Revolutionary Measures

Machine, Platform, Crowds – what it means for marketing

What does the future of business, and by extension the world around us, look like? A recent book by two experts from MIT points to a radically different model that companies need to embrace if they are to survive.machine

Machine, Platform, Crowd: Harnessing our Digital Future by Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson focuses on the three emerging trends that are changing how every business operates:

  • Machine – artificial intelligence is replacing the use of the human mind in many areas. While concerns about robots stealing jobs have been raised, this move also brings benefits. Applied correctly, in the right areas, the power of AI far outweighs what the human mind can do, leading to better products and services, better personalised to our needs.
  • Platform – aggregators that own no assets of their own (think Airbnb and Uber), are taking over from those that create products. Essentially they act as gatekeepers, taking a cut of every transaction without physically creating anything themselves.
  • Crowd – ideas and movements now come from the wider crowd, loosely organised, rather than tightly knit internal teams within companies. Wikipedia vs the Encyclopaedia Britannica is the perfect example here.

What does this mean for businesses? Essentially anyone trying to continue as before, or who simply tries to cram these new trends into their existing ways of working is going to fail. The authors give the example of the move from steam to electric power. Those businesses that simply replaced a steam engine with an electric motor quickly found themselves outpaced by those that realised electricity could completely change how a factory operated, enabling innovations such as conveyor belts and assembly lines.

It is also going to mean big changes in marketing, and therefore how marketing agencies (and marketing departments) are structured.

Traditionally agencies have focused on a single marketing discipline – whether it is PR, inbound marketing or SEO. They were built on a pyramid model to maximise efficiency, with lots of junior people doing relatively low value work at the bottom, with strategy coming from higher up. In-house marketing departments were again organised into different disciplines, with many having little cross-over between them.

The trends outlined in the book completely transform this model. Take Machines. You don’t need lots of junior people doing repetitive tasks that can be replaced by automation, and increasingly decisions taken at a middle ranking and senior level will be based on data analysis, rather than gut feel. Whether it is deciding which products to push through online advertising, or which influencers to approach on social media, AI will remove much of the legwork from the process.

Looking at Platforms, that’s where the traditional agency model comes unstuck. Why does a client want to go to multiple different agencies, all with their own specialisms? While the very largest might want the overhead of employing and managing disparate agencies, many more will want to embrace a platform or network model that brings together the skills that are needed, when they are needed, all under the control of one gatekeeper. It won’t matter if people with these skills are contractually employed by that agency or not, it will be more about solving a business problem. The gatekeeper handles the management, quality control and administration, without having the cost of full-time staff.

Finally, the Crowd. Marketing in the past has been top down – company X came up with an idea, developed a product, tried it out on some potential consumers, and if feedback was good, launched it. The whole process took a long time, and there was no real guarantee of success. Marketing now has to be much more of a two way conversation – listening to the crowd and using their insight to inform decisions on everything from product to pricing. The perfect example of this is the recent fidget spinner craze – it came from social media and completely bypassed the marketing machines of the big toy companies, catching them on the hop.

For anyone that thinks I’m being overly pessimistic or that the changes won’t impact them, take a look at other industries. Even 10 years ago electric cars were confined to a tiny niche in the market – and now major economies such as the UK are queuing up to ban petrol and diesel vehicles by the middle of the century. Once industries hit a tipping point, change is extremely rapid. The other point for marketers to note is that brands still need their skills, but at a more strategic level. You need to be agile, knowledgeable and willing to change, but the benefit will be a more interesting and varied role that is at the heart of business success.

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October 18, 2017 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Write more, type less

According to research quoted by Richard Branson, half of 13-19 year olds have never written a thank you letter, and just 10% own a pen. And before we adults start moaning about teenagers, texting and social media replacing good old fashioned ink and paper, think back to the last time you hand wrote something, other than your name on a Christmas card.

Image of a modern fountain pen writing in curs...

As Branson points out, the act of writing long hand holds more meaning than an email or electronic message. You have to put greater physical effort into it, and you also need to think about it more, plan it and take time to actually write the sentences, particularly if your handwriting is as atrocious as mine. He points out that poems and love letters, no matter how scribbled, are the perfect way to crystallise feelings and emotions directly, rather than through the medium of a keyboard and screen. You can’t cut and paste sections of text, move things round or delete words without leaving a mess. Obviously this does involve more time, but that isn’t always a bad thing – particularly given the breakneck speed of modern life.

