The best way forward? Turn around and look back.

March 2nd, 2015

There’s an important issue that has been raised by many at the forefront of innovation.  The pace of change is naturally becoming even faster.  At the GDS Sprint 15 conference Martha Lane Fox said that breathlessness wasn’t enough to categorise the pace of change to come.  “We’ll be panting” she said.


The issue is backward compatibility.  There’s no guarantees that any new device or tech will facilitate any kind of transfer from the old.  Got pics that you cherish saved? Better start printing.  Wherever they’re saved now may easily be redundant in the near future.  The cloud won’t last as the storage venue of choice. This is a bit of a pain isn’t it?  Looking backwards would make going forwards much better.


For true future progress the developers must look backwards as well as forwards or, as one of the “fathers of the internet” Vint Cerf says we will face the onset of the digital dark ages.


Show me a training scheme (and people do that all the time) and I’ll  suggest a way it can be improved by building in an element where the trainers stop and listen to how the delegates think that the new stuff works from the heritage they know well.  Better than merely learning the new (and often quickly forgetting its application) let the trainees decide how the new will change the old.  It will usually stick better and deliver real change faster.  I yield to few in my impatience for positive change but if looking backwards means the changes stick and are real then it’s crucial.


Don’t just drive forwards, allow backwards reflection to deliver real change.


The Fosbury Flop is often cited as a great example of innovation, of thinking outside the box.  I first heard of it when a top agency suit was proposing a radical new ad strategy to the client and began with the inspirational clip of Dick Fosbury taking the high jump gold medal at the Olympics by going over the bar backwards in 1968.


A new world record was set. Fantastic progress.  Yet in fact Fosbury was going back to a technique he’d developed at high school, and was driven to do so by back problems.  So a great, literal, leap forward from being constrained to go backwards and then painfully, gradually, making small incremental changes to his old way of jumping.


For best foot forwards, sometimes you’ve got to turn around.




Content and Context go hand in hand

February 23rd, 2015

I was surprised to hear the old chestnut of media agencies separating from creative agencies being painted by someone as, well I can only say “separatism”.  They bemoaned the split between content and context.


Well, I think content and context are flourishing nicely arm in arm on most client business.


It may be true that some creative types may still like to start with a TVC (though surely not mostly), and then a rough 360 degree makeover is given to the ad with emphasis placed where it can amplify the TVC best.


It may be true that some media purists find it all too easy to cut the 120 second TVC down to 40 in order to drive “value” whilst ignoring the impact and fame that a TV event might drive.


I believe most of the time creatives will consider context.  After all there’s no point in shouting loudly in an empty room.  Media agencies who just buy cheap space tend not to thrive, and being driven by discounts is no-one’s idea of effectiveness.


In my first book, Tell the Truth, Honesty is your most powerful marketing tool, we did in fact cluster our many case studies into two sections: content and context. Whilst part one : content was mainly concerned with what you can say and what you should say about the brand and part two : context with how you tell the truth, in fact the two sections were intertwined.  The context you create for communication can and should enhance the effectiveness of the message.  These days the mandate for brands is to submit, suggest, forward, support and encourage conversation, less with themselves and more about them.  Consumers today are more likely (and better empowered, thanks to the seismic changes in media behaviour due to the Internet, to social media and to smartphones ) to determine the brand truth for themselves than at any other time in history.


We must determine roles for content just as we have long determined roles for media.  Designed with a media context in mind.  So is the role to create desire, close the deal, encourage copying, fuel seo? Content will range from rules based programmatic content through to a collaboration with Caspar Lee or Zooella.  From a digital poster prompting you to tune in to Ed Sheeran now playing on the radio in your car as you drive past, to a TVC simultaneously broadcast with an ad on your phone, it is only when and if content and context are hand in hand that you’ll drive effective communication.





“The smartphone is the most successful consumer device ever.”

February 13th, 2015

So says Deloitte.  Whilst a part of me wonders where this leaves the toaster (surely the best consumer device since sliced bread) the immediate evidence of a billion upgrades in a single year is convincing.


We are obsessed with them of course.  At a recent Mobile get together I saw Maslow’s hierarchy of needs chart re-imagined.  It ran as usual : (from top to bottom) Self-actualisation; esteem; love/belonging; safety; physiological.  Then added: WiFi and Phone battery.


The age group that’s seen the biggest increase in Smartphone adoption in the last year are the 55plus at 50% – which means there’s still even more potential.  It’s unbearable to think about really (life has changed so much in this respect in the last decade) but nearly a third of us check our phones between 26 and 100 times a day, and 83% of us within an hour of waking.


This is only set to continue as more personalisation makes the device even more useful.  For instance many people have been praising the pedometer aspect of the new iphone to me recently.  No Fitbit necessary.


My response is yes but can you drop it in the bath (as I can with my Sony Xperia) ?


In terms of marketing mobile obviously gives us fast data about what users are up to.  If we begin to work in a more agile way then we can course correct a media plan as never before.


We will see consumer expectations for useful and highly specifically personalised content rise and rise fast.  A balance will need to be struck between offering something useful specific to an individual and overdoing it so that the individual feels like they’re being stalked.


This will vary enormously by category, and then by brand.  Take my internet shopping for example.  I’d like to jump to the next stage fast now.  I’d like recommendations based exactly on my taste (they’re not bad at this but its been a long time since I’ve needed anything from Pampers!), and I’d like my cupboards, bins and fridge to be smart enough to get the order right for me.  On the other hand I’d like my bank to stop behaving like my dad and reacting in a “How much???!!!! Are you SURE??” type way whenever I try and buy a big ticket item.


The race to get this right will deliver competitive advantage for those who can.







“NHS managers dress as witches to dole out funds”

February 6th, 2015

This was the headline in the Sunday Times earlier this month which you might have missed ( the news has been quite full on so far this year).


It explained that at one group of hospitals staff have had to “dress up as monkeys and blow toy trumpets to win funding for their projects.”  Projects to the value of hundreds of thousands of pounds.  One senior consultant is reported as saying “frankly, many of us think this is too ridiculous for words”.  Each meeting to pitch for funds, for a range of items including miniature cameras to allow bowel examinations, has a theme, including Halloween (hence the reference to witches ).


Can you, in the world of media and advertising, imagine a situation where pitching for serious budgets, maybe even millions of pounds let alone hundreds of thousands,  involved dressing up and stunts?


During a run of successful pitches at the start of this millennium there was a lot of dressing up involved.  There was a chat show format which we employed for one pitch.  For another our beloved ex chairman dressed as the mascot of one famous newspaper in full armour.  At a time when media agencies tended present exclusively from rather dry excel spreadsheet presentations delivered mainly by middle aged men in suits our approach, always with a serious point, certainly stood out.  If there were four media agencies, all promising to buy more cheaply, differentiating ourselves was important.


Once the news of success of our approach spread things changed of course.  When 3 out of 4 pitches all involved roller blades, ice skates and a brass band then the point became lost.  And pitch day must have been a bit confusing.


These days there’s a good deal more to talk about in the limited time you have during a pitch too.


The NHS has such a serious purpose – keeping us alive – that it might feel dissonant for there to be a parade of monkey attired executives pitching for cash.


If there’s a serious point that can be amplified and clarified by some dressing up however then we should adopt any story telling device that makes it clear.


Stunts for the sake of it though? It is worth bearing in mind that many busy managers, under continual pressure to demonstrate romi and improve the bottom line, can forgive most things at work apart from having their time wasted.





Pitch rehearsals in the dark.

January 26th, 2015

Men may have outnumbered women on stage by some margin at the Marketing Society conference but the women who did feature were amazing.


Kirsty Wark chaired the day with charm.  Carolyn McCall never disappoints.  She’s always great, either personally, where she is nothing but kind, nor professionally where she is always as impressive as her reputation. Sarah Sands talked about taking the Evening Standard from paid for to free – real step change in business model.


Orit Wolf opened the conference on the grand piano with an amazing Chopin performance.  She then returned to the stage to talk to the audience about her experiences in her professional life.  She is at the top of her profession, and it is always a joy to see someone perform at this level whatever their job.  The passion is clear, whether a sportsman, an entrepreneur, a CEO, a marketer or as in this case a musician. (The agenda for the day included all of the above and more).


Orit spoke about when things go wrong, overcoming which she believed taught us most about how to reset the agenda (the overall theme of the day) and the importance of learning to improvise.  One anecdote had her arriving, early in her career, to find that the piano she was expected to perform on lacked a key.  The C sharp had come lose and was lying next to the piano.  She instantly demanded a tuner to replace the key and repair the instrument.  She was told that they didn’t work weekends.  When she said that she couldn’t possibly go on with a missing key the man she was dealing with waved at the keyboard and pointed out that all the other keys were there – couldn’t she make do with them … There were so many of them and they were all intact.  Orit called for superglue and improvised.


Things go wrong for all of us sometimes and yet we have a culture of rewriting history to make it look as if it all went smoothly – we work in marketing services after all.


Wolf suggests that we all write a cv of our failures.  She is an advocate of practising with her eyes closed.  It ensures that you really know your stuff.  Pitch practices in the dark, without any IT and with someone throwing a curve ball in the room.  Let’s do it.