Revolutionary Measures

Why you need to add emotion to your marketing

As research by the likes of Daniel Kahneman shows, humans are generally not rational. That means they’ll respond and engage more strongly on an emotional level than to plain facts.

Consequently, when it comes to marketing, emotional campaigns have greater resonance and are more profitable. Of course, that’s when they work properly – the fiasco around Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner ad shows what happens when consumers feel you are hijacking their emotions.

So how can you ensure your campaigns are emotional, but not alienating? At this week’s Cambridge Marketing Meetup Sarah Reakes and Dr Matt Higgs from Kiss Communications gave some useful hints.

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A good start is to map emotions onto Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and use this to understand which emotions work best for your brand or market. Perhaps unsurprisingly research by Kiss found that the ads that have won awards at the Cannes Lions festival since the financial crisis began were predominantly rooted in emotions such as safety and sense of belonging. In times of uncertainty safety and social needs are clearly at the forefront of everyone’s emotional requirements.

As Kiss’ presentation showed, ensuring you channel emotion successfully in your campaigns is about following a process, and I’d argue general good marketing practice. Look at your product or service through a benefit ladder with four rungs. From the bottom these are:

  • Product features
  • Product benefits
  • Emotional benefits
  • Purpose

Marketers know that simply talking about features is not going to appeal to most buyers and that you need to go up the ladder. But what is key is to add those emotional benefits – how does using your product make people feel, what deeper needs does it fulfil? This applies to both B2B and B2C marketing. For example, does your software free up people’s time so they can go home at 6pm and spend more time with their family, rather than have to stay late to wait for the computer to finish processing transactions? If it does, get that across in your marketing campaigns.

The key is to then tap into the emotional purpose of your product or company the Why? you do what you do. You can get this by talking to customers or analysing their data for trends to move yourself up the benefits ladder. In more and more competitive markets, simply competing on features leaves you open to quickly being undercut – to differentiate you need to embrace emotion across your marketing.

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July 26, 2018 Posted by | Cambridge, Creative, Marketing, PR | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thomas Paine vs Donald Trump

“It is an affront to truth to treat falsehood with complaisance.” Not the words of a modern commentator on fake news, the utterances of a modern politician or the rhetoric around the Brexit debate, but of 18th century radical, philosopher and a Founding Father of the United States, Thomas Paine.

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Paine certainly lived up to his words, which are engraved on his statue in Thetford, Norfolk, where he was born. He migrated to the United States where his pamphlet Common Sense supported US demands for independence from England, then left for revolutionary France, was tried for seditious libel in England, before being imprisoned in Paris during the 1790s and finally returning to the US. Only six people attended his funeral after he criticised both Christianity and George Washington in his later years.

Clearly, he didn’t believe in mincing his words, and he came to mind when I watched the excruciating press conference between Theresa May and Donald Trump last week. This happened less than a day after Trump launched a major attack in The Sun newspaper on May for her policies, questioned her Brexit plans and publicly praised Boris Johnson. It was marked by braggadocio on one side and embarrassment on the other. And no guesses which leader was which. He even branded The Sun interview as ‘fake news’.

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So how would Thomas Paine have dealt with Donald Trump? Ironically, by giving him a taste of his own medicine. He was a master at combining fiery rhetoric with language that was understandable to all, and wouldn’t take a perceived insult lying down. He was indiscreet, and didn’t believe in keeping information secret, which got him sacked from the US Congressional Committee on Foreign Affairs, for example. He mastered the communication channels of the age, even reducing the price of his pamphlets to guarantee they could be read by the masses. In short, he would have thrived in the age of Twitter, unless he was kicked off the social network for overstepping the mark.

But where he differs from Trump and many other politicians was that he had a clear set of beliefs that ran through everything he did and said. And, he didn’t hide them when they were inconvenient to his career or standing. He didn’t court popularity, but wrote the one of the all-time best selling works published in the US.

It feels like we’re in a time of enormous political and social confusion, with plenty of parallels to the late 18th century. Therefore it’s a good time to return to Thomas Paine and follow his ideas about being honest, open and continually calling out falsehoods – whatever your political beliefs.

