Category: Uncategorized

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

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.

Social customer service: it is ‘legitimately difficult’ (Social Media Today webinar)

Last week I tuned-in to a Social Media Today webinar about customer service.  One of the participants was Dave Evans (@evansdave) from Lithium.  He had a number of interesting charts which made clear the extent to which customers or consumers now have an expectation that brands will be able to deliver an on-line respond to their specific issues and question – especially in terms of response to Twitter questions.  No great surprises here, I wrote this about the future of customer service back in 2009, but it is good to finally see this sort of thing hitting the mainstream.

However there was one thing he said that stood out – and which I will surely drop into all of my talks and presentations.  He said this stuff is ‘legitimately difficult’.  I loved that.  Obviously he has an interest in suggesting this because if something were easy, why would you spend a lot of money with Lithium doing it?  But he is right.  The easy thing to do in social media is simply fill-up the void with industrial quantities of content.  The difficult thing to do is listen and respond to your customers.  But if a brand wants to operate in the social digital space – that is what it is going to have to do, no two ways about it (as this study from Edelman clearly demonstrates).

Brands have to recognise that they are increasingly operating within the community of their customers.  A community is not an audience and you can’t treat it as such by pushing messages at it.  A community is something you have to listen and respond to.  It is why social media is a behaviour identification and response challenge, whereas traditional (audience-based) marketing is a channel and message (reach and frequency) challenge.  Traditional media is a medium of distribution: social media is a medium of connection.  Traditional media is high reach but low engagement: social media is low reach but high engagement (if you do it properly).

But many brands still don’t get this.  They are pursuing brandfill strategies which, to paraphrase Dave, are ‘ illegitimately easy’.

I can Get (now) Satisfaction

GSIn view of my previous post about the three key tools of social media (Sprinklr, WordPress and Get Satisfaction), you can only imagine my own sense of satisfaction – indeed smugness – to see that Sprinklr has just announced it has bought Get Satisfaction.

Clearly there are sensible people, with money, out there who think as I do – which is always a reassuring thought.

The interesting thing about Get Satisfaction is that when it first launched it was a customer, rather than a corporate, tool. It was designed to allow customers or consumers to create their own community around the brands they wanted to talk to, or report upon. It was a bit like Trip Advisor – but for any organisation. It was a community owned by the customer to which brands were then invited to join. Indeed for those brands that didn’t join there was a wonderful one-liner “No-one from company X has sponsored, endorsed or joined the conversation yet” which I thought was a great metaphor for the state of social media at the time (notice the usage of the word ‘yet’). I used this in all of my presentations  (see pictures) and I was convinced that this marked the dawn of a new era where control of corporate reputation would shift to individual customers operating within structured or semi-structured online communities.tomb

Things haven’t worked out quite like that (yet). Get Satisfaction itself shifted to become a corporate-based product, probably because it’s management decided (sensibly as it turned out) to commercialise first and then build a corporate user base rather than build a big consumer user base and then try to work-out how to commercialise it. However, I think the fact that it started out as a tool for the customer has given it an edge as a customer service tool for brands. It has a recognition that all things start with the customer (rather than the brand) coded into its DNA.

As a brand, if you use a tool like Get Satisfaction you cannot fail but become more connected, in real-time, with your customers. It’s four imperatives – ask a question, report a problem, share an idea, give praise – represent all the things that customers want to base their relationships with brands upon. Creating a customer service community may not be easy because doing it effectively means building a new process which will have tentacles that reach out much further into your business that the traditional marketing, sales and communication processes ever did. It will certainly be harder than simply pumping industrial volumes of content out into the social void. However, it is worth remembering that the easy things to do are not usually the best things to do.

I hope that this acquisition marks an end of the phoney-war of social media – and also an acquisition that cements Sprinklr’s position as the leader in ‘enterpise social media solutions’ (I hate that phrase but you know what I mean). I hope it marks at least the begining of the end of the phase where brands thought they could simply put a ‘social patch’ onto their traditional, audience and content based approaches and then carry on as normal. I hope this marks a growing realisation that brands have to adopt a fundamentally different approach to creating relationships with customers in the social digital space, the world of the individual rather than the world of the audience. A world where brands understand how to harness the power of connection rather than distribution. A world where (as I have said in my ebook) you are successful by not speaking to 97 per cent of your audience – just the three per cent (frequently much less) who, at any given time, want to talk to you.

Or, as I have also said, there are only ten customers critical to your business and social media can help you find them. The only catch being these are the people critical to your business right now, and in 10 minutes time it could be another ten people. I.e. these are the people who, right now, want to ask a question, report a problem, share an idea or give praise.

 

A political rant about stories, poppy seeds and lettuce

(N.B. This post is not about social media.  It is a political rant, but after last night’s initial election 2015 TV (non) debate, I just had to get it out of the system).

So – the campaign has started. As an electorate we now have the opportunity to see exactly what is on offer. There may be cock-ups, controversy, confrontation and commentary ahead, but there will be no ‘new’ policies. I put new in inverted commas since this pre-supposes the existence of some identifiable policies (as distinct from just initiatives) to start with.

So how do we all feel? Are we energised? Are we enthused about the debates to come? Do we sense that we are living in a vigourous democracy that thrives on the exchange of ideas? Do we even feel, as did the people of Scotland in their independence referendum, that there are clear choices presented to us?

Well, I will tell you how I feel. Continue reading

Swimmers ‘failing’ at mountain climbing says Brandwatch study

FireShot Screen Capture #217 - 'Retailers 'failing' on Facebook and Twitter, says Brandwatch study I PR Week' - www_prweek_com_article_1333814_retailers-failing-facebook-twitter-says-brandwatch-studyHere is a report on research from Brandwatch that I think neatly encapsulates where many brands have got to in terms of understanding and using social media.  OK, so it doesn’t actually say that swimmers are failing at mountain climbing, it says are that retailers are ‘failing’ on Facebook and Twitter because they are failing to listen and respond to their audiences.  But it may as well talk about swimmers and mountains because while it has identified the failure bit, it has reached the wrong conclusion about why the failure is occuring or what to do about it.

The failure is one of defining the challenge, it is not a failure of insufficient activity.  The challenge in the social media space is defined by behaviour identifiction and response (i.e. it is all about swimming).  The challenge in the traditional media / marketing space was all about channel and message, reach and frequency (i.e. mountain climbing).  So while Brandwatch correctly identified the problem i.e. failure to listen and respond it didn’t realise this was happening because it was positioned against the wrong challenge.  In effect the article is saying “you are failing to swim up this mountain, but if you flayed your arms about more frequently and thrashed your legs more vigourously you would be more successful .”  True enough, but you wouldn’t be that much more successful.  What the article should really say is “you are failing at swimming, but that is because you are trying to climb a mountain rather than cross a lake”.  Right activity, wrong context.  If swimming is what it is all about, look for a lake, don’t look for a mountain.

In reality, the reason most brands are not responding effectively is because this is not what they got into social media to do.  Listening and response is seen as the rather awkward consequence of being in the social media space.  It is seen as a cost that needs to be paid in order to fulfill the ambition of spreading their content far and wide and maximising  ‘engagement’ with their audience.  And like all costs, it should therefore be kept to a minimum.

Social media is entirely a behaviour identification and response challenge.  It is not a channel and message / reach and frequency challenge.  Listening and response is not a cost, it is the source of value creation.  Most brands haven’t really grasped this yet – but at least they are starting to realise that what they are doing has a problem (sort of).

 

 

 

Seamless omni-channel customer experiences. Did the customer order one of these?

omnichannelYesterday I received an email invitation for a Social Media Today webinar which posed the question “are you providing an omni-channel customer experience?”  Now I have a suspicion that in 10 or 15 years time when marketing has finally moved-on, we are all going to look back at this sort of stuff and shake our heads.  How was it that we ever got ourselves caught up in such tangled nonesense, we will ask.

