Them and Us

August 10th, 2017
The-Flintstones-Animation-Sericel-cel-the-flintstones-24423346-900-692Daniel Kahneman is the father of behavioural economics for which he won a Nobel prize in 2002 for his revolutionary theories that challenged the idea that economics worked on the basis of humans being rational. He showed instead that economics really operates on the basis of dumb instinct.
When I saw him speak (thanks to Rory Sutherland) he said: “people think that they are the Oval Office, in fact they are the Press Office.” At the time Obama was running the Oval Office. One wonders whether Kahneman is still using the analogy?
Overall of course Kahneman definitively shows that whilst we think we make decisions on a rational basis, in fact we usually don’t. We make them on the basis of powerful instincts that have evolved over millennia.
It’s crucial to bear this in mind when we consider research findings about advertising and content. People will explain their motivation rationally rather than simply and instinctively.
The elections of the last 18 months show us that people convince themselves they’re voting on the basis of evidence when in fact they’re voting with emotion.
This is crucial to bear in mind when we come to build teams and consider office culture.
Without a great culture a business will suffer. What makes a great culture work well? When teams look out for each other, and care about the company as a whole, rather than when the individuals in the team compete with each other.
There’s a theory that 150 people is a great size for a business. Yet with 150 people working together you have the problem of good team dynamics. In fact in a team of 20 or fewer you can have the problem of team dynamics.
There’s a number of reasons this arises. If the structure of the organisation is hierarchical and pyramid shaped then everyone knows that they’ve got to beat everyone else at their level to build their own career. This can happen if the organisation operates a “dead men’s shoes” policy where you only ever get promoted into an open role.
If the organisation takes people at entry level every year, but only 25% of them are still there 3 years later this brings out a kill or be killed instinct.
If there’s an aspect of matrix management, whereby you work for one manager but have a dotted line into another, and it’s an unusual organisation that does not have an element of this these days, whether it’s local to global or vertical specialists to horizontal generalists, then deep rooted tribal instincts operate which can mitigate against all kinds of theoretical team bonding.
Yuval Noah Harari writes in bestselling “Sapiens”: “Homo Sapiens evolved to think of people as divided into “us” and “them”. “Us” was the group immediately around you, whoever you were, and “them” was everyone else.”
People are the only species according to Harari who actually can cooperate beyond the immediate group.
To achieve this a team culture needs nurturing.
Harari cites 3 ways in which people have evolved to work productively together that developed in the first millennium BC.
First economic. Can everyone share monetarily if the business succeeds or is it just the top people?
Secondly political. This a toxic and very energy draining way of manipulating people into working across teams.
Thirdly, and most powerfully, belief. If the culture has a core belief that everyone can buy into and contribute to then everyone is in it together.

Fragmentation and distrust in elections and consumer marketing

August 1st, 2017

trust1Gillian Tett is the managing editor of FT.

Last month she created a new acronym to explain to the world the continual surprises of the electoral results in the western world.


Tett wrote FUCU as a political analysis. A cynical analysis.  It led me to question whether FUCU might be a descriptor for marcomms too.

Tett’s F stands for Fragmentation, reflecting the polarised views of people in the 1st world.  In the UK, still reeling from the Brexit vote last summer, it became clear that a London centric view of consumers was deeply foolish.  Unless you really get that a Huddersfield housewife has less than £100 a week to spend on household expenses you really don’t have proper customer insight to fuel comms strategy.  Personalised and localised insights are crucial and easier to come by than ever with intelligent analysis of data.  You should also just get on a train and get out of London.

Tett’s first U stands for Untrusting.  The Edelman Trust barometer described a crisis of trust in media, brands and institutions, and for anyone who has been following the trajectory of their annual study it has made for grim reading over the last 5 years.  What do consumers want? Truth and authenticity.

C represents Customisation.  Customer service expectations are higher than ever before.  At MediaCom’s “What’s eating Gen Z?” seminar the speakers agreed that Gen Z expects a level of customer service that exceeds any actual experience.  The consensus was that if you took to Twitter with an angry rant and didn’t get an immediate apology and redress then the brand in question took a real hit in terms of credibility.  However they reflected that no actual brand had come anywhere near good enough.  More broadly we know that e-commerce is essentially “Me-commerce”.  Consumers expect disappointment, and any brand (including politicians) that delivers a bit better than the others will gain clear competitive advantage.

Her second U stands for Unstable.  Tett writes of today’s culture as “a place of political cyber flash mobs, in which passion suddenly explodes around a single issue or person then dies way.  It is a place where it is hard to have a sustained conversation about trade-offs, and where voters and politicians jump across traditional boundaries with dizzying speed, defying labels as they go.”

The instability in media fads sometimes mirrors this.  Media Owners see sectors go in and out of fashion and experience the highs and the lows accordingly.  As long as media spend remains aligned with audience research techniques that vary greatly across media types there will be a large amount of spend that flows according to what will work in theory.  The real answer to this is outcome based planning and a development of outcome based trading.  Although media owner heads talk passionately about how strong their medium is in delivering good roi,  not enough of the money spent in media overall is traded on shared risk and reward (outside of immediate response or click through.)

