Episode #159: A Marketer's Guide to Modern Channels

Grad Conn

September 24, 202115 min read

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The way we communicate has constantly evolved since we first drew on cave walls. It’s always changing. So why are we so resistant to these new channels when they first appear? Whether it’s TV in the 1940s, the Internet 50 years later, or social media today, too many marketers take too long to embrace new channels (to their detriment, I might add). In today’s episode, we explore the history of advertising and mass marketing, the evolution of modern channels, and how looking back can help us to look forward.

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All right, all right. All right, we are back. It is the Unified CXM experience. And as always, I’m your host Grad Conn CXO, or Chief Experience Officer at Sprinklr. Very, very cool time to be at Sprinklr, having a blast. Entering my fourth year, some pretty amazing journey that I’ve been on over the last year, half decade with Sprinklr and I was one of the Sprinklr’s first customers, maybe the first big customer and so, in one way or the other, I’ve been working with Sprinklr for more than 10 years now. So it’s just been an amazing, amazing ride. You know, when I first met the Sprinklr team, it was, I guess, love at first sight. Sounds a bit corny, but I have experienced love at first sight now in real life, I’m going to marry that woman. So I know it’s true. I know ‘love at first sight’ is really true. And when I met the Sprinklr team, I knew right away, they were on the right track, because they were talking about a unified CXM platform all the way back in 2011. And they knew they had the right idea because already point solutions had become a huge problem inside Microsoft and it was really difficult to manage or get any kind of view of the customer. So, I’ve been on the unified train for a long time, and I continue to ride the rails.

So, I’ve decided to do a set of episodes that are just very focused stories. And they come a little bit from some of the speeches I do, some of the stories I tell. They’re sometimes tightly related to unified CXM, sometimes loosely related, today’s is going to be loosely related. But they’re still fun stories and fun ways of thinking about life as we know it on the marketing planet. So I thought I’d roll this one out and see what happens. So today I want to talk about new channels and the way that people react to new channels. And sometimes the way to know if a new channel is going to be a big deal or not. And ‘channels’ may not be quite the right word, it could be ‘mediums’, could be ‘methods of communication’, and I’ll describe what I mean in a second. So just stay with me as I go through this. But I’ll use a little bit of my father’s journey, and a little bit of my journey over the last, I guess that’ll probably comprise about five decades, and a little, maybe a little future casting. And maybe I’ll channel a little Claude Hopkins. So we’re going to go back a century, we’re going to pull this all the way back to Claude Hopkins and the 1920s. And we’re going to embrace the full spectrum of advertising history.

Claude Hopkins wrote a book called ‘My Life in Advertising’ and a book called ‘Scientific Advertising’. And if I’ve got it correct, I believe he wrote Scientific Advertising first. And if I’m not mistaken, I believe it’s the first book ever written on advertising. And essentially espouses the principles of using scientific technique and hypothesis to create better outcomes in marketing, which, you know, that’s how I talk today and talk to my marketing team as being marketing scientist. So it’s a great way to think and I was highly influenced by this book. And then he wrote a follow up, which was essentially his biography called ‘My Life in Advertising’. And there’s some really juicy stuff in there. It’s really kind of a continuation of Scientific Advertising, but a bit of a different title. It’s all open now. It’s all out of copyright. So you can get both those books for free on Amazon or any Kindle reader, etc. So if you’ve never read them, you should read them. They’re classics of their kind, you have to take a ‘way back’ pill, before you start reading them, just throw a ‘way back’ pill in your mouth and just try to get past some of the terminology and a few things like that. You have to understand it was written 100 years ago, so it’ll sound a little bit dated, but the principles are unchanged. So that’s why it’s a worthwhile book to read. And it’s written by someone who wrote a lot of ads and saw a lot of responses. So, he knew what he was talking about.

