Friday, 24 April 2009

Branding: 'plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.'

(aka ‘there’s nothing new under the sun’)

Marketing Week has just been redesigned (for non-UK or non-marketing readers, it’s a magazine and of course a website). That got me thinking about how much things are changing in marketing right now.

A few years ago I wrote a book about marketing. Here is a short extract. (well it’s my blog after all).

“The marketing world is changing fundamentally...Direct Marketing, Sales Promotion and Advertising can never again be viewed as discrete, non-overlapping disciplines…marketing communications must, in addition to being creative, also be relevant…this requires targeting…individuals can supply information about themselves which assists the advertiser’s efforts to direct relevant messages.”

I was arguing that general (‘image’) advertisers could learn from the DM people as regards to creating a dialogue with the audience and using data intelligently to target appropriate marketing communications.

A far more illustrious author, David Ogilvy, founder of Ogilvy and Mather and one of the original ‘Mad Men’, once wrote in the same vein (but more succinctly):

“One day all agencies will be direct marketing agencies.”

Since the great man committed this to paper, there has certainly been a massive change in marketing, namely the arrival of the internet. After the ‘false start’ of the first internet boom, marketing on the web, online, digital, call it what you will, has come back big time, as was inevitable. For marketers, it offers many of the most powerful features of traditional TV, press and radio advertising, combined with the convenience of being able to make an immediate response without the need to clip a coupon, post back a reply card or even reach for the phone (this inherent responsiveness was one of the key qualities of DM which Ogilvy admired). A response can be immediately rewarded with relevant additional information. DM people used to dream about such media! Today’s online display advertising can include rich media, with the user in control of expanding the banner, playing the film, and turning the sound on or off. i.e. this is something like TV advertising with a supercharged remote control. But we're not just talking about buying ‘space’ on websites. Indeed, the new social media are offering fresh marketing opportunities which are currently little understood. And as we carry around increasingly powerful computing devices in our pockets, mobile marketing is looking likely to be the ‘next big thing’.

These changes have already had structural repercussions for the marketing industry which are not over yet. Client companies have created ‘Head of Digital Marketing’ roles. Specialist digital agencies have grown up, profiting from the ever-growing ‘niche’ that is digital marketing. Traditional agencies, some moving a little more slowly than others, have tried to get into digital by parachuting in digital ‘experts’, with varying degrees of success. All are reviewing their business models. They are aiming at a moving target, since digital marketing is itself changing at a bewildering rate. How can a Marketing Director decide what % of the budget (already under massive pressure from the CFO and CEO) to invest in Social Media? Or Virtual Worlds? Or Mobile? Has Twitter peaked? What will replace it? Or is it the new Facebook? Some technologies and brands will fall by the wayside; others will prosper. How to select the winners and subsequently demonstrate ROI from each element of the (digitally enhanced) marketing mix, separately and in combination?

Agencies of all colours will naturally seek to present themselves as the clients’ counsellors, offering to guide them through the changing media landscape; but will the clients believe they are indeed unbiased expert advisers? Meanwhile the technology keeps moving forward. There are new developments seemingly every week and no-one can afford to be left behind (or even to appear to be!). We are living in interesting times.

Yet in many ways things haven’t changed that much. As of old, agencies love to introduce labels, in order to carve out a specialism which affords them the closest they can get to a (hopefully profitable) USP. Hence today we have specialist digital agencies and even specialist SEO, Affiliate and Mobile agencies. Many are thriving, even in the current climate. Clients on the other hand, are generally less excited about how their agency tags itself and more concerned with getting the job done. Same old same old…

People are talking (recently) about Integrated Marketing . But of course this isn’t new either; (see my quote above). It’s always been the Marketing Director’s job to orchestrate integrated marketing; the challenge today, as always, is how to achieve this. As ever, there is a range of possible solutions. There is undoubtedly room for ‘full-service’ digital agencies (AKQA has just launched a media department). There is also a role for specialist Search, Affiliate and Mobile consultancies. Digital agency Glue London is now doing some ‘above the line’ advertising for its clients. Traditional media, although under pressure, still accounts for more than 50% of most marketing budgets. In today’s digital marketing world, there’s still room for a range of agency specialists in offline and online disciplines so long as they respect each other’s roles and work together for the greater good of the brand.

Let’s just pause to remember why we are spending clients' shareholders’ money on marketing communications: two giants of 20th century marketing were in no doubt:

David Ogilvy told his staff: "we sell - or else."

and Raymond Rubicam, founder of Young and Rubicam, famously said:

"The only purpose of advertising is to sell. It has no other justification worth mentioning."

If we replace ‘advertising’ with the broader term ‘marketing communications’, I suggest this is still a useful mantra for today’s marketers. Maybe not immediate sales. But soon. And of course we can only sell effectively if we are targeting the right people with engaging messages; indeed digital marketing increasingly offers powerful techniques to enable us to serve the right message to the right person at the right time (see behavioural targeting)…

Both Ogilvy and Rubicam preached about the need to define what your brand stands for: i.e. establish its brand essence (or USP, the 'Unique Selling Proposition' first articulated by Rosser Reeves) and then communicate this to the defined target audience: creatively, confidently and consistently over time. Easy to say and challenging to deliver: no change there either.

So Good Luck to Marketing Week (and of course Today, more than ever, marketers need to keep up with the news and to share best practice. As marketers, we all believe in strong design in order better to communicate high-quality content. As many famous long-lived brands (including Heinz, Nescafé, Kodak and Brylcreem) are well aware, this requires periodic refreshment. And of course there are lots of new things for us to learn about- especially in the digital space. Today’s digital marketing certainly requires a raft of creative and developer ‘craft skills’ unknown to David Ogilvy and those sharp-suited, immaculately Brylcreemed ‘Mad Men’.

However: just because it’s new, doesn’t mean it’s any good; or right for the brand, or a better use of budget than ‘old’ techniques. So let’s embrace digital, reaching and engaging our target audience in their increasingly online lives BUT let’s not allow these wonderful and exciting new technologies opening up seemingly every week to dazzle us and to distract us from the fundamentals of branding and marketing as espoused by Messrs Ogilvy and Rubicam. These principles are unchangingly valid and will still hold good when we have at our disposal marketing channels we can’t even imagine today.

Friday, 17 April 2009

These are a few of my favourite things (2)

- Cool Digital Stuff (no credit or liability sought or accepted).

You know how it is. Sometimes, in fact often, one comes across something in the wonderful world of the web which is just too good to keep to yourself. Yes I am aware that many will have seen these before. But if one person discovers something here and gets joy or inspiration from it and shares it then... Well you get the idea. Enjoy.


Serious stuff

Those in digital marketing need to be aware of what ‘normal’ people are thinking. Here are two points of view:

and an article from Privacy International


Creative stuff

Just great


Lastly, two takes on some interesting new (ish) technology

Microsoft Surface

and the spoof version


Monday, 13 April 2009

Microblogging: might as well face it, you’re addicted to Twitter

If we do something which we enjoy, it's entirely rational and indeed human to seek to repeat the experience to achieve the same gratification again; especially if one feels able to afford the money and time required and it apparently does no-one any harm. To some extent we are all susceptible; but when and why does an acceptable habit/ hobby become an addiction?

Of course it’s a matter of degree and it comes down to this: some people just have addictive personalities. If you have a basic susceptibility, you can choose from alcohol, narcotics, the slots in Vegas, Grand Theft Auto, porn, rewatching Season Four of Friends (“soooo much sharper on Blu-Ray”) repurchasing (again) the entire Beatles back catalogue (“sooooo much clearer with the new digital remastering”) or buying the new Manchester United 'Away Kit' for the boy (“he’d be bullied at school if he didn’t have it”).

Twitter is certainly the new social media phenomenon: its traffic has grown 900 per cent in just one year, politicians, celebrities, athletes and business leaders have made headlines with their tweets.

Twitter received four million unique visitors for the month of February, up from 123,000 from the same month last year. It's made a massive jump from 14th most popular social-networking site on the Internet to No. 3, behind Facebook and MySpace (for now).

And so it was inevitable that as Twitter took off, it would touch certain people who are natural addicts and yes you guessed it, they are now ‘Twitter addicts’. To use the slightly ‘naff’ jargon of the Twitterati (oops! there I go myself) they are Twitterholics. And yes, also inevitably there are online forums and websites to help such people.

