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But I first had to take care of the world I know February 8, 2010

Posted by David Gillespie in advertising, business strategy.
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Budd Carrell

Bud Caddell, as surrounded by Post-It notes.

So nothing like 2 hours in customs and then more hours sitting on the runway because it’s snowing at your destination, but it gave me time to read through this thought-provoking article from Bud Caddell on the future of the ad agency.

First off, it’s great; it doesn’t claim all the answers but it probes in all the right places. And for whatever reason I was thinking about this a lot over the weekend, and you should totally read Bud’s piece first, because this is my take, and there are a bunch of synergies.

1. We do not need more web shops.

Now, I say that with a lot of friends running their own places, so let me qualify that statement. Most companies only need some simple hosting, a WordPress install, and should spend the majority of their money on design. To saddle people with cumbersome, proprietary content-management systems and code re-written from the ground up when someone else’s plugin will do exactly what you want is morally bankrupt.

On top of that, it can be done more cheaply and to a reasonable level of quality for around US$20 an hour. Sad for some, but it is the modern equivalent of the industrial revolution. And the money is best spent elsewhere.

2. This is “elsewhere”.

Content. Content content content. I recently did an audit for a company and came out of it with the exact thing I expected: they didn’t give their customers anything other than coupons, so subsequently that’s all they talked about.

3. Everything gets easier.

This is the biggest truism, and it exists as uch inside the ad industry as it does outside it: everything, I do not care what it is, will get easier. It will happen in manufacturing as much as it will happen with technology, so companies whose existence relies on technology have but one choice: to make problems that are difficult easy for the people facing them.

Agencies with big technical production capabilities need to send the work out to be done more cheaply, take the best and brightest they have and remake that department as a research & development arm. There is no reason Foursquare could not have been created by Zagat’s; but nobody was working on that kind of problem. Not hard enough anyway. The digital shops need to go back to their engineering roots; they need to sit a bunch of curious minds from across the board together and be inventors; that work is far too important to leave to agencies – and they’re not going to do it anyway.

4. No points for second place.

One of Al Ries22 Immutable Laws of Marketing said it was better to be first in a new category than 2nd in an old one; that is basically positioning but it speaks to a fundamental truth: marketers need to stop inventing problems for products to solve and focus on creating products that get back to the existing ones, which I suppose just echoes what I said in point 1 more generally. And particularly in the CPG space, they need to udnerstand the conversation around the product is always more interesting than the product itself (e.g. baby formula or parenthood? Which is more interesting?).

5. What we used to call digital will lead, and it won’t survive without traditional talent.

Bear with me: it doesn’t make sense to talk about “digital” anymore, it’s too ubiquitous to mean anything. What we’re really looking at is a kind of “curation of connections”, which happen in various places. Great strategists can lead that, but they’re going to need content produced – and occasionally a short, branded spot or a still image. One thing traditional advertising still has over new media is the ability to tell a story in a heartbeat; we’ll always need that sort of eye, but there’s no longer any reason for it to lead, its importance is decreasing by the day.

6. This only applies to the companies that don’t create true value.

Apple, Zappos, and the other handful of brands that create products and services so compelling they don’t need to market the way everyone else does are going to continue to chart their own course. Long term, companies are better off focusing on that than trying to advertise their way into people’s wallets, as that stops working the second the ad stops.

So, in summation: the agency will be replaced by strategists defining touch points and curating content for those points, and that can be a 3rd party or it can be a savvy brand manager. Regardless of who it is, a lot of people currently in agency land are simply not capable of that. It isn’t a sell, it’s leading by being meaningful, and advertising just isn’t good at that.

Web shops who want to remain web shops need to use the cheapest technologies available, and make their own approach more turn-key. If they don’t, they will lose out to overseas suppliers who can do it all cheaper (and likely faster). The whole notion of a “digital” agency needs to be ditched, we’re talking user-experience and connections, regardless of whether that happens virtually or in the real world. The shops who don’t want to do that need to be inventors.

And brands that don’t want to deal with either need to create products so compelling and in-tune with their customer base they largely sell themselves. Advertising was always the price you paid for being boring, and shortly it may not be a price you can pay at all.

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Tell the whole world the truth is back November 15, 2009

Posted by David Gillespie in intent, work/life.
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Doc Searls
Image via Wikipedia

I’ve spent the last couple years talking about intent in various guises. Sometimes related to marketing, sometimes to business, but always, always at the heart of what anyone is doing. It has become an intrinsic part of what I write about, as anyone who has been with me for a little while will attest.

