Sir Martin Sorrell has made his first investment at his new company in a shop called Media Monks- which “is a creator of agile and dynamic digital content” What Sir Martin does, the industry talks about. So, let’s not break the habit of a lifetime

  • Is this a hot investment ?
  • Why is Content an important thing for brands to understand?

The word itself is not a good start- it suggests yet more digital detritus pushed out to widespread indifference. As you start Googling you are probably not thinking “gosh, there is a shortage of information here”.  In 2004 Google indexed 38 Trillion pages on the web.

A new book, The Definitive Guide to Strategic Content Marketing by  Laz Dzamic and Justin Kirby that grapples honestly with what it takes to be good at Content. It is an insider’s guide based on interviews with people in the business. It even has a chapter of highly articulate detractors who say that this is all just modish nonsense  (Declaration of interest- I worked with Laz at Google).

Here are some of insights I took from the book: –

Creating stuff people choose .What people want online is stuff that they choose to look at or use or participate in-this is a decent working  definition of  Content.  You have to stop seeing marketing as something that is done to people – but done for people’s benefit. ( it is an appealing idea right now as digital advertising is going through a bad patch- seen as a form of pollution as evidenced by the rise of ad-blocking)

Use data for empathy  Brands need to being really good at analysing and using data differently. As people go about researching, choosing and buying (in any given category) they send off “signals” about what interests them and what they might be receptive to in those moments. These “data signals” are the starting point for human empathy. In that moment do you just try to sell to them or do you imagine what they will find fascinating or irresistible or useful. Very few companies are good at this kind of data analysis, and you know who they are: Google, Facebook, Amazon. Most probably, you will have to work with their data and, in all probability post your content on their platforms – and pay their advertising tax to attract people to it

Content is easiest with existing customers in high interest categories .Because you know who they are, what they have bought and they have given you permission to use their data. ExampleSo, you have just booked a holiday – in that moment you are probably open to Content. TUI did just that – new bookers were delivered a sequence of useful stuff about, for example, check in, destination information other services such as car hire and excursions.  (See P 136 of the book ).This kind of Content is really an extension of service and is a more sophisticated and digitally delivered version of something companies have always done.

That said, digital makes it different because it increases the number of occasions when your customer is in contact and therefore available to Content. In practice it leads to a detailed map of customer contact moments and a Content delivery plan.

Learn about your customer every day .It could be the best thing you can do- as it will force you to learn what really interests your customers and what they really want. Every day you will be looking at data that keeps you honest. If you create Content (say information or advice or entertainments) that people don’t bother to look at then you will have to improve because lots of others are vying for your customers attention. It’s hard work and requires constant energy and investment. Truth be told is it is very difficult to create Content that the general public wants to look at – ask any newspaper editor, film maker , song writer, novelist, successful blogger or vlogger. It is a full time job. Even then you have no guarantee of success- so what chance does a brand have ?

Brands have to partner with people who know how to do it .Brands start way back in the race to create great Content. In order to get to the start line they probably have to partner with people who already have an audience and a profile. Famous folk often. When I was in the Zoo at Google I spent quite a lot of time advising brand owners on how to set up YouTube channels. I came to the conclusion that most should not try unless they were prepared to invest in a regular stream of great films and partner with successful YouTubers in order to boost their audiences. And there is no point in doing this if you are not clear on why you are doing it. In fact it could look like a rather desperate attempt to cling onto someone else coat tails so…

Be credible The Internet can often feel like a vast ocean of unreliable but endlessly fascinating stuff. If you are going to add to this you need to answer the “why” questions. Why are we doing this and why will our Content be valued by people? In fact, these are probably the first questions you should ask.

So is Content marketing the answer ? It can be very powerful done well- but it is difficult to do well – as illustrated by each of the six points above

Sure, there are the famous “viral” hits – from videos of stunts or amazing pieces of film or great ads or some magical piece of new technology (VR is the great hope right now)- but these are few and far between and difficult to repeat. So don’t fall for that snake oil.

Creating great Content is a major investment in strategy, planning, data analysis, partnerships and creation. You have to think and behave like a media owner – which most brand marketing companies are not set up for.

But if you are going to do it, this new book by industry experts is required reading. It gives you the inside track on what’s needed, the pitfalls and who you might want to work with.

And what of Media Monks? Well, my guess is that they will also be doing a lot of advertising (if they don’t already).  That is where the money still is. The big players-Google, Facebook and increasingly Amazon- will have to muck out The Augean Stables of digital advertising. They have to, as it’s their business model. Oh, and by the way, it funds loads of free services that we value.

Today comes the news that Sir Martin Sorrell is back in the market and competing again – he has set up “S4 capital” to acquire companies. This comes just weeks after leaving WPP.

