The hard truth about appearance

December 3rd, 2019

dogshotHow do you look?  How do you feel about how you look?  Have you dressed for success in the workplace? Or for comfort? Are you dressing in a feminine or masculine way?

One of the most discussed aspects of my last book, The Glass Wall, success strategies for women at work and businesses that mean business, sits right at the end.

Lightspeed GMI asked the workforce of the UK, US and Russia some questions about how they showed up at work.  On a scale of 1-10 how feminine or masculine is your style at work?  We acknowledge of course that both everyone has both feminine and masculine attributes.  Women placed themselves across the spectrum, although the majority showed up as feminine in style about a third said they were more masculine.  Most men put themselves on the masculine side of the spectrum, with only 1 in 10 saying their style was feminine.  When we discuss this in our Glass Wall talks we often find that across advertising, marketing and media sales the split for women is more 50:50.  The profile for men is nearly always the same as our survey.

When we dug more deeply into the meaning of this, we found that part of the reason is “cross-dressing”.  100 years ago the women who did find their way into the workforce were not allowed to cross-dress – ie wear trousers.  In one talk, for the defence forces, we met a woman who remembered the first time women were allowed to wear trousers in the navy back in the 1970s.  Now of course it’s common and unexceptional.

Not so for men to do the reverse.  I only know one man who routinely wears a dress to a business meeting.

Now what does this mean?  And why is the thought of men wearing dresses still apparently so radical in 2019?  Is it just because there’s less availability in the shops as one talk attendee suggested last week?

I think that this issue is one of the “Glass Walls” of the workplace.  A point of real difference between the genders that is little understood, yet that has massive implications.

When a woman wears a pink dress, she might do so because it’s a sunny day and its a cool smart outfit.   When a woman wears a pink dress, she signals more femininity (whatever that means) to her colleagues who are men even if she does not intend to do so.  Simply because they cannot show up in a pink dress even if they’d like too, in most offices, without there being a very strong reaction.  Yet the next day she might wear a black trouser suit, and not feel remotely different.  The signals she gives are not the same.

Now it is worth recognising that not everyone is able to dress as themselves all the time – because senior management might find fault – and that the general term ‘smartness’ is subject to exactly the same prejudices within the workplace as without, determined by whoever is in power.

However, you dress, however you show up, one thing is certain.  Your appearance says more than you might think about how your colleagues, clients and customers will judge you.

If you are in any doubt about this try the set of pictures of dogs in HBR’s innovation issue from earlier this year.  Photographer Grace Chan has taken a series of shots of dogs before and after their Japanese-style grooming.  Irrespective of the advice in the story which is that you need to allow some uncertainty and confusion to create a true culture of innovation the pictures speak volumes about the dogs in question.  It’s almost impossible to avoid making instant character judgements because of the state of their fur.  You know it is the same dog.  And you know that the dog doesn’t change behaviour because of how its fur looks. Still you judge. Their appearance signals creativity (pre-grooming) or control (post), messiness or discipline, even aggressiveness or friendliness.

I’m sometimes taken to task when I talk about appearance, and after all I’m not an expert (although thanks to Campaign for allowing me to talk about my own style).  I believe you need to show up as your authentic self.  I also know that people will make snap decisions about you based on what you wear.  This is not a gender issue, it’s an issue of the conditioning that we have all experienced so much so that it seems like second nature.  You will be judged on what you wear.  The choice of outfit is absolutely yours but it should be a conscious one.



Under 20 year olds, do you know what is going on?

November 18th, 2019

pinterestKeeping up with the kids.

Here’s another point about brand building in the 21st century.  The internet means changes are immediate.  In analogue times change was slower and it was easier to keep pace.  Now it is faster and more important, and in some ways more cryptic.

Its important for anyone who is advising a brand that seeks resonance with the under 20s to know what’s going on.

