Keith Bates -- CMO On Call


Marshall McLuhan was wrong. Dead wrong.
In 1964 he said “The medium is the message” and since then, facile-minded people have run with that, again and again, and most recently with social media.
My mission is to correct the damage done by McLuhan and his followers. And this includes positioning social media into its proper role within the world of BtoB marketing tactics.
The reality is that The Message drives the Medium, not the other way around. The Medium must always serve the message. People are influenced by the content of the Message not the “package” in which it is delivered. Social media plays a secondary role behind the Big Idea, the heart of marketing’s Creative Strategy that determines success or failure.
McLuhan’s statement is that he feels the vehicles for distributing marketing messages (social media) are more important than the messages (ideas) themselves. Seriously?
My ambition is to restore yesterday’s emphasis on the power of the Big Idea, known as the lightning bolt that has been employed for decades in building persuasive concepts. The curation of social media can impact the message, but it can’t create it.
My passion is to help today’s BtoB marketers understand the importance of gathering the social input, reworking and strengthening the creative component, and then using the media simply to redistribute.
As for McLuhan…point made! Without content the medium is a hollow pipe.

Jan 20, 2013

Why you can’t market without

It’s true. Social Media is valuable, but simply as a tool for the distribution of the content/messages that impacts sales and branding. (better for BtoC than BtoB)

Messages in turn are heavily dependent on neuroscience and its ability to alter the brain chemistry required of changing a prospective buyer’s attitude.

Hollow pipes (social media) lack brain altering power.

The real target of our messaging efforts is not defined demographically (statistics), or psychographically (lifestyles) or even syncrographically (timing)…the target is the brain, and the challenge is to change attitudes or beliefs, which in turn change behavior. Behavior that says don’t put this off “buy it now!”

So now, the case for mind altering creativity.

The challenge for marketing creativity is to overpower, or alter, the belief cluster (sometimes referred to as the bullshit factor) that delays a prospect’s desire to purchase what you’re selling. Attitude changes occur through changes in brain chemistry … so think of yourselves, not as product managers but as chemists… working on penetration and retention.

Hollow pipes/conduits (social media) require messaging content …or they are worthless.

Where does this content originate? From both the developers of the product and the users of the product. In today’s world they influence one another. In yesterday’s world of interruption marketing it was a one way street. Not anymore. Feedback colors the content. But the point I’m making is that without viable content there is no need for media, social or otherwise. The question isn’t one of inbound vs. outbound marketing. It’s about the integration of core intelligence with text and image to create emotion evoking messages.

On the plus side social does have a role in creative…

Another way in which messaging evolves. Think about the following quote from DJ Edgerton, CEO, Zemoga, “One of the beautiful and disruptive components of social is that the cream rises to the top. The creative director doesn’t (always) decide what’s best—the audience does.”

As a way to help put social media in its proper perspective I’d like to offer the following brief excerpts from the book Converge, a superb review of today’s creative vs. social media situation drafted by Bob Lord/CEO, and Ray Velez/CTO of Razorfish… “Creativity is no longer the exclusive province of marketing and creative departments. Great ideas might come from crowd sourced creative platforms…or from your consumer, who is using social media to give you an easily accessed, always-on suggestion box for your product or brand.”

“The role for the executive creative director—or any other very senior creative’s—has become curation, not just idea generation, and collaboration.” The feedback from social needs to be gathered, reviewed, edited and put back into circulation.

And one final thought from Andrew McMains, in AdWeek, “The shift (to hire Chief Content Officers) signals a desire among media shops to evolve beyond media buying to become bonafide players in content creative. The competition is fierce with creative, media and production companies all vying for that work.

Which creates a whole new role for today’s CMO who is rapidly becoming known as a Content Marketing Officer rather than yesterday’s Chief Marketing Officer.


Dear Readers, I’d really love to get your feedback on this topic. Please take advantage of the Comment box below. Thanks in advance.




May 30, 2013

Why you can’t live without

It’s simple! A picture is worth a thousand words. We’ve all heard that line before. And its just as viable an argument today as when I first heard it many years ago.

And what are the real advantages? Speed of communication. And that’s what marketing is all about. Driving home in a memorable manner the new beliefs that are required to change your prospects buying habits. Clarity. Comprehension. Issues a graphic can get over in seconds vs. struggling with hundreds, maybe thousands, of words…which often mean different things to different people. The movement towards infographics is moving quickly. Don’t be left behind.

