Dare to say ‘focus on the consumer’ one more time

[Rant alert] Seriously. I’ve had it with this gratuitous expression. I get it, we all get it by now don’t we? There’s no reason for every presentation to feature a slide with this so called knowledge and then someone in the audience will tweet it and it’ll definitely generate a few retweets. And every time I can’t help thinking: why?

It’s not like I don’t agree, but isn’t that just the most obvious thing to say? That’s hardly rocket science is it. I find it even obnoxious if you are running a business or in charge of marketing that wouldn’t be the case by default. How do you believe you are ever going to win in business if you’re decisions are all based on everything but the consumer. And how do you deal with your marketing when the consumer is not present in how you build out your plans? Seriously. The fact that there are still so many people that ‘see the light’ when someone tells them they should focus on the consumer is beyond anything I can understand.

And – like I’ve written before – I don’t see how it changes how companies operate. Credit where credit is due, you see some companies transform, but since we can all maybe name just only a few I guess that proves they are still exceptions to the rule. Companies don’t all of a sudden focus on the consumer, they couldn’t even if they wanted to. In many cases they have little to no view on who those consumers really are. And then I don’t mean 18-55 year old women or millenials because those descriptions do more to prove my point than than anything else. Even in the age of ‘big data’ most brands don’t have too much of an idea about their consumer base, let’s just be honest about it. And how can you focus on someone if you don’t even know who that someone is?

So stop saying, start acting.
Please.

How to make the mobile phone a social object again?

I did a talk about mobile in marketing at the Mobile Convention Brussels today. It’s not the first time I write about social objects or social currency on this blog, but in the case of mobile the device itself is in essence a social object. It allows us to connect with people, remember Nokia’s claim? And going from Dumbphone to Feature Phone to Smartphone (and yes I like these retronyms) the connections have multiplied. More tech, more possibilities and more people to connect to. Fantastic.

But at the same time we disconnect with the people in front of us. Research shows that already 10% of all Smartphone users feel the urge to check their phone every 5 minutes (!) and in another study 33% of parents admit that their phone and/or tablet was a sore point with kids. And yes I think we all recognize the images I used on slide 7. It’s no wonder the term ‘phubbing‘ was invented: the act of snubbing someone in a social setting by looking at your phone instead of paying attention. Rings a bell?

Maybe Einstein was right:

“I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.”

So the mobile phone is a social object. Literally because it allows us to connect with people around the world. And it isn’t a social object, thinking about the definition we use for that in the conversation economy because it doesn’t trigger conversations, on the contrary. So there’s an opportunity in marketing to make the mobile phone a real social object, to use it to trigger conversation. To use it in a way it’s not the object itself that matters but the conversations around it.

Like we tried to do with “Reborn Apps”, the campaign for organ donation that won a gold Cannes Lions at this year’s festival.

Or also with older cases like “A Blind Call” or “Baby Connection“. These projects are not only there for conversion (which is also an objective of course) but are created mainly to kickstart conversations.

A few things to keep in mind when you want to use mobile to create social objects:

  1. Digital is not about technology. There’s little technology involved in the case of Reborn Apps for instance, it’s not by focusing on the tech that you will find the great ideas. And sometimes technology can spur fantastic ideas obviously and also that can be a good briefing, but in general it’s not where you start to find the answer to your problems.
  2. Context is key. Also here way too often that is immediately translated into technology, into things such as responsive design for instance in which responsive is just a way of saying how the design adapts to ‘every’ screen. I think that’s limiting ourselves, context is about which device, when, for what purpose, by whom, … and responsive design should be about a way of designing experiences that keep all of that into account.
  3. Find a unique (provocative) insight. I’m planning on doing a separate write down on the ‘provocative insight’ and how we defined that at Duval Guillaume Modem. The important thing to remember is that you need an insight that has a bit more edge to it, that people have an opinion on if you want it to generate those kind of creative ideas that will provoke conversations.
  4. Tap into real human emotions. It’s what makes it situations, projects, products, advertising, … recognisable. You can image yourself into a certain situation, you can immediately see how something like that could also happen to you. It makes it all so much more powerful.
  5. Make it irreverent. Challenge the status quo. Don’t accept things to be like everyone says they should be, don’t take things too seriously, think the opposite. When everybody zigs, zag.

Note: http://www.stopphubbing.com is on its own also a social object, the verb phubbing was created by McCann Melbourne (yes the guys from ‘Dumb Ways to Die‘) as a campaign for a dictionary. Great job from my buddy John Mescall and his team!

