If it ain’t broke it soon will be

June 28th, 2017

IMG_0219Not the printer. Not the presentation facilities. Not the air con now that summer has arrived. Your business model.
Over 70% of venture capital and equity funding in the UK goes into developing tech; in excess of £9bn last year. The variety of innovation driving this investment demonstrated in June’s London Tech Week takes your breath away. From very pressing developments in cyber security, fintech, healthtech, smart cities to entrepreneur Richard Browning who has designed a real life Iron Man flying suit. Any one of those developments could challenge your business model, even if it is a challenger itself.
At MediaCom’s LTW session we heard from a variety of excellent speakers on how tech is changing in marketing communications and how to pick out the best ideas from the irrelevant and marginal. As Sir Martin Sorrell, who opened our session, says: “Technological change is inevitable. Our response to it is not. Organisations that thrive in the digital age are those that take control of their own destinies, harnessing digital technology to work for them.”
People used to suffer from FOMO, Fear of missing out. Now it’s COMO: certain of missing out. We are sure that we have to be missing out, because there is just so much going on. The skill is in sifting new developments to be sure that we’re hearing about, and acting upon the correct ones.
Ignoring tech development is not an option. Ravleen Beeston, head of Bing sales at Microsoft said this week in an upcoming podcast “we rode the wave of our past and it didn’t do us any favours.” She then added, after describing Microsoft’s turnaround, “you can’t shift strategy however unless you shift culture”.
It’s crucial to assess the developments in tech with a critical eye, filter out the ones that will create real competitive edge before someone else does, and to establish a culture that can capitalise on them.
This must be an agile culture. Here’s a certain prediction: there’s no point at which tech disruption is going to stabilise. We have to be continually learning and re-calibrating the tactics of marketing communications. A consumer focus is essential, and the data intelligence that is coming our way is only beginning to be useful. In essence our current use of big data is really just not big enough.
Better data will establish that TV audience drifts are in fact audiences changing how they watch rather than diminishing love of TV content, that some audiences are watching more TV content than ever, but on screens and platforms other than televisions.
Some published retail data excludes Amazon and Ebay. So stories of sales plummeting may well be missing the mark. (The impact of this can be understood best if you know that Amazon Prime members’ power when collected together makes them a top 3 economic nation worldwide.)
We’ve yet to calibrate how voice search is going to disrupt consumers’ retail patterns still further, for some categories it will narrow down choice, and the rules of branding will need revisiting.
So we’re going to have recalibrate, frequently and systematically. Some things that we think are broken may not be. Those things that we think are unbroken soon will be. You can’t buy an agile culture, you have to grow one, and that agility has to come from the top and be embraced throughout the organisation.
If it ain’t broke it soon will be, the answer is to break it first. Don’t sit and wait for the disruption, look for it, embrace it, invent it.

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Man v Machine

June 12th, 2017

chess20 years ago one man had his life’s effort trashed by a computer.

One pundit wrote “the world champion found himself humbled by a 1.4-ton heap of silicone in a victory for IBM’s Deep Blue that marks a milestone in the progress of artificial intelligence. It is a depressing day for humankind in general”

In May 1997, IBM’s Big Blue computer beat Chess World Master Gary Kasparov.

Last month he published the story of that defeat in “Deep Thinking: where machine intelligence ends and human creativity begins”.

It is, as the title indicates, a positive spin on the chess defeat, with lessons for everyone who’s worried about the robots that are coming to take industry jobs.

Two decades ago IBM publicised the Big Blue victory as widely as possible, and the story of the defeat of man versus machine is as much about a pr victory as about technology.  In fact one might imagine that pr jobs will be some that might be safe from the robots, as manufacturing a good press release has so far proved algorithm proof for businesses looking to gain positive publicity.

One of Kasparov’s biggest resentments from the time of the tournament was that he wasn’t allowed a rematch.  Deep Blue only won the final match of 6.  Until that point Kasparov had won one match, lost one match and drawn the other three, so it was only the decider that was lost.  Why on earth would IBM however, whose agenda was clearly about the superiority of their product, countenance a rematch?  IBM’s telling of the story was the real victory.  Their press release read: “Behind the contest was important computer science, pushing forward the ability of computers to handle the kinds of complex calculations needed to help discover new medical drugs; do the broad financial modelling needed to identify trends and do risk analysis; handle large database searches; and perform massive calculations needed in many fields of science.”

Of course Moore’s Law did make the computer’s victory against one man inevitable.  Men get older whereas computers get smarter.

Kasparov’s take on the story now is less bitter.  He points out that there’s been a massive benefit to young chess players as they can learn to win by playing computers.  Man might lose to machines, yet Man plus machine will beat a machine.  Or in his words:  “Human strategic guidance combined with the tactical acuity of a computer [is] overwhelming.”

