August 27th, 2016

Bring your personas back from the walking dead. How connective tissue can revive marketing.

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Some of us should not be chained to the one-to-one marketing yoke. Many of us need to talk to teams about what they all need.

As most of Mortar’s work is in activities defined by group decision making (tourism, technology, education and healthcare) a call to develop individual target personas can leave us scratching our heads. Understanding the fabric that connects teams can be more useful.

Consider the rise of the DevOps movement in IT. DevOps teams boost productivity by eliminating the gap between creator and executor. To ignore the conversation between these two as they move through their day is to fail to grasp what they agree—and what they need to succeed. (Hence Slack “the messaging app for teams” and Atlassian’s Jira “the software development tool for agile teams” positioning as group-based collaboration tools).

And it’s not just tech that is rediscovering the importance of targeting teams. As the Cleveland Clinic’s Dr. James Young sees it, “health care’s no longer a gladiatorial sport with one person — no matter how smart — going up against the challenges. Instead, it’s a team effort, and today’s medical education has begun to reflect that trend”.

In some categories, persona development can be too blunt a tool for exploiting motivation. If you need to target team decisions, look hard at riding the wave of group dynamics. Here are five ways understanding connective tissue can bring your marketing back from the dead:

1. Teams are groups of individuals united by a common purpose.Bring your target back from the dead

Even if the reason people work together is the same, how they see their work will vary substantially. Simple one-on-one interviews (by phone) with team members is a good way to map the contours of a committee. For another perspective, see Deloitte’s Kim Christfort on their (fresh) approach to personality profiling here.

2. Groups talk. So connect to what they say to one another. 

What is the nature of the conversation on the team? Who talks to who and about what? Ask them. Gather them together in groups of two and three and listen to what they say to one another. Pay special attention to the words they use. The roles they assume. And be especially conscious to of the topics they avoid.

3. Groups decide. So figure out how they make a call.

Miller & Heiman write convincingly about the buying roles of complex teams, counseling Sales to pay attention to “buying influences” and identify a coach who can help pluck signals from the noise. Despite apparent similarities, different groups will draw radically alternative conclusions from the same data. Charting the path they might follow is a useful marketing strategy especially in big ticket sales.

4. Groups analyze. Winning is as much a team sport as an individual mark of accomplishment. Goals are the primary connective tissue.


target teams not individualsGive some time to considering shared goals. Goals always have three dimensions: quantity (amount, numbers, clicks), quality (feelings, perceptions, vision) and time (you want it when?).  How many digital marketing teams are so focused on the clickstream that they ignore the other two dimensions? Addressing goals can be an effective way to cement disparate people and bring them closer to buying your product. Make sure you address all three categories.

5. Groups feel: how does the group change when they use your product or service? Every group can be unified by insight about their customer. 

What happens to their customers—and how does that impact the team?  Teams that succeed feel different than those that don’t. Pride and accomplishment are attractive and viral because success has many fathers but failure is an orphan. Demonstrating how your product can help everyone on the team win, can work to motivate individuals and groups.

We chose the name Mortar because we are obsessed with the importance of connective tissue. Our business is differentiation–yours and ours. Applying the same tools to the same problems rarely yields fresh answers. If you are having trouble convincing the world what you are doing is indeed special, take time to dig under the cushions for the connections that spur action.

August 17th, 2016

Account Supervisor Wanted

We’re looking for an account supervisor with 4-5 years of advertising agency experience to manage the crap out of a wide variety of clients and projects. Working on your own with mid-sized accounts and as part of a larger account team on bigger ones, we’ll be counting on you to develop scopes of work (including timelines and pricing) and then wrangle agency resources across our media, planning, and creative teams to deliver what you promised – on time and on budget, natch. We’re looking for someone who wants to partner directly with clients and learn their business as if it were your own.

Stuff You’ll Do All Day (Besides Stalking Thomson’s Gazelles):

  • Manage client relationships and projects from start to finish.
  • Maintain and manage clients’ expectations, budgets, and timelines. (Clients don’t always know what they want. It’s your job to help them figure it out.)
  • Clearly communicate the clients’ needs and expectations to the creative, planning, and media teams.
  • Defend the agency’s work with a brand of passion that could make Oprah shudder in her sleep.
  • Keep your manager involved and informed on all the important day-to-day aspects of each account.
  • Accurately scope for and manage resource utilization.
  • Write project briefs, proposals, and presentations.
  • Exemplify outstanding customer service, while also following company processes for project workflow.
    Realize that these two things cannot always coexist without some negotiation. Your job is making the client happy, while also keeping your internal teams successful and sane (because in the end, that’ll make your clients happy).

