The unreachables

It’s a rare meeting, pitch, or roadmap that doesn’t involve “reaching millennials”.

The term, coined in 1987, was meant to refer to people coming of age in the new millennium – originally those of us born circa 1982. Most sources still define millennials as born within a twenty-year period beginning in the early 80’s.

This may be a generation, but it’s completely useless as a media/marketing target.

The pace of change in media, content, entertainment, and the way marketing messages are delivered is far too fast to measure in generations. It’s not just that today’s sixteen-year-old and today’s thirty-six-year old grew up in completely different worlds. The way we experience, consume, and understand our world changes dramatically year over year.

So, in reality, “millennials” is totally meaningless. 

“Reaching millennials” is almost always code for one of two things: capturing youth culture (whole different deal) or reaching the unreachables. It’s the unreachables that have really changed the way we need to approach business.

Unreachables. We don’t watch TV. We don’t have cable or any push-only subscriptions. We don’t make appointments for media. We don’t have landlines. We’re often totally unwired. We don’t see print. We use adblockers. We “miss” other ads because we’ve already moved on from the target.

We know when we are being “branded at” and can, often do, choose to ignore it.

We make decisions by reaching out to a trusted group of sources that we personally curate, and we can reach these sources from anywhere at any time. 

We’re really hard to map as an attribution model or “customer journey” because there are so many places you can’t see us.

Unreachables don’t consume media in the way we are expected to; don’t sit through ads; absorb messaging in a different way, if at all; aren’t where you expect your audience to be after decades of traditional TV, print, radio, and traditional digital marketing.

Unreachables are the huge and growing audience whose lives don’t align with the plan you made last year, let alone the canonical wisdom you’ve built up over a decade or more.

This has nothing to do with millennials. You want the unreachables.

Tomorrow, November 9, at 2:30 PM CET, I’ll be leading a roundtable at Web Summit’s Marketing X on “How Do You Reach the Unreachable Audience?”. Come say hi if you’ll be in Lisbon. If you’re not, I’ll be sharing some of the group’s insight and comments post-conference. 

Do Not Touch

Just back from CES, the massive electronics/tech show in Vegas. I was walking through the 3D printing exhibits (still cool to see) and noticed one company had a whole shelf of beautifully made items front and center – with a large sign saying “Please Do Not Touch”.

Most of the other booths were full of curious convention-goers turning over, examining, and generally touching the 3D-printed merchandise.

Customers, and potential customers, don’t want to be told “Do Not Touch”. Whatever the equivalent of touching is for you- tactile handling of a product or simply letting customers know there’s a real person behind an interaction – encourage the people you want to attract to “Please Touch”.


Photo by John O’Nolan.

Let data inform your content

(Repost from 2014)

This is one of my big points in content strategy. Sometimes people think it’s a conflict with creativity.

Great data is as human as you are. It’s an intimate knowledge of your audience that allows you to tell a better story. Tell me you’re not funnier when you tell a joke to a friend – because you know what that person likes and dislikes.


Photo by Quinn Dombrowski.

Marketing is a product

I’ve worked as both a head of marketing and a product lead, but sometimes the two are absolutely separated and viewed as completely different domains and disciplines.

This is a fallacy.

Marketing is a product.

Your marketing strategy/rollout is a cohesive creation, including brand, messaging, content, etc., but also built on top of multiple platforms: CRM, email engines, analytics, optimization tools, content platforms, and so on.

Products are a mix of feel, form, and function. Like any product, your marketing is designed to reach and please a customer, to bring them into your world, and to be useful. Every human who’s reached by your brand anywhere is using a product from you already. When you find a feature that doesn’t work, you adjust that feature.

Marketing is a product.

The network of you

You are media.

Everyone is media, because everyone is a storyteller.

The photo you shared, the joke you told, the meme you sent on its merry way – all stories from the network of you.


We are all telling stories, every day, and if you come at your brand understanding that, it can help you tell its story.

“I’m sorry, that’s all I can do.”

When you say “That’s all I can do”, do you really mean “That’s all I’m required to do”? Don’t aspire to the minimum necessary.

Not aspiring to the minimum necessary is how great businesses like Zappos build unbeatable reputations for customer service. But it’s pretty applicable in everyday life as well.

It’s not about what you “can” do, or what you “must” do – the answer is going to be in what you actually do.

Photo by Sudiono Muji.

Get uncomfortable with your tools

This seems so obvious but it’s one of those things, like healthy habits, that we forget to do in the rush of daily responsibility.

We spend a lot of time getting systems and tools together that work seamlessly for us. Now, get uncomfortable. Get splinters.

Spend a day, preferably more, dependent on a platform/product that’s not your daily go-to.

Hide your laptop and only use your phone. For everything. Like most of your audience.

If that phone’s an iPhone, get an Android device. Like most of the world.

Go on a trip with only one device.

Use only Internet Explorer for a few days (I know, I know, ow, I said uncomfortable).

“I can’t use IE, I only have a Mac and the simulators don’t work.” USE A PC FOR A WHILE. USE WINDOWS. Apple is fifth or sixth globally in desktop market share this month, depending on whom you listen to.  (I am 1000% guilty as charged on this one.)

Do all your designs/approvals on a triple Thunderbolt display? (I’m guilty of this, too.) Don’t look at them in a big, glossy, pricey format for a few days.

What’s important is to do this not only in product testing (“does it work on IE?”) but in daily life, to understand the real experiences of your real consumers.


Respond and care

Two underrated actions/abilities that will take you very far in business, just as in life: responsiveness and caring.
Did you let someone know you heard them?
And does it matter to you that there’s a problem to be solved?
Say yes to both.

Walking the wire

You have to make a reaction. You have to surprise. You have to astonish yourself. Be always on a wire, a thread. – Jean-Louis Dumas of Hermès


I’ve been asked to explain programmatic buying.

So….remember when you, or someone on your team, would review (hopefully on a daily basis at least) your digital ad performance, and re-allocate the buys immediately to optimize your spend? Requiring six calls to one or more agencies and probably a few arguments along the way.

Most tasks like this are better when machines do ’em.

Programmatic buying is part of marketing automation. Set your parameters and you can optimize in real time.

You’ll still be reviewing constantly, but you’ll be far more efficient, and you’ll learn a lot from the patterns that emerge.