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.”
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:
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.
Start with needs
Design with data
Do the hard work to make it simple
Iterate. Then iterate again.
Build for inclusion
Build digital services, not websites
Be consistent, not uniform
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.
“I suspect Creative Enemy Number One is our own intelligence. It’s our own ability to identify shortcomings in ideas. Because smart, intelligent people can always find a reason not to proceed; and the smarter you are the greater will be your capacity to see problems, to cause complexity. Creative Enemy Number One may be looking at you in the mirror every morning.
When you think about it, ordinary work is actually the intelligent choice. Because ordinary work tends to translate the brief directly, it observes sector conventions, it uses familiar reference points. And, critically, it achieves low levels of misunderstanding or rejection in research. By contrast extraordinary work often cor- relates less directly with the brief, it breaks sector conventions and it uses unfamiliar reference points. Consequently, it often precipitates a certain amount of misunderstanding and rejection in research. Extraordinary work is ordinarily very easy to reject.
Inevitably, behind every great piece of communication you’ll find clients who were brave enough to see beyond the flaws; clients who could control the whispering voice of reason telling them “it’s good, but it’s flawed”, clients who were happy to stop making sense.
In nearly all aspects of business, intelligence represents a blessing, a competitive advantage. But in the judgement of creativity it can represent a curse, a competitive disadvantage. We must be mindful that there are always very sound reasons to reject great communications ideas. But the existence of a good reason to reject something doesn’t mean that you should. There is indeed a fine line between stupid and clever.“
We often get questions how it’s possible that we are only 45 people at Duval Guillaume, working on European campaigns for clients such as Carlsberg, Coke Zero, Smirnoff, … and many others. My answer to that is very simple: put the hours in. Whatever the business you’re in if you want to be successful you will have to put the hours in. When TIME asked Ricky Gervais about the secrets of his success his advice was also not about his style of humor or his vision on comedy, it was about working hard:
The first, “work hard,” is not only the most important, but actually, essential. I believe that if you didn’t have to work for something, it can’t truly be considered success. Luck doesn’t count. I think success is allowed a certain pride and you can’t be proud of luck or even of being born smart, artistic, or talented. It’s what you do with it that counts. I think I learnt this lesson relatively late in life. I was one of those people who would pride themselves on getting results without trying too hard. Passing exams without revising too much. I realize now, that was the wrong attitude. You should always try your hardest. The Office was the first thing I really tried my hardest at. I don’t know why I started this radical new approach then, but I think it was one of those carpe diem type revelations. I came into the industry with a slightly older head on my shoulders than most and maybe deep down knew I shouldn’t blow the opportunity. I put everything into it. A lifetime of experiences, and I couldn’t have been prouder of the results. I don’t even mean the success of the show, but simply the finished product. I was the laziest man in the world before I made The Office but now I’m addicted to that sort of success. Pride in my work. Now I’m a workaholic, because I realize that the hard work is sort of a reward in itself. Winston Churchill said, “If you find a job you really love, you’ll never work again.” That’s what it feels like most of the time. I love it so it’s less like work and more like play. Although I’m a strong believer that creativity is the ability to play.
The great Harvard psychologist Dan Wegner, who died earlier this year , wrote a famous article entitled ‘How To Think, Say, or Do Precisely the Worst Thing for Any Occasion’. It concerned a very specific kind of mistake, which he labelled the “precisely counterintuitive error” – the kind of screw-up so obviously calamitous that you think about it in advance and decide you definitely won’t let it happen:
“We see a rut coming up in the road ahead and proceed to steer our bike right into it. We make a mental note not to mention a sore point in conversation and then cringe in horror as we blurt out exactly that thing. We carefully cradle the glass of red wine as we cross the room, all the while thinking ‘don’t spill,’ and then juggle it onto the carpet under the gaze of our host.”
This is an example of what psychologists call an “ironic effect”: it’s not just that we fail in our best efforts, but that we fail because of our best efforts. If you hadn’t given much thought to the wine, you’d probably not have disgraced yourself.
Stigmatising obesity makes overweight people eat more, not less. Supporting a good cause on Facebook makes people less likely to give money or time. Interesting thought and something we might have to keep in mind the next time we’re trying to convince people not to do something, we might actually get the opposite result.
In short: if you’re trying to change behaviour or beliefs – your own, or other people’s – don’t assume that the most direct, vigorous or effortful route is necessarily the most effective one. The human mind is much, much more perverse and annoying than that.
“Traditionally, these small, self-starting, service-driven companies would have been described as small- and medium- sized enterprises, or SMEs, but thanks to the Internet, the emergence of new business platforms and the increased openness of the global economy, these companies can enter markets with a minimum of bureaucracy and overhead. Add to that their unparalleled ability to respond promptly to changing market developments, a collaborative DNA that often translates into superior innovation performance and the lack of the institutional inertia and legacy relationships plaguing larger organizations, and one begins to see the transformative and paradigm-changing potential.”
According the brief the big paradigm shifts that are taking place making all this happen are:
Most jobs are created by young companies and start-ups
Today technology makes it possible for small companies to gain the reach and traction of big companies at very low cost
New platforms and online business services are making it easier for small companies to focus on areas where they add value
Internationalization – the key to success for almost all contemporary businesses, large and small – is easier to achieve via the Internet
Today’s workforce has changing priorities
Experienced and highly skilled individuals are setting out in record numbers to work for themselves
There was an interesting article in Slate a few weeks ago about the bias against creativity, about the fact that most people say they like creativity but that the truth is we really don’t. And since I work in a creative agency often presenting creative ideas to clients the theory based on a 2011 study used in this article makes a whole lot of sense to me.
“We think of creative people in a heroic manner, and we celebrate them, but the thing we celebrate is the after-effect,” says Barry Staw, a researcher at the University of California–Berkeley business school who specializes in creativity. Staw says most people are risk-averse. He refers to them as satisfiers. “As much as we celebrate independence in Western cultures, there is an awful lot of pressure to conform,” he says. Satisfiers avoid stirring things up, even if it means forsaking the truth or rejecting a good idea. Even people who say they are looking for creativity react negatively to creative ideas, as demonstrated in a 2011 study from the University of Pennsylvania. Uncertainty is an inherent part of new ideas, and it’s also something that most people would do almost anything to avoid. People’s partiality toward certainty biases them against creative ideas and can interfere with their ability to even recognize creative ideas .
Clients will come to us for creative tasks since that’s what we’re most known for. You can literally witness though how the creative ideas that were presented and liked by the clients will be softened once they start to move through the chain of command. That is if you allow that to happen, we’re quite protective on the essence of an idea to make sure that while we’re very open to tweak it we will make sure that that essential core idea is never lost.
Most people agree that what distinguishes those who become famously creative is their resilience. While creativity at times is very rewarding, it is not about happiness. Staw says a successful creative person is someone “who can survive conformity pressures and be impervious to social pressure.”
And of course I realize like anyone else that some creative ideas are just not good or are creative but not an answer to the question or briefing at hand. This is purely about ideas that are recognized as good and creative and how they are being judged during the decision process. This is about how people often reject creative ideas even when espousing creativity as a desired goal (as the research so eloquently puts it).
In terms of decision style, most people also fall short of the creative ideal. they are satisficers rather than searcher for the optimal or most desirable solution. They follow a number of energy-saving heuristics that generally lead to a set of systematic biases or inaccuracies in processing information. And, unless they are held accountable for their decision-making strategies, they tend to find the easy way out – either by not engaging in very careful thinking or by modeling their choices on the preferences of those who will be evaluating them.
Especially that last sentence is a problem I think. Not only in judging creativity by the way. When people make decision upon what they think someone else will probably think of it instead of what they think themselves sounds like a recipe for disaster to me. There’s a clear link with management style there as well. How much do you empower your own people? It seems that to enable creativity you need to do that.
Instead of issuing directives and policy statements and hoping that they will be obeyed, innovative firms must encourage disobedience. In fact, those in power should go so far as to encourage active opposition. Innovative organizations are those that harbor multiple perspectives and objectives, not simply a variety of views.
[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?
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.
“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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.