What I’ve Learned in Fifteen Years of Teaching Digital Marketing

At the end of 2014 I chose to end the chapter of my teaching career focused on digital marketing (aka e-marketing, online marketing) and its associated young, brash offshoot, social media.

I first started teaching this topic in 2000 – for reference, March 2000 was the watershed event know as the  bursting of  the “dot com bubble.”   The term “irrational exuberance” was popularized by the Chair of the US Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan. as a warning to speculators, buying stocks in new internet related businesses that few understood.

The stock market crashed. Many dot coms went out of business, although a few notables survived and prospered.

Move on 15 years, and much is forgotten, as the share of advertising and broader marketing budgets allocated to online has gone from a very small percentage, towards one third of the total, and more in many sub-categories or specific industries.

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I designed and taught my first e-Marketing at Capilano University, (then Capilano College.) I was a “traditional” marketer trying to make sense of this “new world.” I was fortunate to be given the space to design and try out a course. Within a year both UBC and SFU had found me, and asked me to teach this to their MBAs. For the next few years I taught versions of the course at all three institutions before coming full-time to the Sauder School of Business, UBC in 2005.

I estimate to have taught versions of my e-marketing and related social media courses to some 50 cohorts. This has involved almost continual redesign and updating of materials, in an attempt to keep abreast of this fast changing juggernaut.

Some of my key learnings:

  • some macro patterns repeat – context helps understanding.
  • strategy, competition and consumer behaviour are frameworks to aid navigation and interpretation of the landscape.
  • Online marketing allows for systematic experimentation to become the norm. Indeed, experimentation is needed as new tools and platforms arise and winners and losers are initially unclear.
  • Digital marketing and social media cannot be treated in isolation from the whole – they are part of the fuller marketing and business strategy.
  • It’s a noisy world where it is easy for people to get confused or miss “seeing the wood for the trees.”
  • In turn, I have felt encouraged to run many smaller experiments in the classroom around learning effectiveness.
  • Modern marketers need a practical toolkit as well as a theoretical understanding. For example, use of Hootsuite, Adwords, Google Analytics – but first being able to establish the “what and the why” before implementing on the “how.”
  • Students have to “get on the bike” and try riding with these tools – the learning curve is steep but can be fast in a “learning by doing” approach.
  • Applied client projects are challenging for students but can give them a portfolio of work and experience to be more employable sooner.

For myself, I’ve moved on to focus more on entrepreneurship – but the challenges of designing and running courses in digital marketing forced me to continually refresh my craft.

Lessons Learned: Implementing Lean Launch Pad at UBC

Opening doors – from idea to venture


In the last 16 months I’ve been involved in an ambitious effort to introduce customer discovery and business model validation programming to UBC. With the help of a number of colleagues, by the end of May 2014, we will have run 6 programs involving 50 teams. Many teams have found their hypotheses invalidated, and have found key pivots to establish product market fit.

In the spirit of Steve Blank’s own write-ups on Lean Launch Pad, here are some of my “lessons learned.”

  • Non-credit workshops with graduate science researcher are most impactful for us, so far, and quickest to get going–we ran 3 cohorts (25 teams) last year and will do more than double that this year. Mostly, these involve graduate science researchers. Getting principal investigators involved is hard but important.
  • We’ve helped some teams move to becoming companies and get funding. We’ve had some fast fails. We’ve fired some teams. Attitude is a key screen on application.
  • I’ve embedded LLP thinking in existing undergrad and grad inter-disciplinary courses: you can do a lot by stealth without going through curriculum committees.
  • I’m building out a team of educators, engaging alumni and successful local entrepreneurs as mentors. You need a support network but people are willing to help if you not only explain what you are doing but involve them in a pilot.
  • I’m trying to follow Steve Blank’s materials and guide closely – but of course there are lots of things that provide challenges. I’m learning by doing, creating extra content, worksheets, examples and approaches to help move teams forward.
  • Flipped class materials are good but need customizing and interpreting. Students don’t do as much concept prep as we’d wish they did so can do garbage in, garbage out research. More effort needed to support quality primary research and interpretation.

This is an exciting time for entrepreneurship at Sauder, UBC and in Vancouver. More details to follow on specific student ventures from LLP non-credit and credit courses.

Alumni inspire – never dull in a learning world!

September! The first month of a university term is a fantastic time. Full of energy, enthusiasm and curiosity. Warm, end of summer days, leaves turning colour, the first Fall storms and darker evenings prompt a moment of reflection on some of the standout moments for me in this month.

Fourth year digital marketing students immersed in Hootsuite Pro learning modules and finding their own clients to work with. Alumni from this class continuing to offer up their time to come in and help current students work their way to career paths in digital marketing.

First year students – full of positive questions and a hunger to learn. Caught up in week one in a school wide crisis of culture, ethics and reputation. Not only did they stand up to confront a tough reality, but I was touched by the alumni who contacted me to say their experience had been positive and they wanted to connect back to their school to help share that perspective.

In the MBA Innovation and Entrepreneurship track, six extremely busy alumni gave up several hours to come and share stories of their passion and motivations to take the road less traveled, but to become more fulfilled. Inspiring.

A brand new UBC wide entrepreneurship course for all undergrads in second year or higher – three sections filled with students from 15 faculties or departments. An e@ubc Lean Launch Pad program scaling to run multiple times per year to support dozens of research teams in customer discovery and b-model design.

I like aspects of all times of the teaching year, but September really does delight with new enthusiasm, and many reminders from alumni of why we do what we do, and the amazing potential of the very varied human beings that cross our campus and classrooms.

A new teaching and learning term – and a return from blogging silence.

I was doing so well – blogging at least once a month seemed like a reasonable and achievable goal, and I just about met that target for several years. Yes, I complemented blog posts with more frequent short comments and re-posts of newsworthy articles in Linked-In and Twitter. I have my paper-li daily round up of carefully chosen follows published in Twitter and some favourited lists in Slideshare, and many tagged articles in delicious, all public and sharable. But even when very busy I still made the monthly minimum one blog post for several years. 2012 got a bit patchy, and then radio silence in Spring & Summer, 2013. So what happened? Busy with multiple commitments, of course. But I think there was more to it than that. I continued to struggle with ongoing dilemmas: how long should a post be? How much value add and insight can I provide? And how broad, multi-topic vs. deeper and single topic to make a post?

I’m not short of topics to write on, but somehow topics overlapped and draft posts seemed to not do justice to what I was thinking.

Now, why re-start? I am often reminded of the value of blogging as I read many posts, most days, from others. The value is not only in the sharing, but in the reflection and articulation of experience. Furthermore, it is clear that posts do not need to be perfect or complete. Indeed, a staged, or multi-post coverage of a topic is fine. Each post should be worth reading independent of other posts, but chunking, or bite-size coverage is useful, productive, and possibly more manageable than the more ambitious complete topic coverage. Finally, I realized that I missed the discipline of this reflective practice. I was still doing this myself, mentally, but the writing and public sharing practice forces a completion of the thought process that is sometimes missed in the partial mental reflections.

So, what have I been working on in the last 6 months and more?

  1. Flexible and flipped teaching approaches – learning by doing. I have continued to become more ambitious and experimental in flexible teaching and learning approaches. This has been given additional fuel and energy by the UBC Flexible Learning initiative, where I am actively involved.
  2. Entrepreneurship – applied – broadening access, improving quality. I have been working very closely with e@ubc to build out the structure and content of programming using Steve Blank’s Lean Launch Pad (LLP) methodology. We have run several successful test LLP Accelerator Programs and will formalize a calendar for these and application process to get involved.  I have been helping lead the build out of curriculum for the MBA Innovation and Entrepreneurship Track, with exciting new courses starting Fall 2013, in Growing & Exiting a Venture, and Intra-preneurship (Corporate Innovation.) I have also championed the creation of a new undergraduate entry level course, “e101” (comm486A), available to any undergraduate student at UBC who has second year standing or higher. Three sections will run this year, and students from 15 different faculties have signed up – exciting.
  3. Digital marketing and social media: I continue to re-invent my approach to helping equip students will skills in these fast-changing topics. This Fall, students in my comm464 eMarketing class will be enrolled in Hootsuite’s online learning suite, and have access to Hootsuite Pro. This will be embedded into the overall curriculum. And, in January 2014, I will once again partner up with the School of Journalism in a combined SoJ/Comm course in Advanced Social Media skills, with a focus on content curation and creation.

I will write separate posts in more detail on each of these themes in the coming weeks and months.


 Lessons Learned

(Borrowed as a blogging format from Steve Blank. Sure, many of us have had “action minutes” or “takeaways” as a long-standing write-up from meetings and interactions. But the discipline of summarizing  “lessons learned” from the story or narrative and examples in any blog post is something that I have found makes Steve’s posts focused and really valuable. I’m aiming to emulate this format for my chosen blog topics.)

  1. Content is increasingly good and free: curation not creation is key.
  2. Navigation, interpretation, coaching and cheer-leading are the areas where I can add most value for students, and this is my “teaching and learning” philosophy.
  3. “Bite size” is good for blogging.
  4. Walk in the shoes (and get into the minds) of your customer – be they students or consumers or organizational customers
  5. Hypothesis, experiment, interpret and either: validate, pivot, kill and move to hypothesis v2, and iterate. It works for start-up ventures, and any activity where one wants to innovate and improve.

Have a great end of Summer and start to Fall – whatever you are doing. And reflect and renew your practice to try to improve and reach your goals.

Superbowl Ad Social Chatter keeps on growing – see the numbers

There was considerable anticipation regarding the potential for sharing and conversation in social media about Super Bowl ads, Feb 3, 2013. This is not a new phenomenon, but perhaps it is a reflection that it is no longer new behaviour. So, interest now focuses on not only the number of comments, but sentiment, within a short time period, and year on year growth rates. This is starting to sound like a standard marketing report!

Advertising Age, in this article, provides a good summary of some key stats regarding number of comments and sentiment (positive/neutral/negative) in the first 45 minutes following live TV airing of the ads.

Author Simon Dumenco goes on to report: <<Bluefin’s Tom Thai notes that “All of this year’s Super Bowl commercials tallied a combined 3.9 million social-media comments across Twitter and public Facebook. That’s a 225% increase from last year.”>>

This propensity for people to want to comment on new, live, “cultural”, entertaining items has clearly not reached a peak, yet. Click to see the top 10 table (screenshot, below).  Interestingly, Psy (he of a billion plus views in YouTube) only hits #6 here, and Doritos, perennial “Crash the Superbowl” star is only #9.

That was the year that was – 8 work experiences that stand-out for me.

I consider myself to be fortunate. I have a stimulating job that allows me to experiment with new methods and topics. Here are my stand-out experiences. I’ll be building on some of these in 2013, and no doubt starting some more!

1.    Lean Launch Pad (LLP) is a robust methodology for customer discovery and customer validation.


I attended the first LLP Educators’ Workshop at Berkeley with Steve Blank and Jerry Engel. It helped bring together many of the elements that I have been working on and thinking about as we re-tool our approach to teaching entrepreneurship at Sauder and UBC. It harnesses Alex Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas, which I had been using for several years.


Steve’s approach did several things for me.

  • He added a third dimension to the canvas: time.
  • He emphasized the focus on qualitative research of early concepts. I have long believed in this, but now have more confidence to insist on early and rapid testing of a prototype concept – the initial value proposition.
  • He provided an overall process that pulls all of the elements together. Critically, this includes a teaching guide, the “back office” or “behind the scenes” elements that allow this to all connect.
  • That he provided actual teaching content, that can be used in a “flip the classroom mode”, (more on that below), was a bonus.


What am I doing with this? I have found ways to integrate some elements of the LLP method into existing courses, not least the undergraduate New Venture Design and Graduate level Technology Entrepreneurship courses, both of which I collaborate on with colleagues. But to have a clean run at this I will, in partnership with Iain Verigin (a long-time proponent of this methodology), run a LLP workshop through e@ubc for 10 teams in Jan/Feb 2013. This is an exciting development and one that could become a regular part of the early stage entrepreneurial development network at UBC.





2. The MBA Business Innovation and Entrepreneurship (BINV) track, has been in planning and development for more than 18 months, but was finally launched in Fall of 2012. I have been excited to immerse myself in the design and development of a year-long set of courses for entrepreneurs and intra-preneurs, or corporate innovators. The track as a whole involves a combination of existing and new courses. In partnership with Thomas Hellmann I ran a mini-module or sampler course for the track in mid-Fall, and we were delighted with the response. In addition to the many MBA students who tested the content and approach, we also had 65 non-MBA graduate research students from Engineering, Forestry, Geology and Mining, Pharmacy and Medicine audit the course. Some of these students have registered formally for the applied Technology Entrepreneurship course and it is our intent that this pattern of collaborative activity continues and grows.


Another aspect of this cross-faculty exploration is evidenced by the new Prototyping course, which will be taught to MBAs by Jon Nakane from the Engineering Physics’ prototyping group.

3. Flipped classroom discussions abound, as multiple formats of online content delivery are now available. But what do we mean by “flipped classrooms?” For some, the simple availability to self-serve content is enough, or a desire to replace “tedious lectures.” For me, face time is important and valuable. So my view of a flipped classroom is not one where face time in a classroom is reduced, but rather where it is made more valuable, because different activities happen there. Engaging, value added learning activities can be enhanced by different, better forms of preparation.  In part, this can include video content of the “lecture.” But as others have found, simply video-ing a standard lecture can be boring and inefficient. This summer I experimented in making three 10-minute videos. Each of these was story-boarded and shot against a green-screen to enable post production animation.  They were then supplied to students ahead of classes, and combined with self-test quizzes for comprehension. When we came to the actual class I did not do any conventional lecturing but went straight to applied exercise activities and the facilitated a discussion on the experiences. This is work-in-progress, but the initial reaction was very encouraging and I plan to do more with this approach. I believe that education is rapidly changing and the expectations of students mean that we need to try new approaches. I think that face time can remain a critical part of a superior learning experience, but it has to use that time well and differently to what students can self-serve.

4. Decoding Social Media. I have taught courses on digital marketing since the original dot com boom and bust in 2000. In the last five years social media has become an important part of digital marketing, but there remains much more to the topic than social. I wanted to develop and advanced course focused solely on Social Media. In exploring how best to do this I sought a partner, and found an excellent one in Alfred Hermida of the UBC Graduate School of Journalism. Our new course starts January 2013, and we will co-teach with students from both Schools of Commerce and Journalism.

5. Portfolios. For a number of years I have included blogging as a formal assignment in several of my courses. In comm101 students are encouraged to explore linking course concepts to business news. In comm464 and bama513, senior students, close to graduation, have been encouraged to take their blogs a step further, and recognize their portfolio capabilities, to allow them to showcase how they think and write, their interests and achievements, as they pertain to their future careers. A number of students reported that these “advanced blogs” helped them gain interviews and job offers. This led to the formalization of the portfolio process for the MBAs and this has moved through a pilot phase in 2012, and will go live and public in 2013. It is an exciting and practical way for connecting academic courses to careers, students to getting jobs and making their way in the business world.


In working on this project, yet again, I have been fortunate to collaborate with the talented team of developers in UBC’s CTLT group.

6. B-clinic. The business clinic or b-clinic concept had its origins in several sources. Students, often in teams, already undertook applied project work for live client organizations in some formal courses. Students also applied themselves to external organizations via a number of other avenues within the school. However, there were still gaps, both in demand and supply. On the demand side there were many organizations asking for help where a lack of fit on timing or scope with a course or co-op context meant that the demand went unmet. At the same time, many students found that without practical experience in applying their new-found knowledge, they were less attractive as potential employees. The b-clinic started in pilot form in summer 2012 with an advance team of MBAs. Several successful assignments were undertaken as the process was designed and tested. In 2013 the b-clinic will grow to scale and students will have the opportunity to leverage these experiences through their portfolios as they design their future career paths.

7. Guest speakers: every year I invite guest speakers into my classes and I always appreciate the energy, goodwill and experience that they bring.  This year, the speakers ranged from alumni, a CMO and a former UN Secretary General. I like to bring in younger alumni, one to five years out from graduation to help show current students how quickly they can make their mark. The CMO of McDonalds came into class as a result of a student blog post on the “Your Questions, Our Answers” campaign. This led to job interviews for the student blogger as well as confirmation for the whole class that they were learning real, industry-required skills. See points 4 and 5, above. And Kofi Annan did not come to my class, but he did come to Sauder, and it was a privilege to hear him talk, and answer questions, connection business learning to challenges of the wider world.

8. Think! Social Media – global brain trust. Although my time at UBC has been full and fulfilling, I am delighted to continue my working relationship with Think! In one of those serendipitous events that had every reason not to happen, several years ago, at the height of a crazily busy day, in a busy week of a full month, I answered a cold call from Ben and Rodney and a business relationship and excellent friendship developed. I was delighted to participate in the Think! Global gathering in Vancouver  in the summer– staff came from offices in 4 countries less than 3 years after starting up. With a strong vertical focus, (social media in tourism), creativity, passion and hard work, this is one of my 2012 highlights, and I expect it to be up there in 2013. Think! challenges me to give my best and it feels great to contribute to this industry disruptor.



Brand responses in Facebook – getting the tone right

UK feminine product brand Bodyform has been in the news this week for its bold engagement with a Facebook post – admittedly a tongue-in-cheek, humorous critique. However, as the Brandweek article points out, they did not freeze, nor did they mis-understand the tone of the post, nor did they miss the opportunity to join the conversation and add some light-hearted, shareable content of their own. They are not a category leader and this can help them stand-out and compete against higher ad spenders. I don’t know the brand well, but if this is consistent with the brand personality then it is gold. If it is a change in positioning and tone of voice then maybe it should be the start of something new, and not a one off.

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What a week: 10 of my favourite marketing stories: Sept 26th 2012

This post marks the start of a plan for more frequent posts. Historically, I’ve tended to write one or two per month, focused on a single topic, with some analysis and interpretation. Although I will still do these types of post, I am now experimenting with a weekly “news round-up” – links to articles and issues that I find interesting, with very brief contextual commentary. Many of these will still be saved and tagged in my delicious account, and some will be re-tweeted and/or re-posted in Linked-In. However, this should allow me to share (and re-find) many of the items of interest that I read. Let’s see how it goes.

  1. Hootsuite launches “conversation” tool to improve productivity within internal social media teams. Logical move. Expect increased functionality (and possibly menu pricing) from HS.
  2. Estimates on Facebook revenue for FY2012 continue to fall, down to $5b. Ad Age commentary on eMarketer report.
  3. Band XX map viral spread of their new release. (Thanks to several comm464 students for highlighting this.)
  4. Small & Medium business struggling to adopt social media – some stats and reasons from eMarketer.  Scary low numbers – big opportunities.
  5. Brian Solis on the need for good content strategies, and a cautionary note to not be seduced by weak infographics as a cover for lack of real content.
  6. And, embedded in Brian’s article, a good “paid, owned, earned” report – I really like the format of these Altimeter Group reports, from table of contents and Executive Summary to the writing style, use of headings and great charts. Something to learn from.
  7. Pregnancy test kits in pub bathrooms to underscore that alcohol and pregnancy do not mix. Novel, impactful, relevant. Check out the reporting format from Iconoculture in this linked story – clear, useful, quickly to the takeaways.
  8. Eye-tracking study on Facebook timeline vs. old format – (an April 2012 story, with nice visuals.)
  9. Customer advocate & customer saboteur – new book and copy in Sauder David Lam library. I took a quick scan through and it’s nicely laid out with some good content. Free  abstract in google books.
  10. Campbell’s soup launches Warhol 50th anniversary cans. Nice retro and nostalgia play in a category that risks being plain and dull. (This is a summer story, but a nice one to capture!)

Calling b-s on business plans for new ventures – and blowing up education in entrepreneurship

Last week, I was fortunate to attend the first Lean Start-Up Educator’s Conference, at Berkeley. Hosted by Steve Blank and Jerry Engel, it is based on Steve’s new book, The Startup Owners’ Manual. Within Steve’s site you can find a fantastic list of start-up tools and links and all his slide decks.

Most significantly, for me, is the teaching guide for the Lean Launch Pad (LLP) approach. It harnesses the business model canvas developed by Alex Osterwalder. The key insight added  in LLP is that the traditional business plan is static, and that for a new the data is basically a set of guesses. Unlike a static b-plan, the b-model is dynamic – or can be if one treats the first version as the set of “guesses” or hypotheses that it is. These then need testing, by “getting out of the building” and talking to potential customers. Now, this is not simple customer research – I can hear some of you saying, “but customers don’t always know what they want.” True, so the point of the research is to seek insights – not necessarily literal responses. And these insights can cause major pivots in the search for a customer and b-model to fit the initial product idea, or even a change of product. The lean, agile, rapid approach of customer exploration cycles means that one can develop the z axis or third dimension to the canvas, representing the learning from initial hypotheses towards a more credible, evidence based b-model. So, the one time, static b-plan, with the 5 year financial pro-formas -> b-s…..or guess. Dynamic b-models that show learning insights and pivots – not without risk – this is new venture territory, but it is about systematically improving success rates.

Personally, I am excited to rework formal courses and informal workshops to harness this new entrepreneurship curriculum. I encourage you to explore the resources on Steve’s site, as educators, or entrepreneurs. It’s still hard work, but there’s more sense to the process, and less mystery.

Is a “pride” week rainbow Oreo really a cause for controversy?

In recent days there has been a lot of discussion in mainstream media and online chatter about the Oreo “rainbow” cookie, posted to their Facebook page June 26th, in support of “Pride” week, and showing solidarity with the LGBT community.

As you can see, a LOT of people liked or commented – and this is from the 27 MILLION people that have liked Oreo, many more of whom will have seen the post and some of the discussion. This is fun and playful AND addresses an important issue – where a company stands on major societal issues of equality, inclusiveness and tolerance. It may only be a cookie, but the brand and the company and the people that make up that company have values and purpose. It is NOT ok to sit on the fence or hide when it may be uncomfortable. So, kudos to the Oreo folks at Kraft.

Needless to say, not everyone agrees or is happy. While various estimates of the comments suggest that approximately 10 to 1 are positive, some of the mass media commentary has focused (overly much in my view) on the negative, intolerant, and often bigoted minority.

Some of the coverage to consider looking at include:

    • New York Daily News – after a headline emphasizing the “backlash”, the article has a fairly balanced coverage, and includes this quote: <<“As a company, Kraft Foods has a proud history of celebrating diversity and inclusiveness. We feel the Oreo ad is a fun reflection of our values,” Basil Maglaris, Kraft’s associate director of corporate affairs, told Reuters>>
    • Perez Hilton who, not surprisingly, think this rocks. Think of the influence on the many millions of followers to this blog.
    • Future Buzz’s Adam Singer simply points out that embracing equality is the “right thing to do.”
    • The Huffington Post with an article covering 25 brands that have been boycotted in some way because of their positive LGBT association. As I read through some of these I started to feel that this seemed very US-centric, and as polarized as US politics. Now, I am not suggesting that Canada is so harmonious and tolerant that we do not see some prejudice in comments here. However, this did make me think about Canadian brands that had embraced LGBT themes in their communication. A campaign from TD Canada Trust that I would like to highlight did not, as I recall, attract huge controversy or negative comment.
  •              The following screenshots show ads that ran both online and in print media: three different couples that
  •              implicitly existing or desired customers for the bank.
    • Now, banks are hardly considered to be radical, risk-taking organizations. They tend to steer clear of controversy. If I’d used the Absolut vodka “Pride” or “rainbow” ads, some may have said that it was not a “fair” example, because it is a risky brand in an edgy category. But with banks? I think not.
    • So, how do we make sense of all of this. Well, I think it’s simple. An organization has to ask itself what values it holds. Then it should live them, in everything it does, from hiring to training and promotion, to interaction with suppliers and customers. If it chooses to highlight some of these proudly (pun intended) in communication, then, all power to that organization – so long as it is being authentic. And if it chooses values which are prejudicial to any group, at ethical and/or legal levels, then this tells all members of society more about the brand and the organization than any advertising can do. If people care about the environmental impact of the items they buy, or the labour conditions of workforces that make these items, then logically, all elements of the company’s values and its brands’ interactions will become increasingly relevant in buyer decision-making. Consumers can decide what sorts of company they want to support, AND company’s can lead by example on what they stand for and the choices that they offer.

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