July 18, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Can marketing help the new NHS app to Cross the Chasm?

We’re currently in an unprecedented time when it comes to innovation. The rise of digital is unleashing new ways of working, communicating and shopping, while underpinning new business models that are transforming whole industries. Clearly, not all of this change is positive for everyone – trends such as e-commerce and AI have led to job losses and closures across the high street. Reflecting this, research shows that a majority of older people feel that life in England was better in the past, a position that correlates strongly with supporting Brexit.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

What does this mean for innovation? For a start, a large number of your potential consumers are going to be suspicious of your shiny new product. Even allowing for the different phases of adoption set out by Geoffrey Moore in Crossing the Chasm, this leaves those of us marketing innovation with a dilemma. Essentially, how do you get people to change their behaviour, and do something differently – especially if it is something they’ve always done that way. This isn’t about persuading people to change the beer they drink or the shampoo they use, but much more deep-seated, such as how they communicate, or switching from fossil fuel to electric-powered vehicles.

The news that the NHS is going to get a new app brought this issue to the front of my mind. Confusingly described by health secretary Jeremy Hunt as “a birthday present from the NHS to the British people” – does he give other people presents on his birthday? – it promises to allow users to book appointments, order repeat prescriptions and view medical information held by their GPs.

But will it be adopted and therefore deliver the savings and convenience that it promises? Unlike other tech products it is aimed fully at the mainstream – and given that many of the largest users of the NHS are not likely to be early adopters – it will require a lot of effort to drive change.

Unfreeze, Move, Freeze
Essentially, according to business psychologist Kurt Lewin major change only happens when conditions are seen as sub-optimal. This generates a desire for change, which unfreezes attitudes and leads to moving to new solutions. Once this is the status quo it then freezes back into place, until the process begins again.

Looking at the NHS app, there are four areas where marketing can help drive the unfreezing and hence change:

1.Demonstrate it is easier
We’ve all been in situations where we know that changing how we do something will deliver longer term benefits – but we don’t have the time (or inclination) to invest the additional effort required to learn the new way of doing something. It could be as simple as continuing to access a website on your computer rather than your phone as you can’t remember your password and can’t be bothered to set it all up again. So the experience the new app offers has to be incredibly clear and straightforward. I’d even employ trainers to go around to GP surgeries, install it on people’s phones and get them up and running.

2. Communicate, communicate, communicate
As with any mass market product, you need to ensure that everyone is aware of the new app, and how to benefit from it. I’m sure there will be complaints of wasting money in the Tory press if the NHS runs a huge advertising campaign around the app, but it is vital to get it out there across TV, print, online and billboards. And the ads have to be memorable – even if that’s because of the sheer annoyance they cause. Meerkats anyone?

3. Brand it!
At the moment the NHS app is called, um, the NHS app. Hardly memorable or likely to help people find it – and a quick search on the Apple Store brings up lots of apps with “NHS” in the title. It needs a strong, personal and appealing brand – whether than means naming it after a famous doctor or Aneurin Bevan, architect of the NHS or going down the route of creating a cartoon character around it, it needs to stand out.

4. Make the message simple
Too many adverts overcomplicate the message – therefore the marketing for the app has to deliver a clear call to action in a short number of stages. For example:

  • One: Download the app
  • Two: Enter a unique NHS code
  • Three: Start accessing your health records/booking appointments etc

People won’t respond to anything more complicated initially – once they’ve got the app you can effectively extend their use by giving advice on other ways that they can benefit.

When it comes to changing behaviour, marketing (and understanding psychology) has a key role to play. Let’s hope the NHS bears this in mind when it fully launches its app in December.

July 4, 2018 Posted by | Creative, Marketing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

3 ways to make people buy your stuff

The world is full of start-ups touting technological breakthroughs and innovations. But a substantial majority never make it to the big time, especially not as independent companies. This is particularly true in research-driven hotspots such as Cambridge.

