Thinking Ahead of the Agency Curve

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Many years ago I was setting up a digital team within an agency and a great brief came across my desk. It was a make or break opportunity. It came from our largest client and it took quite a deal of negotiation to even be included – and all eyes turned towards what was then, a fledgling capability.

The brief asked clearly and simply – “should we build our own site or should we just advertise on other sites?”

My response at the time continues to be my mantra for digital (or even business) strategy:

Share the message, own the destination

What I was arguing for was the creation of a platform where the brand and its customers could co-create value. It did take some time to flesh this out in practice, but it proved to be a winning strategy for that client – and for many which followed.

These days, as technology not only invades – but becomes an essential part of our business and brand strategy – this guiding principle “share the message, own the destination” resonates even more strongly. And it does so, because our work as marketers and as business leaders, happens well beyond the bounds of our enterprises. We are always on. Always connected. And always running.

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Running towards brand infrastructure

Because we are always running – always seeking new value (or should be) – we also need to be thinking ahead for our own businesses and clients. We need to not only out-run competitors but to out-think them. And to do so, we need to look for accelerators. Which is why I am excited about this presentation from Zeus Jones’ Adrian Ho. They have been consistently ahead of the agency curve for many years – taking an innovative approach to solving clients problems with new approaches to strategy AND execution.

Pay particular attention to slides 19-28 where Adrian explains the three different kinds of platforms that connect brand infrastructure:

  • Growth platforms – operations as marketing and marketing as operations
  • Loyalty platforms – for managing relationships with current users
  • Mass platforms – earned media at scale

Now, platforms are challenging – but they can deliver massive upside. They also provide a way to truly differentiate from your competitors while also creating new market (and marketing) opportunities.

So the question we need to ask ourselves is – “how am I out-thinking and out-executing” my competitors, my industry, my disruptors?

Surprising differences between B2B and B2C marketing

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The Econsultancy and Adobe report on  “B2B Digital Trends 2015” is based on a survey of more than 800 global B2B digital marketing professionals. Seeking to understand the key priorities, trends and challenges for B2B digital marketing, it contrasts the B2C focus to reveal  similar priorities – but with a couple of key differences.

First up, the “no surprises”:

  • B2B marketers focusing on content marketing and customer experience
  • B2C marketers are excited by mobile (at 16% they’re way ahead of their B2C counterparts at 7%)
  • Personalisation and big data battling it out for 3rd spot.

There are, however, some interesting aspects relating to B2C content marketing and mobile:

  • B2C marketing differentiates experience through personalisation not content. With a limited focus on the customer journey, B2C marketers are choosing personalisation and big data to differentiate their offerings from their competitors. In my view, B2C content marketing still provides great value but needs to be rethought and reimagined (ie it’s simply not good enough to “digitise” media).
  • Mobile is hot for B2C. Not unexpected. BUT just as B2C marketers need to improve their understanding of content marketing, B2B marketers could learn a great deal from B2C mobile strategy. “Future ways of working” initiatives are transforming today’s businesses. Built on a platform of social, mobile, analytics and cloud (SMAC), mobility is obviously a key pillar of this transformation. Expect to see more traction than the research would suggest.

Finally, some surprises:

  • B2C need greater focus on marketing automation: These days, marketing at scale requires automation. It also requires strong analytics and customer journey mapping. Not paying attention to these areas actually opens the door to market disruption by faster moving competitors.
  • Location based services scrapes the bottom of the barrel. In last place, I wonder whether marketers simply don’t understand the promise and opportunity of location based services. Considering customer experience ranks as the second most important category, there appears to be a disconnect between what customer experience can be and its method of delivery. Location services bring these together via a range of devices including smartphones, beacons, wifi and analytics. As marketers build more practical digital experience, I expect to see these figures improve.

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The Cheating Strategist’s Guide to Mary Meeker’s Digital Trends

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Each year around this time, the web goes into a slow motion melt down over the much anticipated Meeker Report into internet trends.

This year is no different. And as I did last year, I will encourage you to reflect on your own business and priorities before diving head first into the report. I call it the “Three What’’s and a Why”. Consider:

  • What mattered in mid 2014?
  • What matters now?
  • What are you measuring?
  • Why are these things important?

And if you’re time poor or just bone lazy and don’t want to click through the hundreds of slides in the report, you’ll love Michael Goldstein’s summary for cheating strategists. It’s 10 times the punch at 1/10th of the effort. Now that’s what I call a good strategy.

