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.

Apple Special Event – key outtakes

Key takeouts from the Apple special event with a little bit of analysis
 
Retail
First presentation by Angela Ahrendts. There is a question of why she hadn’t presented at previous keynotes.  My read on it is that that the revenue per square foot metric beloved of retail analysts will tumble. Apple seems to be taking the mall companies idea of shopping as entertainment and doing it for their individual stores.
Town hall – what they call the stores internally, bigger focus on engagement rather than transactions – is this an effort to try and recapture cool?
Store features
  • Plaza – public private spaces outside the store if possible, interesting implications on future store placements – probably less in malls
  • Forum – open plan internal space
  • Boardroom – private space focused on developer relations, was probably the most interesting push. Stores are being given a stronger push as embassies for developer relations. 
  • Creative Pro – Apple genius for the creative apps, probable mix of amateur and professional audiences addressed
  • Today at Apple – driven by Creative Pro staff to focus on creating more usuage of key offerings i.e. photo walks – think Nike Running Club. Also includes teacher outreach
  • Genius grove – the genius bar but with plants presumably to try and break up the overall store noise
  • Avenues  – wider aisles that products are on
Continued retail expansion in the US including Chicago – interesting that international expansion wasn’t mentioned. 
 
Apple Watch
  • 50% yearly growth – the series 2 fixed many of the hygiene factors wrong with the first version
  • 97% customer satisfaction – health seems to be driving this
Health features: focus on heart rate monitor and getting proactive about flagging elevated heart rate. Also focusing on heart rhythm changes as well.
 
watchOS 4 out September 19 available to all customers. Interesting that they didn’t drill into some of interesting features on watchOS 4 using Siri
 
Series 3 Apple Watch with cellular built in. Your Dick Tracy fantasies are alive. Apple thinks that people will leave their phones at home and bring their Apple Watch. They also see it as killing the iPod Nano with wireless music playback. I am yet to be convinced.
Apple added a barometric sensor; usage example was focused on health and fitness rather then locative apps. Not a great surprise given that these sensors have been in premium G-Shocks for a good while. 
 
Apple used specially designed lower power wifi and Bluetooth silicon. But no news about who is making the cellular modem. The SIM is embedded on the motherboard and presumably a software update? These changes could have interesting implications for future phones?
 
Interesting carrier partnerships, in particular all three of China’s mobile carriers, but only EE in the UK?
 
Apple TV
 
  • Apple TV now supports 4K, unsurprising hardware upgrade and includes high dynamic range – Apple is following the TV set industry’s lead
  • More interesting is the amount of content deals Apple has done with studios, in particular keeping the price point of 4K HDR content the same as was previously charged for HD content.
  • Interesting TV partnerships but no major UK TV stations only Mubi
  • Emphasis on easy access to sports on the Apple TV would wind up cable companies further
  • Apple TV was also positioned as the control interface for HomeKit smarthome products. There was no further  update on HomeKit in the presentation 
iPhone 8 incremental changes
 
  • Wireless charging with glass back. The steel and copper reinforcement of the glass is probably to help with the induction charging
  • Incremental improvements in picture quality. Bigger focus on AR including new sensors.
iPhone X
 
  • Positioned as future direction for iPhones. Biometric face ID is clever but has issues. I wonder how it will work with facial hair or weight gain – Apple claims that it will adapt. Apple also claims to be able to detect photos and masks. It’s also used for face tracking in AR applications with some SnapChat lens demos.
  • As with Touch ID, there is a PIN code if your face doesn’t work. I have found that Touch ID doesn’t work all the time so you need that PIN back up.
  • The notch at the top poses some UX / design issues and the industrial design implies case free usage which will be a step away from usual iPhone usage.
  • What isn’t immediately apparent to me is the user case for the iPhone X versus the iPhone 8 plus?
What was lacking in the iPhone presentation was a celebration of all in the changes in iOS 11 under the hood.
A11 – Bionic chip in the iPhone 8 and X
  • Includes new integrated GPU for machine learning and graphics. This explains why Imagination Technologies are in trouble
  • New image sensor processingThe A11 processor has a hardware neural network on the chip for the iPhone X – unsure if its also usable on the 8
Apple’s moves to embrace, co-opt Qi wireless charging and build a super-standard on top of it will likely wind up members like Qualcomm and Huawei. How much of this is down to user experience and how much is down to the desire to get Apple IP in the technology stack?
Apple is left with a large product line of iPhones: SE, 6 series, 7 series, 8 series and the X

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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The Bell Pottinger Post

PR firm Bell Pottinger has got entangled in a mess of the South African government and the Gupta family.  More people have written about this in depth, so I will just link to them at the bottom of the post.

Here’s some thoughts on it all

There but for the grace of God go I – must have reverberated through the minds of at least some corporate communications and public affairs professionals. There is a tension between finding clients that have needs and are willing to pay for high-powered counsel versus the risk that the world may come down on you.

