Connection planning has some problems

A couple of years ago I did a presentation on connection planning and much of that thinking still has value. But some of the tenets of connection planning are now challenged by changes in marketing practice and strategy in the business to consumer space.

Connection planning process

The focus on user engagement has been affected by three things:

  • Social platforms have been moving their business model and interactions towards traditional brand advertising models. Social networks like Facebook and Twitter are structuring their algorithms and advertising closer towards the reach and repetition model of traditional broadcast advertising. TV advertising dollars are what social platforms are chasing, rather than going after Google
  • Consumer brands, particularly from publicly listed mature players are facing business pressures from the threat of private equity ownership that would look to sweat the assets at the expense of longer term brand performance.  No one is immune to this, not even Nestle that was thought to be protected due to Swiss regulations. This has led to a resurgence zero-based budgeting that is locked in focus on return on investment over a shorter time period. From a communications planning perspective there are no sacred cows, no guaranteed longer campaign story arcs or brand engagements as spend has to be justified from a clean slate each year
  • Most marketing spend tends to be around existing products, often in mature markets. New products run a high risk of failure. New products in new categories are generally the province of start-up graveyards – we remember the few successes rather than the legion of failures. Marketing thinking for mature brands in mature sectors (so most FMCG categories and established brands). This change has been driven by research financed by FMCG companies including Coca-Cola, Mars, Kraft and Kelloggs  at the Ehrensberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science. Ehrensberg-Bass’ Byron Sharp book ‘How brands grow‘ is the talisman for these marketers and their agency side media planners

The shorter focus of consumer marketers makes it much harder to build a brand culture that sticks like Red Bull has managed to do. Flow of storytelling becomes less important than reach and stream of repetition.

Oprah time: The Inevitable: understanding the 12 technological forces that will shape our future by Kevin Kelly

I re-read Kevin Kelly’s What Technology Wants and then decided to revisit The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future. The books make sense as ideal companions for each other, despite some overlap in terms of proof points.  On the face of it The Inevitable is a less ambitious book than What Technology Wants.

The inevitable

In the book Kevin Kelly touches on the kind of areas one would expect in  typical presentation given by an innovation team at an advertising agency. He is an unashamed techno-optimist and The key difference is two-fold:

Kelly pulls it together as a coherent idea rather than 12 slivers. He provides in-depth cogent arguments that bind the trends together. Kelly argues that transparency in governments will compensate for the erosion of privacy. I don’t agree with this particular viewpoint. If you are interested in how technology is shaping our world buy What Technology Wants; if you are still hungry for more follow it up with The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future.

You are not a goldfish

I have grown tired of a ridiculous statistic being used so frequently that it becomes marketing truth. It’s regurgitated in articles, blog posts, social media and presentations. The problem with it is that affects the way marketers view the world and conduct both planning and strategy. The picture below is a goldfish, his name is Diego. If you’ve managed to read this you aren’t Diego.

Diego

I realise that sounds a little dramatic, but check out this piece by Mark Jackson, who leads the Hong Kong and Shenzhen offices of Racepoint Global. It’s a good piece on the different elements that represent a good story (predominantly within a PR setting). And it is right that attention in a fragmented media eco-system will be contested more fiercely. But it starts with:

Over the course of the last 20 years, the average attention span has fallen to around eight seconds; a goldfish has an attention span of nine! The challenge for companies – established and new – is to figure out how to get even a small slice of that attention span when so many other companies are competing for it.

This ‘truth’ is bollocks. Mark’s piece is just the latest of a long line of marketing ‘thought leadership’ pieces that repeat this as gospel.

It fails the common sense test. Given that binge watching of shows like Game of Thrones or sports matches is commonplace, book sales are still happening, they would have to be balanced out with millisecond experiences for this 8-second value to make any sense as an average. The goldfish claim is like something out of a vintage Brass Eye episode.