Fortunately MediaCom’s Connected Kids Research has delivered a snapshot of daily life for school kids and their digital world, an insight crucial for building brands with this group.  And of course therefore for ensuring future brand resilience.

Data driven personalisation is something that teens not only expect, they welcome.  They expect communications to be bespoke and they have high expectations and swift contempt for mistakes.  In addition live TV still has a key role for them too – and is a unique way in which they can connect with friends and family.

Social media is regarded as a blessing and a curse.  The upside is that it allows teens to feel included and validated.  The downside is that it allows teens to feel excluded and pressured.  A proportion of them have taken some control of their social media usage by removing apps or setting their own limits to screen time.  According to the report the highs and the lows are magnified in teenage girls.

This is something that Edwina Dunn’s Female Lead has had a look at too and has staged an intervention.  The organisation, which is dedicated to showcasing inspirational role models for girls, conducted a trial where they encouraged teen girls to follow a more diverse set of influencers outside of the typical celebrity which is the current norm.  This in turn challenged the algorithm which meant that more diverse content was served to their apps.  The experiment succeeded in breaking open the narrow echo chamber that the girls had been boxed into which they themselves characterise as negative.

Brands clearly can have an opportunity to create distinctive memory assets amongst teens by using social media platforms for inspiration and change.

Language itself is changing too.  Linguist Gretchen McCulloch has highlighted the fluidity of the new language norms in her book “Because Internet, understanding how language is changing.”   There are rules to language online, but they are constantly evolving and to be fluent a brand must stay up to date.  She’s a fan (as am I) of emojis, claiming that formal writing “lacks the physicality of speech, where so much communication stems from our facial expressions and our gestures.  Emojis fill this void by restoring out bodies to our writing.  Think of the thumbs up or the tears of joy; they project part of a virtual body” writes Sunday Times Culture reviewer Rosamund Urwin.  Or in other words you can let people know when you’re telling a joke over email 😊.

The 47,000 Inuit who live in Canada have only just agreed on a single writing system.  Until now they have had 9 different systems, invented in the 18th century, some with symbols (syllabics) rather than the roman alphabet.  It took a task force 8 years to agree on the system.   Some of the region’s biggest advertisers will however continue to use syllabics as well as the official writing.  The pace of change in the Arctic is icily slow.  In contrast it is more essential than ever to stay on point for communicating with teens in the UK.





Ten considerations for 21st century brand building

November 5th, 2019

ipa061_award_finalIt isn’t either or.

One of the plagues of our industry is binary thinking.  Its nice and simplistic to pit different ideas or disciplines against each other.  It isn’t true or helpful.

A thorough reading of the IPA Effectiveness award winners in 2018 shows that there are many factors that might need to be considered to build brand resilience.  I was asked to address this at the IPA Eff Week Conference in October and used my experience as a judge and deputy convenor of reading the entries more than once, and of the discussions in the judging room, to summarise some of the topics a 21st century brand building communications campaign must think about that weren’t really an issue last century.

First of all, (and this was always true), it is not a question of either brand or performance.  There are essentially two good forms of advertising.  Advertising that creates desire for the brand, and advertising that harvests demand in the short term.  Both elements are essential in combination, and need measuring against relevant kpis, and the system effects of each on the other, and the question is the balance of the two.

Here are another ten considerations for brand building in the 21st century, that were probably not considered specifically 21 years ago. They have proven award winning effect in the IPA entries all of which are available at WARC.

In each point, for simplicity, there are just one or two case studies.  There are more in the awards data bank that could be mentioned and are well worth reading.  You’ll find your favourites.

They’re not in any particular order.  None of the considerations are either/or.  Its and and and and and and and and and and.

  1. Diversity

The British Army increased the number of applications it received after launching a compelling story-based campaign to reach a broader more diverse group of young people.

L’Oreal True Match increased its UK range of foundations to 23 shades to promote a more diverse and inclusive approach to beauty.

