2017, here comes more chaos, be ready to transform

January 9th, 2017

butterfly_wings_flap_patterns_26337_3840x24002017 marks thirty years since the original publication of the book that made Chaos Theory popular.

Chaos Theory is a branch of mathematics that explains how huge change can come about unexpectedly from the accumulation of tiny changes.  The most famous example is the butterfly effect. This shows how a tiny change, caused by the flapping of a butterfly’s wings weeks earlier, may lead, when it is added to millions of other tiny changes in the atmosphere, to the formation of a hurricane.

This effect can explain much of what seemed so unpredictable in 2016.  Did those pundits who were shocked by the events of the year really listen to what was truly going on?  Did they just hear what they wanted to?  As the results were so close did tiny differences accumulate in how numbers were rounded up for polls lead to outcomes that have taken many by surprise.

Chaos theory explains why we should be wary of predictions for 2017, and this blog will not make any 2017 predictions.  Here are two suggestions for 2017 instead.

First suggestion: We had better listen with real empathy to the users of our brands and products in 2017.

Use of data is on everyone’s list for this year.  But if that data is in any way contaminated, or fused, then it must be used with great caution.  The differences when one panel is fused with another may be tiny, but those tiny differences can cause a hurricane when you least expect it.  Listening with empathy to consumer voices as well as interrogating the data is therefore essential.

Correlation without causation is not enough. You may know that there’s a correlation between the number of firemen sent to a fire and the amount of damage done.  Does this prove that firemen cause damage?  Salon.com writes that some critics of ObamaCare say that it’s led to more Emergency Room Visits and that this means the law has failed.  Really?  It doesn’t take an expert to come up with other interpretations in either instance.  Spurious correlations abound in marketing and if you can avoid them you’re winning.  Questioning every plausible explanation is not just healthy, it’s crucial for good decisions.

Data is crucial to media delivering the right message, at the right time, to the right consumer.  But if we don’t understand what those consumers need and how they are really feeling then brands will not truly reap the benefits of investing in the data management in the first place.

Second suggestion: more change is coming and it will be transformative.  The butterfly wings have been accumulating so no-one will be able to continue with unchallenged, unexamined heritage practices and succeed in 2017.

For example no-one  can continue to get away with serving content made for one medium everywhere and expect success.  In one overheard conversation last year a media exponent was talking about the fact that the creative agency had developed 7 AV executions for a brand relaunch.  He explained: “For the creative agency this was a revolution, but our media strategy will burn through those 7 executions in one week on Facebook – I actually need 700”.

As AI becomes better this creates the need for a transformation in comms.  Better AI drives higher consumer expectations.  People are quicker to condemn Google for getting the time of a journey slightly wrong now than they are to wonder at the fact that it can accurately predict that your journey is about to take place at all.

Increasing consumer expectations means that people will expect relevancy.  And to buy or use a brand, when and how they want to.  Ecommerce is still a minority choice for most products.  The upside is therefore huge.  Brands need to be considering what is possible, not what has been normal.

2017, keep Chaos theory in mind.  Listen with empathy; be ready for transformative change.







What motivates you?

December 16th, 2016

8589130526263-rainbow-nature-wallpaper-hdWe are not all motivated by the same things.

Some of us are very motivated by the idea that there might still be a corner office in our future, if we haven’t all been replaced by robots.  Some of us like to come to work because we enjoy working in a big team and can’t wait for Secret Santa.  Some of us like learning new stuff.

If we can understand what motivates us, and then understand that what motivates others may be different then we can unlock the ability to get on with each other better, and to work better together.

Recently Suzanne Bidlake blogged about “Super Collaboration..  the beehive concept, in which each part of the organisation brings something without which the whole would fall apart. It’s the recognition that there is no need for everyone to work on the same thing, so long as all work toward the brand purpose. It frees agencies to do more of what they’re really good at. No duplication or competition, but a clear sense of role, purpose and interconnected place.”

No kind of collaboration, let alone the Super kind, can work well if we do not begin by truly understanding motivation.  Purpose and role is not enough.  Motivation is also crucial.  Especially the unspoken kind.

One psychologist, influential in the last century, simplified motivation down to 3 buckets.

Professor David McClelland wrote that what drives us is fundamentally the need for power (the corner office), the need for affiliation (birthday cake all round) or achievement (learning new skills and techniques).

If you can recognise your overriding need and that of your colleagues around you, it makes working together much less complicated.

In the case of many agencies collaborating together on one client or brand problem the agency culture may well have an over-riding effect on how well the teams work together – or in Bidlake’s terms whether they are playing nicely.

