A focus for marketing in 2017

I notice that I last posted in June last year and that this wasn’t even a proper post, just a reference to a speech I had given in Istanbul that was conveniently YouTubed. In my defence, I have been busy doing other things such as building a house and involved in an interesting experiment in online education. Interestingly, my blog views haven’t decreased dramatically over that time, which I think says something instuctive about the whole content thing. It suggests that content is not a volume game, where frequency or even timing of posting is key, rather it suggests that content is a relevance game that is not driven by the act of publication, but driven by the act of search. This is why content socialisation is far more important that content publication. As I have said before, spend only 10 per cent (or less) of your content budget actually producing content and the remaining 90 per cent on socialising that content. Socialised content is the gift that carries on giving. Once it is out there it will carry on working for you without you having to do anything else. And this socialisation has to start with an understanding of what content (information) people actually want from you – identifying the questions for which your brand is the answer. Remember, the social digital space is not a distribution space where reach and frequency are the objectives, it is a connection space where the objectives are defined by behaviour identification and response.

Here endeth the predictable critique of content strategies.

Given that it is still January I believe I have permission to resume posting with a 2017 prediction piece. I was prompted to do this by reading Ashley Freidlin’s extremely comprehensive post on marketing and digital trends for 2017. This is essentially a review of the landscape and it its sheer scale is almost guaranteed to strike terror into the heart of every marketing director. Perhaps because of this, Ashley’s starts with saying that the guiding star for 2017 should be focus, so in that spirit I shall attempt to provide some basis for focus.

Focus on value

First, I would suggest that the best way of achieving focus is to focus on value. I sincerely hope that 2017 is the year marketing people wake up to the fact that much of what they have been doing in the social digital space is not creating sufficient value to justify doing it – no matter how many likes, shares, re-tweets it might have been garnering. Drop the reach and frequency metrics: value in the social digital space is created by behaviour identification and response, not reach and frequency.

With this in mind I hope 2017 will see the death of content marketing as we know it. Ashley suggests that content marketing is approaching its ‘plateau of productivity’ as per the Gartner Hype Cycle. I think it is approaching its ‘peak of inflated expectation’ and is about the slide into the ‘trough of disillusionment’ (for reasons I have set out many times before).

AI, Big Data, Internet of things, marketing automation, conversational interfaces, identity management, segmentation, augmented reality.  These are all the same thing

There is one thing that links all this stuff together and that is the algorithm. Understand algorithms and how they change the way we understand identity and all of this seemingly diverse stuff will fall into place. Critically, algorithms shift the way we understand  identity from seeking to understand who or where people are (old-fashioned segmentation and targeting), to understanding what they are doing (algorithmic segmentation). It is about behaviour identification and response again. That is why mobile is becoming so important because a mobile (and a wearable) is not as channel – as most people think – it is a behaviour detection device and also a data gathering device.

If I were to call out any of the above it would be augmented reality. This is vastly more important than virtual reality. Augmented reality allows you to place an algorithm between a person and the real world (not a fantasy world), the real world where transactions happen. Imagine a retail environment where an augmented reality app allows a brand or the retailer to create an individually customised offer to any shopper. Pokemon Buy, rather than Pokemon Go. And that is only the start. Augmented reality and the heads-up screen is the gateway to the world of the algorithm and real-time, real world customised and personalised experiences. It can be used, quite literally, to control how we see, experience and relate to the world around us.

The race for data

Linked to the above is the race for data. Organisations need to build what I call their data geology: layers of data sets they can then stitch together with algorithmic needles in order to understand and predict consumer behaviour. As a more general rule, the more data layers you have, the better. Volume of data trumps accuracy or precision of data in the world of the algorithm. The NSA and GCHQ have shown us how to do this and it is why these organisations are potentially the most powerful marketing agencies (indeed most powerful anything agencies) in the world: it is just that they have chosen to use this power only to identify terrorists and criminals at this point (at least as far as we know). Identifying, adding to and locking down your data is a critical task for any organisation, even if you haven’t yet hired the data scientists to help you work out what to do with it.  Which brings us to…


Data scientists. Get some. That’s it. The most important hire any marketer could make this year.


Getting my head around Blockchain is at the top of my 2017 to do list. Blockchain has the potential to do to the distribution and sharing of value, what the internet did to the distribution and sharing of information. It could usher-in the end of the trading era where information about money is more valuable than actual money. I don’t yet now how it is going to do this, but the place I would recommend starting is Jeremy Epstein’s blog. Jeremy is now focusing on Blockchain and he has always been a guy who is one-step-ahead. I was sort of interested in Blockchain, but when I heard Jeremy was focusing on it full-time, I became very interested.

