Posted by Michael Colombo

Maark was born into a digital world. Back in 2000, the project that formed the company was for a home builder who was struggling to turn the process of making McMansions into something as repeatable and efficient as making Happy Meals. We believed the Internet held the answer. If we could bring every function of the business along with every customer and laborer into a single online system, then we could keep the whole operation on the same page in real time. At the time, the concept was incredible.

In the years since, it’s become obvious. Connectivity is ubiquitous. Nearly every activity, whether personal or professional, that we engage in involves the Internet in some way. The Internet has transformed us, and we are just now learning how to harness that transformation. As with most breakthroughs, the answer lies in the data. The activity of individuals and machines connected to the Internet is storable, parseable…even predictable. If connectivity was the first breakthrough, this Asimovian calculus on the Internet’s data is at the heart of the next wave of breakthroughs.

We already see this wave taking shape. While hype around big data, the Internet of Things, machine learning, and artificial intelligence is at a fever pitch, the surprising reality is that we are already seeing real-world execution. Enhancements in autonomous vehicles, AI-driven cancer diagnoses, industrial robotics, and, of course, advertising are just a few areas where we are glimpsing the future of data-driven automation.

For Maark, that’s an exciting shift. At our core, we have always wanted to solve the business problems that would deliver the biggest impact for our clients. And in the digital world that Maark grew up in, we have always solved those problems with creative thinking and technology innovation. A better story, a simpler interface, a new digital product or service, a more relevant brand, a better experience. Creatives and technologists working together – literally side-by-side – to make a real impact. This was, and continues to be, the vision.

Marketing, to us, has never been about ad-making - it’s always been about innovating. And yet, as we look at this next wave of data-driven innovation, we see a new paradigm emerging. Our clients have the opportunity to rethink what it means to run a digital operation in a world that’s gone from mobile-first to data-first. Nowhere do we see this innovation opportunity more clearly than, ironically, in ad-making.

In a data-first world, every advertising tactic should be judged in terms of its capacity for real-time measurement and improvement. Will it help you better understand your customer? Your story? Your solution? Can you connect it to the rest of your data to create a complete profile of your customer or to build a better mousetrap? If not, don’t do it.

That’s not to say that in a data-first world the creative “first principles” of marketing no longer apply. They do. A relevant brand, a narrative built rigorously and used consistently across all channels, and engaging interactive content are more necessary than ever to rise above the din of competing messages. However, the strategies for driving engagement with those messages should now have at their core the channels that deliver the best data.

A great story and world class creative that ends up in a glossy, where the best metric is ‘impressions’, represents spend that cannot be optimized. Whereas true digital channels – search and social media – combine the power of data-rich platforms with direct customer engagement to deliver better insights about segmentation, efficacy, customer intent, and corrective market feedback. Better data will lead to better outcomes in the hands of the real-time, analytics-driven marketing operation.

What that really means for our B2B clients is that, ultimately, the return on their marketing investments is determined to a growing degree by their success in these true digital channels. Search engines offer insight into the mind of the customer; how they think about their needs, and where they are in the buying cycle. And social media is the marketplace of ideas where every brand needs to compete for space in the minds of their customers. Getting these channels wrong means lots of wasted resources. It also means a wasted opportunity to make data mastery a core capability of their digital organizations.

That’s why we’re so excited to help them get it right. We want to help drive digital operations. We want to help make a big impact. By bringing together integrated strategy, creative, technology, advertising, and analytics SWAT teams, we want to help our clients create the engaging content that tells their story, distribute it effectively in the search and social channels, collect and interpret the data that matters most, and respond in real time to the market’s feedback. We believe this is the opportunity for our clients. Creating the operation that executes on this opportunity is challenging. It’s this type of challenge that created our business.

It’s the reason we’re here.

Michael Colombo is the founder and CEO of Maark where he oversees the overall direction and development of the agency as it continues to build its brand as a leading marketing and innovation engine for its customers. He has served as the executive lead in programs including corporate rebranding, solution marketing, sales enablement, digital transformation, and new product design for Fortune 500 companies around the world.

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Photo credit: Paul Sableman

Posted by Jason Ocker

It was inevitable. But it still feels weird. According to StatCounter, the world is now officially accessing the Internet from mobile devices more than from desktops. We’re moving, folks.