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Why is this? A lot is down to a lack of understanding of the importance of marketing and sales, with tech-led founders believing that having the best technology is enough and will bring buyers flooding in. Therefore, they reason, there’s no need to focus on disciplines like marketing as the product is so good and so advanced that it will simply sell itself.

Clearly, nine times out of ten this is never going to work. As Tony Wilson discussed at this week’s Cambridge Marketing College Brainfood for Breakfast event, the uncomfortable truth is that “nobody is going to buy your stuff.” For a start people don’t like spending money, particularly in B2B, and are normally happy doing what they’ve always done – you don’t tend to get fired for sticking to the status quo.

Obviously there are ways that you can get people to buy your stuff, as Tony explained, but you’ve got to meet one (or more) of these three conditions:

1.Their business is better off after buying it
You can’t sell a product on its own. It has to solve a specific business problem and therefore deliver a quantifiable benefit. That could be speeding up a process (such as getting a product to market), or increasing efficiency. Essentially, to borrow a phrase from Clayton Christiansen, you need to help them with their “jobs to be done”.

2.Their customers’ lives are improved
Its an obvious fact, but businesses rely on customers for their survival. And in an era of rising customer expectations and ever-expanding choice, consumers are very happy to move elsewhere if a business isn’t providing what they are looking for. So your product has got to deliver benefits that help your customer’s customer in some way, shape or form.

3.They can differentiate from the competition
The other thing that keeps CEOs awake at nights is the competition. How can they differentiate their business while preserving margins? We’re increasingly in a winner takes all world, where premium brands can charge much more, leaving their competitors to scrap amongst themselves for higher volume, but lower margin business. Smartphones are a case in point – Apple, and to a lesser extent Samsung, can set high prices, confident that loyal consumers will see the value they deliver, while rivals are forced to discount. Each handset is broadly similar in terms of what it does – but it is differentiation and a focus on the customer’s needs that allows some brands to charge more. So, how does your product help companies to differentiate themselves from their competition?

It is clear that tech companies, particularly in B2B, need to focus on the needs of their customer, and their customer’s customer. But many don’t do this – or even understand how their product is being used or the value it is providing. The answer is simple, but does require marketers and sales teams to change how they operate. As Tony Wilson points out, you need to go out and talk to your customers, embed yourself in their world, understand their pain points and how you can solve them. That might mean revamping your product or bringing in additional functionality or partners to deliver this – but by providing a solution to a problem, you’ll increase sales, boost loyalty and preserve margins. The question is, are technology businesses ready to really listen?

Photo via Pexels.com

June 13, 2018 Posted by | Cambridge, Marketing, Startup | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Brand safety in the age of Trump

Marketers are all aware of the impact of social media on brand reputation. Issues can quickly go viral as consumers share complaints on Facebook and Twitter – and with the press continually monitoring for social stories, before you know it you are on the BBC News or the front page of a newspaper website.

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Photo by Gratisography on Pexels.com

However, what has changed in the last twelve months or so has been the impact of celebrities, including Donald Trump, on brand safety. A tweet from the US President complaining about a company can damage reputation, and even survival. Take the case of Chinese telecoms equipment maker ZTE. Convicted of breaching US sanctions on Iran and North Korea, the company first looked doomed to go out of business when it was banned from buying US components, and was then resurrected through a supportive tweet from Trump.

All a bit Thameslink
It isn’t just Trump – a tweet from author Eric Van Lustbader about food poisoning at a branch of US restaurant chain Chipotle (already reeling from an e.coli outbreak), caused its stock to fall. And in the UK, rail company Thameslink was threatened with legal action from Poundland for comparing its poor service to ‘Poundland cooking chocolate’. The retailer added that it if it ever fell short on customer service, they’d describe themselves as ‘a bit Thameslink’.

What the Poundland experience shows is that brands are now fighting back against what they see as unfair attacks. Nowhere was this more visible than in the Roseanne Barr case, where the TV star blamed sleeping pill Ambien for her racist tweets. Cue its maker Sanofi to respond (brilliantly) “While all pharmaceutical treatments have side effects, racism is not a known side effect of any Sanofi medication.”

