Too much plumbing. Too little poetry.

We live in a world driven by data and although we probably don’t even understand half of it or don’t even bother to look into it as we should, decisions aren’t taken unless they can be fully rationalized. As Rishad Tobaccowala mentioned in a recent post:

“In marketing we worship the algorithm and its superiority to human decision making.”

He makes a good point. He continues with:

“In the world of media we are so fixated on the plumbing of finding the right person at the right place at the right time that we forget that the interaction we deliver will have to be absolutely right and brilliant not to piss of this superbly well located person at the exact right time. The better the “targeting”, the more important the tone, content and quality of the interaction. Lets think about the poetry versus just the plumbing.”

This reminded me of the conversation between Bill and Melinda Gates during this year’s TED event in Vancouver. Somewhere in this conversation – hosted by Chris Anderson – it’s clear that part of the magic between these 2 people in spending billions of dollars to charity is the mathematical approach of Bill Gates combined with the more tangible, human experience of Melinda with the people involved in the decision. Something they obviously recognize as a necessity in their decision making.

Anyway, Rashid makes a few strong points why we should rethink how we deal with data. Read the full post here.

How to persuade clients to take creative risks?

Pat Fallon shares his thoughts on how to get your clients to take creative risks:

“Taking risks is part of our business. One key to persuading clients to take a risk is tightly aligning strategy with the creative approach. Although some observers think advertising comes down to crazy people sitting in a room brainstorming, strategy is the rigorous, behind-the-scenes part of our process—it’s driven by research and consumer insights, and it helps to precisely define what the company is trying to accomplish with a campaign, who the campaign is meant to reach, and why it’s going to trigger a specific response that drives sales. An idea that may seem risky during a presentation will look less so when it’s clear that we’ve thought it through. The client realizes, “These guys understand my business. They understand the flow of money. They are putting my success at the forefront of decisions.” That creates enough trust for the client to say, “OK, I’m going to hold my breath, hold my nose, and jump into the water with you.””

Read the full article right here.

Compass over maps

In one of the best talks at this year’s TED Conference in Vancouver, Joi Ito (Director of MIT Media Lab) said the following:

The idea is that the cost of writing a plan or mapping something is getting so expensive and it’s not very accurate or useful. So in the Safecast story, we knew we needed to collect data, we knew we wanted to publish the data, and instead of trying to come up with the exact plan, we first said, oh, let’s get Geiger counters. Oh, they’ve run out. Let’s build them. There aren’t enough sensors. Okay, then we can make a mobile Geiger counter. We can drive around. We can get volunteers. We don’t have enough money. Let’s Kickstarter it. We could not have planned this whole thing, but by having a very strong compass, we eventually got to where we were going, and to me it’s very similar to agile software development, but this idea of compasses is very important.

A talk well worth watching.

Share rate. The best way to measure how content spread

There’s a lot of talk about shareable content and what it means to go viral. This post is in no means a guide to make sure content does go viral, with this post I hope to help people understand why content spreads and if that is really what has happened in the first place. The reason I think this matters is because marketers are judging other brand’s content to understand what worked and what didn’t hoping to replicate, but they aren’t necessarily always looking at the right data. And since I get into conversations related to this topic constantly, I figured it would be well worth sharing this idea of share rate here as well.

Enough for the introduction, I will use online video (ads) as an example, but the theory works for all kinds of online content, although the data sources will be different of course. There are two key numbers that people tend to look at when judging the succes of online video: views/impressions and shares, although I presume that’s already a distant second measure.

Youtube for instance has its own way to rate popularity of video ads, that is explained by themselves rated based on “an algorythm that factors in paid views, organic views and audience retention” – the Youtube Leaderboard. It’s unclear what the weight of each element is, but it’s clear that it’s mostly based around views. It is also the only number mentioned in the rating. As an outsider it’s difficult to judge only on that number what made each video succesful, was it the idea or was it the mediaspent? Knowing what Youtube’s business is about, there’s no need to explain why this rating makes sense for them.

YoutubeLeaderboard

So it’s important to look further. If you as a marketer (or agency creative) want to figure out why something worked views aren’t the best number to look at on its own. Unruly Media created another way to measure video by looking at the amount of time something was shared on social media. The ads chart is sponsored by Mashable, but you can also look at popularity of other video content. If you want to understand why content was spread amongst people it’s probably a good idea to check if it actually spread in the first place.

Here’s where it becomes interesting. The ranking based on shares looks pretty different than the one based on views, if you look at Youtube’s n2 for August for instance, you will see it’s almost impossible to find in the Unruly ranking. So it’s clear, you wonder how content spread? Look at the shares. But that’s not all.

ViralVideoChart

Let’s look at a classic video we all know for instance: Evian Babies. With over 3 million shares that puts it at number 7 in the Unruly Viral Ads Chart of all time. Very succesful, but does that proof it was spread across social and hence a big succes? Not quite. Paid views will also generate shares – paid and organic. So we need to look beyond that. Here’s where the share rate comes in. The best way to judge whether a video was viewed because people shared it across the web is to look at the ration between views and shares. There’s a few ways to look at it, we use [shares/views] as the ratio, some use percentages, the idea remains the same.

Snapshot of internal tool (c) Duval Guillaume
Snapshot of internal tool (Duval Guillaume)

Truly viral content such as ‘Dumb Ways to Die‘ or our own ‘Push to add drama‘ will have a share rate in between 1/20 and 1/10 or even higher (meaning 1/9 or 1/8 but you won’t see those number appear much). Evian Babies – to come back to that same reference – has a ratio of 1/40 and the other example I mentioned (Foot Locker – Youtube’s August n2) has a ratio of 1/200. I would reckon that everything below 1/15 (probably) or 1/20 (definitely) received some kind of ad push. The lower the number the more views were generated through advertising (versus organic) obviously.

The share rate on its own doesn’t say much either of course, a high rate with little views isn’t much of a succes. But if you really want to know why a video was seen by so many people then this is the measure you need to look at. Does that mean those other videos weren’t successful? Of course not. Is it wrong the push videos online with media? Ofcourse not. But want to understand where success came from with the little data you can access? Find the video on the Unruly chart (they show both views and shares – makes it easy) and calculate the share rate.

For the record, Youtube also has a kind of share ratio they use in their presentations but it’s not meaning the same thing. They will look at the ratio between paid views and organic views. Again, thinking of their business selling video ads, I makes for them to correlate paid versus organic views, rather than views versus shares as I suggested.

As mentioned in the beginning I used video to explain but this idea of share ratio counts for all types of content and thus should help you analyze success (or not) of others in good way.

(Please note that I only use examples to illustrate a point, it’s no judgement at all about the videos themselves).

Advertising should be about enabling stories to be told

A few weeks ago I did a talk about the ‘Rebirth of Advertising‘ at TEDxLiege. Rebirth was the theme of the TEDx event that day and I wanted to bring a story that proves it is actually a great time to be in advertising today. That is if you don’t think about advertising as the intrusive, obnoxious thing that interrupts interesting experiences. Here’s how I define advertising:

“Advertising should be about enabling stories to be told. Whether those are brand stories, product stories, consumer stories, … Why would I listen to anyone if it they don’t have something interesting to say?”

Also when I started developing the talk I wanted it to have no advertising in it, I wanted it to excite people about a business I am excited about without showing entertaining work. You can see the 18′ talk in the video below.

Thanks to the team at Duval Guillaume for trying to push the boundaries of advertising every single day and special thanks to Mike Arauz (Undercurrent) whose thinking influenced me quite a bit lately. Thanks Mike!

The cure for boredom is curiosity

The first question our strategy interns will ask when they start here will almost always be: “what makes a good strategist?”. There are many answers to give to this question but I will only give one: be curious. I am convinced that this is the first and most important quality a good strategist must have, that’s where it starts.

Mel Exon (BBH Labs) once wrote a post comparing a good journalist with a strategist, pointing out the 3 characteristics both should have:

  1. A relish or hunger to find out new intelligence
  2. The intellectual ability to see patterns in that data; see the big picture and understand the facts
  3. An ability to write beautifully

I like the way Mel defined curiosity. An so did Ian Fitzpatrick, who built further on the importance of it:

“What I’d impart to you is the significance of the second trait: a relish or hunger to find out new intelligence. To achieve this trait — and I think it’s something you have to work at (or at least I do) — you will necessarily adopt an interested posture. We can, and must, build practices of curiosity.

To practice curiosity is to, necessarily, seek out the messy (and occasionally amorphous) perspectives of others. To be great at planning, or I’d posit at any pursuit charged with shaping things for people, requires both that we embrace and develop a profound respect for people who are not like us.

Please don’t forget that people are messy. It’s what makes us (including you) interesting, and what makes it incredibly difficult to design one-size-fits-all solutions (or communications).”

So go out and be curious. Seek out the messy. Find new grounds to explore. Always keep asking questions. Every answer should lead to a new question. That’s what makes it all interesting, that’s how you get to new and fresh ideas.

Or as Dorothy Parker said:

“The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.”

An ‘audience’ is an organisational convenience from a broadcast age

Activities not audiences. Russell Davies wrote an interesting post about how organizations are thriving upon ‘marketing thinking’ and how digital breaks most of that traditional thinking for good. It’s not about technology, it’s about a change of mind.

