October 2nd, 2016

Why Millennials don’t buy: and what Marketers can do about it.

5 tips for marketing to millennials

More Mortar clients are complaining about selling to Millennials. And that got me wondering: what do the pundits have to offer on how to approach today’s Millennial?

Unlike previous generations, Millennials grew up with the promise of instant and frictionless access to information and one another.  As a result, they are more likely to think differently about what it means to “own” something. Writing in Fast Company, Josh Allan Dykstra writes that “this new attitude toward ownership is occurring everywhere, and once we recognize this change, we can leverage it. Instead of kicking against the wave (which is the tendency of many institutions and leaders), we can help our organizations thrive in this strange new marketplace by going with the flow and embracing the death of ownership”.

Look, Dykstra emphasizes, ownership just isn’t hard anymore: “We can now find and own practically anything we want, at any time. Because of this, the balance between supply and demand has been altered, and the value has shifted”.

We know the experience of acquisition matters a lot to us now, and this is especially true of Millennials: How we find out about and buy a product can be as important as what we actually do with it. For example, just consider how much time the modern marketing suite now spends in user experience discussions. Indeed for some eco-conscious customers what we do after we own a product can also be pivotal (like how do we dispose of all that ugly packaging that comes with every Amazon delivery?).

Facebook reminds us that experience is additionally powerful because of how it connects us to others. Our purchases have greater impact because we can perhaps do something worthwhile, tell others about it, and have it say something meaningful about us and our motivations. 

Our newest customers, then, approach ownership differently, encourage us to think beyond purchase through to the act of use, and what the conversation might be around our product and the experience we provide.

Here are five of the more obvious ways Millennials buy differently—along with some tips on what Marketers might be able to do to take advantage of the change:

1. Millennials are more likely to buy things because of what it says about them.

The product or service we deliver can help people do something significant that goes beyond actual use. Method, Seventh Generation, ZipCar, Southwest Airlines have all built brands around a superior and differentiated view of what their customer wants. Action: Make sure you tell your customers what their purchase actually says about them: look for ways to connect your product to something they will find meaningful and compelling. Mortar’s repositioning of Fair Trade USA leveraged this insight with “Every Purchase Matters” tagline.

2. Millennials buy things because of what they can tell others about it.

Of course there’s a social piece to owning something that is ever more vibrant. The joy isn’t all in the having it is in the sharing. When we share something we like with others we create a bond that is meaningful—and “the goodwill created in that moment expands to encompass our brand and our business in general”. Action: Start to think of your employees, their families, your customers, commentators, prospects and maybe even rivals, as a community of like-minded people coming together to achieve something new and important. Tell prospects more about what their purchase could say about their work and their position in the community. Give your community more opportunities to share the news of their finds. And be responsive to feedback. Witness Mortar’s client Chef Software leverages community to spread the power of increased automation in IT..

3. Millennials are more apparent about their values.

Millennials are very open about how their values shape behavior.  As Dykstra indicates this maybe “explains why so many Millennials are moving to Urban areas. Although it is tempting to see the return to the cities as anti-car, instead, it could be more about all the other things a “non-car life” represents: it helps Millennials be more environmentally conscious, socially aware, and local. This distinction of purpose may seem nuanced, but motivation is a powerful differentiator (perhaps one of the most powerful)”. Action: Understand the values that drive your audience. Connect people to something bigger than themselves through your product or service. Our work for San Francisco’s famed Exploratorium museum is obviously designed to help its community enjoy learning about their environment with a special emphasis on science, but not so clear–but nevertheless critical–is the hidden appeal to building an informed citizenry through increased engagement. 

4. Millennials hate to wait.

We all hate to wait. But Millennials have grown up in an age of abundant choice and easy switching. Waiting for them is not just a chore it is an offense and an indication you just don’t care. Action: Take a look at how you engage with your customers and prospects and implement new tools that will enable you to message customers when they are on your website, respond in real-time to questions. Be flexible and authentic with your responses. Wired indicates that more than 50% of customers will abandon their cart on the spot if they can’t get a question answered immediately.

5. Millennials love to shop on their smartphone.

Mobile is the platform of choice for most of us, and this is certainly true of Millennials. Indeed, pundits point out that Millennials just aren’t using their desktop computers as much. And they are not alone: how many of us grasp our iPhone’s like our lives depend on them? Action: make sure your mobile experience is awesome.

As Toffler warned in Future Shock, technology disruption happens fast—but it takes society a long time to catch up and adjust to changes in behavior. Amidst all the concern about selling to young buyers lurks an incredible opportunity to differentiate and grow. Don’t be one of those leaders who thinks they can thrive by ignoring the fastest growing part of their market

* Picture credit from Fast Company.
September 10th, 2016

What does it mean to market in the Cross-Cloud era?

