I was asked by Aurora- Pakistan’s leading journal about marketing, brands and advertising for a view on what Harry and Meghan should do. Here it is
That’s the bad news. The worse news is that we can’t do much about it as that would require international cooperation. Good luck with that one.
The slightly better news is that excellent books have been written by academics/journalists to expose it. Three “must reads” have recently been published on different aspects of hidden power to do with 1) Big Tech’ and data 2) Money and the super rich 3) Politics being polluted by misinformation
- The Age of Surveillance capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff. (which i have reviewed in an earlier post). Main message: Big Tech knows “everything about us, whereas their operations are designed to be unknowable to us. They accumulate vast domains of new knowledge from us, but not for us. They predict our futures for the sake of others gain, not ours.”
- Money land by Oliver Bullough. Main message. The super rich/kleptocratic autocrats employ (often British) experts to help them hide their money on a huge scale. Jimmy Carr was just a pimple in this game. Nobody knows how much, but it is trillions. It impoverishes further poor countries, degrades public services in rich ones, and undermines institutions. If the super rich paid their taxes the NHS would not have a problem.
- This is Not Propaganda-Peter Pomarantsev. Main message: Online mis-information techniques invented in Russia have spread out across the world. It is organised by the rich and powerful who no longer feel the need to be truthful and have undermined the very idea of truth. There is no truth, just “alternative facts”. I strongly recommend this book which lifts up a stone to expose all manner of grubby ghastly creepy crawlies to the light. Here are 4 extracts
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.
The idea that Big Tech has really evolved into over-powerful “Tech behemoths” has been gathering strength in 2017 – and not just in the protectionist minds of the EU
The seminar book – that makes the case for break up- is Move Fast and Break Things by Jonathan Taplin and is my business book of the year. I read it cover to cover.
Now influential professor Scott Galloway ( at NYU Stern) has made his case too. It is worth 30 minutes of your time
So the argument are gathering strengths
Sentiment is turning too- as it did against Tesco and News International. Big tech with their (tax avoiding) global businesses make these once much feared companies look positively weedy.
This film is worth a watch to show how WeChat-which started as a messaging app- is evolving into a one stop killer app for search,social and shopping. (And you thought Google and Facebook were too powerful.). It’s success is due not to Chinese govt support but innovation to make the user experience a) very easy b)integrated c) time saving.
You can be sure that Facebook and other are eyeing WeChat with envy and trying to emulate it
I expect the anti-trust authorities in Europe and USA to have a say on this trend
This is a (slightly extended version)of a book review I have just published in Market Leader (the Marketing Society’s quarterly journal :
It all started with such high ideals. The web was created as a kind of commons with the promise of a radical democratisation of power. As Rushkoff puts it – The distributed nature of the web, with its decentralised connectivity and ad hoc social activity seemed to augur an equally distributed marketplace. Markets were no longer going to be dominated by the best sellers and the big distributors. Instead an almost infinite market of makers would be able to find and sell to almost infinite market of buyers
This was the dream of “The Long Tail” set out by Chris Andersen in his book of the same name . The web would be essentially decentralising and empowering.
Rushkoff is vehemently against how it most of it turned out. Power Law dynamics took over. Tech start ups went public, went for growth to satisfy their shareholders, achieved positions of market power and decided to go into the advertising business big time. The Web turned out to be a winner takes all endgame fuelled by greed. Californian Hippy idealism ran up against Madison Avenue and Wall Street. As for the best sellers – well they remained the main sources of revenue on the likes of ITunes.
Rushkoff identifies are some honourable exceptions this trend – like eBay and Etsy. These are examples of the many to many marketplace in action – what you might call genuine “digital bazaars”, which are essentially “anti-industrial”
Web idealism resurfaces in ideas like “the sharing economy” -but Rushkoff is dismissive: It’s not really sharing it’s selling…. encouraging people to engage in freelance versions of previously regulated industries. Technology is reducing the numbers of jobs and is now AI is hollowing out those of middle income folk. Left unchecked it will just make the rich few even richer. There will not be enough income around to buy the products of a consumer society. And that could lead to a big shock.