Anyway, in that book, in Scientific Advertising, early on Claude Hopkins talks about the clutter and the noise and the tension-grabbing kind of craziness of advertising. And I can guarantee that most people listening to this don’t think of 1920s as being a clamor-filled, insane advertising environment and compared to today it wasn’t. Compared to today it was pastoral. But everything’s relative. And in the 1920s, they had, you know, the evolution of some new mass communication techniques. Radio was getting out there. Movies hadn’t really arrived yet, but they definitely had magazines; definitely had newspapers, and the scourge of the time, billboards. Yeah, billboards were a huge problem. In fact, Eleanor Roosevelt made it one of her life goals to try to control the spread of what they called visual pollution. And to try to rein in billboards which were like littering the land as highways started to be built and cars started to become popular. Billboards were like, everywhere. And so it’s this insane advertising cacophony that people complained about. And so it is kind of funny. Today, you know, people also complain about that, in fact, there are many things that people complain about in every age. And they complain about it uniquely, like it’s the first time it’s ever happened to them. But it’s true of all ages. But sometimes there’s a slightly different outcome.

This is a bit of an aside, one of my favorites is pollution. Pollution has been around and has been an issue with humans for a very long time. You know, put five humans in a camp and next thing you know, you’ve got garbage, right. So imagine cities full, right. So there’s a fantastic article written on the growth of the volume of horse manure in the City of London. And they did a straight-line projection, and they said, by 1945, we’ll be generating so much horse manure, based on current trends, that we’ll be like, up to our knees in it, we won’t have places to put it anymore. It’ll overwhelm the city. Of course, that didn’t happen because cars were invented. And we invented a different and new kind of pollution, which is now going away. And there’s a new kind of thing coming after that. But I always find it funny that humans love to do straight line projections and, and predict the end of everything, whether that’s under piles of horse manure, piles of coal, piles of wood, burning wood was a huge pollution problem for a long time, ‘til we, you know, kind of cut all the trees down in Europe. And now gasoline, and then I’m sure electric cars will have their own pollution problem, I think, is lithium batteries, if I’m not mistaken.

So, Claude in this book, or maybe I should say, Mr. Hopkins, in this book talks a lot about the evolution of new forms of media. And they’re moving off an age where people did speeches from the backs of trains, and most commerce was done face to face in general stores. And it was very intimate and a very one to one, classic direct marketing era. And then these new mass tools are coming out and little did Claude know that TV was about 30 years away. Movie theaters were about five to six years away. Broadscale radio was maybe five to ten years away. And then the internet – interestingly, in 1920, the invention of the internet was only 44 years away, which is interesting. And broad scale, it was only 74 years away. But nonetheless, lots of things coming up. And what I always find interesting is how, when something new comes along, people tend to poopoo it. And so I wasn’t there. But I can just imagine when radio came out, people were like, radio, just a fad. Like, you know, this is silly. It’s ridiculous. You can’t see anybody. There’s no personality, then you’re not in front of this like versus theater, like it’s not human, etc. And of course, radio became very successful.

And when TV came out, it was brutally criticized, and there’s all sorts of negativity about it. And it was derisively called the boob tube. And it was seen as a wasteland and kids were only allowed to watch a certain amount and there were all sorts of rumors that it was going to ruin your eyes. TV was despised by many people when it came along, and we’ve kind of moved on. And I talked to my dad about this, and he has this really funny story when he was Young and Rubicam in the 1960s, he was working in the TV group. And, and there was the Advertising Team at Y&R and Advertising was magazines and newspapers and billboards and radio, that was sort of seen as Advertising. And then there’s this kind of TV thing they don’t really know what to do with. Bill Bernbach had been sort of pushing in some pretty interesting ways the creative revolution. But a lot of the Bill Bernbach stuff, if you look at it is actually magazine. And magazine is still viewed as like the real realm of real advertising. And David Ogilvy was magazine that was kind of like long copy. You read Ogilvy and advertising, as you read through it, you realize, “oh, my God, this entire book is about print advertising”. And TV was still kind of on the edge, and they couldn’t really measure it, there wasn’t a coupon, you couldn’t see direct response, it was just, “What is this TV thing?” They didn’t really know how to do it well, and a lot of times, when we invent a new medium, we tend to just take the one that had happened previously, and just apply it.

So, the very first radio shows, were all plays. Like, you know, we just took what we were doing on stage, and we just put on the radio. And it was like, all right, but you know, wasn’t the true potential of the medium. The very first TV ads, what they were, is they pointed a camera at people reading radio ads. And I’m going to keep going with this analogy. But like, it’s just each time we, we tend to define the next thing by the last thing. So what I love about the Y&R story, though, is that there was the Advertising Group doing real advertising. And then there’s, on a different floor, like in the corner, there was like a bunch of crazy long-haired kids who were like smoking pot, and they were the TV group, and they were trying to figure this thing out. So fast forward. I worked for a stint at Grey Advertising in Toronto. And we’ll fast forward to that. What’s interesting about Grey Advertising is that I was Head of the Interactive Team. And it was interesting to me when I got there, because there was the Advertising Group, and the Advertising Group included magazine, billboard, and newspaper and radio and in television, that was all part of that. And then our group, which was essentially the Web Team, was on a different floor, same building, but different floor, had our own receptionist. And, and we were basically a bunch of crazy kids smoking pot, and trying to figure out this interactive stuff, which no one ever really quite figured out at this point in time. And we were just in that age where the banner ads had become click throughs, because if you remember the early banner ads, you couldn’t even click on them. They were essentially magazine ads put on the web, right, which is that again, that’s like, that’s how we used the last medium, so let’s use this medium that way. And so, and I just thought that was so funny, because it was like, advertising was here. And that was kind of where it all happened. And then they would kind of loop the Interactive folks in near the end, kind of like, I don’t know what these guys are thinking, but maybe they’ll come up with something.

John Clinton, who was my CEO there, and to his credit, he did understand. He thought that Grey ultimately would win more often if it had a better Interactive pitch, but we never really got there, and I didn’t stay long enough to figure it out. So that’s the great story. Now keep going. Well, then I go to Microsoft. At Microsoft, I created a social team, and we literally created a social team, and very interesting time. And any of you think about how we were thinking about advertising at the time, by this point in time it is 2011, 2012. You know, there was advertising team, which was, you know, TV and radio and magazine and newspaper and billboard, and, you know, web, like that was included, right? It was obvious. And then there was this Social Team, which was not just in a different floor, like I wasn’t allowed, and this is still true today by the way, I wasn’t allowed to put our Social Team in a Microsoft facility. So we had to rent, lease office space, completely independently. And, and then put the Social Team there. And part of the reason is that to do it well, the density had to be high enough for the team to be able to interact on what was happening and that density was higher than Microsoft standard. And so they wouldn’t allow us to stay in a campus building. But I always thought, “This is hilarious”, because there’s, again, a bunch of crazy kids smoking dope, now legal, by the way, smoking dope, trying to figure stuff out. And you know, we’ll see where this goes. Now we’ve made a lot of progress. And you’re sort of seeing social as being an integrated part of everything that’s being done in the Web. And what’s the new thing? I think mobile, like mobile is the thing with the crazy kid smoking dope in the corner, but I always love it and I always think there’s always going to be a new thing out there that people don’t really know what to do with. And they give it to the kids and see what they’ll do with it and see how they figure it out. So that’s my story for today.

Thanks for indulging me. I just wanted to talk about the evolution of channels. I’m going to leave you with a thought. When I first started working on the Web, so I basically downloaded the NCSA Mosaic Browser in February of ’94; it was the week my oldest daughter was born. And I immediately said, “Oh my god, this is it”. Like that could see it. Like I had been waiting for this, right? I think this is it. And I quit my job at P&G the end of that week, brand new baby, and no job. And I didn’t have anything else to go to. I just quit my job to become a web entrepreneur. And what was interesting about that is the way that people talked about it as a fad, and it wasn’t going to go anywhere. And you know, it’s just going to be short lived. You know, I got a lot of satisfaction out of knowing that people had said that about radio, and people had said that about television. And this is the vantage of reading history. I know people don’t like to read history in advertising and marketing for some reason. But if you read a lot of advertising, marketing history and read old magazines and stuff, you’ll see people talk about stuff in a way that sounds very familiar, but it’s different because it’s applied to today. And you can start to sort of see what the end of the story would be like, and the more that people clamored against the web, and the more people criticized it, the more I was like, “This is going to be something”. Same thing in social, the more people poopooed it and dismissed it and wrote it off, the more excited I got. “Okay, this is really going to be something”. So whenever you find something that people are just like, that’s never going to work, double click on that one; that might be something special. For the CXM Experience, I’m Grad Conn and I’ll talk to you … next time.

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