Friday, December 21, 2012

Born to Kill

It started a few years back, when digital marketers noticed that the things they put online don't go away when the ads stop running on tv. They noticed that most of their microsites and little gimmicks were born to die. The sites a had a finite lifespan of just a month or two - or lived on as zombies in the void of the internet with no more advertising to fuel traffic to them.

This was very stupid.

So the digirati started to talk about things that were born to live, not to die. Choosing to design experiences that could have lifespans over one single campaign or product launch. This just made sense, because it takes time and money to create gravity around any digital destination and to throw that away every quarter is just silly.

Lightweight interaction on Facebook
Nowadays advertisers use the facebooks and tumblrs or this world to be the continuum of content that flows from campaign to campaign, from quarter to quarter. They use it for lightweight byte-size interactions, that might give the consumer some entertainment  and the brand a little attention it craves. It's a constant flow of content instead of huge clunky microsites.

So problem solved? Everything is now born to live, right?

Just surviving the marketing roadmap and lingering on was probably a great achievement a year or two ago, but anyone can do that now. Any brand can small-talk on facebook or start their own little blog. I think the next evolution of digital marketing are things that are not only designed to live, but things that are born to kill. Experiences designed to give brands an edge against their competition. Something that not only takes into account of the strengths of the brand, but also the weaknesses of the competition.

I believe that if you're not in some sort of digital arms race, you're probably not doing it right.

Digital marketing and selling is revolutionizing every single category in the world. Just look at Domino's Pizza - a company that invested early on in digital experiences and ordering mechanics - and now is in the top ten e-tailers in US. They are constantly in a hurry to improve it's experiences and keep ahead of the competition in this area. The are killing the competition with digital.

The born to kill -attitude is about analyzing the way people find out about your product, use your product and buy your product - and finding the place where you can one-up everybody else with digital or mobile. This seems to have worked for Domino's, as the value of the company has quadrupled since 2010 while revolutionizing how people buy their product.

So do yourself a favor and ask the born to kill question: "How will I use mobile and digital to kill my competition in 2013?"

Oh... And have a merry christmas.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

What's wrong with pitching

I've been on tens of advertising pitches. Some are great, some are not. But they are all quite a lot of work. Often that's because we work hard, not smart. The problem most common problems with pitches are the lack of structure, process and internal deadlines. 

If you've never worked on one, I'll tell you what it is at its worst:

After quickly glancing over the client's brief, the strategy team immediately starts to amass tens of powerpoint slides for "a deck". In parallel, creative teams are quickly briefed to come up with "the big idea". What happens next is numerous chaotic revisions of "the deck" and "the big idea" until all the available time has been used up and it's time to pull the thing together. Normally at this point ten different people edit and change "the deck" around until everyone working on it is too exhausted to change a thing and then you just hope for the best.
You end up with something that's by design disjointed, has no red thread with a bloated blunt strategy and creative that doesn't match it, as these were worked on in parallel. This means you miss opportunities, stress everyone out and end up with poor last minute work. I admit, sometimes magic does come out of chaos and things just click, but I wouldn't count on it.

Now this is how I'd run a pitch:

 I'd have a few very strict phases in it and deadlines that have to hold, in order to have sufficient time to work on each phase equally and make the most out of the time you have.

1) Discovery phase:
Find out what you can on the category, the products, the competition or what ever is relevant. And read the brief. Everyone on the assignment has to know what the client wants, not only what the account person says the client wants. Don't try to solve the problem here, just learn about it.

2) Strategy write-ups:
Instead of doing massive powerpoints that contain every single aspect of the story. Planners and strategists meet up, talk about the brief and then do quick individual write-ups of what they think the key issues are and how to solve them. Write-ups should be half a page of dynamite. Then you talk, compare and iterate a few rounds - and then you lock it up. The final output should still fit on a page. And remember - when writing strategy, less is more. So keep the crew small or you end up running a committee - and write short and sharp. Don't be fluffy or try to keep doors open with inclusive language, that's what bad strategists do.

