Just published by the UK marketing society: how the PM ( and Dominic Cummings) can make the party one that people want to vote for
I am becoming one of those people who shouts at the TV screen.
(I suppose it was inevitable – it comes with age along with hair sprouting unattractively from ears and nose and busy eyebrows. I haven’t developed the full Denis Healey – but i can see the direction of travel).
My ire is aimed at the commentariat who come on Newsnight, who seem to be mostly in a state of moral outrage. Cue plenty of pomposity and posturing about what the government does from groping to proroguing parliament – and in particular Dominic Cummings.
Cummings is often presented as an evil genius. He is not – he is just an advertising strategist with an effective communications idea.
If Newsnight was to invite branding and advertising experts onto their sofas they could lay it out more analytically for the viewers. But they tend to prefer journalists who are good at understanding todays headlines (and the nerdy details of today in parliament) but poor at the techniques of developing a long term brand positioning. Besides Journalists of the BBC type tend to look down their noses at Adfolk.
This is a pity because advertising strategists are not prone to either moral outrage or bien pensant snobbery. Rather, they deal with people as they really are and work back from there. Lets try that then:-
Start with human truths
People are not much interested in the arcane details of how parliament or the law works. They are busy. In their personal lives they have to go to work and get stuff done.
All Cummings has done is to spot that this is how people feel. He ( via Boris) uses parliament as a stage to confirm that it is an odds with how most of us have to behave to get through our lives.
He has done this through classic, brutally simple, brand positioning thinking that has three characteristics 1) a positioning that is easy to remember 2) that boxes in ( or “depositions” ) the competition and 3) (important this) is rooted in a widely accepted truth
The simple positioning: The tories will deliver on the will of the people
De-positioning the competition as: A confused group of interests that can’t get anything done except frustrate progress
The truth: Three years on from the vote parliament has stopped progress.
My point here is not – is this right or wrong? Just- is it effective? It is and that is why Cummings is hated. (He is also shy-is my guess- and given to covering this up with a carapace of aggression – which does not help)
Can The Labour Party mount a counter communications strategy ?
Labour now is too introverted and bound up in its own internal battles and bureaucratic structures. It used to be good at communications strategy in the Blair/Campbell era- but both these men are now so hated The Labour Party cannot learn from them.
Corbyn and MacDonald look and sound like machine politicians of the pre Blair era. And in their attempt to fight Cummings they have fallen back on old, and distinctly retro, campaigning techniques. They have, late in the day, come up with a simple strategy. But is it any good?
The simple positioning: We are the real representatives of the people
De-positioning the competition as: “posh boys” or the rich elite or a conspiracy of the rich elite ( an idea proposed on Newsnight by Paul Mason)
But a really good communications strategy has to have the ring of truth about it to take root and have longevity. This one -apart from being a throwback to the era of smoky rooms, long sideburn and flared Trowsers- doesn’t. All political parties have posh folk. Far from hating Eton, labour front benchers like their children to go to elite fee paying schools.
As for Mason’s conspiracy of the elites: this is a desperate attempt to re-present some city folk, who are shorting the pound, as something more sinister. Conspiracy theories have a long and disreputable history and are almost always the product of a fevered imagination. This one is not going to fly.
Try “the truth well told” instead
What should Labour do? Try something truthful. Truth is the bedrock of a really good strategy. “The truth well told” is a good way to think of an effective strategy. This is what journalists often miss – as they tend to think of adfolk as people who hoodwink the public
The truth is that Brexit is a really complex and there is no “getting Brexit done” – even if the government gets an agreement through, it is just the start of years of negotiations. Without a deal – even more negotiations. We will be locked into an endless depressing cycle that will most likely lead to the breakup of the union. That is a really sad and unnecessary future.
I would start there – start calling it as it. The public will respect you for it
The MAAG Diploma in integrated marketing is now taking bookings for this years course. Book now to avoid disappointment as it sells out and has a limited number of places.
This course is top rated by attendees, has run each year for over 10 years, and is the best all round education you can find for people who are starting out in the agency business (IMHO). The student feedback is consistently excellent, which is the best measure
( Running a workshop for an agency on winning new business pitches recently I found epic fails were more instructive)
It is said that we learn more from our mistakes than successes….on that basis I should by now be a very wise person. Because, boy , have I made some mistakes.
Here are five ways you can screw up a new business pitch, each one pretty much guaranteed to result in a loss
- At the first “credentials” meeting you talk only about your agencies achievements ( because you have been invited to do so ) and fail to find out about the clients business problem or talk about it. ( You will come off as arrogant and self – absorbed)
- You address all your remarks to the most senior client in the room and ignore the juniors and middle rankers, after all he/she is the decision maker? ( Wrong, probably – you have just alienated key influencers)
- You decide that the client brief is wrong and needs to be “refocussed “ but you fail to explain this until you get to the pitch ( You will probably end up irritating the brief writer in the pitch as you are implying that he/she is a bit dumb)
- You present “breakthrough” creative work that is unlike anything the client has run before without showing more “evolutionary” alternatives. ( radical changes of direction for brands are rare and mostly don’t happen unless the clients business is in crisis and they are forced to change)
- You spell the clients brand name incorrectly and/or feature the out of date packaging ( I still remember putting up a slide that read “ A presentation to Brids Eye Walls” . In fact I am now in a sweat just thinking about it.
(Obviously the plan is to avoid these!)
Programatic trading of media is clever automated technology that is spawning (AI enabled) services which will automate the creation of ad messages as well – more efficiency and cost reduction then. (This does not matter a lot as most ads- online- are fairly formulaic response/offer type stuff already)
But Programatic also attacks one of our most important beliefs in brand building – that it matters where you are seen not just what you have to say.
Stripping communication of its context is not good from a psychological point of view – we know that the human brain has evolved to notice context ( see Kahneman et al). Indeed all judgements that we make about people and brands are contextual.
Brands are now being drawn (by the lure of cost effective sales) into an online version selling out of the back of a van on a rainy trading estate. What to do ?
Well two answers
-When buying programmatic, cost effectiveness can’t be the only metric – a smarter programmatic is needed that controls for quality too. Brands need to demand this – and not merely the reassurance that they will not appear in some tawdry click baity site ( or worse)
-Control your own context by becoming a publisher online. This difficult for brands and not for everyone. This piece (just published in Aurora) explores how, why it is difficult and some of the insights into how to do it well from a really useful new book by Laz Dzamic ( declaration of interest- i worked with him at Google)
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. Example– So, 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.