Sweetie: the 10 year old pedophile hunter

Alright. There’s not much I will say about this, you just have to watch the video. In short, the organisation Terre Des Hommes that fights child exploitation, created a robot that looks like a 10 year old child. This robot, called Sweetie, is operated from Amsterdam and once online engages in chats with pedophiles. Apparently when you go online on popular chat services with the profile of a 10 year old Philippine you attract these sex offenders within seconds so that’s what Sweetie’s for. And since they all ask to put on the webcam, Sweetie activates that webcam without any hesitation… and while the conversation lasts, the specialists in Amsterdam get photo & video evidence of the offenders and they try to find all information that helps identify these men. And it works: 1.000 pedophiles identified in merely 2 months. I don’t say this often but this is just amazing! Watch. And don’t forget to sign the petition.

Automattic and the ‘distributed workforce’, let’s reinvent the way we work

Maybe the company name Automattic doesn’t immediately ring a bell, but I’m sure WordPress does. Automattic is the company behind WordPress and also other web services such as Gravatar, Akismet, Polldaddy, … If you were to look at traffic numbers for all websites running on WordPress combined, they would be the 3rd biggest in the world, right after Google and Facebook. This website represents only a very tiny part of that :-)

It’s not WordPress as a product I wanted to talk about however. During an interview at the Golden Drum Festival about a week ago I was asked about how I saw the evolution of our business and the new challenges that might arise while competing more and more with tech companies, attracting the right talent and everything. I said first of all that I think one of the biggest challenges we face in attracting talent is no so much that we compete with tech companies but that we compete with companies that think very differently about how they are organised and maybe also how they are evaluated. It made me think of a conversation I had with Sara Rosso, responsible for the VIP services at WordPress, at LeWeb last year. She explained me how they are organised as a distributed workforce and I thought that was massively impressive.

Web_AuttomaticMap

Think about it. More than 130 people work at Automattic, spread over 27 countries or 80 different cities. You cannot not be curious on how they make that work. In case you’re a small startup you probably can image something like that for your own business but once you’re talking about several dozens or in this case hundreds of people that’s not so easy to do. Even if I look at myself, when I was still working at Microsoft they launched ‘The new world of work’ and when we moved into the new office around that time proof was there that technology can really help you organise your work in a different way. Since I worked for the London office but out of Belgium I often worked from home and there was nothing holding me back from doing my work just as fine as if I were to spend all that time in the office. And that was really not even that advanced back then compared to Automattic today.

The way they make it work is even more impressive. All internal collaboration is based on WordPress. They make little use of email internally, most of the communication happens on WordPress blogs. A result of that is that they’re also extremely transparent since pretty much everything on those internal WordPress sites can be consulted by everyone (internally). All other communication runs via IRC and on occasion a group conversation via Skype when IRC doesn’t suffice. Very little of the communication happens over the phone. All internal WordPress blogs are based on the P2 WordPress theme, a kind of mix between Twitter and Facebook. The expression “P2 it” is used by everyone, it’s a reminder to put information from a meeting, chat, … on the P2 platform. This way all decisions and information is well documented.

Tasks are organised in so-called ‘fire teams’ of 4-6 people and those teams have their own charter and their own objectives for the given tasks. They don’t work based on time tracking (something that would anyway be difficult based on how they are structured) and evaluation is fully based on reaching the goals that were set. And we all link evaluation based on goals but still how it’s organised here is very different than what’s commonly used. The smaller teams will maybe meet each other in real life maybe 2-3 times a year and once a year the whole company gets together.

The company also has an ‘open vacation policy’. This means there are no pre-defined number of holidays for an employee, they think that everyone should have the possibility to take the time for themselves and family and as a result should be able to plan their own time off.

It’s clear that the model Automattic is using probably is not workable within every industry. Looking at my own industry a lot has been written already about the importance of people sitting in the same space (or not). And I get many of the arguments but a lot of times they also sound very defensive towards the current structures and procedures and we all know you can only start innovating when you challenge that status quo. It does inspire me to think about different ways of working with people and I do see a clear benefit, the world basically opens up when looking for talent in when you could make that work. Location becomes a secondary consideration, whereas today it feels that for many people location is actually becoming more important than it used to be.

Photo credit Automattic.com

Creative Academy @ Golden Drum: Social Currency fuels Braveness & Creativity

Last week I was in Portorož (Slovenia) to give a presentation at 20th edition of the Golden Drum Awards. To this creative audience I wanted to show that the necessity of building social currency for brands calls for bravery and creativity and as such is a great opportunity for the business that we are in.

We know that we have a lot less control of what is being told about a brand today. In the world where we control messaging we need great storytelling, but that alone isn’t enough anymore. We also need to make sure we try to influence the part where we have no control: “giving people a story to tell to each other”. We believe it’s key for brands to do both.

