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The Back Deck

Our view on navigating today’s marketing landscape

15 Oct

Native Advertising: It’s More Than Advertorial


During the last week, there’s been a lively conversation on Twitter around #nativeadvertising. Much of it was sparked by a recent webcast from the Altimeter Group’s Rebecca Lieb. Detractors seem to think that native advertising is simply a dressed up form of advertorial. However, if you give Lieb’s presentation a closer reading, you’ll see why it pays to understand the nuances at work here.

So what is native advertising? Lieb defines it as: “a form of converged media that combines paid and owned media into a form of commercial messaging that is fully integrated into and often unique to a specific delivery platform.”

Let’s break it down. Converged media, also coined by the Altimeter Group, refers to the increasing intersection of paid, owned and earned media practice. Lieb looks at native advertising as primarily falling into the paid and owned territories, while she was careful to comment in her webcast that earned media certainly comes into play in amplifying native advertising campaigns.

Brands, agencies and content creators have a huge stake in the emerging trend of native advertising. In fact, it’s becoming so prevalent that the FCC has scheduled hearings in December to study this issue. Lieb predicted FCC disclosure guidelines for native advertising to come in the near future.

Lieb’s insight for all of us is that native advertising is specific to a platform, and as marketers, we need to be fully aware of how our commercial messaging adapts, changes and can resonate within the many platforms available to us. A few tips:

  • Commercial messaging, and more importantly our CTA, in a sponsored tweet will read quite differently in a sponsored update on LinkedIn, and morphs yet again when presented as a sponsored article that appears among the headlines on
  • That strategic thinking we apply to any campaign should be present in the native advertising space as well.
  • Lieb emphasized that cross-training between media disciplines is needed now more than ever. I’m certainly finding that in practice at CMD, native advertising may be sold by CPM, but it’s rooted in content creation and almost always requires repackaging from editorial teams. 

Native advertising resources:

So do you view your work as part of native advertising? In what ways? 

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7 Oct

Why Mad Men Are Insane: Scaling the Mad Men Model

I’ve been trying to get into Mad Men on Netflix, but the suspension of disbelief is too difficult for me to achieve because the model of the show’s business and workflow of the characters seems so insanely unnatural to me. It is difficult for me to imagine a world guided by processes, relationships, conversations and business decisions that happen on a 1-to-1 scale, and on a weeks, not days, time-scale.

Modern marketing, especially content marketing, operates on a much shorter timeframe, and on a scale of 1-to-many relationships. Instead of disparate attempts to influence as many people as possible on an individual basis, the idea is to consolidate those efforts and leverage the power of relevant content across diverse channels, which multiplies the impact of each touchpoint more efficiently. At the same time, it is also about hyper-personalization. As markets have become more competitive, firms have had to increasingly chase the “longtail” of potential markets: one-size-fits-all is no longer a viable market position. It is equally untenable to hire enough salespeople to have one-on-one conversations with every potential prospect. In order to increase both the quantity and the substance of your brand with your market, a middle ground between these extremes must be found.

So how do you reach your market’s potential without being impersonal? Without getting into mathematics that would drive a Mad Man insane, consider the following:


As marketers, we’ve figured out that it is more efficient and effective to scale sales by augmenting them with content marketing. The next logical step is figuring out how to scale content marketing. Although the recipe is simple, the execution can be challenging. The solution to scaling content marketing is smart automation.

Don’t equate automation with impersonal. When executed properly, it can accelerate the sales cycle, while delivering higher-value content.  That’s because by customizing the message, channel and timing of delivery relative to the needs of each individual in our market, we create greater context: sending the right message, through the right channel, at the right time, for the right person.

This is the appeal of “marketing automation.”  Automating the delivery of content to diverse audiences at various stages of the buying cycle used to require large teams of marketers to coordinate campaigns weeks or months in advance.  With marketing automation, all the investment is done up front, and can be scaled to an infinitely large set of audiences and executed when the prospect takes action, instead of having to wait for the marketer to take action.

