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.


We will be eating a lot of fruit and veg in the next 10 years 

The forces that will make even more of us “demi-veg” (or even vegetarian) are a powerful combination of the personal, environmental and economic.

Plus, anything that Jamie Oliver champions is likely to go mainstream.

“I’m going vegetarian 3 times a week” says Jamie in The Daily Mail. “The celebrity chef said the diet will save people ‘a load of money’ and revealed he personally tries to be vegetarian two or three times a week. He described the experience as ‘an absolute joy’ and encouraged others to enjoy ‘more plant-based delights’ because it is ‘beneficial for the environment and your wallet’- which neatly encapsulates three big force that will make vegetarianism mainstream and roast beef an occasional luxury.

Here is another sign of the times. Even Doc Martins- bulldog British and down to earth- is getting in on the act and going vegan:


‘Tis the season to hear the rousing voice of Noddy Holder in a retail environment wishing us a Merry Christmas and for marketers to opine that this year, as in all previous years, change is getting quicker and quicker. If this was true then by now change would be so fast that our eyes would be popping out of our heads and life would feel like a blur in which you have barely a moment to catch your breath

Here is just a cross section of this kind of talk from last weeks Marketing Week

“The pace of change in all industries is only intensifying with technological progress”

“Developments come fast and furious driven by factors that are out of our control”

“We are now seeing three dimensions of change: complexity and sophistication:sheer breath and range and staggering velocity”

This from a survey of 152 C-suite executives and 56 senior marketers.

I would like to suggest an alternative explanation using some principles from Behavioural Economics

Availability Heuristic. We overestimate the importance of the information available to us. These are types of folk that are overwhelmed by their email inbox and have spotted that communication is speeding up (which it has ) and have extrapolated from this that the world is speeding up.(which may not be true)

Cui Bono: these are also the types of people who receive regular presentations from media agencies,business school academics and big tech companies saying that the world is speeding up and that they should  buy their services to help them with cope with this change. AI has super heated this talk by fuelling the ideas that we are all about to loose our jobs to machine learning ( I am only slightly exaggerating)  Beware – the change merchants have something to sell

Social norming/Bandwagon Effect: All senior execs say that the world is speeding up so it becomes normal to say that the world is speeding up. Everyone is breathing everyone else’s exhaust fumes

Fear: it sounds complacent to say “things are much the same” and nobody wants to be seen as that. Likewise nobody ever sold out a conference by saying that nothing really big has changed/is about the change.

Role models. Big Tech are the darlings of our age ( big profitable growing and successful) and so marketers tend to look to them as role models. And in big tech change is constant. Look at the apps on your mobile (the ones you use regularly) and it becomes clear why. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Uber etc are in a life and death struggle to keep you in the habit of using their service many times a day. That is their business model. Fear and opportunity stalks big tech-once you drop out the habit they are dead in the water – the next Myspace ( remember that – it was not so long ago) And so change in big tech is fast and the winner is the one that constantly innovates its service to keep users hooked. It is the most Darwinian of all the markets and also the most salient- it therefore distorts our view of the world.

The Uber effect:Bits of markets are changing fast:they are highly visible to us and so we overestimate their importance. Senior executives use Uber in London and the USA and so get  excited by the Uberizing or AirBnBing of many markets through the creation of Peer to Peer markets and networks.(see below). These “disrupters” will grow but at different paces in different sectors and are unlikely to be anything more than niche in for example banking

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Get out of the office and look at the real world

A useful corrective would be to visit your local Tesco (still with us ) and have a look at the aisles. There is change – but some of it is slow and the cumulative effect of years of innovation ( think Cider and Snacks). The success of Aldi and Lidl is not sudden but the product of prolonged recession ( ie the slowing down of markets) and decades of building their reputations for quality. Amazon is trying to be the winner takes all in e-commerce (with some success) but that will slow down change. In some markets change will slow as there is consolidation on the supply side ( think Beer). Your Iphone 6 is much like your iphone 5 with a few bells and whistles. The apps you use are the same that you used a few years ago ( Google, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube ) and will be the same in three years time as all in a well funded arms race to keep you in the habit. When it comes to “user behaviour”  a different picture emerges . Some change is constant and some slow.

