About Ed Youngblood

I am a B2B technology marketing and communications veteran. Messaging and communications – written, verbal and visual – are some of my “hard” skills. Today, I advise, write and speak about digital transformation and its impact to marketing and sales. I help business leaders understand the evolving intersection of technology and people, creating strategies to systematically engage, articulate and deliver compelling value. You can find me most often on: LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/edyoungblood/ Twitter: @yngbld5

Tools of Ignorance or Masters Degree in Strategy?


The Tools of Ignorance?

Many baseball fans are familiar with the expression “tools of ignorance.” It is credited with some uncertainty to both Muddy Ruel and Bill Dickey. If the phrase is new to you, here is one definition from April 4, 1944 Sporting News:


“Players call the catcher’s armor the ‘tools of ignorance.’ Outfielders contend that no one in their senses would clutter themselves up with a mask, a heavy chest protector and weigh down their legs with shin guards. All of this when the mercury is trying to climb out of the top of the tube, and those outfielders are on vacation, waiting for something to happen.”


Avid fans are also likely aware of the fact that ex-catchers dominate the managerial role in Major League Baseball.

The 2014 MLB World Series is upon us. Both managers in this years fall classic are ex catchers – Bruce Botchy of the San Francisco Giants and Ned Yost of the Kansas City Royals. It’s not a coincidence. Catchers are accomplished strategists and team leaders.

Baseball loves statistics so let’s start with some numbers.

  • 43% (13 of 30 teams) – Former catchers in 2014 managing MLB teams.
  • 42.5% (17 of 40) – Former catchers recognized as American or National League Manager of the Year over the past two decades
  • 52.5% (21 of 40) – Former catchers who led their teams to the MLB World Series as managers in the past 20 years

Surprised? I’m not. The “tools of ignorance” are anything but.

Catchers play a unique role on the team. Analysis is a constant – every pitch, out, inning and game. They spend their careers behind the plate evaluating a series of “what if” questions, instantly profiling scenarios and making decisions designed to reach the best potential outcome. Like chess, baseball is a very situational game but with a much higher degree of personal interaction. Experienced catchers see the little things that make a difference in a game and in a series, both physically and psychologically. Those that pursue, excel and embrace the position are rewarded with an advanced education in tactical strategy and relationship management. Ned Yost and Bruce Botchy are this year’s World Series examples.

Nothing in this world has universal appeal. For some, watching baseball is the equivalent to watching grass grow. I’m not in that camp. I watched the grass grow from behind home plate where I grew up, matured and reached middle age. I’ve loved baseball for as long as I can remember. I grew up in the endless summers of Southern California where rain is rare and the worst of winter is the equivalent of fall in most other parts of the United States. Borrowing liberally from Roger Kahn’s book title “The Boys of Summer,” I was one of those boys, playing virtually every day as a kid. And I didn’t stop until I was forty-something.

Not everyone appreciates the impact participation in sports can have on a life. Athletics teach many, many things and the lessons are different for each sport, and each participant. I can only speak for myself, but in retrospect I leverage what learned from decades of baseball and catching every day – professionally and personally.

Here are many of the things catchers understand that help them excel at their position and as they adapt to new challenges:

  1. Teamwork – success and winning is directly proportional to how a team works together. Take care of teammates and they take care of you.
  2. Model scenarios quickly – every action has a reaction. Consider your goal, the likely outcomes of alternative options, and then make a decision.
  3. Leadership & communication – as catcher you’re view is unique to your role and position. Decide on the plan, communicate adjustments and ensure everyone understands the situation. Achieve this, and everyone is a better contributor.
  4. Trust your instincts and improvise when needed – situations often do not go as planned.
  5. Let go – learn from mistakes but don’t dwell on the past or what you can’t control.
  6. Perseverance – don’t give up, anything can happen even if it seems highly unlikely.
  7. Watch for and recognize the little things – they are important clues to improving future decisions.
  8. Adversity – it happens. Deal with it.
  9. Confidence and optimism – believe in yourself and your team. Fear of failure cannot guide you.
  10. Trust – in team, teammates, family and friends.
  11. Respect and empathy – everyone is doing their best. Bad days happen and those having them feel as crappy about it as you do when you have them. This includes umpires.
  12. Relationships matter – particularly pitchers and umpires. The better your relationship with each, the better the outcome.
  13. Managing up – Umpires can be your best friend or your worst enemy. Pick one.
  14. Make everyone better – it’s part of the job and by doing so, the team is better.

Please share. What are the important life-lessons athletics have brought you?


This article was originally published on LinkedIn on October 25, 2014 during the World Series.

Every Shade of Grey – The New Reality For CIOs


Every-Shade-of-Grey

It wasn’t long ago that the CIO mandate was simple to define.  The role was clear and operational, customers were internal and IT was transactional.  CIOs managed a necessary cost center; not yet the competitive differentiator it has become.  The role of business IT was “clear,” well defined, and not particularly ambiguous. It was black and white.

All of that has changed. The business technology role, and the decisions CIO’s face today are anything but black and white. “The cloud” is a metaphor for not only service and application delivery, but is equally descriptive of how hard it is to see what’s around the corner.  Grey is about as clear as the IT crystal ball gets today.

The digital era is here.  Are you ready?
The digital era is redefining everything it touches. It is transforming business models and disrupting established markets.  The momentum of trends like mobility, data and the Internet of Things (IoT) will continue to accelerate change.  Can you see the future impact to your business, or what you need to support it? Are you ready?

Ready or not, the IT mandate today is to be a strategic, outcome-focused partner within your business.  IT must approach technology systems as revenue catalysts, a competitive differentiator that defines success not by transactions, but by measurable contributions to revenue and efficiency.

There are many legacy barriers, however. Let’s pretend for a moment:

  • That the great recession did not occur
  • That past tech investments are capable of adapting to the digital age
  • And IT processes, skills and resources are keeping pace with transformational technologies and the expectations management and customers

This is a fantasy, of course.

The harsh reality is that for most enterprises, about 80% of IT spend is dedicated to keeping legacy infrastructure running and operational.  Managing the existing network is reactive and manual. It’s a bit like the story of the little Dutch boy and the dam. Duct tape is a great resource, but it’s a Band-Aid, not a strategy.

The infinite question – what’s next?
What’s the next major trend to impact your business, and will you be ready? “Will the decisions made today enable us to adapt and scale quickly? That’s the most important criteria.” said one CIO recently. “What is clear today is that being a customer-focused digital business is essential. The terminally grey question – one without a static or predicable answer – is how.”

While we may not be able to predict the ultimate impact of ubiquitous mobility or big data, we can predict the critical role of the new generation of intelligent network infrastructures to enable it.   Though the future of trends such as SDN and IoT remain hazy, it is clear that the network must be able to automatically adapt to them in milliseconds, not days.  It’s clear that the application economy will demand networks be more than just passively aware, they must be application fluent, intelligent and responsive.  Infrastructure must be designed to anticipate choked data flows and adapt automatically, not force administrators to react and respond to help desk tickets with little more insight than “the network is slow.”

For CIOs, one of the few black and white realities today is the need to be agile enough to adjust to the grey areas of a business landscape in digital transition.

—————-

This article was originally created for Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise, appearing on their blog in July, 2015.

Open letter from a CMO to a CIO (and other IT leaders)


Dear IT,

You and I both know the history of our relationship has not been particularly close over the years. A decade ago we shared few interests, but things have changed. Where once we had little in common, today we need each other to be successful. I hope you agree.

Lately, I‘ve felt the need to share some disturbing and recurring visions I keep having. Understandably, your first thought might be “I hardly know you, why bring this problem to me?” Because you too are experiencing tremendous pressure and changes in your role as CIO, which tells me you can empathize. And frankly, I need to share it with someone who can appreciate my pain.

I hope you’ll hear me out.