To quote DJ Neil ‘Doctor’ Fox:

Now that is a scientific fact! There’s no real evidence for it; but it is scientific fact

Let’s say your common sense gets the better of your desire for a pithy soundbite and you decide to delve into the goldfish claim a bit deeper.  If one took a little bit of time to Google around it would become apparent that the goldfish ‘fact’ is dubious. It originally came from research commissioned by Microsoft’s Advertising arm ‘How does digital affect Canadian attention spans?‘. The original link to the research now defaults to the home page of Microsoft Advertising. Once you start digging into it, the goldfish wasn’t actually part of the research, but was supporting desk research and thats when its provenance gets murky.

PolicyViz in a 2016 blog post The Attention Span Statistic Fallacy called it out and provided links to the research that they did into the the goldfish ‘fact’ in 2016 – go over and check their article out. The BBC did similar detective work a year later and even went and asked an expert:

“I don’t think that’s true at all,” says Dr Gemma Briggs, a psychology lecturer at the Open University.

“Simply because I don’t think that that’s something that psychologists or people interested in attention would try and measure and quantify in that way.”

She studies attention in drivers and witnesses to crime and says the idea of an “average attention span” is pretty meaningless. “It’s very much task-dependent. How much attention we apply to a task will vary depending on what the task demand is.”

There are some studies out there that look at specific tasks, like listening to a lecture.

But the idea that there’s a typical length of time for which people can pay attention to even that one task has also been debunked.

“How we apply our attention to different tasks depends very much about what the individual brings to that situation,” explains Dr Briggs.

“We’ve got a wealth of information in our heads about what normally happens in given situations, what we can expect. And those expectations and our experience directly mould what we see and how we process information in any given time.”

But don’t feel too bad, publications like Time and the Daily Telegraph were punked by this story back in 2015. The BBC use the ‘fact’ back in 2002, but don’t cite the source.  Fake news doesn’t just win elections, it also makes a fool of marketers.

This whole thing feels like some marketer (or PR) did as poor a job as many journalists in terms of sourcing claims and this ‘truth’ gradually became reinforcing. Let’s start taking the goldfish out of marketing.

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Can too much ‘design thinking’ be a bad thing?

First of all, what’s ‘design thinking’?

It’s a term that has been popularised by IDEO to encapsulate user-centred thinking. Wikipedia does a good explanation of how it differs from the scientific method

Design thinking differs from the “Scientific method”, which begins by stating a hypothesis and then, via a feedback mechanism, continues iteratively to form a model or theory, by including consideration of the emotional content of the situation. While feedback in the scientific method is mostly obtained by collecting observational evidence with respect to observable/measurable facts, design thinking feedback also considers the consumer’s emotional state regarding the problem, as well as their stated and latent needs, in discovering and developing solutions. In scientific methods with a heavy emphasis on math or physics, emotional elements are typically ignored. Design thinking identifies and investigates both known and ambiguous aspects of the current situation in an effort to discover parameters and alternative solution sets which may lead to one or more satisfactory goals. Because design thinking is iterative, intermediate “solutions” are potential starting points of alternative paths, allowing for redefinition of the initial problem, in a process of co-evolution of problem and solution

So design thinking builds on the scientific method to also include human factor consideration (beyond physical ergonomic considerations of industrial designers).

The attraction for businesses is that it allows a wider range of intellectual tools to be thrown at a problem. Business problem solving traditionally has borrowed from the scientific method: data is used to form a hypothesis, which is then tested. The lack of consideration of human factors becomes a problem as an organisation tries to become marketing or customer-orientated.  In digital organisations the iterative nature of design thinking mirrors modern approaches to development on software and digital services. Short bursts of iterative work that are then refined regularly. Digital products and services don’t necessarily need to be built by the organisation; banks don’t need to build their bank statement system, restaurants their digital menus or phone companies their billing design interface.

The blind spot that I see in the process is when we forget that the promises made through a proposition built via design thinking has to be delivered in the real world.

Here’s a case in point.

