Snow Fall is a beautiful, interactive and immersive multimedia experience about the avalanche at Tunnel Creek in the US.

It was lovingly crafted by The New York Times in 2012 and was heralded as setting new standards in digital storytelling.

Seventeen months later, the publication’s internal innovation report was leaked. It points out that while projects such as Snow Fall are extremely popular, with more than 21m page views, they are not easily replicable.

The report acknowledged that:

...we have a tendency to pour resources into big one-time projects and work through the one-time fixes needed to create them and overlook the less glamorous work of creating tools, templates and permanent fixes that cumulatively can have a bigger impact by saving our digital journalists time and elevating the whole report. We greatly undervalue replicability.

In a memorable quote from Quartz editor Kevin Delaney, “I’d rather have a Snow Fall builder than a Snow Fall”.

Isn’t marketing, particularly digital, undergoing a similar change? We love a great campaign but perhaps they are not as valuable as creating a marketing infrastructure and set of marketing processes and capabilities that can deliver replicability.

This does not mean that marketing should be normalised but if we can create the right building blocks, including data, content assets, rules and logic, then we can create ‘composable’ marketing that is unique in discrete executions, yet more scalable, efficient and quicker to execute.

I have encouraged marketers to learn from the world of technology before. Agile marketing can borrow from agile software development. 


You should be aware of software-as-a-service (SaaS) and cloud-based software. Should we not be thinking of marketing-as-a-service (MaaS)? If we can create marketing components that we can assemble on demand, then we can deliver new marketing experiences quickly and effectively.

Consider digital advertising campaigns. Mondelez’s vice-president of media and consumer engagement B. Bonin Bough recently said that he expected all media to be bought programmatically.

Procter & Gamble has stated it aims to buy 70-75% of its US digital media programmatically by the end of this year. American Express also suggested that it wants to shift 100% of digital buys to programmatic.

What becomes most valuable is less the specific creative execution, or individual campaign, and more the underlying models, frameworks and algorithms. To paraphrase Kevin Delaney’s Snow Fall comment, “I’d rather have an optimisation model for programmatic media buying than a great ad campaign”.

How about content marketing? Infographics have proved popular but creating great infographics as one-offs is time consuming and expensive. Using chart and graphic-building tools and services, such as Quartz Chartbuilder, makes more sense.

Syndicating and distributing content manually is too intensive; again, we need services and platforms to properly power content marketing.

Where could MaaS go? Imagine if we could draw on data sources, query that data and build segments on the fly, pull out marketing building blocks to deliver personalised messaging and experiences that are tailored to specific devices, medium and context of use.

IBM is already doing this in its own marketing. Platforms such as Bluemix and services like Watson (artificial intelligence as a service), enable the company to build propositions such as IBM Voices that allow anyone to discover the most valuable social content shared, created and discussed by IBM thought-leaders and subject matter experts.

Made with IBM is a campaign landing site powered by content as a service, delivered dynamically based on business rules.

Many marketers see the future of marketing being about increased personalisation and marketing automation. If that’s the case, they are best powered by MaaS, so I would expect to see this thinking and approach, if not this label, becoming more prevalent.

Ashley Friedlein

Published 9 July, 2014 by Ashley Friedlein @ Econsultancy

Ashley Friedlein is Founder of Econsultancy and President of Centaur Marketing. Follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (2)

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, Founder and Author at Fresh Relevance

Re: "Many marketers see the future of marketing being about increased personalisation and marketing automation. If that’s the case, they are best powered by MaaS"

Marketing-as-a-Service (MaaS) has been around for at least 10 years in the ESP space. I saw this at my previous company EmailReaction, where we would create marketing campaigns consisting of email campaigns linked to microsites (groups of landing pages). Brands do this sort of thing when campaigns require instant domain knowledge, that is better acquired by outsourcing rather than training in-house staff.

At my current company we're seeing the first signs of similar developments in the real-time personalization space, with brands knowing exactly what they want to achieve, but increasingly preferring to buy a combined package of skills and technology rather than employ additional specialists - at least, up front.

TL;DR: ESPs always made significant revenue from services and I expect real-time personalization platforms will too.

about 4 years ago


Andrew Crick, Founder at Story Glass

Good article. We've been inspired by Snow Fall and similar visual stories too, and had the same thought as Kevin Delaney - 'wouldn't it be great to have a Snow Fall builder'. So we've created one. It operates as a marketing service as you describe, an online storytelling component that can be dropped into an existing website.
It's called Story Glass. Users upload text, images and video to a template, we generate the code for a visual story, and they insert it into their page. The idea is to take the programming legwork out of visually sophisticated content marketing. Marketers can focus on the content, and Story Glass handles the presentation.

You can see how it works at

over 3 years ago

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