3) Creative write-ups:
There is no separate creative brief, the strategy write-up is the brief. Creative teams then pitch quick write-ups with mood imagery in two or three sessions a day. At the end of this phase, you select how ever many ideas you want to present to be developed.

4) Write the story:
Now whoever is going to present this thing, or most of it, needs to write the outline of the presentation and work with creative and strategy directors to have the specifics of what the story is, how it is told and what assets need to be developed to tell it. Before the outline has been agreed upon, no-one is allowed to touch powerpoint.

5) Compile and practice:
The presentation only has one owner. All materials should be compiled and rehearsed a day or two before the actual deadline to present, so if you still need one more comp or need to pull a statistic to support the strategy, you have the time to do it.

And that's it.

Good luck.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The iceberg is melting

Advertising agencies aren't paid as much as they've been paid in the past. One could easily blame the economy. Perhaps the clients are just tightening the belt. Maybe it's something that is just temporary and as soon as the numbers look better, the billings go up as well.

I don't think so.

I think there's a fundamental shift in how much clients value agencies and the output they have. The role of creative partner is simply worth less in a world that is more transparent, quicker and leaner. Actually, playing devil's advocate, one could ask "Why should I pay my agency millions for a few ideas?"

In the olden days, it was a type of insurance against bad creative - and bad business results. Surely paying the hottest shop top-dollar is the best way to ensure that our stuff sells, especially in Q4. You only had one chance to get it right. And you were ready to pay for it. You weren't going to risk your sales because you cheaped out by selecting a cheaper agency.

But that was then.

Now you can test and react quicker. You can reach customers directly with social media. The magic and mysticism of making ads has disappeared, because you now know how well it did or didn't do, by the wonder of accurate analytics. And besides, what does it matter what sort of tv commercial you make, because no-one will see it anyway. If your stuff is good, consumers will find it on their own. And share it with friends. Big brand advertising is a smaller part of people's lives in today's world. Mostly due to technology.

Are you at a digital shop and you think you're safe?

I have some bad news. You're getting screwed even worse.

Digital production, which is the bread and butter of any digital shop, is becoming a commodity. Why would I pay you millions or even hundreds of thousands of dollars to make a brand site for me, when I can get it for $8 / month from Squarespace. The tumblrs of this world are eating your lunch.

The iceberg is melting.

Everybody's business is getting smaller. What do you do? Go to higher ground, of course.

This means finding a domain of value you can easily pivot to. In my opinion there are four distinct domains of value a marketing services company can be in: awareness, retail, ownership and CRM. Essentially this means that any agency, digital or otherwise, is in the business of life-cycle management. So you have to, for example, go from selling ads (aka awareness) to focus on retail promotions and find things that directly help sell the product. Digital or otherwise. There's still value in that. And more importantly, it's immediate and measurable.

Ok, fine. But what's the best place to pivot to?

I think the most untapped potential is with the ownership part of the continuum. A great product is easier to sell than an OK one. So my guess is that agencies will more and more be in the business of helping companies tweak, pimp, shift, polish, reimagine, repackage or enhance their products to be more attractive, rather than trying to come up with great ads for an unremarkable product. Who knows, you do a good job in improving the product and you might get to do the ad too... if you're interested.

In this realm, digital will have a huge impact, as I believe that consumers don't distinguish between "real" or digital attributes of products. It's all just one and the same thing - e.g. your camera takes great photos and stores them online for free. Both attributes, digital and physical, are just part of the package.

This shift will require that agencies are better at coming up with marketable propositions, not just funny tv-scripts, quirky little apps or retro-looking advergames. This is a quantum shift in the business that we're in.

Can't wait to see what happens next.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

We are talking to the wrong guy

Anyone in advertising has seen this a million times. You come in with a huge idea. I mean something that can blow the lid off the world. It involves an app, a few websites, an event at Piccadilly Circus, global partnerships that are ready to go, installations all around the world, a gigantic retail promotion, vendor training, changing internal processes, new pricing structures, changes to the packaging, and yeah, some advertising too.

