Oct 29, 2014

Distribution and The Game of Power

Big Money. Nasty Intrigue. Titillating twists. Questionable backroom deals. Sounds like a blockbuster movie trailer doesn’t it? While movie studios and theatres are indeed involved, what’s at stake is not a plot line, but real world control over where billions in moviegoer revenue is earned.  
And it’s a David vs Goliath battle pitting a small number of large, mass market theatre chains against new independent theatre entrants targeting Hispanic and other growth segments. While the movie studios are desperate to reach these new growth markets, they’ve yet to stand up against their dominant channel partners who insist on exclusive movie rights.

As it turns out, we’re seeing new distribution battles in more and more of today’s markets. Some of these battles are vertical in nature, such as upstream product maker Apple vs. the downstream retail networks of the four largest cellphone carriers. Other battles are horizontal, such as Best Buy stores struggling against showrooming by shoppers from online retailers such as Amazon.com.

Back when Apple introduced the iconic iPhone, the company was forced to sign an exclusive distribution arrangement with AT&T to get the support and service levels required by consumers. That move was a smart one for AT&T, who now gets over half their subscribers from Apple products. But as the iPhone 6 is launched this year, the tables have turned and Apple has diversified its distribution channels to include all major carriers and retailers; AT&T’s protests aside.

Today we’re seeing an explosion of new distribution disruptions the scale of which we’ve not seen before. Take the entertainment industry. Powerful content providers (TV studios and sports franchises) are introducing radically new routes-to-market options. Even as long-time distributor DirectTV renews it’s NFL broadcast license for $1.5 billion per year, the football league is introducing a new direct-to-consumer online channel NFLnow. HBO and CBS are introducing new direct-to-consumer distribution options that compete directly with Comcast and other dominant legacy channel partners.  Why the explosion in new distribution channels, and why now?

As ever, it’s all about Power. And, of course, Money.

For any successful 21st century company, whether branded consumer product maker, software and service provider, or industrial product manufacturer, focusing solely on what you make or sell is no longer adequate to secure long-term advantage. In the omnichannel age, those that rely on commoditized customer experiences from old-school channel partners are seeing profitability sink to marginality over night.

Forward-looking growth companies are working to influence and shape – indeed to steward -  their distribution systems towards greater and greater satisfaction of end-customers.  Said another way, standing still and viewing customer buying channels as simply “distribution pipelines” leads companies to over-focus on serving their distributors’ needs, at the expense of end-customer satisfaction. That’s why Steve Jobs chose instead to abandon Circuit City’s and CompUSA’s commodity shopper experiences in favor of a new Apple retail model.

But disrupting distribution channels on behalf of end-customers takes more than splashy announcements and big investments. It takes real senior leadership courage and conviction.  As the saying goes, it’s easier said than done.

Here’s what the industry experts had to say in a 2001 Businessweek article about Steve Job’s decision: “rather than unveil a Velveeta Mac, Jobs thinks he can do a better job than experienced retailers at moving the beluga… I give them two years before they're turning out the lights on a very painful and expensive mistake”.

Rick Wilson is Managing Director of Chicago Strategy Associates, a boutique marketing advisory firm focused on distribution channel strategy. He is also Adjunct Professor of Marketing at the Kellogg School of Management.

Sep 29, 2014

The Manufacturer-Distributor Relationship: Can This Marriage Be Saved?

The Manufacturer-Distributor Relationship: Can This Marriage Be Saved?