As of October, the score is mobile and tablet: 51.3%. Desktop: 48.7%. StatCounter illustrated the findings with a chart that looks like a bird beak, wide at one end and pointed at the other. In 2009, it was almost 100% to 0% in favor of desktop.

Partly that feels weird because in the U.S. (and the U.K. and Ireland), it’s not true yet. We’re still a culture of desk jockeys. We spend 58% of our Internet life on a desktop, while the U.K. and Ireland spend 55.6% and 58%, respectively. However, we’re averaged out on this planet by emerging markets that have skipped the evolutionary phase of butts in Herman Millers and gone right to mobile devices being their primary—and sometimes only—Internet access point. India is at 75% mobile.

So what does this mean? That we’re out and about more? Not really. This category should more accurately be called “small device” than “mobile.” Phones are accessed as often from the couch as from McDonald’s. Plus, a laptop is mobile, but goes in the desktop category. Because it has a big screen.

What this really means is that we are experiencing the Internet (and life, some would say) predominately through small screens. That means the experience needs to take that into account. “Mobile-first” is a buzzword, but it really should be a rallying cray. Your brand, your product, your strategy, it all needs to mobilize. And that doesn’t it all needs to be optimized for mobile. It needs to be custom-built for it.

What happens next is uncertain. The English-speaking world is probably going to trend more mobile, although who knows if we’ll reach India levels. Meanwhile, the emerging world might yet go through a big-screen phase as their economies rise and they discover the joys of a great desk chair. Eventually, I hope, we will lose the two categories. Access to the Internet won’t depend on a type of device any more than a physical book experience does. We’ll have a whole new way of accessing the Internet and a whole new challenge of adapting our brand experiences to it.

But for now, if you’re not mobile, you’re not a factor.

I’m kind of in love with this LinkedIn post by Alex Kirk at Mediacom. In it, he traces out the battle lines for the impending Final Showdown between Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Spotify, and all their subsidiaries—basically everything we use in our online lives.

As we blissfully post Happy Birthday messages on Facebook or swap faces over Instagram or tweet our take on DC Comic’s movie universe-building skills, these platforms that we use so innocently…are trying to take over the world. Or at least the way we consume content and talk to each other.

I mean, we’ve been hearing this story for a while, although more as skirmishes for particular industries or outlets. Kirk, however, sees recent maneuvers by these companies as an escalation to Def-Con 6:

While years in the making, this is not business as usual. The events of the last few weeks and months show a far more cut-throat and ruthless approach from the major players. With such aggressive tactics in play, this is not a competition where a stalemate is a likely outcome. Rather, as a result of the great 2016 platform wars, 2017 is now more and more likely to be the year when we see casualties and champions emerge among those corporations that have defined the recent decade of the internet - and who will define the next one. Place your bets.

As much as I dig the idea in a kind of “watch Godzilla and Destroyah fight from afar” kind of way, I don’t know where to go with this idea. Part of me says, “As long as I have a place to post my selfies, I guess I’m okay.” The other part of me chills a bit over the broader fear of inherently untrustworthy corporations emerging as the “champions” of the war to control our public and private discourse…even as much of that discourse is commenting on surprise album drops and forwarding holistic eczema remedies. We hear stories every day of widely varying merit about this or that platform doing this or that icky thing with the information we’re getting and the data we’re giving.

We’re always debating Net Neutrality. And we can do that because the basic platform, the Internet, doesn’t have a dog in the fight. But if the basic platform or platforms that we use are inherently not neutral, it’s kind of a moot point. Which is the way it is right now, sure, but the only thing really protecting us is the number and variety of platforms that we have access to.

But the Platform War will, at least, be fun to watch until it isn’t.

Posted by Jason Ocker

Apparently, the British don’t just hate economic unions, they hate technology. According to the Telegraph and a soon-to-be-released Deloitte report, the British aren’t too keen on the Internet of Things.

In Britain, sales of connected home devices have flattened. Which is never a word you want to see around a nascent set of technologies. Especially one in the midst of a huge push from all directions, including everyone from lighting, home environment, and security companies to Big Tech like Amazon and Google. It’s the Internet of Things. It’s where we’re going. Right? Are the Brits backward?

Nah. Not in this case, at least. Their attitude toward IoT for the home is probably universal among consumers.

Right now IoT as applied to the consumer’s home life is exactly that. Things scattered everywhere. Piecemeal and random and with very little incentive to adopt.

Just look at the headline of that Telegraph piece: Internet of Things Struggles as Use of Smart Home Gadgets Flatlines. I mean, “home gadgets”? There’s not a worse word for a piece of technology than “gadget.” It’s a word reserved for frivolous ideas, the type of tech that’s meant just for playing around with as opposed to improving a person’s life.

When’s the last time you called your phone a “gadget”? It’s probably been a while. Because it’s important. It’s a lifeline, an entertainment center, a community hub, the thing that helps you navigate life. It’s important.

And as soon as people stop looking at connected home devices as gadgets, that’s when it’ll take hold. But that will take lower cost and easier, more streamlined integration. I’m bad enough at analog home improvement projects, much less adding a layer of digital atop it.

I almost want the connected home to be a packaged deal instead of so DIY. Like the way we buy cable and Internet access. Or the way we buy a kitchen remodel. “Yes, hello. I have a house. Can you make it smart? Next Thursday? Great.”

Regardless of how it happens, though, it’ll only happen when the Internet of Things is less “of things” and more “of the home.”

Photo credit: Vividrange

Posted by Jason Ocker

Video is taking over the Internet, and I don’t just mean those annoying auto-playing ones. According to Cisco, video will account for 84% of all U.S. Internet traffic in four years. Facebook’s VP thinks the social network will be all video in five years.

Ok, mandatory opening stats out of the way, let’s get to the topic.

People on the Internet want to watch videos. So naturally, that’s what businesses are giving them. And it’s not just B2C companies trying to get people’s play fingers. It’s B2B using videos to help establish their brand presence and to explain their complex offerings simply.

In other words, if you aren’t making videos, then, well, I don’t know, I guess you’re just hoping that people will parse all the text on your website.

But I’ll tell you this: No videos are still better than bad videos.

Videos are high-end collateral: High impact, high level of complexity, and high cost. They are investments, commitments, and a powerful part of a marketing strategy.

Except that a quick Google search will show you that you can get videos on the cheap…at least the animated kind most often used for explainer videos.

But there are few things more damaging to a brand than a cheap animation video. Cheap anything is a brand-damager. Unless, I guess, you’re like Wal-Mart, and they don’t even do cheap videos. No B2B brand should be associated with stock characters, cartoony animation, and generic imagery. And it’s not just mere association, video will be your leading collateral. And if your leading collateral is shoddy, so’s your brand.

But you still have a budget and it’s probably not in the Pixar range, so what can you do with limited resources to make videos that enhance your brand instead of detract from it?

  1. The first thing is to understand that videos are not a one-off investment. No collateral should just check a box, and that’s triply true for videos. They should be part of a detailed, overarching strategy. That way, it’s easier to secure the necessary funds for a great video, while on the other, being a part of a broader strategy increases the reach, relevance, and shelf-life of the video. In other words, those videos will provide more value to both you and to your audience.

  2. Make your videos shorter. For brand videos, that’s easy. You can communicate lasting impressions in under 30 seconds. B2B explainer videos are more difficult. Two minutes is a maximum many people use for explainer videos, but even at that length you’re looking at walls of narration and a lot of points to remember and connect. In reality, your audience will already need to be vested to even try to watch that length of video, and then they’ll probably only watch it once, and probably not all the way to the end. It can be tempting, when explaining a complex challenge or solution, to say everything in a video instead of just the absolute most important things. And even then, you should cut those things in half. Maybe by 90%. Break them into multiple videos is another option.

  3. Discuss a concept in advance with your vendor that will be less expensive to produce. In the same way that a $2 million indie flick can be more compelling than a $150 million Hollywood blockbuster, so too can a simple concept do more than a complex one. Google has told entire brand stories with four colored dots and a search field. And, again, those commercials were part of a larger, strategic story and were well polished.

Of course, we’re only dealing with half the battle here. Just because videos are priorities in the budget doesn’t mean they’ll be great B2B videos. Throwing money at something never guarantees quality. But that’s a different topic. Like a great video, I’ll keep this post short.

In the end, certainly make sure you’re making videos…but only if you’re making them smart and making them right.