively, the marketing department must disrupt itself. Before it gets disrupted.

Photo credit: Karen Roe

Posted by Mike

This was the question that we arrived at when we were thinking through some of the fundamental business challenges our telecommunications industry customers were facing a couple of years ago. We wondered on their behalf, “What revenue-generating opportunities are adjacent to the communications services they offer today?”

We landed on text.

We looked at SMS, and we looked at Twitter - what’s essentially a public SMS service - and we thought, “Imagine if you could use text messaging to do things?” This line of thinking lead us to a concept that we called, MetaText. At the core of MetaText was the idea of using the hashtag - a common “meta” texting tool - to add interactivity to text messaging. For instance, what if I could text, “#Pay $25 for lunch” to my friend and the transaction would just occur seamlessly…no websites…no apps…just text. What if I could text, “Do you want to see #JurassicWorld tonight?” to a friend and the movie trailer along with showtimes and ticketing options showed up in my SMS window? Again, right there in the context of our conversation, I could interact with rich web content, make a multilateral decision, and conduct commerce.

The work that we did on MetaText is what made me so fascinated by this recent Wired article, The Future of UI Design? The Old-School Text Message. It looks like text is finally an idea whose time has come. The thought-provoking question the article begs about the future of information interaction is an exciting one. We’ve already written about the continued rise of AI, and with it the seemingly inevitable end of the interface. Whether it is text, speech, or just pure thought, it seems that we will soon be interacting with information in a far more intuitive way. To that we say, “Finally!”

The other exciting thing about this article is that it is a reminder about how much fun it is to work at Maark. To see an idea that we published years ago finally gain momentum focuses us on what it means to be an Innovation Agency. Every agency like ours wants to be an Innovation Agency, but the truth is, we don’t always get to be one. Sometimes we are a Production Agency, serving as an extra set of hands for clients too busy to focus on anything past their immediate need. Sometimes we are an Ad Agency, creating clever messages and neat advertising to reach discreetly targeted audiences. But at the end of the day, when we get to be an Innovation Agency we get to help our clients imagine the future and discover where they fit into it. That’s a huge challenge, and an awesome opportunity.

It’s here that we are most useful, and have the most fun. And it’s this mission that catalyzes both great stories and our best ideas for how to tell them. It’s always inspiring to see ideas move forward, hastening what is to us, our sometimes-imaginable future. #WhatsNext

Every once in a while, I think of popular ideas in terms of “What would VH1 do with it?” I wonder that when the cable channel eventually does its I Love the 2010s show, how will they look at things we find worth our time today? And, of course, it’s real easy to do that with tech, especially wearables. I mean, if our future is indeed continued human-small device interaction (and that is arguable), wearables seem inevitable. But it seems real easy for pop culture comedians to make fun of how we do it these days: strapping sensors on our wrists.

There are a few ways to approach this idea with skepticism. First, that the data is even that valuable. Does my sleep patterns, steps taken, and heartbeat over weeks, months, or years matter that much? Certainly in the doctor’s office, they spend the least amount of time on my pulse and are fine with single-word answers to their question, “How are you sleeping?”. Again, continuing in that skeptical vein, it’s real easy to paint these health-tracking wearables as a way for device makers who’ve hit the wall on phone technology to sell us something new.

But a bigger problem that is becoming more and more talked about is the accuracy of these devices in the first place. Like this recent MIT Technology Review piece:

Results varied, and sometimes they varied a lot. The [Microsoft] Band’s average heart-rate measurements were consistently closer to the results of the Polar chest strap—sometimes within a beat or two per minute, but they could be as many as 13 beats off. The Apple Watch, meanwhile, gave readings as many as 77 beats per minute different from the Polar device. Measurements of calories burned (something all three bands, including the Up3, track) were also somewhat inconsistent; on one morning commute, for instance, they ranged from 143 to 187.

And it’s not a rare view. The doubt is happening everywhere, enough so that these fitness device makers are already spinning it, that it’s not about accuracy, it’s about health engagement.

Even analysts are jumping in on the doubt-fest:

Global research and advisory firm Forrester Research thinks that wearables will go the way of ”the Flip camera or the single-purpose e-reader,” according to Re/Code, meaning they will grow in popularity for a few years before petering out. While some technology, like smartphones, are able to gain true ubiquity, some believe that wearable tech is not likely to do the same.

The problems with these health-tracking wearables is manifold, that they are mass-marketed devices for people who aren’t mass-marketed, that the range of data they can track is too tiny to deliver any worthwhile conclusions about our overall health, that the technology just isn’t there yet for any meaningful data.

So, basically, the chances of an aging Hal Sparks comparing Fitbit to the copper bracelets of yore seems more and more like how it’ll go.

Photo credit: TeppoTK

A couple of weeks ago we discussed Google Cardboard, that clever, inexpensive way to get virtual reality (VR) into the hands of the masses and into massive acceptance.

The one thing we didn’t discuss was, “Who cares?” After all, it’s got a nice novelty factor to it, but here in the B2B marketing world, novelty has only a small place. So does Google Cardboard belong in B2B?

Honestly? I’d say it was custom-made for it.

The Size of the Solution

In B2B, the solutions being sold are often, well, big—a large piece of equipment, a suite of equipment, an entire facility. Things you can’t just lug around in a bag or mail to a conference. But with VR, you can do exactly that. Take a prospective client on a tour of that facility. Let them interact with that massive piece of equipment. Even better, you’re showing them those things in an extremely controlled environment, where every pixel has been designed to contribute to a better, more sellable experience.

