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Benedict Evans on ten-year future predictions (well as good as anyone can)

YouGov | Who is on top in the Nike vs. Adidas battle? – UK only data

The bitcoin drugs trade is highly centralised | FT Alphaville – looks that the cryptocurrency bubble could burst pronto

How an unknown Chinese phone maker became No 3 in India by solving the oily fingers problem | South China Morning Post – “Big companies which sell smartphones in more than 100 countries are too global to care for one single market,” Chowdhury said in an interview in Shenzhen. “The core strategy for us is to become the favourite mobile phone brand in emerging markets.”

HSBC’s Amy and other soon-to-be released AI chatbots are about to change the way we bank | South China Morning Post

Why Uber Can Find You but 911 Can’t – WSJ – one can understand the reluctance of technology companies to get involved

The Pet Shop Boys are the face (and sound) of Christian Dior’s men’s collection this summer.

Luxury group Kering to spin off Puma to shareholders | RTE – not terribly surprising it fits awkwardly with the other brands

Google Plans to Vet YouTube Premium Video Content – Bloomberg – guessing the News International media campaign and Logan Paul debacle is starting to have an impact

How China’s market economy has fuelled a prostitution boom | South China Morning PostMy grandma was always grateful to Mao, mainly because she was upgraded from a concubine to a wife under the Communists “one wife” rule. – There is also the shredding of culture and community during the cultural revolution probably ruined community / support mechanisms

Things I’d like to see in 2018

There are a number of people who have done great trends / predictions for 2018. I thought that I would focus on what I would like to see.

Smartphones are stuck in a period of innovation stuckness. It is becoming increasingly difficult to justify upgrades to your handset. This has had knock-on effects to mobile networks. In markets where subsidised handsets are the norm like the UK we’re seeing that SIM-only contracts are becoming the norm.

Apple is trying to innovate its way out of this problem with its work on augmented reality interaction. Consumer media consumption will take a good while to catch up.

Smartphone cameras are as good as consumers need (at the moment). Displays are now good enough that improvements look indistinguishable. They are also large enough for you to watch Amazon Prime or Netflix during a commute. Mobile wallets are merely a back-up in case one leaves your wallet at home.

Whilst the app names have changed, much of the smartphone usage now is for the same things I used a Nokia or Palm smartphone ten years ago:

  • Alarm clock
  • Web surfing
  • Entertainment
  • Media playback
  • Communications

I hope that we start to see smartphones going back to the future and looking at different form factors. My iPhone would be much more useful as a productive device if it was available in a similar form factor to the old Nokia communicator. Different form factors of devices for different users. Gamers would benefit from better controls a la the Nokia nGage.

Interfaces can make better use of haptic feedback, and be designed to take advantage of more hardware-optimised devices.

Innovation isn’t only the responsibility of app developers and phone makers. What about a modern 4G version of ‘Enhanced Full Rate’ on GSM (GSM-EFR) ‘hi-fi voice calls’. UK operator One2One launched GSM-EFR on 2G networks in the late 1990s as part of their Precept tariffs, but I haven’t seen any other carrier try to do a similar thing since. Why not? I suspect part of the problem is that ‘innovation’ in your average mobile network provider now is testing vendor products in a lab to ensure they work properly on their network.

The web has developed a digital equivalent of clogged arteries. Part of this is down to buffer bloat and a lack of lean web design approach. Unfortunately the mobile web has not brought a clean slate approach but hacked together adaptations. A bigger issue is the layers of advertising technology trackers, analytics and assorted chunks of Javascript. Ad tech hammers page load time and responsiveness.

Share of time spent viewing video content in selected countries using ad blockers

We’ve seen Apple and Mozilla try to redesign their browser technology to slow down or stimmy ad technology. Consumers are adopting ad blockers to try and improve their own web experience.

There needs to be a collective reset button. I am not sure if we see a resurgence of the paid web or a kinder lighter footprint in advertising technology. Otherwise we have an unending conflict between the media industry and the rest of us.

The debate around machine learning in 2017 highlighted a Black Mirroresque dystopia awaiting us. The good news is that we tend to overestimate technology’s impact in the short term. In the long term the impact tends to meet our expectations all be in a more banal way.

Part of the current problem around machine learning is that Silicon Valley seems to only consider technology rather than the consequences of potential use cases. This needs to change, unfortunately the people in charge of technology companies are the least capable people to achieve it. We need a kinder more holistic roadmap. Legislation and regulation will be far too late to the party. We won’t be able to stop technological progress, but we can influence the way its used.

Lying in bed ill over the Christmas period, I read that crypto currency mining currently required as much energy as Bahrain. By the end of 2018, it will require as much energy as Italy. That is insane.