By the 1970s Japanese quartz watch movements with miniaturised watch batteries  had proved an existential threat to the Swiss watch industry. The Swiss had embraced quartz technology alongside their tradition offerings as far back as 1969. 20 Swiss manufacturers came up with the beta21 movement which they released soon after Seiko’s Auctron. Overall the industry was slow to go into large commercial production of quartz watches.

By Museumsfoto (Deutsches Uhrenmuseum) [CC BY 3.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

By 1974, the price of gold shot up fourfold and the dollar dropped by 40%. These two factors hit the premium market hard. From the end of the war until the rise of China, America was the largest single market for luxury goods, though the Japanese gave them a good run for it. Luxury watchmakers were hit by both rising costs and dollar price inflation in their largest market. Low-end and premium brands disappeared left, right and centre.  In 1978, the number of quartz watches manufactured passed that of mechanical watches as part of what the watchmaking industry still calls the ‘quartz crisis’.

IWC ended up being bought by VDO. At the time VDO was an independent German company that specialised in making speedometers and gauges for both cars and the marine sector. It still makes electronics and instrumentation, but is now owned by Continental (of Continental tyres fame). It was the VDO connection which connected IWC with Porsche Design.

Porsche Design had a reputation for making watches that had a focus on user experience. They adopted a focus on minimal design, legibility and innovative materials.  Their first design was a chronograph which had an innovative  first black steel watch, they used PVD (physical vapour deposition) to provide a stronger surface than paint. They made an innovative model with a compass hide underneath its watch, the watch lifted up

The next watch would be a dive watch, it was partly aimed at a German Navy requirement for dive watches that had a sufficiently low magnetic signature that combat divers could safely work with naval mines.  IWC had invested in machines for working with titanium. Dive watches that perform are usually pretty chunky products.

Panerai PAM 347 + Rolex Sea-Dweller Deepsea 116660

These two designs by Panerai and Rolex respectively are good examples of the typical design approach. Enough metal is used to keep the immense pressures under control.

IWC Ocean 2000
IWC Ocean 2000
IWC Ocean 2000

Porsche Design took a radically different approach. They managed to make a smaller device by using the water pressure to improve water resistance. The pressure would squeeze the case tighter and tighter. This made it slimmer and necessitated the design of curves. This also make it exceptionally comfortable to wear.

It was a nightmare to the manufacturing function at IWC. Titanium is exceptionally hard to work; to the point that these watches were sold at or below the cost of sale (manufacturing, marketing, logistics etc). The Porsche design literally had no straight edges on the case making it exceptionally hard to manufacture.

In subsequent models of dive models IWC went back to more muscular hard edged designs that make life easier for the manufacturing line.

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What becomes apparent is that Porsche design was very focused on the end customer experience, but it was at the expense of business considerations. This brings us back quite neatly to design thinking which loses that process function over time.

Apple’s design team not only focus on the product design, but how it can be made. It mean’t thinking laterally about possible process improvement. They went to sweet factories in order to work out how to cast seamless transparent  plastic surfaces. Apple spent large amounts of its cash pile to forward purchase in-demand components and machine tools for factories. Foxconn had thousands of CNC machines working cranking out iPhone cases that would have been unthinkable from other manufacturers.

But most companies aren’t organised like Apple. They have limited resources to implement processes for customers. Conventional business thinking usually tries to reduce costs or outsource as a non-core product.

Five for Friday | 五日(星期五)

I’ve been a bit quiet on here this week, I was freelancing in Shoreditch, living the Nathan Barley dream with smoked salmon coffee. Here’s the things that made my day this week:

乐播报丨七夕节,乐高积木X搜狗输入法送“独家”惊喜啦! – Nice collab between Sogou and Lego on digital assets including stickers and a keyboard

Naomi Wu shared this cyberpunk themed maker festival video by Tao Bao – the Alibaba-owned mainland China marketplace. I quite like it, it has a 1980s post-Blade Runner vibe to the visuals – but through the lens of Hong Kong comedy director Stephen Chow.

Students Nicci Yin and Nan Hung Tsai  from the ArtCenter College of Design gave this interesting talk on making locative art more social. Like the ARKit stuff, these explorations feel fresh like the computer graphics in the early 1990s and Macromedia (pre-Adobe) Flash. The idea of scanning items with a hand controller into virtual reality and it becoming a virtual social asset is was interesting. There are interesting implications handing off across realities in storytelling.

Great interview with Action Bronson – I let him speak for himself

ARKit reminds me of back in the day with start of Macromedia Flash; developers and artists being creative and playful. Check out this brief animation from a Japanese developer

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Function and form

Great interview with Henry Rollins with BBC Hard Talk from January 2016. The interesting bit after 6:00 is how Rollins talks about his stage image that evolved from the rudimentary circumstances of being on the road.

The gym shorts and torso look was to cut down on the washing he needed to do in restaurant sinks post-concert.

I noticed that Whiskas had upped its packaging game. They added a bit of personality to the container design with ears. It cut through the tins, oval plastic trays and aluminium trays usual in cat food packaging. It acts as great brand signage.

Whiskas packaging

Christina Xu on Chinese user experience and consumer behaviour

I’ve been a big fan of Christina’s work for a while and this presentation is a great example of his work. Bookmark it; watch it during your lunch break its well worthwhile.

Great examples of online to offline (O2O) interaction in processes and services that are continually expanding.  Interesting points about the lack of social norms or boundaries on the usage of online / mobile service in the real world. I’ve seen people live their online life in the cinema there are NO boundaries as Christina says.

Living with the Apple Watch

I got the first iteration of the Apple Watch and managed to put up with it for about 48 hours before giving up on it. I have managed to persevere with the the Apple Watch 2.

Apple managed to speed up the performance of glanceable content, but it still doesn’t have the use case nailed. Watch 2 tries to go hard into fitness, which is a mixed bag in terms of data and accuracy. I am not convinced that it is any better than Fitbit and similar devices.

They did improve the product in two design areas. The Nike straps make the watch less sweaty to wear on your wrist. It is now comparable to wearing a G-Shock. They also managed to life-proof the Watch. You can now wear it swimming (but I wouldn’t advise snorkelling or scuba diving) and in the shower.  The battery life is still meh.

I upgraded the OS to watchOS 4 public beta but haven’t managed to use the Siri powered contextual face yet. As a concept it promises to be a step in the right direction to provide the kind of transformation wearables needed.

watchOS 4 made me realise something that had been nagging me for a while.

The Apple Watch doesn’t have any personality, or at least traits of a personality that I’d care about. It’s a detail that disappoints me. Mostly it’s invisible as a device, with the occasional glances. It gives me the occasional messages that sound like a vaguely resistant teen or like bursts of micro-aggression.

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It wouldn’t take that much effort to have a bit more manners or personality in the copywriting. How about some icons?

Susan Kare was the icon designer for original Apple Mac, back in 1984. She came up with icons that were useful and gave the machine a personality. You got a sense of the personality behind the developers who created the machine. This was the kind of detail that Apple was known to obsess over.

dogcow

Some of the icons like the dogcow, the bomb and the sad mac became iconic shorthand amongst Mac users. The dogcow was used in printer utility to show page orientation.

Like the early Mac, the Apple Watch doesn’t have a clear killer app and defined use case. It would benefit from manners, humour or even a bit of Siri wit. What’s more using well designed icons would reduce the effort in terms of product localisation.

You could argue that limited device resources don’t allow it. But I don’t buy that theory, an Apple Watch has more memory and computing power than the original Mac. I think its about that legendary attention to detail that Steve Jobs had (and drove everyone else made with. Apple has tried to codify this in their process, but you can’t bake in quirky obsession.

I guess I am old school Apple. I use an iPhone because it works well with my Mac, rather than the other way around. I still come across things where I see ‘Ahh, Apple’s thought about…’ in my Mac. My iPhone is a portable extension of my data, and doubles as a mobile modem for the Mac as needed; it gets in as the Mac’s plus 1.

By comparison the Apple Watch has less of a connection to the Mac and leeches off the iPhone. For a product that has little use case, it needs to work harder at building loyalty through my relationship with it as a device.

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Oprah time: Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

I took the opportunity in June to re-read Daniel Kahneman’s work Thinking Fast and Slow. Kahneman uses storytelling from key points in his career to take the audience on a journey through biases and better decision-making. From a book that is obviously aimed at a consumer audience it has an outsized impact on marketers.

Presentations now talk about behavioural economics. What this meant in practice was revisiting the interface of psychological cues and marketing communications to encourage a desired behavioural change – like a purchase. It brought a renewed focus on A/B testing of call to action copy and images based around known consumer biases.

Thinking Fast & Slow

This isn’t necessarily a marketing handbook however, it is designed to make the average person more aware of their decision making process. It reminded me of Dan Ariel’s Predictably Irrational.

The key difference is that Kahneman’s work provides more of a learning structure in the book. Ariel is closer to the ‘ain’t it cool’ style of Malcolm Gladwell (though more rigorously researched).

I’d recommend that marketers start on Thinking Fast and Slow at the back. There is  summary of the book and then some supporting white papers. Once you have them read then go to the front and work your way through. The reason why I suggest this approach is that marketers use case is different to that of the man in the street (who buys his books from the non-fiction section of the New York Times bestseller list).

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Silicon Valley on what they think are the largest trends

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.

Thinking about Marcel

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.

1706 - Marcel

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?

TL;DR

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?

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Monday marketing thought

“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.

Global activation, local amplification

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.

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Technology is way ahead of interface designs

This post has taken a while to write. When I started we were on the cusp of Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference. If you’re interested in technology, but aren’t an Apple fan it still matters as it sets the agenda. Apple’s moves affect wearables, smartphones, tablets and OTT (over the top) TV services.
 
The New York Times published an interesting article Apple Piles On the Apps, and Users Say, ‘Enough!’.
 
Ignore the title of the article itself, which is a function of clickbait rather than content. Instead, it provides an good critique of interface design across platforms. It highlights:
  • 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)
If you ignore 3D touch for a moment, these problems are cross platform in nature. (Some vendors like Huawei have attempted a similar 3D touch feature in their own apps. They did not try to get developer adoption.)
 
Thinking about Messenger app developers struggle to integrate disparate features into the interface. The exceptions are:
  • LINE
  • WeChat – the take up of mini-apps in WeChat have been disappointing performers. Is this indicating a possible ceiling for functionality?
Wearables as a category looks thin, with Apple being one of the largest players. Pebble got acquired by Fitbit. Jawbone seems to be a dead company walking. Their blog was last updated in October 2016, Twitter in February. It’s ironic: their original BlueTooth headset business would now be a great opportunity.
 
I’ve tried Casio’s BlueTooth enabled G-Shock, four Nike Fuelbands and a Polar wearable. I am on my second Apple Watch and I still don’t know what the real compelling use case is for these devices.
 
So how does this stuff come about? I think its down to the process of creation, which affects analysis and critical analysis of the product. Creation in this case is essentially throwing stuff up against the wall until it sticks and then the process becomes reductive. As a case in point, look how smartphones have evolved to the slab form factor. 
 
Throwing stuff against the wall
 
I’ve worked enough times on digital products to understand the functionality is king. It’s the single most important thing. I’ve worked on products that wonderful functions but:
  • 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
That’s how products are now built. The focus is on speed of execution of the idea. It isn’t about thinking through the complete experience. Agile methodologies with their short sprints puts emphasis on function. Away from data to feed into big picture optimisation. A function focus means that you end up with ‘lean in’ interaction designs as default.
 
There aren’t many organisations that get it right. I’d argue that the early Flickr team and Slack ‘got it’. Though there are common factors:
  • 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
Where are the ergonomists and futurists?
 
