Archive for April, 2013

Never mind big data, what we need in media are data that speak the same language.

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

Media research may be improving in accuracy in silos but overall we are building the Tower of Babel.

According to the book of Genesis, the whole world once had a single language.  And because they had a single language they really began to get somewhere.  The people of the the city of Babel said: “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar.  Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves”.  Now unfortunately for the people of the world the Lord didn’t like what was going on.  He is reported in Genesis as remarking : “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.  Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

Since then the world has been pulled apart by language.  There are over 7,000 in existence, (although most people speak one of the 11 main languages.)  Translation has been big business for centuries because there has been international trade for centuries, but especially since the demise of Latin as the main language of the educated in the West.  Although mechanical translation has existed for some time, it has always been regarded as second best by a long way.

Not now.  Google Translate is making as sweeping a change to mass market and democratic international communications as Google Search did to libraries and e-commerce.  It works in a completely different way to previous computer systems for translation, in that it doesn’t just give you the literal translation for a phrase, it gives you the most likely translation given every other translated expression that sits anywhere on the world wide web. 

In September 2009 the new White House administration issued the “Strategy for American Innovation” policy roadmap to address “The Grand Challenges of the 21st Century”.  One of those challenges was the development of “automatic, highly accurate and real-time translation between the major languages of the world – greatly lowering the barriers to international commerce and collaboration”.  Google Translate is a revolutionary step forward in this challenge. 

Meanwhile what’s the state of our own media research translation ?  Our head of Business Science Jane Christian said recently that media measurement is still in silos and that this “is hampering its usefulness. Stakeholders for each comms channel are concentrating on how best to measure the effectiveness of their respective channels, given the techniques that big data and technology allow. The problem here is that each technique is different and not comparable with the others, so when marketers ask the question ‘how should I allocate my budget across channels?’, there isn’t a clear answer. What we need is joined up media measurement across all channels. Without it, all these big data driven measurement solutions aren’t as useful as they claim to be. Joined up media measurement will ensure we deploy our budget across channels most effectively. “


As far as this is concerned we must ask ourselves whether we are sitting in the Tower of Babel, with little idea of how much exactly better things would be in terms of budget allocation and effectiveness if we had a lingua franca of media measurement.

It is so important, of course, to have perspective.

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

It is impossible not to warm instantly to Katie Kempner.  She is head of global communications for ad agency CP+B but also the creator and host of an online show called “Perspectives with Katie Kempner” ( The show’s mission is to inspire and empower working women.  She asked me to be one of a series of interviews from AdWeek Europe last month.

I was at AdWeek to participate in the Economist Global Commerce Round Table, where we debated the role of technology as a force for change in the industry chaired by Global Digital Publisher Nick Blunden.  Simon Dalglish from ITV, Dale Gall, Profero, Libby Hills, Credit Suisse, Marc Mendoza Havas and I had a lively conversation where we admitted that useful and essential as technology is, it doesn’t of course replace creativity and consumer insight. 

Katie Kempner is perched in the gallery, with a full film crew, nestling above the main business of the conference.  She describes her show as “a series of inspiring conversations with incredible working women balancing busy lives.”

Immediately after the Economist session I was whisked up to the Gallery where Katie asked me, as she asks all her guests, how I balanced work and life.  There was instant recognition and the relief of shared experience.  I may have been a bit too honest in my answers – I’m not sure that it is possible for working professional mums to do everything.  Something has to give, and it’s better for you to choose that something (in my case a limit on business travel) rather than to try and do everything and then find that the thing that gives is something you weren’t anticipating and can’t compensate for.   We agreed that most working mothers have at least two full time jobs, and in my experience many have several part time ones as well – working on pro-bono boards, chairing industry committees and of course running the parent teacher associations at their kids schools because they can’t bear to see it done by someone less experienced at managing difficult stakeholders than they are.

I had a busy day that day (it kicked off at 530am and involved being on the panel at the conference, being in a run through, 3 “what shall we do next meetings”, 1 client inspiration session including speed dating with start ups, networking at a club that I belong to and then celebrating a family birthday (lunch is for wimps)).  My ten minute chat with Katie felt like a refreshing shower on a hot day, or how I feel when I drop into a Starbucks for an Americano (cold milk on the side) and they’re playing one of my favourite tunes.  Katie has created a club and a channel for women like her, and I’m delighted to have been a participant.  The interviews with a series of working women amount to a snapshot of our time.  They build up to a fascinating insight into what they (we) have in common, and how we differ.  It would be brilliant to have something like it in London.  Katie, can you start us up please ?

Representing the consumer truth

Monday, April 8th, 2013

A year ago my co-author Jonathan Salem Baskin told  Economist Summit delegates that the job of marketing was to represent consumer truth within the organisation.  Not to make ads that spin the truth, not in fact only just to make ads at all, but to influence all aspects of marcomms that the consumer encounters, whether that’s CRM, Social, instore or employee advocacy.

There are barriers in the way of this of course.  Also there are new opportunities all the time to help comms directors to deliver it.  One of these is to consider whether it is necessary to change the tone of the brand now that it can speak in new ways to consumers. 

When you see a presentation from Twitter they will usually include an example of O2 doing this brilliantly.   My experience of Twitter by candlelight was that the tone of the customer service tweeters during the power cut was really human (and not corporate) and attuned to my situation (not defensive). There are other examples that we can all think of that haven’t worked so well, but let’s stick with the positives.  Let’s think about how to make it better.

At a recent “TAGtribe JAM” in Grey’s offices in Hatton Garden, we were debating the future of content.  (No small subject then.)  My view is that we will increasingly seek partnerships with media owners to create brilliant and effective campaigns.  Our recent work for Time for Change (the campaign to end mental health discrimination) was an example of this.  I’m really proud to have had some involvement in this work; our partnership with  C4, IPC and The Voice was a very different approach from traditional buyer/seller ways of working.  

My co-panellist at TAGtribe Jam Ann Handley, who is Chief Content Officer (CCO) at Marketing Profs, made a slightly different point.  She felt that every brand needs a CCO to be its voice for the consumer, and the first place she’d look for a CCO would be in journalism. 

These two perspectives may come to the same thing.  There is an opportunity for brands to use the experts in creating content for consumers (journalists and editors) to be the voice for the brand in talking to the consumer.  Author David Bellos, director of intercultural communication at Princeton writes : “Journalists think of their job as turning plain information into arresting, entertaining or readable prose suited to the culture, interests and knowledge of the people who read them”.   Substitute “content” for “prose” and “potential customers” for “people” and you get a good job description for the role of CCO for a brand.