Apart from speculation and buying products on the dark web what is the killer app for crypto currencies? Why is worth the energy overhead? Steve Jobs focused on computing power per watt as part of his vision for laptops and moving the Mac range to Intel. Part of the move to the cloud was about making computing more efficient for businesses and providing computing power over the network for consumers on ‘low power’ mobile devices. Yet almost a decade and a half later, the hottest thing in technology is a grossly energy inefficient process.

We are starting to see regulators in Korea and China step in to regulate the market and energy supply to miners, but western economies need to look at this. And I haven’t even got on to the ICO (intial coin offering) as Ponzi scheme…

If you substitute the words ‘fax machine’ or ‘call centre’ for app would Uber, Deliveroo etc be considered as technology companies? I suspect that the answer is no.  A company may use a lot of technology – it happens a lot these days. But that doesn’t make Capita, Mastercard or Goldman Sachs a technology company, lets  apply a bit of critical thinking. I wouldn’t mind, but this same mistake was made in the late 1990s during the dot com boom.

Many companies including Enron were ‘repackaged’ by management, venture capitalists, investment banks and consultancies (cough, cough McKinsey) as asset-light technology driven businesses aka ‘an internet company’. It didn’t work out well last time. It won’t this time either.

More information
Enhanced full rate (GSM) – Wikipedia
Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index | Digiconomist
Setback for Uber as European court advised to treat it as transport firm | Reuters
Other trends reports
Fjord: 2018 Fjord Trends
iProspect: Future Focus 2018: The New Machine Rules
Isobar: Augmented Humanity: Isobar Trends Report 2018
J. Walter Thompson Innovation Group: The Future 100
Ogilvy & Mather: Key Digital Trends for 2018 – Whatley and Manson are doing webinar presentations this week if you want to catch them
Campaign Asia did a nice precise of them all
Past prediction stuff that I’ve done
2016: crystal ball gazing, how did I do? | renaissance chambara
2016: just where is it all going? | renaissance chambara
2015: crystal ball gazing, how did I do? | renaissance chambara
2015: just where is it all going? | renaissance chambara
2014: crystal ball gazing, how did I do? | renaissance chambara
2014: just where is it all going? | renaissance chambara 
Crystal ball-gazing: 2013 how did I do? | renaissance chambara
2013: just where is it all going? | renaissance chambara
Crystal ball-gazing: 2012 how did I do? | renaissance chambara
2012: just where is digital going? | renaissance chambara
Things I’d like to see in 2012 | renaissance chambara
Crystal ball-gazing: 2011 how did I do?
2010: How did I do? | renaissance chambara
2010: just where is digital going? | renaissance chambara
Predictions for 2009 | renaissance chambara

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Charlie Stross at the Chaos Computer Club conference

Interesting lens on history, predictions and futurology by science fiction writer Charlie Stross. Culture has a role (and attendant responsibility) in shaping the direction of technology. Stross’ talk is an essay on unintended consequences, design, regulation and economics.

The things that I’ve learned in agency life

Seven years ago I wrote about lessons that I’d learned in agency life. I wanted to think about how well those lessons stack up now.

Work with at least one thing you are passionate about. I once read what was reputed to be a Japanese proverb: in order to do great work you have to burn yourself in the subject. The point is it makes that our great work has part of us and we ‘live’ it.

I worked on data work that didn’t set my world alight and mechanistic launches for Chinese multinational companies. The thing that kept me going was edge projects.

Conversely; it’s not ER, it’s PR. Conversely, perceived client service pressures often create an artificial sense of urgency; this burns out teams and results in over-servicing because you don’t get a chance to reflect and work smarter.

If anything, this has gotten worse. Competitive pressures have brought a lack of prioritisation into focus.

Get technical. Understand what your client does, understand the dynamics of their business. You don’t need know how to programme but you do need to know how to specify buying a site and understand how it will benefit your clients business. Technical people will often tell you what they think you want to hear rather than the unvarnished truth.

I’d add getting some data skills now – at the very least knowing how to run sorts on Excel.

Prioritise. At a personal level, I draw up a double page of a notebook with five headings: calls, meetings, drafts, checks, other and run my day from it. With client projects I says to the teams I work with ‘cheap, fast, good’ – pick two when discussing what they want to achieve. The culture of client service in PR agencies often means that everything is considered important which isn’t true.

This is an evergreen issue.

Show the sausage factory. Much of my time as an agency-side PR person has been justifying what we’ve been doing. One of the best things that has come along over the past decade or so was collaborative platforms that allowed for real-time reporting and document sharing. I was one of the first European beta testers for WeberWorks an intranet developed for The Weber Group and then taken forward by Weber Shandwick. Whilst it strips the mystery away, it also helps deflect pointless phone calls, month-end reporting panic and document formatting issues.