      Every time I find myself talking to people about their distribution channel issues, it feels like I’m knee deep in marriage counseling.  Once upon a time, both parties had looked forward to an exciting journey together in which they’d grow and be successful.  But instead many growth-seeking business leaders say they feel trapped in punishing distribution partnerships. There’s no bigger downer in channel relationships than suffering through non-distinctive service levels, shrinking margin pools, escalating conflicts, and plummeting prices.  After years of inattention, we end up with simmering discontent from misaligned goals, un-kept promises and in the worst cases, mistrust and extra-curricular affairs. 
The result of all this strife is mutually unsatisfying manufacturer-distributor partnerships, which invariably leads one or more of the parties to ask the question, “Can this relationship be saved?”
Sure, relationship problems are easy fodder for lunchtime jokes and water cooler banter, but the manufacturer-distributor stakes can be high. Consider the channel dilemma faced by South Korea’s Samsung as they launch a new generation of Galaxy tablets and other smart devices in North America, where women buyers now account for the majority of purchases.  A recent article at Retail Customer Experience.com, Fifty shades of frustration: Why do women hate Best Buy?  exposed what has long been known about the state of consumer electronics shopping environments: Visually intimidating aisles, ridiculously unhelpful information displays, more employees trying to prevent theft than answer questions, little help getting bulky purchase to the car, and draconian return policies than make the whole process feel risky.  Any guesses how this marriage is likely to impact the success of Samsung’s new products?
In over twenty-five years of counseling senior marketers on designing and managing their routes-to-market, I’ve learned a few things about how why these critical business relationships so often get to the edge of a cliff, and how to help redirect them back to being profitable and productive.  More than anything else, a simple outward re-directing of attention to winning with customers - and away from finger-pointing, economic threats, marketplace punishments, or just avoidance - is the most powerful path to a healthy and productive partnership.
Herman Miller, the premier office furniture maker pushed out of its distribution comfort zone by uncovering frustrations that its end business customers had with the way their office solutions were delivered and installed by furniture dealers. Frustrations that other competing furniture makers had not yet addressed. By working closely with its channel partners, Herman Miller launched the revolutionary program named Last Mile, a proprietary new distribution service solutions that addressed those customer frustrations and spurred profitable growth for the company and its dealers. Twenty years ago Miller was at the top of its industry. It’s still there, in large part because it knew that status quo thinking wouldn’t be enough to maintain its position.
So the bottom line for most companies looking to improve under-performing distribution channels is this: Your distribution marriage can indeed be saved. But just like our personal relationships, positive change comes roaring out only when we’re willing to move beyond the familiar and comfortable.
A renewed ability to win together gets sparked when both sides of a distribution relationship accept that their most deeply held truths about the marketplace - and each other – are counter-productive, incomplete, or more than likely outdated.  And in distribution relationship therapy it’s important to manage emotions by keeping the conversation focused and straight-forward: What buying experience outcomes are end customers seeking? What activities are needed to deliver improvements to these experiences? What channel model is best equipped to perform them?
Truth on the Wall
The best way to reinvent a distribution partnership is to follow a straightforward path, and thankfully, the basic steps are not mysterious.  What it requires is fresh customer insights, objective analysis of current distribution experiences, enough hard facts to piece together a reliable view of opportunity risk and potential, and a dash of creativity. Most importantly, successful distribution partnering requires alignment and agreement at every juncture.
The first step in putting a channel system back on a healthy growth trajectory is realigning all the parties on an updated and revised truth, “on the wall” for everyone to see, about how distinctive value can be created for end customers. The most difficult challenge in building a customer-focused distribution system is keeping our own biases and implementation anxieties at bay. Early in the process, the intent is to be an exceptional listener, without screening what we hear through the lens of conventional wisdom about what can be done.
Then both parties get real with one another and make a brutally honest comparison of this truth about customer desires to what customers actually experience from the different channel options available in the market today.
Then these two assessments lead to the heart of the matter: How much separates the customer’s ideal distribution experience from the existing one? What distribution activities and competencies must be built, borrowed, or bought to come closer to what customers desire than our competitors do? And how much time, investment, and skill will it take each partner to arrive there together? These are the kinds of critical relationship questions that a distribution gap analysis seeks to answer.