A ridiculous term like omni-channel customer experience is only born when we need to use language to disguise a fundamental gap in understanding.  Terms like this are a sure sign that we don’t really know what we are talking about.  We are just making things up that sound good and have the reassurance of seeming vaguely familiar.

According to Caitlin McCulloch, Director of Community Marketing at Social Media Today “Omni-channel marketing focuses on a seamless approach to the consumer experience through all available channels, including mobile Internet devices, computers, brick-and-mortar, television, radio, direct mail, catalog, and so on. When brands think customer experience, they need to think omni.”  A seamless omni-channel customer experience in fact – even better.

The problem here is that the social digital space is not about channels and messages (reach and frequency) and generic customer experiences.  It is about behaviour identification and response:  it works in a completely different way.  It is well nigh impossible to have a conversation with the same person in multiple channels.  You can only have a conversation with an audience in multiple channels – but the social digital space is the world of the individual, not the world of the audience.  A concept like a seamless omni-channel customer experience can only ever work in the world of the audience: the world of traditional marketing.  It just has no relevance in the social digital space, where people need to be treated as individuals.

Brands may want to bombard their customers with omni-channel experiences, but customers cannot, and will not, reciprocate.  They just want to talk to brands through whatever channel is most appropriate to them at any given moment in time.  The customer selects the channel and they never select an omni-channel.  The only part of this that needs to be omni is the ability for a brand to be available on all the channels, thus have to ability to listen and respond at the time and in the place that its’ customers want.

Customers don’t want ‘customer experiences’.  When has a customer ever asked for a ‘customer experience’?  They want brands to listen to them give them answers to questions in as close to their time (i.e. real time) as possible.  In fact, the closest thing to an omni-channel, from a customers’ perspective, is Google.

But hey, providing a seamless omni-channel customer experience sounds really great. It fits into the statement “we at x brand are totally committed to providing a …”  It then opens the way for agencies who can then sell seamless omni-channel customer experience marketing solutions.  Ker-ching and everyone is happy (except the customer of course).

 

“Nous sommes tous…” what exactly?

This week , the magazine Charlie Hebdo will publish a defiant response to the terrorists who assassinated 8 members of its staff and four shoppers  in a Jewish supermarket. This response will involve publishing an image of the Prophet Muhammad.

Is this an appropriate response? Is this the way in which we should demonstrate our defiance to such an appalling act?

Having the right to do something does not necessarily make it the right thing to do. We have (and must defend) the right to publish an image of the Prophet Muhammad, but with this right (as with all rights) comes the responsibility of deciding whether to exercise it. And in making this decision, we have to think about consequences. Indeed having rights creates the responsibility to think about consequences – something it is often convenient to forget or ignore. Continue reading

Advertising is just a big, pink, inflatable, pointy finger

2014-10-10 10.16.29I spent two days last week on the Slovenian ‘Riveriera’ attending the Golden Drums International Advertising Festival (basically Cannes, but for eastern Europe). Slovenia has almost no coastline and therefore appears to have turned all of it into the edge of one gigantic Adriatic swimming pool, complete with chrome steps and handrails, interspersed with a couple of pretty fishing villages. You can almost hear the tourism pitch idea now, “hey, this is not much as a coastline, but as a swimming pool it could be pretty impressive!”

These events are always interesting to see how the practice of creativity and the practice of marketing are currently entwined. Two things stood out for me. First was the familiar problem of category confusion. It was impossible to put most of the best ideas in any one category. For example, there was an idea for the Belgrade State Theatre (I think) which placed actors as drivers in taxis wired up with hidden cameras. In true taxi driver style, the drivers began a tale of lament about their lives, drawing the passengers into the narrative. At the end of the journey they then reveal their true identity and that the story was actually the plot of a Shakespeare play, currently playing at their theatre. Very funny to watch (in the show reel) especially once you were wise to the format and were trying to identify the play.

But the problem was that this ‘event’ was forced into the category of film (because it was filmed) and sat there alongside conventional 30 second ads. However, the event wasn’t in any way a conventional ad. In fact it became compromised by the requirement to render it into the restrictive frame required to create something that can sit in paid-for TV space and that is seen a number of times by a ‘target consumer’. It worked as a show reel (but consumers never get to see the show reel) or it worked if you could get consumers out of expensive advertising space, to a space (i.e. YouTube) where you had sufficient time to tell, or even interact with, the stories properly.

This leads to the second problem – one of scale. Most of the best ideas were small scale ideas, or rather ideas which were not naturally adapted to working at large scale. This was either because, as in the case of the theatre example, it was difficult to fit them into a distribution medium which would give them scale (i.e. a TV ad) or because their strength was in their relevance – often local or cultural relevance – which by definition has limited scale. The most decorated agency on the night was an independent Russian agency called Voskhod. Their stand-out ideas (i.e. the ones I can remember) were all small scale. Actually, they were all PR ideas. For example, they created a poster for a local steak restaurant that featured a picture of a raw steak. One night they ‘grilled’ the steak by actually burning strips into the poster. Result – the restaurant was booked out the following week. And they did a campaign which linked an up-and-coming band with a single fashion shop. Very geographically and culturally specific stuff. And this stuff is the anti-thesis of the generic, international campaign that forms the bread and butter of most big brands and major agency networks. An impending problem there me-thinks.

Of course all of these ideas were surrounded by clouds of ‘social media’ – i.e everything was YouTubed, Facebooked, Tweeted etc. etc. In fact, these ideas lived much more comfortably in social media than in traditional media. But social media isn’t a channel. Just because something is ‘in’ social media, doesn’t mean it actually goes anywhere – unless you then invest significant time and effort driving people to that social space. Which perhaps provides a clue to the future of advertising and creativity. As I have posted previously, one of the principal consequences for brands and creativity of the social media revolution (which is the separation of information from distribution) is the separation of creativity from the means of delivery. Ideas have to sit above any particular delivery channel. Ideas have to define the channels, rather than be defined by the channels.

The channels themselves only have relevance in-so-far as they have a specific purpose and quite possibly the purpose of advertising in the future is not to actually carry, or even illustrate, brand ideas, but simply to be the big, pink, inflatable finger which points at brand ideas. Advertising is a distribution medium, so that is what it should focus on – bringing attention (scale) to an idea which lives in a (social) space which doesn’t naturally have scale attached to it. And these ideas will in most instance have a degree of specific geographical or cultural relevance that, even with advertising attached, will limit their ability to achieve international scale. It also points to what I have previously talked about, which is that the challenge for brands is to convene an audience, not to target it.

The overall winning idea came from Romania, and it involved connecting a young, relatively photogenic shepherd to the internet via a smart phone, thus allowing him to share his life with the world (or at least that bit of the world which might be interested). Quite a lot of people (in Romania) were interested as it turned out and said shepherd became an ‘internet celebrity’. I think this says more about Romania than it does for the practice of marketing generally. One thing is for sure, we are not going to be handing out awards for this type of thing in five years’ time (except perhaps in Turkmenistan). The brand was Vodafone. Although it could have been almost any mobile network, technology or sheep-related brand.

images_iman_highres__mg_7473Or it could have been Coca-Cola, since pretty much anything can be a ‘Coca-Cola story’ in these halcyon days where the focus has shifted from creative excellence to content excellence.  This, incidentally is what I was there to talk about – our obsession with content marketing, otherwise known as brandfill.  Here I am, in action.  I think I will use this as my new social profile pic, since it pretty much sums up my professional life – waving my hands around telling people what not to do.

There was also one other stand-out. What is it with creatives, beards and jackets which are at least one size too small?