Funnily enough, this mirrors much of what we tell the client about the effect of the social web. Slack, Facebook for Work, Percolate publishing managment all make this easier.

The only thing that matters is results that deliver value for the client. Everything else is window dressing.

What I’ve found with clients is that more data-centric marketing has meant obfuscation.

Data has meant that the objectives drift because of the data that’s easily presented. I spent six months working on a project for a pharma company going through each business area (what they call franchises). In each one, we’d work to get consensus on the business objectives. From that we’d work out what was the stakeholder behavioural changes required. The key technical part of the work was boiling all this down into dashboards that presented the critical KPIs. But also allowed the audience to delve deeper into the number if there were so inclined. Before this, marketers had instead received monthly 60-page PowerPoint presentations. Your guess is as good as mine about how many of them were read.

A second effect of obfuscation: B2B marketers drive to outsource their marketing strategy to technology platforms. Marketing automation has a focus only on the short term. Rather than a mix of short term lead conversion and longer term brand value creation.

You are only a strategic advisor, if your client trusts you and sees you that way. A lot of the time this role is often filled by the advertising agency planning department or the media buying agency.

Brands that sound sexy or cool, generally aren’t sexy or cool to work for.

Don’t drink the client kool-aid: believe and be passionate about a client’s brand on your own basis and by your own insight. Being able to provide an external insight based on empirical feedback is invaluable if you aspire to the strategic advisor role.

If Brexit and Trump taught us anything, it is that ‘real people’ and the ‘advertsing-marketing’ complex know little about each other.

Don’t be afraid to fail, just be sure to set expectations realistically in advance and learn from your mistakes. One thing I learned from freelancing at Firefly was the way they captured feedback from client pitches and learned from it in the new business process

Great ideas are worth keeping. My boss at Pirate had some stock creative ideas at hand that he kept until he found the right client to execute it with. Great ideas will have their day in the sun

As a junior person, try and work with people that you’ll learn from, strength of character is no substitute for mad skills

Employ people who can replace you, that is the best way of being able to move up through the ranks in an agency. The number of people that I worked with where their career hit a brick wall when they where found to be ‘too valuable’ in their current role, particularly on key accounts is surprisingly large

If you can’t change the people around you, change the people around you. Life is too short and your colleagues will spend more time with you than loved ones in any given week. If the chemistry isn’t there, move on, people are far more important than the brand name on the front door

Organise your address book. Your contacts in terms of industry contacts, suppliers, current and former clients and influencers (media, analysts, bloggers, celebrities, stylists, artists etc) is your currency as an agency person. Start early and keep it up. I spent too much time keeping my address book and armada of Rolodex frames up to date and an archive of old business cards as an analogue CRM back-up

Read widely. Clients don’t exist in a vacuum, having a wide range of reading material helps out in both social and professional circumstances

Experiment. Its a great way of getting ideas. My career in digital started off in anger experimenting with social tools, this then helped promote a rather dry book on futurology and Aljazeera’s first interactive news service in English

Try and meet the people that you work with at least once in person. It helps immeasurably when you are dealing with these people electronically. You are more than a disembodied voice on a conference call or an email address. It really helps to cement long-term relationships

Be loyal: long-term relationships with journalists and suppliers can help dig you out of holes. They are likely to last much longer than a client business

International travel isn’t glamorous

Have a go-bag. I have a bag with aircraft laptop adapter cables, Fujifilm plug adaptors, my passport, a USB 3G dongle, a pair of socks, a set of boxer shorts, a t-shirt, a set of Oakley glasses, an empty Travelex zip-lock back for currency – handy for receipts, a pack of wet-wipes and an antiperspirant.

I am doing a lot less foreign travel now, but these life hacks are still handy

Avoid big international trade shows: 3GSM, CeBIT etc. You will be living a vast distance from the event or sharing a bed with a colleague in a rented bedroom. You will spend long hours on a stand tracking down journalists. Your efforts will be unappreciated. Thankfully, these events seem to be on the wane

Despite what you may think, working in-house isn’t easier than agency life, its just different. I worked more hours in a week in house than I ever worked agency-side apart from a brief period during the dot.com boom

People understand through stories

Write notes in a book style notebook rather than a reporter style notebook, clients and interviewees like to feel that their pearls of wisdom are being captured

About 70 per cent of most corporate PR campaigns are about ego

Mature but don’t grow up – agency life is a young state-of-mind.

There seems to be more of a HR obsession for hiring people with less than ten years experience to optimise the churn and burn model.