And they love it.

It's great, it's bold, it's just what they were looking for.


They'll just take the advertising. "Maybe we'll do the other stuff in Phase 2", they say, which is code for "never-in-a-million-years".

The problem here is, that the people in charge of briefing ideas for agencies are the people in charge of buying advertising. It's an organizational issue. All this time the clients have been nagging for an integrated agency model and yet most clients live in little boxes, looking at one thing at a time. "Oh, that stuff belongs to the website team, but it was a good idea anyways."

Advertising ideas aren't clean-cut. The best ideas are messy and they will not match the organizational conveniences of any company. You need a bull-dozer as a client. Someone who can get all the right people to sit down and agree to pull it off. Someone who hasn't booked a bunch of television time and is only interested in filling that slot. Someone who can analytically crunch numbers, but also once in a while take a leap of faith because it feels right in the general groin region. You need someone other people will listen to.

I think that guy is more likely to be the CEO than the CMO. You know, the Steve Jobs school of managing marketing.

Okay, maybe you don't have a Steve Jobs available, so at least the marketing teams should act as interfaces into the organization, not just catapults shooting material out into the wild. They should help find all the right people and get them on board something crazy. I'm talking about operational people. People who make things. Business and process owners. The finance guys. The IT-people. That one guy who is in charge of all the brand dashboards. Agencies need access and backing from marketing organizations in order to execute great work.

And unless that happens, I'm afraid that we're stuck talking to the wrong guy.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Your brand is here

Your brand is not a shiny plaque in your corporate office.

Your brand is sure as hell not in the brand guidelines.

You can't decide to change it in a committee.

Your brand is not delicate to semantics.

In fact, you don't own your brand.

Because your brand is here.

It is in my head.

I made it.

You just helped.

If you are not happy with it, you'll have to talk to me about it.

What I care about is simple.

Have a heart beat.

Heart: Empathy. Personality.

Beat: Do things. Interesting things.

Tell me a good story.

Help me get my shit together.

Make me see new possibilities.

Because your brand is here.

It is in my head.

I made it.

You just helped.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The thirsty man

"And we did it all with zero paid media dollars!" was the ending of every second case study video in every digital award show I saw a while back. The notion that by coming up with something that could grab the attention of an audience for a fleeting second, without actually having to pay for it, had captivated the digital marketing community. It seemed like you were getting something for nothing. Which is great.

But unfortunately not true.

Most likely you were getting barely anything for a hell of a lot of effort. Spikes of interest based on an online stunt is a tactic that in my book should be used very rarely*. But for ongoing business-as-usual -situations, it is a gross misuse of what the web can do.

Advertising works because of repetition. You hear the same thing over and over and over again and it will alter your behavior. You will buy that brand of juice more likely than the other one if you see it often enough. You will consider Mexico as a travel destination, if someone suggests it enough times. But online gimmicks are one-offs. They most likely will not significantly change consumer behavior. "If 10000 people like this, we will shoot a cat into space" will probably get you the attention you want. For a second. But there is no continuity to it and therefore it does not do what advertising does, as the magic ingredient of repetition is missing.

But the good news is: we can do something better than just gimmicks and advertising.

The web is not only an advertising channel. It is an extension of what the brand has to offer. All products are digital products. Just think about what "a product" really is. A product is one collection of attributes that fulfills a need you have or solves a problem in your life.

It's a glass of water to a thirsty man.

It's exactly what he needs, just when he needs it.

Our job as marketers is to find that thirsty man and satiate him. When he's looking to buy jeans, what sort of thoughts and problems does he have? What can your brand do online to help him? This is the process of inventing the digital dimension for your product. What ever you do online becomes part of the product offering. His problem (or thirst to run with the metaphor) might be, for example, that he hates that all jeans are similar and generic. So your glass of water could be a service where he can customize the jeans to his liking. Or maybe he's thirsty later in the product life-cycle and he needs to have better information in keeping he's jeans looking great even after a wash. So perhaps you build digital jeans washing guide that give him what he needs to know.

