Paul Rand’s slim book Thoughts on Design was originally written after World War 2 when he was in his 30s. He hadn’t yet done some of his most iconic work such as the IBM or TV network ABC.
Straight out of the gate it focuses on design and its applicability to the job in hand. My friend Stephen used to talk about designers falling into two categories:
Idea led designers that focus on the communications problem
Style-led designers. Their work has a particular look and feel, that might be fashionable (for a while). The Designers Republic as falling into this category
Rand is blunter in his assessment under a section called The Beautiful and The Useful. His point isn’t that they are mutually exclusive. Obeying classical art rules creates useless design unless it addresses the communications. The sad thing is that 70 years later it still needs to be said with the same urgency.
Rand describes the designers challenge as an overlap with strategy and planning functions in agencies. Rand started in agencies a generation before planning emerged as a discipline. Planning started in London advertising agencies. The idea of leaving pre-conceptions out of the process is a keystone of planning and strategy.
Finally, Rand focuses less on typography than one would expect. Instead he focuses on the creative use of space and direction. He viewed debates around the use of typography as an unnecessary distraction. Typography decisions would be resolved by wider thinking on space and direction. Thoughts on Design is surprisingly accessible.
Over time I’ve built up a web toolbox that help with my workflow. This is many of the ones which have bailed me out of trouble time and time again.
Slack – yes i know that it seems like hipster CB radio. But its popular and you are likely to need to get with the programme. I am a great believer in only accessing Slack only via the desktop interface, by booting the app up once an hour. Part of the reason for this is because it can be a time suck; in the way that email was when it came into offices back in the 1990s. A second reason is Slack keyboard short cuts make life so much easier.
Hemingway – I have paid good money for the native app, but Hemingway’s web interface is a great gateway drug to improve your writing. I have friends who would recommend the fuller featured Grammarly. Try them both and see what works best for you. In the UK a key consideration is that you can’t always get online; which is is why went with the Hemingway native app.
Balsamiq – great rapid wire framing tool that I find easier than Adobe’s offerings. Also worthwhile looking at OmniGraffle – I’ve used the Mac version for years.
BuildWith – this has saved me hours of work over the years. A client wan’t extra functionality on their website. You need to know what they use to understand if you even want to pitch for it, or if you have to scramble to find a Sitecore developer to partner with.
Takumi – make the briefing process of Istagrammers a bit easier with Takumi; when you are dealing with them en masse with this specialised outsourcing service
Digging out influencers in a given area for influencer mapping and influencer marketing programmes is a time intensive process to validate and sieve candidates. Traackr is a good tool to start this process with. They also have workflow tools in there which may be of use depending on what else you use.
Once upon a time there there used to be a great all in one tool called Sam Spade. It was a Windows app and a web app. The Windows app hasn’t been maintained and the web app has gone. Central Ops does at least some of the things that Sam Spade used to do. If you’re a Mac user who has dug around at all in your machine you will know that there is also a handy little app called Network Utility. Central Ops provides you with a way to validate and trouble shoot email addresses and see if a domain is available for registration.
Google – Yeah I know. Not exactly surprising; but I have a couple of articles on how to get the most out of the privacy-violating search engine: Grokking Google and II.
Pinboard – When you discover things, it is often hard to re-find them again with your search engine of choice.Algorithmic changes, personalisation of search results and an ever growing web can all work against you. Pinboard keeps the links that you find within easy reach. It allows you to notate the links and categorise them with tags. I use the Pinner app on my iPhone to access my Pinboard account on the go. It’s a lighter weight service than Evernote or Mendeley. If you are already an assiduous user of those services instead, keep going with them. The key thing is develop a habit that will facilitate smarter research. If you use Pinboard in association with a web page capture service like archive today and you can protect yourself if the page changes.
Standard Deviation Calculator – This just makes life so much easier. Take a string of numbers, drop them in and get the appropriate values out. This makes data analysis so much easier.