Writing shouldn’t just be about letters either. I find that physically taking notes is the best way of ensuring I actually remember what I’m hearing, particularly if I then type it out again later on. And planning in longhand is the perfect way of collecting your thoughts before drafting a press release or document and avoids starting with the soul destroying white space of an empty Word document.

The scary thing is that we are becoming physically less able and practiced at holding a pen. As a student I wrote for three hours straight in exams, without any ill effects, yet now I struggle to manage more than a single holiday postcard without getting cramp. Children today increasingly don’t need to write, with much of their coursework completed online, so no wonder that they don’t need to own a pen.

What we need is to embrace the best of both worlds – you need the skills to type quickly and organise your thoughts using modern technology, but also to take a step back, breathe and think about what you are trying to say. The pen is perfect for this – we should all remember to uses digits in the offline world, as well as the digital one. So, if you don’t have one, put a pen and notebook on your Christmas list and make a New Year’s Resolution to write more and type less.

This is my last blog of 2015, so thanks to everyone that has read, commented and shared my posts. Have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

December 16, 2015 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Do we really need Chief Marketing Technology Officers?

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Photo Flickr – https://flic.kr/p/oh7hti

The last five years has seen two, separate trends hit marketing. Firstly the use of technology has skyrocketed as digital channels such as the internet, email and social media have risen in importance. Secondly, marketing has increased in importance as businesses across every sector realise that it is central to winning and retaining customers, reaching stakeholders and engaging with external audiences.

At the risk of showing how old I am, it is worth comparing the tools I had in my first PR job twenty something years ago, and what I have now. I started with a computer (yay!), and it even had email – but that was purely internal to the ten person company I worked for. I could just about access the internet, but it was text based, rather than the colourful World Wide Web we know today. If I wanted to communicate with a journalist I looked them up in a paper-based directory and called them. If I needed to give them information I wrote them a letter, printed and posted it. The same applied to press releases, which were faxed over by clients, laboriously re-typed, faxed back to the client for checking and then sent to a mailing house for distribution. Press clippings were sent through the post by a monitoring agency, and I then stuck them on large boards to show to clients or made up physical cuttings books. And I worked for a technology PR agency, so at the advanced end of marketing at the time.

Now marketers have access to a huge variety of online tools and devices. You can find out information instantly about a journalist through the web and send out a press release to the whole world at the touch of a button through mailing software – not to be advised unless you want to get a reputation as a spammer. Email and social media have replaced the telephone as primary communication channels, while digital marketing technology is available to run campaigns from start to finish. You can target audiences based on what they have searched for, what they have talked about on social media or simply the pages they’ve visited online. Marketing has gone from being behind the curve on technology use to being one of the most active spenders on IT. Much of this has been driven by the move to digital, with a corresponding rise in status for marketing chiefs. Rather than Marketing Directors, often reporting to sales, more and more organisations now have Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs), with a seat on the board and budgets to match.

In 2011, Gartner predicted that the CMO will spend more on tech by 2017 than the Chief Information Officer (CIO). People scoffed at the time, but it looks like this is well on the way to becoming a reality. There are now more than 3,000 marketing technology vendors, all aiming to support agencies and in-house marketers in their roles. This frankly dizzying Tube map-style infographic tries to make sense of their relative positioning, but was probably out of date as soon as it was released, such is the rate of growth and innovation.

I’ve longed argued that marketers in general, and PR people in particular, need to change and embrace technology if they want to continue to be relevant. However they shouldn’t just focus on technology for its own sake, but use it to support what they do – engaging with customers and creating long-term relationships that benefit both sides. There’s no point running an award-winning Facebook page if it doesn’t link to your marketing and business objectives and is measured solely by the number of Likes it delivers.

