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.