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 belwo 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. 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

Why I have voted Green

In any functioning democracy there will always be a conservative party i.e. a party that represents the interests of the rich and powerful.  I don’t have a problem with this.  But the reason democracy works is that it provides a space within the interests of the non-rich and powerful can also be represented and debated.  Thus we have balance.

What I do have a problem with is that democracy in this country, as well as our economy, has become unbalanced.  We don’t have a mainstream party that is representing the interests of the non-rich and powerful.  The party that was meant to be doing this (i.e the Labour Party) abandoned its patch 20 years ago.  It did this because it recognised that it is much easier to get into power with the support of the rich and powerful.  It covered the tracks of its desertion with lots of rhetoric about the end of political ideology and the importance of pragmatism over principle.  It called itself a ‘new’ Labour Party and justified its actions on account of the fact that a Labour party being in power should, in and of itself, ensure that the interests of the non-rich and powerful should be represented.  Being in power became more important than the political debate about how that power should be used and thus that debate basically died.

“They are all the same, there is no difference.”  This is the single biggest message coming back from the electorate.  And the electorate is right.  One party is telling us that it will now cost £9,000 per year to go to university.  And the party that is presenting a “radically different vision for the future of the country” is saying, “tell you what, I’ll give it to you for six grand, can’t say fairer than that Guv, now give me your vote.”

That is not an alternative, that is simply a discount.

And that is why I am voting Green.  The Green Party is the only party which has a set of politics which genuinely represent an alternative.  Some of their policies may me a little rough around the edges, but that doesn’t matter, because what they are trying to do is clear the weeds that have grown up in the space that Labour deserted and put some balance back into democracy.

I, and I suspect the majority of people in this country, believe that the role of government and the public sector is to provide the investment, infrastructure and support that a sustainable, balanced, private sector needs to be successful.  This isn’t a left-wing or socialist idea – it is just common bloody sense.  But it is not being debated.   Access to education is no longer something limited by ability, it is limited by access to money – and this is not being debated.  We are only allowed a ‘choice’ on how much money this shall be.  The Prime Minister has described public services as state monopolies to be broken-up.  Do the majority of people in this country see the NHS as a state monopoly?  But this is not being debated.  We are only allowed a choice on how much money won’t be spent on it.

Will Hutton recent put this more succinctly when he said “the role of democracy is to ensure that capitalism delivers on its promises.”  Democracy isn’t working because capitalism isn’t delivering on its promises.

It is clear this this election will produce a result most people in this country are not happy with.  Dissatisfaction, rather than any groupings of political parties, will have achieved a majority.  But the reason for that is very simple.  It is because we haven’t been allowed to debate the things we want to debate.  We haven’t been given a choice.