The Requisites:

  • At least 4-5 years of direct experience working in an ad agency.
  • Strong (and we mean strong like Žydrūnas Savickas) project management skills across on and offline deliverables.
  • Experience with digital marketing, website design, and social media projects.
  • Excellent communication skills: writing, presenting, conversing, networking.
  • Ability to juggle projects and multitask like whoa.
  • Ability to work independently and exercise good judgment.
  • Strong customer service skills.
  • A sense of humah.
  • Mac-friendliness is a plus.
  • Experience with healthcare/life sciences and B2B technology is a plus-plus.

So to sum up – you’re fast, you’re smart, you’re a nice person, and most of all, you don’t need to be told stuff. You figure out what needs doing and you do it. In return, we’ll give you intensive experience in every aspect of this business we call integrated-branding-and-communications, plus a paycheck. There will also be cocktails.

Account Executive positions are also available.

To be considered, send your resume and a little bit about yourself to: iwanttowork@mortaragency.com

July 30th, 2016

Decisions, decisions. What Marketers can learn from Pokemon Go, Katie Couric, and the bacon-cheese log of vacations.

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Since 2002 Mortar has been a big idea agency. But no more. We have decided to change.

Read on for why you might want to join us.

Until this year we believed the essential elements of a project should be condensed onto a single page. Each of the briefs we developed were organized around a bold and inspiring big idea.

The big idea was Mortar’s launching pad for iteration and creative thinking.  (Read more here).

In 2016, we replaced the big idea with two steps: a strategic marketing decision (SMD) and an A-ha moment. This article deals with the SMD, I’ll publish on the A-ha soon.

Instead of arguing to a big idea we make a big decision about how to market. To decide what we will do differently this time. To articulate how the message should change because the way we see the world—and the client’s customer community—has also shifted.

Introducing Strategic Marketing Decisions

We call them strategic marketing decisions (SMD). Making one can be a lot harder than it sounds.

For example, let’s take the problem that plagues Yahoo: is the massive internet property a media or a software company?

If it is a media company, then content production and delivery should be its priority. Hiring Katie Couric, buying Tumblr, paying big money to stream the NFL, these are all moves in the right direction. And they contribute to Yahoo’s unique value.

But what about engineering new forms of engagement?

Take say, Pokemon Go’s innovative use of augmented reality (AR). Pokemon Go is a game. It is an app. But it is also an engineering marvel. By smart use of AR, geolocation, and a sprinkling of inspired game theory, Go’s engineering team created a new form of participatory entertainment.

You just don’t get that type of engineering from a media company, you have to be all in on being a software company.

To walk through one door is to decide not to walk through another. In marketing it is never wise to be all things to all people. Effective marketing requires focus. Focus requires choices and decisions. Many argue that Yahoo failed to prosper because it failed to decide one way or another: and the lack of clarity sapped the company of vital energy, spurring multiple failed investments and inexplicable changes in direction.

What makes a decision a Strategic Marketing Decision?

The BBC defines strategic decisions as “long term, complex decisions made by senior management. These decisions will affect the entire direction of the firm”.

At Mortar, Strategic Marketing Decisions, are decisions that impact the direction of, well, marketing.  But they need not be long-term. Just clear and wide-ranging. Like deciding to act like a leader. Or to line up behind a new vision. Or to take a position quite unlike a rival. SMDs are decisions, about marketing, that have important implications.

Writing for the Harvard Business Review Phil Rosenzweig in “What makes strategic decisions different?” describes the basic types of decision. Here’s how they apply to the SMD:

strategic marekting decision

1. Choice

Making a choice can be a strategic move. Many an organization is plagued by its inability to choose—and thus find its focus. Just by clarifying the need for a decision we can often find a new way forward.

Take Vancouver-based Westport Innovations as a example. When Westport came to Mortar they described themselves as “a Canadian IP company”. We very nearly hung up. But after visiting them we realized Westport was, more than anything else, a natural gas engine company. Oh sure they did a host of other things—like make small engine parts and work with other forms of fuel like Hydrogen—but the heart of engine maker thumped at Westport’s core. By making the strategic marketing choice to focus messaging around natural gas engines they could turbocharge the way they talked about themselves and their mission.

2. Inspirational Vision.

“In so much of life, we use our energy and talents to make things happen. Imagine that the task at hand is to determine how long we will need to complete a project. That’s a judgment we can control; indeed, it’s up to us to get the project done. Here, positive thinking matters. By believing we can do well, perhaps even holding a level of confidence that is by some definitions a bit excessive, we can often improve performance.” (Rosenzweig).

In marketing, a decision to make something happen can also be strategic.

By suggesting that a trip to the city of Reno is actually a visit to the Reno/Tahoe area, we remind travelers to the big blue lake that the joys of the bacon-wrapped cheese log of vacations is just minutes away. An example of positive thinking influencing outcomes if ever there was one.

Planting a flag on the hill as a symbol for all to follow can be an inspiring move, and work to spur creativity.

3. Betting.

“The best decisions must anticipate the moves of rivals. That’s the essence of strategic thinking, which [we can] define as “the art of outdoing an adversary, knowing that the adversary is trying to do the same to you.” (Rosenzweig).

Deciding which way the game will go can also be a candidate for a strategic decision about marketing.

A lot of what we decide is based on what we think a rival will do. Strategic decisions based on reading a rival’s tea leaves are wonderful raw material for marketing.

In marketing, deciding to decide can make the difference between success and failure. Watch for my next post: the A-ha moment that follows from the SMD.

July 25th, 2016

5 things today’s news misses about Yahoo! and Marissa Mayer

FILE - In this Friday, Jan. 25, 2013, file photo, Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!, listens during the 43rd Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum, in Davos, Switzerland. Yahoo showed more signs of progress during the fourth quarter of 2012m, as the Internet company took advantage of higher ad prices and rising earnings from its international investments to deliver numbers that exceeded analyst forecasts. The results announced Monday, Jan 28, 2013, covered Yahoo's first full quarter under Mayer. (AP Photo/Keystone, Laurent Gillieron)

Yahoo! is going to join AOL in Verizon’s growing stack of web businesses. As one commentator chirped “the 90’s are alive and well at Verizon“. But if you are like me, you will be struck by how uncharitable today’s coverage is of Marissa and her Yahoo turn around.

  1. She did it. Perhaps the first thing everyone is missing is that Mayer solved the Yahoo problem. Yahoo was going nowhere fast until this morning. Now it has a new lease on life, a parent who understands the future will be mobile and social, and no more pesky, activist VCs. The problems of a looming tax bill for Alibaba’s incredible success appear to go away too (Mayer inherited a 15% stake in Alibaba that is now worth $28 billion—sparking concerns the struggling internet giant would redirect its gains in shoring up Yahoo’s business). 
  2. She netted a $4.8bn price tag for Yahoo… which, yes, was worth $200 billion back in the day. But that day is some 20 years and a Google and Facebook ago. Yahoo has suffered for years because of the mistakes the company made long before Mayer. (Well if you can call failing to buy Google and Facebook a mistake: because to be charitable, there were a lot of companies who dropped that clanger—Apple, IBM, Oracle, Hearst, Rupert Murdoch to name a few). Web businesses age in dog years: in Silicon Valley 20 years is a lifetime.
  3. And she managed to have three babies in the course of her tenure as CEO. That fact alone should be stirring the voices of support and awe. If we are at all serious about the continued ascendancy of women to the executive branch of our society, Marissa Mayer did arguably more on that front than most.
  4. She resolved Yahoo!’s identity crisis. Mayer introduced the term MAVENS to describe the company’s focus on advertising sales in mobile, video, native advertising, and social. Yahoo was always a media company. Even from the early days when it was home to a legion of web surfers who individually classified websites by hand (how ridiculous does that sound now?), despite efforts to move it more into the engineering camp, Yahoo was never a software powerhouse. Yahoo started off as a media company and it grew with its culture. Even attracting Terry Semel from Warner Bros, as one of Mayer’s four predecessors. Yahoo is a media company—which means it lives and dies by advertising revenue–and the future of media is mobile and social. Mayer realized that as quickly as her rivals at Google and Facebook. Only she had to drag her company dragging and kicking into the MAVENS age.
  5. She admirably played her role as the top executive for the Yahoo community. I am reminded by her decision to give the community a voice in the redesign of the Yahoo logo—which she accomplished by survey. But unlike less savvy rivals she did not make the results public—opting instead to thank the community for making their voice known and acknowledging the community did play some role in the final decision. Masterful. Contrast her actions as leader of that community with, say, how well Reddit handled their recent issues and it’s clear that Mayer does know a thing or two about being an incredibly visible and high profile spokesperson for a community that lost its relevance in Silicon Valley years ago. Let’s remember, communities that started hot but come to be regarded as irrelevant tend to be resentful and inwardly-focused (for an example consider my fellow British countrymen’s horrendous decision to allow the fear of immigration to drag them out of the European community). Playing spokesperson for a global group struggling to be sexy and cool again is a tough gig, no matter how you cut it.

