End of Q3 Economic Check-In for Marketers

Once upon a time, when I worked in financial services, I checked charts and quotes daily. I watched the world’s markets like a hawk, because macroeconomic issues that could impact my work often had leading indicators days, weeks, or months in advance.

Even today, I still check in, though not nearly as frequently because my day to day work doesn’t depend on it. It’s still important to have a general sense of what’s going on in the marketplace – and even better if you know why.

Let’s see where things are, now that we’re at the end of the third quarter of the year. The economic indicators I pay attention to are listed out here.

So how are things? First, let’s look at the broad exchanges, the DJIA…


and S&P:


Broadly, the markets had mostly a good year until recently, with the dislocations in China spreading. If you’ve got overseas exposure to China, you’ll continue to feel it.

We see this in the CBOE VIX:


Any time the VIX goes above 30, it means that confidence is uncertain, things are less stable than markets would like. For the majority of this year, things were predictable. The China shock is what caused the large spike in September. The VIX is what you keep your eye on if you want to gauge market sentiment.

On the lending front, interbank rates are still quite low thanks to the Federal Reserve keeping effective interest rates at zero. We see the 30 day chart:


and the 90 day chart:


We see that these two lending rates are marching in virtually lockstep pacing, and the spread between them is healthy. While there may be unease in the stock markets, the impact to banking and lending has been a flight to quality. It also hasn’t impacted mortgage rates domestically:


Overseas, no surprises here as emerging markets have taken some punishment:


Again, if you have overseas exposure in your business, in your marketing, you’ll want to carefully watch indices like the MSCI Emerging Market index to see how exposed you are. Weakness in the market tends to spread to B2C in a quarter and B2B in two quarters, historically.

We haven’t seen the China shock show up yet in shipping:


As you may recall, BDI, the Baltic Dry Index, is the price to ship a container overseas. It’s expensive to do so; companies don’t speculatively purchase space.

We also haven’t seen China show up in gold prices, which typically spike vigorously when investors are truly spooked:

1 year gold.png

Instead, gold is still relatively cheap at the moment, less than half of what it was during the Great Recession.

Geopolitics are also playing a role in commodities. WTI Crude Oil still remains low:


The reasons why oil is cheap are varied and complex. Some believe that Saudi Arabia is flooding the market to deprive the Islamic State of needed revenue (which comes from oil fields they hold). Some believe that it’s an indirect economic sanction on Russia. Some believe that renewable energy is finally beginning to make a dent in carbon fuel usage. Whatever the reason is, the net effect is cheaper gas at the pump and lower heating costs. If you’re a B2C marketer, this is welcome news because the consumer should have more disposable income not being consumed by energy.

Finally, in looking at corn, wheat, and rice commodities, only the latter is under some pressure:


Which should be no surprise – when one of the largest economies (China) is feeling disruption, its principal commodity should show that as well.

What does it all mean?

So what does all of this mean for us, as marketers and business people? Right now the world is in fairly unsteady shape, except for America. Between conflicts and refugee crises in Europe and Asian contagion, the flight to quality is coming to America – and that isn’t a good thing in the long term.

In the short term, marketers will find more dollars in America, but no country is an island. In rougher times in other markets, use the opportunity to build and grow your audiences. Ad dollars will stretch further and you may be able to negotiate better deals outside America, especially if your business is being bolstered by American profits. Strategically, make the money in America and invest it in weak markets to seize marketing advantage while you can.

Take advantage of relatively good conditions for the American consumer, with lower energy and food prices. The upcoming holiday season has the potential to be a good one. Consumers tend to spend what they have without a ton of foresight or planning, so if they have more money in their pockets on the days they go to the mall, they’ll spend more of it. Leverage hyperlocal advertising in real-time to make the most of this trend!

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The hottest marketing job skills of 2015

LinkedIn recently published their data-mined list of the hottest individual job skills of 2014, based on recruiter interest and LinkedIn profile data. Here’s the raw list:

The_25_Hottest_Skills_That_Got_People_Hired_in_2014___Official_LinkedIn_Blog 2

Do you see a trend? I do. Let’s cluster them together by broad topic areas like marketing, data analysis, and technology skills:


That’s impressive. Of the top 25 skills, only two are not in the buckets of marketing, data analysis, and technology – and they’re down at positions 15 and 17.

So these are the hot skills of 2014, of the year that was. If you wanted, as Wayne Gretzky would say, to skate where the puck is rather than where it was or where it is now, what would you pick as the top skills of the year ahead?

My recommendation is simple: combinations of these skills. Being proficient in one skill set is likely to get you a good job somewhere. Being proficient at two? That makes you nearly indispensable.

Suppose you had a background in statistical analysis and data mining, AND a background in network security. You could build and identify security problems just as they broke out and started trending, putting you far ahead of the pack.

Suppose you had a background in business intelligence and mobile development. You could engineer the next generation of business intelligence apps, the sort of apps that people would love to use.

Suppose you had a background in Perl/Python/Ruby and SEO/SEM. You could code infrastructures or make ridiculously sticky content because your content would be more interactive and more fun than the standard swill.

This is where the puck is going or could go, and these combinations of skills are what will differentiate the top performing employees from everyone else, make or break the next wave of startups, and redefine your business. Look for them, test for them, and grow them in your companies!

If you’re a marketer looking for the next big thing, the next big thing is you. Pick out a skill on this list that you don’t have and grow it alongside the marketing skills you already have. You’ll be virtually unstoppable.

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The long tail is longer than you think

I left the world of financial aid and student loans way back in January 2010.

Slackershot: Financial Aid Podcast Shirt

I had created a ton of content for the company I was working for at the time, including the very first financial aid podcast, and I’m proud that kids paid less for college based on the work I did.

But this should give you a sense of just how long the long tail of content is. I got this email today – October 23, 2014, almost 5 years after leaving the field:

Quick question could you recommend where my daughter should go/apply for a student loan? I remember you were connected with a student loan site or was I tripping?

This demonstrates the power and longevity of content online. Half a decade has passed since it was my job to answer questions like this, yet people still find me through evergreen content and ask questions. (I’m still happy to answer as best as I can, because it’s for a good cause)

The content you create today can come back to you years later. As long as content marketing programs take to get running, once they have momentum, they can continue paying benefits to you long into the future.

Financial aid stuff

For those interested, by the way, the answer to the above question is as follows. Before you go shopping for loans, be sure you’ve applied for scholarships. There are millions of dollars out there and many scholarships only get a handful of applicants, especially the low dollar ones. Winning 10 $500 scholarships is just as good as winning 1 $5,000 scholarship, and the competition is lighter. Googling for scholarships is simple to do, and just requires dedication and work.

One parent who was a listener of my podcast back in the day had a great tip: he paid his child 10 cents on the dollar for every scholarship they brought home. When Junior wanted a new car, new phone, new etc., this dad reminded him of the deal. By the time freshman year rolled around, the kid had the new phone, new laptop, etc. – because they brought home $138,000 in scholarships.

When it comes to loans, start by completing a FAFSA and then seeing what financial aid you qualify for. Every student enrolled in an eligible, accredited school can get an unsubsidized Stafford federal student loan. Students who file a FAFSA and are given approval by demonstrating financial need can get subsidized Stafford federal student loans as well. After that, students can either apply with a cosigner for private student loans, or parents can apply for federal PLUS loans. For complete information about federal student loans, go visit the US Department of Education’s website.

Your best bet before you begin the financial aid process is to talk to a qualified financial planner to look at all of your options. Many community banks and credit unions offer these services for free to members; typically they work on salary and receive no commissions or incentives to sell you extra stuff. Sometimes, taking out a home equity loan if possible may make greater overall financial sense than taking out a student or parent loan – but you can make that determination only when you look at the big picture, financially.

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