Whereas in the past they may have ignored social media mentions or only responded weeks later, brands are now wising up to the protecting their online reputation. However, I think they need to balance speed with the following three factors:

1.Be polite and engaging
It would have been very easy for multibillion dollar drug company Sanofi to respond to Roseanne with a dry legal statement or to launch an attack of its own. Instead, it balanced politeness with cutting wit, simultaneously undermining her point and demonstrating its good corporate citizenship.

2.Don’t get personal
When a celebrity, particularly one with millions of followers, tweets about you it is easy for things to descend into a personal slanging match that actually further damages your brand. Try and take the moral high ground, state the facts and think before you tweet. After all, there are likely to be brand advocates who will defend you aggressively, letting you focus on your key messages.

3.Take a joke
Brand safety isn’t about jumping on every negative, throwaway mention of your company and overreacting/threatening legal action. Decide what is important, what can be handled by a simple denial, and where it makes more sense for your brand to play along and show that you have a sense of humour.

The past few weeks have shown that marketers are now taking positive steps to protect brand reputation online – they clearly have the monitoring systems in place to intervene early, but they need to make sure they don’t become too corporate if they are to actually enhance their reputations rather than adding to online damage through ill-thought out responses.

June 6, 2018 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

World Cup marketing – is it worth it?

 

With the domestic football season nearly finished (though, as an Ipswich Town fan, it has felt over for a long time), attention is turning to the World Cup. While the hosts Russia don’t kick off the first match against Saudi Arabia until 14th June, brands are already launching their campaigns and trying to grab a piece of the action.

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Yet, they face some significant marketing challenges:

1. Location
Relations between Russia and the west are at a post-Cold War low, and there will be no high profile attendees from the UK government or royal family following the Salisbury poisoning. And, given the reputation of Russian hooligans (as seen at the last European Championships) and the vast distances involved in attending matches, only the most dedicated fans are likely to spend their cash to follow England.

2. Local colour
As several marketing gurus have pointed out, what makes a major sporting event like a World Cup is the local colour. This meant sponsors spent a great deal of time and effort linking themselves to Brazil for the Olympics/World Cup, adopting local imagery and using that to market their brands. Think shots of brands in front of palm trees, beaches or the statue of Christ the Redeemer. Given Russia’s reputation this is going to be more difficult – photos of your brand outside the Kremlin don’t have the same positive connotations. Therefore, most brands are going to focus on the football itself, which leaves them open to the vagaries of how teams actually play.

3. Competition
There are bewildering number of ways to become a sponsor involved in the World Cup. At the top end there are official FIFA partners (the likes of Visa, Hyundai, Coca-Cola and Gazprom), then World Cup sponsors and Regional partners. Each team has its own sponsors, and individual players have their own endorsements. Add in those brands that then try and sneak on board with ambush marketing, and the field looks very crowded indeed.

4. Picking the right horse
Given the costs involved it might therefore seem cost-effective to base your marketing around a particular player. But you have to be prepared if things go wrong – what happens if he fails to hit form, gets injured and doesn’t even play or is sent off? The perfect example of this was when Ireland captain Roy Keane was sent home from the 2002 World Cup after a bust-up with manager Mick McCarthy, before a ball was even kicked. Pity the Irish sponsors that had based their whole campaigns around Keane………

5. Social media makes everyone an expert
We’re all aware of media fragmentation and that the days of following a World Cup solely on TV and through daily newspapers are long gone. The internet and social media now means that everyone can share their views and comment on not just the matches, but your marketing campaigns. In our hypersensitive age, expect people to pick faults in your approach, or even to complain about any involvement in a tournament held in Putin’s Russia. All it takes is a slip of the mouse or an unfortunate turn of phrase and you’ll be facing a potential boycott – particularly if the on-field action isn’t that exciting.

After all this it would be easy to ask why sponsors bother. But the World Cup is one of the largest global sporting events, attracting millions, if not billions, of viewers. Get it right, and you’ll link yourself to sporting success, meaning you’ll be loved and admired by your audience – but remember that, as pundits frequently say, football is a funny old game………

May 16, 2018 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Asbury’s or Sainsda? Will the Sainsburys/Asda merger work?

The proposed merger between Sainsbury’s and Asda promises to shake up the grocery market in multiple ways. It will create a new leader in terms of market share and, the companies hope, give them the scale to tackle the rise of discounters such as Aldi and Lidl.

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Looking at it through a marketing lens, there are three things that stand out:

1          Slick PR (to start with)
This is a deal that has been discussed for several years apparently, and it shows in the careful messaging behind the announcement. Sainsbury’s CEO Mike Coupe has pledged that there will be no job cuts or store closures and that the combined entity will lower prices by 10%. Clearly this is disingenuous on a number of levels – the Competitions and Markets Authority is likely to force some stores to be sold, naturally reducing staff numbers, while any savings for consumers are likely to come from squeezing the combined supply chain of the new company. This will impact the profitability and potentially staff numbers at suppliers, who employ more people than Sainsbury’s/Asda itself. So there are likely to be job losses – just not at the company itself.

The main fly in the PR ointment has been a classic bit of spokesperson inattention. While waiting for a broadcast interview Mike Coupe was captured on camera singing “We’re in the Money”, from the musical 42nd Street. The overall impression (apart from that he should stick to the day job), was that the whole deal was about enriching management and shareholders, at the expense of customers and suppliers. Cue a hasty apology, but it has highlighted how there’s no such thing as off the record (or camera).

2          A complex brand balancing act
One of the attractions of the deal is that there isn’t that much crossover between the demographics of Sainsbury’s and Asda shoppers. That should mean that you won’t lose any customers, and if you can trim supplier costs you can generate large efficiencies. This is something highlighted by Sainsbury’s, which commissioned research that showed Asda customers value “fair prices” most and Sainsbury’s are attracted by “great fresh food.”

That’s all very well in theory, but achieving sufficient synergies while keeping things separate enough in practice could be more difficult. While other organisations (banking groups, airlines and consumer goods holding companies) manage multiple brands, somehow a supermarket feels different. People have a strong relationship with their supermarket of choice, probably because of the basic importance of food to their lives, so anything that is seen as weakening brand values is likely to upset consumers.

3          The competition won’t stand still
While Sainsbury’s wants the merger to happen quickly, something this large will need regulatory approval and will take time. And while both Sainsbury’s and Asda will no doubt stress that it is business as usual in the meantime, it will take up a lot of management time. Rival grocers will no doubt aim to take advantage of this, particularly as they know about the two marketing pillars (fair prices and fresh food) that the two brands will embrace going forward. Companies such as Lidl, Aldi and Tesco are already aiming to push both messages, now they’ve seen the potential Sainsbury’s strategy they’ll be redoubling their efforts to attract customers away from the merged organisation.

Due to its sheer scale in years to come the Sainsbury’s/Asda merger is likely to make it into marketing and business textbooks. The big question is whether it will be lauded as a well-executed and well-branded master stroke or listed with flops such as Bunnings takeover of Homebase? Initial marketing has been positive and pretty assured, but there’s a long way to go yet.

 

May 2, 2018 Posted by | Marketing, PR | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brand safety on the wild internet

The internet has always had contradictory roots. The infrastructure may have begun as a DARPA-funded project to create a network with no single point of failure, but its first major users were counter-culture Californians who launched bulletin boards on the back of it. And the World Wide Web itself was created by Tim Berners-Lee when working at CERN, essentially to allow different researchers, with different IT systems to share information seamlessly.

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This contradiction is still present in the titans that currently dominate the online world. The likes of Facebook and Google may try to publicly position themselves as entrepreneurial start-ups with more in common with the California hippies when talking to users, but in fact they are now enormous corporations with correspondingly huge power.

As we’ve seen with the scandals surrounding Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, internal systems and data protection haven’t grown as fast as the need for control of user data. And this follows concerns about adverts being run next to unsuitable content on the likes of YouTube, leading to brands such as Under Armour pulling their ads.

