Things that made my day this week

Things that made my day this week.

Overlord is an amazing genre mashing film. It’s not probably the best film, but does look like lots of fun

Prior to working in marketing I spent a brief time in the chemical and petrochemical industries to try and work out what I wanted to do with my life beyond DJ’ing and living for the weekend. I worked on materials that were three times as strong as kevlar. Yet even now kevlar, Dyneema (that I worked on) or engineering plastic PEEK are still far from the mainstream applications. We don’t have everyday lightweight composite family cars. Yet materials hype like that around graphene assume that the material will be immediately transformational. This is a great video on graphene hype.

If you are tech-orientated this video by Dr Kaizhong where he talks about his concept of the digital universe if interesting.

I got this via Matt’s great Web Curios newsletter. It is not everyday that you see a western pop video shot in a middle class neighbourhood and apartment of Beijing.

Ogilvy put together a summary of what they thought were key themes from Cannes.

I am not a big fan of deadmau5′ overly compressed pop sounding blend of dance music, but this video is mental. If you are watching Tomorrowland festival’s live stream over the weekend, you might think that the artist is thumbing his nose at his fan base. The video seems to parody archetypes of his fan base.

Recommendations for a marketers bookshelf

Books

My recommendations for a marketers bookshelf is based on my own reading. My own experience is very consumer, brand communications and behavioural change focused. Here’s some recommendations, they aren’t in a ranking or grouped in a particular order.

Most marketing communications projects are trying to create some sort of behavioural change in the audience, so understanding more about persuasion has got to be a pretty handy thing right? Robert Cialdini  has two great works:

How Brands Grow part 1 and part 2 – pretty much the modern marketers bible for B2C brands of various stripes. Byron Sharp distills down decades of evidence-based research that has been carried out by Ehrensberg-Bass Institute of Marketing Science attached to the University of South Australia. The research institute has got a who’s who of corporate sponsors supporting their work and using their data:

  • General Mills
  • Grupo Bimbo
  • Procter & Gamble
  • Red Bull
  • Unilever

You get the idea. If the research is good enough for these brands, it’s good enough for you.

A key part of planning is working out that insight which will speak to your target consumers. Trends books are sometimes a handy short cut to creating a first draft of a hypothesis. You can do worse than leave through pollster Mark Penn’s Microtrends, Microtrends Squared and Microtrends Cubed that he has built up. If you’re thinking about transformation then Kevin Kelly’s The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future is the Microtrends for digital transformation. Tom Doctoroff’s What Chinese Want: Culture, Communism, and China’s Modern Consumer – is a another great primer.

The Long And the Short of It by Les Binet and Media in Focus: Marketing Effectiveness in the Digital Era. Binet is a respected communications planning expert, he is currently head of effectiveness at Adam & Eve DDB. He has published some of the best works on marketing effectiveness for the IPA.

If you studied marketing in college David A. Aaker is probably a familiar name. His Strategic Marketing Management book is often an introductory core course text. It used to double as a doorstop in a lot of dorm rooms that I visited. If you want to refresh your memory on branding he has written an accessible primer to recharge long lost lecture memories: Aaker on Branding: 20 Principles That Drive Success.

Truth, Lies and Advertising – Jon Steel’s work on account planning is that rare thinking; a very readable text book. I like to go back to it to boil things down to first principles and forget complexity.

When you’re looking for inspiration, there are two good approaches:

  • Go lateral. Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt’s Oblique Strategies isn’t a book, but a set of 100 cards. Eno periodically suffered writers block in the studio and these cards are a successful approach that he developed over time with collaborator Peter Schmidt. It also works for finding your way through planning
  • Look back into time. If you are looking back into time, I would recommend Sun Tzu’s The Art of War if you are looking for inspiration on strategic approach. Buy the cheapest copy that you can get in print. Mine is covered in post-it notes and scribbles in the margins. More expensive versions have ‘business thought leaders’ trying to reinterpret it for you and just end up muddying the water. Those 13 chapters are well worth visiting on a regular basis. Bill Bernbach’s Book is a source of inspiration; as is the better known Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy

How To Write A Thesis by Umberto Eco. I know what you’re thinking: ‘Ged have you lost your marbles, why would I care about writing a thesis?’ Eco’s book is a really good guide to collecting one’s thoughts and presenting facts gained through a comprehensive research process. As the old martial arts mantra goes: slow is smooth, smooth is fast. Whilst Professor Eco isn’t a marketing scholar he knows a lot about thinking and being cogent.

Ok, you’ve distilled all the knowledge from the rest of the books in this list, along with desk and possibly primary search.  You are ready to present your killer ideas to the client, or internal decision makers. Jon Steel has got you covered. Perfect Pitch: The Art of Selling Ideas and Winning New Business is a great refresher that helps shake you’re presentation game up.

What books would add? If you have additional recommendations, put them below in the comments section.

