Looking after yourself is right on trend

September 1st, 2015

What is the spirit of these times? Being able to pinpoint the emerging Zeitgeist can have a powerful impact on brands and media channels.  Current predictions include:  mobile is everything; the quantified self; transparency (as I pointed out in my book “Tell the Truth, Honesty is your most Powerful Marketing Tool”); personalisation (see recent blog); content is king and distribution is queen.


All of these have merit. There is also an all-encompassing trend in the West and in emerging nations that is redefining the economy and re-expressing what morality means in modern society.  It will have long term impact on legislation and government planning.  Brands that address it will experience success, and indeed many of the world’s great brands are beginning to do so.


This is the new Health Trend.  We are used to the idea that medicine is getting better, our expectations over the last five decades for recovery from illness have risen considerably.  However since the decoding of the human genome in 2001 healthcare has become personal, and is set to become even more so.  The availability of a personal genome profile means that we can and should be in the position of being able to take care of ourselves more than our parents and grandparents could.  An understanding of the likelihood that we might fall prey to one disease or another will become part of our upbringing and education.  The responsibility for our own lifespan and health will be our own first rather than that of the state.  There will be a new class structure to society – those who take care of themselves and those who don’t.  There will be a revolution in insurance services and personalised healthcare.  There will be a new moral code.  How we behave, how much we eat or drink, exercise or take drugs, will be based on personal responsibility for caring for our genome structure, not on the rights and wrongs imposed by society, relationships or religion.


The health industry is one of the greatest stimulants to the worldwide economy.  Futurology expert Leo Nefiodow has identified this as the next powerful “long wave”.  He says: “The health cycle isn’t really about health care, it’s just called this.  More than 97% of financial capital is spent on research into, and diagnosis, therapy and management of, diseases.  It is in fact an illness cycle.”

Either way, can any other industry match Health/Illness in stimulating jobs and investment?


Technology for the quantified self, mindfulness, exercise, biotechnology, diet, genealogy research, cosmeceuticals, therapies, care for the elderly, policy for education and sports at school, home testing kits and new medicines.  All developing from the Health Wave.  The new morality; the new social imperative.


Should every brand seek to find a fit with the Health Zeitgeist? Well, while shops selling fried chicken and chips remain one of the most popular retail outlets on some high streets then there is no need to shoehorn immediate healthy meaningfulness into every single brand.  Every brand needs to prioritise authenticity over the sheen of an intoxicating but irrelevant shell of meaning.   But as the Zeitgeist of this era the Health (or Illness) Wave needs to be considered for marketing and communication strategy.






How’s your pace layering going?

September 1st, 2015

A client of my acquaintance once confided that when they were out visiting agencies they sometimes used a “Bullshit Bingo” card to pass the time in meetings.  “Programmatic” scores highly of course and I’d guess that “pace of change is breath taking” would be on there too.

Change is now a constant.  Stuff doesn’t always change at the same pace, even within one person however.  Think about people you know.  You’ll have someone in your circle of acquaintances that should have changed their appearance to match their maturity (got a haircut or evolved out of trainers) and hasn’t necessarily.

Take buildings.   Shearing layers is a concept invented by architect Frank Duffy to explain the several layers of change in any building.  You may be sitting in an office now where the building itself was constructed generations ago.  The bricks and mortar are solid, expensive to build and hard to change.  Your desk on the other hand is much newer, the office environment has been designed for purpose in the last decade.  Since I started in media walls have come down all over the place, hot-desking has ebbed and flowed in fashionability and the desks, should you be allocated one altogether, have shrunk significantly in size.  Media has changed, offices have changed, the buildings we sit in – perhaps not so much.

The pace of change for an organisation or a brand can and does operate at different speeds as far as each of the layers of the entity are concerned.

In some ways this is reassuring for media and marketing.  If you can be clear about which parts of your business are the metaphorical walls of the building and need to remain consistent and which parts are the furniture which need to adapt to the current zeitgeist then life becomes simpler.  You don’t need to destabilise your foundations in order to be agile enough to maintain the pace of change that competition these days demands.  You do have to be ruthless about ripping up heritage practices that prevent agility.  Different layers require a different pace of change.

What is the deep down essence of your brand?  You mess with those values at your peril.  Adding greenwash or bandwagon meaning to a brand without real fit is a waste of time and resource.

