Recommended reading – 28th May 2010

I have an exam on the 8th June, so this blog’s relative lack of activity will continue for a couple more weeks. In the meantime, here are some things to read:

sk

The Brand Gym: A Practical Workout to Gain and Retain Brand Leadership

the brand gym coverI’ve just finished reading the second edition of The Brand Gym: A Practical Workout to Gain and Retail Brand Leadership by David Taylor and David Nichols.

DISCLOSURE: The book was a free copy I received after responding to a request for reviewers on their blog. I have no affiliations to the brand gym, and the below is my honest opinion.

The book positions itself as a guide to brand building, where the ultimate goal should be becoming market leader. Thus the book is a counterpoint to Eating the Big Fish.

However, this goal isn’t as focused or didactic as it might appear – since market leader can refer to audience segment, price point, situation or any other differentiating factor, rather than overall category leader.

The book is structured around eight “workouts”, that flow from one to another. The solutions to branding issues are:

  • Follow the money
  • Use insight as fuel
  • Focus, focus, focus
  • Build big brand ideas
  • Grow the core
  • Stretch your brand muscles
  • Amplify your marketing plan
  • Rally the troops

Overall, I’d recommend the book. It is short but breezy, with the key points well signposted. Being picky, it could have done with having an editor, but the overall content of the book is very strong. It flows very nicely, with headlines, case studies and practical exercises well-integrated alongside the core content.

The messages of the book are common-sensical, but worth re-iterating. The authors warn against preoccupation with fame or awards, and remind that the core objectives of marketing should always be business-based. This, ultimately, comes down to increasing sales.

This book was very relevant to my studies, since my current module focuses heavily on branding. But with a chapter on insight, it also piques my interest as a researcher.

The authors define insight as “the discovery of something enlightening about your customer that leads to action”. It should display the FIRE properties

  • Fresh
  • Inspiring
  • Relevant
  • Enduring

Although there is nothing directly covering uniqueness or competitive advantage, I like this mnemonic.

The authors also list a range of sources that should be used for insight generation across the company. In addition to qualitative and quantitative research, they suggest using the following methods of collection across the different aspects of branding

Competition

  • Landscaping – what do they do and why do consumers choose them. Are their innovations that can be copied?
  • Brand peer group – this is brands outside of the category but appealing to the same target audience e.g. Lynx annual “album launch” of new scents inspired a juice company to change flavours
  • Retail visits – including product siting, new private label offers, point of sale, promotions, packaging, and shopping behaviour

Brand

  • Tracking – consumer panels (which can be large panels or small communities)
  • Fan clubs – to build empathy
  • Customer feedback forms

Culture

  • Semiotics – decoding communications and broader cultural codes e.g. Castrol oil turned away from engine specific comms since people talked about their love for their car, not their engine
  • Trends – trend decks should evolve each time they are presented, otherwise they will inspire only the same ideas

Consumer

  • Ethnography and immersion – first hand experiences as evocation of idea. Following people in situ to see what they do, rather than what they say they do
  • Fringe consumers – get new ideas from people who don’t fit the current target, as this can stretch the appeal
  • Expert interviews

Company

  • Core competences
  • Senior stakeholders – interviewing those that (should) have a nose for what works and doesn’t
  • R&D treasure hunt – crazy ideas can be seeds for innovation. Understand what it is and what it does – don’t use technical terms

This is solid advice. Formal research should only be one element of brand understanding. When undertaken, it should be designed to support and augment other information – not only from the above sources relating to branding but also the other elements of the balanced scorecard.

sk

Disconnected cinema thoughts

I go to the cinema on a frequent basis. But particularly over the past month, I’ve been thinking about several aspects of the medium.

They are all random thoughts so, rather than flesh them out over a series of posts, I’ve listed them below in a single (rather long) entry. Several, if not all, have been more than adequately covered by people with far more expertise in film than I, but nevertheless…

My motivation to attend

My frequent cinema attendance is behavioural economics in action.

I have a Cineworld Unlimited card, which I have just renewed. Across the 12 months of my first card, I saw 80 films. Yes, more than one a week. Across the previous 12 months, I saw one film – at my local Odeon.

This is a relationship of mutual benefit. Rather than pay £8.50 to see a film, I paid an average of around £1.50. I benefit from cheaper entertainment.

Cineworld benefit in several ways

  • Space capacity – of my 80 visits, only 3 or 4 screenings have approached full capacity. This improves their efficiency
  • Atmosphere – More attendees creates more of an atmosphere – This can be good or bad (see below)
  • Associated revenues – My tickets show a value of £3, rather than £8.50. Film studios take around 70% of box office revenue. Cinemas make their money from the refreshments. Bringing in more viewers extends their ability to sell highly profitable salty and sugary snacks. Though in my case, it is the neighbouring Sainsbury’s that benefits from my regular Dr Pepper and Minstrels.
  • Market share – I am travelling a slightly longer distance to go to Cineworld, rather than the more convenient Odeon. They are also able to influence the choice of film I see – because of my Unlimited card I am wary of paying to go to another cinema to see a film that Cineworld isn’t carrying
  • Growing the market – Cineworld aren’t just in the cinema business but the leisure business. By spending more time in cinemas, I am spending less time (and money) on other leisure and entertainment activities. Two notable examples are that I now go to far fewer music concerts than I used to, and also buy fewer DVDs

In conclusion, the Unlimited card is a fantastic business model.

The experience

The impact of crowds

As mentioned above, a more crowded cinema creates an atmosphere. This can be both good and bad

  • The more people, the “bigger” the experience – for good or bad. According to this, we tend to view experiences better than products, since they are harder to judge and compare.
  • Some genres, such as broad comedies and schlocky horror films, really benefit from the laughs and screams surrounding you. Drag Me to Hell is a great example of my enjoyment of a film being amplified by the people around me
  • However, crowds can also lead to disruptions. In a few screenings I’ve been to, a group of teenagers have been compelled to share their pearls of wisdom to the entire room. At least until they were kindly asked to leave by the security guard.
  • And, every so often, there will the misfortune of sitting next to or near to a person that fidgets, eats and slurps loudly, talks to themselves or kicks the nearby chairs. Or, in a recent example of my own, all of the above

3D and Imax screens

3D and Imax are evidently attempts to combat piracy by trying to convince people that the cinema will offer a unique experience. I’ve had negative experiences with both

  • Imax is only impressive if you are sitting in the absolute centre of the cinema. Sitting to one side means that you will retain your peripheral vision. Cinemas should offer variable pricing depending on the placing of seats to reflect this
  • Avatar is now the highest grossing film of all. It wouldn’t have achieved this in 2D – not only because 3D films cost more to see, but also because many people went as a novelty to experience 3D for the first time. This will have diminishing returns. In my view, 3D doesn’t enhance films. Terminator 2 and The Matrix succeeded in 2D – they had amazing special effects but also an immersive storyline. Ultimately, it is the storyline that is immersive and not the visuals. 3D done badly can be distracting; I think it only works in gimmicky films such as My Bloody Valentine 3D or Tinto Brass films.

The marketing around the film

Orange Spots

The Orange Gold spots featuring Mr Dresden, Eliot and the Film Council have ended. Despite some people not liking them, I on the whole enjoyed them even though the more recent ones (Sigourney Weaver and Danny Glover) were pretty poor.

