Two new training courses for MAAG

We are all Zoomers now. I have been working with MAAG to design new, shorter courses for ” the new normal”

Here they are- Book now at MAAGs website

These are short, interactive, with inspiring examples and deliver jargon free planning and idea generation methods.

You can use these methods by yourself or with colleagues on Zoom or face to face

Will the facebook ad ban make a difference ?

Will a pressure group in the USA be enough to change Facebook?

No question, “stop hate for profit” has put Facebook’s practices in focus. But will it effect a fundamental change? Aurora asked me for an opinion: view . ( see link)

I am not optimistic. I hope I am wrong. A wider understanding of Facebook internationally (and how surveillance capitalism works) indicates that its real vulnerability lies with powerful politicians, not popular revolt, however well intentioned.

If Facebook get the 2020 Presidential election wrong – by enabling bad actors as it did in 2016-then things may turn out differently. Then it will face emboldened enemies in Washington

What is “Surveillance Capitalism ?

Professor Shoshana Zuboff has published a key text of our time

To understand what is really going with “big tech”, Professor Shoshana Zuboff is the best guide with her seminal book ” The Age of Surveillance Capitalism” . It’s a fat book and , in places, a heavy read. But worth getting. Definitely read chapter 18 (“A coup from above”) which sums up the key arguments.

The big issue of our times is what economists call “extreme asymmetries of knowledge” Put simply, big tech knows all about us and we know little about how them. And it is deliberate. Example- do you know what the Google algorithm is ? Me neither. It’s a trade secret that has a big impact on how many businesses trade. Zuboff has many more examples.

Zuboff explains her ideas well in person and has also made some good programmes such as this one

(ironically, hosted on YouTube, which is owned by that uber “surveillance capitalist” – Google)

We have all gone Zoomtastic

Back in February, European marketers, creatives and strategists from Amazon joined me in London for a new training course called Insights Inspiration. I had co-designed it with Laura Downey and Alexa Caldecott across several enjoyable and animated meetings in small rooms at Amazon HQ near Liverpool Street. The commissioner of the project was Mark Willock of ISBA

It was day long with 20 of us in the same room, sitting hugger mugger around small tables. The windows were closed- it was a cold day. All this seems a lifetime ago- and I doubt it will happen again any time soon.

So, like everyone else, I have had to adapt to online and learn to run sessions effectively in a different way. Since lockdown I have run 10 Zoom training sessions.

All my training is now available as Zoom.

This is what i have learnt:-

  • Sessions should be shorter – no more that 2 hours
  • If running a session of more than 1 hour, you need to use the breakouts function
  • Breakout groups should be no more that 3 or 4 people
  • You can have up to 20 in a training session, but few will interact in plenary “whole group” discussions. To get everyone talking, you need to run breakouts groups.
  • As ever with training, presentations should be short, mainly visual and packed with examples.

The good news

There is though a pleasant surprise from going to Zoom. Training can be more international than before. At a recent Essentials course on Zoom for APG, (that I co-ran with Phil Barden, author of Decoded), we had participants from Latvia, Holland and USA as well as UK. APG already had an international reputation for excellence in publishing and training. Now people, who would never travel to UK (money and time not permitting), can take part in their courses

So, there is a silver lining

Should Sir Kier Starmer have called for the sacking of Dominic Cummings ?

It must have felt “strong” and “decisive” and a thoroughly good thing in the bear pit of Westminister- but I am not so sure it was “a good look” when it comes to the general public.

Before I say why, let’s be guided by the science – this is compulsory in all briefings these days, of course.

Daniel Kahneman’s great book – Thinking fast and slow-  starts with a picture of a human face. He explains that we are quickly and instinctively drawn to faces (for primitive reasons of survival) and have a highly developed ability to decode all the complex meanings of faces. We have an innate sense of whether someone is comfortable in their own skin or anxious, sincere or mendacious, depressed or energized and so on.

Faces can be your fortune and they can also be your downfall

The BBC’s current high levels of approval is partly attributed to a cast of homely and familiar faces of people that we instinctively warm to – like Hugh Edwards, Sofie Rayworth , George Alagiah and Clive Myrie. The BBC do not have to guess at our feelings towards its talent as they use audience research and can shuffle their cast accordingly, bringing forward the characters we like and moving others into the background. Toughs are allowed – like Andrew Niel and Emily Maitlis- but they are parked in low ratings slots like Newsnight. You would not have them fronting up the big rating shows like News at Six.