If one agency is driven by affiliation, another by power and the third by achievement then it is no wonder that the ways of working might fall apart.  Despite apparent alignment on delivering excellent systems thinking the real motivations may get in the way of real consensus on behaviours.

Agency Friendly just wants everyone to be happy and to ensure that they all get to know each other better – the more shots the better.  Agency Edgy wants to make sure the campaign is on the leading edge of leading edge and talked up in Hoxton.  Agency Imperial just wants complete control – they’ve got the main man’s ear at the client and they’re keeping it to themselves at any cost.  Which one of these do you work at or with?  Does their motivation match yours?

Various media owners might be characterised by the different drives too, making a partnership with the media agency more difficult than it should be if the cultures and motives are unspoken and do not align naturally.

As McClelland wrote: “Understanding human motivation ought to be a good thing. It should help us to find out what we really want so that we can avoid chasing rainbows that are not for us. It should open up opportunities for self-development if we apply motivational principles to pursuing our goals in life”

Not only does chasing the wrong rainbow waste time, if everyone in the room is chasing a different rainbow, nothing is going to get done.  You will work with people that do not share your motivations.  If you know yourself, and can understand them, it will allow you to find the pot of gold instead of running after the rainbow.


Well OK..but who’s going to take the robots to lunch?

December 12th, 2016

benderRobots are taking our jobs, or at least they’re about to.

Or are they?

Certainly programmatic is due to sweep across the industry and some jobs are becoming automated.

Margins aren’t getting any fatter in advertising.  Saving time and resource is one reasonable prediction for top bosses’ priorities in 2017.  In the age of automation what is the role of the buyer and the seller in media?

The erudite Nick Southgate gave his view on algorithms in editorial recently, and was dismissive of their chances in the short term of taking the editor in chief’s chair:  “Editors choose content for human reasons..  that’s why they are my editors and Amazon is only an algorithm”.

We love to point out when the robots get it wrong in buying media too, although we don’t talk about all the times they get it right of course.  One friend is currently being served loads of ads for hotels because he recently searched for a hotel in Paris.  The ads are for hotels in London however (where he lives, so he doesn’t need a hotel).  Except the ads are for hotels in London Ontario (where he has no intention of going as far as he knows (maybe the algorithm knows something he doesn’t!))

In truth robots at the moment often don’t so much reduce human interaction, they redistribute effort.

Your bank can employ fewer people to serve in the branch for sure.  But that’s because you’re doing more of the work processing paying bills and moving money around for them on your smartphone app.   The civil service can employ less people to process government transactions because you are doing the work of applying for a driving licence, or applying for power of attorney online at gov.uk instead thanks to the work of the Government Digital Service.   You’re happy to.  It feels like you are more in control.   And those institutions are saving time and headcount.  There are more jobs than ever in battling online fraud and ensuring security.  It might net out at fewer jobs overall, but it isn’t just a saving of headcount.

In agencies the types of jobs are changing at the moment rather than decreasing, from people involved in manual media scheduling to people who run automated process instead.  We still need people to interpret and use data in different ways.  They also need to be there to override wrong assumptions about behavioural algorithms such as where you’re likely to want a hotel.  And to interject when circumstances overtake normal machine learning – for the changing nature of Black Friday for instance.

So we’ve established that there are still people at media agencies to go to lunch.  Will salesmen still exist to take them out?

When you meet a great salesperson you surely know it.  They won’t oversell to you.  They will mirror your body language (watch out for this it’s very persuasive).  They’ll convince you that you want to buy, and that you in fact wanted to all along.  They’ll even leave you feeling that you got a great deal, and that after a 30 minute chat that you’ve got a new friend for life.

Most media sellers of heritage media remain unconvinced that they’d benefit from allowing all their inventory to be sold programmatically.  Media is most likely first to polarise.  On the one hand brilliant data insight will pick out what is of value to brands with increased effectiveness.  That’s going to help roi for brands.

On the other hand there’s the premium content.  The gold spot in the next blockbuster.  The best of vod.  The first right hand page in November’s Vogue.  The full page newsbrand ad.  The first ad in Victoria’s sequel, the Gogglebox new season first ad break, Fargo series 3 (can’t wait).

These slots will surely planned, bought and sold by hand for some time to come.   So we won’t see the lunch crowd disappear either.









Open your heart to EVERYONE

December 5th, 2016

frankensteins_monster_boris_karloffYellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun-white sockets in which they were set, his shrivelled complexion and straight black lips.


This is how Mary Shelley describes Frankenstein’s monster. He gets a friendly makeover in Apple’s new Christmas ad.  Of course the creature was a composite of parts of other people, and in Shelley’s vision, as it is shunned by humans the story doesn’t end well.   However there may be an advantage to putting together a composite of lots of people in business.