That’s the risk you take when you work with businesses that are involved in sensitive areas or at the edge of the law:

  • Businesses looking down the barrel of antitrust regulation like Google or Qualcomm
  • Businesses involved in the ‘carbon economy’ – Edelman had previously worked for coal producers and fracking projects until they came under sustained attack
  • Big food and big agri: McDonalds, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola are all targets. Monsanto has been of concern due to GM crops
  • Mining
  • Multinationals doing business in sensitive countries like Myanmar
  • Defence
  • Questionable regimes: Ketchum’s work with Russia is the stand out example or H+K Strategies arrangement of the deceptive ‘Nayirah’ testimony which played a big part in getting the US government behind the first Gulf War

Your business is at the mercy of pressure groups and the wider media agenda.

But that’s also the reason why I think that Bell Pottinger can survive IF they can hunker down and weather the storm. There will always be a demand for organisations and individuals who want to launder their reputation or argue the unpopular side of an argument.

Even if PR agencies aren’t doing it, organisations that sit at the nexus of business and security will likely step into the breach bringing the necessary PR skills on board.

As a PR person, is it the kind of work I would like to do? No, but then I am a brand marketer; corporate communications was something I could do, but didn’t particularly enjoy doing.  I could see the attraction of the work as it would be financially very lucrative and there would be the opportunity for business travel and ‘war stories’ from the office to talk about at dinner parties.

It’s magical thinking if you expect ‘unethical’ clients to suddenly be denied representation. This will be even more the case as the US multilateral world view is challenged by China’s more transactional approach. We’re currently living in a golden age for NGOs and NFPs – it would be unrealistic to think that it will continue this way.

In the grand scheme of things, the PRCA censure won’t mean that much, its a bigger move for the UK PR industry; showing that it can muck out its own stables. From Bell Pottinger’s longer term perspective it won’t mean much because of the divided nature of PR industry representation. As individuals PRs can sign up to be members of the CIPR (Chartered Institute of Public Relations).  The PRCA primarily represents agencies (although it has started to offer individual consultant accreditation). The key benefit is an ISO-9000 type accreditation for agency management systems. It wouldn’t be that hard for a member agency to set-up and get ISO-9000 accreditation and maintain it.  If there are enough practitioners working at Bell Pottinger, they can highlight their staffs professional status as members of the CIPR.

That Tim Bell interview: if you haven’t seen it, have a good watch. I can see this being used in broadcast media training for a good while. It’s the first time I’d ever seen Sir Tim in anything more casual than formal business wear.

His mannerisms are odd in places, particularly at the beginning.  His answers are odd. For example, when asked what went wrong he quoted Sir Walter Scott, which made him look literate but arrogant. Given that he went on there for a reason, presumably to put as much distance between himself and the mess – it was an ideal opportunity to land his side of the story in a précis.

His phone rings, he declines the call and then shows the interviewer his phone screen. Why din’t he mute his phone or shut it down at this point and why did he want the journalist to see who had called? He then gets a message on his phone and a second call. Only on the second ring does he finally silences the phone.

Chris Geoghegan is the non-executive director of a number of prominent UK companies, an ex-BAE Systems executive and the father of Victoria Geoghegan. Whilst he wouldn’t be best pleased with the current situation, Bell doxes him on the UK’s most prominent news programme. Geoghegan had been mentioned in an op-ed of a South African publication, but had been largely ignored in most of the press coverage surrounding the Bell Pottinger scandal. Whilst it won’t be anything new to a board doing their due diligence it might drive sniggering down the country club. Bell didn’t need to volunteer the information, he chose to do so.

The smoking gun emails – after Henderson had resigned as CEO of Bell Pottinger, the BBC interviewer questions Bell about two (presumably new) emails that seems to be at odds with his own claim that he recommended they not take the work as Bell Pottinger had a client conflict.  You can see this after 1:15.

For a piece of business that’s a conflict of interest,  the January correspondence is a very odd email. I can understand him saying that the meeting was successful. But then he goes on to talk about the revenue opportunity and how he will personally oversee the project.

By April why would Lord Bell be still offering advice on the account if he believed it to be a conflict of interest? His excuse for this was getting back into business after having a stroke.

Bell puts the blame squarely at the door of James Henderson. UK media coverage implied that the schism between Bell and Henderson went beyond the Gupta business. So Bell might have a bigger axe to grind and Guptagate is just a handy vehicle.

Lord Bell then talks down the future prospects of Bell Pottinger, it might be an overly pessimistic view. Bell has a new rival business, its in his interest to make Bell Pottinger’s problems even worse.