Both awards only addressed who was in the advertising not behind the scenes.  It is undeniably also a worthwhile consideration to think today about the diversity too of the teams working on the account, behind the camera and in the decision making senior teams.

  1. Purpose

For Barclays purpose-led communications accelerated its cultural transformation and delivered a step-change in marketing effectiveness.

The effect was proved against a consumer roi but also in terms of employee motivation.

  1. Frictionless customer service and comms.

Ella’s Kitchen created a new communications model designed to support, not sell to mums and dads, which encouraged loyalty.

  1. Personal and personalised.

Again not a binary choice.  Weetabix restored a personal connection with the customer by reviving an old still powerful brand asset (Have you had your Weetabix?)  Ikea demonstrated in addition the power of personalisation for every shopping mission.

  1. Be culturally resonant.

Every great brand has cultural resonance, and it is now something that needs to be a deliberate consideration because culture moves so fast.  There’s lots of great examples in the awards but Guinness’ Compton Cowboys is a great story.

  1. Use of data

There’s more data in the world than there are great insights.  32Red is a good story of intelligent use of data to drive business success.  Direct Line Group won the award for best new learning.

  1. Partnering

Suzuki’s use of Ant and Dec stands out as a different approach to effective advertising.  DFS demonstrated the role of partnerships to change brand perception.

  1. Experience

User experience is more important than it used to be.  Customer expectations rise all the time and your standard is set at the best experience you’ve ever had, not the norm for the category.

Skittles took their rainbow free pack experience instore to great effect and the Art Institute of Chicago literally created the experience of sleeping in Van Gogh’s bedroom to promote their exhibition.

  1. Brand safety

This wasn’t mentioned in any of the case studies but will have been part of the consideration of all schedules in a way that was unknown last century.

  • Integrated media and messaging.

The best case studies did this.  They created a whole that was greater than the sum of the parts.  Audi – the Grand Prix winner – did this to great effect.

That’s the ten.  The next round of effectiveness awards for 2020 is now open.  As 2020 Convenor I can state that the judges are seeking more diversity of evidence to add to the databank and entries from around the world.




Don’t be an armchair general

October 21st, 2019
thanks @luckygenerals

thanks @luckygenerals

The cost of safe decisions is often misunderstood.  Ignore it at your peril.

“One of the most important — and misunderstood — ideas in economics is that of opportunity cost. Everything we do is an implicit decision not to do something else” says Economist Tim Harford.

As MediaCom’s worldwide cpg planning chief Andy Walsh has said to me: this is an idea that is too often neglected in comms investment decision making.  Whenever teams default to only using proven channels and platforms which feel predictable and safe potentially those safe decisions have a significant opportunity cost.

This explains the difficulty in progressing from an ideas brainstorm to delivering innovation in practice.

There’s also the fact that powerpoint strategy is very different from the planning for the real world.

All too often the start point for the next campaign is last year’s plan plus, that is after the presenter has given the meeting an update on market developments and the usual competitive update.  We are in an environment of constant change.  With so much to contend with people may naturally want some certainty in some aspects of what they do.  The resulting plan which feels easy to buy into is likely to be suboptimal.

In short, generals fight the last war, politicians fight the last election and planners write plans too often for last year.

Campaigns often have a highly artificial start and end, dictated by the business plan budget and kpi setting.  The desire to show key performance indicator achievement by the date of the annual review can lead to chasing a target set at a point in time which is a long time ago in terms of developments in the marketplace.  Traditional creative development lead times might mean that the circumstances analysed in the planning phase are radically different when the campaign breaks.

You can avoid this behaviour.

Ideas editor Joshua Rothman quotes “War and Peace” where Tolstoy writes that while an armchair general may imagine himself “analysing some campaign on a map” and then issues orders, a real general never finds himself at the “beginning of some event”.  “Instead he is perpetually situated in the middle of a series of events, each a link in an endless chain of causation.”  If you plan for change with an agile and iterative approach then you can avoid the real danger of making decisions in imperfect conditions that seriously damage the potential for growth.