To quote Randy Krum of who just completed my infographic (in RH column): “InfoNewt helps companies see their data. It’s that simple. We are focused on improving visual communication, both internal and external, by using innovative data visualization and infographic design techniques.”

As my reinvigorated blog and website moves ahead over the coming months it’s my plan to help CEOs and CMOs better craft message that are strategically appropriate to the highly visual and digital world your customers live in.




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October 1, 2012

They cautioned me not to touch her for fear she’d melt. What’s an outdoor writer doing in an ice castle?

Sharpening my creative writing skills! As a member of the OWAA (Outdoor Writers Association of America) I was attending their annual convention. It was held at Chena Hot Springs, about an hour and a half from Fairbanks, Alaska. They have an ice castle on the grounds which is where Venus resides. Pretty cool.

OWAA members are more than just writers. They’re broadcasters, photographers, outdoor industry experts and more. And there’s one thing they all have in common: They’re passionate about the outdoors. If you’re passionate about the outdoors visit their site. Then you’ll see what inspired me to launch

Ad shops beginning to feel like commodities? What ever happened to the importance of ideas?

In a recent Adweek article by Andrew McMains he raises the point that ideas are being treated like commodities as brands search for marketing communications assistance.

“Rather, the main criteria are efficiencies, price and resources, according to participants. In other words, the single biggest differentiator among agencies—the ideas they conjure to build brands—won’t drive the decision. No wonder (ad) shops feel like commodities these days.” Creative Commodities. A great article. Read it. Remember, ideas drive messaging, not media.

And while we’re on the topic of message importance I’d like to share this comment from Mike Einstein on “Reach”.

In a recent Advertising Age article (Sept. 3) titled FACEBOOK, OTHERS SHOULD LOOK BEYOND TRADITIONAL RATING, REACH METRICS. Mike shares this thought with the readers. “Let’s get this straight, once and for all…Reach is an audience measurement not a supply-side metric, yet an entire generation of media executives now misconstrues and manipulates its true meaning to impart false value to impressions in the media supply.

Case in point: Facebook can crow all day long about its 900 million users, but I defy any one of those 900 million to describe an ad they encountered on Facebook that actually ‘reached’ them. The sober reality is that ads across all media channels have become trees that fall in the forest when no one is around to hear them.”



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September 1, 2012

For those of you who are regular followers of this blog please note…I’ve decided to shift gears.

I’m no longer a book reporter. I’ve decided to return to my roots, which is being a creative strategist.

One of the things I learned early in my long marketing communications career was to put the importance of messaging before the mechanics of media. More important than how messages are distributed is their content. So let’s put “da’message” before “digital”.

What I’ll be promoting is “It’s the message, not the medium” which directly contradicts Marshall McLuhan’s famous, but misunderstood message of 1964 “The medium is the message”.

McLuan’s book impacted the advertising world. See Wikipedia for the details. Or if you want to encounter heavy thinking, and the proper perspective on McLuhan’s comment, read Mark Federman’s article.

So, I contend, that before exploring the complexity of social media and the endless array of digital tools, it is important to define, and manage, the desired messaging. To compete at marketing communications, and improve the odds of eating your competitor’s lunch, you’re better off with a wordsmith, than a computer engineer.

I was inspired to make this shifting of gears by comments I discovered in the July 23, 2012 issue of Crain’s Chicago Business in their article Marketing’s focus turns to digital world. They were made by Shawn Reigsecker of Centro LLC, a Chicago-based provider of media logistics services, who stated “The…downside of data…is that marketers may be focusing on it at the expense of creativity. Advertising has always been about telling a story about a brand that makes consumers want to engage…and when it’s just about data and analytics, you miss the creativity and you miss the story.”

(Interesting that Shawn is defending creativity when his living depends on promoting media and analytics)

From Chris Brogan, “Don’t get hung up on tech”

In a year old (June 10, 2011) email/newsletter on the topic of the value of mobile vs. the value of the material being distributed Brogan says, “Think instead about how you can enable your buyers to connect with experiences in meaningful ways. That’s powerful. Who cares about the tech that brings it to you? Focus on the experience of what that’s going to do for your buyer.”

As my reinvigorated blog moves ahead over the coming months it’s my intention to help CEOs and CMOs better craft messages that are strategically appropriate to the digital world your customer now lives in.



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