For example, consider a company with three primary stages of the buyer’s journey (education, consideration and selection), two buyer “personas” (individual buyers, and businesses), that operates on two continents: (North America, and Australia). In this example, a marketing team would execute 18 (3*2*3) campaigns on a cadence and frequency that is limited by the size of the team executing them.

In the same example, once the content and business rules are set, marketing automation can manage the execution of the campaign(s) automatically as people engage and flow through the funnel. This has the advantage of delivering the content in a timely context for the user that encourages deeper engagement over the life of the buying cycle. The prospect will not only get the information they need at a time that is best suited for them, but through a channel that they use and in a context they prefer.

Note that this doesn’t do away with the 1-to-many creative “Batch and Blast” type campaigns, or the 1-to-1 engagements of a sales team. But what it does is scale and filter people into the right level of engagement for their level of relationship with a brand, preserving the focus on what matters to both your prospect and your brand.

With the right synergy between audience, content and scale, this contextually driven relationship increases the throughput of content investments. It also increases conversions, and reduces sales cycles by breaking content delivery out of a cycle that doesn’t sync with the prospect.

What are some examples that you’ve seen of contextual or personalized emails that hit the right (or wrong) depth of relationship/context for a product, brand or company?

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3 Oct

Me, Myself & I: Millennials’ Impact on Marketing


Seems like Millennials are the latest marketing flavor of the month. Everyone’s talking about them and how best to reach them. And it’s no wonder why: this generation represents a huge segment of the population (75million+).

Our partners at Iconoculture recently gave us a download of their newest study about Millennials. Here’s a quick rundown of some characteristics common among this fascinating age group (18-35-year-olds):

  • Top priorities include: success, loyalty, authenticity, happiness.
  • Top values include: identity, individuality, self-expression, flexibility, experience.
  • Success for this generation isn’t defined completely by monetary status; there’s a shift away from success being tied to money. Success is more around being able to achieve personal goals.
  • They’re predicted to be the first generation that is not as well-off as their family. That said, Iconoculture describes this generation as having “tempered optimism.”  Happiness shows up as a top priority for them, which is a major generational shift.
  • Research shows this generation lives their lives with purpose and intent. They will not be motivated to do something just because they “should”—they need a reason. They feel like they have other choices. Personal choice and taking control of their own destiny are huge motivators. This generation is all about discovery, curiosity and exploration.
  • They have taken a lot of cues from GenXers as they’ve grown up. Tech nativity is a major characteristic, and they view it as a “great enabler and connector.”
  • Differences can be found between older and younger Millennials. Older ones are comfortable with tech, but they do remember dial-up and the dot-com boom and bust. They were also more impacted by the recession, tech wasn’t necessarily just handed to them and they have some adopting to do. Younger Millennials take “always on, always connected” for granted. For both, however, mobile devices are at the center of their world.
  • For brands, there is not the same level of loyalty. This generation has a hard time with commitment and ownership of big long-term purchases such as homes, cars and investments. It’s important to them to be seen as “savvy” consumers. They want to be in the know, for example, on how things are made. Unique stories compel them.
  • They don’t have as high of a level of brand loyalty—this audience needs to see how your brand is important today.
  • Purchase behavior is harder to predict and track. They think much differently when it comes to what is a “need,” a “want,” an “indulgence” and a “splurge.”
  • This generation is all about media multi-tasking. Content is key and they expect it to be served up wherever they share.
  • On social, they’re becoming a lot savvier on how and what they share. Millennials are their own personal brand marketers, thinking about their audience and how what they post impacts their image.
  • For all marketing, authenticity is key. They can’t really define it, but “they’ll know it when they see it.” Anything that feels like it’s trying too hard feels inauthentic immediately. Likewise, anything that feels too much like marketing, especially half-assed, cause-related marketing is not going to resonate with them.

