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
My copy of The Economist now comes in a see through non-plastic wrapper that is “100% compostable” and can be “put in the food waste bin”.
An example of “leadership thinking” you might think (from a brand that prides itself on foresight)
But, in truth, The Economist had no choice but to make this change because six months earlier competitor magazines had come similarly wrapped (like the Saturday issue of The Guardian). Not to have responded would have made The Economist seem cloth eared and leaden footed by contrast. (As we know from Behaviour Science, we humans make comparative not absolute judgements.)
Brands have to scan the horizon and work out what changes in culture to they need to respond to (and preferably get ahead of them). The moment of danger comes when a competitor crystallises a cultural trend into a new product or service. A trend that is “in the air” and widely reported in the media becomes an emerging social norm. Then the comparison questions crowd in quickly-what are we doing on this issue? Before you have responded, the same questions will be asked on social media about your brand.
Another example – EasyJet recently sent me an email saying:
At 05:20 this morning, easyJet flight EJU5841 took to the skies and made history. Because starting today, we will offset the carbon emissions from the fuel used for every single easyJet flight, domestic and international.
You would have to have been living in a cave (and not know who Greta Thunberg is) to have missed this particular hot issue for the airlines- known to be major producers of earth heating emissions.
Now do this little test. Do a google search of “which airlines are …”. Google guesses that your question is going to be (top of the list) “which airlines are carbon neutral”. So, the question is already being asked. How long will it be before the likes of BA have to respond? If another brand announces that it too will be carbon offsetting its flights then BA will have to develop their policy or look off the pace.
Modern culture is full of traps for the unresponsive. Trends are easy to spot, but when does a trend turn into a new norm that you simply can’t ignore? Failure to respond can devastate your reputation. Just ask Prince Andrew who seems to not to have understood that the “Me-too” movement, crystalised by the Harvey Weinstein affair, might be relevant to him. He got sacked by The Queen.
What traps lie ahead for brands in 2020? Ideally you want to get ahead of a trend because that is what leaders do. But life is not so simple. “Events, dear boy, events”, as Harold MacMillan said of politics, can throw off the best laid plans. Such is the speed, pervasiveness and uncontrollability of modern media, brand management is becoming more like politics. Facebook (and Big tech in general) understand this and even hire ex-politicians like Nick Clegg to help them plan their communications.
To be protect their reputations, brands need to do scenario planning. A tip: imagine how a competitor might seek to enhance its credibility and relevance through a major product or service innovation that is “on trend.”
Challenger brands and start-ups represent a clue to the future as ideas at the margins can move to the mainstream especially if they are picked up by the bigger players
The question of environmental protection is now right at top of the agenda- no surprise there. But how will it play out in individual markets? Brands should play this thought experiment. Here are a couple of thought starters: –
London: has been energetically building cycle lanes but has precious few electric buses. (I breath in a lot of fumes every day) The Chinese are way ahead in manufacturing electric buses. Orders for electric buses from the major UK cities could create a strong domestic industry- and not just imports from China. An issue for one of the mayoral candidates to champion?
Grocery retailing: I have just put out the weekly bins, which were crammed with the packaging by-products of shopping at my local supermarket. The 5-p charge has been a signature success in reducing the use of carrier bags (albeit initiated by government). But where is the next big move coming from? Experiments in new no packaging stores might represent (part of) an alternative future? Try Googling “no packaging stores near me” to gauge how fast this trend is moving
Scenario planning is a healthy exercise for brands as it forces them to look at their business “from the outside in” and therefore anticipate possible futures in which they will be more in control of events rather than victims.
It has been a good year for training – mainly because i have been able to concentrate on topics that I find most interesting and for which I have been able to develop new knowledge inspired by my time at Google and a decade working on Behaviour Science ( starting with the late lamented COI in 2008). See the My training courses tab for details
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
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
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!)
(Quick review of this must read new book by By Professor Shoshana Zuboff)
You are living through a new type of capitalism – Surveillance Capitalism- that changes the rules of the game, needs to be understood in its own terms and controlled before it controls us.
Our “Data signals” (from services we choose to use like Google search, Google Maps and Facebook) will be just the tip of the iceberg. Surveillance Capitalists (SCs) will hoover up growing volumes of data from multiple sources: automated data embedded in the environment and things we own like cars, home energy systems, mobiles devices and much more.
SCs will be powered by a confluence of technologies – cheaper and increased data storage, faster computer processing, ultra- fast 5 g networks (to link all those data signals from things together) and AI. If this seems alarmist, just think how fast the likes of Google, Facebook and WeChat have grown from being scrappy start-ups to corporate behemoths.
How to spot Surveillance Capitalists (SCs)
SCs “unilaterally claims human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioural data which …are fabricated into prediction products that anticipates what you will do now, soon or later”
SCs revive “Karl Marx’s old image of capitalism as a vampire that feeds on labour, but with an unexpected turn, Instead of labour SCs feed on every aspect of human experience”
SCs are protected by “the inherent illegibility of the automated processes that they rule, the ignorance that they breed and the sense of inevitability that they foster “
SCs services do not “establish constructive producer consumer reciprocities. Instead they are ‘hooks’ that lure users into their extractive relations in which our personal experiences are scraped and packaged as the means to others ends”
SC’s know “everything about us, whereas their operations are designed to be unknowable to us. The accumulate vast domains of new knowledge from us, but not for us. They predict our futures for the sake of others gain, not ours.”
Which is quite a charge sheet. Add to this that SC’s pay as little tax as possible, whilst presenting themselves as brands that seek to “do well by doing good “(wearing a mask of Californian hippy idealism) and you have a toxic mix. Plus, recent PR has been terrible.
Zuboff’s book is the best so far about the real agenda of Big Tech. It provides an intellectual framework to develop well thought through regulation and is a call to arms to do so urgently.
also reviewed in The Guardian here
Scandal ! ( click/share), Shock ! (click/share), Outrage !!( click/share), Anger !**! (click/Share)
This is how Facebook grew its audience very fast and sold lots of ads over the past few years. It became, as the jargon has it, ” a publishing platform” and exercised the minimum possible control on what got posted lest it cool down all that profitable posting. I expect that Zuckerberg will still try to pull off this strategy in regions of the world where regulators & policymakers are not sharpening their pencils ( i.e. most of the world outside of USA and Europe). It is easy money.
Zuckerberg wanted all the revenue but little of the responsibility that came with being a publisher. Facebook now employs armies of people to check what goes up on its platform because, as we now know, he got into a lot of trouble for being so lax. But it won’t work: Facebook is now so huge this effort resembles the fabled king Cnut who went down to the beach and instructed the tide not to come it.
Facebook will continue to get into trouble
Facebook will continue to get into trouble, no matter how much tech’ and how many people are monitoring content. Zuckerberg will be dragged blinking into the spotlight and will look bad under scrutiny. High minded platitudes about “connectivity”, “community” and “free speech”, that play well in California, will look increasing empty.
Facebook will shift focus from social networking amongst large groups of people to private messaging between individuals and small groups ( like Messenger, which it owns, and WeChat in China) for two big reasons
- Avoiding responsibility. Facebook cannot be held responsible for what is posted, (especially if it is encrypted and they cannot see it), just as BT cannot be held responsible for people making abusive phone calls to each other or scamming.
- Generational change. My children rarely use Facebook and prefer messaging between small groups and individuals. It is the way things are going
How will Facebook make money ?
Private messaging is largely incompatible with being interrupted by ads. So, expect Facebook to evolve into a kind of all purpose utility – making money from e-commerce and financial services. Facebook will innovate and buy up companies in these areas.
Zuckerberg does not have to imagine what this will look like, as WeChat got there a few years ago – this vid, which is worth a view, explains how. Posted in 2016 it is probably already out of date
A show all marketers should see is Martin Parr’s photos at the National Portrait Gallery
If only to see the original artwork for the excellent “Oneness” idents for BBC 1, a fine example of that classic thing – a great creative idea executed in a fresh way.
The idea – like the best ideas – is uplifting and inspiring. “Oneness” is about the joy of getting together with like minded souls who share the same passions, and how this dissolves differences between people through shared experiences and common humanity. It is also an timely idea- a big spirited riposte to the narrow mindedness engendered by Brexit
But there is another lesson. It is difficult to create something fresh and distinctive by sitting in your London office and just doing data analytics. Martin Parr travels all round Britain looking, really looking hard, and capturing the sheer diversity and quirkiness of people.
We used to call this “insight”. A vital stimulus to ideas that I fear might not come from staring at a screen.
Don’t get me wrong. I used to work at Google and I know how rich data analytics can be. But if everyone is using the same data to “optimise their message” then all the work will start to look similar.
Parr’s work for BBC 1 is a reminder of what you have to do to be fresh and different.
Get out of the office and look really hard at people and how they live