Wolfram Alpha – handy search engine with a lot of verified data. You can get tips on how to get the most out of it here.
Ahrefs – paid for service that’s really good at understanding your competitors SEO mojo including a back link checker and pretty comprehensive competitor research tools.
Mark Ritson wrote an op-ed over at Marketing Week on influence and influencers. Whilst it lacked nuance on the subject area, a lot of what it said is true. Go over and have a read; I’ll be waiting for when you come back.
Whilst I disagree on the finer points, what Ritson wrote needed to be said. There needed to be a turning of the tide on influencers from boundless optimism to a greater degree of sobriety and critical analysis of the influencer opportunity.
I first noticed this boundless optimism when I attended the In2 Innovation Summit in May last year. Heather Mitchell on a panel. Mitchell worked at the time in Unilever’s haircare division where she is director, head of global PR, digital engagement and entertainment marketing. I asked the panel discussing influencer marketing about the impact of zero-based budgeting (ZBB) and the answer was ducked. ZBB requires a particular ROI on activity, something that (even paid for) influence marketing still struggles to do well.
This was surprising given the scrutiny that other marketing channels were coming under, I couldn’t understand how influencer marketing merited that leap of faith.
Substitute ‘buzz marketing’ for ‘influencer marketing’ and this could be 15 years ago. Don’t get me wrong I had great fun doing things like hijacking Harry Potter book launches when I worked at Yahoo!, but no idea how it really impacted brand or delivered in terms of RoI. Influencer marketing seems to be in a similar place.
Just five years ago we had managed to get past the hype bubble of social and senior executives were prepared to critically examine social’s worth. In the meantime we have had a decline in organic reach and massive inflation in both ad inventory and influencer costs. What had changed in the marketers mentality?
Onward with Mark Ritson’s main points.
Ritson’s Three Circles of Bullshit
A very loose reference to Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy trilogy; but for modern marketers
The First Circle of Bullshit: Are the followers real?
Are they bots?
Are they stolen accounts?
Are the user accounts active any more?
Has the account holder padded their account with bought followers and engagement. Disclosure – I ran an experiment on my Twitter account and still have a substantial amount of fake followers. More on this experiment here.
The Second Circle of Bullshit: Are influencers trusted?
Ritson did an unscientific test that showed (some) influencers would post anything for a bit of money
The Final Circle of Bullshit: Do they have influence?
Some influencers are genuinely authoritative; but this is a minority of influencers out there
Ritson alludes to the lack of organic reach amongst an ‘influencers’ followers which is likely to be 2% reach or less
Trends in influence
I looked at Google Trends to see what could be learned in the rate of change in searches over time. Consider Google Trends to be an inexact but accessible measure of changes in interest over time.
Global interest in influencers have been accelerating
There has been a corresponding rises in interest around paid influencer marketing
There hasn’t been the same interest peak in organic (PR-driven) influencer work
All of which supports the following hypotheses:
it’s become on-trend from the perspective of marketers, agencies and ‘influencers’
A significant amount of influencers are in it for the money – which brings into question their (long term authority and consumer trust)
A significant amount of influencers have an exceedingly good idea of their value (more likely overly-inflated)
Ego is less of a motivator for becoming an influencer than material gains
What would influence look like?
Propagation of the content by real people. Instagram, a particularly popular influencer channel, has made sharing posts difficult for followers historically. Re-gramming was a pain in the arse for the average Instagram user.
If we look at the mainstream media and how it is shared on Facebook we see that only five media brands are consistently in the top ten most shared media properties. ‘Traditional’ influencer status isn’t necessarily a garrantor of consistent successful propagation either, if Newship’s data is to be believed.
Attributed sales. Some luxury brands in China have had success collaborating with influencers and selling through their channels; the post child being Mr Bags collaboration with Longchamps.
How is the best way to use influencers in marketing?
Assuming that you are using influencers in the widest possible sense at the moment.
Treat the majority of influencers as yet another advertising format
That means that reach, the way the brand is presented, and repetition are all important – smart mass marketing following the playbook of Byron Sharp.
Viewing your influencer mention in that prism, it means estimating what the real reach would be (lets say 2% of the follower number as an estimate) and paying no more on a CPM rate than you would pay for a display advertising advert
Ensure that the brand is covered in the way that you want. Some luxury brands have managed to get around this by keeping control of the content; a good example of this is De Grisogono – a family-run high jewellery and luxury watch brand. They work with fashion bloggers that meet their high standards and invite them to events. De Grisogono provides them with high-quality photography of its pieces and the event. They get the high standard of brand presentation which raises the quality of the placement
Get repetition with the audience by repeating the placement with other content that delivers the same message with the same high standard of production
All of this might work for a luxury brand, IF you found that the amount of agency time and creative work made commercial sense. It is less likely to work for normal FMCG brands. What self-respecting influencer is going to be bossed around by a breakfast cereal?
Thinking about micro influencers, probably the area that has had the most interest from marketers recently due to them appearing to be better value than macro influencers.
Brown & Fiorella (2013) explanation of micro-influencers:
Adequately identifying prospective customers, and further segmenting them based on situations and situational factors enables us to identify the people and businesses – or technologies an channels that are closest to them in each scenario. We call these micro-influencers and see them as the business’s opportunity to exert true influence over the customer’s decision-making process as opposed to macro-influencers who simply broadcast to a wider, more general audience.
Brown & Fiorella focus on formal prospect detail capture and conversion.
This approach is more likely to work in certain circumstances; where there is low friction to conversion (e-tailing for discretionary value items).
It starts to fall apart when you deploy their approach to:
Mature product sectors
You would also struggle with many B2B segments where social provides a small reach and little social interaction.
Work with real influencers on long term collaborations
There is more likelihood of having audience trust if they can see and understand the long term relationship between a brand and its influencers
Better brand placement easier, with an influencer that ‘gets’ the brand
You’ve got a better chance of being able to get access and fully understand the underlying analytics of their accounts (which should be a prerequisite for long term relationship)
You can look at collaborations and attribution payment models that raise all boats
Is Facebook Really Scarier Than Google? | Nautilus – worthwhile reading about the effect of Google – of course they both have an impact otherwise you wouldn’t advertise on it. The question needs to be does the utility justify the impact? I think search has a better case than a social network, but both have merits
China’s Huawei Technologies reshuffles board for first time since 2012 – I presume the reason why Mr Ren is getting back behind the wheel is that overall and smartphone revenue figures for 2017 was Huawei’s slowest growth in four years. I am not convinced that premium products will be the way forward when they are locked out of the North American retail system. I am also not sure why the management team at Huawei Mobile Devices hasn’t been refreshed
Cigarettes are the vice America needs | FT Alphaville – Cigarette smoking is essentially the anti-Facebook. While Facebook is a fundamentally misanthropic venture that pretends to be a community, smoking is a community activity for people who pretend to be misanthropes. The activity itself is fundamentally pro-social! It gives people reasons to interact with strangers (“got a light?”). And since it was banned indoors — undeniably a good choice — it gives people a reason to go outside and make idle small talk, all while pursuing a common activity. And unlike alcohol, cigarettes alone don’t often lead to property damage or missed days of work (paywall)
The Valley of Death: the students vying to be millionaires | Telegraph – In 2015 Oxford, the UK’s number one university for research, produced four spin-outs. Not per professor. That was for the whole university. The situation was not better elsewhere. Data on British university spin-outs is not in any publicly available league table. But it exists, via what’s called the HE-BCI survey (it stands for Higher Education – Business and Community Interaction). For 2015-16, Cambridge University recorded a total of two spinouts in the HE-BCI survey. Imperial College London, another of this country’s most vaunted research universities, listed three. Of 160 institutions, 59 officially produced no spinouts at all.
Alex Stamos, Facebook Data Security Chief, To Leave Amid Outcry – The New York Times – Some of the company’s executives are weighing their own legacies and reputations as Facebook’s image has taken a beating. Several believe the company would have been better off saying little about Russian interference and note that other companies, such as Twitter, which have stayed relatively quiet on the issue, have not had to deal with as much criticism
Millennials: you will not be quite so special in the ‘futr’ | FT – could it be that millennials, the most scrutinised, criticised and debated generation of our time, were not that special any more? “Millennials are still important as a customer,” Ms Ganatra told me later. But there is now a “millennial mindset” that has nothing to do with age, she said. In other words, millennials may have been the first generation to have grown up in a digital world but the rest of us are catching on fast. People of all ages are now so used to shopping with a click or talking to a chatbot that retailers need to think about the needs and desires of all their customers, not just those born between 1981 and 1996 – or an artificial construct in terms of their digital uniqueness
Sometimes the most straightforward posts take the longest to write. When I started on this one last week the big question in the minds of people who watch the big advertising conglomerates is are WPP numbers a company problem or an industry problem?
WPP is looking to simplify its structure with a view to becoming a more agile and transparent business from a client perspective.
Or as it was put in the New York Times
WPP plans to accelerate a programme to simplify the business by aligning digital systems, platforms and capabilities to provide bespoke teams for its clients as opposed to the different agencies that currently compete with each other to win contracts.
Other conglomerates, notably Publicis had already started on this path when it started realigning the group under the ‘Power of One’ vision. WPP is bigger with a fuller offering and wider range of specialisms than many of its peers, no one can be under the illusion about the size of this undertaking.
Let’s talk about the tectonic plates shifting around beneath the feet of ALL the large advertising and marketing combines:
Interpublic Group (IPG)
The tectonic plates are:
The decline of brand marketing
The new competition
The Four is a label that Professor Scott Galloway put on Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook. All of whom he considered to be monopolists that created value for their shareholders by putting the ‘real world economy through a shredder.
In this case I would swap out Amazon and Apple for Alibaba and Tencent, but the allusion to a quartet of horsemen portending a digital apocalypse is a useful allegory for the advertising and marketing sector. Amazon deserves a section of its own later.
Galloway’s predictions of their destructive power led to an accurate prediction of WPP’s share price tumble this week. (see the video below)
Correlation does not prove causality however — it doesn’t mean that he got the right numbers for the right reasons.
Depending whom you believe Facebook and Google are responsible for 90 percent of online advertising growth outside of China. This represents a massive concentration of media power. It has implications for the creative and planning functions of an agency. Google and Facebook also run much of the advertising technology that purchase are made on. This has decimated much of the advertising technology sector and made it harder to differentiate media planning and buying based on the technology stack.
L2 came up with this research last year based on Google and Facebook revenue targets. If they hit their numbers they would be treating around 14,193 jobs. But it would mean that the corresponding projected number of jobs lost in the advertising industry would be roughly the equivalent of every man and woman around the world employed at vehicle maker Nissan. And that’s just 2017.
L2’s calculations don’t take into account China where the advertising industry has been digitising at a much faster rate than in the west with the bulk of growth going to companies controlled by Tencent or Alibaba.
Given that most of the agencies within WPP and its peers operate on a billable hour model; this represents a considerable potential loss of value. Since the number of people directly equates to revenue.
The consolidation of online media also means that many clients will look to take back control of their media planning and buying process. The argument goes something along the lines of ‘a consolidated media landscape allows for consolidated buying by a global media trading desk due to the inherent simplicity in suppliers. The data comes from the inhouse data management platform and the media vendor (Facebook, Google, Tencent or Alibaba)‘.
The always on creative needed to fuel this process is also being increasing done in inhouse studios, in partnership with their creative agencies as a kind of hybrid model.
This is what Marc Pritchard meant when he talked about taking back control of Procter & Gamble’s marketing as part of a process to save $1.2bn by 2021. In the latest financial results, WPP claimed that their media buying margins had not suffered – only creative had.
At the time of written Jeff Bezos is worth about 112 billion dollars, or just under double the annual defence budget of the UK for 2018. Amazon impacts the advertising and marketing industry in multiple ways.
It is starting to become a big player in online advertising in its own right. I think it would be fair to say that this competition to Google is welcome for the marketing conglomerates judging by Sir Martin Sorrell’s commentary on the likes of CNBC.
Amazon has decimated the high street. Toys R Us, Borders Group, Tower Records, Radio Shack, Maplins are just some of the names which have disappeared. It took a good number of years for people to realise that retailers are locked in a zero sum game when Amazon competes against them. Amazon has unique access to exceptionally cheap capital via its shareholders. There have been companies who have beaten it back like Alibaba’s Taobao and TMall in China. But the company has built up a huge amount of retail power and decimated brands that would have been advertising agency clients.
Amazon has become the default search engine for buying things. This has already displaced up to 20 percent of Google searches depending on whom you believe. It also means that they can place imitation goods and private label goods against branded products.
Amazon has got great data. Amazon has data at the centre of its business what consumers like, what they don’t like, what sells well on marketplace resellers. This has driven a number of the product decisions:
Increasing customer basket sizes
Expanding into new areas by screwing over marketplace resellers
Focusing their efforts on private label products which directly impacts branded products across categories. Amazon Basics is the most obvious private label to consumers, but there are many more where the link isn’t so obvious
Depending on your brand category the answer may be:
Owning your own retail chain like Apple or LVMH’s DFS Group
Direct sales and subscription services have piqued the interest of FMCG brands like Dollar Shave Club
All of this impacts the advertising sector. For more information on the power of Amazon, I can recommend Scott Galloway’s The Four.
The decline of brand marketing
The relative decline of brand marketing has been driven by a number of factors, some of these factors are good and some aren’t.
Let’s talk about the good reasons first of all.
‘Performance marketing’ driving customers directly to a sale has been transformed by the rise of modern online advertising techniques including search advertising and retargeting. Retailers can zero in on intent to a much greater degree than shopping television or direct response print adverts ever could. Google and social media have turned into reputation platforms which then displayed below-the-line spend from the likes of public relations agencies. This was happening at a time when journalist employed by publications have declined; implying a natural progression
At least some consumers can’t be reached through traditional media channels with sufficient frequency for brand advertising. Social media, online video and banner ads make sense as part of an omnichannel approach
The bad reasons:
The focus on ROI rather than profits has meant that a balance longer term brand building and shorter term sales has fallen out of kilter. Marketing then becomes a reductive process. To use a farming analogy; its like moving from arable farming with crop rotation to slash and burn. This is particularly noticeable in the way private equity management has affected fast moving consumer brands under its control. Zero-based budgeting is seen as a source of cost cutting rather than ensuring the efficient and effective use of marketing resources
Digital first strategies – for many marketers this has meant a move from media-neutral, let the communications problem define the channels used to a digital dogma. I make my living with digital media, but I recognise the flexibility required in thinking to deliver an effective strategy
It isn’t about one approach over another but finding balance that works for sales now and in the future.
The new competition
The rise of digital advertising has seen business services expand ways that we couldn’t predict. Advertising agencies like Ogilvy understood the potential for digital early on. Consultancies were focused on systems integration and the use of technologies to change business functions. As they became interconnected internally and externally; the progression into marketing made sense.
A reduction in creative budgets caused marketing agencies to move into areas like service design. Consultancies have looked to inject creativity into their values and skills set by mirroring the kind of acquisition strategy that built the marketing conglomerates.
In the meantime technology companies, notably Adobe have treated marketing like any other business function with a sale conducted at the c-suite level just like Oracle or similar. In many respects this move is understandable as companies use a data management platform (DMP) to derive audience insights and improve their digital marketing. This isn’t vastly different from historic data warehousing and data mining applications.
The enterprise software companies allow large companies to do internally what they have previously asked media agencies to do.