I knew 2018 was careening toward professional and personal disruption during the Cannes Lions festival. Not a minute passed where I wasn’t huddled with friends, former colleagues, even industry gurus pondering my next career play.
Did I want to extend my global run at Nestle in Switzerland as digital innovation lead? Launch another start-up? Resettle the family in my native California? Write another book and collect speech fees?
The exercise was both draining and enlightening. By August, I accepted an offer to serve as chief executive of Cintrifuse, a Cincinnati-based startup incubator and syndicate fund started by P&G, Kroger and other big companies.
Quite a bit has changed in the US since I left it eight years ago. Electric scooters around our office seem as plentiful as Uber drivers. Parking meters are wired and cashless. Wi-Fi i is free (and fast) at the Bengals stadium. My health plan now includes a sensor that links treadmill time to lower costs.
Down the road, Kroger – the largest grocery chain in the US – not only has a hip new '8451' building but also people and a culture dedicated to personalization at scale. P&G is now dancing with local start-ups! (Say what?)
That’s the good news. The bad news is that too many things in 2018, both here in the US and throughout the globe, remained the same or got worse.
2018 from a marketer, and consumer, perspective
Even with marketers' chest-beating around GDPR, things just got messier. Trust took a hit. Service became over-automated. Influencers dated too many fake followers. And tech giants took too many trips to Washington.
While I praised clothing retailer Bonobos for fantastic in-store concierge-like customer service, I cursed it on Twitter for relentlessly spamming me with email. Within hours of securing my US phone, I was getting 'renew your warranty or die' voice spam.
Some of this was self-inflicted, largely at the hands of what I’ll call 'email splintering.' Yes, just like it sounds. I mean, I’ve got WhatsApp and WeChat for cut-to-the-chase contact with International colleagues. I send direct messages on Twitter, LinkedIn, Messenger, and Instagram, and even Facetime. Oh, and there’s ol’ fashioned phone texting.
Whenever I hear a mobile ping I have no earthly clue who’s ringing the bell – this in the same year I bear-hugged the term 'experience'. Indeed, 2018 proved a year of balancing too much with just enough.
Speaking of dissonance, I never left Facebook – my de facto family scrapbook and networking cockpit – but darn did I feel sheepishly defensive about the platform amid the torrent of disclosures and negative media.
I raised alarms about kids and screen time – even screened the movie Screenagers to parents and students at our kids' Swiss bilingual school – but Apple's own screen time data confirmed I’m a bit of poster child of mobile excess myself.
Still, nalog reclaimed some ground. While in Japan keynoting AdTech I re-discovered my beloved Tower Records (long out of business in the US) in downtown Tokyo. I joyously basked in six floors of CD listening stations and vinyl.
Linkedin, soaking up a ton of Facebook spillover, emerged as a fantastic 'like' rich networking destination. I penned several articles and earned a few claps on Medium. I programmed my first multi-player trivia quiz on Alexa.
I delighted in the growing pool of provocative podcasts, including Kara Swisher’s wonderfully edgy November interview with YouTube walk-out leaders.
I continued my TEDx drumbeat that all brands should think and act like a concierge and brought the roadshow to a SXSW panel. Along the way, I kept reminding marketers that bot spam is not concierge-like behavior. Bot that?
I flirted with higher-end photography via a $1000 Panasonic Lumix camera purchase, but pretty much tossed it in the 'drawer of lost gadgets' as soon as I discovered iPhone's portrait mode. I’m now blurring backgrounds with abandon
Bringing it all home
Coming full circle to Cannes, I was struck by the disruptive presence of both gig-economy pioneer Fivve, my favorite source for $5 logos, and gaming behemoth and attention-grabber Activision in front of the Palais. Can anyone say gameful engagement?
I was also surprised and inspired by how many Lions went to purpose oriented campaigns, especially around sustainability and plastics.
The personalization at work here was far less about data targeting and automation than amplified storytelling; in our own voice, nuanced with our own emotion.
Importantly, there was an edgy, entrepreneurial and innovative edge to these cause-oriented campaigns that truly moved me… not only emotionally, but also across the pond to another opportunity where I can encourage much, much more of this.
Here's to 2019.
Pete Blackshaw is chief executive of Cincinnati startup incubator and syndicate fund Cintrifuse. He was previously global head of digital innovation ans service models at Nestle, he tweets @pblackshaw.