TMW #057 | The problem with thought leadership, hyperscaling cloud tech, and inside Google’s attribution black box.

Oct 3, 2021

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If you’ve been following along the past few weeks, I’ve been focusing on privacy, tracking, and ethics in marketing as there has been so much happening in this space, and it’s important to investigate.

Today, however, I’m changing tack to other areas that need exploration. So let’s dive in.

Here’s the week in #057:

  • The problem with thought leadership: The pandemic created new patterns for how software and services are sold in Martech. This created a tidal wave of thought leadership content, but new research says that attitudes and appetites are changing.
  • Hyperscaling: Cloud companies and tech disruption. Cloud providers like Snowflake and others have a valuation greater than 50 times revenue. An indicator of where technology disruption is heading.
  • Inside Google’s black box of attribution. Google has announced a new tool to measure ad effectiveness and attribution. The problem? You need to let Google do it for you.
  • Everything else: Amplitude IPO, the context in analytics, NFTs and multi-level marketing, 100-year study into AI, the last mile of your data, machine-learned (fashion) models, and a play done entirely in Google Sheets.

👇 Here’s everything you’ve missed in marketing and tech this week.

✍ Commentary

The problem with thought leadership. I need to let you know that the entire concept of “thought leadership” really grates on me. I’ll tell you why. The concept is an unclear way to convey influence, reputation, and the creation of value through content in business. There are better words. However, there’s merit in understanding what is happening in thought leadership in the context of B2B marketing and sales. A report from Edelman in conjunction with LinkedIn was released this week looking at why the pandemic has brought us to a place where everyone is a thought leader, including the value it creates for industries and ways to get better at it.

Thought leadership is running rampant in the marketing technology industry, and I don’t need to convince you of this. Just take a look around at the dizzying amount of content published across LinkedIn, Twitter, and podcasts. Your inbox filled with webinars and “fireside chats” is just the tip of the iceberg.

Since the pandemic forced us to sell online, there has been a significant increase in low-quality content. 38% of leaders surveyed in the report say they can’t keep up with thought leadership and that the market is oversaturated. Also, over 71% of people said that what they are consuming does not lead to any tangible or useful insights. That’s shocking! There are way too many of us talking about the obvious things in the name of engagement.

Why is this the case? The research suggests that it’s not just bored professionals looking to build their personal brand, it’s a fundamental shift in how B2B software companies are addressing pandemic-induced needs in the buyer journey. McKinsey suggests that 70 - 80% of B2B buying decisions are now happening completely online, through research, consuming content, and joining online events. Content, now more than ever, has become a primary vehicle in how people research and decide on which tech to buy, or agency to hire.

This is where a natural tension exists between thought leadership and sales and it may even be the reason why the whole premise of thought leadership is failed. If the intention is to sell more software and services, there’s an inherent conflict of interest that comes with the approach. It undermines the core value proposition marketing leaders are after in B2B content: Clear thinking and thoughtful insights without outside (or inside) influence.

The problem is that most people are smart enough to see through the thinly veiled attempts to sell with content. In Martech everyone is trying to sell something to someone and there are few media brands, B2B companies, or even individuals that are publishing for any reason other than to grow their bottom line.

The data from Edelman backs this notion up. The report suggests that about 80% of people want content that’s been validated from a 3rd party source. When writing TMW I’m always asking about how much can we trust reports that come from B2B companies. There are incentives we can’t ignore and begs the question -  if a survey says something that’s opposed to the value proposition of a firm, would it still make it into a report? I doubt it.

This is why its media in Martech is a low trust space. Brands need to figure out how to instill trust, sell products, stay true to their brand while also somehow being objective enough for people to trust their insights and recommendations.

Another interesting aspect of the research looks at the 50% of buyers who save thought leadership content and never revisit it. Why is that? I’d say it has alot to do with the pragmatic nature of most Martech content out there. Solving niche problems and practical how-to’s are great resources to serve an industry, however, the strongest B2B players are the ones who are creating a narrative, something compelling that gives their audience something to remember.

Why does Salesforce spend millions for their annual Dreamforce event, or why does Adobe put on creator events regularly? It’s about the narrative that you’re trying to create, why your company exists and how it solves a real problem in the marketplace that brings people back for more.