In February 2008 I penned a piece looking at Facebook’s advertising ecosystem (things have changed dramatically since) and referenced a piece by your friend and mine Doc Searls on The Intention Economy. This phrase showed up again in a presentation I did called Digital Strangelove, and I realised just today, after stumbling across Doc referencing that presentation (tremendous honour and incredibly humbling) that despite spending a long time making sure the appropriate references were in place and credits given, I had not tipped my hat to Doc and his original article which clearly made an impression on me.

Thankfully the medium within which we work allows for easy retraction, correction and re-dissemination of correct information – if we choose to take advantage of it. I have updated my deck with a link to Doc’s original piece in the credits, and wanted to take the time to acknowledge the source of that phrase. Additional credit I can only add by stealing from Sir Isaac Newton: if I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.

Thanks Doc.

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I know what you’re about to say like your hype man October 12, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in branding, conversation, digital strategy, marketing.
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I was going to spend the week talking about story-telling in interactive mediums and the ways brands can leverage it, and I’l get to that, but I’ve woken up with something on my mind that I want to get to first.

Over the weekend when not lying in the park or dining with friends I was working on my latest (overdue) column for Marketing Magazine. It will be out in their December/January issue and I was talking about brands finding their voice online, which I’m quite excited about, I look forward to hearing everyone’s thoughts when it comes out.

I feel though like that’s the running part, and we’re struggling to get the walking right; we’re doing that because the fundamentals of success in business and marketing are shifting and we’re not keeping pace with it. I harp on about it, but only because I think it is important enough to do so: intent. Intent, intent, intent, intent, intent, intent, intent, intent.

While you’re at your desk this week, in each situation I want you to ask yourself “What’s my intent here?”. We make sales calls under the guise of building relationships, we dump on other agencies under the guise of offering advice. We put energy into things that distract us from our main purpose in the hopes that people won’t really get what we’re on about.

And then we go do it with the brands we’re supposed to be building.

Let’s all agree, week beginning Monday October 13th, 2008 to gut-check what the intent is in the work we do this week. Let’s not discuss “new ways to talk to our customers” when the reality is we need email addresses added to a database. By stripping away the stuff we cloak our actions with, we get to the heart of the matter much faster.

And I promise, the campaigns you run are going to be all the more effective for it.

Image courtesy of The Alieness Gisela Giardino, with thanks to compfight.

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Talking to the hand that feeds… November 27, 2007

Posted by David Gillespie in marketing.
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My company has two very distinct audiences that we talk to. One we can talk to in a highly irreverent fashion and it doesn’t matter too much, in fact it is encouraged.

The other audience though is actually the one that keeps us in business. There is a significant premium on their time and as a result I am extraordinarily cautious when we talk to them and in the way we talk to them. I’m trying to put myself in their shoes, feel their pressures and think about what would be relevant to their day to day life. I think I’m more empathetic than most (thank you many years as a struggling actor) and can usually put myself inside a situation fairly easily. What I find when I’m there though is I don’t know if I really want to hear from my company; if I’m even remotely right, then that has serious ramifications for more than just a semi-regular newsletter.

Do you receive news from people you spend money with? If so, do they make it worth your while? If not, how could they?

They call it bleeding edge for a reason… November 13, 2007

Posted by David Gillespie in blogging, branding, digital strategy, web 2.0.
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I just watched a fantastic interview with a guy I’ve mentioned a couple times in as many days, Avinash Kaushik. The interview was done by Simon Chen who heads up the Eight Black group (Disclaimer: my company does a lot of work with Eight Black, they’re great people) over at the Blogworld expo in Las Vegas. When Simon first said he was headed over there, I kinda giggled in his general direction, even though I’ve been blogging since before they called it that.

If you head over however to Simon’s own blog, you’ll see that it has turned out to be a great collection of people really at the forefront of how companies talk to their customers, and people talk to each other. He has a range of discussions up with different practitioners, along with some video of talks he attended. I don’t have time to sit trhough them all, but invariably if Simon puts something up there is some sort of insight to be gleaned from it; of course I get to do that by having him in my office once a week.

The last 1:30 of his discussion with Avinash really struck a chord with me. His key message to corporates and CEOs who are scared of engaging with their customers via blogging was if you’re not doing it, then you’re not at the cutting edge of blogging. He talks enthusiastically about the upcoming generation (Disclaimer: I am Gen-Y, therefore predisposed to liking nice things said about me) and their disdain for traditional media (TV, radio, magazines etc.) and the messages contained therein. He says we’re not influenced by those things, and for the most part, he is right.

When I think about the sites I like, the writers I like, the people I respond to, the level of candour is always paramount to how I engage with them and how what they say resonates with me. I said in my very first post here that the second you say “We’re cool”, you’re not, and the same applies. You can’t tell someone your content or message is relevant, you can only sit it in front of them and say “I dig this, and if you give a shit about the things I give a shit about, then maybe you’ll dig it too.” The power comes in stepping away and leaving that choice in the consumer’s hands, in essentially acknowledging you are power-less to force the outcome you desire. The great thing about that though is when you do get voluntarily chosen by your customer, you have empowered them, you have engaged in the age old paradigm of “the customer is always right”, which was always about sitting your customer on a pedestal. Them choosing you brings you up to their level; whether you stay there or not depends entirely on you convincing them there is value in having you around.