They have been replaced by spoof trailers – the first of which being the A Team. I have reservations about using proper forthcoming films for these spots

  • There may be issues regarding favouritism to certain studios
  • It can saturate the impact when the proper A Team trailers are released
  • Continued exposure could actually have a negative effect in putting people off the film once it comes out, since they might get sick of the characters

The trailers

I generally like seeing film trailers, though there are a couple of problems I’ve noticed

  • It’s quite annoying when a cinema shows the trailer, but not the actual film. Surely they can plan for this? For instance, the Cineworld I regularly attend had heavily trailed Case 39 but on its week of release opted to show the similarly poor-performing Legion instead. Additionally, why on earth would they show Mesrine Part 1 but not Part 2? Defies logic.
  • Films get delayed. This can mean that you either see a trailer that piques your interest but then hear nothing about it for the next 9 months (as is the case of Salt), or the trailer ends up getting repeated constantly over a period of several months (as is the case of Cop Out)

The marketing within the films

Product placement

The James Bond franchise often gets labelled as the biggest perpetrator of product placement. However, Iron Man (and its sequel) seems to have taken it to a new level

  • Audi got a spot on the film poster (NB: This isn’t the poster I saw, but acts as an example)
  • Burger King was central to a minor plot point in the first film
  • The sequel has 11 marketing partners, with the media buys valued at $100m

Despite the overt marketing, the gestural interface of his technology (something Faris Yakob has talked about recently) was pretty cool.

Depictions of marketers

The Joneses is a high concept dramedy about four stealth marketers that pose as a family in order to sell goods. Predictably, elements of the story are pretty ludicrous (how do they measure sales uplift? Do people not shop over the internet?) and the ending is predictable, but one of the central premises of the film is that marketing is ultimately dangerous

  • It promotes short-term spending over long-term stability
  • People think they need to buy into a lifestyle
  • Luxury goods are only important in the signals they convey; the product itself is almost incidental
  • Marketers inherently lie – not only to prospective customers but also to themselves.

Evidently, the film concentrates on exaggerating the negative aspects of marketing, but it is another example of the negative perceptions the marketing industry promote within wider society

The films

Franchising

Studios appear to have gotten so risk averse that only auteurs (or, at minimum, “name directors”) are able to attract big budgets for original ideas. Otherwise, it seems big budget films have to be based on an existing property. Recent or forthcoming examples include comics (Scott Pilgrim), books (Twilight), toys (Transformers), computer games (Prince of Persia), legend (Robin Hood) or sequels to previously original ideas (Wall Street 2)

Remakes

In addition to the above, there has been a proliferation of remakes. Michael Bay, a perpetrator of numerous crimes against cinema, has been remaking several classic horror films – the most recent of which is A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Of course, these remakes completely miss the point. The original films succeeded because they were well made, and entered the cultural consciousness far beyond their initial release. In the case of Nightmare, the core concept is compromised all memorable surrealism is removed; all that is left is an overbearing score, fast cuts designed to manufacture cheap shocks, and some gore. Unlike the original, it will be quickly forgotten.

The need for a cinema release

Even the most artistically bereft films, seemingly guaranteed to lose money, get a full cinema release. Losses are exacerbated due to the need for a heavy marketing campaign.

Is this an investment for long-term success? While films are perhaps not as critic proof as they used to be, a cinema release still provides name recognition and a sense of legitimacy that straight to DVD titles don’t get. So, even if a film released in cinema gets terrible reviews, it might still be assumed to be better than a straight to DVD title and thus stands a better chance to make money through rental, purchase and syndication. And I don’t see how moves to downloads would change this.

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/biblarte/2687947869/

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Recommended Reading – 14th May 2010

Some thought-provoking writing to welcome in the weekend:

  • On the Made by Many blog, Isaac Pinnock shows how user-unfriendly self-service checkouts are. He makes some great points, and it also got me thinking about pre-prepared meals which, when transferred from the packaging to the plate, end up upside down. Which is just wrong.
  • And finally, John Griffiths is putting together a fantastic resource on his Cloud of Knowing site, collecting documents and papers on the future of content analytics and online research. I wasn’t able to attend the most recent get-together, but look forward to attending a future event

sk

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Google’s Think Video event

Yesterday, I attended the Google/Youtube hosted event “Think Video”. It was an event primarily aimed at marketers (research seminars tend not to have goodie bags), but I found it an interesting – if not groundbreaking – session.