Public relations role in the world

I had a listen to The Holmes Report podcast that this week interviewed Michael Frolich of Ogilvy UK on public relations role in the world.There was a particular focus on brand communications rather than corporate communications, public affairs or investor relations. It’s worthwhile going and having a listen; I will still be here when you come back. There were two themes that stuck out with me.

  • How PR compares to other marketing disciplines
  • The role of planning in PR

I wrote some notes about each focusing on where my view differed from Michael.

PR as an equal discipline

Should the PR industry have hang-ups about its profession versus other marketing specialities? No.

In terms of account billings, public relations is still the junior profession compared to advertising, creative agencies and media agencies.

From a client relationship perspective, whether PR is an equal discipline really depends what the client is trying to do. There is a propensity to use different marketing agency functions based on what the overall marketing strategy is looking to achieve.

Zero-Based Budgeting

Public relations agencies are not the sole source of expertise in generating ‘PR coverage’. In some respects many marketing agencies already have PR and not realise it. It tends to be attached to their social teams and might be called something like influence, content marketing or earned media. This tends to be in some of the media agencies at least. Ad agency creative if sufficiently emotive can foster talkability and social sharing – which is another form of earned media.

Historically Japanese advertising agencies like Dentsu have sold public relations as an integrated part of the PR programmes. The perception by western brands has been that PR was thrown in for free like a plastic toy in a box of breakfast cereal. The reality is a more integrated approach, though PR was definitely the junior discipline.

It would would be wrong of the industry to assume that they are the only experts in this space. I also believe that PR agencies should have more to offer than generation of earned media, more on that later.

From a billings and investment point of view public relations is not an equal to disciplines like media planning and buying, or advertising.

A lot of PR leaders I’ve met don’t understand where public relations fits and when it will make the biggest difference. I’ve never heard an agency leader turn around to a client and say ‘advertising or direct response marketing is more suitable for your needs’. Clients tend to believe that they need to support each initiate that they get budget for, even if the contribution that their efforts make are marginal. It shows that they have an ‘A-grade’ team spirit, but is harder to justify from a strategic point-of-view and may even devalue the currency of marketing communications-orientated PR in the business.

It would be great if the CIPR could mandate PR leaders to read Sharp.

  • To the best of my knowledge the PR industry has never published campaign effectiveness research on a mass scale similar to the IPA’s  ‘The long and the short of it’
  • I don’t know if Sabres, CIPR or PRCA award entries have solid enough data for this?

It would be great if the CIPR, PRCA or PRSA could make this happen.

Planning in PR

Frolich starts to get some of the points right about the fraught relationship between planning as a discipline when embedded in PR agencies. I would be far more aggressive and say a lot of PR senior leaders aren’t ready for it. Part of this is the generalist nature of PR roles and also business structure within clients and PR agencies. Many PR agencies are run on very little capital. They’ve always had an asset light model and just been pure operating expenses. From a knowledge perspective you are seeing new hires being brought in at a more junior level than the people that they replace which will have a knock on effect throughout the industry.

Securing funding for any kind of tooling beyond media databases is really hard when you’re working agency side.  That it’s just the cost of doing business in the industry nowadays struggles with a culture that tries to bill these back to a specific client. Which also explains why PR often struggles to present its ideas.

I’ve known agencies being reluctant to subscribe to publications where their clients might get coverage or media monitoring services. Justifying social listening or SEO tools is really painful. I know, I fought that battle trying to get social listening tools into the business. It is nigh on impossible trying to get a WARC subscription. PR agency clients tend to value and pay for direct action tasks and reporting, not thinking, analysis, strategy or measurement. Having worked as strategist who has worked in PR agencies and other disciplines I ended up having to pay for some reports out of my own pocket when I was agency side and building up my own library of reports and presentations over time.

This sole focus on direct action tasks probably explains the earlier points I made about agency leaders not turning around to a client and pointing out the alternative approaches they should be taking instead of PR to address a particular marketing challenge.

William Gibson in his Blue Ant trilogy of novels (Pattern Recognition, Spook Country and Zero History), discusses PR as part of the plot. He enlightenedly considers PR beyond media relations. Instead he talks about its role mediating relations between an organsiation and its public. PR is considered by him to have its finger on the pulse of the zeitgeist. That should mean that planning is a greater fit than it is in reality. So an opportunity is there, but whether the industry can really step up to it en masse is quite another matter.

Data and insights sharing between agencies of different working on the same project needs to improve. Often PR plans are done in isolation of planning process and IF YOU’RE LUCKY then recut to incorporate insights.

 

The influencer post

Mark Ritson wrote an op-ed over at Marketing Week on influence. 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.

This time last year I noted:

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

Influence: Google Trends

There has been a corresponding rises in interest around paid influencer marketing

Influence: Google Trends

There hasn’t been the same interest peak in organic (PR-driven) influencer work

Influence: Google Trends

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.