As you can see, the thought leadership space is complicated, but there are new models for thinking about content and influence in the B2B arena. A16z published a piece this week on building reputation systems for the content economy, a way to establish who you can trust, who’s publishing high-quality content, and who the leaders are, borrowing from gaming heuristics like points and leaderboards. Of course, there are attempts at this like Thinkers 360 and other groups who are trying to establish the people you should follow to nourish your career with thought-provoking content, but these platforms often are unclear in how they measure effectiveness, reach and content value.

After all, the problem with thought leadership is the main reason why TMW exists, to sort through what is the high-value content and media in the marketing technology industry. And if my inbox is any indicator, many of you appreciate it. Links: Edelman and LinkedIn report. McKinsey and Gartner on B2B marketing and sales. Reputation innovation.

📈Chart Of The Week  

Technology as the main disruptor of value creation. A big study conducted by Bain & Company looks at how technology companies have changed the state of play for non-tech industries. What comes into focus is the role of hyperscaling cloud companies, with some of them reaching more than 50 times their revenue multiple. Link

📰 Latest Developments

Google’s black box of attribution. Google has announced another significant change in its ad model. Ad attribution has been slowly eroding with cookie deprecation over the past two years. To counter the absence of measurement, Google has announced a tool called “data-driven attribution” which uses ML to model conversion attribution across touchpoints and ads. This strategy is the same pattern as the failing FLoC rollout - expecting marketers to hand over the majority of the data mechanics to Google and trust that the data and targeting is good for their business. Last click attribution is quickly becoming a thing of the past. Links: Announcement. Tech specs. Commentary. (Also in Googleland: The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has handed down their digital advertising inquiry after 18 months. Link).

Amplitude IPO. The product analytics company went public this week, opening 43% above their reference price, valuing the company at $5 billion. An astonishing valuation for a company that started only seven years ago. Link

WPP fined $26 million. The SEC fined the company for charges relating to bribery allegations in the holding company’s global operations. Some of the charges date back almost a decade. Growing a global agency footprint comes with unique problems. Link

📚 Reading

Data analytics: Context is your biggest challenge. Sometimes analysis projects don’t work out because the context of the data is misread or not clearly communicated. Many analysts focus on data accuracy and reliability, but this is only one side of the coin. Link

Investor day at Salesforce. A great read on how the company’s M&A strategy is going. Most of their high-profile acquisitions have played out well for the company, with the most notable being Mulesoft, hitting 23x revenue since the 2018 acquisition. Link

NFTs and multi-level marketing. Marketers are exploring the world of NFTs and crypto communities more than ever this year. What’s interesting is that many NFT projects resemble something similar to multi-level marketing (MLMs) schemes in how the participants are incentivized. Reminder: Most MLMs end up being scams. Link

🔢 Data & Insights

Persuasive digital experience vendor assessment. The IDC MarketScape has released its annual report on digital experience platforms and CMS systems. The report has evaluated 16 different platforms and suggests that investing in a modern CMS system is a key correlation to delivering on experience-related initiatives. Link

Into the Metaverse. Wunderman Thompson has done one of the first big deep dives on the Metaverse from an agency perspective. Most of the focus is leveraging e-commerce tactics for digital goods and services. Link

The 100-year study into AI. Stanford has released a study into the state of artificial intelligence over the past 100 years. It’s been running since 2014, with the purpose to track the impacts of AI on society, communities, cultures, and the everyday lives of people. Link

💡 Ideas

Last-mile data. Analytics is useless if you needed it yesterday to make a decision but only got updated stats today. Data operations continue to be one of the most significant problems in the domain of analytics. Link

TV-as-a-service. Roku is building an app to integrate TV advertising for Shopify merchants. This is an interesting cross-over between programmatic and more traditional formats of advertising and a unique way of thinking about “addressable TV.” Link

Premium mediocre is a concept I came across this week, it describes how branding and marketing work in today’s digital experience to position products for the mass consumer. Link

✨ Weird and Wonderful

Machine-learned (fashion) models. A new app enables eCommerce businesses to create fashion models from any kind of parameter you can think of. Scary interesting. Link

Back to the office. This is the best video I’ve seen yet on the return to the office. Link

A play, but in Google Sheets. Link

Stay Curious,

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Juan Mendoza

Juan Mendoza is an expert in researching global media, marketing, data, and technology trends. He is the CEO of The Martech Weekly, a media and research brand with subscribers in over 65 countries.

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