More time spent on scenario planning helps here considering a series of outcomes for the plan.  One model where things get better, one where they get worse and one where they get weird.  Immersive “war games” where you act as the competition or a surprising new entrant into the market can lead a path to innovation and better outcomes.

One secret to creating a positive change in approach is transformative decision making.  This is where you don’t just evaluate the key decisions in terms of logic or past evidence, but in terms of who or what the business wants to be.

Rather than assuming a linear progression from the current status quo, transformative decision making allows a planning process that works backwards from an ambitious goal that imagines a new landscape and what the business must deliver to get there.

Agility, iteration of planning and transformational thinking are all key to avoiding the fate of the armchair general.




Personalisation or Personal connection?

October 7th, 2019

set_redford_newman_120622Two outlaws have been pursued by the law through the desert.  They’re finally cornered on a cliff top.  If they fight they’ll be killed.  Suddenly one of them thinks of a way out.  A huge leap down into a fast moving river.

Butch: I’ll jump first.

Sundance: Nope.

Butch: Then you jump first.

Sundance: No, I said!

Butch: What’s the matter with you?!

Sundance: I can’t swim!

Butch: [laughing] Why, you crazy — the fall’ll probably kill ya!

This iconic scene is from one of my favourite movies Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  If you don’t know the movie (and if you don’t, go watch it now) it is funny, it’s about real deep friendship and loyalty, adventure, not playing by the rules, flexible strategy, and of course it’s about cowboys.  This will surprise no-one but the closest I’ve ever come to any involvement with the cowboy community is a pair of really lovely pink cowboy boots I once owned in the 90s.  There’s nothing relevant to me in the cowboy messaging, but the movie moves me enormously.

Today of course technology would allow that content to be personalised.  Personalised so that it was more relevant to my life with the intention of creating a bigger impact.  What would happen if the messages were personalised ?

Given that I don’t ride a horse, better if the scene showed people, well in fact women, driving cars.  The closest I get to breaking the law is probably the odd parking ticket.  And I’m a good swimmer.  So, the outlaws on the run, on horseback, from the sheriffs, jumping into rapids, becomes two women, dodging a traffic warden by, hmm, not sure, performing karaoke (I hate karaoke).

Dull, dull, dull.

Or take Avengers Assemble, another favourite.  Better set it in London’s adland to really get up close and personal. With the Incredible Hulk as a creative director whose transformation is triggered when his work gets rejected by the client.

Except of course not.  Because content doesn’t always need to be personalised in order to resonate.

‘People don’t remember what you say or what you do….they remember how you make them feel.’

This is Maya Angelou, not Les Binet, so it’s a subjective opinion not the IPA effectiveness data bank.  However, the power of creative and of emotional resonance is obviously also endorsed there too.

There’s more than one way in which personalised content does work very well.

Clearly for a short term roi performance marketing message personalisation can help to eliminate wastage.

If someone is moving home, its probably a great time to send them a message about all those purchases that are triggered by that behaviour (home decorating, buying furniture, energy and broadband switching, even buying a pet for the first time).

Personalising the media plan and the messaging (without being creepy) just makes perfect sense.

Then there’s the kind of personalisation that is about communities of interest or your tribe.  The target market for a brand isn’t just a demographic.  She might be a yoga mum, or a gym enthusiast, or a home cook or movie lover.  Speaking to her in that persona could be perfect for the plan.

Targeting her where she lives and works can add cut through in terms of copy relevance too.  This brand’s for you can be emphasised by very local creative and media.

There is a role for personalised advertising not just for short term sales but also for brand building and relevancy.  Brands are rightly demanding more personalised creative as Gideon points out here.

However, we must never forget that the most personal of emotions are not always triggered by personal content.

Advertising or content can resonate personally because of how it makes you feel.  Where the relevancy is about being human.    Data reveals so much, but not this.  We must not lose personal connection for the sake of personalisation.