If every aspect of your customer experience does not support, or even exceed, the promise of the brand then you’re limiting your business and its growth.

February 21st, 2023

In 2008 a Chicago based marketing man Jonathan Salem Baskin wrote a best selling book: “Branding only works on cattle”.  The argument in the book was that if you focussed solely on building a brand in a silo, separately from customer service and pricing, then you would never optimise the full commercial potential of that brand.

Jon and I followed up with my first co-authored book, “Tell the truth, honesty is your most powerful marketing tool”, in 2012, with dozens of case studies proving the efficacy leveraging the brand power across the whole marketing experience. 

In 2023 the necessity of making sure that every aspect of a user experience is easy and smooth is more crucial than ever.

In fact, the better the brand impression the lower people’s tolerance of substandard experience.

Let’s use an analogue example to illustrate this.  I really like reading paper magazines occasionally over breakfast.  There’s lots of screens in my life, sometimes its good to have something to spill your coffee on without cataclysmic consequences.  I love the FT and its always there on my phone as a constant companion, but it’s good to be broad in information gathering.

Last summer, after buying a copy at a travel hub and enjoying it, we made the slightly anachronistic decision to subscribe to the print edition of a prestigious UK current affairs magazine.  Which we enjoyed sitting at the kitchen table.  Then the postal strike happened and the magazine stopped coming.  Weeks later it still hasn’t turned up, and  the subscriptions department has (according to their latest email exchange) lost all our details.  They’ve suggested I look at the packaging from the last issue and send them a number from a corner of the envelope.  Unfortunately, since I had no idea that the last magazine was the last I would see, I failed to preserve the envelope and it is long since in the recycling bin.  In fact, I imagine that by now it has been recycled into something new and exciting.  (Perhaps a paper hat?) Had I known I would of course have kept the packaging with the reverence due any such relic.

Anyway, as you can tell, the whole thing is more annoying because I hold the product and the brand in high regard.  Its an intelligent read.  I expect the subs team to know what they can do to solve things.  Sadly, it may soon be farewell to the whole experience.  Had this been a more frivolous magazine, Private Eye perhaps, or Viz, then my expectations would be much lower.

If every aspect of your customer experience does not support, or even exceed, the promise of the brand then you’re limiting your business and its growth.  As Andy Nairn writes here, this includes how your employees are feeling.  Not just the ones that are customer facing but all the ones with friends and families to whom they will report just how they are feeling about the workplace (ie all of them).

Perhaps if someone had picked up the phone to me from the subs team it would have been better?  Perhaps the editor could have got in touch?  After all he “sent” an email when I took out the sub.  People have a lower tolerance of poor digital experiences as this IPA study proved where IBM’s former partner Bridget van Kranlingen commented: “The last best experience that anyone has anywhere, becomes the minimum expectation for the experience they want everywhere”.  Not just want, expect.  Especially from a brand with high quality associations.   

Every brand needs to take every opportunity to optimise and drive customer value with a joined up experience to fulfil the expectations driven by the best brands.  Any siloes, whether they originate in legacy agencies or internal politics, will risk your brand losing out to the competition.  A token effort to bridge siloes doesn’t work.  Organising and building for one customer experience is crucial.

The power of inviting everyone in.

February 10th, 2023

For a couple of years way back in the seventies there were basically two tribes in the UK.  You were punk or you were not.  The Sex Pistols were storming the charts despite being banned (or arguably because they were banned), and the simple addition of a dog collar – that is a collar for a dog, not the thing vicars sport – or a safety pin to an otherwise boring outfit or school uniform broadcast your allegiance to society.

It didn’t last long.  To quote the much lamented and missed Vivienne Westwood: “punk collapsed with the death of Sid Vicious in 1979”.  After that you might be punk-ish, or new romantic-ish or rave-ish but style and music were not as polarised.

This came to mind when I heard an agency ceo recently refer to the tribal nature of Great Britain, and suggest that the divisions were deeper now than ever.

Not as deep as the summer of 77!  Watch Danny Boyle’s Sex Pistols for an accurate evocation of the summer of the Jubilee and the release and the banning of God Save the Queen. And despite all the divisions of recent years, the nation is united now in a storm of indignation about real issues: climate crises, cost of living crises and the NHS; even if the ideas about solutions are divided by politics.

Back to our business: I have never been a fan of media tribes: over engineered clusters of consumers to differentiate targeting. 

As a woman at work, who is also a mum, a daughter, a sister, in a relationship, a home owner,  a main shopper, an author and a lover of music, art, theatre and Marvel movies I have never felt like I belonged to any segment that I have heard talked about by clever planners dissecting media tribes.  Depending on category, time of day/week/month and mood I can represent some of the characteristics of “Savvy Sarah”, “Cautious Catherine”, “Trendy Tina”, “Dynamic Dave” and “Geeky Gertie” all at the same time, and so of course can you.  Better now of course to allow digital real time data drive your insights rather than solely to rely on statements of intent or past history.   Be more Byron and make your audience anyone who has a wallet.  He writes: “Sophisticated mass marketing doesn’t mean targeting everyone, nor does it mean treating everyone the same. It means …catering for only the differences that matter … This is hugely different from deciding that your brand can’t appeal to a large part of the market – a surprisingly defeatist strategy that hides under the title of “target marketing”, and (leads to the) result ..that the brand’s target audience is less than a fifth of the people who actually buy the brand and category.”

How much do you really need to segment, and exclude people from your brand communications?

My co-authors and I have written about Belonging in the workplace as the most successful way to encourage inclusion, diversity, creativity and strong teams at work.  Belonging can also be a communications strategy. 

No brand can afford to seek to shun potential buyers (unless their strategy is highly premium and exclusive).  The opportunity for most brands is to invite everyone in.  Otherwise, it’s as if a major high street retailer or bank were to turn people away at the door for being too old, too young, or too different for what they were wearing.  Our Inclusive Planning practises have resulted in growth for many brands by speaking specifically and empathetically to certain cohorts of people.   EssenceMediacom’s Claire McAlpine championed this at Campaign’s Media360 conference last year. Of course the messaging needs to ensure that the product or service is relevant to the people you reach, but that’s about tailoring comms, not excluding people.

Of course, it is crucial to optimise media to drive returns, but in case after case we have seen plans that optimise to a sub optimal level by prioritising efficiency at the expense of growth.

In 2023 it is crucial to have a growth mentality at work.  If we are to rise to the top of the competitive set we must have an inclusive and belonging strategy to drive creativity, positivity and expansion.

The one thing you must have to win in 2023: an asymmetrical advantage. 

January 18th, 2023

Here’s two ways of achieving this.  Better use of data than your competition.  Better imagination (powered by better empathy and creativity).

Author and journalist Derek Thompson says Moneyball has ruined baseball for him.  And ruined the music charts (he’s an expert here with his book Hit Makers, the science of popularity in an age of distraction), and in his opinion has also ruined most forms of entertainment, and pretty much culture in general.

For those of you who have missed the 2003 book and the 2011 movie, Moneyball, the art of winning an unfair game, detail the way that use of data and analytics propelled a failing baseball team up the league.  They inspired the same precision of insight into a wealth of other areas to create significant competitive advantage.

Except that once everyone is practicing precision data analysis, there is no longer significant breakthrough advantage.  It becomes table stakes.

Of course, if you are first in sector then your advantage is huge.  The first team to apply Moneyball techniques in baseball, Oakland Athletics, under manager Billy Beane rocketed up the league.  But the book’s author, Michael Lewis, who made Billy famous, has acknowledged that the success of the book worked to the detriment of the team by democratizing the use of data and empiricism over gut feel and instinct. 

Thompson argues that “The analytics revolution, which began with the movement known as Moneyball, led to a series of offensive and defensive adjustments that were, let’s say, catastrophically successful” and took the unpredictability and pizzazz from the game of baseball. 

I’m going to disagree with Thompson.  The relentless application of data does not always lead to predictability, it does not end here.  The last football world cup was full of surprises, despite universal use of detailed data.  Germany went home early, Italy didn’t even get there, Belgium, who were the second ranked team in the world going in, were also out earlier than expected. Morocco got unexpectedly to the semis. 

Good analytical skills haven’t made the beautiful game predictable.  VAR didn’t make the game boring.  As we enter an era of AI mastery of marcomms data we must ask ourselves what will happen to competitive advantage and focus our attention on how to win on the back of and in conjunction with data knowledge.  Because there is significant disadvantage to a single focus.  Any business that places all its eggs in one big data basket runs the risk of being Moneyballed. 

It will not be enough to be great at data analytics, businesses will need specifically to seek knowledge asymmetry to win an edge.  And there’s more.  They will need star players – who is your Messi?  They will need emotional resilience and inventiveness.  They will need empathy and understanding of their customers in the face of a grim economy and an environment of worsening news stories.   They will need leadership and vision.  They will need the backing of the board and a simple communicable strategy.  They will need gut feel and instinct.

Great marcomms will be based on a range of unfair advantages.

Empathy and imagination can elevate analytical information into transformational insights and execution.

Creativity will become even more crucial as our industry becomes more Moneyball. 

The need for breakthrough thinking and behaviour of every kind is going to be more important than ever.

Advertising has got better

January 4th, 2023

This might be a controversial statement for some.  And it depends of course on what you regard as “better”.  After all we are no longer in the so-called Golden Age of Advertising.  Creative legend and OG Dave Trott has recently posted lots of great ads on Twitter with his notes on how they cut through and were mould breaking.  This includes his Victory V ad with a man with his head blown off.   His comment: “Did this poster with Derrick Hass – no headline, no copy, no logo. In those days we trusted consumers to have a bit more nous.”

Maybe some (great) creatives did. 

There were lots of less subtle messages too.  I grew up in an era where TV ads told you that you weren’t a good mum if you didn’t buy your kids a certain breakfast cereal.  Where if you didn’t buy the right kind of cleaning product you were sloppy.  Where women were perfect or perfectly awful and men never did the housework. You could characterise it as bombardment to maintain the status quo from 1950s society norms.  The 2018 ASA report concludes that there was plenty of evidence that there still had to be a tougher line on ads featuring stereotypical gender roles, including ads which mock people for not conforming to gender stereotypes.

This has changed, this has got better.

I spoke at United Nations General Assembly in New York in September for the World Women Foundation about the role that media and advertising can play in making the world more equal for women and girls.

I said that the industry had come a long way since my childhood when ads largely supported the status quo of depicting subservient women.  Increasingly advertisers and their agencies are seeking to fulfil profit goals whilst also doing something to make the world better. 

Dove’s campaign for real beauty is of course one example of this.  In India Ariel campaigns for couples to Share the Load.  Always Like a girl, highlights inequalities in attitudes.  eBay UK & Black Girl Fest partnered to expand economic opportunities for Black women ecommerce founders. in Peru when Mibanco discovered that more women were paying back their loans and building up savings than men, they wanted to make a stand and empower those that had previously been denied financial liberty. The Emancipation Loan, removed the need for a second signature from a woman’s husband in order to access lines of credit, enabling women to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams, without asking for permission.

In addition advertisers play a role in making the world safer for women and girls

Vodafone in Turkey created an app that women could use in secret to get help when they were in danger of domestic abuse. The app was hidden within a flashlight app, all a woman needed to do was shake her phone and a message along with her location would be sent to three people she trusts.

Every time a women searched in Google in Columbia for any word related to domestic violence they would see a video created by an influencer, her face bruised and battered.

Every viewer who watched the video was tracked. The next time they searched one of our queries a more dramatic video would be shown, featuring Estefania suffering from an even more brutal attack. In total, there were 230 different films, personalised in real time, and a huge up turn in women seeking help.

Artificial intelligence created a stand out campaign against domestic violence in Israel.  The videos use the voice of each victim — as well as realistic facial features and gestures — to convey the message that someone living in the reality of domestic abuse can and should get out before it’s too late.

MediaCom were proud to work with the Home Office and Channel 4 on a campaign to highlight the issue of coercive control in the biggest teen soap of the time, HollyOaks.

Things have come a long way. They have got better.  If we all take a real responsibility in our choices they will can and will get better still.  We can all make a difference.

There are 48 creative techniques.  Here’s number 9: Strip it back.

November 29th, 2022

Rick Rubin is a legendary American music producer, co-founder with Russell Simmons of Def Jam, home to Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Public Enemy and Run DMC.  According to MTV in 2007, he was the most important producer of the previous two decades.  He’s also produced Red Hot Chilli Peppers getting them their breakthrough album, and his work with Johnny Cash repositioned him as an artist (not just a pop musician). JayZ’s 99 problems?  Resolved by Rubin.

When Lauren Laverne interviewed him recently she noted that in the many pictures she had seen of him at work most don’t show him at a mixing deck, but lying on a sofa with his shoes off, or meditating.

He replied that he has no technical skill at all.  His technique revolves around listening, understanding what is going on in his body while he listens, and looking for the times when he feels something: laughter, joy, the instinct to lean forward.  He then strips back the musical performance to reveal more of that aspect.

His first music credit therefore on LL Cool J’s debut album, Radio was not as “producer” but as “reducer”.

He doesn’t follow the “rules” of recording technique.  He looks for the essence, the truth, the rawness of emotion, and takes out the clutter that stops that shining through.

Listening and feeling don’t always feel like legitimate work.  Here’s SlipKnot’s lead singer on his view of Rubin’s techniques from an interview published in The Ringer.

“Let me give you the fucking truth of it. Rick Rubin showed up for 45 minutes a week. Yeah. Rick Rubin would then, during that 45 minutes, lay on a couch, have a mic brought in next to his face so he wouldn’t have to fucking move. I swear to God. And then he would be, like, ‘Play it for me.’ The engineer would play it. And he had shades on the whole time. Never mind the fact that there is no sun in the room. It’s all dark. You just look like an asshole at that point. And he would just stroke his huge beard and try and get as much food out of it as he could. And he would go, ‘Play it again.’ And then he’d be, like, ‘Stop! Do that over.’”

This is a creative technique that lifts good to great.  When we make arguments to persuade and to sell our work we often rely predominantly on evidence and logic.  Frequently we follow the rules of the category because to do so gives us credibility.

It takes bravery to know the rules, be expert in the category and then to follow a totally different path.

It takes courage to strip back work to the essence.  Individuals often add arguments and proof points to give them confidence in the presentation and selling of work. 

Adding logic, adding elements and feeling good with the list of evidence can give you comfort.

Listening, feeling, doing less and then stripping things back to their essence, that can give you greatness.