If you’re one of many who is looking for a role model then the Frankenstein creature approach may be the best one for you.


In the talks that co-author Kathryn Jacob and I are giving for The Glass Wall the question of role models comes up frequently. At a talk at one city firm the question “who is your role model?” was best answered by one top partner who replied “don’t look for the perfect role model, build your own composite model”.


This approach works for 4 reasons


  1. A composite role model creature won’t let you down in the way that investing in a single person might when you need some advice or attention from them. Whoever you find in the real world will, you can guarantee it, have off days, have days when you need something from them but they’re under pressure that they can barely cope with, so they might be abrupt or even churlish with you. If you invest in a composite creature instead this doesn’t happen. If one person disappoints you’ll always have a back-up.


  1. Very few individuals are skilled at everything. There aren’t many people who are equally exceptional at strategy and tactics, logic and gut feel, warmth and dispassion.  If you fix on just one individual you compromise on some aspects of excellence unnecessarily.


  1. Great performers tend to have a great entourage or team around them. Those who have one dominant influence can fall into an unhealthy Svengali like relationship with them. Svengali is a fictional character in George du Maurier’s 1895 novel Trilby. Svengali seduces, dominates and exploits Trilby, a young English girl, and makes her a famous singer, but she is a pawn in his game. Think of Elvis and Colonel Tom Parker, of Brian Wilson and Eugene Landy.


  1. If you pick one person it will be someone you admire, who you want to borrow traits from of course. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this but it might limit you to someone who thinks like you already. With whom you have stuff in common. This won’t stretch you in as many directions as a composite would.  Better to have a collection of people who are different. Very different. From you. From each other. That way you can use them in different situations. If you’ve got to deal with a delicate negotiation ask Jane what to do. If you need to cut through to the heart of the matter at high speed pick John instead to ask for advice.


Don’t aim for one role model to put on a pedestal. Chances are they will either fall off, or climb down. Go for an Apple-friendly Frankenstein approach instead.



Lessons from out of this world.

November 28th, 2016

issearthDr Ed Lu is an American physicist and former astronaut.  He was one of the opening speakers at this year’s Marketing Society conference.  How cool is that.  Everyone wants to hear from an astronaut.

He flew on two space shuttle flights and made an extended 6 month stay on the International Space Station.


He left NASA and joined Google to run its advanced projects unit, and now runs the B612 Foundation which protects the earth from asteroids and other objects that might collide with us.  He’s highly qualified to deliver lessons learned in space but applicable for business.  What a great key note speaker.  Out of this world.


Lu’s only colleague whilst he lived on the International Space Station was a Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko.    Just the two of them, in an extremely small space but with an awesome view out of the window including of dozens of sunsets a day.


One of the first things they established was ways of working together.  Clearly they had different reporting lines.  One to Houston and one to Moscow.  Their two managers were unlikely to be totally aligned on every decision.  Lu said that they both had to be very clear to their managers that they would in every case refuse to act on anything where there was conflict and would not resolve the politics inside the space station.  Houston and Moscow had to reach agreement first.  A great example to follow when there’s issues to be resolve within matrix management at work.  Or if you’re meant to be in a cross agencies team but the client seems to be saying one thing to one set of management and another thing to the other.  Don’t try and resolve this yourself, it will just lead to unsatisfactory compromise and mediocre work, and possibly despondency.  Send the issue back up the line to the client stakeholders and get them to resolve it before you act.  Never take a job if the management you speak to in the interview process seem to be unaligned.  If the overall CEO tells you that the business needs to change completely, but your prospective immediate boss wants you to transform a small silo, don’t take it any further until they are clearly in agreement.  However attractive the job sounds in theory, it will be impossible to deliver and it will make you miserable.


One other big lesson that he brought back to earth was never to micro-manage from afar.  Clearly any astronaut is working with very expensive equipment and needs to make crucial decisions fast and in real time.  The temptation to micro manage from earth must be enormous.  And must be entirely resisted according to Lu.  If you’re working with people you have trained, you must then trust their training and experience.


The best state for any astronaut, he went on, is to be an optimist but to prepare for the worst.


With the uncertainty both in the world at large and in the media industry in particular in 2017 this seems like a good goal for every media person.


Look on the positive side, be open to change and disruption, yet always be ready for the worst outcome.  Don’t get ambushed by tough circumstances, spend quality management time considering contingency planning.  For the brands you work on, for the company you work for, for your own development.  Then, certainly, hope for the best.


The Marketing Soc conference was a good stimulating day, and I am hoping for the best for it in 2017.  I hope that there is less of a #GlassWall feeling about the day.  Women on the stage were by far in the minority this year.  It was remarked on by many of the audience during the breaks.  I am optimistic that this will change next year.