Wearables as a category has not met the (perhaps unfair) expectations of the technology sector. Smart home products have had issues and consumers have rightly been concerned about the implications of ‘cloud with everything’. Here is what some of Silicon Valley think
A panel from the VC firms based on Sandhill Road debates what they think is the biggest technology trends at the moment
It all kicks off at the 5:40 mark.
Beck is the co-founder of Riot Games (best known for League of Legends) on the rise of eSports and what its future looks like.
Interesting that Riot are trying to give players a better base to build their careers, but how long is their professional life, when do they burn out?
I had the chance to read around a lot of the stuff that happened at Cannes and listened to Ogilvy’s webinar on VidCon. Here were the key things that struck me.
There is blind faith amongst brand about the benefits of influencers and social. I find this particularly interesting because it represents a number of challenges to the status quo:
- This first struck me when I saw Heather Mitchell on a panel at the In2 Innovation Summit in May. Mitchell works in Unilever’s haircare division where she is director, head of global PR, digital engagement and entertainment marketing. I asked the panel 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
- The default ethos for most brand marketers is Byron Sharp’s How Brands Grow: What Marketers Don’t Know. Most consumer brands are in mature categories, engagement is unimportant; being top of mind (reach and repetition) is what matters
- Brands were looking to directly engage with influencers at VidCon with trade stands and giveaways at the expo. This was brands like Dove. Again, I’d wonder about the targeting and ROI
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.
Publicis and Marcel. Well it certainly got them noticed. There has been obligatory trolling (some of which was very funny). I tried to make a sombre look at it here: Thinking About Marcel (its about a nine minute read) – TL;DR version – its a huge challenge that Publicis has set itself. One interesting aspect to point out is the differing view point between WPP and Publicis. WPP has spent a lot of time, effort and money into building a complete advertising technology stack including advanced programmatic platforms and analytics.
WPP hoped that this would provide them with an unassailable competitive advantage. The challenge is that the bulk of growth in online spend is going to Facebook and Google – who also happen to have substantive advertising technology stacks.
I can’t help but wonder if this shaping is Publicis’ top line thinking? Scott Galloway posted a very sombre chart about this. If Google and Facebook hit their combined revenue targets this year, it will have a dramatic effect on the number of people employed in the major advertising groups.
To put Galloway’s numbers into context, the projected number of jobs lost in the advertising industry this year would be roughly the equivalent of every man and woman around the world currently employed at vehicle maker Nissan. And that’s just 2017.
If you paid attention to the Marcel concept film you would have noticed that the client service director is partly displaced when a client uses Marcel to directly reach out to Publicis experts.
If Marcel, just makes information easier to access internally; it could save the equivalent time equating to almost 1,600 employees (out of Publicis’s current 80,000 around the world).
People equate to billings as these marketing conglomerates are basically body shops in the way they operate. So it will adversely affect the value of the major marketing groups.
If that isn’t grim enough, Galloway doesn’t even bother to take into account the Chinese ecosystems which is digitising at a faster rate than the West. China also has a longer history of platforms and clients being directly connected – cutting out the media agency.
These changes in the advertising eco-system has huge implications about the erosion in brand equity over time. Amazon’s move to surpass other retailers also is about the erosion of brand power. Combine this with the increasing ubiquity of Prime and all brands start to look the same as private labels.
Thankfully the disciples of Byron Sharp still realise that there is power (and lower CPMs) in using television as a mass-advertising medium which is why FMCG product still spend 90% of their budget offline.
The best thing IPG, WPP, Omnicom and Publicis could do right now is spend a lot of money ensuring that every marketing and MBA student have copies of Mr Sharp’s books. If they haven’t been translated into Chinese, that might be an idea as well.
SnapChat is in its difficult ‘second album’ phase. Back when music came on physical media and record labels invested in developing artists as a longer term proposition than a reality TV series there was the ‘second album’ phase. Artists often struggled to bottle the lightning that gave them a successful first album. They usually had the money and resources to throw at it, but it was hard to be a consistent performer.
For example Bruce Springsteen only really became successful in the U.S. with his third album Born To Run – that level of record label support wouldn’t happen now.
On one level SnapChat has matured. It had a big presence at Cannes and its Snap glasses displaced VR technology as the worn product. It has been under assault. Major content providers like the BBC are choosing Instagram’s stories over SnapChat’s offerings. Even Twitter is getting back in the picture. Ogilvy’s team at VidCon talked about how Twitter had been successfully engaging with influencers and offering them support and attractive content monetisation offers.