Counter trend to small and slow: Market consolidation (a bit trend in USA at the moment)  and the market strength of the big brands will have the effect of slowing change. Much change will be a reaction to this and take the form of a counter trend towards small, niche, personal and craft- and therefore rooted in our un-changing humanity. Slow change in other words

Just back from the Marketing Society Annual conference where much of the talk was about how technology +data are leading to innovation. It’s all about brand building through better more personal experiences, services and speed of new products to market ( with advertising getting barely a mention.)

What are good examples of this? Here is one of my favourites

Disney ‘Magic Band’: “Park guests” use the Magic Band to gain access to the park, get in priority queues for the attractions, pay for their purchases at the concession stands, and even get into their hotel room. Each family member has a wearable band with GPS and radio transmitters that track each other’s location in the park. At the end of their stay, Disney presents the family with a photo diary of their park adventures, having used automatic cameras to snap pictures when the Magic Bands are nearby. And imagine the face of a newly-turned six-year-old who just had his favourite Disney character address him by name and wish him a happy birthday. Disney made a billion dollar investment to create a wearable accessory that changes their park experience completely.imgres-1.jpgimgres.jpg


Age and social class are no longer a reliable way to predict to beliefs and buying habits. Identities and tastes are fluid. In truth they may always have been but now the anonymity/freedom of city life means now we feel more liberated to express who really are.People from conservative cultures like China and India hanker to live in a place where they can re-invent themselves- unconstrained by family expectations.(this describes several colleagues)

Below are some telling stats and quotes that illustrate that behaviour is now the only true measure of personal of taste- which of course plays right into the hands of the likes of Google that capture “signals of intent” in search data -rather than age and class.

(Full disclosure-I am a Google consultant)

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For brands:

For brands that want to be in touch with the zeitgeist it is open season for playing with identity – expect more transsexuals in ads and celebration of different life choices-divorcees, lesbian parents etc etc. But this will have its season and quite quickly look dated

Perhaps a better long term strategy is to make no assumptions at all about who your buyer will be – it is no accident that some of the most “in touch” brands are “everybody” brands like Uniqlo and Apple. They are not targeted at a demographic but rather they embrace and celebrate everyone from Grannies to hipsters and everything in between

Drive north out of Kampala in Uganda and you will come across many signs like this one – Coca Cola has sponsored a local school and given the school a Coca Cola sign. A example of commerce invading people’s lives and landscapes you might think? But on reflection I think not.Coca Cola schools signs


It is (as I discovered from visiting schools) a fine example sensitivity to local culture and perfect fit between idea and medium,of Coca Cola getting it right by thinking about what their brand idea can means in different cultures and contexts.

In Uganda happiness really is a good education. Many aspire to it and many can’t afford it especially if their parents are either too poor or dead. There are many penniless orphans and struggling single parents burdened with a large brood of offspring and so there are many children for whom schooling is a dream and an aspiration and not, as we have it, a right.

Go inside these schools and you understand something else – they may be very ill-equipped but the mood is one of warmth, energy and joy. Like this one i visited on the outskirts of Kampala.

They had very little as you can see from the classroom but i have not met happier children.

Or children with better taste in Eyewear….kids2 Here one young lad tries on my glasses

So any money contributed to these schools is definitely a contribution to the sum of Ugandan national happiness.

EM Forster

EM Forster

One of the shortest explanations of our profound need for stories comes from EM Forster,

with these two lines

“The King died , and the queen died”

” The King died , and the queen died of grief”

The first line plays to our deepest fears – that life is just a series of random events. You are born and  you die and not much between is certain or fated – except perhaps ( as Woody Allen pointed out ) taxes. No. that won’t do – we need there to be some meaning and for events to be linked with causation  and patterns to give us the feeling that we can make sense of randomness. Which is why we do not just like stories, we need them. Stories are necessary lies.

The second line is also- whilst longer-much more memorable because it is the fragment of a story we can both participate in it and use it to conjure up mental pictures- In this case of grief and what grief looks like.

No wonder that  proselytisers of religions  and  marketers of brands (who are  is in the business of both imparting meaning and being  remembered) use stories.