Read here for more on millennial marketing.

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13 Sep

CMD Ad of the Day: Xbox One and the NFL


Microsoft rolled out its first Xbox One ad during the opening game of the NFL last week on NBC. The 30-second spot, created by CMD, scored a touchdown from Engadget and CNET as it showcases the gaming console’s broad home entertainment offerings including Skype calling and fantasy football integration.

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10 Sep

Embracing Rose City Bike Culture


One of the great things about working at CMD is the way the company embraces the Rose City’s bike culture. Bike commuting is actively encouraged year-round, with a lot of extra support for people who get into the saddle for the Bike Commute Challenge each September. And, as an art director, I get to spend my days crafting the visual language of all the things we make for our clients: websites, mobile apps, brochures, you name it. It’s a process where I’m fortunate to work with some really talented individuals. This brings me to Studio 3 photography studio, and partnering on a creative project that reflects my personal passion for cycling as well as that embraced by Portland and CMD.

First Ride with Studio 3

I first worked with Studio 3 in December 2010, shooting bird’s eye views of two Western Star trucks. It wasn’t an easy shoot, given the sheer size of the trucks. And thanks to the unpredictable nature of Pacific Northwest skies in winter, we were forced to shoot inside a warehouse. In that kind of a situation, you can only get an angle so wide before running into problems with distortion. But Craig Wagner, the photographer from Studio 3, was very methodical in overcoming these logistic issues. Over the two days we shot, we bonded over a mutual appreciation for all things on wheels, be it two, four or eighteen. That shoot was just the beginning of a strong professional relationship, and then this past spring, something got us talking about my old bike.


Customizing the Touring Bike

I’ve been customizing this vintage Trek touring bike since the birth of my young son. It had sat in my garage, collecting dust for several years, because it’s so much heavier than my aluminum road bike and I tend to opt for speed. But it’s always been a great bike. The steel frame gives it a really comfortable ride. It reminds me of the matching yellow Schwinns that my parents used to pedal me around on. When I started thinking about how to introduce my boy to cycling, I swapped out the drop bars for mustache bars (to accommodate a front-mounted child seat). This gave the bike a totally different look, and I suddenly developed a new appreciation for the bike’s classic styling. Soon after, I added a Brooks leather saddle and matching bar tape. Then it kind of took on a life of its own. Slow_Ride_BadgeSince then, I continue to adjust little details like striped white tires, or black dice valve covers. My latest addition was designing the “Slow Ride” aluminum head badge, which I had made at International Graphics. “Slow Ride” was influenced by a few things: My son’s ‘70s-era, Evel Knievel helmet, and the fact that the bike weighs upwards of 30 pounds. We won’t be winning any races on this thing, but that’s hardly the point of our rides.

“Slow Ride” Photoshoot

I was thrilled that Craig was interested in collaborating on a “Slow Ride” shoot featuring the customized bike. As an art director, I really admire his attention to detail and the way he plans a shot. He’s keenly aware of potential challenges, and always has a good solution for telling a story through his lens. Half the fun of this shoot was working together on the idea, putting together moodboards, and scouting locations. As he tells it: “Working with Lawrence’s “Slow Ride” concept was fun and allowed me plenty of creative freedom. The mood boards were coherent and well designed.  With a clear understanding of the desired outcome and tone, we were ready to go. I look forward to many more future projects with Lawrence’s creative concept development and the CMD team!”

The Journey Continues

There are more awesome takes and observations from the “Slow Ride” shoot with Craig and team on Studio 3’s blog, plus you too can get involved in this year’s Bike Commute Challenge by visiting the website.

Editor’s Note: At CMD, we’ve been participating in the Bike Commute Challenge since 2006, growing our team each September. Beyond what’s going on in the greater biking community, CMDers get prizes and activities to keep our bikers pumped up (as it were) and ready ride every day. Follow our faithful cyclists on Facebook and Twitter for fun updates and photos, plus updates on Instagram under the hashtag #bikecmd13. 