Publicis Groupe announced two things in the past week that caught the attention of the industry:
- Withdrawing for 12 months from all promotional activity spend including the Cannes Lions awards
- A Groupe-wide 12-month digital transformation fronted by a personal assistant app
You can’t look at either in isolation, they are both linked together.
Why the withdrawal from promotional activities?
There are various speculative takes on this:
- Other groups doing better at Cannes Lions this year had caused them to ‘take their toys to go home and sulk’. I hadn’t looked at the Lion awards scores, but I wouldn’t think that this is the reason. Clients would react negatively to it. Clients have egos too
- Cannes Lions have gotten too expensive. Running events on the Côte d’Azur has never been cheap. The hotels can charge premium rates, due to demand being greater than supply. The GSMA World Congress moved to Barcelona in 2006 for this reason. Cannes can still run a good event and the infrastructure is ideal for advertisers. Other groups like WPP have pared back their spend but not cut it completely
- It’s designed to focus spend on the things that matter for the next 12 months. This was one reason articulated by Publicis. The spend involved isn’t going to make a significant difference. At least, not on a project of the scale outlined by Publicis
- It’s designed to focus staff on the things that matter over the next 12 months. I think that this is a key factor. Marcel is a software layer for a wider culture change the ‘Power of One’. Forcing the agencies to work together to provide a full deep offering for the client. This creates an internal market for services, skills and knowledge. There is no use having a development team if you can tap into Sapient. This also leads to a de-duplication of capability, increase in efficiency (% billable time). It also reduces duplication of knowledge creation – tap into it wherever it is. You would need to balance this against client confidentiality
- It’s a PR stunt. If handled well Publicis could gain a lot of positive coverage from this. It’s a classic example of what Sun Tzu called ‘The Void’. It’s also a bloody expensive PR stunt – so one would have to presume this is a collateral benefit. What happens if Sapient doesn’t match what’s in the concept video 12 months from now? If it does succeed then Publicis ends up with a solution would help market their business – business eating its own dog food, as advertisement
Let’s move on to Marcel itself
It’s hard to deconstruct a corporate video to get a firm idea what the underlying form might be. The truth is that the underlying form may not even exist yet as a product brief. It takes time to coalesce an offering from high concepts to prototyping these concepts with a sampling of users. From then on you go to mapping out the functional requirements of the product and build it in a series of short sprints. Once you have a minimum viable product and tested it, you may want to tweak your project direction further.
However, when you dig into it, Marcel isn’t only about an app, but re-engineering most of the IT infrastructure as well in order to support the machine learning capability. Marcel will find it harder to learn if the data is fragmented in drives with different permissions, online services or even offline.
Carla Serrano describes Marcel as:
A professional assistant that uses AI machine learning technology across our 80,000 people in 130 countries to connect, co-create and share in new and different ways.
This won’t be like Alexa Home managing your calendar and your Spotify playlist.
AI is put in there for audience members who wouldn’t know what machine learning is. A nice succinct definition below via TechTarget:
Machine learning is a type of artificial intelligence (AI) that provides computers with the ability to learn without being explicitly programmed. … The process of machine learning is similar to that of data mining.
Let’s tease out the functions
- Connect – could be anything from an intranet directory to a social network a la Facebook Work. The key element for success would be to get people to complete their profile and for the content to be validated. From personal experience, it is best if you get people to do this right at the point that you are on-boarding them. Getting a mass-push on employees doing this would be a campaign of attrition since there is always a client call to do, pitch to write or creative concept to develop. The information could be pulled across from HR systems, business planning, time-tracking / accounting systems and scraping LinkedIn profiles but all the data will be sub-optimal. How do you ensure consistent quality data on staff expertise? The key benefit of machine learning would be pulling information capacity and personnel career ambitions alongside mining the profiles. What I’ve talked about in this paragraph is a major undertaking of data integration in itself
I’ve ignored messaging as a function as most agencies use multiple channels for messaging including Slack, email, Skype/Lync or SMS. A messaging service might be built in, some of the interfaces could be ‘call-and-response’ chat bot style interactions.
- Co-create – Co-creation could just be building a virtual team through the connection functionality, if its a platform in its own right what would that mean? Google co-creation platforms and you get 14,900,000 results. There are lots of options, opinions and descriptions of how to implement a platform to do it. Publicis could use some of these commercial off-the-self platforms. Decisions would have to be made if the co-creation would facilitate synchronous or asynchronous co-creation. Where do you want to have it involved in the process? Discovery, strategy, creative briefing, ideation, concept development? Is bolting Box.net accounts, Basecamp or Jira co-creation and where would the co-creation process benefit from machine learning?
- Sharing – Back in the mid to lated 1990s knowledge management was a thing for technology marketers selling into enterprises. The idea was that a mix of data mining software (Autonomy or SAS Institute) would allow you to tap into the written knowledge across your company. Of course, it didn’t work out that well. Google tried a similar thing with its own Search Appliance hardware sold to enterprises. For a business like Publicis whose product is data, insights and ideas, the potential implications are huge
Based on Google’s Return on Information: Improving your ROI with Google Enterprise Search white paper here are some rough numbers that I came up with.
The notional productivity gain is worth well over $400,000,000 in additional billable time, or like having almost 1,600 additional staff at little additional cost. The key word in all this is ‘notional’.
So what’s the downside to the factors outlined in the top-level view of Marcel?
- Client confidentiality – imagine if you’re a client and you realise that your documentation within an agency can be searched for beyond the account team and could be used in ways that you don’t know about? This isn’t an unsurmountable problem, but it is something that I am sure Publicis would be thinking about
- Changing working habits and culture – the most valuable files will be spread across Dropbox-like services, in email exchanges, on file servers, personal computers (Mac and Windows), USB sticks and optical media. Software can look at unstructured data to try and make sense of it. But it needs access to the files first. As a manager how would you feel that you lose control over work assigned to your staff. How would you assess their work for their appraisals?
- A marathon of sprints – this a huge IT undertaking across hardware infrastructure, networks and access. That’s before you’ve considered software development. On its own it would weighty task – in reality it will be a large amount of iterative tasks, any number of whom could delay or damage Marcel
Understanding the context for Marcel
The second half of the video is concept film of how Marcel would work in practice. It was likely put together to give voice to functionality rather than also thinking about tone. I would not be surprised if this was reused from an internal presentation to showcase the vision of Marcel to key stakeholders. The film has tonality in it is a bit concerning, I suspect it’s unintentional. If Marcel works as promised we would be in new territory for corporate culture however.
Having watched it reinforced to me:
- The technical scale and ambition Marcel represents. It is a huge undertaking from a technical point-of-view
- Marcel is just the start of the hard work for Publicis.
How do you ensure a culture that continues to attract and retain the top talent as the organisation gets Marcel operational?
- What does it say to women (or men) who might want certain amount of work life balance due to family commitments or a desire to upskill?
- How would it handle organisational politics?
- Lesley might be requesting talent for his energy client but how would his demands be balanced against those of their line managers or other people in the business?
- How might it redefine the role that line managers play for colleagues?
The partial removal of client services as a gate keeper between Jamie the client and Publicis talent was interesting. It would make client services job to get their arms around all the business opportunities in the client much harder. It would also be more attractive to certain clients who would feel more in control of their account.
Themes in the film:
- Marcel is being used at night or in the twilight – usage massively extending the working day. Agencies aren’t really a 9 – 5 lifestyle at the best of times, but this video implies even less work-life balance as standard working practice. The introductory dialogue is shot at twilight and Alex the Asian American strategist, sits in an empty office at night time. Lesley is in the artificial time of an subway station and even the Arc de Triomphe dropped in is shot in twilight
- Marcel is mobile – and being used out-of-the office in most of the film. This implies that the work day has no boundaries. Does it imply that mobile devices are no longer for reacting to urgent emails, has the balance of work expectations changed to zero-downtime always on proactive working? How would an agency team be able to keep their thinking fresh over the medium and longer term?
- Marcel is desktop – Alex uses Marcel on a desktop computer and the web service provides a Statista like set of visualisations for data. The implication being a large amount of research source integration (social insights, market data, Kantar media data???). This would also affect third party licenses as information is pooled
- The dialogue implies a ‘Siri’-like experience on the mobile app, except that it understands what you’re saying. Marcel is far more articulate conversationalist than Siri, Google, Alexa or my banks interactive voice system. He’d probably score highly on Tinder due having a personality. I suspect most of this is a plot device for storytelling. Alex gives voice to his key strokes and Marcel is manifested as a search box rather like Bing using a desktop computer. Lesley the South African client service person is not talking to his phone as he moves up the escalator – he is literally giving voice to his thoughts. He sounds stressed.
- Jamie the client from a bank is an interesting vignette. She has direct access to Marcel as a client facing tool and it is suggesting Publicis contacts to her, normally you would expect a client services person to be that interface.
- Ines, the copy writer in Brazil has the most positive experience portrayed. Marcel understands her complex career aspirations and offers her opportunities to work on an Indian project. It looks as if she is doing this work at home, again reinforcing ambiguous message on work / life balance?
- All of the people are alone, Marcel is not shown being used in a normal office environment. Marcel becomes your team?
Marcel is the business equivalent of playing high stakes poker. If it is pulled off successfully it would put Publicis in an excellent position versus it’s competitors. However there is a lot that can go wrong from a technological and organisation perspective.
I don’t know how much of this can be realistically achieved in the 12 months that Publicis seems to have given itself? It strikes me that this is likely to be a transformation that would require much more time in order to fully match the vision outlined. From a cultural perspective the challenge of ‘break, build, bond’ hides the level of complexity and change going on.
The biggest risk is what happens if Publicis doesn’t meet the wider industry expectations of success with Marcel? How will that affect client perceptions of them, or their ability to hire talent? How would it affect Sapient’s standing as a technology company?
Great points on Facebook through to sports team owners
No surprises on what is said about Facebook. The fickleness of millennials with regards sports is interesting, it did make me wonder if this also plays through for supporters of English Premier League teams.
Fantasy sports leagues aren’t engaging as it had been for older generations. Younger people struggle to get 12 of their friends on board to participate with them.
E-sports has a really small overlap with existing sports fans. E-sports players burn out too fast. It needs to address this to blow up as big as mainstream sports.
“Global activation local amplification” – four words that make a process sound easy. Yet it is amazing how many established successful multi-nationals struggle with this process.
I was talking to friend the other week who talked about a project that they were asked to pitch for. A global multinational asked them to come and workshop the company’s global digital strategy for local teams – so that they could then work out how to localise it.
The implication was that a global strategy had been decided upon that didn’t take into account who it could be scaled for markets with low budgets (small countries) or atypical digital usage.
I’ve used the words atypical here for good reason. These markets may not have gone through widespread desktop online usages. They may be transitioning between feature phones and SMS to low specification smartphones on lean data plans. However, in the likes of Kenya, their use of mobile payments with services like mPesa are far ahead of the west.
You also can’t assume that usage is one phone, one person. In the likes of rural India the phone may be used by other family members with SIMs being the individual’s own.
How much of their media consumption is side loaded on to mobile devices?
A global activation approach requires extensive discussions with local company stakeholders BEFORE it’s sufficiently baked. I worked on web properties at Unilever and we thought about how could graphical assets be leveraged, a common social publishing platform (Percolate) and common measurement (Adobe Analytics) as a primary focus. We recognised that markets may want to build leaner, smaller websites or roll out changes when they had marketing budget.
Bringing key stakeholders gives them ownership of the strategy, so they are much more likely to give a decent effort in local amplification.
- The difficulty in finding and installing other apps inside Messages. Many users aren’t aware of the functionality. This is different to the ‘interface as oldster barrier’ that SnapChat had. DoorDash – a Deliveroo analogue dropped a support after a few months due to a lack of users. Apple took a second run at this with iOS 11 trying to improve discoverability
- Apple 3D touch isn’t used to drive contextual features by app developers
- The Apple Watch’s mix of crown, button and small touch screen made ‘lean in’ interactive apps hard. The Apple Watch interface isn’t learned by ‘playing’ in the same way that you can with a Mac or an iPhone. Apple’s forthcoming watchOS update looks to have Siri ‘guess’ what you want. It wants to provide contextual information to users (and reduce interactions)
- WeChat – the take up of mini-apps in WeChat have been disappointing performers. Is this indicating a possible ceiling for functionality?
- Consumers didn’t know they had a need, its hard to get consumers to build new habits. Forming habits can be hard
- They were a bitch to sign up with. Yahoo!’s sign-up process killed products. It’s a fact. We’d get consumers hyped up, we’d deliver them to the relevant page and they wouldn’t convert. I didn’t blame them, if I wasn’t an employee or digital marketer I’d have done the same
- Both Flickr and Slack had common key team members
- Both products fell out of failure. Flickr came out of tools for Game Neverending. Slack began as a tool in the development of Glitch
Bill Moggridge, designer of the GRiD Compass computer – the world’s first laptop thought a lot about ergonomics. The laptop had a 11 degree slope from pop-out leg to the keypad. This is something that your MacBook Pro or Surface doesn’t have. There is a lack of depth in technology design compared to what Moggridge had. He brought in psychologists and studied human computer interaction. He eventually co-founded IDEO.
Whilst the elements that Moggridge looked at were well known the thinking doesn’t seep into product categories. We are very good at asking can a product be made. We are poor at asking what does the product really mean. Apple’s viewpoint on the tablet segment is a case in point.
The vast majority of tablets are used for lean back media consumption from watching films and reading books to reviewing emails. It can work as a productivity device in specific circumstances with custom built apps – say field sales or replacing a pilot’s flight paperwork. The keyboard and power of modern Macs (and PCs) provide a better tool for content creators; whether its analysing a spreadsheet or writing this blog post.
Yet, since its launch by Steve Jobs, Apple has viewed the iPad as a new PC. The iPad Pro has been designed to try and catch up in features with the Mac. It is ironic that Microsoft has moved a slim ‘MacBook clamshell design’ analogue into its latest Surface range. It is very different to the pragmatic design ethos of China’s ‘shanzhai’ gadget markers who came up with both laughable and smart solutions. Everything from the dual SIM phone to the phone / electric razor hybrid. Successes bloomed and oddities slipped into the night.
There is a huge tension that I see in the challenge facing FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) marketers. On the one hand they have to continue innovating as their brand media spend slowly fragments across new channels in pursuit of consumers.
On the other hand, Zero Based Budgeting (ZBB) is now being used to bring increased accountability to marketing activity. The advice to “Explore something new in every brief” – whilst laudable, becomes harder to achieve. The move towards ZBB implies that FMCG sectors are value industries, and recent stagnant growth largely validates that impression – businesses like Dollar Shave Club and the like are edge factors rather than core drivers.
- Brad Staples presentation on reputation in a fake news environment gave me deja vu. It reminded me of corporate communications thinking when social media came to prominence. In many respects the symptoms are the same. The agenda running out-of-control like a force of nature. Yet, it is only the momentum has changed, core principles to address reputation are the same. There was an increased emphasis on monitoring. Monitoring and response became even more important than with social media’s rise
- The age-old tension between specialist and generalist continues to roll onwards. Alan Vandermolen saw medium-sized agencies as sitting in a ‘Goldilocks’ position. Small enough for your business to matter and being able to move fast. Large enough to have the right expertise and scale in place. The challenge to his argument is global agencies consolidating a one-stop shop offering. Vandermolen didn’t address the move away from being a ‘PR agency’. The Holmes Report had highlighted their concern in a recent opinion piece. Vandermolen was also concerned with the disappearance of PR professionals on the client side. He cited United Airways customer problems from broken guitars to dragging passengers off planes. The discussion didn’t cover how the airline’s focus on shareholder value had corrupted customer-centricity
- Matt Battersby and Dan Berry looked at public relations and behavioural economics. What I found interesting is how this provided a direct linkage to return on investment. Yet the audience didn’t pick up on this in questions. It also represented a content challenge to agencies. It flips the typical messages that they would look deliver (driven by what’s news)
- There was a tension between what agencies could do and what clients wanted. Abby Guthkelch wanted a more agile approach to content that was also more cost effective. This meant that she often worked with inhouse staff and content development agencies. There was a strong sense that creative ideas and concepts were not worth paying for. This puts little value in communications agencies. Content marketing poses an existential threat to PR agencies margins. It was interesting that marketing automation didn’t come up in discussions. Inhouse panelists preferred to move capability inhouse rather than relying on offshoring work
- Finally, there was the evergreen theme of marketers and PRs speaking different languages. PRs need to get comfortable with data and charts. They need to think about testing. This needs to happen whilst budgets are static or in decline. A way forward is to move down the marketing funnel to be closer to the sale in e-commerce and via social channels. I found the continued faith in influencers of interest. I was surprised at the lack of concern shown on the agency side for zero-based budgeting at clients
“I think the future of television is more fragmentation, the bundle has no more elasticity in it.” – Barry Diller.
This explains everything from ManUnited TV to the new channels that Amazon has launched as Prime add-ons in the UK and Germany yesterday. Media has been driving an increasing share of household spend over the past 15 years.
In a time of stagnating economic growth and declining incomes (in real terms) that middle won’t hold. Much of it becomes discretionary spending.