Ensure that what you do matches what you say.   I’d agree with Chris Chalk who writes that truth drives perception and that the art of spin is redundant.   I wrote in 2012, the consumer is now an expert who knows everything and can find out more in seconds on her smartphone.  The future of communications is truth and authenticity and walking that walk.  By all means present the best side of your brand to the consumer, but don’t expect for one minute that you can pull the wool over her eyes or disguise practices that you’d rather not talk about.

If your brand is one that can count contemporary relevance or democratised sharing as part of its essence then it is essential now to demonstrate this in real time in your brand communications.  But even for these brands, their deep rooted essence must be respected.  On the other hand the pace of change can and should be slower for brands mired in tradition and continuity, but this doesn’t mean that they don’t need a switch in media for example from static outdoor to digital out of home or some dynamic personalised ad placement.






Is mass personalisation the future for brands ?

August 17th, 2015

“Blue like my boyfriend’s eyes or golden like my personality?”

Jen is choosing her new car specifications.  Most of it has been simple: of course she needs heated seats and black leather interior trim; fancy wheels and the best possible sound system.  All of that took just moments.  The tough question is the exterior colour.  There’s a range of standard colours – that’s one thing – but in addition she could pay extra and get her own unique choice and one-off design.  In the end this dilemma proves too much for her and she defaults back to one of the standardised colours, after all, they pick the standard colours because the car looks good in them don’t they? You can’t go wrong with silver.  The challenge of personalisation to her own specific taste just gave her a headache.

Mass personalisation: is this the future of for brands?

The principle of personalised marketing has been around for a while.  Consultant John Grant wrote in 2000 in his first book: “The New Marketing Manifesto” that the old rules of marketing didn’t apply anymore.  Modern brands, brands with a desire to grow, needed to adopt a more intimate approach to marketing: to be “Up close and Personal”.

Fifteen years later Deloitte have just published their latest consumer review: “Made-to-order”.  They say; “In the era of all things digital, consumers have higher expectations: they want their interactions with businesses and the products and services they buy from them to be personalised”.

As the report also points out however it is crucial to get the level of personalisation right.  No-one wants a stalker.  And as one marketing expert once said: “I don’t want a relationship with my bank; I have a relationship with my wife and family.  I want efficient service from my bank”.  People have different requirements of their interface with different categories.

We have entered an era of mass personalisation at scale.  The idea might have been around for a decade and a half, but the means of production have been slower to develop.  A new imperative for any marketing campaign is therefore to explore what degree of personalisation is suitable.  How is it useful and relevant?  Will it improve returns for immediate sales and what is the longterm brand effect?  No brand can afford to get this wrong.

According to Deloitte’s report three quarters of consumers said that they receive too many emails from brands; half are avoiding brands that contact them with poorly targeted comms and two thirds have “unfollowed brands”, closed their accounts or cancelled subscriptions.

Look, there’s a difference between a survey and outcomes in the real world.  It is difficult to think of what kind of consumer (perhaps a very lonely one) would express an active preference for being targeted in the former.  The facts of return on investment for appropriate personalisation mean that every brand will consider how to deploy it.  Consumers will reject communications that use their personal information badly.  A single customer view is an essential piece of hygiene now.

The good news of the report is that in some categories consumers state a willingness to pay a premium for personalisation.

How this pans out in reality may be another issue.  The paradox of choice can apply if you’re asked to specify a personal design preference or unique colour for a product you’re purchasing.  As for customer involvement in a campaign idea, people like to be asked, but they prefer to watch, maybe to share, than to create.  It’s a good, personal assistant that consumers are after, not a stalker nor to be expected to work for the brand.

Meanwhile Jen’s got her new car now, and is regretting her decision, wishing instead that she’d plumped for fuschia.




Wherever you go you take the weather with you

August 17th, 2015

Rain, rain go away.


The last couple of weeks of July felt like a very British summer, especially Friday 24th when an Ark would have been appropriate as a way of navigating Soho. Adlanders could have boarded two by two!


The unseasonable, or perhaps merely typically unpredictable, weather reminded of a story that I was told by the CEO of a creative agency about a pitch for new business that meant that she agreed to make an ad for a retailer purely on payment by results. For every item the brand sold over and above the sales of the previous year’s equivalent product the agency would take a share of sales.  To quote her: “The advert was for winter coats… And it was the warmest autumn since records began.  Not only didn’t we get any extra sales, we ended up practically owing them money”.  They say “Time is money”.  Well so is the weather.