We must allow the robots to take over the jobs that they are better at.  They are only as good as the information that we feed them, and at the decisions we allow them to take.

They’re great at analytics.  They’re obviously less great at disregarding evidence and making a big surprising strategic leap.

In 2004 Kasparov said “Ultimately, what separates a winner from a loser at the grand-master level is the willingness to do the unthinkable”.

The real competitive edge will not come from a data and tech arms race but from a set of people who know how to interpret the data, understand the trends that inform it, and can invent new communications strategies from the learnings in an agile way.

 

 

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Once more with meaning

June 5th, 2017

Hype-cycle“We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run”.

So says Amara’s Law, which we see repeatedly play out in nearly every new thing in media and marketing.

It’s best illustrated by the annual Gartner Hype Cycle, which plots new tech every year in 5 stages.  The initial “cognoscenti/geeks” only “technology development trigger” is followed by the very public “Peak of inflated expectations”. (That’s usually when you read about it as the crucial next big thing, burning platform).  Then there’s the “Trough of disillusionment” when    you frankly lose interest, the experiments haven’t work and you get sick of some chap in jeans, expensive trainers and black t-shirt telling you if you’re late to market you’re prey for the competition.  The next stage is the “Slope of Enlightenment” where second stage products that actually work are available.  And finally there’s the delightfully named “Plateau of productivity” for mainstream adoption and real roi.

The latest 2016 Hype Cycle placed both Virtual Personal Assistants and Smart Workplaces firmly on the upslope of inflated expectations.  Which means they think we’re talking a good game about them, but that they’ve yet to have real impact.  Augmented Reality is near the bottom of the trough of disillusionment, but virtual reality is progressing nicely up the slope of enlightenment.

Recent research from MediaCom’s Real World Insight Team would suggest that there is another trend, outside of technology, that is firmly on the up in that regard too.  Cause related marketing.

Whereas in the past consumers have accepted that there might be a trade-off between value for money and acting with meaning or purpose, it’s now clear that they expect and demand both.  Two thirds expect brands to give back to society.  80% that brands should minimise their environmental impact.

You could in the past expect that just a fringe minority of customers would take purpose and meaning so seriously that they stopped buying the brand because another one did more for society, or that they’d heard or read something derogatory about it.  Our research reveals that, in fact, over half the population have bought a brand or stopped using one because of its behaviour or values.  40% people have stopped using a brand because of its behaviour, naming these reasons in particular: Animal testing; not paying tax in UK; irresponsible sourcing of products; not being sustainable and irresponsible marketing.

There’s a clear correlation now between clarity of purpose and brand equity.  Abandoning a brand because you don’t like what you hear about it is becoming mainstream.  This adds to the dangers of Fake news for brands, and means a coherent social media strategy, one that is always on, is a necessity.

Author of “The anatomy of humbug”, Paul Feldwick has commented on an earlier version of this blog: “there’s a lot of very similar from twenty years ago or more (see Vogel, D. The Market for Virtue) …Vogel observed that there seemed to be a massive discrepancy between people’s claims and their actual, routine behaviour. And you could say younger people have always been more idealistic.”

The research indicates that the zeitgeist has changed.  Consumers are much less prepared to accept a trade-off between value, service and ethics in the way they were in the past.  As with mobile site load times or hour slot deliveries, the public want it all and want it now.  If there’s no convincing alternative then there’s apathy sure.  There is a competitive advantage for brands that can deliver in their sector.

It has to be convincing.  Our research also shows a strong level of cynicism, which is of course reinforced in this year’s Edelman Trust barometer.  Edelman has pointed to a “crisis of trust” in the UK.  These issues create strong challenges for traditional advertising.  The answers lie in joined up thinking between corporate social responsibility teams, user experience teams and marketing.

The need to leverage all the best about the brand and to tell an authentic story through marketing is more urgent than ever.  No hype.

 

 

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What’s the most important quality in a great leader?

May 23rd, 2017

Thomas-SerenaWilliamsAndyMurrayandaPoliticalWimbledon-1200Eve Poole, author of Leadersmithing and leadership coach, believes that one of the overriding qualities for leadership is manners.  Making others feel comfortable.  Faced with rudeness you should shame those people by perhaps saying “How Rude” loudly and beaming at them.  Or making eye contact and “shaming” them.  (Do try this in a media pub and then please write to Eve and let her know how it went, and good luck).  Anyway, she said, recently, always pour the tea in the meeting.  In The Glass Wall, we exempt women leaders from this, saying women should never pour the tea (unless they’re the ceo, which in media circles is still far too rare).  Poole’s book mentions other leadership skills of course, and there are many to consider.

What is the overriding quality of a great leader?

Is there one that is paramount?

Is it manners?