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6 Sep

CMD Ad of the Day: Eggceptional Work for NW Natural’s Latest Advertising Campaign

In a potential emergency, how you respond makes all the difference. For NW Natural, their message of safety is a top priority. And they want to make sure that their customers are listening.

But how do you share your safety message in a memorable way that has broad appeal with audiences—without coming across like a typical PSA? This was what CMD was tasked with accomplishing for NW Natural’s latest TV ad campaign, titled “Little Leaks.”

A 30-second spot features digitally animated “rotten egg” characters that leak into the house and wreak havoc, with the purpose of reminding viewers of one of NW Natural’s key safety messages: Smell. Go. Let us know.

“The Little Leaks campaign offers a fun, emotional and memorable connection to NW Natural and natural gas safety, making it about more than just a gas company,” said Jeff Nichols, creative director at CMD.

CMD tapped Hinge Digital in Portland to bring the idea to life with creative, entertaining animation that appears on-screen along with shot footage and actors that help tell the story. The animated characters were key to creating a memorable, emotional connection to the message.

NW Natural is expanding awareness for the Little Leaks campaign by leveraging the rotten egg characters in other marketing channels, including a newspaper ad and a Twitter contest.

The spot is airing now across broadcast stations in Portland and Eugene, including KATU, KGW, KPTV, KEZI, KMTR, KVAL and Comcast.

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27 Aug

From BlogHer’13: Social ROI Questions Keeping Bloggers Up at Night


“BlogHer is a snake meal of ideas in a wonton wrapper of love. Afterwards you need a two-day nap, then it nourishes you for a year.”@debontherocks

Well, it’s been a few weeks since my snake meal and requisite post-conference nap, and those ideas are still percolating. It was a big privilege to participate in the conference in Chicago this year, and especially to share an agency perspective on communicating social ROI with a room full of talented content creators.

The bloggers who attended had excellent questions, and for those who didn’t attend or follow on the BlogHer virtual conference, here’s a short discussion of some of the compelling questions that the community raised.

What are the baseline ROI metrics brands want to see?

To me, there isn’t a magic number, so here’s my advice: As a content creator, you’ve got to be honest with your sponsors, of course, and you’ve got to know where your sponsored programs fit in the sales funnel. For sponsors who are looking for awareness, at the top of the funnel, they’ll likely want to see as many impressions as you can muster. For sponsors who are more focused on qualitative programs, like receiving feedback during a product trial, they will be seeking a highly engaged community that is focused in their target area.

If I have 1,000 followers, that equals 1,000 impressions, right?

This is a common misperception of the term “impressions.” Impressions simply means the opportunity to view content, and it is a machine-driven (algorithm) calculation, not a simple 1:1 ratio. In the case of Facebook, you need to rely on Facebook Insights for your page to calculate the total opportunity to view your content. For Twitter-sponsored content, rely on an accepted tool, like Tweetreach, to calculate impressions on your content. There are tools becoming available for Pinterest and other popular social networks as well.

What if you’re just getting started and you can’t point to sponsored tactics that have worked well with brands in the past?

Be ready to define your community in both demographic and psychographic terms, and express strongly to a potential partner the activities you feel will resonate.

I need the brands I work with to give back to my community, not just expect me to give my capital to them. How do I address that?

Outline the “gives and gets.” For example, if it is important to you to have a sponsor give you a shout-out on their social networks, ask for it and put it in your contract!

Did you follow the news from BlogHer’13? Which speakers or topics caught your attention this year?


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20 Aug



We love SXSW. Tons of fresh ideas and thought-provoking approaches. But every year, we are somewhat struck by the fact that there are many Northwest agencies, firms and brands that can rival the best of them when it comes to innovative, creative thinking. That’s why this year, we’re tossing our hat in the ring too and humbly ask that if you like the topics we’re proposing below and think they have some merit as part of the SXSW line up for 2014, please do us a favor and vote for them.

