March 4th, 2019

Wondering if there is life after Security? Yes, look to User Privacy.

2018 was the year for Enterprise Security in the Valley and at Mortar.

Client after client gathered around the whiteboard to describe how Security was transforming their business.

Each time I was struck by the odd sense that something vital was missing.

Security dollars have been flooding the Valley for years as big business seeks to defend itself from attack and protect valuable customer data. Last year Gartner estimated the global cyber security industry would soon be worth over $96 billion. We have yet to see a similar estimate of the opportunity in user privacy.

The Security debate has come to emphasize the protection of big company data, and not protecting individual users and their personal data.  It’s almost as if the Valley expects Google, Apple and Facebook to do that job for users. For free.

At least that was the prevailing view going into 2018. But, after 12 more months of large scale breaches at Equifax, Yahoo, Starwood Hotels, UnderArmor, T Mobile, Google. The Cambridge Analytica scandal shining a harsh light on how Facebook handles our private information. And Russian intervention in US elections. Congressional hearings on user privacy. Individual users exited 2018 with increasing anxiety about their ability to protect themselves online.

Looking back at those events today, it’s not hard to see that the privacy opportunity that had been simmering gently under the big waves of Security, was finally ready to burst forth and soak the toes of the Aware.

Now, just as Mark Zuckerberg was busy defending Facebook’s pillaging of modern user privacy to Congress, your pals at Mortar were well into an extensive study of modern privacy in support of the launch of a new app designed to help individual users seize control of their personal information. (You can access the Beta of the FigLeaf app we named and helped launch, here).

We are all exposed online: and we don’t like it.

Still, we—and every user we know—remain horribly exposed online.

Everything we do digitally is tracked, parsed, analyzed and has the potential to harm us. Nowhere is it safe. And once revealed, our personal internet history can be traded with abandon by unknown actors. Our personal information has become the currency in a bitter new cold war between Russia, North Korea, China and the NSA.

This is hardly news. Either to you or to savvy global internet users.

In fact, the pundits often reassure us that we have gladly traded this intrusion into our personal lives in return for the promise of discounts on chips and waffles.

The truth is a lot more complicated.

Our research revealed that savvy internet users have a much more nuanced view of online user privacy. Users want it when they want it—and although they are aware of the benefits of trading personal data for a better experience, users do want to control who has what and what others do with their private information.

The facts about our views of what we will accept in digital privacy are tantalizing. Our global survey of online user privacy revealed that most users were already very concerned about their privacy.

More importantly, a major portion of the audience that expressed concern (perhaps half) were already spending good money to paper across the privacy cracks they knew about. (It is not hard to get savvy users to acknowledge how helpless they feel attempting to stay private, online).

Savvy users are already spending significant money on anti-virus—which we are used to thinking of as security technology, but is well on the path to evolving into a version of personal privacy protection. Concerned users and workers also spend to hide their private and corporate surfing data with VPNs. (Many use the same technology to skirt the rules for streaming movies and music online).

Subscription-based password services like Dashlane (which exceeded 10 million users in June 2018), 1Password and LastPass are booming and adding privacy features like credit score alerts, identity theft insurance and Dark Web scanning. (The entire password management category is predicted to exceed $2.5 billion by 2025).

Another security play, Lifelock (which surpassed $500 million in revenue way back in 2015) is now part of $4bn Symantec’s anti-virus empire, and is widely thought of as one of the earliest privacy successes by the growing privacy community).

Legacy is playing in the privacy war too.

Even legacy business is paying attention. Credit reporting bureaus like TransUnion and Experian are bouncing back (after spilling everything they know about us onto the Dark Web) with new subscription models designed to help us monitor and stay on top of our credit histories and digital identities. Add to all that ad blocking software and regular browser cache cleansing (the Firefox browser too just added Dark Web scanning), and it’s pretty clear that personal data privacy is already a booming and growing market quite distinct from cyber security.

It’s also worth noting that most of the members of this growing crop of security and privacy tools is fairly reluctant to use the word Privacy to describe their products. And certainly no other apps exist today to challenge the breadth and power of our FigLeaf app. No doubt that will change soon as more businesses realize the potential of offering a more robust promise to protect personal privacy.