Disrupt Your Strategy – Planning for Audiences not Generations

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I have never been a fan of demographic profiling. Sure, this information, at scale, can reveal certain things about a population – and this can be useful to understand whether there might be a connection between our age and (for example) our propensity to over-eat. Or contract disease. Or buy new cars every four years.

But populations don’t interest me. They feel like a dead weight around my sense of, and interest in, humanity. Instead, I prefer audiences – which is perhaps why I studied theatre rather than statistics.

It’s also why I am continually fascinated by digital technology and transformation – and it is why social media continues to attract the attention of people, corporations and governments. For digital transformation is not just about bringing the non-digital world online – it’s challenging the very nature of what we consider “our selves” to be.

As marketers, we are constantly drawn to the idea of demographics – the cashed up profiling of the Baby Boomers, the anxious, try-harder Gen X-ers and the slacker Gen Ys. But like any generalisation, these labels are easily unpicked. There are plenty of Baby Boomers who are slackers and plenty of cashed up, power wielding Gen X-ers. And Gen Y are just starting to flex their creative, financial and intellectual powers – and there is more goodness to come. Rather than simply relying on this style of profiling, we should be working harder to understand these audiences. We need to map their behaviours, attitudes and interests, not just their age, sex and location.

This is why I quite like the work that marketing automation firm, Marketo, has done on Generation Z. And while, yes, they have started out with the age-focused label, the research carried out by agency, Sparks and Honey, reveals the patterns of behaviour, interests, attitudes and insights that can help build a deeper understanding of this audience. While the data reflects a US-based audience, there are cultural parallels that are useful indicators such as:

  • Do-Gooders – an interest in making a difference in the world
  • Shift FROM Facebook – Facebook lost its allure when the parents arrived. Gen Z are embracing newer platforms like snapchat, secret and whisper
  • Creation trumps sharing – Gen Z embrace the prosumer ethic of digital media creativity.

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But to really understand this “Gen Z” audience, I would go further. I wouldn’t stop at the age of 19. I would ask:

  • Why would my brand be relevant to audiences exhibiting these behaviours
  • Why would these audiences choose to purchase my product/service/thing
  • Which values embodied by my brand augments the life, behaviour, experience or purpose of this audience
  • How do these behavioural profiles help me understand my customers regardless of age / demographics

And when it comes to planning, insight and future proofing your brand, I’d look to opportunities to self-disrupt your strategy. Ditch the path of lazy profiling, put the work in to really understand your audiences, and then invite them into the process of creating a brand that has a purpose. Start by delving into the data behind the Sparks and Honey research (below) – and then work on your own business by starting with the audiences you rely upon.

Gut Feel Wins Out – 50 Planners to Watch in 2014

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When we have a question, we search the web with Google. When we want to get or share an opinion, we turn to Twitter. And when we want to learn or share, we read blogs, take a Skillshare class or watch a YouTube video.

There is no doubt that a great deal of our contemporary experiences are mediated by technology. And as the torrent of content crashes through our various streams, from email to RSS, search to social, we unwittingly give over to algorithms, analytics and charts. It’s easy. Reliable. A matter of fact.

But there is a tyranny in data that we have not yet come to grips with. There are subtleties in creativity and nuance in piecing together the strands of commonality that can be woven together to create new stories or imagined futures. We are so overwhelmed that we have fallen back on data, facts and information – not as the only source of truth, but as the most convenient. As a result, we miss that emotional twang that reminds us that amongst the raging sea of ideas, executions, plans and analyses – there are real people at either end of the things that we produce.

One of the antidotes to this is to embrace the power of subjectivity.

Now, I am not advocating wild “feelpinions” – which are always laden with prejudice and politics. But what if we were, in fact, to respect a body of work, an individual’s expertise and their peers’ recommendations? No, I’m not making a comment on the volatile nature of contemporary Australian politics. I’m tipping my hat to the hand picked list of 50 planners to watch in 2014 compiled by Julian Cole and Liane Siebenhaar. In their own words:

Rather than rating blog views, Twitter followers or other unreliable performance indicators, we picked people who produce interesting content and innovations. People we’d like to have a coffee and hangout with. The people we think we can learn from in 2014.

And that’s a good enough recommendation for me.