The SXSW Panel Picker is open until Sept. 6. It’s easy to vote once you’ve registered here Direct links to some of our proposed panel session can also be found below. As always, we very much appreciate your consideration and thank you in advance for your support.

Proposed session #1: Tear Down Those Walls! Implode Your Community

Wake up brand and social media managers: Stop trying to build a walled-off fortress to your community, expecting fans to beat a path to your door. Instead, blow up your existing community and go to where your audience already is, giving them  great experience no matter how they choose to interact with you (via mobile apps, social, partner programs, in-person). Real life example from a dynamic Microsoft community will be explored, which is sure to inspire you to think differently about community engagement too. Vote here:

Proposed session #2: Your Corporate Blog Needs a Facelift

Have the blogging blahs? Think a blog strategy doesn’t work for business audiences? Think again. Based on a behind-the-scenes case study of the Best Corporate Blog of the Year as named by BtoB magazine, this session answers burning questions… like how to bring your blog back from the dead. Vote here:

Proposed session #3: Cracking the Code for Content Marketing

Not a day goes by where most marketers don’t hear the words, “We need more content from influencers!” This session takes idea that often sits on the backburner with the brand team and turns the heat on full blast. Learn how Expedia created an entire platform for prominent travel bloggers to showcase and share their talents – all for the benefit of the brand and to drive demand gen. Vote now:

Proposed session #4: Dude, Where’s My Mobile Tour Digital Strategy?

When most marketers think of mobile tours, they probably dream of tricked out trucks. But the real engine is to kick it out of neutral and put the effort into extending the experience online to reach a much bigger audience. This session feature a page out of Columbia Sportswear’s book for how to connect both and on and offline mobile strategy in a way that drives home a product launch strategy in more powerful ways. Vote now:

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16 Aug

CMD Incubator Group Explores the Latest Social Media Trends and Tools

The CMD incubator group congregated for a special lunch session this week to continue its regular exploration into the latest trends in social media advertising and engagement tools. There were representatives from every part of the agency including earned media, paid media, digital strategy, technical services and creative.

Everyone came together for a lively and thoughtful conversation as we dived into a variety of interesting topics including new sponsorship and advertising opportunities on LinkedIn, experiences from BlogHer and a new social media tool offering exciting opportunities for engagement.

Here’s a quick download on what we discussed:

New LinkedIn Opportunities, presented by @JulieYli

The Download: LinkedIn is opening up a host of advertising and sponsorship opportunities for companies. Some of the new updates include sponsored updates for companies, more advanced targeting options, additional sponsored group levels, and sponsored InMail as well as sponsored channels on SlideShare.

Strengths: Advanced targeting capabilities and some recent pilots are showing positive results. New self-service options for ads lower cost of entry significantly.

Weaknesses: Can be relatively expensive. Sponsored group levels can range from $20,000 per month to up to $2,000,000 per year. Most advertising options require a formal company page.


Experiences from BlogHer, presented by @JulieY 

The Download: Julie Yamamoto, managing director, earned media, shared notes from her presentation at this year’s BlogHer conference. Julie’s presentation helped bloggers understand how to quantify ROI, and an overview of what bloggers can provide to agencies and companies to better assist with sponsored content decisions. We’re looking forward to seeing how bloggers use this information to provide more valuable metrics to companies from their sponsored content efforts.

New Social Media Engagement Opportunities from ThingLink, presented by @Liz_John & @MessengerBird85

LTThe Download: This is an interesting new social media tool that enables users to post images with embedded interactive touch points that can
include video, supportive text, another image, links and more. The images can be used in Facebook posts, Twitter, and Tumblr, as well as embedded in websites.

Strengths: Several free options for companies to use for pilots. Great opportunities for businesses to add new engagement. Integrated follow and content galleries open up user access to historic content. Works with mobile devices.