I haven’t slept well in months. I keep having these disturbing dreams that when I’m at work, I have blocks of cement on my feet. Every time I try to affect change or adapt to changing customer trends, I can barely move. And, I’m not alone. My team is wearing lead shoes, as are so many others. The dream has different outcomes, but none end well. That’s when I typically wake up.

Again, you ask yourself “Why me?” Let me explain.

As I was reading Forrester’s Digital Business Imperative report the other day, I was painfully reminded of the growing impact digital everything is having on our personal and professional lives. Traditional marketing tactics are no longer relevant and plug-and-play is no longer enough for either one of us. As CIO, you appreciate the steep challenge of digital evolution; after all, you and your teams are on the front lines, defining and managing technology.  Lets be honest with each other, both our classical measures of value are barely relevant today.

Forrester pointedly states how urgently business leaders must harness digital technologies, not only to deliver the digital experience customers expect but also to increase competitive market position. Digital is transforming our business in every way, at a pace that feels like it’s almost overnight. Though the analysts refer to it as “transformation,” it feels a lot more like revolution.

How’s this for revolution – Gartner predicts that by 2017, marketing will control more IT budget and technology than you will? As a marketing leader I find that prediction staggering. I don’t mind telling you that we are not equipped to go it alone. Though I remain unconvinced of their prediction, I do know that we need each other to be successful. We need to work together. I’m convinced it’s time for a reset.

I’ve come to realize lately that we hardly know each other after all these years. In fact, I suspect that our perceptions of each other, our roles and our organizations, are fundamentally wrong.   Though our professional paths have been quite different, customers, technology and digital business are common threads redefining both our professions in ways we never imagined, and insisting we redefine ourselves. To be honest, I welcome the challenge.

Most important, we need to get ahead of the curve strategically, or we will slip further behind operationally and financially. There is a lot of change for us to manage and we cannot continue to bolt new technologies onto old models. So the question before us is how, when and where do we begin?

Sincerely,

Your new best friend,
Marketing
———–

This article was originally published on LinkedIn Pulse on June 30, 2015.

Why? The delta between innovation objectives and abilities.


A recent survey by the Palladium Group found that 93% of respondents believed that excellence in innovation would be critical to their success in the coming years. However, just 36% of the almost 1400 companies surveyed believed that they were good at innovating. In fact, most felt that they were poor at all forms of innovating – such as product/service and process innovation as well as business model innovation.

Innovation, a bridge too far?

A bridge too far? Can innovation be achieved in risk-averse cultures?
© Mikhail Shifrin | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Why is there such a massive gap between the importance of innovation and perceived abilities? Innovation means change, and change is hard.

What must organizations do to close this gap, and how can organizations manage innovation better?

The ability to execute on innovation in any form – whether the design of new products, services, processes or business models – is proportional to the ability of the collective team or organization to think and act in new ways.  Conceptualizing new models and designs is difficult, requiring creativity and commitment to see beyond current and historic influences. Execution on those designs, particularly in the context of organizational change, is infinitely harder.  Why? Human inertia; the same reason new years resolutions go unrealized.

Change is also culturally hard.  Who defines change? People.  Who executes change? People.  What defines your culture? Your people do, in combination with the context of your market.  Business cultures are uniquely complex and inherently resistant to change.  As Palladium’s 2014 survey states clearly, the inability to overcome internal resistance to change is a genuine problem. It is a human problem.

Palladium’s 2014 survey concludes, “Leadership for strategy execution is not confined to the top echelons of the enterprise but must be inculcated at every level.” Success will depend on instilling in everyone the need for change and committing to it at every level. This begins with “why.” Why is it important? Why do I care, why should I act differently? Capture the heart and the mind will follow; or at least begin to follow.

Active communication of why, consistently, transparently, and with conviction is the critical beginning which must be sustainable throughout the journey.   It must be open and ongoing, supporting “why” with what, how, where, when, and who, all of which must be clear and concise, measurable and connected like a song returning to the refrain of “why.”

