The Digitization of Human Interactions: From Long Tail to Mass Disruption


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“Because the purpose of business is to create and keep a customer, the business enterprise has two, and only two, basic functions: Marketing and Innovation.” – Peter Drucker

Last week I had the pleasure of spending some time at Online Marketing Summit at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel.

Aaron Kahlow founded the conference several years ago and it has seen tremendous growth in just a few years. In fact, it was acquired just a few months ago, and added to the growing list of brands at UBM TechWeb.

We are in the midst of a sizable evolution. That’s no surprise or epiphany to most of us. But peeling a layer or two off of the onion reveals deeper insights about what’s really happening, and more importantly, where senior marketers, should be allocating their money and time.

Marketing’s longtail (online, digital, seo) first became a fringe disruptor of marketing strategies (where we’ve been over the last 15 years or so), and has moved its way steadily towards securing its place as a core component of marketing practice (a few years into this journey now). In some organizations, it leads the way and sets the primary agenda related to an organization’s customer acquisition and retention strategies. For others, that change is quickly coming. Moving forward, “digital” not only will rule marketing, but has the potential to re-define entire business models (think what’s happened to books, music, media).

This once small sliver of the marketing universe is slowly and steadily charging its way to the label enabler of mass disruption.

Considering this phenomenon in 2006, specifically assessing Threadless’ new innovative crowdsourced manufacturing business model, Tim O’Reilly asked How far off is a future in which the creative economy overflows the thin boundary that separates ‘information’ from ‘stuff’?

If we consider for a moment the growth of gaming, augmented reality, digital and social network engagement, coupled with the rapidly expanding worlds of mobile and cloud computing, the very fabric of human interactions is being rewired. This clearly has significant implications on one core societal function: commerce, and with it of course, marketing.

Below are 5 key takeaways solidified during my time at #OMS12.


The content marketing drum has continued to get louder over the last decade. According to a 2012 study by the Content Marketing Institute;

  • 90% of B2B marketers do some kind of content marketing whether they realize it or not, and
  • 60% of B2B marketers intend to spend more on content marketing in the next 12 months.

It was a central theme at the conference, highlighted at 3 sessions I attended:

“The difference between good and great content marketing,” by Joe Pulizzi
“From Content to Customer” by Joe Chernov
“Integrating Social, SEO & Content” by Lee Odden

(You can find my raw session notes by clicking on the links above. There are plenty of good nuggets in there.)

Despite content marketing’s strong growth, 41% of the marketers in the CMI study said that their greatest challenge was creating content that engages prospects and customers.

I suspect that is because we are witnessing a changing of the guard. Brochureware, product feature catalogues, and brand messages just don’t resonate in a world where attention is the greatest and scarcest of resources.

Experienced marketers are having to unlearn what they know and relearn new tools and methodologies. Many new marketers don’t have the framework and business savvy that comes with experience to put all the pieces together.

Joe Pulluzi and Joe Chernov, respectively, reinforced the idea of creating something of extreme value and then giving it away for free. Social networks allow word of mouth referrals to take place with unprecedented speed and reach, and studies have shown that people are much less likely to share a heavily branded or gated piece of content. In their own words, they underscored the importance of establishing a position of expertise, providing something that is worth their attention, and talking about yourself as little as possible.

Advertisers have long used the concept of product placement for branding purposes within a context that is usually devoid of ads. This philosophy can now be applied across a wide range of mediums and content forms. Subtly branded communities (Proctor & Gamble has several), whitepapers, blogs, eBooks and infographics (HubSpot and Eloqua have done some really good things here) are all ways to fill the top of the funnel.

If you haven’t seen it, DC shoes shows how an experience can be created within a piece of content that resonates with a target audience. It’s a prime example of marketing innovation that has garnered more than 15,000,000 views to date.

Facebook is betting the farm on these principles with their announcement and foray into the world of “Sponsored Stories”, where sponsored content will be embedded within the context of “friends” digital interactions across the web.

While the manifestation of B2C vs. B2B content marketing may ultimately look significantly different, the underlying principles remain the same.


Ironically, the exponentially increasing amount of digital content and digital interactions is creating overwhelmingly large sets of content, information, and data. Known to many as the issue of “Big Data”, appropriate filters and tools are increasingly important to help decision makers convert massive data sets into meaningful insights, which should ultimately contribute to critical decision making.

Asterdata, acquired last year by TeraData is using its technology to help marketers make sense of unstructured data from varying data sources to better understand the pulse of their marketplace.