Below are some of the notes I scribbled down during the talks. I’ve linked or embedded the presentations, where they are available.

Quantitative overview of the market

After an introduction from Dara Nasr, Dan Cryan of Screen Digest gave the first talk with a speedy overview of the current state of the online video market, and where it is heading.

Some statistics and projections I noted include (note that I was having to write quickly to keep up with Dan, and so there may be some errors in the below)

  • 90% of online views will be user-generated content in 2014 – about 2.5bn viewing hours
  • In 2014, ad-supported revenues will be around £180m, transactional VOD £40m and download to own £10m.
  • At this time, online TV will still only be 2% of the total TV market
  • Currently, 67% of online video viewing is short form, since “work time is prime time”
  • At the moment, 80% of the UK online video revenues are with the broadcasters. In the US, it is only 57% but Hulu represents the majority of the difference (Hulu looks like it is losing a lot of money at the moment, since 70% of its revenues goes to the broadcasters.

I found the most interesting part of the talk to be about distribution strategies, and whether to affiliate and syndicate or not. It would appear to be a good move, given the increases in reach that such a tactic produces. Quoting Comscore figures, Dan showed that in the US

  • ABC has 4.7m monthly site users but 9.9m monthly video viewers
  • Youtube has 98.2m visitors but 120m viewers
  • Hulu has 8.4m visitors but 38.1m viewers

Within this distributed model, there are two main options. Hulu operates the “player as the platform” strategy, where it allows its player to be embedded on sites such as MSN and Yahoo!, enabling it to retain control over advertising sales revenue. The alternative – which Channel 4 and Five appear to be pursuing, is “content as the platform”, where they licence their content to other video sites to include in their players.

The power of social

Neil Perkin of Only Dead Fish followed this talk with his keynote on the importance of social and data in online video. The presentation can be seen below (RSS viewers may need to click through)

Some of the key points I took from the presentation were:

  • Businesses should get their hands dirty – Neil has learned about the space by participating in it
  • Cisco say that in 2013 90% of data will be video, while 70% of data will be created by individuals. For businesses to succeed, they need to derive value from data – of which metadata is the fastest growing category. I’m a big believer in this.
  • However, businesses also need to understand social. Media brands are now less defined by the platform and more by their community (I think this is true, and we are increasingly seeing companies seeking to “own” a particular audience – whether the Guardian, Channel 4 or NME)
  • Attention is no longer the only key metric – we also need to consider participation, content and interaction
  • Distribution should be wide, with content scalable and portable. Slippy, not sticky
  • Companies need to loosen their grip on the creation process and let the community interact in pre-production, actual production or post-production.
  • Ultimately, convergence is about content flowing across channels.

Youtube’s development

The final presentation came from Bruce Daisley of Youtube, who coped admirably with technical issues that prevented his presentation being visible for the first five minutes of his talk. His presentation can be viewed via Google Documents here.

He mentioned how Youtube are looking to reinvent the experience for premium long-form content on their site. They want Youtube to be seen as a revenue opportunity by content owners, not a threat. He believes Youtube’s strengths come from 4 R’s.

  • Reach – it’s not necessarily as big as TV, but it can help build audiences. He cited Britain’s Got Talent audience figures rising from 8m in episode 1 to 12m in episode 2, fuelled by SuBo fever (of course, this can’t be blamed solely on Youtube)
  • Rights – he used Monty Python as an example of how content owners were licencing their material, and creating a viable business model
  • Research – Youtube can be seen as a virtual research community (Bruce called it an online focus group), with different creatives compared in terms of views or ratings
  • Revenue – whether through pre-rolls, in-video adverts or the front-page masthead video ad. He showed that searches for Avatar on Youtube actually peaked during the masthead campaign, and not when the film opened a few months later.These can also be integrated with Facebook, so that you can “like” an ad within Youtube.