Pungent Granularity – Penn and Teller take on the Anti-Vaccination Conversation

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Social media has a powerful ability to stimulate and create conversation. But when you are planning your communications, it’s essential to know your audience. And these days, “knowing” your audience isn’t just about mapping, analysing and researching. It’s about understanding their “pungent granularity”.

Pungent granularity and the social audience

To survive in a world where consumers expect one-to-one marketing and real time business responsiveness, we need to move beyond the simple targeting of our consumers. This means responding to:

  • The three forces of self-segmentation: Before we take an action, make a decision or puts our hand into our pocket to actually transact, we make a quick personal assessment. We self-segment according to our needs (does this “thing” solve a need state that I have), behaviours (does this “thing” reinforce, challenge or shift my behaviour) and attitudes (how does this “thing” make me feel?). Marketers must understand the nuances of this self-segmentation and bring this understanding to their efforts
  • What we already know about our consumers: Whether we capture “big data” or just quickly trawl the social web, we can quickly amass a detailed knowledge of our consumers. The challenge with this becomes not one of data collection but of frameworks for making decisions and taking actions. This is where I quite love Sam Gosling’s OCEAN framework. Moving away from the MBTI mappings, he suggests that Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism can be easily assessed via our digital footprints. And in doing so, we can plan our communications accordingly

When we pull together all this information, we get a deep sense of our consumers. We know not just what they say they “like” but how this influences their actions and decisions. We understand their connections, social graph and the way that they operate in a digitally-connected world. And deeply buried amongst all this is the “trigger” – what motivates.

The “trigger” is the kicker

Take a look at this fantastic video featuring “illusionists and entertainers”, Penn and Teller. It’s on the subject of vaccinations. It’s forceful and NSFW (with a few F-bombs scattered throughout). The language is direct, the message clear and in your face.

But will it achieve what it is intended to do?

Unfortunately, I don’t believe it will. The motivation here – not of the creator – but of the viewer is triggered by the same level of frustration shown by Penn. Those who are pro-vaccination will be keen to share and validate their own position. Those who are anti-vaccination will reject the facts, figures and approach outright. The frame is out of focus for the second group – and the argument will be based on the framing of the data as a way of disputing what is “true”.

This is why wheeling out big data will also be challenging. While the Mayo Clinic clearly states:

“Vaccines do not cause autism. Despite much controversy on the topic, researchers haven’t found a connection between autism and childhood vaccines. In fact, the original study that ignited the debate years ago has been retracted.” Mayo Clinic – Childhood Vaccines: Tough questions, straight answers (here)

… many still view this sceptically.

But if there really is a desire to change the point of view (or point of belief), behaviours and attitudes of anti-vaccination folks, there is a need to more deeply understand them.

Hungry? [Explored] Riccardo Cuppini via Compfight

Telling a Data-Driven Story

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During the last election, I was constantly amazed by the way that politicians of all persuasions bored us to death with FACTS. It was as if they were following a mantra which was to wheel out fact after fact as though they would eventually convince us through the weight of their overburdened arguments alone.

We would hear about HOW many jobs had been created. Or HOW much debt had been accumulated. But hardly, if ever, would anyone dive below the facts to discover anything deeper. Once upon a time, journalists would have done the hard work of contextualising the facts – connecting the dots, explaining the WHYs and WHEREFOREs – and otherwise telling the story that the facts alone never reveal.

But in a world where journalism has been cut to the bone, telling the story or investigating the underlying realities is a luxury that media proprietors cannot afford. And worse, the public has been lulled into accepting the shrill, scant messages that flash across our Twitter streams as though it’s some form of dyslexic gospel. Hashtag #auspol. Hashtag #outrage.

But there is another way – and it requires a more comprehensive strategy than we have seen from our politicians. It’s also far more comprehensive than we have seen from the majority of the businesses vying for our attention and our wallets. It’s a strategy that puts a little joy back into the communications and the storytelling that we share. It reminds us that for all our grievances, aspirations and needs, we remain, resolutely and wonderfully human.

Inspired by another great Leslie Bradshaw presentation:

The data is useful, but only when it tells a story. What ever you do this week, don’t get lost in the digits of digital.

FingerprintsCreative Commons License Kevin Dooley via Compfight

Yammer’s Community Management Playbook

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As a boy I can remember my Nanna holding court at a friend’s house. We were sitting at a 50s laminex kitchen table (you know the kind with the fake marbling and the shiny metal edging) and there were copious cups of tea, home made cakes, scones and biscuits carefully laid out. But no one was eating. The conversation was coming thick and fast – with this coterie of grandmothers exchanging tips, sharing stories and laughing at each others’ family stories. It was a community gathering firmly held together by the will of these formidable women.

Even as a child I could sense the power of connection that was taking place. I could feel the energy. And I knew, almost instinctively, that there were rules to be followed.

Many years later, when I began to get involved in corporate “communities of practice”, I noticed many of these same rules applied. Well, not necessarily applied – but were vital for the health of a community.

With the massive shift to digital and social media, online communities – and community management – has emerged as a discipline in its own right. And while it is largely viewed by business as a “fluffy” or “touchy feely” role, organisations such as Yammerare connecting communities to hard numbers and strategic outcomes. In many cases, having an active and engaged community manager is becoming a strategic advantage.

But for those organisations who remain skeptical of the business benefit of social media, concepts such as community management can feel as removed from business reality as fairy stories. This is where the Yammer Community Management Playbook comes in handy. It’s a step by step primer on the establishment and maintenance of communities. Take a read. It may just save the future of your business.

 

Report – CMOs: Time to Re-Cast the Marketing Funnel

It is often said that companies only have two functions – marketing and innovation. Despite this, most corporate marketing practices are based on century old theories and frameworks that no longer adequately accommodate the complexities faced by today's CMO. Rather than the inside-out view offered by the traditional marketing funnel, marketers need to develop a view of the customer journey that takes into account the challenges and opportunities presented by digital and social technologies.

To be released tomorrow this "big picture" report provides an outside-in view of the “connected customer” and key stages in next generation customer experience. The report provides a vital framework for marketing leaders seeking to move from a transactional relationship with their customers to one based on what I am calling the “5 Ds of Customer Engagement”.

But wait! There’s more!

You can go beyond the report and join me for a webinar on this topic to understand:

1. Six trends driving change in digital marketing
2. How the 5 Ds of customer engagement reflect the new realities in customer engagement and marketing
3. Key recommendations for marketers seeking strategic approaches rather than simply digitizing "business as usual"

And the best thing to remember about a webinar is that they are recorded. If you can’t join live, register and watch in your own time and tweet me with any questions.

Why a Facebook Only Strategy is Doomed to Fail

strategicprinciples Facebook’s recent decision to shut down The Cool Hunter’s Facebook page should have sent shivers down the spine of every marketer. For years the vast scale of Facebook has attracted brands like a moth to the social media flame. Promising TVC-like reach with the added benefits of interactivity, community building and interest-graph targeting, it seemed that Facebook was the answer to the prayers of digital marketers the world over.

But a Facebook only strategy is doomed to fail:

  • Facebook is well-known for changing their terms and conditions without consultation. If you are not on top of those changes you can find yourself in breach and at risk of being shut down
  • Many brands run competitions on their Facebook pages without understanding the restrictive rules for doing so – see particularly Item E (iv) about the use of the Facebook “Like” button as a competition entry mechanism. Again, transgression could see your page shut down
  • Facebook is a walled garden designed to keep interaction and activity firmly on the inside. If you are going to the trouble of engaging your connected consumers, building your community and deepening the brand relationship, you run the risk of being “Cool Hunted” and losing that entire investment if you are shut down
  • Facebook, while large in scale, is only one social network. Digital marketers should be aiming for quality of engagement and deep next gen customer experience over “reach”

Three steps to reclaim your digital strategy

Facebook can still be a useful (and powerful) platform – but it should be part of your strategy to drive marketing and business outcomes. For example, it should not BE your strategy. There are three steps you can take to reclaim your digital strategy:

  • Use a continuous digital strategy. In a digital world, strategy is not “set and forget”. Following a proven approach to set, refine and extend your digital strategy provides deep resilience in the planning and execution of your strategy
  • Strategy drives decisions. You must have a clearly articulated and documented strategy. It should provide a guiding principle. “Share the Message, Own the Destination” will not only drive the content and conversational approach, but will also inform your technology choices
  • Use technology to scale. While social media offers one-to-one communications, this cannot scale in a business context. There are a range of technologies that can assist you to scale the execution of your strategy. This topic is the focus of my future research, be sure to subscribe for updates.