The more light-hearted online mentions of this subject include 5 tell-tail signs:

• You name your first child @babygirl1 (and, naturally, you tweet during the birth)
• Your Mom joins Twitter in order to contact you
• You complain when your kids don’t ‘retweet’ you
• You never say or write anything using more than 140 characters
• You start to ‘unfollow’ people in real life (believe me, they don’t like it!)

On a more serious note, Tweeters can find themselves neglecting their responsibilities and suffering accordingly (family , friends, schoolwork , job) which is a good time to admit that you are spending too much time on Twitter and resolve to limit one's ‘tweet time’.

Many people I know are on LinkedIn for business and Facebook (or MySpace) for social interaction; most successfully separate the two and project suitably different personas in each; after all, we all dress for work (even if it’s polo shirts and chinos rather than white shirts and dark suits depending on where we work and whether our job title contains the word ‘digital’). With Twitter it can be difficult to tell where social stops and business starts and having two separate Twitter accounts is a step too far for most mortals.

I suggest each of us should decide why we are using social media including Twitter and set ourselves objectives; i.e. ask "what are we seeking to get out?" This is a necessary first step to evaluating against what we are putting in and so checking that the balance is working for us.

The reality is that sometimes it's necessary for us children to finish our homework before we go out to play. Of course it gets a bit more complex when the homework is actually blurred with play. In reality, few of us can be Madonna’s tour manager, the chief designer at Ferrari, or the lead technical developer on Oblivion 2 /The Elder Scrolls V and even if we are, we still need to compartmentalize and juggle our lives; work/ business/ home/ family/ friends. Twitter and other social media tools can be part of achieving that healthy balance. If we get it right we should be HAPPY.

OK that’s more philosophy that you usually get from this blog. Must get back to doing something useful…

So by all means follow me on Twitter ; just keep it under control, OK?

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Data privacy: 'I am not a number; I am a FREE MAN!'

(No. 6 in The Prisoner, ITC 1967-1968)

In the UK, Internet service providers must now keep records of emails and online phone calls under controversial new government regulations which came into force this week.

In the internet age, does our right, as citizens of a ‘free’ society, to enjoy privacy inevitably conflict with the responsibility of governments to keep us secure and with the objectives of marketers to sell us products and services?

As internet marketers, we have an ever growing arsenal of analytics tools available to monitor and study visitors’ behaviour on our site, where they came from and at what point we lose them. Behavioural targeting offers the ‘silver bullet’ of directing our message with minimum wastage.

As consumers, we are increasingly leaving a trail of internet footprints revealing much about our online habits and thus about ourselves. Should this worry us?

What will be the end-result of this growing lack of privacy? What happens when everything we do is monitored and recorded?

In 1949, English novelist George Orwell published his most famous novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four. The nightmarish vision of a society controlled by a totalitarian regime which monitors every citizen 24/7 and consequently knows everything about them has given the English language several phrases, including 'Room 101' (the worst place in the world) the 'Thought Police' and most memorably 'Big Brother is Watching You'.

1984 has come and gone but 25 years later, many fear that much of this ‘Orwellian vision’ is coming true. The Government and ‘Big Business’ know more about us than ever before. The internet revolution has further complicated the complex set of issues surrounding the collection and manipulation of personal data about individual citizens by Government and corporations.

Most of us accept CCTV cameras as a necessary evil since we believe they will protect us from crime (or because we don’t really think about it!). But how much solid evidence is there that CCTV has brought about changes in the way that criminals behave i.e. that it has, in fact, made people more secure or safe? And what is the cost? We are being watched and potentially permanently recorded when we go shopping, park our car, wait for a train. Again, is this a price we are happy to pay?

Does the British Government need ID cards to combat terrorism? Many would suggest that those capable of coordinating a terrorist attack in the UK re not going to be defeated by ID cards. They would be able to obtain fraudulent ID. And what of the effect on the privacy of the rest of us, who are no threat to the security of The Realm i.e. people who won't buy or fraudulently obtain a card? reports that the British Police have identified a number of children at risk of being 'radicalised' and presumably of becoming terrorists. So what action is it reasonable to take against or 'to help' them?

Some would say that the only way of preventing all terrorism, or all child abuse, is to create a society where no-one can ‘get away’ with anything. And in that scenario we would all be living in a prison i.e. we’d be back to Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Cory Doctorow, the author and 'electronic freedom frontier man', maintains there is a false hope in these scenaria. "You can't get to the guilty by persecuting the innocent."

There is a real danger that in today’s digital society both authorities and brands may be accumulating increasing quantities of data for which there is no practical use; i.e. we are collecting it out of habit, or just because we can.

Meanwhile, Google is developing new mapping/ geographical imaging/ location-based products. They seek to be the most comprehensive search engine and reference source, so that their revenue stream continues. The more people use these tools, the more people are drawn to Google, which is good for business. They are already inevitably coming up against privacy issues, especially with Street View and Latitude.

So what does all this mean for internet marketers?

In my experience, most consumers will happily share a certain amount of personal data so long as they are fully and clearly informed how it will be used and stored, and they can see a benefit to them in providing it.

This of course depends on the context, whether they TRUST the brand/ company and whether they believe the company has a valid reason for requesting the information.

In today’s digital economy, marketers must recognize that the consumer is in the driving seat... it should be more about making sure that the information on a product is accurate and available when required, than trying to sell people stuff via old-school interruptive techniques. As soon as a company asks for contact information, people get suspicious - indeed there are websites out there designed to help you avoid revealing your true identity or email to companies.

These are not easy issues.

Companies need to be respectful of the privacy of their customers, and avoid asking them to register unless they are offering the customer something of tangible value in return - more than a stream of product information. For example, if a hayfever remedy brand sets up a support group for people with hayfever and provides high-quality unique content on a dedicated website, that would be a good use of people's details, whereas collecting emails to send monthly promotions for their latest product might not (and indeed is likely to be counter-productive). Increasingly the majority of consumers are internet-savvy and are prepared to trade data for added value (e.g. exclusive content or special offers); they just require a sufficient incentive.

As marketers have increasingly powerful targeting techniques at their disposal, TRUST becomes even more important. Trust is difficult to earn and easily lost. Privacy concerns are very real and brands need to understand and respect them.

As we know, the internet has already changed the world; and it’s not done yet.

Friday, 3 April 2009

My favourite Blogs

One of the best things about working in a lively office is the water cooler stuff; someone saying something that makes you laugh, cry, THINK. Today the office can be global and you can chose your water cooler mates. Pretty cool eh?

I read these because each of them gives me something different and each frequently transports me to another world (in a good way). I urge you to check them out and decide whether they speak to you; I hope so. (this guy really knows his stuff) (aka Only Dead Fish) (always something new and thought-provoking)
(OK it’s a 'magazine', not a blog. But why split hairs? Just read it, will you?)
(This woman invented virtual worlds. Or something.)

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Awareness or response?

At the risk of stating the obvious, advertising is changing.

Today I saw an ad on the London Underground for Abbey Bank (part of Santander group). They currently probably wish they were still a Building Society like good old Nationwide (whose current advertising seems to be suggesting they are too boring to take any risks with your money). However this is by the by.

I don't remember much about the ad but I did notice the call to action:

“Visit your local branch or”

6 words.

Hurrah! At last we seem to be freed from "www". Not to mention "http://".

Didn’t take long, did it?

If one types "" into Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome, one duly gets straight to the Abbey Home Page. It also worked on my Blackberry. Job done.

Admittedly, at Oxford Circus, I couldn’t click on a 2D code to view the mobile website for full information. Indeed I couldn’t even get a mobile signal on the tube. But these things will soon change. Indeed if your brand is well known and you’ve bought all the right urls, it could be argued that you don't even need to promote the website on your ads; people will find "" anyway.

There was a time when certain ads were deemed to be ‘image/ awareness’ and others ‘direct response’. The Ad Agency Art Director fought bitterly against cluttering up the former with as much as a phone number (frequently creating a work of what Elvis Costello has termed ‘useless beauty’), while the latter was delegated to a junior team and often ended up as a cluttered mess, pulling response at the expense of the brand image.

Those days are gone. Today, thanks to the internet, every marketing communication can create and reinforce brand image and promote response/ dialogue via whatever medium the consumer prefers.

Today, all ads are 'above the line'. And response drivers.