Interview with Geoffrey Colon, Author of Disruptive Marketing
Simon Hodgkins, Editor in Chief, VTQ
Tell us about Geoffrey Colon and what you do at Microsoft?
I’ve been at Microsoft for five years. I arrived here in 2013 right when Steve Ballmer was stepping down and they were searching for a new CEO candidate. I work mainly on Bing, Bing Ads and AI products when it comes to marketing and their adoption, but I am unlike many in big corporations in that I wear the hat of an evangelist for the company. I think everyone in this day and age represents where they work and with a large social footprint should use that to help with recruitment, culture advocacy and ways to get people interested in your company whether it is to work here or do business with us.
I also do lots of things on the side. But who doesn’t? I host a video show on LinkedIn called CULTURE JAMMING and a podcast with Cheryl Barbee called Disruptive FM. I write for Branding Strategy Insider, frequently do interviews and give presentations.
How have you found yourself on this career path? If you weren’t on this career path what career path would interest you?
I’m completely content with video and audio editing and UX. I like being behind the curtain experimenting with how different technologies intersect with one another in the fields of media, communication and technology.
What inspired you to write the book “Disruptive Marketing”?
I had the idea in 2009. I wanted to write a book about how marketing was changing because software was all about communicating and, once people adopted these methods, it would change fast and catch many off guard. But it’s one thing to have an idea, it’s another to execute it. So, I kept a notebook of what the book would look like from 2009 to 2013. Then I was introduced to a person who asked if I wanted to pitch a book (she was an agent) and I was like, “Yes, here’s my idea.” All those notes had helped get a proposal together and then the book written. I wrote it in six weeks in the summer of 2015. One of your forecasted trends is that brands that focus on Generation Z will have the advantage.
Can you expand on this a little?
We love to look at things based on age demographics, but Generation Z is a significant shift in terms of behavior. It’s not just about those born from year 2000 to now. It is how all of us have changed because of technology. We expect more filter bubbles, more personalization, more response from the companies we do business with. But that’s not happening because many companies don’t have resources and scale is difficult.
So, two things are happening:
- Companies that don’t fit into a particular vertical or niche are actually stronger than those built on scale. The reason being is these ambiguous companies can move quicker into new areas which customers are already exploring. This makes customers more comfortable with these types of companies.
- Many legacy companies existed prior to mobile communications and commerce. This hurts them as all they feel they have to do is bolt on mobile solutions and they’ll be fine. Yet, it’s not just about the device but a whole new way of thinking and living. This is difficult for many companies to accept. They are unwilling to really change because, let’s be honest, change is hard. As a result, many of these companies tank because they don’t meet customer expectations.
You’ve spoken before about the importance of really understanding customers and why they make their decisions. Do you think we will have a surge in psychologists and anthropologists in the marketing departments of the future?
Yes. Think of other fields that were changed by psychology: fighting crime comes to mind. We rarely believe that people who commit crimes just do it because they are born with crime in their DNA. Most of it is a combination of nature and nurture. Same is true of any field in which we are trying to understand people. The issue with technical marketing is it is too rational. If we think about economics in the 21st Century, Behavioural Economics really comes to the fore. All of these articles about Mad Men ceding power to Math Men is not the way to look at the world. Math Men don’t have any more power than creative people. It’s really a combination of both that is a better way to observe the world. Math can make sense of chaos, but it can’t necessarily enact change. That still comes through creative communication.
You’ve also talked about how we will have to market to robots as well as people. How can marketing teams prepare for that?
When I say robots, most think of a physical robot that walks around. That’s not where I’m going. I am referring to programmed communication interfaces that are tapped into websites and application programming interfaces (APIs). They will carry a ton of actions for us as the web becomes more of a tool for helping us to do more in our day to day. So, we have to understand how to speak with chatbots or have these chatbots speak to others or carry out actions. So much of it begins with programming. I do think over time programming will cede way to interfaces where we have to become creative in how we program for chatbots. This is where the most revolutionary communicators will do well compared to those who are very linear in how they use comms.
