The CM Summit kicks off next week on Monday morning with an interview of John Hayes, CMO for American Express. I’ve come to know John through my work at Federated, and I am certain this session will be lively and full of insights.
American Express is one of the world’s premiere brands, consistently ranked in the top 25 by marketing and business publications. Hayes has overseen the brand for 15 years, or put another way, since the Netscape IPO and through the rise of Google, Facebook, and Twitter. I’m looking forward to our conversation Monday. Here are a few topics I plan to cover:
- Hayes has said “the chief challenge for brands today isn’t customer awareness; it’s customer engagement.” What does he mean by that?
- Has the American Express brand changed in the past ten years? How?
- How has the rise of digital changed American Express’ approach to marketing? What mistakes does he see brands making in the context of digital?
- How does Hayes keep American Express “in the conversation” when that conversation is increasingly dominated by online chatter, as opposed to popular culture tent pole events like sports and cultural events?
- The past two years have been particularly challenging for financial services brands. But Amex seems to have come out pretty well. Why? And what has American Express learned in the past two years?
- American Express purchased Revolution Money late last year. Why?
- Along the same lines, how has the rise of online payment – Facebook Credits, Google Checkout, PayPal – challenged or spurred American Express?
- American Express has launched a number of new online services for card members. How do they play into the brand promise?
- Open Forum has been a major success – winning awards, growing traffic. Why? What has American Express learned from that program?
- Stepping back, what do you make of the economy right now? What are your card members telling you, in aggregate, through their purchases?
- What do you expect from your agency relationships? What lessons might you impart about how to work best with agency?
- Publishers and content creators are in the midst of a major disruption. What are you looking for from your publishing and content partners?
So what do you want to hear from John Hayes?
Reader Andrew writes: Paine’s Common Sense wasn’t a hastily put together reaction to something that happened that day (I think the personal correspondence of our founding fathers was more in line with blogging than their pamphlets).
Thanks to Andy at Beet for asking. My post earlier here goes into far more detail. I do look rather querulous, do I not? It must have been the sun.
…you just have to rethink what “search” really means. Last night Jobs said he had no interest in search. I am quite certain what he meant is he has no interest in HTML, “traditional” search. But think about what search really is, and I am certain, Apple will be in the search business.
Why? Well, as I said in the last post on the iPad (and rather hurriedly, and entirely my fault, poorly communicated to many of those who left comments), it’s all about the link. Perhaps I should have said, it’s all about the signal.
Let’s think about the allegories between search and the web as we knew it, and apps and the app platform that Apple controls, as we know it. Last night Jobs said that we’ve never before seen such an explosion of apps as we’ve witnessed on the iPhone platform – 200,000 and counting, up to 20K new ones a week.
That’s true, never before have so many developers created mobile phone apps in such abundance. But think back to the last great platform where hundreds of thousands created value by making new services, content, and places where consumers might interact: yep, that’d be the web. A website is an app. And the platform of the web – it’s open. Anyone can build on it. And anyone can create signals from their “app” to another “app” – a link from one site to another. And anyone can share any data from any site to another site, or mash up those data streams to create entirely new kinds of sites. Yep, it was rather a free for all, but over the past 15 or so years business rules have emerged, social norms have developed, an ecosystem has flourished.
Take yourself back to the early days of the web – just as now we are in the early days of what I’ve called before, and will call here, AppWorld.
Remember what a mess it was? How much noise there was, and how precious little signal? And what application emerged that found that precious signal, made sense of it, and helped us find our way? Yep, it was search, and the signal was the link, interpreted, of course, through PageRank and ultimately hundreds of other sub signals (click through, freshness, decay, etc.)
Now, think of AppWorld. Where’s the signal? Short answer is, we don’t have one. Yet.
The beauty of the link was that it became a proxy for engagement. It was where consumers were declaring their intent – signaling what they wanted from the web. That signal became the basis for a massive marketing economy. Google ascended. And content models were turned upside down (much to my delight at FM, I will admit).
So then, what is the proxy for engagement in AppWorld? Before you argue that “we don’t need one,” let’s not forget Jobs’ stated goal of getting into advertising so as to give his legions of developers a business model, to reward them for creating value on Apple’s platform. That’s the whole reason he’s creating iAds, he declared last night. To get his developers paid. “We won’t be making very much money on advertising,” he said. (Let’s watch and see…)
Well, if marketers are going to find value in AppWorld, they’re going to need a proxy for engagement, a trail of breadcrumbs, some signal(s) that show were consumers are, what they are doing, and ideally, predicts what they might do next. And we as consumers also need this trail – we need smart navigation tools to figure out which apps to use, which apps our friends recommend, and how best to navigate the apps we are using. It was easy when there were just a few apps. Now there are hundreds of thousands. Soon there will be millions. Don’t tell me a Google like metadata play isn’t going to evolve inside such an ecosystem. After all, search did all those things for the web. But so far, we don’t have a similar signal for AppWorld.
But we will. The data is already there. It’s the data we all create when we interact with apps – when we jump from one to another, when we navigate within pages, when we execute a command in an app and then ask that app to store that execution “up in the cloud” also known as the web. And as far as I can tell (Apple won’t answer questions on this) it’s that data which, if shared with others besides the developer and Apple, Apple then labels “third party” and forbids (based on a smokescreen of privacy issues, which I believe can and must be addressed).
I believe such a policy cannot stand, because it will create a fragile ecosystem devoid of feedback loops and external innovation. No matter, whether or not Apple allows third parties to consume AppWorld data, Apple will do search. It won’t be search as we understand it on the web, but it’ll be search for AppWorld, and if done right, it will be extremely profitable.
**Dashed off as I am running to lunch at D….will update soon…**
…and I mean that. Watching Jobs work his way through nearly 90 minutes of interview and audience questions, I really felt, for the first time, a sense of how strongly the guy feels for his work and his products. Then again, I found myself angry, several times. Angry when he championed the press as crucial to democracy, and implied the iPad would save our country from “descending into a nation of bloggers” (my view: we started as a nation of bloggers – pamphleteers like Thomas Paine). Angry when he defended Apple’s data practices – to an investor in Flurry, no less – as protecting users’ privacy, when in fact it’s clearly about controlling data to Apple’s benefit to win advertisers, developers, and market share (you can certainly protect privacy AND share data. That’s the basis of the web, and, by the way, the basis of culture. But that’s another post). Angry when he claimed that Apple was the only company doing mobile ads that didn’t suck, when in fact they’ve been done the way iAds is doing it for nearly a year by third parties.
But I was also inspired. Inspired by a guy who decided to tear up the playbook of how computing works, and rethink it all so as to shift the interface from stylus or mouse to the human finger – and doubly inspired by a guy who reinvented the personal computer, then declared it essentially dead on stage tonight. Inspired by a guy who answers emails at 2 am and passionately defends his own way of doing things, and claims the market will decide, one purchase at a time. Inspired by the fact that the company I loved and defended back in the late 80s and 90s, which nearly died at the feet of Microsoft, eclipsed that giant in market cap last week, yet he genuinely seemed to believe that “market cap doesn’t matter.”
Read my Twitter stream for real time thoughts, but two things aren’t in there that are worth noting: one: Jobs said he was not going to do search, and two, Jobs said TV was too complicated to get into. Mark my words: He’ll be in both, big time, in the next few years. Why? Because he’s been on the record, in the past, saying he had no designs on tablet computing and phones. With Jobs, history has a way of repeating itself.
Today’s news that the iPad sold 2 million units in its first two months – coming as it does right before Steve Jobs takes the stage at his only public conference appearance in years outside carefully scripted Apple launch events – led me to reflect on my prediction, in January of this year, that the “iPad would disappoint” (that’d be #5, scroll down).
In that prediction, which was not without its failures, I wrote:
Sorry Apple fanboys, but the use case is missing, even if the thing is gorgeous and kicks ass for so many other reasons. Until the computing UI includes culturally integrated voice recognition and a new approach to browsing (see #4), the “iTablet” is just Newton 2.0. Of course, the Newton was just the iPhone, ten years early and without the phone bit….and the Mac was just Windows, ten years before Windows really took hold, and Next was just ….oh never mind.
In essence, what I was saying is that the nexus of first wave computing (Windows OS) and second wave computing (the web) had not caught up to Jobs’ vision of the third wave – mobile, multi-touch web-enabled interfaces. I was also hinting at my own bias that voice will become an important part of our interface to machines. Another bias: the assumption that Apple’s tablet would actually attempt to connect the first two waves of computing meaningfully to the third.
I think my prediction was right in the short term (when the iPad was announced, nearly everyone was disappointed at what it wasn’t, see the headlines from January, above), and I was totally wrong in the medium term (the thing has sold two million plus and probably has a shot at being Time magazine’s “man of the year” for 2010). However I still believe I’ll be entirely correct in the long term, in particular if Apple doesn’t change its tune on how the iPad interacts with the web.
Allow me to unpack that last statement.
What I missed, at least in my initial prediction, was how entirely hermetic and “un-weblike” the iPad would end up being. Like many others, I was surprised at how complete Apple’s disdain is for traditional computing models – including its own Macintosh. The iPad would not be an open development environment – instead it adopted the iPhone model of command and control. The iPad would not allow you to run Mac applications – only iPad/iPhone specific apps approved by Apple would work, and that meant no Microsoft Office, thank you very little. The iPad wouldn’t even let you cut and paste – an innovation Apple pioneered – and worst of all, it seemed, the iPad wouldn’t use Flash – a proxy, as it were, for “the rest of the web that Steve Jobs didn’t quite like very much.”
So initially, anyway, the hue and cry about the iPad amongst the tech elite was decidedly disappointed. The iPad wasn’t a computer! The iPad was just a big iPhone – but without the phone, or even the camera! It’s an overgrown iPod Touch! It breaks the web!
Then it came out, and wow, was it purty. Apple has done it again, we all marveled – the iPad’s genius, it seemed, was that it didn’t try to be a computer – instead, it was a gorgeous device for consumption of media and interaction with apps. And sure, those apps could be web enabled – on the back end – as long as the web was channeled into structured, Apple approved fashion (no third party data sharing, natch). And sure, you could surf the the “real web,” but only if you went through the Apple approved browser, which finds Flash unworthy of rendering.
No matter. The fact is, the iPad is a revelation for millions and counting, because, like Steve Case before him, Steve Jobs has managed to render the noise of the world wide web into a pure, easily consumed signal.
The problem, of course, is that Case’s AOL, while wildly successful for a while, ultimately failed as a model. Why? Because a better one emerged – one that let consumers of information also be creators of information. And the single most important product of that interaction? The link. It was the link that killed AOL – and gave birth to Google.
It was the link that made the web what it is today, and it’s the link – reinterpreted in various new strains – that drives innovation on the web still. The link is the synapse between you, me, and a billion other humans – and the signal (dare I say, a signal one might consider third party data) which allows a million ideas to flourish.
So let me ask you one question, right now: Can you link to an app on your iPad? And I don’t mean a link to download the app on iTunes, folks. I mean, can you create an ecosystem of links, deep into your iPad application(s), links that connect your particular activity stream inside that app with other streams, other links, and other intentions across the web? In ways that create new values, both predictable and unpredicted?
The answer is no. Anymore than you could link to pages deep inside AOL, back when it was a walled garden.
Sure, AOL eventually figured out the web would win, but by then, it was too late.
Next week, Apple will make any number of announcements at its WWDC. I’m hoping the company will announce that it is tacking away from its walled garden approach with the iPad, but I’m not going to hold my breath. Apple makes gorgeous products, but ultimately, I think any product which rejects the web’s core value of connection will simply disappoint. But more likely than not, it’ll be a year or two before that becomes apparent.
PS – If you want a deeper dive on Apple and the web, read this: Will Apple Embrace the Web? No.
I’ve come to know Dick Costolo, COO at Twitter, pretty well in the past year, though I’ve known him for much longer. FM and his previous company, Feedburner, had a deal in the early days of RSS, and I’ve always liked his point of view on our industry. Feedburner was acquired by Google, and Dick spent a short year or so there before moving on to Twitter.
Since he joined, Twitter has rolled out a ton of new features, (mostly) fixed its platform stability issues, launched a beta trial of its advertising platform (Promoted Tweets), and managed to grow a few orders of magnitude to over 100 million uniques.
I interviewed Dick at Twitter’s Chirp conference last month, and I look forward to doing it again at the CM Summit week after next. What would you like to hear from him? Leave me your thoughts in the comments, thanks!
Five years and about two months ago, I wrote a blog post announcing the creation of Federated Media Publishing. I will admit I was scratching an itch, not certain that it would work out. In that post I hedged a my bet – mainly because I was still smarting from the loss of my previous business – The Industry Standard – and I was not certain that I (or the world) was really ready for me to run a company again.
In short, I said that if the company succeeded, I might not stick around – after all, The Standard succeeded, and I stuck around, and that didn’t quite work out…well you can see where the psychology is going. This time, I remember telling myself, I’ll pull a Costanza and go out when I’m still ahead.
Well, that didn’t happen.
So as to not bury the lead too deeply, today marks my five-year anniversary as an employee of Federated Media Publishing, Inc. Apparently it was five years ago today that I signed some legal paperwork that officially made me an employee. At the time, I owned 100% of FM’s voting shares, and to this day, I am still the largest shareholder. That was a very intentional move on my part, and one that has served me – and I daresay FM – very well over the past five years.
By the Fall of 2005 I had assembled a team, an extraordinary group, some of whom are still with us, some of whom, after four years or so, have moved on. To my mind that is also a great accomplishment – the original team stayed for a very long time, at least in the life of a startup, and together we built a company that will endure. I’m proud of that, and of them, and of where we are today. Indulge me some pride, but the story of FM isn’t often told, and while I won’t take much more of your time here telling it, it’s certainly worth hearing should you be interested. (I’m happy to stretch this into a few hours, but the bourbon is on you).
I’m particularly proud that the core idea driving FM has not changed – thanks to search and social, media models have shifted, and a new approach was needed that understood the “conversational web.” FM set out to be a media company native to the social web, and five years in, I think we’ve succeeded.
But that’s not to say FM hasn’t changed. A few stats:
- FM had under half a million dollars in revenue in 2005. Five years later, we’re in the high eight figures of revenue. I’d love to brag about our current growth rate, but I think that’d be, well, bragging.
- FM launched with one segment – technology – and about ten blogs. We reached a few million uniques a month, and had roughly 25 million pageviews. Today, FM reaches 36 million uniques in four major segments (tech, business, lifestyle, and the real time web), and that’s just in the US (we’re past 70mm globally). We stopped counting pageviews when they eclipsed a billion. We’re the fourth largest pure play social media company on the web, behind Facebook, Blogger, and Myspace.
- FM has been a pioneer in bringing integrated, scaleable brand marketing to social media, first with blogs (2005), and then Digg (2006), the Facebook platform (2007), live events (Crowdfire 2008), Twitter (2009) and now location services like Foursquare (2010). Our partners, executions and programs have won countless awards, but we’re most proud of the tens of millions of dollars of revenue we’ve driven into the emerging world of independent content and platform creators online.
- The brilliant folks who invested in FM back in 2005 (including the New York Times, Omidyar Network, and various angels) have seen their investment increase twenty-fold, based on the valuation of FM in our last round (I’d argue we’re worth a lot more than that, but let’s stick with what’s on paper for now). Perhaps to their consternation, we have so far refused to sell the company, so they’ll have to be content with looking good on paper for the time being. And since that initial investment, we’ve brought in tens of millions of dollars through some extraordinary partners, and we’ve spent almost none of it. In fact, we’re now on track to add to our cash holdings year over year. I’m quite proud of that feat.
- FM was EBIDTA profitable for 2009, and so far this year, FM has turned a net income, with the best still ahead of us.
- Earlier this year, we established a new division focused on bringing the skills of publishers to marketers across digital platforms. This promises to be a very large and very scaled business. We also invested heavily in our technology platform, and while I won’t give away all that we are working on, it’s a very exciting platform indeed. In short, there’s nothing like it in market. I never thought, five years ago, we’d become a player in technology and data as well as in media, but then again, that’s the beauty of a startup.
- Perhaps most significantly, FM has evolved into a troop of 130 or so dedicated employees, led by an amazing President, who we hired this past Fall. And my work has changed, so much so that I can’t really imagine a better job than the one I have right now. I spend most of my time with partners – either media or platform and publishing, and in between I’m allowed to think a bit out loud, and work on my writing. I haven’t really changed my work hours, but I most certainly have changed what I work on.
And this, to me, is probably my greatest career accomplishment to date. I’ve never worked anywhere for five years – not Wired, where I lasted four years and change, or The Standard, where I almost made it to four. But somehow, as I enter year six at FM, I find myself energized, engaged, and thrilled to be here.
I think it’s because, way back in 2005, I made a promise to myself that I’d leave if I ever felt that I was in the way, or if I was consistently unhappy in my work.
I’ll admit, I’ve flirted with both of those demons over the past few years. And who knows, I may well again. But right now, sitting in a hotel lobby writing to you as I prepare for four meetings with clients in Atlanta, I just feel lucky.
Thanks, everyone – to our publishing partners, our clients, our investors and our employees, as well as all of you, who’ve read my thoughts here and cheered me on, criticized me, or both. I hope to make you all proud in the next five years of this journey.