Get Horizontal

As I think through the major themes of the book I hope to write over the next year, the word "horizontal" keeps coming up, over and over and over. It comes up in nearly every conversation I have with marketers. More often than not, when you get to the…


As I think through the major themes of the book I hope to write over the next year, the word “horizontal” keeps coming up, over and over and over.

It comes up in nearly every conversation I have with marketers. More often than not, when you get to the heart of an innovative marketing program, you find a block that can be summed up thusly: “That’s not what we do.”

In other words, “We’re the marketing group. That’s a great idea, John, but it requires we work with the (customer service, IT, business development, human relations, public affairs, product development, legal) department. And while we’d love to do that, well, we’ve (have never done that, have tried it before and it didn’t work, don’t like those guys, been told not to do it, don’t have budgets that cross departments, etc. etc. etc.).”

But marketing is, in its essence, a horizontal practice. (I wrote more about this on the American Express Open Forum site.) Every customer interaction is marketing. Every partnership is marketing. Every employee is a marketer.

And all your data, well, that’s marketing too.

Case in point: Mashery. I had a good conversation today with Mashery’s CEO Oren Michels. Mashery has a smart (and very Web 2) model: It provides API infrastructure for enterprises looking to turn their businesses into platforms. In other words, business who are smart enough to realize they need to join the conversation economy.

But joining the conversation economy means more than skinning your corporate website with Twitter search results (though I commend Skittles for doing it). It means taking your core assets – the data that drives value and knowledge inside your enterprise – and offering it as fuel for the collective intelligence of all your partners – your channel, your vendors, and, ultimately, your customers.

What does that look like? Well, Mashery has plenty of examples, including the New York Times and Best Buy. It’s late and I wish I could write a lot more, but let me sum it up this way: Companies that create platforms which enable customers to leverage internal data with collective intelligence will win. Those that don’t, will lose.

Oren had a very telling insight, one that plays to the issue of “horizontal versus vertical.” Most enterprises see his services as “IT”, and push him to “talk to the CTO.” But most CTOs don’t care about creating new channels of distribution, new business rules, and opening new markets. They see their job as servicing that which already exists. That’s a recipe for epic fail.

Mashery is not an IT play, it’s a business development play. Smart companies understand that.

More on this soon.

7 thoughts on “Get Horizontal”

  1. This has to rank way up there as one of your most insightful posts ever, John. This should be included in a chapter in your next book. Perhaps the first chapter.

  2. Amen. We’ve been fighting this since the inception of both our companies. I’m hoping that we’re all turning the corner and there are signs. It’s been our DNA from the get go, but the nay sayers can’t put up obstacles fast enough. The offering is somehow not credible and not possible according to those making the decisions.

    RG/A interactive wast just named the top Digital Agency by Adweek. According to Mr. Greenberg the success can be attributed to this thinking,”There’s a couple different directions agencies will have to take,” says Greenberg. “There’s a difference between us and someone like Crispin Porter + Bogusky. We’ve taken the direction of building brand platforms rather than viral stunts or one-off things.”

    While there is room for both, it can’t just be the viral one off’s. Brands need to understand the importance of the platform as well.

    This dead on analysis Mr. Battelle. Oh the stories I could tell. They will be even better stories ten years from now when the results are in.

  3. Good post. Those of us who deploy Integrated Marketing Communications strategies certainly applaud your thesis. You cut to the biggest challenge we face — changing the territorial and compartmentalized conventions of corporate fiefdoms.

    The vertical view traps information, limits dialogue, and misses opportunities.

  4. I’d recommend not use words like “horizontal” out of the blue, especially in a management context: it’s very ambiguous. In what you describe, ‘hierarchical’ could be more relevant: some quotes certainly decry a tree-communication structure that dsporportionally burdens every level of management — but I’m not sure that is exactly what all of the people you talked to meant.

    Take that Flat world idea: new tech has allowed more people to be empowered, therefore everybody is powerful, hence at the same level, together, all is fair and. . . horizontal. Great — but false. Or rather: the exact opposite of truth. Web 2.0, like Science, like talent is a horrible, greedy, painful Sierra Madre economics a.k.a. Winner takes all (and let everybody else bites the dust).

    It’s not a bad thing, but you need to separate perception from reality to describe what is really happening: the reason it sounds so rosy and fine is that Web 2.0 only listens to those who succeded because it’s an audience thing. Any interviews of the post-docs that have been struggling to pursue a failed theory by mid-December? No, cameras listen carefully to the guys who just got more money then they’ll be able to spend before the end of their life (and cut the parts not about being happy and rich because who understands individual contribution to theoretical physics anyway). Same for artists: who cares for the tears of a musicians who, like a majority of aspiring artists, never made it beyond the corridors of a tube station? Don’t expect to have elements of musical composition in those interviews either (until certain recent talent-shows, I’ll admit). I’m not saying that we should mike every looser (I hate both bad science and bad music as much as bad bloggers) but don’t call it fair, flat or any word that might be inerpreted as such. To paraphrase Newton: Science needs giants.

    What is true is that the easy publication and link structure of Web 2.0 (and in a slower way, reference and peer-review; so do hommages and featuring) helps boasting any reasonnably seductive idea to a widespread audience. Blogs are fantastic to throw a whistleblower or a 14 yo. wonder guitarist in the international spotlight — all ideas cannot all have a bigger chance to be promoted (attention is bounded), but the ratio of good ideas making it to the top has increased.

    That structure (scale-free power law) is not just the very steep elite (that is needed to host, to be the ‘national spotlight’ and that has existed since 16th century Royal courts) but also the lack of ‘shoulders’, i.e. the existence of niches of all size. Relations between those niches, national of contextual, is needed too: heterophily — yet another structural element that could be labeled horizontal, and that you seem to support. We also need that famous people know more, and have reasonnable access to more famous people then commoners do, at all levels; we also need user-based votes; we need arbitrary enforcement institution to avoid those votes to all become pron/spammy meme-love-fests and googlearchies.

    I realise that I’ve over-stretch my commenting priviledge significantly — but what could I do? Link-bait to my blog?

    So in a nutshell: don’t use polysemic words.

  5. Mashery is phenomenal but it just flips the “horizontal” onus onto marketers that for the most part don’t have the strategic or technical prowess to take the platform and build apps from it that solve problems. I’d argue the agency world is even more compartmentalized. Where does this leave us? A bunch of affiliate hacks making quizzes is great but that is not the solution. We’ll get there but I’ve been down this road and it’s not short.

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