Web_GoldenDrum

But too often today when you talk about influencing the uncontrolled part we end up quite immediately into social media content. When business discovered social media in 2005-2006 with blogging, it proved an interesting way to share opinion or backstages stories around a brand. In the better examples CEO’s would openly talk about their business once a week in a lengthy blogpost that would allow people to reply to. When LinkedIn but especially Facebook came along, more content (but smaller pieces) was needed for updates several times per week. And with Twitter brands are urged to posts several times a day. At the same time content became more visual, we all know (I hope) the importance of the visual web. This trend however has brands talk to us as we are all ignorant kids and to be honest, most ‘branded content’ is actually worse than the 30″ commercial that so many hate.

Managing the conversation is not the same as provoking the conversation. And we should have the tactical rules of social rule our decisions in developing content to provoke. We no only think you should provoke a conversation, it should result in a conversation worth remembering. As an example I give the campaign we created for ‘Stop The Traffik’. This campaign is approximately 2 years old and yet 1 month ago 2 million views were added to the video when Upworthy discovered it (again). And since the the conversation that came out of it is still as valid for the brand is it was at launch.

That brings us to social currency. You create that when you repeatedly created social objects. And as I’ve written before, with the social object, it’s not so much the object that is important as it is the conversations it triggered around it. My business card is a social object. Almost every time I hand it out people ask me what ‘Change Architect’ (my second role) means and by explaining that I already get a chance to explain why change is important for the agency and how that defines the work that we make.

So why then the necessity for bravery & creativity in building social currency? In my presentation I list 5 points:

  • Provocative insights
  • Surprise & entertain
  • Make it irreverent
  • Make it awesome
  • Let go

But remember, this is not a science so stay agile and adapt constantly while creating.

Photo credit Golden Drum

The big idea is dead. Long live the big idea

The big idea is dead. To quote Patricia McDonald in a recent Campaign article: “In recent years, the “big idea” has often seemed to epitomise everything wrong and backward-looking about our industry.” And that’s indeed true. In the traditional sense of a 360 campaign, the big idea was to be found in the 30″ commercial or a huge online activity and every other aspect of the campaign had to amplify that centre piece. The big idea was almost not much more than the ever so popular ‘key visual’, the one visual we can translate in all our media for one given campaign.

BigIdea360

It’s good that we most brands start to work differently these days. It’s good that brands start to understand that this idea of a 360 campaign all built around the one big idea isn’t the right way to operate. But as Patricia also highlights in her article, that doesn’t mean we should start thinking small. And therefore the big idea is still very much needed, only we think about something completely different today when talking about a big idea than when we talked about it a few years ago.

Today (and as a matter of fact we believe for the last few years already), that big idea is more of a central thought, a thought that allows you to develop a creative platform in which several small & big creative ideas can be found. It’s a thought that is based on a strong insight and for which the creatives feel the potential, a thought that offers a fertile ground to start creating. Because let’s be honest, ideas can be small and very beautiful or extremely big, bold and complex. But the overarching thought can only be big. It’s linked to the brand’s raison d’être, the link with the purpose and therefore the relevance of the brand in people’s lives.

Once this ‘big idea’ is defined, once we all agree on what that central thought or creative platform is that a brand needs, the quest for the ‘key visual’ becomes less important. It’ll help them understand for instance in the case of Nike that Nike+ as well as ‘Find your greatness’ can be part of the same campaign. In the olden days that would have been near to impossible since they would both feel like big ideas in the classic definition.

So maybe we shouldn’t be using the phrase ‘big idea’ anymore knowing that it has for long meant something else, something that we feel isn’t right anymore today. But whatever the phrase you come up with, let’s all agree that we shouldn’t start thinking small all of a sudden.

Image credit: Enver Atmaca

Hire omnivores, not vegans when you’re building digital expertise

Interesting piece in HBR on building high-performing digital teams:

“Hire people who are omnivores, not vegans. Digital is part technology, part content strategy, part marketing art — and science. People who very strongly identify with only one piece of the equation will struggle on a high-performing digital team. Over the past decade skills within digital teams have merged even further.”

There’s enough in the article that I think is not totally correct but especially this statement was one I liked. I’ve noticed that while we are organising our teams still in the traditional way (art director + copywriter) we have specialist digital resources that can join the teams when the opportunity is there. This means that they can very early on or only later in the process call upon these specialist and build out there mini-team structure to tackle the problem at hand. We’ve noticed that operating this way we get the best results. It’s counter to the thinking that teams should consist of 3 instead of 2 people to begin with but allows richer teams as the creative idea grows.

And when I look out for these digital specialists I am not looking for a digital art director or a designer, I am looking for these ‘omnivores’. People that have a weird mixed skillset in digital, dev + design or engineer + social, … the area in which you find the so called creative technologists. Those are the profiles you want.