So I’m suspicious of the latest marketing trend – the introduction of the Chief Marketing Technology Officer (CMTO). It aims to bridge the gaps between stereotypically creative marketing people and the more conservative, risk-averse IT department, finding a middle ground so that marketers don’t make the wrong choices, but aren’t held back by out of date IT procurement practices. Despite its spread in the US – Gartner says that 80% of organisations have someone filling a CMTO-type role, even if it isn’t called that, I don’t believe that marketing (or IT) needs one. It is surely better to get both marketing and IT to talk to each other, and learn how to co-operate, than to essentially try and create a half-way house of someone with the range of skills to talk both tech and marketing. If the CMTO sits in marketing you just end up with a silo-based, departmental approach, rather than looking at the wider picture of what the business needs. Technology is a vital part of every department’s role, but that doesn’t mean it is good for them to operate in isolation. Marketers should continue to improve their tech knowledge, but actually use their communication skills to talk to IT and get their help in navigating the marketing tech maze. Otherwise the risk is that money is wasted and the whole business suffers.

July 15, 2015 Posted by | Creative, Marketing | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Robots vs serendipity

A swarm of robots in the Open-source micro-rob...

By bringing the world together the internet opens up pretty much unlimited possibilities. You can discover completely new topics and interests, communicate with people across the globe and access a myriad of content that was previously unavailable.

More and more of what we read, watch and listen to comes via the internet – and this is only going to increase as previously analogue services such as TV go digital. On one hand this widens choice, but how do we navigate and find things we are interested in? And more to the point, is just watching what we’re interested in necessarily a good thing?

Showing my age, when I was growing up I had a choice of three TV channels (I remember the excitement of the Channel 4 launch), and video recorders were in their infancy. So you watched what was on – or switched the TV off and did something (less boring) instead. That meant there was a greater chance of stumbling upon a programme or subject that you wouldn’t have chosen to watch but actually widened your knowledge. I’m not saying the 1970s was a golden age of TV but you were likely to see a broad range of subjects in your daily viewing.

Now we have a plethora of channels and there’s always that nagging fear that there’s something better on the other side. Navigating this maze is difficult – how do you choose what to watch when there are thousands of alternatives? The way I see it there are essentially three ways of making a choice:

Robots – like Amazon Recommendations your TV/Set Top Box or PC sees what you have watched and enjoyed in the past and comes up with more of the same. However this essentially narrows your viewpoint – you’ll potentially end up watching programmes very similar to those you’ve seen before. The same goes for search – after all, you’ve got to know what you’re looking for before you type something into Google.

Friends – personal recommendations work, provided they come from people you trust. And given pretty much every programme is available on catch-up TV, you can view what your friends on like after the fact. And social media provides a quick way of gathering recommendations. Better than robots, but still likely to keep your watching within a relatively constricted area – after all we’re governed by a herd mind.

Editorial choice – what does the newspaper/TV guide say is good and worth watching? TV previews tend to cover a wide range of subjects so can highlight programmes that you wouldn’t normally watch. All good, but even with glowing reviews some programmes may not sound like your cup of tea and you won’t watch them.

Ironically the digital world can give us too much choice and make us flee back into watching a tiny fraction of its range. So, what’s the solution – or does there even need to be one? I’d argue that we should rely less on robots or even our friends and trust to serendipity – switching on the TV to a random channel and giving the programme 10 minutes to make an impression. Yes, it might mean seeing some duds but it also gives the chance of finding a new area that will change your life. Now all we need is an app to help us do that……………

September 11, 2013 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, Social Media | , , , , , | Leave a comment

2018 World Cup – the digital dimension

So after what feels like years of campaigning, the hosts for the 2018 football World Cup will be announced this afternoon in Zurich.

Given that voting rests with the 22 men of the FIFA Executive Committee, you’d think that wide-scale marketing doesn’t have a large part to play in bid success or failure. But aside from glad-handing the FIFA dignitaries on a one-to-one basis, building a long-term marketing campaign that reflects brand values is going to be essential to the winner.

Witness the incredible effort that has gone into the digital side of the England bid. Designed to provide an opportunity for fans around the world to show their support and interact with the bid, it is integral to the bid premise “England United, the World Invited”. I’d say the stats alone show it has done an amazing job – over 300,000 fans from 170 countries have joined its Facebook group, 2.2 million have registered their support and 6,000 follow the bid on Twitter. And that’s ignoring the downloadable iPhone app, wallpapers, YouTube channel et al.

It really delivers on the key aim of showing FIFA the depth of support for England’s bid both at home and around the world. Let’s hope that at 3pm today, all England’s efforts, on- and offline, will be rewarded…………

 

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December 2, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment