Google Firestarters: The New Operating System For Agencies

Firestarters #3, hosted by Google and curated by Neil Perkin, featured three fascinating and provocative presentations from Mel ExonMartin Bailie  and James Caig on “The New Operating System For Agencies”

Each of the three talks had slightly different emphases:
• Mel posited that brands need to be useful, entertaining and epic, and so should its marketing. To the point that the marketing and product is indistinguishable – the marketing singularity
• Martin argued that agencies should decide whether they are interested in outputs or outcomes, and indeed whether they are serving the right master – should agencies be dealing with consumers rather than clients?
• James talked in favour of open ideas and innovation so that agencies can diversify their revenue streams. Experimentation and sharing in the short-term pays off in the long-term

However, what I found surprising was the level of agreement , both among the speakers and in the audience, with some of the more disruptive suggestions. While there are the odd exceptions – Zag, Victors and Spoils etc – most agencies still seem to represent fairly traditional models.

Why is this? A few suggestions
• Semantically, the agency of the future doesn’t exist yet
• The status quo is difficult to change, and progress tends to be slow, phased and invisible
John V. Willshire makes the excellent point of the Prisoner’s Dilemma here
• Particularly in a recession, it takes a brave company to emphasise long-term strategic development (and investment) over the short-term cash-flow required to keep the business running
• Start-up culture might accelerate innovation, but start-ups motivate its staff members to bear the long hours and high risk due to the potential of a vast reward. Agency contracts tend to stipulate that all ideas generated are agency property
• Marketing agencies are generally unknown at the company level and distrusted at the industry level so becoming consumer-facing is a big challenge
• With brands increasingly present across multiple sectors and disciplines, it might be hard for an agency’s own product to offer credible independence

These are all obstacles, but none are insurmountable. Things can and will change. Hence the excitement in the room.

So, synthesising the views of the speakers (and casually ignoring the slight disagreements) with a couple of my own, the agency of the future will
• Be more strategic and focused on the long-term. This requires investment to slowly change the core but to quickly innovate around the edges.
• Meditate on strategic decisions before acting. Martin’s advocacy of real-time insights is one of the few things I (partially) disagree with – the filter challenges make it very easy for a small tail to wag a very large dog. (SIDENOTE: This isn’t a reaction to his jibe that “research agencies are shit” because they don’t do real-time, though that opinion is as reductive as me saying digital agencies are shit because they don’t create banner ads I want to click on)
• Focus relentlessly on the public as people rather than consumers of a particular product, brand or industry. True cultural understanding means engaging with people as peers, whether through traditional market research, observation or hiring spokespeople
• Prioritise the opinions of the target audience over the opinions of the client, since no client other than Apple can dictate what people want and can have
• Widen teams to encompass a variety of generalists and specialists required for the situation.

Taking these points to an extreme, one example of an agency of the future could be an incorporated joint venture between a brand and various specialists (client marketers, strategists, creatives, PRs, researchers, designers etc), where everyone is a partner with a financial stake in the long-term success of that brand. Even more extreme, agencies could engage in multiple JVs, acting as the pivotal node between brands in different industries, with complete autonomy in how ideas are distributed between brands or kept for themselves. In some ways, they become mini Unilevers – a holding company bringing together disparate, individual brands. This would enable
• Greater integration between the brand’s desires and the actions of the “agency”
• More potential reward for the team members
• Reduced dependence on account managers to mediate between the two (sorry, account managers)
• Greater agency synergies in creativity and ideas, in addition to the bargaining power from media buys
• Reduced duplication between different stakeholders e.g. social media can be concentrated with one person rather than spread across multiple agencies or client departments
• More control over which ideas are invested where – they could be kept for the JV themselves, or even shared across multiple brands

Of course, this proposal has a ton of holes in it (can holes have weight?) and is pretty impractical. Nevertheless, the first two bullet points should be critical for any future agency. There should be no cross-purposes – is the desire to generate profits or to make a great campaign? And there should be more reward for success. Steven Spielberg was paid $250m for Jurassic Park yet Universal Studios didn’t moan (loudly) because it was only a pre-agreed cut from enormous profits. It is better to work together for a big win, than to antagonise and penny pinch for the sake of “fairness” with others.

While failure can be random and out of the hands of the individual; shared reward should be a priority for the agencies of the future.

sk

NB: Slides and notes from the talks are available from James here, from Mel here and from Martin here

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Legacy effects

Earlier this week Seth Godin blogged about legacy issues. He stated that “The faster your industry moves, the more likely others are willing to live without the legacy stuff and create a solution that’s going to eclipse what you’ve got, legacies and all.”

That might be true, but legacy effects are just as prevalent on the consumer side as the production side, and they should be recognised and incorporated as far as possible.

For instance, early digital cameras didn’t contain a shutter sound. After all, it doesn’t need one – the noise was merely a byproduct of the analogue mechanism. Nevertheless, early users felt a disconnect – the noise had let them know when their photo had been taken. Hence digital cameras all now have the option for the shutter sound to be incorporated.

Legacy effects are also present in our naming conventions – records, films and so on. I suspect this may also soon apply to the device we carry around in our pockets and handbags.

Our contracts and pay as you go credits are currently with phone companies, and so the “mobile phone” name still makes sense, even when on smartphones the phone is “just another app” (and not a regularly used one at that). But with Google looking at unlocked handsets, and the introduction of cashless payments through NFC, the business models may soon be changing. I suspect that if Visa starts selling devices that allow you to make payments as well as contact people, they will initially call it a “mobile phone” rather than a “mobile wallet”.

Behaviours are also subject to legacy effects – our habitual purchases that we continue to make without consideration. Some companies (like AOL) benefit from it, while others can suffer. For instance, I have only recently purchased a Spotify subscription and am considering a Love Film trial. From a purely economic standpoint I should have done this a long time ago, but I’ve been wedded to the idea of needing to own something tangible. Digital distribution means this isn’t necessarily the best option anymore (I type this as I look at shelves full of DVDs that I will need to transport when moving flat).

Consumers on the business-to-business side aren’t immune from this either – witness the continued reliance on focus groups or a thirty-second spot. These are undoubtedly still effective in the right circumstances, but some budget holders can be extremely reticent to leave traditional tried and trusted methods even when faced with reliable evidence than an alternative could prove more effective.

So while some companies can benefit from removing their legacy attributes early, doing so too early may be counterproductive. The comfort of sticking with what one knows can be very powerful, no matter how irrational it can seem.

sk

Cluetrainplus10: Thesis no.2

This is my blog post on thesis 2 of the Cluetrain Manifesto, forming part of cluetrainplus10. This is a project set up by Keith McArthur to celebrate the ten year anniversary of the manifesto’s publishing. I am one of many bloggers who has picked a thesis to cover today.

I feel like a bit of a charlatan, as I haven’t read the full book. I feel like I have, since the book gets referenced and rehashed so often but I should really go to the source at some point the get the version without embellishments and misinterpretations. I have at least read the manifesto though, and there was a thesis available that I wanted to cover so…

2. Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors.

Without wishing to revert to school essay-writing style, it is important to deconstruct the parts of this thesis.

Firstly, markets. Straightforward enough – an exchange of a good or service between a giver and receiver. The economy is made up of a vast number of complex and interconnected markets.

Secondly, demographic sectors. Now the tighter definition of a demographic will look at the objective population characteristics of that segment. Age, gender, ethnicity and so on.

However, loosening this could incorporate location-based, attitudinal, behavioural or lifestyle factors. Segmentation is not a science, after all.

Prisoner Patrick McGoohanThirdly, and finally, there is human beings. We have consciousness, emotions, motivations and free thought. We are not numbers, we are free men.

So, on a tight reading, the thesis could be saying that we shouldn’t be grouped into segments or demographic sectors, but treated as individuals that can fluctuate in and out of pre-defined targets as and when we please.

Technically correct, but this works better for pull-markets than push. In a pull market, the seller has ceded a degree of control. I self-select myself to customise the experience within the constraints to give myself maximum utility. The web has been a great enabler of this.

But most markets are still push markets. Unless your population is a super-select group (e.g. multi-billionaires), it is technically infeasible to treat all potential traders as individuals. That is where demographic sectors come in useful. Population characteristics are pretty outdated and completely overlook the fantastic diversity of our society. Attitudinal or behavioural demographics are much more useful (and fluid).

This reading also overlooks an important element of the thesis. As human beings we are plural. We may be individuals, but we also act in groups. Some might say that we have an inherent herd mentality.

So it is feasible to target groups by attitude, but we should treat them with more grace and humility. With humanity. Not calling them targets, for one thing.

And this works both ways. We should be human ourselves. Organisations should display this emotion, free thought and consciousness that defines us as who we are.

This gets to the heart of the thesis, in my opinion. And it is ever more relevant as the economy gets destroyed by rampant, greedy capitalism. It may not bring the short-term efficiency of a quick trade on the stock exchange or a last second snipe on ebay, but it creates meaningful and long-lasting relationships. Which ultimately benefits both sides.

We are people. We may be grouped, but we are not homogeneous. We are not faceless, we have multiple faces. Our name is legion. And we should recognise this.

We have been slowly learning to treat the customer with respect by using various platitudes.

“The consumer isn’t a moron. She is your wife”David Ogilvy

Now it is time to respect ourselves.

sk

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Classic blog posts #4: Randall Rothenberg’s manifeso on digital advertising creativity

Unlike previous classic blog posts – transparent attempts to compensate for a lack of attention to this blog by shamelessly republishing old bookmarks (which, nevertheless, are still brilliant) – this edition is to highlight a post made a couple of days ago.

Because it is brilliant. And everyone should both read it and engage with it:

Randall Rothenberg on “A Bigger Idea”: A Manifesto on Interactive Advertising Creativity”

The article is incredibly informative and well-reasoned. Furthermore, “R2” displays a level of passion and candour that few bloggers display, particularly those that are President/CEO of a major trade body.

He names the four enemies of online branding as

  • A direct-marketing culture and tradition that devalues creativity and its long-term effect on brands
  • An interactive agency business model that disincentivizes greatness and fails to penalize mediocrity
  • An unwillingness by mainstream agencies to integrate technologists as full partners in the advertising creative team
  • Media industry values and habits that malign and depreciate our own products, and by extension our customers’

The piece contains such great quotes as:

“Attention to beauty is more the exception than the rule in a marketing-services segment (Direct Response) that prizes today’s response to today’s offer over long-term brand lift”

“What’s the biggest difference between a traditional creative agency and a new-age digital agency? Answer: Traditional creative agencies are named after human beings. Digital agencies are named after inanimate objects or nonsense words.”

“This evolution of the creative partnership [integrating technologists] is as transformational a moment as was the invention of the copywriter-art director partnership exactly 60 years ago”

“Our seller-buyer-driven culture is devaluing not just the pricing but the potency of our medium”

Go check it out now

sk

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Links – 1st February 2009

Part 2 of the Good Stuff, following on from links yesterday to top articles on insights, marketing and advertising, online video and music.

Social media

I haven’t yet read it but I’m sure it is brilliant: danah boyd’s PhD dissertation

The Vitrue top 100 social media brands of 2008 (with methodology included)

Charles Frith provides an excellent case study of how brands shouldn’t engage with social media. Whether the person was officially representing Miller or not, he got pwned.

A Wired journalist experiments with various geo-aware applications and finds out that they are not all that they are cracked up to be

Mozilla have proposed a free, crowd-sourced usability tool which sounds, from this at least,  fantastic

Technology and the internet

One one hand, Kevin Kelly argues that ownership may soon be a thing of the past, and that access is far more important. Bodes well for tools such as Spotify.