The Complexity of the Solution

While not all B2B products and solutions are physically large, they’re almost always extremely complex. The technology that goes into them, how the elements of a solution fit together, how they interface with client infrastructure. Visualizing those solutions and how they work in a clear way that communicates value is everything a sales rep wants. And with VR, you can evolve past the confusing, boring tangle of color-coded boxes that adorn most PowerPoint slides. You have a new dimension and level of interactivity to tell your story.

The Intimacy of the Sale

B2B sales are often one-on-one, whether it’s in the boardroom, during a private meeting at a restaurant, or in a conference booth. It’s the perfect environment for, “Here, let me show you something cool” and then pulling out a phone and the Google Cardboard viewer. In those situations, you have the benefits of the previous point, but also the meeting stands out as memorable to the prospective client.

The Size of the Budget

It’s in the dollars where Google Cardboard really seems to be custom-made for B2B. Marketing budgets in B2B are notoriously small or, even when they’re large, notoriously constrained. Those dollars have to be accounted for. And the investment in Google Cardboard is extremely low: $20 per viewer and however much you want to invest in the app itself, which is extremely flexible and allows you to develop as simple or as rich an experience as you need.

The Potential for a Platform

Another big selling point for Google Cardboard in the B2B world is that, despite the viewers basically being made of trash, they are far from throwaway. Cardboard can be a platform for a larger and longer-term marketing strategy that encompasses expandable apps or a growing a suite of apps that can be used in all business situations, from direct-mail to the convention table and all other forms of sales outreach. You’re really only limited by the creativity of your marketing teams and agencies on this one.

Conclusion

The real beauty of Google Cardboard is that all the money goes into the experience. Once the novelty of the cardboard and the immersive world wear off, the content is still extremely valuable and allows for wide levels of differentiation. It wouldn’t surprise me if soon we’ll start seeing Google Cardboard viewers at every booth and in the bags of every sales rep.

As you can see, we’re pretty excited by the potential of Google Cardboard, so drop us a line if your interested in exploring the possibilities with us.

In the years since Apple hastened the end of the Flash interface, and along with it Flash’s culture and community of user experience innovators, we have seen the mobile web evolve into so many uniform, joyless experiences that turn users off. This is the admission that Facebook made a couple weeks ago when it launched Facebook Instant Articles - its new proprietary publishing platform that is designed to free publishers from the constraints of the mobile web and to once again create immersive and innovative content that captivates users.

Because Facebook is the King Kong of distribution channels it has often found itself in the unique position of wanting to argue philosophically for an open web, while simultaneously having the most to lose in its failure to deliver a compelling experience. Financially speaking, Facebook exists to serve you ads, and while you wait for pages to load or leave the app entirely due to an amputated attention span, less ads are served. This chasm between low-grade mobile experiences and financial success has resulted in Facebook’s (and others like them) move away from standards-based mobile development, and toward more stable and desirable native Android and iOS experiences. Despite early promises to beach it’s ship on the receding tide of a standardized mobile web, Facebook has time and again drawn the same conclusion that we all have intuitively — users prefer a native app.

So for Facebook’s 745 million daily mobile users, the implications of Facebook Instant Articles are clear. Facebook is where most people go to get their news, and the news experience will be far better with Instant Articles. It will be faster, more intuitive, and more immersive. It will be closer to the experiences that the Flash community was imagining in the pre-Flex days, and closer to the experiences Apple was promising - to both publishers and to consumers - in the early iPad days. Remember Al Gore’s, Our Choice? Facebook Instant Articles will play to our natural lusts for images, videos, and the ability to “tap around” our news versus just reading it.

For publishers, the implications are fairly clear as well. The shared goal of Facebook and its publishers is to create more engagement with the content and thereby to lengthen a user’s session. The format and the tools for accomplishing this will open up new creative opportunities for publishers, and allow them to think outside the constraints of a standard mobile website. The downside for the publisher, however, is managing yet another delivery platform - this one based entirely on what Facebook decides to prioritize. Managing content across devices is already a significant challenge. Now publishers may need to start thinking about managing content across apps and operating systems, as well as the potentially more murky business arrangement between content owners, content distributors, and advertising partners.

And for Facebook, the implications are somewhat less clear. For certain, extending the user session accomplishes an important goal in Facebook’s business model. However, researching, building and maintaining a publishing platform of this potential magnitude seems like a significant step to take in order to achieve the reported 7-second shave off of average load times for news articles - a lag, by-the-way, that is so far technically inexplicable. It’s almost ridiculous to think that this miraculous new speed, along with better designed content, would be the only motivation for Facebook to make such an investment. It makes me think the real business-impacting news is yet to come.

So what about the mobile web? What are the implications for responsive web sites, mobile advertising, and non-native experiences in general? I asked my LinkedIn and Twitter communities to send me examples of mobile websites that they would consider innovative. I received exactly zero examples. It seems clear at this point that the mobile experience will be dominated by native apps, not mobile websites. What Facebook Instant Articles does is potentially hasten that end. Facebook will create an environment where some of the world’s largest publishers - most of whom are already publishing content to their own native apps - will be creating and delivering content using a proprietary set of tools on a proprietary content platform. If users love it, the shift will be significant.

Almost a decade ago, convinced of its monstrosity, Steve Jobs chased Flash up a windmill and burned it alive for running counter to an espoused HTML5/open web ethos. And in the years since, we have indeed seen the mobile experience evolve into fertile ground for innovation and engagement. This ground, however, does not exist in the open web as Jobs imagined, but rather in the walled gardens of so many native mobile applications. Facebook Instant Articles, as a proprietary platform, is a potentially significant land grab of valuable web content and with it, a significant new share of user attention.