and how to put it right.
My diagnosis and a suggestion for future strategy just published in Aurora
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
At the privacy of our own keyboards people give up all sorts of interesting insights into what they want – and no data source is better that search. So..
A few of stats that struck me (below) : people want to find out stuff right here, right now and on their mobiles. Researchers often say this is because consumers are becoming more “demanding”- but I don’t think that is our self – perception. This is just the new normal. Basically what its says is that your company or organisation has to have got its act together on
a) Being easy to find on a smartphone
b) Offering up relevant and useful information (that is easy to find) on a smartphone
c) Being easy to buy from on a smartphone