There is something smelly about this – Sir Martin, it emerges, has non-compete contractual terms that were not extended to employees of the group. The board and the chairman of WPP have questions to answer.

Sir Martin aggressively enforced the contracts of departing employees – the founders of Adam and Eve had to pay £750,000 when on gardening leave. When I resigned as CEO of red cell  advertising I received a letter accusing me of breaking the terms of my contract and trying to steal a client ( Wales Tourism Board in fact). I was very surprised as this was a) not true and b) easily refuted. WPP withdrew the accusation. But it was indicative of the aggression of WPP’s employment lawyers – and it came from the top.

I think this what can happen to very successful people: they get so detached from normal folk that they no longer think that the normal rules apply to them. “Taxes are for the poor” said Leona Helmsley. Now it seems that non compete contracts are for the rank and file not the top people

 

(This article was first published in Directory – and is reproduced with their kind permission)

Son (25) and daughter (23) have returned home after university: the perfect opportunity for this planner for some close-up observation of two millennials with their always- to-hand smartphones and dirty, untidied bedrooms.

I pause at this point to give some advice to fellow sufferers who have failed to train their children to “TIDY UP THEIR BEDROOMS!”. The advice is this: it’s too late. There is no point in bellowing things like “PICK YOUR CLOTHES UP OFF THE FLOOR” through closed doors as your children fester in the sheets of their unchanged bedclothes. You should simply adopt at air of Buddhist calm and accept the inevitable. You will be much happier.

Anyway, back to the social observation: –

Right here, right now, anywhere, anytime. These millennials, now re-installed chez Saunders, are tooled up with and glued to devices, which looks very similar to those flip open thingies that Captain Kirk spoke into whilst fending off aliens on planet Zog. Star Trek has come true.

Son sits at dinner with a slight smirk on his face as he messages friends in China on WeChat. Daughter grabs the remote control from my wife because she is too slow at downloading the latest episode of “Made in Chelsea.” “FFS, it’s like watching a moron” she says affectionately as she prods buttons in a blur of fingers and thumbs.

Son ignores us during the evening meal as he searches for cheap flights to Japan so he can visit his girlfriend.  He might not yet be able to dematerialise in one place and materialise in another but otherwise the world is at his command. He can order or book seemingly anything with just a few prods of fast moving thumbs. He can banter via an app with friends in four different locations around the world. He is living a life of semi- planned spontaneity in which arrangements can be made at the last minute and change live and in real time.  He has the power. He has the freedom. Beam me up Scottie.

Or does he?

There are also limitations and constraints. Stuck at home, he doesn’t fancy spending half of his trainee income on overpriced rental accommodation. The taxman is taking his cut to recover student debt.  Several of his friends have little or no income so they can’t come out.

Property is stupidly expensive in London but quite cheap still in Berlin, but, sadly, some beery backwoodsman called Farage has screwed up his plans to work where-ever he wants to in Europe.  His parents and other property owning oldsters have “eaten all the pies”.  New labour’s winning anthem has turned sour – things are not getting better. In fact, they may get worse.

This is THE BIG TENSION.

It works like this: empowerment + freedom runs up against the pressure cooker of constrain. The most resilient brands in the future will be those that help resolve THE BIG TENSION. What my children want is (surprise, surprise) Value and Service, just like their parents. But how they want it is different: –

Tough customers. They are ratty when things don’t go smoothly (“they haven’t got a mobile site FFS!”). Expectations have been raised/new standards set by a generation of constantly innovating brands that live in their smartphones. If your brand does not wake up to their exacting service expectations then things are not going to go well for you. So, what are their demands?

Quick and easy through a smartphone. With a couple of prods with their thumbs (BTW- talking at out loud at your smartphone- via Siri for example- is still way too embarrassing)

It is a smart move to design for mobile first. Want a brand to model your design on? Look at Booking.com- Google’s largest customers. They are pretty much always page 1 of search and work constantly to make their e-commerce as smooth and frictionless as possible

Don’t just use their data without asking. They know that Zuckerberg’s mob is a bit scuzzy and have tried to get away with things in the past through impenetrable T&Cs. They know that when you are encouraged to “sign in through Facebook” that it is just an attempt scrape your data. Clean up your act in this area. Embrace the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). It is your friend.

 Cheaper and quicker (and quicker). Amazon. Enough said. Try Googling Amazon innovations and you will see what I mean – Prime/One Click checkout/Drones. It is all getting quicker. Want Jamie Oliver’s new book? My daughter did:  the cheapest price is also on Amazon and she can have it tomorrow.

Design in flexibility. “Book now pay after you stay.” “Sign in four of your friends”, “Cancel whenever you want with no exit charges” “No contract means that you are free to go free to stay” “Only drive when it works for you. No office. No Boss” “Request a ride and you will be on your way in minutes”. These are promises made variously by brands my children love including Booking.com, AirBnB, Netflix, Uber and Lyft. They make perfect sense to a generation that does wants to act spontaneously but cannot come up with the cash.