How can marketers stay on top of their game with the impact that Applied AI will have on marketing departments?
Most will be how does technology work with or possibly replace what a person used to do. I realize this opens many ethical queries but the marketing department of the future is one person intermixing technology to interact with people. The day and age of 50 people is probably not going to be around long and many positions will require tons of different types of work. Applied AI could help run reports and thus there is less need for analytics personas. I know this flies in the face of everything people have been told about marketing, but how one is more human will help immensely more than if they can do Excel pivot tables.
In the next five years what will be the greatest challenge for CMOs?
Understanding that what they want and need people to do in order to meet their numbers is not what people will do. Isn’t this the whole disconnect in life now? We have platforms that are developed but don’t take into account how people use them. CMOs have all sorts of products, solutions and services at their disposal and are being told, “Drive growth by 30% year over year.” But they don’t go out and listen to the environment. They just try to hack their way to growth at any cost. This isn’t efficient and it flies in the face of what people want and what we are trying to accomplish. As a result, most companies end up with flat growth. The question is whether CMOs really understand the issues of their day to day customers? Probably not. Again, lack of understanding why retail is dying can’t be surmised with the simple statement “Amazon is killing them.” That’s a simple answer to a much more complex issue. CMOs need to be the voice of the customer but probably won’t be because they are tasked with the siloed focus of growth.
Do you have advice for brands wanting to reinvent themselves and stay relevant in this constantly evolving environment?
Don’t get too fixated on your value proposition. What value you provide right now may be different if you don’t understand the intersection of various solutions in the coming months and years. For example, car companies still sell a car like a utility and luxury vehicle. But what if it’s a mapping instrument? What if it’s a computer? We are so limited in how we think of things because we lack vision. If you want to stay relevant have a vision even if others think you’re insane for having those beliefs. We used to reward mediocrity in life. Now we reward outrageous outsiders. The most innovative ideas sometimes come from outside an industry and if you’re willing to do or say things that are outrageous, you’re more likely to be known in this world than “staying on brand”.
Do you have any more books in the pipeline?
I had an idea to do a second book on visual bandits in the 21st Century. Basically, about the AR revolution that is bubbling. But no publisher wanted to touch it because most publishers are as clueless as any industry in 2018. They want simple narratives for complex issues. They just want to produce books and ship them. This is why most best sellers are the outrageous outsiders again. People want crazy books to read, but publishers are unwilling to take chances on these fringe books. I think my next book may be around emotional analytics. The need to see analytics not as math but about behaviour. We’ve yet to define this in the world, but we can if we understand what Artificial Intelligence could do to enhance an understanding of tracking emotional health. In science fiction we see software make sense of the world around us. We’re moving toward this. However, it still requires a human in the equation because humans have emotional intelligence. The book questions if STEM or emotional intelligence and empathy are really what we should pay attention to. Almost like a manifesto on the fact that critical thinking will still be a highly sought after human skill after the machines take over.
You have a podcast show, ‘Disruptive FM’. Can you tell us more about this?
I started it in my basement in 2011 back in New Jersey. I wanted to talk about the eccentric side of marketing. Weirdvertising, subvertising, outlandish stunts, things we do to attract attention. Around episode 60 I added Cheryl Barbee who is a close friend from my Ogilvy days. Cheryl is a deep strategic thinker like me. It’s been a wild ride. We try to produce a show a week but both our travel schedules got in the way in 2017. It’s a top priority for me again in 2018.
What’s next for Geoffrey Colon?
Probably more guerrilla marketing activity. I’d like to give a presentation this year at a conference where I’m not there but instead it’s me AR-enabled. It will allow me to be in two or three places at the same time. Sort of a crude way to clone myself.
This article first appeared in VTQ Magazine.
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