The new “Weathernomics” report from The Weather Channel describes the effect that British weather has on retail sales with great precision. Of course interest in and discussion of the weather remains a defining characteristic of the British.  There’s clearly a lot less to talk about in Florida in June or Helsinki in January.  Our weather is less predictable and therefore can lead to a swing in sales for a brand that can be hard to cater for, or to explain to shareholders.  Movies can be made or broken by a rainy versus sunny bank holiday opening weekend.


60% shoppers change their shopping behaviour because it’s raining or hot.  A third don’t go to the shops in the rain; just 1 in 8 claim to shop more but switch to a shopping centre instead. Of course more rain means more shopping online and sophisticated UX designed online retailers have sites designed to leverage the weather.


The UK must be one of the most difficult territories to plan for the weather accurately.  With global clients based outside the UK it’s just another stress point for a weather reliant brand’s marketing team.  The weather is getting less predictable and more extreme according to many reports.  Yet it’s not only extreme weather that makes a difference: this report says that a week of sleet can affect sales more than a day or two of snow that brings Britain to a standstill.


In an ideal world you would keep stock of and arrange promotions for products that fitted the weather and turn on promotions and advertising regionally to suit the best prospects for sales:  BBQ equipment or raincoats.  The “Weathernomics” report highlights that weather can effect consumer purchase in other ways too, for instance timing: mild autumns mean delaying buying that winter coat; early spring precipitates the trip to the garden centre.


The solution to all this lies in more Agile ways of working, contingency plans, Real Time Course Correction with immediate media, copy and regional flexibility. It is a lot simpler to arrange copy substitution now online or via Sky AdSmart than it used to be and all kinds of brands and retailers will benefit from this flexibility.


Meanwhile I’m off to a week at the English seaside so expect rain this August.






You’re so wrong you’re right.

July 31st, 2015

“Right”, said Mark Earls, “Everyone in the second row and the fourth row come up to the stage, we’re going to play a game that illustrates what happens when humans copy each other.”

Fearful of being made to participate in a conga, or maybe mass karaoke, the nervous participants shuffle up to the front.

They line up, facing east, looking at each others’ backs.  Earls taps the person on the far left on the back, gets them to turn around, demonstrates a reasonably simple action that they need to pass on to the person in front of them.  As this action passes down the line it gradually changes.  A wave from the left becomes a waggle of both shoulders.  A nod becomes a toss of the head instead.

The audience is enthralled.  In the space of a few moments the action is entirely transformed.  Earls asks the audience to communicate to the participants what they’ve witnessed.

“That third chap in,” calls out one audience member, “He waved the wrong arm for a start”.  “Shall we say “different” rather than “wrong”?” responds Earls.

I have actually been that third chap in in Earls’ line and been called out for getting the action “wrong”, only to have Earls’ reassurance that, on the contrary, I didn’t get it “wrong”, I added creatively to the routine.  In my case it was in a client seminar, where Earls was demonstrating his brilliantly original thinking around copying that is worked through in his new book “Copy, Copy, Copy”.  It clarified to me the difficulty of requesting creativity from teams under clear pressure to get things right.  Just for a moment I wanted to apologise for my mistake, to assure everyone that I would get it right next time, that I wouldn’t make the same error twice.

Then the Herdmeister himself assured me that I hadn’t made a mistake, indeed it wouldn’t be much of an illustration of the Chinese whispers that happen when people copy each other, if everyone got the routine right with military precision.

“Talent copies, genius steals”.  (The quotation has variously been attributed to Oscar Wilde, TS Eliot and Picasso).  The build based on Mark Earls’ book and insights would be that good thinkers copy, great thinkers copy badly.

There are times in the working day when precision is massively important and getting it right is crucial to business success.  Then there are the other times, the creative moments, the occasions when we should be step-changing the thinking on a piece of business or disrupting the normal course of events.  This requires a different state of mind entirely.  One where we can get things wrong and be happy about it.  When the cliché that there is no wrong answer is real not a comforting fantasy.  When copying two or three ideas badly might engender a genuinely brilliant original answer to a brief.

Get it wrong, you couldn’t be more right.