Even with commitment from the heart – the intrinsic belief across the corporate culture of the need for innovation – and the all-important compass pointing to that destination, there are significant obstacles.  The journey begins with the roadmap of what must be done to execute on innovation.  However, there will also be a set of decisions that must be made collectively and individually that often prove more difficult.  It is the decision of what not to do, and the need to over-ride autopilot.

Autopilot is your worst enemy, making it hard to see things differently and think in new ways; autopilot is anti-innovation.  It is not as conscious and overt as “this is the way we’ve always done it,” rather it is the subconscious sibling, perhaps more insidious because it is silent and hidden. Autopilot thrives on past training, learned behaviors and legacy circumstance.  Innovation requires businesses to break that mold and make yesterday’s environment unrecognizable, so the focus on new objectives and patterns is clear and untainted by old habits.

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”  -Albert Einstein.
——————

This article was originally written for the Palladium Group, appearing on their website in April, 2015.

Why I don’t repurpose content


engineer content, dont repurpose it

Raise your hand if you are in marketing and have embraced the need to deliver content across multiple media and channels.  It is a virtual certainty you have.  It supports SEM strategies, increases impressions and communicates multiple perspectives.  Content teams are working harder than ever to deliver quality content in a variety of forms.

Now, raise your hand if your budget and resources have increased proportionately.  Note to self – no raised hands are visible.  So without additional resources what options remain? Work harder or work smarter ( or both is a third option of course).

The dynamics of digital content are very different than non-digital. I recognize that this is obvious, but how much have your content creation strategies changed?  Not much… is the response from most organizations.

The business world still has a documents-first mindset.  Oh sure, they are tweeting, some are blogging, a few are socially active, and if my email inbox is a barometer, everyone has a marketing automation tool. But the source, focus and process is typically based on a document, which marketing then repurposes across digital channels.

Repurposing content is reactive, not proactive

“Repurpose your content.” You’ve read it, I’ve read it, it is everywhere. It makes sense – at first glance.  But when you look deep into your goals and digital tactics, it’s backwards.  Repurposing content from high-value documents like whitepapers or eBooks, is inefficient. It’s a reactive retrofit, not a proactive strategy.

I’m not saying that your whitepaper is not valuable, just that how most create them today is inefficient considering additional digital content goals.

Engineer you content, don’t retrofit

The idea of content engineering is based on the need for scale and orchestration of message.  It is an evolution guided by content, communication and promotion strategies designed to articulate value to an audience where they will find it and in a form appropriate for consumption.  Fish where the fish are.  The challenge (as if there is only one…) is that there is no longer a large school of fish, but many ponds and baits.

I embrace the engineering approach because it is rooted in strategy and progressive steps. Strategy is a top-to-bottom approach, defining the core conceptual message, goal and tactics.  Strategy guides the framework – your message pillars that can both stand-alone and support the big idea.  Each pillar has it’s own foundation and unique conversational value.

What is more unique than non-digital approaches is the idea of creating functional components from the bottom up. Developed incrementally and progressively, guided by the broader strategic message, each pillar is functional along the way and does not need to be reverse engineered to become smaller assets later.

This process is efficient and delivers incremental content throughout the process.  It provides a roadmap to inter-connect supporting ideas and will often uncover relationships that were not initially obvious.  Most importantly, you won’t be waiting for the completion of the ‘next big thing’ and then working backwards to extract messages and content to promote it.  Instead, you’ll have time to orchestrate how it is delivered and shared with your target audience.

What is your experience – care to share?

10 Predictions for B2B Marketing in 2014


2014 B2B Content & Marketing Predictions

Lets be honest, there is nothing new about predicting the year ahead.  By now you’ve no doubt encountered many projections for how our industry will evolve between now and December.