As with any therapeutic relationship-building process, involvement by everyone involved is key and we want to be sure our distribution partners, or at least a representative sample of them, are actively engaged with us in developing a range of options for joining forces to improve the customer’s current experience reality.  
In the end, the manufacturer-distributor strategy improvement work concludes not at some imaginary customer experience ideal, but at the design of an optimal distribution structure. Optimal defined as a channel system that is attainable, profitable, and closer to the customer’s desired experience than competitors. It also specifies who in the relationship is to perform each channel activity and how to equitably share compensation and rewards.
Improving Relationship Dynamics
But going after new distribution whitespace and improved customer experiences is only half of what’s required, and it’s the easier half. The hard part, just as in a faltering marriage, is getting our partner to work with us despite all the baggage of the past. And we should add, our own entrenched attitudes are part of that baggage. If we’re willing to own up, and open up to the possibility of something different – and better – we have a chance.
So, how do we go about improving our channel relationship dynamics and building more trust and commitment to actually acting on a new optimal distribution approach? The process, if it’s even a process, is necessarily less systematic than generating clever Powerpoint presentations or drafting detailed execution timelines. And that makes it a messier, squishier business. It’s more of an operating style, a mix of art and attitude, distilled from companies that have succeeded (and sadly, sometimes failed) at their efforts to coax system-enhancing actions from their partners.
Here then are six fundamental levers for stepping up to the relationship-building side of distribution channels. Think of these as the six vows of a successful manufacturer-distributor relationship:
1.   We Collaborate with You (our channel partner) on Voice of the Customer research. There’s nothing that partners, domestic or commercial, hate more than surprise ultimatums. Any chance for cooperation vanishes. The companies that I’ve seen do it best invite their partners in right from the start.
2.   We Listen to You. Then after listening, we go to great lengths to respond to the needs we hear and then incorporate your thoughts in closing marketplace gaps. Helping our partners solve their own challenges, some of which may not be obvious to us at first blush, is key to alignment, productive collaboration, and mutually profitable growth. And let’s admit it, our partners do have valuable facts to contribute, ideas that are sometimes better than ours, and legitimate points to make. It makes as much sense to honor our partners in business as it does in marriage.
3.   We Share Costs and Rewards Equitably with you. It  no doubt helps channel partners when a supplier pitches in with advice, marketing collateral, and web-based support. But it means even more when a supplier goes to the trouble of factoring in the partner’s likely ROI on any new distribution model or initiative. And it speaks volumes when the supplier puts its money where its mouth is through co-investments in the relationship. Leading chainsaw maker Stihl USA did that by financing 30% of the cost for each of its thousands of independent dealers to install new showrooms.  Later as returns began rolling in, Stihl was fair in apportioning margins that fully recognized partners’ costs and contributions to end-customer value. Stihl’s exclusivity at dealerships grew, and market share for their premium-priced products climbed in the midst of an economic recession.
4.   We Deliver on Our Commitments at the level of performance we agreed to with you. Establishing trust is essential to earning the right to expect partners to execute their part of the bargain with equal drive. Action and good-faith effort speak louder than words. They overcome deep-seated suspicions and anger. They create optimism; “our problems are surmountable if we make the leap together”. It’s the marriage theme all over again.
5.   We Protect Your Investments  from others intent on free-riding off your value-added services and customer experiences. This doesn’t mean all channel relationships have to be exclusive arrangements. We can still work with other partners. But it does imply that we won’t be opportunistic and cut our partners off at the knees. “We pledge not to allow discounters to lure away customers who have just helped themselves to your high-value services.”
6.   We Build a Reputation that generates admiration, respect, commitment and trust – for us in your eyes and for you, our partner, in the eyes of your customers. There are essentially three kinds of glue that hold a marriage together: Morals – we don’t believe in divorce. Calculation – we can’t afford to split the family unit. And Affection – I love you and want to be near you. It’s amazing what possibilities begin to materialize when we look at our channel partners through the same sort of lens.
Ultimately our goal isn’t to save every distribution marriage at all costs. It’s to do what’s best for the kids, our shared end customers. More often than not, if we focus on the customer, our old channel relationship recriminations will start to fade away, and we’ll see movement towards a shared goal that’s larger than either of us. And if we’re empathetic, smart, diligent and inclusive about it, customers will open the door to increased value that we create together, and profitable growth will inevitably follow.  n