“An ‘audience’ is an organisational convenience from a broadcast age. It’s a reasonable way of segmenting the world so you can buy media but as a way of actually talking to people it doesn’t work. Most good advertising gets round it the same way good art does – by using the specific to illuminate the general, but most advertising isn’t good. So you end up with crude panderings like appealing to women by making all men seem like feckless idiots. Or by saying everyone born in a particular decade has a particular way of looking at the world.

The whole point of ‘digital’, the very opportunity of it, is that you don’t have to segment people like this. They segment themselves by looking for the thing they want to do.”

What strategists could learn from standup comedy

A while ago 4 of the best comedians of all time met and talked about their profession, sharing a whole bunch of insites that are valuable for all of us. It’s impressive to see and hear how much preparation goes into a good standup comedy show and that it’s not because they make it look like they’re inventing the jokes on stage that they haven’t prepared it in the tiniest detail. Here’s what I believe strategists could learn from Louis CK, Ricky Gervais, Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock.

Find the unique human insights. Those things that we all recognise but that are often remain unsaid. When talking about how all 4 comedians find their jokes, they all make a reference to 2 very interesting things. First of all they don’t like ‘easy’ jokes. If you or I could have come up with the joke as well it’s probably not good enough. I like that. Secondly, while searching for their unique form of comedy they often get to human behavior that most of us recognize but don’t often talk about. At Duval Guillaume we search for what we call the ‘provocative insight’, those insights that are recognizable but often left unsaid. It’s there that we find a territory that will help us search for those creative ideas that will get people to talk about brands.

Keep a notebook with you all time, write down every little idea or piece of information, quote, … that you think has something of interest even if you don’t know what exactly what that something is when you write it down. Most comedians also develop their shows based on things they’ve read, heard, got annoyed by, … which eventually mixes up into a gread night out for all of us. Often in developing a good creative strategy it is about connecting the dots, it’s about making the connection between a piece of research, an article you’ve read somewhere, a drawing on the white board from another meeting, … Whether it’s a paper notebook or something else (I almost religiously chose for Evernote) write down everything that you thing sounds interesting when you hear it. You’ll find out later whether there is a use for it or not.

Talk about your ideas frequently with other people, also outside of the strategic department, also outside of the agency. By telling the idea you’ll find thing that don’t really sound right or still aren’t perfect match with your idea. And by the feedback, questions you’ll get you will refine your thoughts. Comedians will often try out their jokes (or partial jokes) on their friends, not only to see if they respond but ultimately to help develop the jokes. Jokes become better by sharing. It’s not that people will have to say whether they like the joke or not, it’s to see how they react so you can use that learning finetuning the joke. Same goes for strategy.

Deconstruct things / issues to the smallest little detail. While listening to Louis CK, Ricky Gervais, Jerry Seinfeld & Chris Rock I learned that they go to extreme lengths to tweak each joke in their show to the finest details. They say that it’s often the little things that make the greatest differences. The specific choice of words, the facial expressions, the posture on stage, … every little thing is tweaked to make sure it works perfectly. A strategy should be developed in the same way. It’s important the general vision of direction is the right one, but it are the little details that make it really come to life. Very often those little things are even more inspiring to creatives than the overarching thinking.

Know who you’re talking to and tweak your idea along the way. Even when you’ve done everything to prepare yourself, made sure that it will work every show is different, every audience is different. It’s a different city, another vibe, … but it’s important for comedians to ‘feel’ the room they’re performing in and add little tweaks to the show while they’re doing it. So apart from the obvious ‘hello city x’ which is different every time there will be more things that will need to be different every show. Of course when you’re a skilled comedian, it’s still you on stage so you can be agile throughout the show. Strategists need to apply that same agility. The strategy might look good on paper, allow it to evolve throughout the process. Maybe it’s the client that added a thought worth including or the creatives find ideas that will influence the strategy. None of that is bad as long as you focus on what the end result is so let it happen, tweak along the way.

Put the hours in. But that’s what you have to do in any job that you want to be successful in. Put the hours in, there’s no such thing as a free ride. I’ve blogged about this before and when you watch the video you’ll see that it’s a common element of success for all 4 comedians, they are all – still today – working very hard.

Watch the full ‘Talking Funny’ video to see for yourself how those 4 talented comedians look at their work:

Don’t just think different, hire different

Not that long ago a write a bit on ‘hiring omnivores‘ trying to highlight again that we need to rethink the way we hire people if we want the advertising of the future to be any different than the advertising we’ve grown up with. And which we hate, or at least most of it. It’s not even a new idea, read on what Bill Bernbach wrote when he resigned from Grey long time ago:

“There are a lot of great technicians in advertising. And unfortunately they talk the best game. They know all the rules. They can tell you that people in an ad will get you greater readership. They can tell you that a sentence should be this sort or that long. They can tell you that body copy should be broken up for easier reading. They can give you fact after fact after fact. They are the scientists of advertising. But there’s one little rub. Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art.”