The issue is one of brand safety – companies want to protect their reputation as well as reach the right audiences. In an always-on world with ever more complex (and opaque) ad-buying systems and increasing personalisation being sure your messages are reaching the right audiences through the right channels is vital. This isn’t just applicable to the internet – I’ve recently seen lots of adverts for household cleaning products on kids TV channels, although you can argue they are more targeted at parents watching alongside their offspring.

The latest challenge to the big internet companies goes beyond poor ad positioning though – focusing instead on unauthorised use of a brand to essentially front a scam. Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com and consumer finance guru, is suing Facebook for running adverts that use his image to market high risk or fraudulent services, implying that he has endorsed them. Facebook counters that as soon as such adverts are reported, they remove them, only for them to pop up again with slight changes.

Given Lewis’ whole reputation is built on delivering honest consumer advice to save people money, it is no surprise either that he’s been targeted by scammers or that he is going to court to protect his brand image. As he says, he doesn’t do adverts, and that with their image recognition technology Facebook should be able to block anyone trying to use his photo, before it goes live. Lewis isn’t alone in having his details hijacked – we’ve all had emails and calls allegedly from Microsoft, BT or our bank trying to get us to handover control of our PC or account details. But the difference is that no third party is making money out of these activities – unlike in the case of Facebook.

By coming out against Facebook so publicly, and by promising to donate any damages to charity, Lewis is adding to the concerns around Facebook and its business model of publish first, remove later if necessary. It’s a great PR strategy on his part – a classic David vs Goliath move. I’m sure it is also being closely watched by other celebrities and organisations worried about their brand safety online.

All of the current concerns around big tech are part of a wider worry – from consumers to governments and advertisers themselves, people are waking up to the fact that their data is out of their control, and that companies are making large amounts of money from it. I think that 2018 is going to be a watershed year for the online giants – it is time for them to change how they market themselves and become more humble if they want to rebuild and retain our trust. The question is, can they win us back?

April 25, 2018 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Why leaving social media is bad for JD Wetherspoon

Received marketing, and indeed business, wisdom is that the future is digital. And that has lead to brands stampeding onto social media and devoting increasing amounts of time and money to engaging with their audiences there.

So the news that pub chain JD Wetherspoon is quitting Twitter, Facebook and Instagram seems to fly in the face of good marketing practice. Chairman Tim Martin has been vague on the reasons why it is leaving, citing the amount of time it is taking (as well as head office, its 900 pubs all have their own accounts), the addictive nature of social media, misuse of personal data and the trolling of MPs and public figures on social media.

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But reading between the lines it is more about a lack of engagement and impact from its strategy. It has 44,000 followers on Twitter, over 100,000 on Facebook and more than 6,000 on Instagram – a relatively low number for such an enormous, UK-wide organisation. It hadn’t been that active – the announcement that it was leaving Twitter was its first message in April for example, and most Facebook content was just reposted from Twitter.

However, not doing something well and not doing it at all are two separate things and I believe that the main reason that Wetherspoon’s is stopping social media is that isn’t really embracing the power of the platforms. It is true that most consumers are unlikely to be avid followers of their local branch of a chain pub – after all you’d not interact that much with your local supermarket, but they’ve not used it to create a buzz about local events or what they are doing. Therefore, it is logical to stop, rather than just going through the motions – and reap the news headlines and profile that the decision creates.

However, done well social media can deliver big results – even for 100% offline businesses like Wetherspoons. Here are three of the biggest:

1. Create a community
Why do people go to pubs? It is all about socialising, meeting people and enjoying yourself. After all, if you just want to drink it is cheaper to do it at home. Successful local pubs are all about creating a community – it doesn’t have to be on the level of Cheers, where ‘everybody knows your name’, but it is about interacting. Social media does the same thing in the online world – so not being present means you are not nurturing your punters when they aren’t in the pub.

2. Keep the influencers informed
Wetherspoon says that news will still be available via its website, but in today’s environment most journalists and influencers get their news through social media. They raise questions and start debates, and Wetherspoon won’t be there to take part in them. No doubt its PR people will be there lurking, but that is not the same – and failing to have an active account doesn’t look good to those journos who live their lives on social media.

