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(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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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..

Google trends is always worth a look – as well as Think with Google for a barometer for changing consumer culture- and therefore what people now expect of organisations

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

mobile-site-abandonment-three-second-load.jpgproduct-reviews-mobile-searches.jpgmicro-moments-consumer-behavior.jpg

Top news. The 2017 APG awards book is out.

Reading it is one of the best “strategy workouts” that a planner can do.

So, that’s what i am going to do – and i am going to use it illuminate what we mean by that much used word – “Insight”- and how it helps unlock great work.

First up The Grand prix for Barbie – which, i think,  has not one, but three great pieces of insight.

Founding vision of the brand’s creator. Billed as the “story of how a woman can re-ignite her power, her fierceness, her purpose by returning to who she is deep down inside”, the planners got right back into the original vision of the brands creator and found this ” My whole philosophy of Barbie was that, through the doll, the little girl could be anything she wanted to be. Barbie always represented the fact that a woman had choices” ( Ruth Handler).

This had become obscured by the belief that Barbie play was just “make-believe” rather than a time when “girls try out possibilities.” . This insight was the inspiration behind the new film “Imagine the possibilities”

Insight tip: Uncover the history of a brand and its original idea. Good questions to ask are : who founded it,why, what did they want to change or challenge or do better? and why did its earliest buyers love it ?

Symbol of re-evaluation. Great brands are like supertankers- it is very difficult to change their direction. Barbie was stuck with the belief that it had visited impossible expectations on young girls through her unnatural body shape and super small waist. Communication alone won’t change this: you need to do something different and newsworthy. What Adam Morgan calls “a symbol of re-evaluation.” So Barbie launched three new shapes- tall, Curvy and Petite- to sit alongside the original shape.

Insight tip : ask- what are the barriers that stand in the way of this brand? What is limiting its potential or prejudicing potential buyers ? What do you have to do to challenge this and make it go away?

Surprise or new audience. In the case of Barbie, dads, and the truth that they have a big impact on their daughters confidence. Dads who play with Barbies featured real life stories of dads who take time out to play with their daughters.The great thing about a new audience is that it is provokes a brand to develop a new message in different media and be seen in a fresh light. (Think of Boddingtons, way back, and Nintendo Brain Training more recently)

Insight tip: Ask is there an underserved or ignored  or newly emerging audience that is in truth important. Remember that “demographic change alters the culture of a society” (JM Keynes) and that’s an opportunity to break fresh ground

 

 

Everyone is hot for it – so what could possibly go wrong?

A few things: My prediction- by the end of the year the trade press will be talking about a backlash against programmatic? Here’s why:-

People intuit that they are just “target audiences” (and let’s not pretend otherwise)

PA something that is done to people that masquerades as being in the interest of the ” the user”. It is a tool for targeting in a way that is most cost effective for brand owners. Yet, In the selling of PA,  many warm, comforting words are used (that Orwell would have taken pleasure in exposing as doublespeak) to give the impression that PA for some sort of greater good- so it is billed as an opportunity to “connect” in a way that is “personalised”.

A fine example of this is a document that has just plonked on my desk (with a  black  and gold, people-free cover) from Epiphany. It offers a fine explanation of the techniques and technology behind  PA – but it is unable to disguise it lack of humanity. People do crop up-but only as types that are ripe to be targeted.

Take this paragraph:

“With the right third party tracking tools, it is possible to connect a user to different devices. This allows for improved sequential retargeting ( as they move done the funnel, for example) and stops the same user from being served the same ad  multiple times across device”

So in a nutshell I am going to be stalked by an advertiser who will try out different sales messages on me whether I like it or not. And lots of advertisers are going to be at this game because all the smart guys have been switched on to programmatic. So I am going to be stalked by lots of advertisers.

There are two elephants in the room

In this seductive story of  brand efficiency  and media value something is missing.

People.

Who can fight back.

Especially the Digital Natives who know a thing of two about protecting their privacy ( think Snapchat) and keeping out unwanted intruders ( think adblocking – and the rise of it among the young). Strangely this  response to PA does not make it into Ephiphany’s “all wil be best in the best of all possible worlds ” version of Programmatic

The other elephant is this: once all the smart guys are using programmatic the early mover advantages and the dramatic stories of improved value will be less evident.