You get the point.

And in case you didn't, I'll say it again: the digital attributes of a product are just as real as the physical ones. They are just easier to make and distribute, as a bunch of bits, or electrons, are less a hassle to move around, than a pile of atoms. I find this very exciting. Most "real-world" brands have not yet figured out how to serve the thirsty man online. And the ones that do, will be very successful. We will see many revolutions where big brands die as dinosaurs that couldn't adapt and small ones innovate themselves into relevance.

So I think that in the near future more and more case-studies will end with "...and it was all due to how we fundamentally changed what the brand has to offer", instead of how many "likes" you got with that online pie eating contest. Not because I hate pie. (I don't.) But because making a better offering is, by all means, better marketing.

(* And yes, I do think that stunts can be useful - sometimes.  They are probably most useful when trying to focus attention on a certain point in time - like a premier of a movie or a charity event, where there is a very specific reason you would need a spike of interest for that particular moment. )

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Don't blame Elop

The fall guy
Nokia has taken one whopping beating after each other lately. Thus making the stock price and credit rating laughable at best. The superficial reason is simple - Nokia's phones aren't good enough. Nokia has not had a game-changing hit device since... well... the N95. I'm talking about a device that redefines the market . The N95 could do that, because it was essentially the last phone of the convergent device hardware race. The N95 had GPS, maps, a five megapixel camera, high-speed internet and expandable memory. Looking at it now, five(!) years later, it's still a comparable feature set from a hardware perspective.

Nokia won the race to build a true convergent mobile computer.

All it lacked was good software.

Product teams at Nokia were built around, well, products. The hardware differences around the phones defined the offering - not how well it worked with the Nokia ecosystem. The N81 team developed experiences and software that weren't compatible with the N82 - and then the teams would struggle to introduce their "improvements" into the master Symbian stack. Splintering from a common software strain leads to fragmentation and grinds improvements to a halt, as reintroducing code is slow and painful.

The result: a total mess. Despite an enormous footprint in market share, it was essentially impossible to develop software that would work on all high-end Nokia devices and the store experience was pretty crappy as well. That's why there really wasn't any significant app ecosystem around Nokia. This is the opportunity that Apple took with iPhone - and the rest is history.

I've seen a lot of talk lately blaming Stephen Elop for the downfall of Nokia. I think this is unfair. The real reason why Nokia has had a hard time is because it has moved into an industry that it hadn't previously been in: building holistic device and software platforms. Elop inherited a house built by the previous management, and this house was rotten to its core. Symbian was, and probably still is, a mess of spaghetticode and, despite a promising start, the Meego team suffered the same fate due to weak management and the weird decision to integrate Moblin into the stack, all while trying to get it ready for the new flagship device launches. The result was the N9 - too little, too late - and too many corners cut to scale.

A lot of blame has been put on Elop - saying that his announcement of the Microsoft partnership was too drastic, and therefore he destroyed the Symbian phone business and subsequently the company. To these people I ask: try using a touch-screen Symbian device from 2010 for a few weeks. Let's see if you'd choose to buy a Nokia device as your next phone. Perhaps, due a process of tap-dancing and sleight-of-hand, Elop could've managed to postpone the Nokiacalypse by a few months, but it was on its way. The device portfolio was just too messy to attract developers and the user experience too poor to keep or gain customers.

In hindsight, the company should've just talked to ten or twenty N95 owners in 2007 to realize that, nobody really used any of the it's fancy functions due to poor level of OS experience and the lack of interesting software. Focusing on that problem, rather than megapixels or the bill of materials, would've been the right thing to do. Instead, Nokia decided to stay the course. This decision was made well before Mr. Elop took the reigns. And that was the decision that destroyed the company.

Edit: typos, removed fragment sentences and tautology.