Brush up your resume

And if that’s true, all those juicy new privacy players will soon be on the look out for talent—much of which can pretty much only come from one place: the booming ranks of cyber security.

Here’s our prediction: Security is huge. Privacy will be even HUGER. Maybe it’s time to brush up your resume?

February 25th, 2019

Mortar on Brand Architecture: Why we hate new stuff. And how that is a problem for us every day. Especially if you manage brands.

By and large people hate, hate, hate new ideas at work.  New means different. Different means change. Change means work. Uncertainty. New things to argue about. And cuts. No matter what anyone says, cuts always threaten to follow new. Especially in big business.

It doesn’t help that new is almost always championed by someone crazy. Even Geoffrey Moore in his seminal Chasm theory work couldn’t help but describe the innovators who spark every revolution as, well, off their rockers.

These folks, he pointed out, are the first to get on board with a new idea. They don’t care about features that don’t work—they regard faults as a leading indicator of ambition. For early adopters, flaws symbolize vision not sloppy design. Innovators know revolutions are hard, thus revolutionizing they argue, is not for snowflakes. No surprise then that the ones we do credit with creating massive change—Karl Marx, Steve Jobs,  Henry IIX, Caesar, Luther (the cleric not the detective, silly), Brando, Napoleon—were also a giant pain in the ass.

Workers long ago learned to run from change as if their lives depended on it. And who can blame them?

You know this.  As a Marketer your success depends on your ability to get people to accept the new. Embrace change. Back it with so much enthusiasm that they devour everything you give them about your initiative and scream the benefits from the rooftops.

It’s called Marketing and yes, it’s quite unnatural.

This is a central premise of our work at Mortar: nowhere is the desire to resist change more ingrained, powerful and destructive than to the output from Marketing. And that’s important because most thinkers about brand marketing — on the agency and client side— persistently ignore the challenge of how.

Let’s consider how this applies to the Brand Architecture.

Wikimedia defines Brand Architecture as the structure of brands within an organizational entity”.

Computer away a little more, and you will find multiple pundits describing the common forms of brand organization. The models are free and widely available. What is striking is how little the experts address the how: how do you take an organization that has grown up working with a range of products and change how it thinks about those products and their relationship to one another and their customers?

Ok so you have the models to follow. Nevertheless, how should you tackle a brand architecture issue? What is the best way forward?

Here’s five things to pay attention to:

Start with high-level vision, not tactical needs: Your organization has some idea of where its market is headed and what customers need now and in the near future. You simply cannot suggest any new level of marketing organization without first capturing and clarifying those assumptions.

[To be clear, brand architecture is an organizational challenge. There are two broad types of firms working in brand. Those guided by business and those driven by design. In our experience, firms with a strong design heritage tend to approach brand architecture through the doors of visual design rather than organizational necessity. Organizations approaching brand architecture through the design portal need to be wary of putting too much emphasis on the elegance of their structure over the necessity of getting folks on board with the change.

The best way to get vision down is to individually consult top executives—especially leadership like the C-level and the Board—and then follow up by gathering them together around a whiteboard to resolve any differences and tease-out the long-term implications of the company’s vision.

If there is one thing we have noticed, few organizations take the time to think through the long-term impact of their world view. Be sure to ask leadership: how will our vision change the world? How will our customers change? What will they seek from us? What will happen internally? And what changes can we foresee internally?

Address buy-in at the outset. People drive change. Support, positive feelings, belief, motivation, optimism: all these things are essential. To drive organizational change you first need to understand what is working and what is not. And you need to catalog why people feel the way they do. Emotion plays a big part in getting teams on board with embracing the new. Making sure you hear from the right people, and that you have a sense of who listens to who, is a critical success factor in any company transformation.

If in doubt ask: who needs to buy into this idea? And how do we reach them? Why will they care?

Assemble the facts. Every team has its own version of organizational history. The freshest faces (an agency like us) arrive at the ball with their own ingrained ideas for how things should improve, often honed after hours of viewing rival websites and presentations. Or if you are especially lucky, informed by similar discussions with rival teams.