But on the other, Jason Scott argues against the Cloud, as it can’t be trusted to safeguard your “possessions”

John Willshire lists several free tools that can be very useful in tracking online consumer behaviour

Discover Magazine offers a counter-argument to Nicholas Carr’s Atlantic article. Through outsourcing the effort required for recall, Google can in fact make us smarter. Not sure I necessarily buy this, but interesting nonetheless

Business and ideas

A great interview with Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of the Black Swan, in the (UK) Times

Henry Blodget’s plan to fix the New York Times includes cutting costs by 40%, raising the price of the print edition and – controversially – reconstructing a walled garden for premium content

John Willshire (again) live-blogged the recent PSFK ideas salon in London, and it is well worth a read

Copyblogger has six ways to get people to say yes

A lovely story of a designer recounting his experiences with notebooks. I’ve recently started using a notebook for more than transitional note-taking, but it remains to be seen whether anything useful will come of it

My Favourite Business Book – crowdsourced opinion

And, as always, I’ve been posting slightly more miscellaneous links to my Tumblr blog, which in theory now has comments enabled through Disqus.

sk

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Links – 31st January 2009

As Des’ree once bemoaned, “Life, oh life, oh life, oh life”. A hectic few weeks are *fingers crossed* finally over. Rather than just watching the evening news and eating toast in that time, I also managed to read and bookmark some interesting things posted on the internet. Here is part 1 of a two-part collection of said stuff.

Insights

I’ve enjoyed the back and forth discussion regarding the nature and usefulness of insights. Richard Huntingdon used Simon Law’s presentation as a basis to provocatively state that insights do not come from the research department but from a combination of within (presumably not from those within the research department though), real life, academia and “weird shit”. This inspired several other posts.

Rory Sutherland sought to distinguish between an idea – creative – and insight – deduction.

Kevin McLean, a Qual researcher, felt that a little humility could have been used in the argument.

Will Humphrey offered a balanced summary, arguing that research findings should promote creativity and lateral thinking, but that planners should be more “ballsy” when pushing for decent research.

In terms of being ballsy and challenging, Dave Trott offers an inspiring story of changing a slender brief to a truly impactful one after going away to research the product

My own thoughts? Bad research, and bad researchers, exist. As do bad planners, creatives, account managers, product directors and so on. A project is more likely to succeed if each stakeholder is capable of implementing the necessary vision. This requires dialogue on each side – utilising specific skills and expertise to challenge, mould, amend and hone a brief. It is a researcher’s duty to provide a bespoke solution that will provide real, accurate, tangible outputs. If they don’t then they have failed. But other people in the chain have just as big an opportunity to succeed or fail.

Marketing and advertising

Rory Sutherland wonder if we can outsource media planning to the public through recommendation mechanisms within social media.

John Willshire followed up on that post with the notion that this removes control on how the message is propagated. He gives a great example of how such a scheme can easily be commoditised.

Ad Week looks at the rising relevance of shopper marketing in times of media fragmentation.

Faris Yakob uses a brilliant (fan-made) Thundercats trailer to illustrate the power and benefits of recombinant marketing

Iain Tait has a minor rant about the trend of using the themes of connection and collaboration within TV advertising

Graeme Wood remarks on ways in which the internet and social media can be used to deepen involvement in a television show

A NY Times article on ways in which the internet is being used to promote new novels

“Trust Me” – a new shot set at an advertising agency has launched in the US (NY Times). Within the show, real life brands and campaigns are placed. Personally, I think this is a great way to involve brands into entertainment in an organic way. However, in the UK product placement is currently illegal and so I wonder whether the show could ever be shown over here. Precedents are mixed e.g. we may get James Bond films with the “kerching” moments uncut but the Coca Cola drinks within American Idol are pixellated.

Rohit Bhargava on how advertisers can use consumers to help promote them

Ad Rants takes a look at Bob Garfield’s overview of the widget economy. I’m now locked out of the original article, so if anyone has access I would appreciate it if a copy could be sent my way 🙂

Claire Beale on Walker’s campaign to crowdsource a new flavour of crisp

Online video

Jim Louderback makes an excellent point in that, online, the third dimension of depth – or engagement – is far more important than reach and frequency

Mark Cuban believes online video is overhyped because the technology isn’t stable enough for mass simultaneous viewing. I would argue that this is what TV is for; online video is not TV and its benefits are different, but complementary.

And to highlight that difference, because the web is much more about discovery and experimentation, we see a huge drop off in viewing between episode 1 and episode 2 of a web series. Newteevee has a great overview of a recent report

Music

A Freakytrigger post shows that the number of new entries in the UK charts has dropped off a cliff in recent years. A negative effect of the long tail?

A very interesting Music Think Tank post on a pull music paradigm shift. There is some dissension in the comments but I found it fascinating

Tomorrow’s update will feature articles on social media, technology and the internet, and business and ideas

sk

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Learning from textbooks

Are textbooks valuable?

They encourage rote learning, are open to malignant biases, are frequently tedious and the contents are promptly forgotten about before they can be digested.

So why are they so commonly used? Simplicity? Equality? Continuation?

Personally, I find them useful. Up to a point. I wouldn’t attempt to fly an aeroplane, but I might attempt a few choice words of Cantonese with a native speaker on completion of an instruction guide.

Where do marketing textbooks fit on the scale?

marketing by paul baines, chris fill and kelly page

I wonder because I have recently read one. This one (Marketing by Paul Baines, Chris Fill & Kelly Page), to be precise. My apologies to the folk at Research Talk for leaving it so long, but I am holding true to my word by blogging about it. I did say that it may take a while.

I studied Philosophy, Politics & Economics at university (though it turned out to be more like History & Politics) and so my knowledge of marketing is accumulated from various bits I’ve picked up on the job, through courses, magazines and blogs. However, I wished to know more and so picked up the book.

Because of the chasms in my knowledge, I have appreciated another benefit of textbooks. They offer a logical and consistent guideline to work from. Many elements sounded familiar but I had never fully considered the surrounding context and implications. There is now a degree of coherence unifying my thoughts.

Textbooks should only be the first step in learning, but they provide a base to build upon. A base where thoughts and theories can be evolved through experiences, interactions and feedback. After all, textbooks will expound the prevailing wisdom and as the old aphorism goes; “Conventional wisdom is always conventional, but rarely wisdom.” We can learn from our mistakes and progress (even if the experts are just as wrong as chimpanzees).

And as far as textbooks go, this was a very readable and well-paced example. It gave a decent introduction to topics, which while basic contained thorough references for further reading and plenty of case insights. A broad range of topics were covered and it can equally be studied for 5 minutes or 5 hours at a time.

I would suggest two additions to the book. Firstly, more competing or emerging theories where applicable; alternate theories tended to supersede rather than sit alongside. Secondly, an additional chapter on changes to communications due to the ubiquity of mobiles and computers would have been welcome, but I presume this runs the risk of fast obsolescence.

Unsurprisingly, I learned many things by reading the book – some small nuggets; other major theories. A few of my takeouts include:

  • STP – segmentation, targeting and positioning
  • DMAP targets – distinct, measurable, accessible and profitable (I’m a fan of using acronyms for mnemonics)
  • The difference between opinion leaders and formers is that leaders ar in same social circle
  • The five characteristics of service products are intangibility, inseparability, variability, perishability and non-ownership
  • RATER dimensions of service quality – reliability, assurance, tangibles, empathy and reassurance
  • Porter five forces analysis
  • Bettman’s memorisation processes affecting consumer choice include factors affecting recognition and recall, effects of context, form of coding objects in memory, effects of processing load, effects of input and effects of repetition
  • The six types of relationship are partner, advocate, supporter, client, purchaser and prospect

Now the trick is to put them into practice before they’re forgotten

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stephenliveshere/

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