In the spirit of full disclosure, the goal of my commentary is to commit my own thoughts “for the record” so that I can return to these strategy KPI benchmarks later for measurement.  Too many times have I said to myself “I predicted that” but had nothing in writing to validate my internal boasts.  Enough said.  Here is my list:

Google+ will gain serious momentum as an important B2B social channel 

Omit Google+ at your own peril.  As Google continues to refine search algorithms with emphasis on defining and empowering the semantic web, Google+ will emerge as a key channel for B2B research, digital conversations and audience engagement.  It will fill the gap between personal conversations on Facebook and professional engagement on LinkedIn.

Organizations will begin to recognize the need to restructure for digital content creation and multi-channel delivery

Execution of digital marketing message, content and program strategies require more integrated team planning and execution.  Traditional twentieth century organization structures were designed to market via non-digital processes and media.  These legacy org structures represent silos and obstacles to capitalize on new tools, media and channels and blended digital strategies.  The emphasis on measurement and improved marketing ROI will force organizations to recognize the need for structural re-alignment.  Not much change will occur in 2014 but the conversation will escalate.

The document-first approach to content creation will begin its decline as the content strategies adopt a content engineering approach to optimize for multiple channels and media 

Creating a white paper and then having a discussion about additional ways to leverage or “repurpose” the document is not enough.  Repurposing of flagship documents, webinars, etc. will be replaced by a process that strategically plans and designs for multi-channel digital distribution rather than retro-development of a single tactic.   While this won’t yet gain significant momentum, the conversation will evolve away from repurposing to strategic multi-purposing and execution in the planning stage.

Momentum for the Marketing Technologist and Data Scientist will soar

The importance of technology and user experience in any digital engagement cannot be ignored.  As technology is now the delivery path for content, services and applications, achieving meaningful, audience-valued interactions will require greater collaboration and alignment between IT, marketing and other groups.  Combined with the need to capture business value from volumes of data and continued pressure for meaningful marketing metrics, these two roles will be instrumental in the maturity of these goals while acting as liaisons between the traditional CMO v. CIO non-conversation.

Video will receive a greater percentage of marketing budget and will grow as a preferred communication media. 

Video has reached the precipice of business acceptance.  It is recognized as a powerful communications tool, but it has yet to be leveraged in practice.  Barriers limiting daily video use such as the networks ability to deliver quality video, ease of adoption and creation, and user experience are falling.  Video as the “killer app” is ready to assume a dominant role in business communications in ways most do not yet see.

APIs and digital platform consolidation will emerge as vital to content strategy

Context and rationalization of content aligned with both audience personas and the sales cycle are important competitive differentiators for business.  To connect ‘the right’ resources that bring contextual value to the marketing mix will place increased emphasis on APIs.  Consolidation of disconnected information and content sources will take time but the trend will be to recognize the need and begin a process of integration not previously acknowledged.

Curation will grow, but successful integration within messaging and content will remain dormant

There is too much content to manage and consume.  Period.  Automation of the process has matured and gained momentum, but only a very small minority will go the extra mile to truly optimize and integrate it within their content creation and delivery strategies.

Social listening will become a budget line item

Business is social. Social listening will soon be deemed a requirement, not an option.  Recognizing that peer-to-peer conversations impact every target audience and with the integration of social into customer service platforms, listening will be emphasized.  The challenge for B2B will be timely response due to lack of strategy and structure.

Apps will proliferate and have a significant impact on experience design and will influence web interface design

I see this everywhere already so maybe it’s not a fair prediction, but mobile apps have forced digital designers to jump out of their interface design box.  This is long over-due and I’m thankful to mobile for a better user experience and more visual delivery of digital content.  Many thanks to Apple and Ideo in particular for igniting this evolution.

Engagement goals will lead to more B2B focus and emphasis on brand communities.  

Business has recognized the value of social channels and is now committed to respond.  Two trends are inevitable – brand community growth and increased emphasis on measurable KPIs of this activity.

Branded communities will be the natural strategy for most mid-sized and large B2Bs.  Why? Because most these brands find it hard not to focus on themselves and because it will be easier for them to manage KPIs in communities they control.  The majority will not gain much traction however, because users will gravitate to communities of interest and not communities of brand.

What do you think?  please share thoughts and comments.