So as you review the coverage over the next few weeks, this commentator believes Marissa Mayer deserves a hearty round of applause for solving the hardest problem in marketing: how to turnaround a failing internet brand.

Bravo, Marissa.

July 12th, 2016

Hello VMware. Welcome to our community.

What follows is an open invitation to the good people of VMware to change the way they market, from their new advertising agency partner, San Francisco-based Mortar.

After two years of intensive work with the Corporate Marketing and Communications team, we’re convinced the key to helping VMware stand out is to add a lot more community.

If you want to skip ahead, click here to see our website and some recent VMware work here and here.

So, why is community important to VMware?

Let’s start with what keeps VMware marketers up at night: You can no longer be defined as just an infrastructure company. Or the pioneers of virtualization. You play a big role in mobile. You have a lot to offer the end user. And you are essential if customers are to cavort across the gap between on-prem and cloud.

But all that is technospeak. It’s geek talking to geek. VMware is much more than a company of nerds. VMware provides essential fabric for global enterprise – and thus touches millions, even billions of lives. People. Society. Teachers. Kids. Farmers. Non-engineers. Astronauts. Cows. We help them all.

We think it’s about time the company acknowledged that you are helping our software-obsessed planet became a kinder, gentler, creative and yes, more efficient version of ourselves.

We CAN say bigger things to humanity. Which is important as we seek to drive beyond IT and into the C suite and on to connect with the teams building and publishing apps.

How can VMware use community to connect with its audience on an emotional level?

We have heard it said that VMware does not actually touch end customers, what with your vast network of partners. Trust us. You do. And you need to start telling those stories. 

Anyone visiting VMworld can’t help but take away the stirring sense of fervent community in your backpack-sporting brethren.

Engineers are amazingly creative and innovative. But for some reason many abhor marketing—and this unseen force can suppress creativity and the ability to market with power.

We’re on a mission to let loose your creativity and your community, while keeping you connected to your core.

Over the past couple of years, we’ve had some success extracting your human side.

Our work on What will you leave ahead? * revealed an enormous opportunity to talk about the impact of VMware on kids in Africa, dairies in India and schools on the Amazon river. “What will you leave ahead?” also fed the desire of VMware’s marketing team to illuminate your customers’ work and tell more human stories—clearly we are not the only ones thinking this element of VMware is a neglected area of marketing opportunity.

And Pat made big use of our “Innovate like a Start-up, Deliver like an Enterprise” theme in his VMworld 2015 keynote.

Ok, so what does Mortar offer VMware?

We chose “mortar” as a name because it means glue. Building connections. Between people and organizations. 

Every line of code started with a person. The decision to install VMware and buy even more VMware? That too is a decision by people, influenced by the opinions, experiences and feelings of other people.

VMware has a massive global fan base. So let’s start thinking of your customers that way, and ask ourselves what we can do to heighten their anticipation? Incite action? And stoke the fires of fanaticism for the next gen of VMware?

Or we could just continue to address the market through a complex morass of acronyms and language that only makes sense inside-the-data center. But that doesn’t build community. There’s a place and time for all that, but it’s not the kind of marketing you’ll do with Mortar.

Give us a buzz if you want to have a collaborative conversation about communicating VMware as the head and heart of an amazingly innovative, ridiculously effective, and emotionally-connected global community. We are chomping at the bit to get into it with you right now. mark@mortaragency.com. www.mortaragency.com.

* Mortar developed the WWYLA theme. Other VMware partners  produced the work on Radius.