The increasingly crowded Social Media Monitoring space was represented at the conference by Radian6, Marketwire Sysomos, and a relatively new entrant to the party named Metavana.

Metavana is particularly interesting for 2 reasons:

1. They claim that their sentiment analysis engine is 90% accurate, which quite frankly is hard to believe, as that practically would far exceed industry norms.
2. In partnership with Satmetrix, they are the exclusive provider of Social NPS – a “Net Promoter Score (NPS) derived from the expressions of sentiment on the social web.”

Claim number 2 is a HUGE (and hard to believe) claim that a previously structured classification (NPS survey response) can now be gleaned from unstructured social signals. These two points alone deserves some time, but this post is already bordering on eBook length, so we’ll save that for another day.

That said, Metavana has an impressive leadership team, and are ones to watch in the space.


Because more and more of our lives are taking place in the context of a digital medium, digital footprints are being left across the web for marketers to examine. One of the major themes at the conference was the concept of “attribution”, or assigning the proper weight to multiple interactions that may have ultimately contributed to a purchase (or conversion). Up until recently, the “lead source” was typically attributed to the last conversion point, ignoring whether a prospect had had several interactions with an organization across multiple channels prior to that. New technology aims to properly identify, understand and weight each interaction for the amount that it contributed to a purchase or conversion, properly attributing impact of various touches on purchasing related actions during the buying cycle.

Amanda Kahlow, new VP of Consumer Intelligence for Business Online, highlighted how she had developed a program for Cisco, and other organizations, to understand customer and prospect digital signals to ultimately predict purchase behavior. In an interesting narrative about sifting through millions of data points and trying to find patters in the data, their algorithm was ultimately able to predict which prospects and customers were most ready to buy, and what size their order might be. This type of understanding and insight allowed Cisco to:

  • Do better targeted marketing
  • Alert sales, partners, resellers with the right leads and opportunities
  • Measure marketing effectiveness
  • Allow lead scoring to be data driven instead of using arbitrary numbers.

In the end, it’s a story of properly aligning resources with greatest marketplace opportunities in real time to maximize returns for the organization. As more and more buyers interact with digital content, it paves the way for new opportunities for organizations to listen and respond.


As a society, we continue to journey down a path from Big, Crude, and Manual to Small, Measured, and Automatic. In the marketing context, that means that we’ve transitioned from broadcast messages with an ask to buy to strategic analysis of buyer’s purchasing journeys and finely articulated responses to each of their actions, with an understanding that there is a detailed set of psychological drivers and interests at each stage of their journey,

It’s the job of marketing (and sales) to understand and align with that journey. The growth of marketing automation, revenue performance management, or whatever the vendors are calling themselves this month, is about automating interactions in the right way, at the right time, on the right channel, in response to prospects signals during the course of their purchasing journeys. Armed with continuous feedback (structured and unstructured, explicit and implicit), marketers increasingly have the opportunity to sense and respond to customer and prospect needs in real time.


What’s interesting to me is that the ubiquitousness of digital connection, and increasingly pervasive social network interactions has created a bifurcation in marketing’s focus. The social web has created a seeming “renaissance of transparency”. Being human and real is an often stated mantra for agencies and organizations to follow. The crowd demands it, and is now louder the companies ability to brand themselves. However, more so than ever before, marketing has become data driven, with marketers often moving deeper into the sales cycle, and being held to higher levels of accountability. There is a risk of the left brain taking over too much of the spotlight.

The greatest challenge for marketers today is precisely blending the art of storytelling with the science of analytics for maximum impact in their marketplace.


The conference was great. Many attendees told me they had TOO MUCH to take back and work on. It was nice to catch up with some old friends, meet new ones, and get to know some folks a little better. While we are undergoing a dramatic shift, the old fundamentals of understanding your customer, and responding in a way that resonates is still firmly in place. Technology is changing how our customers behave, communicate, and expect organizations to respond. Organization who do this best will thrive. If these things aren’t yet on your radar, or you’ve shoved social media, content marketing, and/or marketing automation off into a figurative little dark corner within your organization, it may make sense to provide them with a cubicle or office space. Used properly, it holds potential for significant impact. Ignoring these over the long term may relegate your entire organization into that dark insignificant corner.

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Republished with author's permission from original post.

Brian Vellmure
For more than a decade, Brian Vellmure has impacted hundreds of companies on their journey towards increased profitability through strategic customer focused initiatives. For more insightful thoughts and resources, please subscribe to Brian's blog by clicking here


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