Cross-Cloud era: official first whiteboard.

First whiteboard: the Cross-Cloud era lives. Palo Alto April 22, 2016.

Strategic Marketing Decisions (SMDs) don’t come any bigger than last week’s announcement of VMware’s new cross-cloud architecture (which we helped create). With cross-cloud VMware is betting there is more money to made in catering to business’ need to consume different clouds than there is in building and marketing its own cloud.Here’s just some of what this, the single biggest decision about cloud since, well, the beginning of cloud (*celestial trumpets blare*), could mean for marketers like us:

Cross-cloud is a massive new playground for innovation and delight.

There are already a lot of clouds. Microsoft, Amazon and Google are the public clouds we know. But others also offer clouds: Joyent, Ninefold, Rackspace. Thousands more flavors are sure to follow. We must now shift from thinking of cloud as something offered by a small number of massive vendors to how we will surf across multiple environments custom-built for us by smaller, nimbler, more specialized providers. And VMware is the first of many trusted guides.

Existing notions of hybrid cloud (public/private cloud) too will need to expand to allow for workloads that span the data center and multiple public clouds.  With these new options, business gets the ability to draw on the power of infinitely dedicated resources when the need arises, without being limited by the capability and practices of one vendor. Which in turn means we can shift from marketing cloud as a good thing for service delivery and lower costs, to waking up to the possibilities that the cloud is an infinite canvas for innovation and progress.

Cross-cloud is another reminder the future will be open.

That cross-cloud is happening was not hard to predict. Technology is an irresistible disruptor and innovation abhors limit. AWS, for all its glory–and make no doubt about it, the rise of Amazon’s cloud is an epic success–is still a closed environment. AWS does not have an incentive to encourage other clouds. VMware’s cross-cloud move is one more indicator that the long-term future of technology will be open. And that whenever we are tempted to throw up walls around progress–all we do is tempt others to knock them down.

Cross-cloud means we can drop the from “cloud”.

For a decade now we have been figuring out how to talk about “cloud”. Now the singular is forever “clouds” plural we can drop the “the” and talk about the move to cloud without upsetting our grammar coaches.  But we had better get a move on as ubiquity will soon give rise to irrelevance. After all, besides technologists talking to technologists do consumers really care how we get them services?  They care more about what we get to them–and what they can do with their new powers.

Cross-cloud means faster, cheaper, better marketing experiences.

With diversity comes choice, competition, and the need for portability. Technically there is no such thing as a cross-cloud application just yet. Yet. The pundits say it is too tough. Mind you, several other Mortar clients have already made cross-cloud moves: With Habitat Chef have figured out how configuration can travel with apps across metal, on and off premises. Netskope offer protection against bad elements hidden in the cloud. And Cycle Computing has baked a model around making sense of out-of-control cloud pricing. His company, Cycle’s Rick Friedman says, enables organizations “to be cross-cloud by managing the mess behind the curtain“. 

And now one of the largest software companies in the world, VMware, have focused their entire strategy on the cross-cloud promise. As VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger said after VMworld: “VMware in the past has been about hardware freedom. VMware of the future will be about cloud freedom.” (Parent Dell followed suite by filing for multiple cross-cloud trademarks).

For marketers, this is a reminder of our expanded ability to deliver richer digitaexperiences. Too much digital marketing remains focused on rudely interrupting people versus, say, giving them the opportunity to download an experience to their device. (For an example watch how Instagram now offers users the opportunity to download an app right from their feed). A wider range of specialized clouds opens the door to faster, more engaging, more personal delivery of digital brand extensions. In the cross-cloud era, choice and competition ride long with lower prices and improved delivery options.

In the cross-cloud era imagination will increasingly take point.

The big A-ha here is that cross-cloud is where the puck is going to be. The cloud is only ten years old, and already we are talking about more cloud, bigger apps, greater velocity, ever grander innovation and scale. It is no surprise technology is headed to the cloud. What is surprising is that the world is only just now waking up to the promise of engineering across multiple clouds. For a long time now advances in marketing have been wedded to developments in engineering (think cookies, CRM, Facebook, the conversation about agile). Where engineering goes, we tend to follow. Only maybe this time we can take point?

The cross-cloud era has arrived folks. We’re thrilled to have played some role in the birth of the world’s foremost cross-cloud pioneer. Perhaps we can help you make sense of it too?

August 27th, 2016

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


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.


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.