And finally, advertising (it is not dead or dying)

Or more precisely the good old-fashioned world of audience-based marketing. This world hasn’t gone away. If a brand still wishes to be ‘a brand’ it has to put on a show for the audience, as well as becoming a fragmented ‘personalised experience’. Indeed the more personalised brands become, the more important it is to have a collective experience at the centre. Of course, brands as we know them might disappear and the whole brand landscape may become commoditised. In fact this could become one of the effects of Blockchain, but this isn’t gong to happen any time soon and there is nothing to be gained (for current brands) in hastening its advance.

However I do think audience-based marketing has to evolve if it is to survive and this will involve breaking the dependency on channel. Currently most marketing activity is defined by the channels it sits within, rather than defining the channels it sits within. As these channels have proliferated and as consumers have gained greater control over channel use selection the response has been to develop ‘multi-channel marketing’ and we have conjured into existence this mythical beast called ‘the omnichannel’. This is the wrong approach. Rather than focus on the channel, marketers need to focus on the ideas than can boss (and sit on top of) the channels.

Last year I ran a workshop for a TV company. I pointed out to them that in the past Red Bull used to pay them large amounts of money for the privilege of renting a 30 second window in their channel (i.e an ad) to get their message out to their consumers. Today, the TV company pays Red Bull money to allow Red Bull to have a 60 minute window in their channel in which they can get their message in front of consumers. Who is the boss here? Red Bull as a brand has become a series of events which define and ‘boss’ the channels they sit within. Its approach to F1 is the same, rather than sponsor an F1 team (traditional channel-based sponsorship idea), it became an F1 team. Brands need to look at Red Bull and learn.

Creating ideas that define the channels they sit within should be the principal creative challenge for brands and their agencies in 2017. I also did a workshop for a large agency group in Milan last year. The creative people here were spending their time pulling their hair out desperately pumping out vast amounts of content for their clients: feeding the multi-headed channel beast that is Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and… What a waste of time, energy, creativity and money when they should have been focusing on creating and bringing to life channel-bossing ideas.





Success in the digital future: talk at Digital Age Summit 2016

IMG_6708A few weeks ago I was in Istanbul speaking at the Digital Age Summit. A video of my presentation is now on YouTube and I have finally got around to posting it.

See also below the summary slide, which pretty much covers what I said. Some other soundbites include, why a mobile is not a channel but is a behaviour detection device, why consumers don’t want content, why marketing has been in the Ice Age and why the algorithm is the most powerful instrument of social control invented since the sword.

Digital Age 2016 minus video

Also – check out the presentation by Matt Wallaert from Microsoft for a new way of thinking about your business / market and competition.

I especially like the idea of creating value by reducing levels of engagement, given the senseless chase for ‘engagement’ in social media. It correspond to my idea of a brand as a waiter – just tell me about the specials, take my order, bring my drinks but at all other times just stay out of my life – don’t think that because you are a waiter you have a right to ‘join my conversation’. (I don’t think I got into this in my presentation – there was probably already too much in there).

The content delusion: why almost all content marketing strategies are a waste of time and money

This excellent piece by Mark Higginson has galvanised me to write this post. I have done many posts previously on this, but they have tended to be too long, too short or just dealing with a specific aspect. So here it is – my shot at the definitive post that punctures the content delusion.

1. Consumers don’t want it

Find me the consumer who is saying “what I really want right now is another piece of content from my favourite brand”. That consumer does not exist. Ask consumers what they want from brands and they will certainly give you a list – but content will not be on that list. Don’t believe me here, believe the global PR agency, Edelman. They asked consumers what they wanted from brands and they came up with a list of 8 things. In essence what consumers were saying is “we want information (not content), we want responses, we want answers to questions, we want you to listen to us and give us an opportunity to be heard, we want you to demonstrate to us that you actually strand for something other than marketing b*** s**t.

2. The value creation model is fundamentally flawed

Let’s look the theory first. We have an industry that has been around in excess of 500 years that specialises in turning content into cash. This is the publishing and media industry. The model this industry has developed for doing this most efficiently involves creating revenue in two ways: subscription/purchase or advertising. Neither of these options are available to brand ‘publishers’ and in any case, this model is dying on its feet. So, as a toothpaste brand, if you think you can do a better job at creating value from content than the guys who have been doing it for 500 years, without recourse to the two most effective tools these guys have developed and in the face of an economic environment within which the ability to create value from content is collapsing – go ahead: make my day (and clean my teeth).

Now for the practice: it just doesn’t scale. The ability to create cash from content is dependent on the ability to build an audience for that content. But audiences are not native features of the social digital space, it is very hard to build an audience in social media. This means that you may be able to ‘reach’ people with your content, you may even be able to reach enough people to say you are achieving ‘cost effective reach’, but no matter how cost effective it might be, it will almost certainly struggle to move the needle against any sensible business metric, such as increasing sales or improving brand affinity metrics. This is for two reasons: first, you are probably reaching only a tiny fraction of your audience (even if you are reaching them cost effectively); second you are not reaching them with a piece of content specifically designed to build sales or brand affinity metrics. Instead you are reaching them with stuff that tells them how to make cups out of coloured pencils (sorry Coke, I always use this one, but cups from crayons? Why?)

3. It is yesterday’s response to today’s problem

The media environment within which marketing developed is a distribution environment. The medium itself is expensive, which is why we need to reach audiences, rather than individuals. The marketing challenge has therefore been all about channel and message (content), measured by reach and frequency. The social digital environment is different. It is a connection environment, not a distribution environment. If you care to take a look at how people (consumers) are using the social digital space, it is all about connections. It is not a world of the audience, it is a world of the individual. Facebook was not designed as a platform to distribute messages to a billion people, it was designed to help geeks get girlfriends.

In a connection environment, you create value through behaviour identification and response, not channel and message. You are never going to reach that many people at any one moment in time and even if you could, you are not going to be able to create relationships with them of any significant value. In a connection environment you create value by having a very small number of relationships (at any one moment in time), but by making those relationships hugely more valuable than anything you could create by pushing bits of content at people. No matter how ‘engaging’ a piece of content is, it is no-where nearly as engaging as an organisation that listens and responds to you when you decide you want to be listened and responded to (see earlier points re Edelman’s findings).

Channel and message, reach and frequency – those are the old challenges and content evolved as a way of meeting those challenges. The new challenge is behaviour identification and response – and content just can’t rise to this challenge.

4. It is not the right answer, but it is the answer we all want

If you are facing a new problem and you don’t know what to do about it, you will do one of three things: you will either do what everyone else is doing, what some expert tells you to do or whatever looks the easiest and cheapest thing to do. Usually these all work out to be the same thing. Content is that thing. Rather than face up to the difficult challenges inherent in being the sort of brand Edleman has shown us you need to be, it is much easier to sign a cheque for the agency and get them to produce a whole load of content, while chucking a load of money at Facebook or Twitter to then promote that content so that it stands a half decent chance of reaching enough people to be worthwhile. Your agency is happy, Facebook is happy, you are happy because you have solved the difficult ‘social media’ problem. Everyone is happy (except your consumers) who are either bored or totally indifferent.

You just don’t need a content strategy, you need an information management process that ensures your consumers are getting answers to questions in real-time (i.e. consumers time, not brand publication time). Marketing is fast becoming a real time management process. The new consumer touchpoint strategy is not about who people are and where they are (channels they are in), but what they are doing (right now). The consumers you need to ‘reach’ will identify themselves by their behaviour – hence why the challenge is behaviour identification and response. In this situation content is almost never going to be the right response. It is also why mobile is important – because a mobile is the device most closely aligned to real-time behaviour and, through things such as augmented reality and algorithmic insertion, can be made even more so. Mobile is not a channel, that is simply an old-fashioned media planner’s way of looking at it, a mobile is actually a behaviour detection device. Channels are dead along with the CONTent they once CONTained.

Google: the United States of Data

A couple of weeks ago I stumbled across something called Google Big Query and it has changed my view on data. Up until that point I had seen data (and Big Data) as something both incredibly important and incredibly remote and inaccessible (at least for an arts graduate). However, when I checked-out Google Big Query I suddenly caught a glimpse of a future where an arts graduate can become a data scientist.

Google Big Query is a classic Google play in that it takes something difficult and complicated and rehabilitates it into the world of the everyday. I can’t pretend I really understood how to use Google Big Query, but I got the strong sense that I wasn’t a million miles away from getting that understanding – especially if GBQ itself became a little more simplified.

And that presents the opportunity to create a world where the ability to play with data is a competence that is available to everyone. Google Big Query could become a tool as familiar to the business world as PowerPoint or Excel. Data manipulation and interrogation will become a basic business competence, not just a rarefied skill.

The catch, of course, is that this opportunity is only available to you once you have surrendered your data to the Google Cloud (i.e. to Google) and paid for an entry visa. As it shall at the base of the Statue of Googlability that marks the entry point to the US of D:

“Give me your spreadsheets, your files,
Your huddled databases yearning to breathe free,
The wretched data refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the officeless, ppt-tossed, to me:
I lift my algorithms beside the (proprietary) golden door.”

And the rest, as they say, shall be history (and a massive future revenue stream).

Why YouTube Red is the same as the 1559 Index of Banned Books

It may be difficult to see a connection between the launch of YouTube Red (a subscription paywall behind which its ‘content stars’ have now been imprisoned), the Council of Trent in 1545-63 and the Index of Banned Books (or indeed between the social media ‘Reformation’ and the Protestant Reformation). But there is a connection and it is to do with institutional reactions to new forms of disruptive technology and a desire to shore up established vested interests.

Looking first at the Council of Trent. This was one of a series of crisis meetings convened by the Catholic Church to try and deal with the pesky Protestant Reformation which was threatening its authority in large parts of Europe. An aspect of this that was especially irksome was the new-fangled technology of printing, which had allowed Martin Luther et al, as well as some other awkward geeks such as Galileo, to spread their ideas far more extensively that would have been possible in the good-old days of the Inquisition. In fact one of the most significant aspects behind the success of the Protestant Reformation was its adoption of this new communications technology and a recognition of its power to disrupt established institutionalised interests (i.e. the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Church).

The Roman Catholic Church could not deny or seek to eradicate this new technology, but it could try to appropriate its power and control its output – hence the Index of Banned Books. This Index was an attempt to define and promote only content that supported institutionalised political vested interests (the Roman Catholic Church). YouTube Red, on the other hand, is an attempt to define and promote only content that supports institutionalised commercial vested interests (Google and the advertising industry). Continue reading

TechCrunch Disrupt: putting disruption in front of success

TechCrunch Disrupt is “the world’s leading authority in debuting revolutionary startups, introducing game-changing technologies, and discussing what’s top of mind for the tech industry’s key innovators.”  It ran its 2015 show in San Francisco a couple of weeks ago and Carole Cadwalladr from the Guardian/Observer wrote this excellent piece entitled “Is the dotcom bubble about to burst (again)”.

As well as the bubble angle, Carole also focused on the disrupt angle implicit in the event’s title and noted the extent to which the D word is inserted into all the pitches.  The logic here appears to be: 1) look at the businesses that have become successful and that we wish to emulate 2) identify a common characteristic of all of these success stories, i.e. that they were all disruptive 3) reach the conclusion that disruption is therefore the key to success.

Wrong conclusion.  Continue reading

The three ages of the algorithm: a new vision of artificial intelligence

Last week the BBC looked at artificial intelligence and robotics. You could barely move through any part of the BBC schedule on any of its platforms without encountering an AI mention or feature. A good idea I think – both an innovative way of using ‘the whole BBC’ but also an important topic. That said I failed to come across any piece which adequately addressed what I believe is the real issue of AI and how it is likely to play-out and influence humanity.

True to subject form, in the BBC reporting there was a great deal of attention on ‘the machine’ and ‘the robot’ and the idea that intelligence has to be defined in a human way and therefore artificial intelligence can be said to be here, or to pose a threat, when some machine has arrived which is a more intelligent version of a human. This probably all stems from the famous Turing test together with the fact that most of the thinkers in the AI space are machine (i.e. computer) obsessives: artificial intelligence and ‘the machine’ are therefore seen to go hand in hand. But AI is not going to arrive via some sort of machine, in fact it will be characterised by the absence of any visible manifestations because AI is all about algorithms. Not algorithms that are contained within or defined by individual machines or systems, but algorithms unconstrained by any individual machine and where the only system is humanity itself. Here is how it will play-out. Continue reading

Programmatic advertising (aka strapping an engine to a horse)

Strange brandsMy thanks to the team at Digital Doughnut for drawing my attention to this relatively new report by eConsultancy and Quantcast. It is called ‘Programmatic Branding: driving upper-funnel engagement’.

I read the report and it gave me a vivid reminder of a feeling from my agency days where you find yourself in a conference room (probably in New York) listening to a presentation about ‘the new big thing’ (albeit presented in such a way as to suggest that this is not sufficiently new that you shouldn’t already know quite a lot about it) and find yourself struggling to resolve two competing reactions. The first is panic: OMG, the fact that I can barely understand what this guy (probably a guy) is talking about shows that I am just so out-of-touch I may as well resign right now. The second is: OMG I suspect this guy himself barely understands what he is talking about and is just making up a whole new set of words to either disguise his ignorance or take something which is actually very simple and make it sound incredibly complicated.   Experience has shown that the latter usually prevails. Continue reading

Twitter’s failure: a failure of management or expectation?

It has just been announced (in a Tweet of course) that Twitter CEO Dick Costolo has stepped down, under pressure from investors, because of a perceived failure to either grow the user base or revenue sufficiently.

The real issue here is what is this a failure of.  Is it a failure of management to grow users and (advertising) revenues, or it is it a failure of expectation on the part of investors?  I tend to see it as the later.

Twitter has the same problem that Facebook has in that the ‘clever’ chaps on Wall Street who had to stick a number on it when it started to prospect for investment used the wrong model.  Continue reading