Year in Review: A Digital Executive on Hitting the Half-Century Mark

Is This Unstoppable March of Technology a Window Into My Demise or Fuel for My Ascent?

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Running informed, mapped and rewarded by digital sensors
Running informed, mapped and rewarded by digital sensors

Far and away my most dissonance-generating disruption in 2014 was turning 50. It's not age, per se, but reconciling my half-century of years with the fact that I have the word "digital" in my professional title. Oxymoron?

I can't stop wondering: Is this unstoppable march of technology a window into my demise or fuel for my ascent? I'm banking on the latter, and yet everything these days seems to be a "relevance" test. Snap what?

When my wife threw a 50th bash for me in October in a hip wine "caveau" on the banks of Lake Geneva, I nearly panicked about getting the music right. Armed with an iPad and flexible Spotify playlist, I DJ'ed my own party and shockingly managed to keep everyone on the dance floor. Then again, one song misfire could have sealed my doom.

And so we must manage this "wired vs. tired" tension -- one of many so-called digital dualisms -- a point I underscored in an Ad Age column earlier this year. And the degree of tension is shaped by context.

We're all digital. We're brand builders in a digital world, and shoppers in a landscape dotted with digital connections. Heck, I'm a runner informed, mapped and rewarded by digital sensors and milestones triggered by "atta boys."

Although my boss and I signed a pact to extract the word "digital" from titles and vocabulary by 2016, the underlying assumption here is that digital DNA -- interactivity, addressability, friction-free feedback, better-faster-smarter operations -- is present in everything.

This year provided countless proof points. Even completing the London Marathon (my first ever) topped my "digital" achievement list. Wearables and their social exhaust (in the form of Twitter and Facebook posts) powered the training schedule. Digital giving allowed me to easily raise funds for charity across hundreds of friends. The digital chip in my shoe (required by the organizers) gave my work colleagues unsettling access to my slowdowns, and that dreaded 10-minute walk at mile 19.

Elsewhere, digital powered my modest "content" gains. My Pinterest pin board of vintage ski posters is gaining notice. I launched a Tumblr site,, to warehouse my avalanche of slope-borne multimedia. My Twitter account broke 13,500 followers.

I must admit that my relationship with Facebook bordered on schizophrenic. On one hand, my brand-builder side reluctantly capitulated to Facebook's "likes and fans are less important" rap, but in my personal life, I cherished every click, like, share, comment and throwaway birthday high-five.
Indeed, Facebook "engagement" took on special meaning in 2014, especially with high school friends, as we collectively posted photos of aging, slowing or deceased parents. "You too?" I kept asking as I zipped through the heartwarming feed flow. Even relationships that once bordered on superficial now seemed meaningful.

Most of my apps continue to gather cobwebs. The rest suffered a swift death when iPhone photo storage screamed for space. I still love the Kindle for iPad app, but honestly, the ease of Amazon one-click purchase has left me with too many partial or half-read books. Kudos to NPR for the runner-friendly "voice activation" features.

Thanks to the iPad version of iMovie, my three kids and I are reinventing Hollywood in the Swiss Alps. We're cranking out mini-movies like crazy: trips to Rome, ski areas, even the local recycling center. Key insight: iPad thumb-swipes radically simplify film editing. Can you say "Minority Report"?

My best content actually flowed inside the company firewall. I published daily on an internal 3,500-member Chatter social-media group, and I launched a video-content series called "The 60-Second Consumer" as a means of sharing mobile-induced brevity principles. As coordinator of Nestlé's Digital Acceleration Team program, I bear-hugged the notion that "internal mastery drives external mastery." Put another way, walk the darn talk!

I caught the BuzzFeed bug, and curiously found myself testing subject headers like "Five Reasons Why Reading This Won't Get You Fired." Then again, my fascination with this viral juggernaut led me back to Claude Hopkin's 1923 classic "Scientific Advertising," where I was reminded that rapid-fire "split" or A/B testing thrived long before my 50 years began.

On the travel front, I tested an exercise bike in the Amsterdam airport that doubles as a battery charger. I tweeted in Turkey (Twitter's most active market per capita). I embraced the Ice Bucket Challenge in August New Delhi heat. I cheered with 14 million Nestlé Garoto's Facebook fans while in Brazil ahead of the World Cup. I saw so many wearables at Barcelona's Mobile World Congress that I wondered why they didn't just give them out to track the 10K hike across exhibit halls.

A few conferences took center stage. Germany's Dmexco and France's LeWeb seemed to up their game. The New York Ad Age Digital Conference, the 4A's confab and the Word of Mouth Marketing Association Hall of Fame induction ceremony were like family reunions. And the message I emphasized at all three was the need to develop consumer-engagement principles to build trust in the digital age.

Which has got me thinking: There's still so much to do in this space, and maybe I'm overthinking this "age" thing a bit. At the end of the day, the old informs the new, and the opportunities before us are age-agnostic and timeless.

Bring on the tension! Stay wired!

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