FUCU lacks a third U however as far as marcomms is concerned.  I’d add another U to represent the you of the consumer.  Unless strategists really walk in the customers’ shoes and truly drive insights all you get is a series of me too communications which fail to differentiate the brand and build real memory structures that ensure that the target audience reaches for that particular brand first of all.  Real insights that show how the target audience operates in the category and turn into an actionable strategy to drive sales.  Let’s put this U first and pay the consumer the respect of real empathy in our comms strategy.  In the upcoming Awards season for Media Week this is the key ingredient that makes a winner.

With her intentionally offensive acronym (sorry if you are offended) Tett is delivering a commentary on the deteriorating relationship between politicians in general and the voters.  With an emphasis on the U, the You of the consumer we will grow brands and also avoid dwindling trust.  UFUCU. 


Debunking myths

August 1st, 2017
Did you catch the headlines about women’s brain size earlier this month?
It turns out that women’s brains are smaller than men’s.  This is not particularly startling as men are on the whole larger than women.  (Especially when they man-spread of course).  A new study from Erasmus University in Rotterdam claims that this correlates with a higher iq for men which in turn means men are smarter. 
You would think that scientists might find better things to do.  Journalist Angela Saini writes: “this study is part of a longterm attempt to undermine women by male neuro-scientists…. For more than 100 years male anatomists and neuro-scientists have sought to find evidence of women’s intellectual inferiority by comparing their brains to men.  It’s surprising that in the 21st century this hasn’t ended.”
It isn’t relevant to get involved in questions of EQ vs IQ as a signifier of smartness here.  (Women’s EQ is greater even despite their teeny tiny brains), let’s just say there are smart women and smart men and I’ve yet to notice a correlation with hat size.  The man with the biggest head is not necessarily the cleverest person in the room.
Myth debunked.
Another myth about women is that they can multi-task whereas men can’t.  And that multi-tasking is bad for everyone.  See what happens there?  The one thing women are supposedly superior at is bad for you. 
There’s contradictory evidence on this one.  For part one of the myth, that women can multi-task whereas men can’t: one study from China has endorsed women’s superiority, whereas a Swedish study claimed the opposite.  The theory behind this supposed ability is based on pseudo-science.  Evolutionary theories claim that women have evolved to better able to juggle tasks (caring for children whilst stirring food for instance), whereas men need focus to hunt animals for the pot.  Hard to prove this theory.  Especially in our neck of the woods.  There isn’t a lot of focussed hunting for food that goes on Bloomsbury, as Meet and Eat supplies all Theobalds Road necessities unless Fab has an unexpected demand for scrambled eggs or bacon sandwiches that is!
For part two of the myth is that multi-tasking is bad for you anyway.  University of Glasgow’s Dr Stoet claims that filtering out distractions helps us achieve more.  Several commentators think that multi-tasking is killing productivity.
Tim Harford thinks the opposite
The FT writer and BBC broadcaster concludes that real breakthroughs come from being messy, and doing many things at once, not from focussing on one thing.  Multi-tasking helps us synthesise more than one idea, and synthesis is where genius lies.  The future of strategy lies in fact in this.  
Harford writes in Messy about a series of creative geniuses including Jane Austin, Charles Darwin and nobel laureates who all worked on more than one project at once and picked up another subject when they were stuck in something, which helped them become unstuck.  A large number of nobel prize winning scientists switched fields entirely on their journey to Stockholm. 
Harford argues that clean desk policies hurt creativity and problem solving.  First of all because people dislike being told what to do, so a clean desk mandate causes resentment and time wasting.  Secondly because your mess of papers might be self-organising into a genius cross fertilisation that solves the very issue you’re stuck on. 
If you happen to be happy to multi-task resist those around you that tell you off about it. 
If you can agree with these criteria:
          Doing two things at once means that I am better at both of them
          Checking my smartphone does NOT mean that I am not paying attention
          I deliver original and valuable ideas to my team
Then go ahead, mythbust.  Prove the singleminded, focussed, hunters out there wrong every time.


July 10th, 2017

Simpsons-Homer-DOHLast summer Mats Alvesson and Andre Spicer published a book called “The stupidity paradox”.

At a time when let’s face it many of us thought that we were having a summer of stupidity.

Spicer and Alvesson’s book is not however about politics, elections or Brexit.  It is instead about organisational stupidity at work.

They argue that many organisations build in deliberate and functional stupidity into their ways of working in order to control the people that work for them.  Consciously or not, by limiting the decisions that their often very bright executives can make, senior managers keep control of what’s going on, even if that means limiting innovation and ideas for growth. 

They mandate targets for executives to reach without considering the consequences that those targets might have on the overall organisation and don’t allow them to be questioned.