Why marketers should think more like entrepreneurs

A while ago I did this interview for a new venture of mine (Belgian Cowboys) with Johan Van Dyck. Now before you walk away because you have no idea who that is, you should hear me out. Johan used to be the CMO of the brewery Moortgat which is most known for beers such as Duvel, De Koninck, Vedett, Achouffe, … most of which are sold all over the world. So pretty decent job to say the least, one he did so well he became local Marketer of the Year his last year on the job. And yet, one day he decides to leave this all behind to start his own little brewery. In a market that is in decline and in the country with probably already most beers in the whole world – aka Belgium – that is not an easy one.

It’s not like it was a one-day decision, Johan had become fascinated with the history of beers that had dissapeared, some of which had been hugely popular at a certain point in time. One of those beers was Seefbier, during the 1900’s the most popular beer in Antwerp. But partially due to WWI and II it didn’t exist anymore. Even worse, the recipe was lost as well, nobody knew how it was made anymore. So while at Moortgat Johan went to great lengths to try to find that recipe during his free time. Libraries, old relatives of brewers, … you name it, Johan researched all. And with succes, because he found the recipe and got to make a sample.

What started of as bit of a hobby out of control I presume got really serious then. The beer tasted actually pretty good and he started planning for his own brewery. Something he couldn’t combine with his work at Moortgat obviously so he totally went for his own adventure. Today Seefbier exists again for about a year now and it’s pretty darn good.

So back to the interview. While we were actually talking about this adventure, marketing, …  a lot of it seemed to related to a kind of entrepreneurial attitude, but from a marketers point of view. Therefore I decided to write it down that way, why marketers should think more like entrepreneurs:

  1. Manage your marketing from the POV of the CEO. Plan as if it were your own money, is if it were your own business. This way you won’t just mark todo’s off your list but you will have to care about the full picture.
  2. Know your product. I know it sounds obvious to many but still not to all. New on the job or new people in the team? Provide a way to make them learn the product very well before starting. Not with slides, but there where the product is being made.
  3. Put the hours in.  If you want to be succesful as an entrepreneur you will have to have your business on your mind all day long. Work doesn’t stop when you close the office door at 6PM. There’s not such thing as a free lunch.
  4. Value entrepreneurship and not just success. This attitude is very different in the US compared to Europe. In the US people value an entrepreneur, even if eventually things don’t work out, you will still get respect for trying. It shows courage and initative. Don’t just value success.
  5. Take risks. You would expect entrepreneurs and startups to be much more careful when it comes to taking risks – it is their own money, their own loan right? And yet that is not the case most of the times. Marketers who work with other people’s money tend to be a lot more for playing on the safe side. Don’t.
  6. Take decisions, give directions. Don’t just distribute all the work incl. all decisions to other people or agencies, in the end it is your business and you’re appointed to be able to design strategy and direct marketing yourself. People can support you on that but don’t just put all the hard issues with other people.

A last thing Johan told me before we finished our Seefbier is something I want to share with you as well. I wondered if he wasn’t scared about the size of his competitors (AB Inbev, Moortgat, …) to which he replied: “The bigger the plates, the bigger the holes. I need big competitors to be able to function. Bring ’em on.” I like. Good luck Johan!

Why you should be using short-form video in your online communication

I’ve been a close witness to some of the impact short-form video has had on campaigns I was involved in. Small campaigns like the launch of IKKI.be (which most of you will be unfamiliar with) where the video was responsible for creating so much buzz within the target audience that we had reached the platform sign-up target within days instead of months. Or campaigns where the video travelled the world such as we experienced with “Bikers” for Carlsberg or “Push to add drama” for TNT.

All of these (and other) cases made me get a firm believe in short-form video used within online communication strategies. Fast Company believes the same – read “Why Short-Form Video is the Future of Marketing” – where they highlight some key reasons why that is the case:

  1. More and more users are consuming their video entertainment online
  2. Marketers are using video to engage with social media audiences
  3. Barriers to entry are low
  4. Quality is expanding quickly
  5. There are plenty of avenues for dissemination

All true, but apart from the 3rd point, all of these are mostly observations of what is happening and not really reasons of why it is happening. So I agree, but I think they are missing the point a bit.

Video is a very rich audiovisual experience but it allows brands as well to keep control of the story in a time there’s no more control. You can craft a message in such a way (editing, music, …) that you get the maximum effect and when people share it they share it generally for the full 100%. So basically if you’re doing a good job, people will share your video content adding comments etc so taking over control – but not over the message, because when it is consumed again, it will be again exactly how you as a producer crafted it in the first place. That is what makes it very powerful for online communication, the combination of this fact with the knowledge that more and more people consume online video entertainment.

This doesn’t mean video should always be the center piece of your communication online, but try to get video in that communication in some form as much as you can. It’s pretty powerful.

My 2 cents