He then quoted a range of research and statistics to highlight some of Youtube’s strengths

  • Social – Two thirds of users say they’ve sent a clip onto someone else. 10% of video views are from embedded clips on social media websites
  • Reach – a medium weight TV campaign of 160 GRPs aiming for 1+ cover among adults would reach 54% of the audience on TV. On Youtube it would reach 9% – 2% being incremental reach. This figure is higher among younger and more affluent audiences.
  • Mobile – Although mobile and TV only represent 2% of total views, iPhone users will look at an average of 3-4 clips per day, and Android users will look at 10.
  • Engagement – Ipsos have created an engagement metric across different media channels, accumulated from “around 50 metrics” (I’d be interested in hearing more about this). Of the channels shown, Youtube had the highest proportion within the high engagement band, and the least in the low (followed by BBC brands, then Channel 4, Five and ITV).

Youtube are now working with more content owners and broadcasters, with material ranging from films to the Indian Premier League. Bruce mentioned that the first company they negotiated with – the BBC – were very cautious and were arguing for removing comments, ratings and ability to embed, but gradually companies are warming to them.

He closed by talking about Youtube Bubble – a Youtube channel accumulating the best of advertising on the site. I would imagine the Evian babies dancing to Rapper’s Delight (with over 58m video views worldwide) heavily features.

Panel discussion

A Q&A session was chaired by Matt Brittin – the Managing Director of Google in the UK – who was very engaging (and puntastic). The speakers were joined by someone from Channel 4’s sales side (Ed someone, I believe) and Ben Chesters from Mediavest.

Some disjointed points I noted down during the session were:

  • Channel 4 were wary about giving specific figures in viewing across different channels, but did say that the total reach was more important than what individual channels made, since they controlled the advertising across each.
  • Ben Chesters mentioned that advertisers default to BARB for cover and frequency metrics, and that an incremental reach figure would be the killer feature needed for advertisers to trust online video
  • The first TV ads were like display advertising but with a voiceover. Currently, online video adverts are mainly repurposed 30 second spots. Gradually, this should change.
  • Neil Perkin talked about how transmedia storytelling across platforms should be emphasised. Content shouldn’t be copied onto different platforms, but should be unique to take advantage of different strengths.
  • Neil Perkin also mentioned that a big challenge for online is that it lasts forever – it is not campaign based and you can’t control who sees your spot when and how.
  • Channel 4 are trialing teaser 2-3 minute clips of forthcoming comedies to gauge reaction.
  • Answering a question from the audience, Dan Cryan mentioned online video was seeing a renaissance of the soap opera – particularly in the United Stated where sponsored and branded content is increasingly prevalent
  • And answering a question from Nick Burcher regarding the culling of Downfall mash-ups on Youtube by the studio despite the approval of both the director and the audience, Dan Cryan said “you would have to be a brave man to bet against the anarchy of distribution”. It may not always be timely or the best quality, but people will always find a way to watch what they want.
  • A final question concerned the film market online. Dan Cryan mentioned the primary barrier was the windowing of films – films make most of their money on DVD within the first 12 months. During this time, they won’t be available to view on ad-funded sites, but will gradually transfer to parallel availability on pay per view or download to own sites – though this would be more likely to be situated on a TV than a computer.

From a personal standpoint, more focus on the metrics of success would have been welcomed, but as addressed in the Q&A, this is a very thorny issue.  I would also have liked to have seen more from Youtube on how they are breaking down the distinction between TV and online and innovating in advertising formats – this Wario advert is one of my favourites – but nonetheless it was an interesting afternoon, with some useful tidbits from each of the speakers.

sk

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Offering business cards

I’ve already written on my loathing of business cards. But as with my attitude to the word insight, my stance on the issue is modifying.

I still think they’re an inefficient remnant from an analogue age that have little relevance alongside a mobile phone (particularly one that syncs to an email client).

But if someone requests a business card, then that is their preferred means of exchanging information. And that should be respected.

I still have little inclination to order a batch. But I think I’ve found a compromise. Customised cards.

I’ll carry some blank pieces of card around with me in my wallet. If someone requests my contact details and doesn’t want to do it digitally (whether via Bump, Bluetooth or manually entering the information), I’ll create a card. Similar to the example below, which shows both sides of a card.

Simon Kendrick's business cardThis has multiple advantages

  • Efficiency – the only wastage will be the unused pieces of card that could be reused for something else
  • Custom levels of access – I can choose which contact details to provide. My social graph isn’t completely open, and this allows me to choose whether to give my mobile number or my office number, or whether to include my Twitter or Linked In details alongside an email address
  • Personalisation – I can customise the card by including details of our meeting or a private in-joke. This should aid cognitive recall when the recipient is sorting through their cards (and probably deciding which to throw away)
  • Stand-out – it is different and so it should stand out (a little) among a pile of boring corporate cards. As Hugh MacLeod – a pioneer in repurposing business cards – would say, it creates a social object

Of course, there are drawbacks to this approach

  • Legibility – I have terrible handwriting, and so my contact details may not be legible
  • Digital incompatibility – Digital business card scanners won’t pick it up
  • Too informal – It doesn’t fit in with the corporate brand, and so wouldn’t be suitable in more formal circumstances (though I’m not planning on visiting Japan, with its strict business card etiquette, in the near future).

I’ll trial this approach and see how I get on. Ultimately, business cards are transient and disposable – they are a means to an end. But if my means could be a little more memorable, a little more personal and a little more environmentally friendly, then I would be fine distributing my contact details.

Though I would still prefer people to take down my details digitally.

sk

Homicide: A Year On The Killing Streets

homicide a year on the killing streetsI regularly buy books but I rarely read them. I’m making a conscious effort to rectify that – not only because of the expense of purchasing them, but because reading books is (for me at least) a different type of experience to reading online. I read slower and more carefully, thus absorbing the general flow and patter of a writing style in addition to the content.

The most recent book I have read (for recreation) is Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets and I would thoroughly recommend it.

Being an avid viewer of The Wire (but having not seen either The Corner nor Homicide: Life on the Street) a couple of situations and stories were recognisable (see the video at the bottom of the post – no spoilers). However, the book is so well written that it can be enjoyed irrespective of previous viewing.

The book is divided into 12 chapters – one per month. It is written by David Simon, at the time a reporter on the Baltimore Sun, and follows his year working as a police intern alongside the 15 Homicide detectives (and 3 sergeants) in Lieutenant D’Addario’s shift.

Three elements to the book that were particularly well depicted include

1. The problem solving – a crime scene is a mystery with a clock ticking. The officers have to quickly look for evidence and witnesses as, although a person can only be murdered once, a crime scene can be murdered a thousand times. The book depicts the different ways in which people approach the mystery – it can be methodical, lucky or inspired.

2. The humanity – each person has his (and they are nearly all men) own distinct personality and method. These are not always compatible – yet disagreements are shown from both sides and judgements aren’t made. Sometimes these are resolved and sometimes they are not, but motivations and reasoning of each participant have always been considered.

3. The culture – it feels like a real city, with enclaves of different sub-cultures. The police know that some people don’t talk to them about an investigation, while others talk too much. The situations and the people are all well-realised, and fit together into a larger entity.

In many respects, David Simon was an anthropologist or an ethnographer on his assignment. The book is a successful narrative that not only combines the individual case studies and character investigations, but extrapolates them to a functioning interrelated environment.It is much more than a true crime story; it is a story about people.

He doesn’t castigate or sensationalise. It goes beyond reporting. He strives to understand.

That should be the aspiration for any researcher, strategist or marketer that is responsible for understanding a particular segment or sub-group.

sk

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