Being polite is a good quality for a senior leader.  It is not necessarily the most important quality, although outright rudeness is unacceptable.

Caring about people is important.  However as Kim Scott, another leadership coach points out there is a world of difference in effective management between how and why you express that caring.  Ruinous empathy gets business nowhere.  Caring about the people you work with has to be accompanied with straight talking for radical candour which truly moves business on.

At a leadership team away day last year several people talked about being inspirational as a leadership attribute.  But what does that really mean?  You have to deliver for the business and for people to be inspirational.  You can’t just inspire by trying to be inspirational.

Who do you personally find inspiring anyway?  For me it’s the outliers who have delivered a step change in business or better still for society and culture.  Probably no-one on my top ten list set out to be inspirational.  They set out to do something better than it was currently being done

The single most important ingredient in a good leader:  Winning.

Really competitive people make great leaders.  Only if they are competitive for the business and the team.  Personal competitiveness isn’t enough.  In fact it can lead to selfishness and a “rock star” tendency to fail to get the best out of everyone.  Competitiveness on behalf on the whole, for the team they lead and the business that they love, is another thing entirely, and is a sine qua non of great leadership.

Here are 3 reasons why:

  1. Competitive team leaders don’t have a half committed approach to any project that they’re working on.  Good enough is never good enough.  They care about getting better, about being the best.  This makes for a focus for teams that inspires everyone.  They don’t give up.  If they fall over, they just get back up and try again.
  2. They don’t care at all about the norms of any category.  Just because things have been done in a certain way up until now, doesn’t mean there isn’t a better way of doing them.  Nothing holds them back from looking for innovation and this drives creativity in their teams and for the business.
  3. They care about people.  Really care.  Because they know that a good team is greater than the sum of its parts.  Because they understand that they cannot be the best at every part of the project that they’re leading they worry more than anyone about how to get the best out of the wider team that they work with.  So though this might be counter-intuitive the people who truly are most competitive are actually the people who care most about coaching and developing a diverse team in the best way possible.

 

 

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Clown school lessons in listening

May 15th, 2017

chaplinThis week I experienced clown school.

No, I have not had a lifelong ambition to don a red nose and big shoes.  Nor have I discovered a hitherto unknown love of slapstick.

At a networking event for Rada for Business we had a taster of what clown school is like.

One of the exercises involved one participant leaving the room while another picked a pose with a chair.  A particular way of sitting, standing or leaning on it.  Our first picker chose the classic Christine Keeler pose.

The subject who left the room then returned and had to guess what pose we’d chosen.  However there was no verbal communication allowed.  As the subject tried out different poses we were meant to show through non-verbal encouragement (applause or the lack of it) whether they were warmer or colder in finding the right pose.

The exercise was more fun for the audience than it was for the subject.

Subject one actually found the Christine Keeler pose reasonably quickly.  Subject two, who had to guess a different pose, to sit sideways and cross her legs elegantly, really struggled.  The more the subject struggled, the more heightened the emotions in the room.  She kept trying different poses of all kinds.  Moving different parts of her body in lots of contortions.   The one thing she didn’t try was crossing her legs left to right instead of right to left.  It was frustrating to watch her.  The journey felt hopeless in the end and we were glad to stop the exercise and clearly show her what was going wrong.

This exercise is useful to trainee clowns apparently because it helps them read the mood of the audience.  It teaches them to find ways to intuit what the paying audience wants but cannot express.

This exercise would also be useful to anyone who is navigating a business relationship that has hit rocky waters.  That could be trade press to agency, client to agency, agency to media owner, you and your colleagues, you and your boss.

Useful in two ways.

First because it requires you to stop listening only to what is being said (as nothing is being said) and instead be attuned to non-verbal communication.  Sometimes when relationships break down we demand a chapter and verse detailing of what has gone awry.  Whilst this may prove a cathartic bit of venting for the aggrieved party it can also be misleading.  If the problem is really that one party just doesn’t “get” the other one it might not be much help.  And we know (or we think we know), that more than 90% of communication is non-verbal.  Yet we demand, rather righteously, that a detailed list of the problems be delivered (verbally) so we can fix them. Which we may then try very hard to do without fixing anything close to the real issues.

Clown school would stop you making that mistake.

Secondly it teaches how important it is to be inventive with agility.  Our second subject at Clown School just lost heart and dried up.  We were so anxious for her to succeed.  With every non-verbal cue at our command we tried to get her to cross her legs the other way.  Apparently, according to our moderator, comic Viv Groskop, in real clown school there is no letting you off the hook.  You keep trying new poses until you get it right.  She said she’d seen grown men reduced to tears in this exercise.

Sometimes even when both parties in a business relationship mean well things can go wrong.  It is crucial to stay positive and try new things.

It is crucial to really listen to each other, beyond what either of you are saying.

 

 

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