Politicians have to cope with over-exposure

We are going to be seeing a lot more of Boris Johston (whether he or we like it or not). We cannot but help develop instincts, from his demeanour, for what he is really like (which is the key lesson from Daniel Kahneman). His easy-going like-ability will be daily exposed by the rigours of government – which is complex, unpredictable and very hard work. How long before we intuit that he is not really in his natural domain?  It took us a while to work out Tony Blair – but in the end his boundless vanity was exposed by wanting to look like the global player alongside George Bush. With Boris Johnston it will be quicker is my guess. The point here is that Sir Kier does not need to spell this out. He just needs to ask the right questions

Helpful notes for Sir Kier ?

“I would have sacked Dominic Cummings” he said, several times. But, for most of us, this is a very ugly statement. Many people who hear it will have been on the receiving end of job loss- a horrible feeling.  Much better to call on common humanity and suggest that an honourable man would have done the decent thing by now rather expose his boss to reputational damage. We can work out the rest.

Besides Sir Kier does not need  be in the business of calling for sackings ( or very rarely) – others will do it for him. Spend just a few minutes scanning through twitter and you will find a host of would be executioners – some of them putatively from Cummings own party. The twitterati feed on the general media, who feed on the twitterati and soon you have a media storm baying for blood. This, too, is humanity at its most ungenerous.

No Sir Kier should distance himself from the Twitter/Media/Westminister bear pit. This is difficult if you are caught up in the middle of it. But remember, most of us are not obsessively scanning twitter to see what the likes of  Piers Morgan or Alistair Campbell have to say. We intuitively see through the neediness of these characters, whose self esteem seems to derive from being important and listened to.

Strangely, Sir Kier should take a leaf of  the book of ” Early Corbyn” , who used to read out questions asked by the general public in The House of Commons. He dropped this technique- but the sentiment was right.

In my experience of running research groups, the general public are quite balanced, unlike the more deranged twitterati, and accept human frailty as the norm. Cummings has made a mistake, we all make mistakes- he did not start a war. Some people are still angry but most of us are bored of it (and of the people who are trying to keep the story going, mainly for political reasons, with industrial quantities righteous indignation).

If Sir Kier is struggling to stay connected to the mood of the general public-which can happen to the most grounded folk when in the Westminister bubble- then he could take a leaf out of the book of Early Blair. It was much sneered back then, but his strategists made regular use of focus groups to stay in touch with general public’s mood. He won three elections.

 

 

 

In praise of retro marketing: it’s thoroughly modern

I saw these packs in M&S yesterday.

Boy, do the Brits like to hark back to their ” finest hour ” (c. W. Churchill) , when a crisis hits. The Queen was at it in her broadcast to the nation.  Has there ever been as better brand name than “Spitfire” ? I don’t think so. Patients coming out of intensive care have even likened the nurses and doctors to Spitfire pilots in the battle of Britain. So this post is un-ashamedly retro – yet proven to be effective by modern behaviour science and the stuff we love looking at on the Internet.  It turns out that retro marketing is also thoroughly modern marketing. Here are my four retro marketing tips.

Write copy that rhymes

Like – A Mars a day helps you work rest and play

BS proof   – Rhymes are are thought to be more truthful ( and are certainly more memorable)

Create a brand symbol 

Like pretty much any brand in the insurance market (Meercats/Churchill/Opera singer).

BS proof – Symbols make brands instantly recognisable so that we don’t have to think hard about choice because Brands are really energy saving shortcuts in decision making

Use an instantly recognisable face

Like – L’Oreal, who have been doing it for years: it a fast and instinctive way to update and refresh a brand

BS proof – we are instantly draw to faces ( see page 1 of Thinking fast and slow for an explanation) and have innate ability to decode their subtle meanings. It’s a survival mechanism- we need sort friend from foe in all situations and the mental processing happens much much faster that you can say ” digital marketing”

Get cute 

Proof- Cats of Instagram-enough said. Just type “Cute” into Google and you can spend hours looking at cats, all types of animals and babies  or as David Ogilvy once said If you want people to look at your ads put a baby in it” Or  Daniel Kahneman  “When adults see infant faces it stimulates nurturing behaviour”. None of this of course will come as a surprise to Disney, whose Mickey Mouse adventures cheered up Americans during the Great Depression

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After the crisis, the reckoning

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How businesses treat their employees during the Covid 19 crisis will lead to a reckoning – a very bitter one if times get hard. A famous poster, headlined “What did you do in the war daddy?”, was designed to shame men into volunteering for the army during world war one. It could be adapted in our time for bosses- “When the pandemic struck, how did you look after your workers?”

We will learn who the good guys and the bad guys are at some point in the next couple of years (or even right now- given the speed of social media at outing the clothe eared or arrogant) Personal reputations and brands will be destroyed or enhanced.

In the 2008 crash,  RBS was nationalised by the UK government because it was about to go bust – with horrible consequences for personal finances. CEO Fred Godwin, poster boy of red in tooth and claw acquisitive capitalism, changed status from captain of the universe to vilified pariah in a just few days. Looking back on 2008, remarkably few people lost their reputations, but that was because we found it difficult to work out who the guilty people were (such are the opaque complexities of modern big finance)

This time it will be different. We can all see that Spurs ( for example) have decided to furlough  their back room staff whilst paying in full the wages of their multi-millionaire players.

Media are different – 12 years on from the crash of 2008, social media are even more widely used and the bad guys will be outed quickly. Gary Lineker, a prolific tweeter, has pointed out how grotesque the Spurs decision looks.

The unpredictable factor is how bad things will get over the next months

Many workers are only one pay check (or freelance fee) away from debt – because over the past decade or more wages have stagnated. Now they have nothing to fall back on and without funds the consequence will be widespread poverty and desperation that conjures up images of 1920s great depression. The atmosphere could get very bitter indeed.

This crisis will produce many more Fred Goodwins. And good guys too – Eddie Howe, manager of Bournemouth, was the first manger to offer to take a pay cut. His fast and generous action will stand him in good stead.

But it is already clear that the likes of Daniel Levy ( of Spurs) and Mike Ashley ( of Newcastle FC) think that they are immune from public backlash. They will, i believe, be proved wrong. Let’s hope so.

 

Will your brand be blind-sided by cultural change in 2020?

My copy of The Economist now comes in a see through non-plastic wrapper that is “100% compostable” and can be “put in the food waste bin”.

An example of “leadership thinking” you might think (from a brand that prides itself on foresight)

But, in truth, The Economist had no choice but to make this change because six months earlier competitor magazines had come similarly wrapped (like the Saturday issue of The Guardian). Not to have responded would have made The Economist seem cloth eared and leaden footed by contrast. (As we know from Behaviour Science, we humans make comparative not absolute judgements.)

Brands have to scan the horizon and work out what changes in culture to they need to respond to (and preferably get ahead of them).  The moment of danger comes when a competitor crystallises a cultural trend into a new product or service. A trend that is “in the air” and widely reported in the media becomes an emerging social norm.  Then the comparison questions crowd in quickly-what are we doing on this issue? Before you have responded, the same questions will be asked on social media about your brand.

Another  example – EasyJet recently sent me an email saying:

At 05:20 this morning, easyJet flight EJU5841 took to the skies and made history. Because starting today, we will offset the carbon emissions from the fuel used for every single easyJet flight, domestic and international.

You would have to have been living in a cave (and not know who Greta Thunberg is) to have missed this particular hot issue for the airlines- known to be major producers of earth heating emissions.

Now do this little test. Do a google search of “which airlines are …”. Google guesses that your question is going to be (top of the list) “which airlines are carbon neutral”. So, the question is already being asked. How long will it be before the likes of BA have to respond? If another brand announces that it too will be carbon offsetting its flights then BA will have to develop their policy or look off the pace.

Modern culture is full of traps for the unresponsive. Trends are easy to spot, but when does a trend turn into a new norm that you simply can’t ignore? Failure to respond can devastate your reputation. Just ask Prince Andrew who seems to not to have understood that the “Me-too” movement, crystalised by the Harvey Weinstein affair, might be relevant to him. He got sacked by The Queen.

What traps lie ahead for brands in 2020? Ideally you want to get ahead of a trend because that is what leaders do. But life is not so simple. “Events, dear boy, events”, as Harold MacMillan said of politics, can throw off the best laid plans. Such is the speed, pervasiveness and uncontrollability of modern media, brand management is becoming more like politics. Facebook (and Big tech in general) understand this and even hire ex-politicians like Nick Clegg to help them plan their communications.

To be protect their reputations, brands need to do scenario planning. A tip: imagine how a competitor might seek to enhance its credibility and relevance through a major product or service innovation that is “on trend.”

Challenger brands and start-ups represent a clue to the future as ideas at the margins can move to the mainstream especially if they are picked up by the bigger players

The question of environmental protection is now right at top of the agenda- no surprise there. But how will it play out in individual markets? Brands should play this thought experiment.  Here are a couple of thought starters: –

London: has been energetically building cycle lanes but has precious few electric buses. (I breath in a lot of fumes every day) The Chinese are way ahead in manufacturing electric buses. Orders for electric buses from the major UK cities could create a strong domestic industry- and not just imports from China. An issue for one of the mayoral candidates to champion?

Grocery retailing: I have just put out the weekly bins, which were crammed with the packaging by-products of shopping at my local supermarket. The 5-p charge has been a signature success in reducing the use of carrier bags (albeit initiated by government).  But where is the next big move coming from? Experiments in new no packaging stores might represent (part of) an alternative future? Try Googling “no packaging stores near me” to gauge how fast this trend is moving

Scenario planning is a healthy exercise for brands as it forces them to look at their business “from the outside in” and therefore anticipate possible futures in which they will be more in control of events rather than victims.