Weaknesses: Not many! Mobile devices will work but there’s some optimization that could be done to fine-tune the experience. Also, content first appears as a video in users’ newsfeed and then switches to a static image with interactive elements, which could be confusing for some.


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13 Aug

10+ Tips for Optimizing Your Email Content

In a recent white paper, I wrote extensively on optimizing email content. Read on below for an excerpt, beginning with a “Top 10″ list of tips to get your email program moving. 


1)    Integrate email into your overall content strategy. Use email as a testing ground for types of content and tone. A good email program will be the single largest driver to your content.

2)    Put a learning program in place, so ideas are tested, learnings are captured, each email gets better and the learnings are shared with the larger content program.

3)    Define a voice for your email. Is it the witty neighbor, the helpful expert, the loquacious socialite?

4)    Are the subject lines intriguing and descriptive? They should compel the recipient to want to see more.

5)    Determine the focus of each send. Have a theme and a clear hierarchy.  Make it clear which CTA is the most important.

6)    Use seasonal themes, pop culture references, topical issues to help be relevant to the audience.

7)    Mix your content types. Include videos, lists, best-ofs, etc.  Headlines that include a number often perform 10-20% better than other content.

8)    Develop content that spans issues and motivates the reader to open the mail issue after issue. Some popular features include poll results, top articles from the previous month and unique stats.

9)    Build your sharing tools around content, not the email itself. No one wants to share a marketing email; they want to share a story.

10) Incorporate some basic marketing automation and list segmentation. Develop a strategy to reengage non-openers, integrate content into transactional emails, and optimize call-to-actions based on segments.



Having a consistent and unique voice is critical to building a long-term relationship. By defining the attributes of the voice, you help set the tone for the entire newsletter.


You’ve gone to the trouble to collect email addresses, so it doesn’t hurt to put some effort into trying to retain those people who might not be opening your email anymore. Put together a program to track opens by individual and consider applying some of the below tactics:

  • Periodically resend your best newsletters to people who didn’t open them the first time. Be sure to wait at least a week before resending, and change the subject line. You don’t want to do this for every newsletter, just the ones you think will help keep your audience engaged.
  • Consider special offers or incentives to reengage consistent non-openers.
  • Create a list of people who haven’t opened the last three issues, and see if there are any patterns in behavior from this group over the last 12 months.


Only two things matter when people receive your email: the recipients’ relationship with your brand and your subject line. If you test nothing else, test your subject lines. If they don’t open your email, they’ll never see the great content.

Subject line rules:

  • Be brief: 30-35 characters
  • Be descriptive
  • Promote the content, not the newsletter
  • Be intriguing. Everyone loves a little mystery.
  • Amplify your voice. Take the voice you’ve established for the newsletter and use the subject line as a caricature of that voice.


Each issue should have a theme that is relevant to the audience. The theme can be based on the subject matter, a culturally relevant issue or even a time of year. Use an editorial calendar to manage the themes and the content. Map these themes to other touch points like social media.


Come up with a list of key attributes for content and a filter to determine what goes into the newsletter and what doesn’t. About the content, ask yourself:

  1. Is it relevant?
  2. Does it drive usage, sales, adoption, etc.?
  3. Does it provide traffic to a priority campaign?
  4. Is it likely to be shared?
  5. Can we learn from it?

Establish a content mix that contains the ideal ration of CTAs and content types. As part of the learning program, test and establish standards for the mix. What’s your content attempting to accomplish: engagement, relevance, performance? Identify content areas and track first four sends to determine highest engagement, as well as look to incorporate cross-program and cross-promotional content with other marketing programs


Most content consists of text and an image in a traditional article format. However, this is often not the best performing type of content. Supplement articles with video and images with video icons on them. These types of posts are clicked 40% more than all other content on average. Lists, slideshows, and reoccurring features also perform quite well.

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