Avinash concludes the short interview with the following missive, which I like so mch I have printed out and stuck on my wall: “If businesses want to convert their customers into evangelists…the only way to do it is to put yourself out there, participate in the social environment, have a blog, show your passion, contribute something of value and then you don’t have to talk about yourself, you can get your customers to go talk and spread your gospel, (they) will become your marketing machine.”

Amen to that!

Convincing the Hippos November 12, 2007

Posted by David Gillespie in digital strategy, web 2.0.
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That title means more than I care to let on, suffice to say it is apt for me and what I do. It was just introduced to me as an acronym via an excellent talk on web analytics by Avinash Kaushik. The video is just under an hour and well worth your time.

In his video, Avinash used the word Hippo as an acronym; HIghest Paid Person’s Opinion. No matter what you did in the room argued Avinash, it would be the opinion of the Hippo that provided the action. Too bad if you fail to convince them!

This thinking of course is nothing new; most of us spent time at university figuring out what our lecturers liked reading in order to get the best marks from them; however artificially inflated that number might have been, the song remains the same; your proposal for a piece of work doesn’t need to make all the arguments, just the right ones.

Avinash is an absolute evangelist for analytics, consumed with the intelligent interpretation of data, which it turns out is all about context. Context informs the why in your visitor’s behaviour as opposed to simply the “what”, which is derived from clicks. He also espouses the virtues of having goals on your site, a line you’re running towards, and after hearing him talk I can’t help but feel some of the things he said should be (in hindsight) as plain as day. Sitting around watching numbers is one thing, setting a direction for them (at least something more informed than “up”) is another.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the HIPPOs I deal with, how I can make compelling cases for improving our product in the ways I believe it needs to. I’ve been spoiled in the past with CEOs who, bizarrely now it would seem, took me at my word when I said something was a good idea. As much as my current situation is a pain in the ass, it’s also a great lesson in justifying my arguments and making sure I have done my homework properly and am not just operating on a (possibly VERY incorrect) assumption.

I highly recommend anyone involved in working online to check out Avinash’s video. I’m beginning to work through his book, and while I’m not a stats person and ceased doing maths first chance I got, I’m strangely excited about what lies ahead and the information I can glean from the site to make our company stand out from the pack. Turns out HIPPOs like numbers, and that’s what analytics is all about.

Just to be seen November 6, 2007

Posted by David Gillespie in marketing.
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2 comments

I was talking with one of our marketing people the other day about radio, web, and what power (if any) there is in simply “being seen”. Is a campaign successful purely if it, on paper, reaches the target audience? Or is some sort of interaction mandatory before raising your brand’s flag and claiming victory?

Being purely online, I see a level of engagement as the only measure of success, however I forget that traditional media have never had this luxury. The marketing person I was discussing this with was running through a radio campaign that had, on paper, “reached 35%” of our target demographic. I asked for proof, of which none could be provided because it is all based on a sample of 2000 people in the radio network’s broadcast area. 2000 people whose data is extrapolated to the n &supth; degree, whose choices, likes and dislikes are then sold to advertisers as the habits of the nation. All the while nobody talking about the elephant in the corner, nobody being willing to say our demo doesn’t actually listen to radio anymore.

I set about de-constructing the numbers, trying to get a solid idea on what our CPA (cost-per-acquisition) was. I’m not going to go ito too much detail, but broadly speaking, I could have wandered university campuses around the country and handed out six-packs of beer and achieved a similar outcome; this does not get chalked up as a win in my book.

I forget though that the accountability inherent in an online platform can be frightening to people from traditional media backgrounds; putting a price tag on each person reached by that campaign is scary for the folk I work with as it only serves to highlight inefficiencies in our marketing practices. And because it so quickly reveals the flaws, people are quick to judge, become defensive, and bury their heads even further into the sand while the digital steamroller edges ever closer.

As marketers we should be embracing hard numbers, even if most people went into marketing so they could avoid math. We should be taking closer, more scrutinised looks at ourselves and learning from our mistakes. That’s easy for me to say when my preferred medium lays it all bare anyway, but to run from our ability to know more about our audience, their habits and how they think and transfer that into flawlessly executed campaigns is tantamount to admitting defeat, hanging up our BlackBerrys and going off to work at an organic farm, longing for simpler, easier times.

I’ve never thought it enough just to be seen, but there’s an increasingly short shelf life looming for anyone who does.

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