Some historical perspective is needed to see where this might go

PA is being oversold (as database marketing was before)

PA is the latest development in data driven targeting that started with Amex in the 70s. It was oversold then. It is being oversold now. Many of the warm words used to sell PA are the same as those used to promote “CRM ” in conferences I attended in the 80s.

Out in the real world the bubble of hype bursts when you received a ” personalised” letter with your surname misspelt or you reach a milestone birthday only for an algorythm to decide that some life insurance is timely for you ( or even a funeral plan) and to track you across the internet in the manner of a slightly dumb but insistent salesman who just wont leave you alone.

PA does not inspire great creative

Programmatic buying doesn’t “connect” with creative department in agencies. Why? For fundamental reasons: PA sees people as data points to be traded in real time based on cost. If people are seen mainly as data points that send off signals as to their practical needs ( insurance, a new car, a holiday) – then the creative developed will mainly be “response type”.

Great creative (and especially great database marketing ) depends on empathy with people as living breathing human beings. The DoubleClick team (which sold programmatic during my time at Google) engaged account planners ( like me) to bridge this gap. I am not sure they got anywhere. There was a woeful lack of case histories proving that programmatic leads to the kind of creative work that lights up emotions and make people  feel positive about that brand that brought it to them. An occasional example of creative would be held up  – but it was the rare exception that proved the rule.

Programmatic Advertising is being sold today as a silver bullet (or at the very least as way for marketers to deliver a more results oriented story in the boardroom.)

In truth it is the latest development in a long story about the pursuit of marketing efficiency using data and technology

And I predict that its failure to embrace the feelings of people (buyers/users/consumers/human beings) and the ambitions of those who want to do great creative work will bring a cooling of the current ardour.

 

 

Another excellent conference and excellent value

Here are  a few  things i took away

Steve Hilton may sound modern (took his shoes off in public/wore T-Shirt etc)  but his ideas are really a reworking of ideas launched by the levellers in the 16th Century, and developed by Romantics in the 19th century- he wants things on a human scale and thinks that big things (Govt /Big Business) are (mostly but not always) in opposition to this ie are dehumanising. Romantics said similar things about the factory system. Steve’s plea that we should turn offer our mobiles and get back to nature could have come out of the mouth of Wordsworth ( if mobiles had been around then). A man with interesting things to say but you would not want him running anything – much that makes modern life enjoyable and safe is the product of big business and big government. Steve may be right about back to nature- it’s just a really old idea. I notice that hipsters/visionary policy wonks rarely acknowledge the intellectual traditions that they draw on.

Baroness Susan Greenfield talked about the plasticity of our brains ( how each of us is encoded with memories from our individual experience ). Interesting bit for branding people is how different senses (sight,sound,touch,smell/taste) are processed in different parts of our brain. Sight ( ie reading and following narratives) in the front of our brains. Sound and smell in the deeper more primitive parts of our brain. A strong brand/category should try to encode memory through all the senses. That’s probably why we love coffee shops: they satisfy all of the senses from the story of the heritage, to the smell of the coffee, to the sound of the artfully chosen playlist coming out of the speakers. In Starbucks you can even feel the coffee beans

Richard Watson: the idea that AI can replace humans is largely fantasy as you can’t code a machine to learn  a combination of  unpredictability, individuality and imagination.The problem with self driving cars is not the tech but the unpredictability of the humans the cars might bump into.  A more likely future is the increasing use of AI tools to support human efforts. In fact we already do this when we search on Google or use face recognition on Facebook. Doctors will use AI to make better diagnoses. But a machine wont be able to read the will of a patient to get better. The film ‘Her” is worth seeing as a credible dystopia of a world in which we will be served by AI “personal assistants”. Some shopping/organising of our lives will be done for us by these in the future

Russell Davies: The problem with technology is not humans- we as individuals adopt and adapt all the time- it is organisations. Big ones are very bad at it ( hence all those failed Govt IT projects) and the ones that are good at it have tech in their culture.(Tesla, Google, Amazon etc)  Basically you can’t plug in new technology into an organisation led by people who just “don’t get it”. These are the types of people who (earnestly) go to a seminar about the impact of social media but have a Facebook account which they rarely bother to look at. They know they should know about it – but they don’t live it. This describes much senior management today