It’s easy to suggest new ways of looking at problems: we often tell underdogs they should think of themselves of leaders. Or remind the downtrodden that night is darkest before the dawn. Reframing how to approach a problem can be a vital first step.

But sooner of later you will need factual justification—a deep well of facts—to both convince colleagues to accept change and stay the course when it has been set. Thankfully, there is rarely a shortage of professional analysts and pundits in any growing industry. The trick is deciding who to listen to and how to fill in the gaps between what is known and what needs to be known. [To quote Donald Rumsfeld, the known knowns and the known unknowns are both critical].

Don’t forget to think in terms of qualitative and quantitative feedback. Logical types are rarely swayed by raw opinion—but are often putty when confronted by hard data in the form of surveys or well-researched reports.  A handful of customer interviews—especially if presented in audio format (forgo the video—it’s rarely worth the effort and it is far easier to get customers to consent to recording a phone conversation)—can be extremely effective in swaying the Stubborn.

Once again: don’t skip a step! Make sure to dissect the research you conduct with your core team—and go out of your way to encourage spirited and energetic dialog. Don’t simply review the report and store the binder on the high shelf never to be reviewed again. (I have lost count of the orgs we have worked with that repeat the same basic exercise every few years without ever pausing to consider the-last-time-we-did-this. One Mortar client provided us with a catalog of four reports, each of which were commissioned by a previous marketing leader, and each of which studied essentially the same issue. They all reached broadly similar conclusions too. It appeared that no one had actually read the darn things).

Strive for simple. There are indeed a small handful of brand architecture models to consider. Consider them all. But remember the lesson of attempting to wrestle an octopus into a string bag: it’s easier if you cut the legs off.  The simpler the answer the better. Simple is easy to understand. Simple is easier to communicate. Simple is easier to manage. Simple costs less. Simple stands the test of time. But simple is often not 100% possible. This is an organization-wide challenge after all, so pragmatic considerations can not always be avoided. Still, strive for simple, your colleagues will thank you.

Roll-out with a long-term plan. When we gathered the Mortar team to discuss what we had learned from our long careers in brand organization, one of the first things to rise to the top was the need to communicate the importance of how you communicate a new brand structure and how easy it is to bugger it up.

Brands don’t always take kindly to change. And the teams that are impacted will often grumble—unless you paint a motivating picture of the future that this new structure makes possible. And then ladder in how excited management is about the new direction. How the industry has been waiting for you to come to your senses and the new opportunities the changes will unlock. How you plan to watch over the rearranged family to ensure it is headed in the right direction and how you will handle unanticipated revisions. How much easier everyone’s job will be now and in the future. How bonuses will be tied to this change. And that we all need to get our act together because we are launching this new idea in a 30 days. A strong, confident, well thought through roll-out is essential for any organizational change.

So be sure to discuss the plan in detail with those that matter—and have plenty of ammo for those on the front-line of change.

We wouldn’t have our careers without the need to communicate about change constantly. Driving the new is the cross we chose when we got into Marketing.  But never forget people are hard-wired to hate the new.

Remember that as you start your next day: for most ideas from Marketing are TROUBLE writ large. 

January 10th, 2019

The reaction you want in the end is the best way for marketing to begin.

Every marketer understands the power of distinction and how what makes you unique needs to be pulled through to every stage of your sales cycle. From product design to user experience to purchase, use and sharing—every time a customer touches your product is an opportunity to amplify your brand and deliver an unique a-ah moment of delight. But a-ha moments are only possible after you get your team to own the decision to present a different promise.

Teams that see the value in selling difference can make a Strategic Decision—we call them SD’s for short. Nail your team’s SD and the big time will be within your grasp.

Good decisions make for awesome A-ha moments: A-ha moments are how you want your customers to react to your decision. For dog food makers this means owners will say, Wow, Fido LOVES this stuff. If you make something cloudy, well your job is a little harder but your A-ha should still sound something like, “Well bugger me sideways, now this is awesome”. Your customers will rarely pause to understand the glory of the SD you worked so hard to define, but they will experience their own A-ha delight. And that is what we are here to help you deliver.