And he continues:

“In the past year I must have interviewed about 80 people – writers and artists. Many of them were from the so-called giants of the agency field. It was appalling to see how few of these people were genuinely creative. Sure, they had advertising know-how. Yes, they were up on advertising technique. But look beneath the technique and what did you find? A sameness, a mental weariness, a mediocrity of ideas. But they could defend every ad on the basis that it obeyed the rules of advertising. It was like worshiping a ritual instead of the God.”

All of this ain’t really new and yet very little agencies hire differently. Agencies hire out of other agencies, people are presented to the same type of ‘tests’ everywhere, test that need to reassure that the people hired know their ad basics.

And it goes beyond that. Not only is it interesting to hire different kind of people than what you would regularly find in advertising, it’s also interesting to hire people that haven’t followed a clear path. People that have been in various jobs with various experiences as they will use of all those learnings on the job. When Ian Fitzpatrick (Chief Strategy Office at Almighty) wrote about his 5 provocations, the fact that his experience before landing the job was all but planning-related made him stronger.

“If I impart nothing else today, I’d like to convince you that there are many paths up the mountain. Most of you are going to be graduating soon, with an advanced degree in advertising. I imagine that many, if not most, of you imagine that you’ll take a junior planning role at a large agency, work your way up to Planner, to Senior Planner, VP of Planning/Strategy, etc. I’m not here to suggest that this is the wrong path for you, just that it’s not the only one.”

Never underestimate the potential impact it can have to mix very different type of people with various backgrounds together. How can you in advertising, or anywhere else for that matter, trying to solve problems in a different way when you’re trying to solve it with the same people that tried to solve it years ago.

And not just agency side for that matter. I remember Guillaume (one of our agency’s founders) writing a few years ago:

“The lesson is this: If you want something new to happen, ask it to people with zero experience. Chances they come up with more of the same are small.”

Think about it. Who did you hire recently that didn’t immediatly seem to fit in? Who did you hire recently that you would have to define his/her role on the job, because it doesn’t exist yet.

The strategy is delivery: it’s not complicated, it’s just hard

Neil Perkin does many interesting things. One of those things is organizing the so called “Google Firestarters” which he curates for Google UK. Last Monday he had invited Russell Davies, planning legend and now creative director at GDS, to come and talk about his learnings and insights working on GOV.uk. Fascinating talk, well worth crossing the channel for.

For those who, like me, don’t know what GDS stands for: Government Digital Service. They lead the digital transformation of government.

Back to the talk. Russell talked about GDS and how they started working on GOV.uk, what their design principles were, how they made decisions about what to do and maybe more importantly what not to do. And every single thing they do is shared publicly, which is as you can see on the the principles, something they thoroughly believe in.

  1. Start with needs
  2. Do less
  3. Design with data
  4. Do the hard work to make it simple
  5. Iterate. Then iterate again.
  6. Build for inclusion
  7. Understand context
  8. Build digital services, not websites
  9. Be consistent, not uniform
  10. Make things open: it makes things better

Read all about it on the GDS design principles right here. The second part of his talk was about why all of the GDS’ learnings building GOV.uk are interesting for anyone in marketing & advertising. In the past it used to be difficult to make a brilliant product, but marketing was easy. The craft and machinery needed to make something brilliant was not accessible for many, the few media channels with immense reach to advertise to people was pretty easy to use. Today that has changed said Russell. Today making a brilliant product has become far more easy than it ever was, but marketing it has become very complex. And thus marketers today are focusing fully on trying to digitize the marketing part of things, whereas we should think about complete digital transformation of the business we’re in.

Other things they found out during the whole process. Things that we all need to think about and see how we can learn from it are:

Attention. It’s one thing to win people’s attention, it’s a whole different thing to make sure you respect the attention you were granted. There’s generally too much focus on getting people to notice what you’re doing and too little focus about making sure you do something with that attention. To quote Russell:

“If you made something brilliant and it doesn’t explain itself you haven’t made something brilliant”

Reputation. A brand is a promise, reputation is delivery. You can’t build a brand based on what you’re going to do.

Culture. When you want to transform your whole business like you should, everyone should be on board for this. You need to work on the culture of the company that digital thinking becomes the default mindset.

The product is the service is the marketing. Ask yourself: what would Amazon do? They would get it wrong for a while, then have more data than any traditional business ever will and they’ll win. Because of their digital thinking habit, not because they’re smarter.

Thanks for a great event Neil. Thanks for a great talk Russell.

Bonus link – From April 2014, digital services from the UK government must meet the new Digital by Default Service Standard. For that GDS developed the Government Service Design Manual, and yes also that is publicly available for all of us.

Image creditScriberia made the visualization of the talk.