For example, if a business sets a team a task of reducing the cost per site visit to the lowest possible level it will undoubtedly have a consequence in terms of longer term outcomes such as conversion to buy or delivering more people who are warm to the brand.  

Delivering against the first metric is easier to measure however, and easier also to achieve.  It is also sometimes stupid as a single focus.

If it is your kpi however then you are unlikely to be rewarded for arguing against it.  The authors say that “functional stupidity is an organised attempt to stop people from thinking seriously about what they do at work”.

It doesn’t exist at my place of work.  I’m sure it doesn’t exist at yours.  But I bet you know some places where it is all too evident.

One of the characteristics of those places is poor leadership.  Poor leaders surround themselves with likeminded people, people who reassure them and do as they are told.  However impossible the deadline or the demand they leap into the fray and wear themselves out in the process.  However stupid the request, they will respond positively and not dream of saying to their boss “no, you’re wrong”.  They will be highly rewarded for doing this, and in its way, its quite nice work, just doing as you are told.

Alvesson and Spice write, where functional stupidity reigns: “the thing to do is to create the right impression… someone in the thrall of functional stupidity is great at doing things that look good.”

As Suzy Bashford wrote for Campaign, good leadership is crucial to retain talent.  So the consequences of this kind of stupid leadership is in the end inevitable.  The business will suffer from a lack of fresh ideas, and everyone’s energy will be spent on creating the illusion of invulnerability around the leader.  If a leader comes across as a sole hero there’s a danger that there is not enough of a great team around them.  Our jobs these days are too complex for even the smartest solo performer.  And the need to have an ear to the ground and to embrace the shop floor as well as to pick up intelligence from the real world is a job for more than any one man alone.

Really smart leaders build a smart team.  A team that will challenge them and the status quo, will break things and reinvent before an outside challenger does it anyway.  A team that trusts each other and can be both brave and humble in trying the new and acknowledging that no-one has all the answers. 


The future of strategy is synthesis

July 6th, 2017

chuck berryCannes week saw the unveiling of the latest WARC survey on the future of strategy.

Of course strategy itself doesn’t change in function. Richard Rumelt usefully defines it as discovering the crucial factors and designing a way to deal with them.

Does 2017 change how you do that? If it hasn’t yet it should do. We’re moving fast from planning assumptions to planning conclusions. The arrival of real time data describing patterns of actual behaviour to replace claimed behaviour and intent means we can stop saying “I think” and instead say “I know”. That data is going to come from plenty of different sources. This is especially relevant for some categories. For example the many markets where house moving and interest in house moving predicts purchase (utilities, furniture purchase, insurance etc). Learning to source home searches data and properly interpret it is different from having a bit of a deep dive into TGI. Strategists need to synthesise different data and its interpretation.

This is very exciting. Synthesis is very exciting.

Many experts believe that all true breakthroughs come from synthesis. For instance Rocket scientists and doctors. There’s been significant advances in healthcare because of the developments of NASA scientists: voice controlled wheelchairs; laser angioplasty; MRI. Sir John Bell, Regius Professor of medicine at Oxford University thinks that the only time there’s real innovation in any discipline it’s at the interface of one expertise with another. He says “multi-disciplinary clusters are a huge cauldron for innovation “.

It’s not just in science that this is true. Detective fiction is huge for book sales, on TV and drove a step change in the popularity of Podcasts. Who invented the genre in literature? The earliest use of forensic detection came about because the first proper detective writer Edgar Allan Poe learnt evidence based deduction methods when he wrote an obscure book about molluscs. It’s an obscure fact but Oliver Tearle believes in The Secret Library that “The Chonchologist’s First Book” which was hugely popular it it’s day, and which Poe adapted from the original to pay his bills when his own writing wasn’t selling, was a “brilliant synthesis of various influences to form something original and new”.

The biggest innovations in popular music can be tracked to the same sources.  Rock and roll came about as a synthesis of country music and R&B (previously, very separate genres – effectively poor white people’s music and poor black people’s music), the inter-racial hybrid hastened by the increasing broadcasting range of local radio stations so that different styles of music reached new audiences

In planning strategy the same rules apply. We’re discovering new data sources to create efficiencies – in some categories spend can be halved (at least) to reach more precisely the true short term market. In long-term brand communications strategy better analysis of new data sources is giving us new routes to market and new insights into buying patterns and motivations. In a way there’s nothing new in this. Steve Gladdis, joint CSO at MediaCom,  revolutionised Rennie’s media strategy, over a decade ago when, as planner on the account, he analysed TNS Food Panel data to reach consumers just when they’d eaten i.e. At “the point of suffering “. The work was fairly time consuming and analogue. This year fast and in real time we’re able to reach people personally and at scale. with the right message at the right time by using their specific geolocation and their fast food ordering behaviour.

Gladdis in his original work synthesised two data sources ie TV viewing and food consumption. From this came a breakthrough that drove effective roi by double digits.

Read about Steve’s story here:

We can expect more breakthroughs as we synthesise more data sources and more disciplines. The future of strategy lies in effective synthesis.