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.

To be human is to copy

Interesting take on innovation and originality on aeon.com:

“… according to a cluster of like-minded researchers, we’ve misunderstood how innovation really works. Throughout human history, innovation – including the technological progress we cherish – has been fuelled and sustained by imitation. Copying is the mighty force that has allowed the human race to move from stone knives to remote-guided drones, from digging sticks to crops that manufacture their own pesticides. Plenty of animals can innovate, but no other species on earth can imitate with the skill and accuracy of a human being. We’re natural-born rip-off artists. To be human is to copy.”

 

Are these the 3 types of agencies we need?

Tom Goodwin wrote an interesting piece for The Guardian where he talks about how to reinvent the agency structure. No rocket science but I think it’s an interesting take on the the current ‘structure’ if there is one and at least it does away with the classic ad agency / digital agency split in a way that makes sense:

Visionary agencies would be a group of innovators, technologists, futurologists and business strategists; they’d spend their time focusing on activity two years ahead and beyond. Their scope would be to improve the products/services made, on branding, positioning, and on understanding the future of marketing.

Brand agencies would be the closest agency to what we consider advertising today. A mixture of talent across all current agencies, to include PR, and some retail and talent from all new technologies, their job would be to build brands and classic upper-funnel activity. Their time horizon would be three months to two years. These are artists that design and shape the brand, and then produce ads and marketing to tell that story, and build brand equity.

Performance agencies would focus on the next two months. Their scope would be to understand how to tweak marketing and communication tactics, how to use automation, clever SEO, retail out-of-home advertising, flow advertising, creative optimisation, real-time marketing, short term PR, promotions at retail and many other tools to perfect the conversion of equity into sales, or in other words, largely lower-funnel activity.

 

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.

Selling bravery to clients – Sir John Hegarty

How does bravery define great work, that was the question from David Droga to this panel of industry legends at Advertising Week Europe earlier this week. Here’s what John Hegarty had to say about that. He doesn’t like the word ‘bravery’, linking that directly to an element fear and nobody wants to be afraid.

Firstly, he said: “Agencies don’t make great decisions they make recommendations and when we talk about agencies being brave, we’re not, it’s our clients.”

And secondly: “We spend a lot of time trying to get clients to buy brave work and my latest observation is if 10 per cent is bought by clients you’re doing quite well. So you’re being paid vast amounts of money for being ignored 90 per cent of the time.”

Hegarty admits that despite his efforts trying to get clients to be brave with advertising, they are simply not “attuned” to taking risks. His solution? Change your approach.

“There is no point in saying ‘I want you to be brave’. You’re not going to succeed,” he told the advertisers in the room. “We need to challenge this notion that we’ve got to sell more bravery because people won’t like it – we’ve got to think of a different word for it.”

Hegarty revealed he now uses the word “excitement” when talking about bolder work to clients.

Full article/report on The Drum.
Image credit also The Drum.

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.”

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.

Design is not just what it looks like. It’s how it works.

Design. Is Apple losing focus on one of it’s most essential unique strengths?

For a big test we did for Belgian Cowboys recently some members on the editorial team including myself switched from iOS to Android for a while. Not just to see if we liked it or not but also to find out if that switch was so hard as we expected it to be. “What about all those apps I bought? Why start all over again? Will it be as easy to use as what I’m used to now?” A whole series of questions which I presume most of us will recognize come to mind when thinking of such a switch.

Since this article isn’t about that switch I can tell you quickly that that test went really well. I’m currently switching between the HTC One and the HTC One Mini for another test and I don’t miss my iPhone for a second. Actually I find it better on many levels. That made me wonder about a few things.

How come for instance that I find the notifications in Android really useful whereas I don’t even look at them on my iPhone? The set-up is kind of the same so why is that? Looking at both from a basic UI design point of view they are very similar indeed. It’s a drop down menu you pull from the top of your screen with several notifications pointing to apps that need your attention for whatever reason. On Android I will open that screen and either swipe the notifications away or take action. On iPhone I open that view once every month or so to delete these notifications, app by app.

Another example is the on-screen keyboard. On Android I’m using Swype, probably the most productive add-on for a touch screen devices in a long time. Whenever I need to use my iPhone or iPad again I cannot help but be annoyed by the fact that I have to type in the ‘traditional’ way. And that’s not even mentioning the re-design of iOS7.

So how come that on many levels the Android platform is outperforming iOS, whether it’s thanks to core Android development or because of the opportunity to personalise it with technology created by its eco-system? I’m thinking that Apple has actually forgot about the essence of design, a vision it shared openly and that many are taking as an example.

“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works” – Steve Jobs

When you think of that and the examples I mentioned before (and there are more) you can only come to the conclusion that the focus of Apple lately was on design as in ‘what it looks like’ and that Google has taken the lead on design as in ‘how it works’. In the last 12-18 months, Google and its eco-system have upgraded the better user experience, Apple has overhauled look & feel. And that’s a pity. Not just because it makes the iPhone a less interesting device but it’s a sign of Apple forgetting about it’s own very essence.

My 2 cents.