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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:

  • Consumer marketing
  • Mature product sectors
  • Mature brands

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
  • You can lock out rivals out of relationships
More information

Mark Ritson: How ‘influencers’ made my arse a work of art | Marketing Week
Edelman Digital Trends Report – (PDF) makes some interesting reading
Instagram Marketing: Does Influencer Size Matter? | Markerly Blog
Influence Marketing: How to Create, Manage and Measure Brand Influencers in Social Media Marketing by Danny Brown & Sam Fiorella ISBN-13: 978-0789751041 (2013)
Facebook Zero: Considering Life After the Demise of Organic Reach
Quantifying the Invisible Audience in Social Networks – Stanford University and Facebook Data Science
PLOS ONE: Detecting Emotional Contagion in Massive Social Networks by Lorenzo Coviello,Yunkyu Sohn, Adam D. I. Kramer,Cameron Marlow, Massimo Franceschetti, Nicholas A. Christakis, James H. Fowler
Senior Execs Not Convinced About Social’s Worth | Marketing Charts
Measuring User Influence in Twitter: The Million Follower Fallacy – Cha et al (2010) – (PDF)
Visualizing Media Bias through Twitter. Jisun An. University of Cambridge. Meeyoung Cha. KAIST. Krishna P. Gummadi. MPI-SWS et al – (PDF)
Mr. Bags x Longchamp: How to Make 5 Million RMB in Just Two Hours | Jing Daily
It’s time that we talk about micro-influencers

The long and the BBH of it

This started with a blog post that talks about the IPA’s The Long And The Short Of It (TLATSOI) role in the planning and strategy process of the ad industry.

Thermometer

The Long And The Short Of It Needs The Wrong And The Shit Of It. Feel free to go and have a read and come back.

TL;DR

The IPA’s original research had flaws in the methodology:

  • Focusing purely on successes brings in biases due to the research being taken out of context. Context provided by the ‘complete’ population of good, mediocre and awful campaigns rather than award winners
  • There aren’t any lessons on how not to truly mess up
TLATSOI isn’t a LinkedIn article

Its easy to throw shots over the table when someone has done a lot of work. TLATSOI isn’t an article on the ‘five morning habits of Warren Buffet’ to make you successful.

Les Binet and Peter Field analysed 996 campaigns entered in the IPA Effectiveness awards (1980 – 2010). That would have taken them a considerable amount of time to do. They then managed to write it all up and distill it down into a very slim volume on my bookshelf.

The work is an achievement and Binet & Field deserve our gratitude and respect. Secondly, other marketing disciplines don’t have their version of TLATSOI. We couldn’t critique TLATSOI if it didn’t exist.

Let’s say we want to stand on their shoulders and build something more comprehensive than TLATSOI. Just what would it take?

Working with what you have

Binet and Field worked with what they have. If you’ve ever written an award entry you’ll know pulling it together is a pain in the arse. 996 award entries represents thousands of weeks of non-billable agency time. This was also strained through their empirical experience in the business, which adds a ‘welcome’ bias.

Now imagine if that kind of rigor in terms of documentation and analysis was put into mediocre campaigns. The kind of campaign where the client logo barely makes into the agency credentials deck.

Without a major agency (nudge, nudge, wink, wink BBH) providing all their warts-and-all data, the initative won’t start.

It will be hard to get what is needed. Agency functions aren’t geared up to deliver the information. A technological solution would take a good while to put in place; and like all IT projects would have a 70% failure rate.

In an industry where careers are made and talent attracted on ‘hits’; theres a big chunk of realpolitik to address.

How would you keep a lid on the dirty laundry?

We live in a connected world. To the point that there are now likely to be four certainties. Birth, death, taxes and data breaches. Imagine a data dump, some Excel skills and what was a bit of snark would do to an agency’s reputation? The stain of an ad agency equivalent of the movie industry Gold Raspberries would likely bury careers.

What do we measure?

My friend Rob Blackie started some of the thinking on effectiveness data SLA tiers

A = Tests the objective directly using a Randomised Control Test (RCT) in a real world environment (e.g. measured at point of sale).
B = RCT tests of proximate objective (e.g. brand), direct measurement of impacts without correction for population bias or confounding factors (e.g. a sunny week drives a lot of ice cream consumption). Or case studies (independent), quality survey data on changes in behaviour, testing in an artificial environment. For instance a Nielsen Brand Lift study
C = Case studies (non-independent), data sources that may contain significant bias compared to the underlying population. For instance: Award entries.
D = Indicative data such as PR coverage, social media Likes and similar.
E = Anecdotes. Extra points for quality, and reproducibility across different suppliers / evaluators.

There are challenges capturing long-term branding factors such as advertising ‘ad stock’ or ‘carryover‘. That then takes you into fundemental questions:

How long is the minimum viable time of campaign duration to be considered for assessment?

How long should we be measuring long term branding effects? How do you measure ‘clientside’ quality issues:

  • Resourcing / budgets
  • Product
  • Ambience in the case of client-owned channels
  • Adequate quality briefs. Are the objectives written well? Are they relevant to the business
  • Mission creep or changing company agendas

All of this means that getting to the greater volume of poor campaigns as well as the best is easier said than done. The best way to kick it off would be having large agencies to work together on putting together data sets.