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I have spent about a decade working on the application of BE to behaviour change/running courses on it ( since doing work for UK govt via the late lamented COI). This piece (published first in Aurora) offers a basic briefing on its application to communications.

Key thought in a 100 words or less: we delude ourselves, because we are able to develop verbal arguments, that we are mainly rational/considered in our decision making. Yet much of our thinking is fast, instinctive and informed by visuals rather than words. You can see the results everywhere- not least in the high value that brands place on developing instantly recognisable visuals (The insurance market is probably the most extreme example).

For practitioners (rather than academics) I have two must read book recommendations :- 1) Decoded by Phil Barden and 2) The Choice Factory by Richard Shotton ( the first of these has the best summary I have read of Daniel Kahneman great book Thinking Fast and Slow

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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)

 

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So many useful business books and so little time – was the thought that occurred to me as I was teaching this week. Here are my top tips for students in extracting the useful knowledge in these books with minimum cost and maximum ease.

(Publishers should avert their eyes at this point)

Google- “title of book PDF”.  For the really successful business books, someone has often made a summary of the key ideas and saved it as a PDF. So if you are working on a challenger brand you will want to get Adam Morgan’s ideas, Google “Eating the Big fish PDF” and and you get this

Or if you want one of the the foundation texts of marketing effectiveness try googling “how brands grow PDF” – and you get this

Google “title of book PP.” And the chances are you will end up on slideshare where someone has made a PowerPoint of the Key ideas. Take, for example, Daniel Kahnemann’s great book “Thinking Fast and Slow” which is a must read for all people in communications but , let’s be honest,  hard work to get through. Well there are two PowerPoints covering the key ideas on slideshare

Slideshare and Amazon are useful search engines in their own right so it can be useful to go straight too them and have a browse

30 minute summaries. You have to pay for these but they can be worth the money if you want to know a bit more. Go to Amazon and search “title of book 30 minute summary” . There is a good one of Kahnemann’s book 

Youtube it – Youtube is also a search engine in its own right.Writers of the really good books (and even the not so good) go in the speaking circuit and their talks often get videoed and shared. For example the most powerful brands of our day sit as apps on our smartphones- they are in the business of habit forming. Nir Eyal in his book “Hooked” has insightful explanations as to how they do this. Here he is doing a TED talk 

My review of Sean Pillot de Chenecey’s new book on the marketing society website – a book to dip into but don’t attempt to read it. Here is my text:-

The author attacks his topic on page 1: –

“A weakening of the vital trust connection between brands and consumers is causing enormous problems for businesses around the world. Linked to this something has gone very wrong with a vital element of consumer engagement: authenticity seems to be evaporating as a core brand pillar”

Phew! I am not sure what that last bit means but it is obviously very important.

This is a book where the volume is turned up to 11- things are “deeply serious”, trust has been “catastrophically devalued”, emotion is “incredibly powerful”.

There is much eye watering hyperbole, as well as sentences that wander on for several lines in search of syntax. I blame the publishers- Kogan Page- who should have afforded the author an editor. I have written some flabby prose in my time and always benefited from the gimlet eye of Judie Lannon and Elen Lewis at Market Leader. My first drafts were not worth publishing, my third drafts sometimes got into print. I reckon a good editor would have helped the author cut this book from 263 pages to under 200.

Now I have got that bit of pedantry out of the way – what about the substance of the book?

Having stated his topic, I expected the next section to substantiate it with credible quantitative research. Instead what we get is a very well-informed discussion of issues arising from the digital revolution. The first chapter is an excellent precis of how fake news and disinformation warfare have degraded politics. Sure, this is important context but there are other books on it by the likes of Evan Davis and Robert Peston.

So, should you buy this book? You might be surprised to hear my answer is yes. And the way to read it is to turn to the contents pages, which are detailed and clear, and use them to dip into topics

Take the section: “Blockchain- the benefits are hard to exaggerate” 

We know about blockchain from the fame of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. But there are bigger implications for rebuilding brand trust because it offers unimpeachable proof provenance in the supply chain. As the author explains well- “You can see exactly what happened when and who handed over to whom via a series of interlinking digital handshakes.” Brands are using block chain to embrace transparency – like “Wholefoods who have 100% traceability for every single albacore tuna”. Expect this to be a rising trend in branding.

The author tackles important topics, covers a lot of ground and much of it addresses his central idea about rebuilding brand trust. The final pages offer a checklist of his key themes

1)Be Authentic

2) Be transparent

3) Respect privacy

4) Demonstrate empathy

5) Be Trustworthy,

which is not a bad checklist.

But I don’t think it fully explains the evident trust in the first two trillion $ valued brands – Apple and Amazon- whose success is built on those old fashion virtues – brilliant products, value and service.

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. ExampleSo, 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.

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