There are people who can provide the rigorous critique.
Back in the day organisations with large R&D functions like NASA and BT employed writers to envisage the future. Staring into the future became a career. People like Syd Mead provided a visual map of the future. Mead and others did a lot of work thinking about the context of technology to users. At the present time lots of criticism levelled at VR glasses is it being anti-social. This comes as no surprise to anyone who has read William Gibson’s Neuromancer. Social interaction is more likely to come glasses wearer to glasses wearer. It will happen in a virtual third space. Neal Stephenson explored this third space in Snow Crash. The Black Sun was a virtual night club.
 

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.

Oprah time: True Names by Vernor Vinge

New York Times journalist John Markoff was interviewed by Kara Swisher on the Recode podcast in February and talked about reading science fiction to better understand how technology is likely to affect us.
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It’s actually a great piece of advice. Back in the day, large corporates used to employ authors to write stories based on scenarios as part of their research programmes. Many people have attributed the clamshell mobile phone to the Star Trek TV series and the flip communicator devices.

Markoff outlined his favourite stories.

“Snow Crash” by Neal Stephenson (1992): “The premise is, America only does two things well. One is write software, and the other is deliver pizzas. [laughs] What’s changed?”
“The Shockwave Rider” by John Brunner (1975): Markoff said he built his career on an early understanding that the internet would change everything. He said, “[The Shockwave Rider] argued for that kind of impact on society, that networks transformed everything.”
“True Names” by Vernor Vinge (1981): “The basic premise of that was, you had to basically hide your true name at all costs. It was an insight into the world we’re living in today … We have to figure it out. I think we have to go to pseudonymity or something. You’re gonna participate in this networked existence, you have to be connected to meatspace in some way.”
“Neuromancer” by William Gibson (1984): Markoff is concerned about the growing gap between elders who need care and the number of caregivers in the world. And he thinks efforts to extend life are “realistically possible,” pointing to Gibson’s “300-year-old billionaires in orbit around the Earth.

I had read Snow Crash relatively recently and Neuromancer was revisited last year. I had a vague recollection of The Shockwave Rider and True Names, but hadn’t read them in over 20 years.

Vinge’s True Names is published by Penguin with a collection of essays from a range of technology thinkers including

  • Chip Morningstar and Randy Farmer who founded Habitat one of the first massive online multiplayer games, back when dial up bulletin boards were the bleeding edge. Farmer worked at Yahoo! when I was there and was involved in Yahoo! 360 and still consults on community / social platform issues
  • Bruce Schneier wrote about how security products fail us. Bruce is one of the world’s leading commentators on all things hack and cryptography related
  • Mark Pesce is better known now as an Australian-based computer academic, but two decades ago he invented VRML – a way of representing the internet as a 3D thing and prescient in the light of Oculus Rift and others.
  • Marvin Minsky; was a pioneer in AI and machine learning provided an afterward to the story

That True Names managed to attract essays from these people should be an endorsement in itself.  Re-reading it two decades on, Vinge’s story echoes and riffs on the modern web. Hacking, cyberterrorism, constant government surveillance and the tension between libertarian netizens versus the regulated  real world. The central theme of Mr Slippy; a hacker who is identified by US government officials and co-opted as an unwilling informant and agent provocateur feels reminiscent of LULZSec leader and super grass Sabu. It’s amazing that Vinge wrote this in 1981 – although he envisages the web as being rather like a Second Life / Minecraft metaverse – with NeuroSky style interfaces.

Penguin’s careful curation of essays riffing on the themes of True Names is where the real value is in my opinion. For someone who cares about technology and consumer behaviour. It is worthwhile keeping this book on the shelf and diving in now and again.

More information
Want to understand the future? Read science fiction, John Markoff says. | Recode
Habitat Chronicles – thoughts on gaming, online products and community building by Chip Morningstar and Randy Farmer
Schneier on Security
Mark Pesce’s professional website and his columns for The Register
Vernor Vinge lecture on long-term scenarios for the future via The Wayback Machine