Richard E. Wilson is managing director of the advisory firm Chicago Strategy Associates, and a former clinical professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management and Director of the school’s Center for Global Marketing Practice. rick@chicagostrategy.com

Sep 26, 2014

Courage to Build a Customer-Focused Organization

Something’s eating at the heart of old-school western business, and it isn’t just a hangover from the tough economy or recent financial sector excesses. Not that long ago, iconic brands were faltering, commoditization was rampant, margins were plummeting, planning horizons got stuck quarter-to-quarter, suppliers and distribution partners were bickering, and opportunities for growth were increasingly being sought in greener pastures overseas. But like children swept up in a messy divorce, it’s the ultimate consumer’s buying experience that got caught in the middle.
You see, now that the dust has settling on the great 21st Century economic malaise, the basic game is still be the same. Winners will still be those who delight end customers by breaking with the pack and offering them distinctly better experiences than others are. But in today’s hyper-connected world, providing better experience alternatives means making a difference in more than just your product’s features and its price.  It involves re-thinking every aspect of how your end customers learn about, find, evaluate, choose, buy, own, use, update, and share, maybe even talk about, your product, service, or solution. This is distribution.
More than ever, what customers say they crave most are better buying and ownership experiences in the distribution channels available to them, not lower prices or bigger selections. And this fundamental dynamic holds true whether your end customer is in a mature, western market or a growing emerging one. Good times or bad, customers choosing among options will always discriminate on a complex range of variables, and only a certain segment makes their decision on the single dimension of price (unless all the options are identical!). Even in tough economic times, consumers make careful trade-offs around dimensions like durability, safety, usability, personalization, returnability, installation and much more when comparing prices. This is as true in Iowa as it is in Beijing, Mumbai and Rio.
And dramatic advances in internet and mobility technology mean that new improvements to your end customers’ experiences are being pushed further and further downstream into your distribution activities and partners. The net result is that all these touch point experiences will come together to either reinforce or destroy your customer’s experience with, and therefore perceptions of, your brand. And your future.
What customers say they crave, then, are more authentic interactions at every touch point in the experience-creating channels for your offering. They  want to be treated as individuals, not abstract members of segmentation schemes. Future innovations in distribution channel experiences simply can’t be described in the arcane language of ‘customer satisfaction’ research and ‘buyer insight’ studies.
Creating competitive advantage through your distribution channels comes from looking harder and more creatively at white spaces in your industry. White spaces in distribution, once spotted, may seem hard to reach or dangerous to explore. Some members of your management team will want to turn away from such daunting prospects, calling their retreat a “return to fundamentals.” The familiar may indeed be more comfortable (i.e., “doable”), but treading on old ground will typically do little to help your company change the actual experiences your customers have downstream in your channels.
This is where Frans Johansson’s thinking becomes helpful. Johansson, author of the fascinating book The Medici Effect: What Elephants and Epidemics Can Teach Us About Innovation, synthesizes medical, mathematical, and business research into a fresh perspective on converting natural fears of white space unknowns into managerial terms. He views white space as opportunities that arise in the margins, or the unknown, where two or more industry players or marketplace activities intersect.
Using this perspective, you can start to see your supply chains and your distribution channels as simply a stapling together of one industry intersection or activity after another, all the way from components supplier to assembler to wholesaler to retailer, and with all sorts of other ancillary industries such as logistics added in at different points along the way. Often, managers in under-performing chains or channels experiencing intense cost reduction pressures, inadvertently start regarding these intersects as necessary evils - the inefficiencies and loss of control that a company must endure in order to avoid doing all the customer experience work itself. But more powerful and enduring gains in the marketplace can be made if instead you view every one of these intersects as a white space opportunity, and see that orchestrating all of them in fundamentally new ways is the biggest opportunity of all.
Classic prospect theory teaches us that, without even realizing it, managers often take bigger risks in relatively safe environments than they are willing to take in hazardous ones. It is not so much that managers cannot live with uncertainty; the real problem is that they and their organizations fear losing. In the relative comfort of one’s industry, it is easy to do badly but it is hard to lose entirely. There may be some off years, some bad quarters, and the odd product failures, but the chances of going out of business are fairly low in the medium term. The long term, as they say, is another story. And the day of reckoning may be here for many companies.
That’s why Johansson says it takes “intersectional courage” to work the white spaces between industries. Managers fear the unknown risks involved in tackling new space. Ironically, however, taking the plunge may be less risky for your company than continuing to operate in the old corporate confines of tried-and-true processes. Staying afloat in a tough competitive environment is not exactly risk-free. But for a variety of reasons, it can be hard for managers to make an accurate comparison between white space and normal business risks.
But here’s what you will likely find most frustrating on your journey: those whitespaces are more than likely hiding right out in the open. What makes such golden nuggets so hard to see is the dense fog of conventional wisdom and constraints-based thinking that the old generals in your business have long espoused, and which you are struggling to break free.  As new leaders, you must stop fighting their last war!
Of course, this is not a journey for the timid, the faint of heart, or the risk-averse. But as one senior leader recently said to me – “What’s our alternative? Follow the lemmings over the cliff?”. Maybe Woody Allen was right that ‘just showing up is half the game”. But what about the other half? And what about winning?

Richard E. Wilson is managing director of the advisory firm Chicago Strategy Associates, and a former clinical professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management and Director of the school’s Center for Global Marketing Practice. rick@chicagostrategy.com

Sep 12, 2014

Illusions of Control

Forward integrate or not? Indra Nooyi at Pepsi and Jeff Bezos at Amazon have said yes. They will very likely be proven misguided.