Upgrade the experience all the time. To live life through a smartphone is to experience constant improvements and enhancements. Every year your phone gives you a big software makeover (you know the one that takes at last 15 minutes) with new bells and whistles. Meanwhile over at Facebook and Snapchat ferocious amounts of A/B tests are happening in order to design new enticements to keep you in the habit (“You have memories to look back on”, “You and Patrick have been Facebook friends for 10 years”, “Jim likes your post”). It’s Darwinian innovation of course – if they don’t evolve then you will fall out of the habit and they will be swept away as Myspace was. The effect of all this restless paranoid innovation is to make the smartphone an endless pleasure ground of daily upgrades, which become, of course, an expectation- a new norm.

Abolishing the BIG TRADE off .The most resilient brands in the future will be those that help resolve THE BIG TENSION- and they do this by abolishing THE BIG TRADE OFFS. Here’s how it works:-

Long ago we were inculcated with the idea that we had to accept trade-offs. You could get it tomorrow but you had to pay through the nose to get it delivered. You could get (say) great Sport on TV but you would be locked into a long-term contract. You could get a cab home from central London at midnight – but regret it when you saw that crumpled receipt for £35-00 the next morning. You could book a great boutique hotel in Berlin but you would have to pay a % up front to secure the booking and do it several months in advance. You could work for a great company but in so doing lose your soul to the narrow pursuit of shareholder value over all else. You could decide to get fit by working those abs but you had to join a club and pay monthly direct debits.

The brands that are big in my children’s lives have systematically dissolved theses trade-offs. Delivered tomorrow and cheap (AMAZON). Book now and pay after (Booking.com/AirBnB). Cashmere jumpers and less that £100-00 (Uniqlo). Get it now without being locked into a contract (Netflix). Dynamic and socially responsible: most good companies promise this as part of their recruitment of young graduates. Value and service ( most modern brands except Ryannair – and even Michael O’Leary may have seen the light)

Where-ever you see an old fashion trade-off, there is an opportunity.  Just take the words either/or and replace them with the word and.  See where it takes you. If you design your brand for those toughest, most demanding and spontaneous of customers-the millennials- you will prosper and even be admired.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Simon Jacks, BBC business correspondent, said, on the 10 O’Clock news, that Sir Martin was thought off more as “a money man than an adman”, thus repeating some of the snooty and hoary old remarks that were said against him by the likes of David Ogilvy years back .

Jacks seems to me to have missed something important about the man

Sir Martin was certainly creative about business and, less well known, is his delight in winning new business pitches. This is as vital to the health of a creative agency as the creative department. In fact without the wins you have nothing for creative people to get their teeth into.

Here is my Sir Martin story.

In 1998 I took over as Chief Executive of red cell advertising ( a WPP company)  and immediately found myself a re-pitch for my largest client – Bank of Scotland’s direct banking arm- up against BBH and McCann. Not good news. I knew BBH would field Sir John Hegarty and McCann had big resources and, at that time, offices throughout the UK. red cell was an agency of some 40 people with some decent clients – Singapore airlines, Alfa Romeo, Wales Tourism board amongst others- but I was heavily outgunned.

My calculation was the BoS would be more likely to know who Martin was ( he was not Sir Martin then) than Sir John Hegarty

I pick up the phone to Martin and said I would aim to keep the business  by proposing a WPP team in partnership with Ogilvy One. Would he come to the pitch? He seemed delighted to be asked  and said he did not just want to “be decorative and to give him an active role”. He wanted to present the offer to the board of Bank of Scotland as part of the team. I also commissioned a radio program about the future of finance – ie a piece of content marketing- to show our creative credentials and so as not to look like our whole pitch rested on Martin.

Well it probably did. We won. I well remember the squeek of delight Martin let out when I called to let him know. red cell was an agency dedicated to challenger brands and challenger thinking. In other words we stood with the underdogs. Although Martin went on to head a huge company, I think he never lost his passion for winning against the odds and seeing off staid and established competitors. That is why i think he responded so full heartedly to my call.

So Jacks I think missed something essential about the man – his creativity in business and the sheer visceral pleasure he takes in competing to win. In this respect he is an adman to his finger tips

For the 20 anniversary issue of Market Leader I looked back to the predictions made by The Economist in 1998 (what did they get right and wrong ?) and brought it up to date with 2018 predictions.

Looking back was fascinating – The Economist got a lot right but on a couple of things they got it completely wrong – especially when it came to the Queen v Tony Blair

This article is reproduced with the permission of WARC.com. See Link to PDF

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