Mortar is an agency of very experienced people, led by a team that understands what we do is all business. All of it. Even the pretty bits. Call us a boutique. Paint us as a niche-player. We don’t mind. We are one of the few ad agencies that know what we do well—and is not particularly excited about growth or becoming part of a mega-shop. Weird, huh? Yeah we don’t want to win at Cannes. We get off on making our customers rich or meaningful. And isn’t that the point?

Leaders pay us to think with them not for them. If you’re reading this you are among a bold group of people we think we can help in areas like brand strategy and positioning, creative development and strategic messaging.

We have already helped create businesses worth over $21 billion: Our clients measure success measure in billions of dollars. Which tells you something about us: you can benefit from a perspective rooted in massive commercial success. And you will be in good company — our customers include:

Tyra Banks, Tyra Banks Beauty: we launched Tyra’s new line of beauty products. She thanked us for our badassery.
Oliver Roll, Chief Communications Officer, Cisco: we created Intent-based networking and helped Cisco engineer its largest global campaign of the last decade.
Ellie Oppenheim, CEO, Reno Sparks Convention & Visitors Center: we reversed 10 years of declining tourism for the City of Reno.
Nadav Sharon, CEO, Eat 24: Nadav’s team rode our program to market leadership in online food delivery and a very successful exit.
Brett Goodwin, CMO, Isilon Systems Inc: we drove this enterprise storage company through IPO to acquisition for $2.2 billion.
Garth Saloner, Dean, Stanford University Graduate School of Business: we helped Stanford’s famed MBA program position itself to pull more of the cream from Harvard.
Skip Viragh, CEO Rydex Investments: our repositioning of this mutual funds innovator helped birth the modern ETF industry. Rydex sold for $800 million.

To discuss your next project drop us an email at

August 12th, 2018

Why No is the very last word in Marketing

Oh sure, we’ve read the books about the power of saying no.

Saying No is the key to success in any management role.

Which would be fine if it wasn’t so darn tough. Marketing is hard enough without trampling on the feelings of our colleagues. And to be so definitive about innovation, well is that really ever wise?

So I tell my team that No should be reserved for the absolute last resort. Clients come to us for a way forward, and an energetic and passionate commitment to making the best of what’s been done.

But for those of us who still struggle with the two letter negative, here’s five ways to navigate the No conversation:

Search for information: before you close off any avenue of inquiry are you sure you have gathered all the relevant data? There are two forms of data available to every marketer: facts and emotions. Just because the company has not done something before does not mean it will not try something new. And just because the last team failed does not mean you can’t organize the data to energize a new round of experimentation and creation.

How fixed is the situation? You can think of any marketing conversation as a kind of negotiation. And great negotiators caution us to avoid getting stuck on any point and constantly expand the conversation in search of variables that can be used to move participants past fixed points. What does next week mean? Monday or Friday? Do we really need a product name to develop an elevator speech? Can we make that decisions after we test the idea? Beware of rolling out a no before you have considered all the angles at play.

What do prospects have to say? Innovators, by their very nature, must learn to discount criticism and customer feedback: When Henry Ford asked his customers what they wanted, they said a faster horse (he didn’t, but still innovators say this with depressing frequency). The first lesson of Moore’s famous Market Adoption (Chasm) theory is that members of the early market are few and far between and don’t conform to the patterns of the majority. Innovators lean hard on  the experience of the early market to identify opportunities. But they also learn not to listen to most people. Nevertheless, many marketing logjam can be cleared with a small dose of feedback from early customers.

What about rivals? Many a marketer plans with faulty assumptions about the competition. It rarely makes sense to assume rivals will not match an innovation or worse, are not thinking along similar lines as your team. One of the first principles of Sun Tsu’s Art of War is keep your enemy close, by which he meant understand how your rival thinks. Still, I am often surprised by how reluctant my clients are to model the reaction of rivals. A favored technique is to ask client teams to imagine they are their rivals and attack their plans from that perspective. It is a rare team that does not learn from open and clear contemplation of competitive threat.

When there is no way out of No, ask us. Well this may be an awesome time to roll out the agency. Third parties can often say No in a way that internal teams will support. Indeed, one of the great advantages of a smart agency is its ability to Marshall what it knows about a project to drive consensus and drive forward in the most profitable avenue. We can say the things you can’t. And that can be very helpful.

Of course you may well be one of the few executives who have no trouble saving No. Who revel in your power to inspire and lead the rest of us to the promised land. Good for you. But for the rest of us cowards, there is still hope.

July 25th, 2018

Facing agency speed issues? Let’s cut to the quick.

Look, most agencies aren’t slow by choice.

In fact, internal politics or scheduling challenges on the client side are often the greatest hindrance to a speedy process.

But the creative development phase can slow to a crawl for many other reasons. If you are facing agency speed issues, here are five things you can do to put more oomph back into your creative relationship.

  1. Streamline the briefing process. You can spend months gathering the right data, researching the issue with customers and prospects, discussing possibilities with team members and influencers, and running briefing documents up and down the chain. Or you can accelerate the process by getting the key players, which includes the agency’s creative team, into a room and white boarding the problem, as well as potential solutions, on day one. Brainstorming on opening day will focus the team on solving the problem—and can turbo charge creative development as long as the principals are open to entertaining new ideas early in the process (fair warning, not every agency or client team can handle sudden changes in creative velocity).

  2. Focus on what makes you different. The most important part of any marketing success is deciding on how you will be different. Providing a litany of your products features and benefits is not being different.  Adopting a tactic that a rival has used is a fail. Difference is born of study, discussion and an in-depth understanding of customer need. If it’s not different, don’t do it. If a rival zigs, you should zag (not zig harder). Difference is the force multiplier that will get you a meeting when others are frozen out. Difference sets proposals apart, gets Sales excited, fuels referral and drives premium prices. Difference is often hard to define, but difference can’t be skipped or faked. Agency briefings can be radically shortened by focusing everyone on this one, key area. Try it: ask your team to define how you are different—and see if the answer is crisp, actionable or a mumbled incoherency.

  3. Look at ideas early and often. Approval cycles eat up huge amounts of time, energy and, handled poorly, threaten to weaken strong ideas. A lengthy round of approvals inevitably leads to revisions, and successive rounds of revision can weaken concepts and undermine confidence in the process. Approvals are both a necessity and a road block. So short-circuit the process by asking to see ideas early and often. Most good ideas can be effectively assessed in a draft stage. And putting those new ideas in front of decision makers early-on can provide valuable clues about the shape of the final idea. Don’t wait for the idea to be perfect before seeking buy-in and approval.

  4. Keep the same team. Introduce new players to creative development mid-process at your own peril. New players often reset the clock. There is something about marketing that encourages individual interpretation and endless rounds of comment and change. Good ideas do not change well. The best way to avoid the pitfalls of endless approvals is to identify the core team and have them present from the first briefing. And then insist they stick with you through the process. And, if you can, insulate yourself against feedback at the beginning of the process by getting alignment on team members, your power to secure approval, and the importance of streamlining approvals.

  5. Avoid the Big Reveal (aka Think Small). Agencies love the Big Reveal: the moment when, after weeks of deliberation and frenzied activity, the agency makes its BIG PITCH. We call it the Big Reveal, and honest agency folk admit that it fails more than twice as often as it succeeds. Not landing a big idea presentation eats up time. And money. And worse, because expectations have run up in anticipation of the grand solution, a Big Reveal fail also saps confidence in the agency and the Marketing team. But thankfully, the digital age allows us to think differently. We’ve always been able to generate multiple ideas from the same creative brief. And now those same “small ideas” can be quickly executed and tested online. Which means decisions can be based on immediate feedback from our target audience. Smaller ideas are easier to conceive, easier to sell, easier to execute and test, and yes, much much easier to flight. Approving a series of small ideas is a quick way to identify the right idea, and a wonderfully streamlined way to get to market.

Of course your problem may be you are working with the wrong type of agency. In which case might we whole-heartedly recommend these guys?