Nonetheless, for many CEOs and their corporate strategy chieftains, consolidation, forward distribution integration, and scale conversations are dominating the big corporate strategy debates of today. Yet if there is any truth in capitalist business environments, it must be this – no matter the strategy, you can’t hide from the market.

So let’s start our review of forward integration by taking a break from obfuscating economics-speak. When we use the term market, as in ‘let the market decide’, what we really are referring to is the sum of all the needs, desires, and resulting behaviors of final customers that sit at the end of any business system. Like it or not, these customers are both judge and jury.

This means that smart companies, as well as their strongest competitors and most astute regulators, will focus on a single dominant strategic question as they craft future direction and govern the allocation of scarce resources. What choices do end customers have as they evaluate alternatives, and who do they choose?

Yet designing and executing business systems to consistently and profitably win over these picky end customers is at once straight-forward and maddeningly complex. Even though strategists are as prone to confirmation bias as anyone (“the ‘don’t confuse me with facts’ problem), customers easily and willingly, and often quite forcefully, express the desired outcomes they seek as they make decisions about what to buy and how to buy it. That holds for both consumer and business buyers.

As a result, understanding what any company’s “ideal” growth strategy should be is the straight-forward part. It should be squarely focused on delivering the full range of what and how outcomes end customers seek, and delivering them profitably and better than any other alternatives available.

But the complex part comes barging in as companies intensely debate, across often warring internal functional factions, how to design, build, fund, and manage business system that will, at the end of the day, deliver better than any competitor those winning outcomes to customers. This brings us to the vertical integration question. And understanding it fully is as much a study of CEO psychology as it is of hard-edged financial and strategic analysis.

After years of unsuccessful efforts to stem erosion in market share and customer retention, frustrated CEOs of once-strong legacy brands often show signs of siege mentality, especially when tough questions are met with blank stares. Are we offering the right value proposition (outcome for customers)? Are we delivering it? What’s standing in our way? When answers prove elusive, either internally or from outside partners, these CEOs often make the fateful decision to “take control of their destiny” and vertically integrate.

The question is – what destiny? And is it one that leads to greater numbers of customers choosing their offerings at acceptable prices? Public rationales for most vertical integration moves are usually more about cost savings, efficiency, lower prices, and greater control. They typically make only vague allusions to the messy business of customers and new ways of winning them over. Let’s look at a recent example.

Larry Ellison, who at one time was the Red Bull of corporate IT systems, has abandoned his fierce loyalty to being a best-in-class and tightly-focused industry leader in favor of buying Sun Microsystems. Apparently as part of a drive to become a fully vertically integrated player. He seemed very tuned to the question on everyone’s mind – how will this help Oracle win over customers? - when he commented about Oracle’s decision this week that “we’re really brilliant, or we’re idiots”.

Indeed, Oracle would be wise to look at its own proud history for inspiration and strategic direction. IBM, once the world’s biggest and most powerful business system, was brought to its knees in the early-80s by a new generation of nimble, focused, best-in-class players. Players that were unencumbered by IBM’s high-cost, slow changing, vertically integrated old behemoth of a business model. A business model, as military strategists often despair, best prepared to fight yesterday’s war. In fact, Larry Ellison founded Oracle in 1977 as one of those new breed of competitor. One that offered end customers some fresh air in the form of open platform solutions. Ones that weren’t hand-cuffs like IBM’s all-or-nothing bundled alternative. So the question to Oracle is, Why this?

At the end of the day and no matter how difficult, the best business model innovations are those created in the spirit of fresh reinvention and influence over results delivered to end customers, not protection and control of the status quo. Practically, that raises tough questions about how to get best-in-class solution alliances and distribution partners to work collaboratively to create winning new end results for their common customers. While there may indeed be times when such collaboration is simply not possible, and when complete ownership and control is essential to success, they are generally few and far between. And Apple aside, they are rarely successful.

I suspect the rush to vertical integration we seem to be witnessing in today’s climate may have more to do with an overall lack of trust in market forces. And perhaps it’s also a desperate response to tough economic conditions and fast-changing industries. In fact, it might just be an ill-advised knee jerk effort to slow things down. But don’t be fooled. Customers will still have the final vote.

When it comes to vertical integration, Buyer Beware!