China marketing agency landscape changes

Chinese poster

The Xi-era of China has seen the end of the go-go years in economic growth which was one of the factors picked up on Arun Sudhaman’s analysis of the market for PR services.

Arun also noted that the fortune of domestic and multi-national firms diverged.

Here are some of my thoughts:

Multi-national PR agencies often led with corporate communications and public affairs expertise. This meant that their businesses were led by leaders who paid lip-service to digital at best. My experience trying to sell digital internally was one of the most painful processes that I have ever done. It was one of almost insurmountable cultural differences: not Irish-Chinese, but analogue-digital.

To be fair many corporate and public affairs specialists in London are still trying to get to grip with what digital means. They know it’s important, but they don’t have a clue how it all comes together.

That mean’t that they didn’t really get social media beyond being a publishing platform. Chinese KOL (key opinion leader) work whilst effective, is paid media. PR agencies generally don’t have the depth of tools and analytics to provide comprehensive planning and execution for KOL projects. It is hard to get management teams to invest adequately in tools and talent.

Premier Xi has changed the landscape for public affairs practitioners. The government is less flexible, it feels that it no longer needs to be. China is on the ascendence in the face of western existential crises and America in rapid retreat from the world stage. Hence, new laws that discriminate against foreign technology companies as part of its wider approach to cyber sovereignty.  Public affairs still has a place in terms of research to provide understanding, but their foreign multinationals won’t like what the results will likely tell them.

Digital has hit the industry hard. It moved at an accelerated pace compared to other industries. Unlike the west were television isn’t in decline but has stopped growing, Chinese TV isn’t undergoing the golden age that we are seeing in the west. The government has made it less entertaining – which has only helped the acceleration of digital marketing channels in China. Government control of television content has meant less reality shows or remakes of Korean drama stories and more content extolling Chinese Communist Party values. Worthy content, but not particularly engaging.

May online marketing

In China, the major digital platform companies try and go direct to clients for social media advertising cutting out the media buying agencies. This gives media and digital agencies extra incentive to go and grab the paid engagements of key opinion leaders. These are often performance-related deals with directly attributable online sales or online-to-offline voucher redemption. Digital and media agencies are better equipped to handle influencer relations than their public relations peers. It is less about influence and more about performance.

Multinational PR agencies also have problems with their established client base of international brands. Under Premier Xi we have seen a more confident China. This confidence is manifested in Chinese board rooms. The way strategy and goal-setting works in Chinese companies illuminates this difference:

  • Big board meeting where outrageous unrealistic targets are set by the Chairman
  • Planning department turns the ridiculous goals into plans
  • Management goes to arrange funding

The business then goes to staff up and do whatever is needed. They will build massive conglomerates – what is known as building the eco-system – something that is frowned up in the West as being bad for shareholder value

Chinese entrepreneurs care about market share more than profitability. And sometimes they fail spectacularly like LeEco.

A lot of it reads like bubble-era corporate Japan. While it seems insane to outsiders, corporate China is much more closely knitted into the government than the keiretsus ever were. Corporate China may go pop in the future, but it won’t happen at the moment.

By comparison, multinationals are worried about activist shareholders and meeting their quarterly numbers can’t be as aggressive in comparison to their Chinese peers. This type of aggressive pursuit of growth would also be an anathema to the likes of WPP, Omnicom, Publicis and IPG who suffer from a similar risk of activist shareholder shenanigans as their multinational clients.

Which is why Chinese brands have been blowing up across sectors. 91 percent of smartphones now sold in China are from domestic brands. Apple has somewhere around 7 per cent share. Foreign FMCG brands are being slaughtered, even Amazon has only a few percentage points of market share.

Quite simply, multinational PR firms have generally bet on the wrong horse. China is the one market were American scale and capital actually diminishes in impact over time as the Chinese domestic market picks up. Multinationals in strategic business areas were always going to lose over time.

Where Chinese brands have wanted to expand globally, they have taken on foreign PR agencies. Part of this process was knowledge transfer. If one looked at an organisation like Huawei, you can see how they have learned and built internal capability with Chinese characteristics in their corporate communications function over time. It would be a similar process in other companies.

Even foreign luxury brands have struggled to be as agile as their Chinese customers. Between the crackdown on corruption and the rapid development of experienced luxury consumption – the only constant in the luxury market has been change. It is only a matter of time before China has its own answer to Michael Kors or Christian Dior. Western luxury brand problems will affect the agencies that work with them with massive fluctuation in marketing budgets.

A second transfer of capability from foreign to domestic is the move of multinational agency talent into local agencies. You combine that Chinese entrepreneurship and foreign agencies look vulnerable. Clauses that have kept western agency staff in check from plundering clients and talent don’t hold up as well in China.

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