The solution? Rushkoff sees it as a kind of third way between unregulated markets and socialism. Called Digital Distributionism, it will have the following characteristics: Sustainable prosperity, platform cooperation, P2P and Bitcoin currency, crowdfunding, collaboration, communication via networks, land and resources held in common and value exchange. Government intervention will set wages and redistribute wealth to the underemployed.It sounds like Rushkoff has never really lost his idealism and is looking for get back to first principles and re-present them today.
Rushkoff addresses the increasingly apparent ills of our age-addiction to the mantra of growth, that depletes our resources, and the increasing evidence that Capital is doing much better than Labour. Is he hopeful? Not really. Digital Distributionism sounds at best difficult to implement and at worse very naïve. But, as the American elections show, disaffection produces surprises. When the middle classes are suffering there is trouble ahead and politicians will need to reach for new ideas. This book is packed full of them. Some of them might work.
Getty sell their images to agencies who are designing campaigns and so what buyers search for reveals something of the zeitgeist.Agency creative teams have well developed instincts for what is fresh and current. Forget the focus groups, analyse Getty search tends.
“Stand out from the crowd”,”rebellious” and “bold choices” have spiked in search on their website by over 100/200/300 % respectively. As Getty put it as “we become increasingly inundated with mass replicated imagery and aggregated articles our appetite for a unique point of view and stand out visuals increases” This is a trend they call Outsider in
Another telling trend is Messthetics, which is a different side of the same coin: as Getty put it ” a breakaway from predictability …the imagery is messy, grimy sweaty, visceral… it comes from our desire to break away from the sanitation and predictability of everyday life and revel in the physicality of human nature .” Think of the success of campaigns to sell more ugly fruit and veg.
In retrospect the rise of Trump and Sanders seems all too obvious …
I spent a happy two years at Google thinking about and advising brand owners about this question. Here is my advice, just published in the spring issue of Market Leader ( which is the UK Marketing Society’s quarterly journal) PDF attached
is the business model of media owners down the years- and that battle has now moved to your smartphone.
Winning apps find ways to “scratch your itches”many times a day. Facebook is the most energetic in enticing you back to their platform with a continuous flow of digital addiction-it started with “poking” for me and most recently I have found it irresistible not to look back on “memories from a years ago” ( most recent innovation) as well as “my year on Facebook”(which was as i recall launched last Christmas). With Facebook you feel that they constantly at your elbow nudging you check out your page and anxious should you drift away and fall out of the Facebook habit. They are right to be paranoid.
Snapchat has been making moves too – originally, it was a visual messaging app with an auto-delete after viewing.( that was its launch USP). Then they curated “content snacks” from a whole range of media brands in a section called “discover” (see below)
But that did not take off and so they have launched a “live” channel which consists of an edited selection of videos submitted by snap-chatters in a particular locality-
“London life” gives you a window into what fellow users up to based on the video clips they submit. It is weirdly fascinating content – rough and ready , generated by ” people like you” and and a “things to do” prompt. For people who submit it is also like a competition – will my clip make it to the final cut ? somehow you can’t resist checking it out – but to work the video mash up will need to change everyday or even several times a day In the social media app market snapchat is a challenger that has to be inventive just to stay in the game up against a well funded heavy hitter in Facebook
What happens if you don’t keep evolving your app to make it irresistible ?
The recent fate of the CEO of Twitter is a reminder that it is easy to fall off the pace. Across the web you will find the husks of former shakers and movers – like friendster or friends re-united or myspace. It will be interesting to track the innovations of both FB and Snapchat in 2016 because they teach us a lot about how to win and retain attention in “the smartphone economy”- which is shaping up to be as ruthless and competitive as the newspaper market
Pundits say that anyone who claims to know what the digital revolution will bring is engaged in a confidence trick. My experience of publishing books and articles about digital futures suggests four things
-We can’t predict a decade ahead with any confidence
-A technology trend that is against the grain of human nature will most likely fail
-We do i think know what the shape of communications will be for the next three or four years.
-Futurology may be closer to fiction that sober analysis: but it will never go out of fashion as we can’t help wondering about the future
I have just published this slice of futurology in Market Leader. It contains five lessons learnt from my last attempt 10 years ago as well as nine predictions for the future. It is called The Surprise Generating Machine – a line stolen from Professor John Naughton.
Do add your predictions.