Sep 3, 2014

What My Students Taught Me: Four Keys to Social Commerce

Over fifteen years of teaching marketing and distribution strategy classes at the Kellogg School of Management I’ve had the great luxury of being at the forefront of new ideas and developments, and learning much from some of the best MBA students in the marketing field. Here are four ideas we discussed in a course on Social Media I taught in early-2014: the need for brands to focus on social currency, sharing, voice and data.
Social Currency: Maximizing ROI On Consumer Attention
Social Currency is created when a good user-choice experience gives consumers the option to explore content and watch videos they want to see in contextually relevant places – when they want and without interruption.  
A great example of this is the Ron Burgundy Dodge Durango campaign (here’s one of many ads).  By tying in the social equity of Ron Burgundy and the upcoming premiere of Anchorman 2, Dodge was able to increase consumer engagement with the content and product.  According to this Ad Age article, sales of the car rose 59% in the month of the campaign and were up 50% for the year.  Additionally, Dodge saw almost an 80% increase in web traffic since the launch of the campaign.  The campaign generated a reach of 10 million views.
But while great content and a great place to house the content are key, the ultimate payoff is achieving a noticeable lift in brand perception and purchase behavior. With all the social noise in the marketplace today, it’s important for a brand to move beyond ‘share of voice’ to ‘share of choice’.  Achieving dominant share of choice drives a critical mass of viewership.
Social Sharing: Cars.Com Commercializes Reputation Reviews
Cars.com created its own unique social media platform by connecting car shoppers with car dealerships and inventories, and by helping consumers share reviews of Dealer performance and experiences. Cars.com made itself the lead forum for auto industry reviews, and in doing so put control back in the hands of the consumer.
The first step behind creating this social platform was Reputation Management – in order to grow and sustain the platform, Cars.com had to convince consumers that it was the best place to go for reviews, while simultaneously convincing dealers that the new review forum would benefit them in four key ways: dealers could listen and share feedback, acknowledge feedback and correct issues, show customers a positive experience and have them share it with others, and use positive reviews to reward their staff. Cars.com was able to change a lagging perception (how dealers historically treated people) into a leading indicator.
In the end, by creating a new platform that helped Dealers manage their reputations online, Cars.com was able to amplify its own visibility and position. From a commercial standpoint, Cars.com leverages the value of it’s proprietary “Auto Intender” community – by engaging with consumers during those times when it can be of most use.
Social Voice: Taco Bell Creates Shareable Moments
Brands are moving quickly to assess how to leverage new social commerce channels to build strong, distinct brand voices by creating ‘Shareable Moments’. These are opportunities to cut through the noise. They typically happen when brands don’t “talk at” consumers but instead join the conversation and the community. Doing so strengthens the relationship and trust between user and brand, helping to develop followers into advocates.
Taco Bell learned several lessons on how to improve its digital communications and overall social presence.
Speak with consistency. Taco Bell’s personality, tone, language, and content are constant and appealing to its consumer group target, millennial males aged 15-25
Deliver brand-identifiable content. Taco Bell’s “You’re doing it wrong” tweet achieved virality by making light of the correct way to eat a taco.
Humanize the brand. Taco Bell’s tone and content sound like a teenage buddy with its funny, irreverent humor. This ultimately makes the brand more relatable to its target consumers.
Social Data: Marketing Technologists Capitalize On Data
Social should not be seen as a strategy in itself but as a behavior that amplifies experiences. Marketing strategies should tap into social behaviors, with data at the center of it and clear sense of purpose. In addition to social, the strategy should include more traditional media in a convergence of paid, owned and earned.  Data should be used to fuel meaningful customer experiences. Those in turn will create data, that can be measured and used to iterate on existing or to activate new experiences. The more experiences are shared, the more people join them, the more data is created. This leads to a virtuous cycle of experience and data generation.
Hence, ‘Marketing Technologists’ are a new generation of leaders equally skilled in storytelling and measurement.  They think like traditional marketers but are equally comfortable with statistical analysis and database management. 
There’s no doubt that social marketing and commerce must still focus on the human element, where big data is just a tool to enlighten our understanding of consumer behaviors and attitudes.  Nonetheless, the sheer volume of social data is staggering hundreds of millions of social media sources and the need to make sense of sentiments, emotions and behaviors is mind-blowing in its complexity.  Today’s marketing Technologists are becoming experts at processing, understanding and analyzing unstructured data as a means to explain and predict human behavior.  


Richard E. Wilson is managing director of the advisory firm Chicago Strategy Associates, and a former clinical professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management and Director of the school’s Center for Global Marketing Practice. rick@chicagostrategy.com