3. People don’t want to change channel for customer service
Consumers want to interact with a brand on the channel that is most convenient to them at that time. And that is quite often social media – they don’t want to switch to calling or emailing customer services, as Wetherspoon now recommends they do. So therefore complaints will go unanswered, visible only to other consumers, without Wetherspoon getting involved. This impacts brand reputation, particularly of individual pubs, and further damages engagement.

I don’t know how much time and money Wetherspoon was spending on social media, and it could well be that it isn’t getting the return it is looking for. But shooting the messenger, rather than changing the message isn’t a long term strategy to compete – as Wetherspoon may well find to its cost.

April 18, 2018 Posted by | Marketing, PR, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The end of the Mad Men?

Advertising agencies have always exuded glamour and excitement. From Don Draper in Mad Men to more modern agencies they’ve combined mystery and the power to change how people think, act and buy. Take Ridley Scott’s 1984-themed Apple Mac launch ad, Saatchi’s 1979 “Labour isn’t working” campaign, widely seen as helping the Conservative party to win the election, or going further back, the WW1 “Your Country Needs You” recruitment poster.

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All of these iconic campaigns demonstrate what advertising can do, particularly when it is turbocharged by the reach of linear television. This has led to ad agencies rising in importance to essentially command the biggest budgets and greatest influence on how brands market themselves.

However, things are changing – fast. Three interconnected factors are upsetting the status quo and causing industry titans such as WPP to issue profit warnings in the face of slowing revenues.

1          We live in a digital world
We used to spend the majority of our leisure time watching a limited number of terrestrial TV channels and reading newspapers and magazines. All of that has changed with the rise of the internet, which now takes a much higher share of our time, and has introduced new gatekeepers such as Google and Facebook into the mix. The adverts that people run online are different – they can’t be as disruptive as during a scheduled TV ad break, or as big budget. While major ad campaigns still run, they are more seasonal, such as around Christmas – and are seen as marketing events, rather than run of the mill campaigns.

2          Consumers want a personalised approach
The internet has also encouraged and enabled us to demand a more personalised experience. We don’t want to be subjected to irrelevant adverts for things we aren’t interested in – and analysing our browsing habits and demographics should give advertisers the ability to segment their audiences and target them in a more individual way. The cost to our privacy is an ongoing debate – as is how capable platforms are of really delivering a personalised approach. All of these adverts tend to be smaller, more focused and therefore lower budget – in some cases even using AI to analyse response rates and automatically tweak copy so that it best reaches target audiences. So less Mad Men, more Metal Mickey.

3          Content is king
Consumers are more suspicious of advertising, and want greater transparency from the brands that they deal with. This is driving a much greater reliance on content across the buying cycle, helping build relationships, and overcome objections on the way. This requires a different set of skills to big budget TV advertising – in fact it is more akin to the copywriting side of public relations, with more information and less overt selling.

All of these factors are shaking up the marketing hierarchy and putting the role of the traditional ad agency under threat. At the top end, consultants such as Accenture are entering the sector, buying up agencies and focusing on providing strategic business advice as well as execution. Digital-first agencies are jockeying for position, and a greater share of budget, backed up by their ability to offer transparency, value and accountability. Brands are even taking key activities in-house, with many companies now employing digital marketing specialists, or even, as in the case of Pepsi, in-house advertising studios.

So does this mean the end of the ad agency, and in particular large international networks? Not necessarily – in a fragmented world clients value talking to one trusted advisor, rather than having to juggle a series of relationships with overlapping agencies. However, to prevent that trusted advisor being a strategy consultancy or digital upstart, agencies need to reinvent themselves quickly, learn new skills and become more of a high-level partner. One way is to move up the value chain. Back in the advertising heyday of the 1980s, Saatchi and Saatchi bought analyst house Gartner. The plan backfired, with the company sold less than two years later at a loss. But the idea clearly had strategic promise. Perhaps now is the time for ad agencies to think big again if they want to retain their power for the long term?

April 11, 2018 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment