You can put a man on the moon

One of the more interesting seminars at the Cannes Lions in June earlier this year was that one of Astro Teller who leads the Google X initiative. You know where the idea for Google Glass or Google’s self driving cars is coming from:

Here is the surprising truth. It’s often easier to make something 10 times better than it is to make it 10 percent better. Because when you’re working to make things 10 percent better, you inevitably focus on the existing tools and assumptions, and on building on top of an existing solution that many people have already spent a lot of time thinking about. Such incremental progress is driven by extra effort, extra money, and extra resources. It’s tempting to feel improving things this way means we’re being good soldiers, with the grit and perseverance to continue where others may have failed — but most of the time we find ourselves stuck in the same old slog. But when you aim for a 10x gain, you lean instead on bravery and creativity — the kind that, literally and metaphorically, can put a man on the moon.

I like that. It’s almost like a scientific explanation of why you have to dream big.

Image credit Pandiyan V

Big data, big promise

Big data is the whole grail of marketing. And yet not many is actually making lots of progress. There’s a good good on that captures well what the state of big data is if you ask me:

“Big Data is like teenage sex. Everybody talks about it. Few do it and they do it in the dark”

As always also here there are the exceptions that prove the rule. Companies like Starbucks or Taco Bells have showcased that they are actually using data to the extreme to help improve their business activities and communications. But in general only little data is being used, it’s something we encounter only occasionally during the marketing activities and also as a consumer I don’t see much return on the fact that people seem to know quite a bit about me.

And I wonder if that isn’t going to become a problem sometime soon. As a tech savvy consumer I know that companies have data on my consumption behaviour, I am very aware whenever I need to give someone personal data and I know that a lot of my online behaviour is public for everyone to see. Because I know, I also expect something in return. There’s a very one on one relationship between filling in a form before being able to proceed to a next stage and in that case you can immediately judge whether handing over that bit of data was worth the return. But that counts also on general consumption, on the data that companies can gather by tracking your behaviour. I know they do and also there, even if less one on one, I expect a return.

I’m ok with my data being used, I want my data being used or even more, I demand my data being used. I think consumers will get ever more aware of the fact that their data is being collected and as a result become more demanding on how they are treated. No more useless questions, seemingly random suggestions, repetitive data collection, … And that makes in my opinion the need for companies to start really using their ‘big data’ even more important. Not just because they indeed can improve their business and communications if they use it right, but because they have to as consumers will start demanding that. So big data is great, but it’s also a big promise!

So if you’re a business owner or a marketing specialist I think you really need to start figuring out which data you currently gather and how you can connect that to make consumers lives better. All in all I believe there are 3 kinds of data we have to think of that are key to improving your marketing & sales efforts:

  • Form fill: data that you’ve asked consumers to fill in, can be at various types of touchpoints, all data people hand over to you to get something in return
  • Usage: usage/consumption data from both sales as marketing activities, everything you collect through the customer journey
  • Public domain: everything people share in public online & offline that relates direct or indirect to your business

So think about it. The companies that are using it are outperforming you and taking a lead and your customers will move to those companies because they are living up to the data promise making the gap even better.

Image credit Avnet.

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.

The Agile Agency. An ad agency’s culture hack

Some 2-3 years ago we decided at Duval Guillaume that we had to re-invent ourselves, that we had to take a more fundamental step in the way we organized ourselves and of course in how we thought about digital as a key element in the communication or advertising that we make. A lot has happened since then but if the 25 Cannes Lions or the Agency of the Year wins of the last 2 years mean anything then it’s probably that we’re doing something right.

The decisions that were taken seemed like the right thing to do but weren’t always that obvious. We decided to get rid of all internal developer resources so we could focus more on our core strenghts – strategy & creativity. At the same time we stopped using online account managers to support the ‘regular’ account managers and we’d stop working with project managers. Instead we organized tech/dev resources to support the creative teams in their creative process and we hired digital producers to play the crucial role between our own teams and the 3rd party developer’s team. All of this in a way that would allow us to keep finetuning & tweaking the idea even while in development to maximize the outcome.

AgileBoard

We were always sure this was the right way to go and we understood the core philosophy behind agile thinking that supported the idea that what we were aiming for wasn’t that crazy. Just like with every good idea though there’s a difference between the idea and the execution and it was/is with guys like Bart, our head of digital production, that we managed to implement agile in the agency. And this in such a way that it’s constantly evolving and that we keep adapting, the essence of agile. And now Bart has written a book about what agile means in an agency environment, most likely the first book on the topic of agile in advertising agencies since he only found books on agile in software/web development when researching the topic.

To stay true to the topic the book was written in an agile way. Of course :-) A must read when you’re in advertising, download the book right here: The Agile Agency, how lean and agile will transform your advertising agency. Another key element in agile thinking that I learned from Bart is that you benefit more when you’re transparant about your own progress, so read the book and add your thoughts.

The opportunity called media

Traditional media are dead. Well at least according to plenty of opinion makers they are, and have been so for many years already. And while it’s fair to say that some of them are in trouble, or at least facing a whole new series of challenges it’s clear traditional media are far from dead. I actually believe some of the biggest opportunities in communications today are in media, but it is about time to see some action.

Here’s where I believe the biggest opportunities are today in media and why I believe I think there isn’t enough focus on them today. At least not where I live – and it would be dumb to believe that what happens in Belgium is unique in the world so here we go…

Invent new ways of monetization

Instead of using old ways of making money on new media approaches. Guillaume – one of the founders of the agency I work for – once said that banner advertising is what happens when you bring the worst of traditional advertising into digital media and it’s hard to disagree with that. You don’t have to throw away old rules that proved to be working fine with traditional media and their advertising methods, but they just don’t automatically apply to everything new either. When interactive television was announced (‘click the red button’) I had high hopes for the possibilities that it would give me as a consumer… just to find out after a couple of months that tv channels were charging the exact same price of an SMS to every single interaction possible. It became clear very quickly that they had a business going that they didn’t want to lose and that their innovative development was driven by the protection of that business rather than by re-thinking the user experience in this new context. Second screen, DVR, … with every new evolution the drive to protect the old seems to be focus number 1. That’s not how it should be, no innovation will come out of that. Think first about what how you could maximize the consumer experience given a new technology, and then think of (new) ways of making money with that.

Understanding second, third, … screen

Second screen is most of all linked to the television experience. Which is logical, although I wouldn’t make it something exclusive to television either. But that’s not the point I want to make here. There are plenty of second screen experiences available for television stations all over the world as we speak, and yet most of them seem to resolve around taking some kind of advantage of the Twitter activity around the show, possibly combined with some additional content. Other kinds of interaction? Not so much. I find that amazing, especially because there are examples out there of really cool ideas on how to use the second, third,… screen(s) available.

I’ve written about this before, but Kevin Slavin has probably said some of the smartest things I’ve ever heard about this second screen experience. (He has said some of the smartest thing I have ever heard full stop.) Knowing that he is responsible for some of the coolest second screen (avant la lettre) cases ever, it’s silly no to listen to what he has to say. When he gave is presentation “Laughter from nowhere” some 18 months ago at the IAB Congress, he created a bit of a theoretic frame of what it is consumers are looking for concerning the ‘second screen’. People’s main focus is in the main screen, and you need to think about what additional info/activity you can provide that makes the first screen experience better, without asking for too much focus so it doesn’t stand in the way of the main experience. The Twitter chatter about a tv show is only one – and a really tiny – example of what that could be. Check out the case above, it’s 6 years old and still one of the most remarkable I’ve seen so far.

New ways of distribution

Newspapers are print, and have a website, and a mobile site. You tune in on a radio station with your radio, or via the website. You watch tv on your television or snippets via their website. That’s about it. The traditional way of consumption for all of these channels remains the most important, that’s where the money is made but it’s in decline. So we have to think about new ways of distribution. Again especially with television, opportunities are huge I think.

Why especially for television? Because we have only started to figure out how we can get content to consumers via other means. Today the cable provider (or similar) own most of that distribution and it is a bit of a love/hate relationship between tv channels and the distribution company in many countries. What I don’t get is why media aren’t looking at all these possibilities to bypass those distributors. Think about it: Xbox, Apple tv, Connected TV’s, … there are so many devices in people’s homes that you can use to distribute your content that I really don’t understand why none of the media I have access to are using these.

And it’s not alone for television. I can get the national newspapers on my iPad… and they are updated every day around midnight. For realtime updates I have to go the newspaper’s website. Makes sense to you? Not to me it doesn’t.

Build brands instead of channels

Almost every brand I have ever worked for dreams of using lots of traditional media to build its brand. It still seems the best way to get in front of a lot of people’s faces, the get a lot of attention at the same time. And maybe rightfully so, if used in the right way. Is it then such a big jump to say that this would mean that media brands should actually be the biggest brands then? They can use traditional media all the time, as much as they want, they are the media!

But we know they’re not. Could it be that that’s so because they are building channels more then they are building brands? I think that’s what’s going in. They all have a channel that works/worked really well, and some new ones that are still improving. So they keep the channel that works best, while investing little in the new ones. If they were building brands, and people would really choose for a strong media brand, wouldn’t you think the channel becomes less important? People would look for it and consume it the best way possible? I do think so.

Do you agree? Or maybe not? Or do you want to add an opportunity that you think I missed? Let me know in the comments, I’d love to open up the discussion around the topic.

Create value & value creative

When Lee Clow speaks, you listen. The man renown for his work on Apple and Absolut at TBWA/Chiat/Day talked about his thoughts on agency compensation a few weeks ago in a video for an event organized by the 4A’s.

In the video he talks about how good creative ideas can be very valuable brand assets and that other than in most creative industries (media, artists, …) you don’t get paid for the value of what you create:

“Unfortunately, in our business, we get paid like we’re doing our clients’ laundry. We haven’t figured out that the ideas that we create can become a very powerful asset to the brands we work for. Many of the ideas — whether they be slogans or advertising forms and styles or a voice that we create for brands — could be listed on the balance sheet of our clients as an asset with millions and millions of dollars in value.”

I think he’s right to the point that the power of good creativity gets undervalued. Good creative and good results go hand in hand and therefore it’s important for businesses to realize that it’s not something you can commoditize, like Mr. Clow mentions in the video. We should – together with our clients – work out different ways of valuing ideas though:

“We’re supposed to be a creative business, but I think we have been probably the least creative industry in the history of the world in terms of figuring out how to get paid.”

With businesses under pressure due to the ongoing crisis there seems to be an always bigger focus on the end (marketing) product – what you see is what you get. The time or talent needed to make the best creative possible are often ‘invisible’ to clients which results in what Mr. Clow talks about in his video.

This also puts pressure on the client –  agency relationship, something which doesn’t lead to the best results either as shown by Frank Shuring at the ‘My message in your brain’ conference (NL). His neuroscience research showed that better client – agency relationships directly lead to much better results. Surprised? Not really. Sounds obvious, so now let’s make it happen. And let’s discuss what it is that both sides value most, so we can get out of this crisis together.

A lesson from Steve Jobs

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I just finished reading Steve Jobs’ biography. It took me a while to read it but I’m happy I bought it. I wasn’t all that sure in advance, and not because I used to work at Microsoft once, but because I just didn’t want to read a book about how great everything at Apple really is thanks to the genius etc etc.

It’s not at all like that. The book manages to give a very real – at least it feels that way – image of Steve Jobs and very human, much more human than how your regular fanboy will be talking about him. And that made it interesting. You get a better idea of how he really was, about the things that made him great, about the people that have been his mentor, about how he often wasn’t really such a nice person, about the genius, …

I made quite a few notes while reading the book, notes about things and ideas that I recognized or that I should look into a bit more. One of those things was the Apple Marketing Philosophy that was written down by Mike Markkula. Short but crystal clear.

  1. Empathy – that intimate connection with the feelings of the consumer to truly understand their needs better than any other company
  2. Focus – eliminate all of the unimportant opportunities in order to do the best job possible
  3. Impute – a company should convey its values in everything it does, from packaging to marketing because ‘people do judge a book by its cover’

You should read the book. Seriously. Not because you want to find out what an epic genius Steve was or anything like that – but because just like Steve you should steal from the best, see things with new eyes, work hard to make them different and don’t stop until they’re perfect. Respect.

My next book? Indeed – Steal like an artist, by Austin Kleon.

Want something new? Ask a talent without experience.

About a year ago one of the founders of the agency Duval Guillaume I work for wrote a post in which I recognized myself quite a lot. I looked it up again this week since I was recently contacted to help on an innovative project which in the end didn’t go through as the prospect ended up going for someone with a long life experience in the industry they were in. And I didn’t think that was a particularly good choice. Especially since that industry has seen only little innovation in the last decades, so why chose one with a lot of experience in that industry for an innovative project? Still don’t get it.

Guillaume wrote a good post about this ‘phenomenon’ after getting similar questions from advertisers at the time he was still in the agency:

“How many times advertisers have asked me: "do your people have experience in our market?". I would answer: "Why? You want them to do the same as all the others?" When your prospect has a yoghurt brand, they’ll be so happy to hear you’ve worked for Danone or Nestlé. Even if you were only running around with coffee in the same building. They need it as reassurance. They want to make sure that you understand the yoghurt consuming human being. Actually, what they want is that you understand the Danone or Nestlé eating consumer and if you say yes, you’ll be doing me-too ads for a couple of years, until your prospect has decided it is time for someone else with the experience.”

He also made a good analogy with nature to explain even more why this isn’t a good idea:

“I use an example from nature to explain this phenomena and a solution. Listen to the frogs on a summer night. The frogs call. What they actually do is trying to get selected by a sexual partner. The frog that produces the most decibels probably has the best genes for the offspring. What happens after a while is that the frogs synchronize their calls. It gives them all individually the feeling they are loud callers. Just like small brands, they are happy to be part of something bigger. Off course, it misses its effect, because it will only confirm the big frog’s dominance. But keep listening, and you’ll see nature has found a solution to this. While all the frogs croak together, one little frog croaks off synch.

CRRRROAK!! croack. CRRRROAK!! croack

That is what you hear. And all the attention goes to the little frog.”

A lot of companies want to be different, want to zig when others zag, … but when it comes down to business they don’t act that way. They don’t hire people to zig.

“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.”

Thanks again Guillaume. For this lesson and for getting me on board of the agency without having an agency background.

Is technology slowing us down?

Seriously, is it? This might sound like a strange question from a technology early adopter and yet I believe this is a valid question. I realize that technology is actually fueling growth, opening up new opportunities and markets, giving access to consumers that were previously out of reach. It’s at the base of many new products and helps us connect with the world. But it also seems to be a burden, a barrier for many businesses in that same quest for growth. Every week I see decisions being taken – with clients, partners or friends – that are based upon technology and that should have been taken weeks, months or even years ago. Or even worse – decisions which we all know are wrong from the start, but where technology forces to do things in a certain way. This is just an observation but one I encounter too regularly to ignore. And I think these are the main reasons:

People can’t keep up. Being an early adopter for technology is one thing. It opens up opportunities if you are one, but it’s not really an issue for business when you’re not. The real problem with the rapid technology development is that this rhythm is very different than the business/marketing rhythm of many businesses. Even if they know which technology offers real opportunities, they haven’t got the means nor the organization to cope with that. On top of that the early adopters don’t care about that problem, they’re too busy being first with something new that it’s not their problem that the rest of the world can’t keep up. That is not the biggest issue though, the biggest issue is that business are seeing that the gap between the expected level of change and the ability to manage is is getting bigger by the year. And that that is largely related to technology. I didn’t  make that up, it was one of the key findings of the IBM CEO study.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” Charles Darwin

How to judge the expert’s expertise? At the introduction of new technology, experts are born. These experts range from people that have been researching about this new tech for the last x years to others who have read a lot about all this over the last few days/weeks/months. That makes them pretty different even though both will claim their expertise in similar ways and in both cases they will sound pretty knowledgeable to all people that are new to the topic. I’ve always found this a serious problem because everyone knows the importance of a good introduction to something new, and how hard it is to change people’s minds when that introduction wasn’t meeting expectations. You never get a second change to make a first impression.

Wrong decisions from the (recent) past. Maybe the worst reason of all. Companies often know that the technology decision they’re taking today is not the ideal one, but that earlier decisions and investments define the window in which they can decide. That’s really unfortunate of course, it’s like the perfect way to maneuver yourself out of competition. It’s also a very challenging one, because at the one hand you would suggest to make sure everything is researched properly before making a decision (to avoid things to turn out badly later) and yet we’re already being too slow to begin with. A big part of these decisions are platform decisions and I don’t think businesses need to take more time to decide, I do believe they need to approach platforms different compared to what they do now. More on that in a separate post.

Organizational hierarchy. There’s no better way to put this than with Putt’s Law below – this may be from 2006 but it’s still very much true today. Make sure you have the right people take the right part of the decision when it comes down to technology.

“Technology is dominated by 2 types of people: those who understand what they do not manage and those who manage what they do not understand.” Archibald Putt