5 Learnings from My Non-Retirement

September 9, 2022

Somewhere along the way, news stories take on their own narrative. My favorite one is that I retired this year! I’ve received many congratulations for this non-event.

At the beginning of this year, it was announced in the Star Tribune that Tina White had come on board at Ciceron to assume the CEO role. This is true! She’s had a big job to do to prepare us for the next 26 years. She’s had to make some really tough calls and only a few easy ones. But that’s what we signed up for. And me retiring wasn’t on the card. 

Ciceron is known as an amorphic agency. This is how we’ve survived for the entirety of the digital revolution, from before Google to a decade before Facebook. Some in my circles often take great interest in what Ciceron is working on because, to some extent, where we zig is where the market often zigs and where we zag, so too the market.

Ciceron lives in a constant state of transformation because that’s what the work requires. Our insurance policy to our clients is that they know their marketing investments are right on top of where their customers need them to be. We demystify these investments, regardless of their “newness,” by measuring consumer adoption rates by marketing investment. When adoption is high but investment is low, it’s a great time to make a budgetary transition to new channels. When adoption is low but the investment is high, that’s called “chasing shiny objects” and the ROI is questionable at best. This is our Occam’s Razor – to think through all of the scenarios and make recommendations based upon a balance between the potentially more complex (doing something unknown) to stay on top of relevance and the “tried and true” efforts that often protect the status quo with deteriorating results.

When Tina came aboard this year, it was to allow me to focus entirely on where the future is headed because that job, in and of itself, is a full time job. In fact, arguably I’ve never worked harder because the world is changing so fast, the stakes are so large, and the future is so exciting. Evaluating and prioritizing the future ain’t easy…but it is one of the few things I think I’m good at.

So, considering I’ve taken on that job full-time, what am I learning?

  1. The convergence of new consumer tech during a possible recession is shitty timing. It is very difficult to engage in any marketing activities that seem to align with any sort of risk. Anything new is considered risky, even when consumers have moved to new platforms. Not everyone within company organizations are as attuned to changing consumer behaviors as CMOs are, so making a case for transferring dollars to untested channels is not received all that well unless a very solid business case is made. Building business case muscles is paramount during troubling times coupled with radical new consumer behaviors. 
  2. Can’t couple augmented reality with virtual reality. These are two very different evolving frontiers. AR is going to be led by highly scaled platforms like Snap, Instagram and, probably, TikTok embedding AR capabilities within their platforms and simply utilize pre-existing technologies from existing mobile devices. VR, on the other hand, requires large scale consumer adoption of new tech, namely VR headsets or whatever happens with VR glasses. That simply is not going to happen as quickly as AR, and in fact, will most likely lag for an entire generation, in my opinion. Sticking AR and VR into the same conversation unfortunately puts blinders onto the capabilities AR offers right now.
  3. Can’t confuse what’s happening in the world of blockchain with the wild speculative markets of cryptocurrency. When I wrote my whitepaper at the beginning of this year on how blockchain was going to evolve and potentially turn things upside down, well, I wasn’t kidding. Not only that, I knew (and wrote on the piece) that the crypto-market needed a meltdown, and that’s just what we got. Thankfully. Let’s weed out the scams and get to the business of transformational technology through open, transparent ledgers. 
  4. We need to be able to target people for advertising. So don’t confuse the pending death of cookies with the inability to target consumers. It’s simply not a real thing. In fact, Google’s delay in getting rid of cookies is only going to make the market stronger for technologies like consumer identity and the integrations among various first party data sets to mature. I’ve heard way too much in the past six months, “Welp, I guess we’ll go back to broadcast!” That seems like an easy way out of a problem with catastrophic financial ramifications. Do you think the CFO of any brand is going to stand for it? Digital tech over the past 25 years has taught senior leadership that marketing is accountable, and there’s no going back on that. As a result, billions of dollars are at stake, and when billions of dollars are at stake, innovation follows. Consumer identity solutions, perhaps built on scalable, flexible technology based in consumer privacy, could just be a solution. In the short to mid-term, expect more and more brands to put their first-party data into a marketplace play…
  5. Which leads me to my final observation. What’s happening right now with retail media networks is fascinating. Retail companies have realized that they can not only fill the consumer identity problem for themselves by fully vesting into their first-party consumer data but that data is a monetizable asset. Walmart, Kroger’s, Target, and Amazon are all in the data marketplace game now, offering their consumer data to brands – even competitors – as leverageable for marketers to use for consumer targeting. These retail media networks are growing like mad and are filling an important gap during these times of uncertainty towards cookies. And remember, because of Apple iOS 14, nearly half of all consumers are already invisible.

All of your worlds are moving at increasing speeds. Consumers are increasingly nomadic. Favorite channels – from linear television to, yes, even Facebook – are becoming less effective in reaching the same people as they did before. Creative is becoming much more highly targeted and experiential; flat, linear, one message, few channel approaches are no longer effective. Change is inevitable! Fear has no place in marketing. Conservative approaches will lead to conservative results. The landscape is messy. 

I highly recommend that now is not the time to retire. It’s too exciting and career making moves are about to commence.