Whilst Bell Pottinger have problems in their London office, they have successful branches in Hong Kong and Singapore where this won’t matter as much IF (and its a big IF) they can hunker down and weather the current storm. The business could retrench, rebrand and survive.

The Guptas needed to be introduced to a good PR agency, after this every dictator, unpopular mega corporation and shady mogul will know where to go. If Bell Pottinger is no longer about, then there are any number of large corporate agencies or boutiques who will take their business.

More information
Ketchum (Sort of, Not Really) Ends Its Relationship with Vladimir Putin | AdWeek
Deception on Capitol Hill – New York Times
Edelman and Media Zoo PR targeted by anti-fracking protestors | PR Week
Guptagate: Who Are The Family At The Center Of South Africa’s Political Storm? | Newsweek
Op-Ed: The Invasion of the Body Snatchers – a weekend edition | Daily Maverick
Christopher Vincent Geoghegan BA (Hons), FRAES | Bloomberg Research.
How China Aims to Limit the West’s Global Influence – NYTimes.com
PR industry reads last rites for scandal-hit Bell Pottinger | FT
Battle of the spin doctors: Bell Pottinger PR titan quits over race hate dirty tricks campaign despite saying it wasn’t his fault | Mail Online

That Trivago poster

If you’re a Londoner, the end of summer is marked by two things; the Notting Hill Carnival and Trivago’s annual advertising blitz on public transport. In media land there has been some complaints. We need to talk about the Trivago ad – a triumph of media planning over creative execution according to an op-ed written by a creative in Campaign. The article is timely, it taps into a wider existential crisis about the death of creativity as advertising is swallowed up and pooped all over by Google and Facebook.

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Her shirt changes. In some placements she wears a light blue shirt, she also wears one in red plaid. The logo moves placement too from top right to bottom right in the posters.

A few things about the campaign, some more obvious to marketers than others:

  • Despite Trivago featuring various destinations in a search box, they don’t seem to have done any paid or organic search work around the destination names at all. They are putting advertising behind brand searches through
  • The ads seem to be all about reach and repetition. Using OOH ads as closure and amplify the TV ads. I haven’t noticed this being replicated online

Why going hard and often? Travel is a mature sector with strong players. If Trivago isn’t top of mind, it isn’t competing. Engagement just doesn’t matter that much in this scenario, hence why the company backed off press releases at the end of May this year for the UK market.

The absence from online brand advertising is likely down to the comparatively high cost of running this kind of saturation campaign on the likes of Facebook advertising. This is why TV, radio and out of home media haven’t depreciated in the same way as traditional print advertising media.

The choice of campaign timing is more interesting. Traditional travel companies usually try and target a bit later in the year over the Christmas season in influence holiday shopping decisions.

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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.

Vape Nation?

My exposure to electronic cigarettes (or vapes) was with seasoned smokers looking for a healthier opportunity, or a path to help wean themselves off nicotine all together. I had seen some research that suggested teen trial of vaping was growing – this was from E-Cigarettes: Youth and Trends in Vaping – Journal of Pediatric Health Care, volume 29, issue 6, pages 555 – 557 (November – December 2015)

Among youth in the United States, e-cigarette use rose from 3.3% in 2011 to 6.8% in 2012 (Grana, Benowitz, & Glantz., 2014). This increase resulted in an estimated 1.78 million middle and high school students having used e-cigarettes (CDC, 2013). The trial and use of e-cigarettes have been higher among youth in Europe and Asia. A recent study on Korean youth found the trial use of e-cigarettes rose from 0.5% in 2008 to 9.4% in 2011 (Lee, Grana, & Glantz., 2014), and among youth 10 to 15 years of age in Poland the rate of those who had ever used e-cigarettes was 62% in 2014 (Hanewinkel & Isensee, 2015).

Now what I don’t know is how good the research quoted actually was, or the factors in ‘trialling’.

You also have to remember that there is a big health research grant eco-system that depends on tobacco control which has sprung up over the past 40 years which will affect the framing of the data.

I am not saying tobacco isn’t harmful, but it is useful to understand the likely factors framing the presentation of information.

I was surprised by this video from the Shanghai Vap Expo in China. It was more like going to a skateboarding convention back in the day:

  • Lots of independent resellers from around the world for vaping liquid – mirroring the variety of skateboard parts makers. Many of the formulations on sale had no tobacco
  • Vaping tricks and demonstrations
  • Clear tying of vaping to sub-cultures: hip-hop, race-girl type outfits. Pretty much any ancillary activity would expect around a Red Bull event or the X-Games

Vaping is clearly being positioned as a central part of a youth sub-culture in China.

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.

Internet of Things or Internet of Sh__?

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

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.

Brandon Beck of Riot Games on eSports

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?

Three takeaways from Cannes and VidCon

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.

1707 - ad industry

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.

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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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I like: Dave Finocchio, CEO of Bleacher Report on media and sports business

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.