Category Archives: The world we work in

Social creativity

Messaging in the stream. Not a new Kenny Rogers / Dolly Parton collaboration, rather the aspiration of marketers wishing to bathe in the warmth of earned media. The idea goes like this. The brand creates a social home that people can join, like or check in to and as a consequence allow the brand to join their news feed and the streams of those they know. This feels good. “N” people take an action and “N x friends of N” are potentially exposed to the resultant flow of comments or messages. This makes for a fine CPM calculation and thus one rather “media like” basis for valuing a friend or a follower.

Am I alone in finding this a little unsatisfying? It pays to spend a little while in brand sponsored social environments, before gifting your client virtual Kool Aid, simply to follow the type and volume of exchanges that take place. The sad fact is that most of it is somewhere between lame and prosaic and its disemmination is unlikely to be of any real value.

The wise Miles Young CEO of Ogilvy has taken to quoting Abraham Lincoln on the subject of social media. Lincoln posited that “character is like a tree, reputation is like its shadow”. This is a useful reference and pushes one towards the necessary question “what does your tree look like?”.

If you are Pepsi (Refresh Everything) or American Express (Members Project) you have a pretty good answer to the tree question. You have created participation with purpose. The same is not true for everyone and suggests that more time and energy needs to be devoted to developing a real social strategy in which participation in the stream creates value for the participant and the interlocking streams of their social graph.

This brings us to the question of “what is social creativity?” put simply it’s  creativity that people want to keep and share. It does not have to be social as in socially responsible but that’s as good a space to start as any. It can also be socially valuable; inside information that it’s worth being on the inside of (Bergdorf Goodman for example) or service / experience enhancing (Best Buy, Dell, Jet Blue, Macy’s, Starbucks). All these cases are ones where the value exchange between the brand and its friends are clear.

The attraction of these strategies is also that they support long term marketing effect objectives in a channel that has been dominated by short term strategies and the pursuit of the last click. The good thing about trees is that they live long lives and cast long shadows.

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Habit. The prize for first movers

The I Pad will save the publishing industry. Steve Jobs says so and he has found an ever growing band of publishers to follow him to the promised land of media that people will pay for, that advertisers will embrace and the tantalising propsect of minimal manufacturing and distribution costs for the former and unlimited creative and commerce opportunities for the latter. Truly, it does not get better than that.

Naturally in all good things there is the odd tiny wrinkle to overcome. Let’s ask ourselves a question; how many I Pads and their kin do there need to be in the market in order for them to be taken seriously as needle moving mass penetration media? For the fun of it let’s say 2o million. Sounds like a big number and one that will keep Apple’s stock price where the air is thin but still way less than 10% of the population. Anyway, assume that’s OK and given advertiser interest so far it will make for a lively market, but consider this. By the time 20 million tablets are in the market how many apps do we suppose there will be in the app store? I, of course, have no idea but guess it won’t be less than 500,000.

If that turns out to be true it will make the notion of 500 channel television with which we concerned ourselves not long ago a rather nostalgic and quaint thought. It might also be a source of learning. The 500 channel universe did not quite wreak the havoc on television that most of us predicted as it became evident that the paradox of choice applied and that individuals soon found a low double digit number of choices that consumed the vast majority of their viewing time. Outside of 20 or so channels the long tail of television is very long indeed.

For Mr Jobs to be right in his predictions of salvation the paradox of choice needs to apply again. Publishers, content developers (call them what you will) need to establish themselves as part of the short tail of media choice and hope that habit becomes the barrier to entry that maintains the size and the attention of their audience.

The big question is ‘how do you do that?’ In my mind this is a simultaneous equation of managing distribution and content. To succeed in distribution publishers need a combination of promotion and packaging. It helps that people know your app exists and it helps also if it’s seen as a value purchase. The former will require a willingness to spend money and to risk self cannibalization. The latter will require innovative pricing and bundling models as it seems likely to me that people will more likely buy content bundles than individual issue or single title subscription access. In such an environment certain titles will anchor packages and to those (as with ESPN on television) will go the richer share of revenue.

On the content side the solve is every bit as complex. Editors and publishers need to look at the purpose of their product and why it is valuable to its audience and to reimagine that purpose in the context of multimedia, immediacy, depth and interactivity. They need to ask the question as to the degree and the occasion in which each of these add value and apply them judicously. It must be tempting, for example for Sport Illustrated to get into the breaking news and live scores business but can it ever compete in that area with ESPN and or MLB ? I think not. SI to borrow a phrase, is, like Time, the first draft of history. They are providers of depth, analysis and context in a world increasingly distracted by generation blurt. The I Pad allows them to pursue that mission with more depth and more multimedia but there is little value in adding immediacy in their case. You get the idea.

When do I matter most? How can I matter more? Two questions that the content owner needs to focus on, the rest of us might think about that as well. Advertisers have a history of embracing media that matters to its audience, despite the increasing trend to separate audiences from context there will always be a market in reach, attention and influence. Publishers around the world know a lot about all three of those and those that execute have the opportunity to establish audience habit which is the ultimate first mover advantage.

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Two degrees of separation

The separation of audience from context is a much discussed if unresolved argument. The general thesis of the ‘pork bellies versus diamonds’ debate is either that context amplifies the value of messaging or that audience is everything and the cost and targeting advantages more than offset the specifics of contextual relevance. The seller community is neatly divided on this issue with producers of original content on one side and ad networks, by and large, on the other. Readers will be relieved to know that this post is not on that topic.

A more profound degree of separation may be the idea that the commercial message no longer requires the carriage vehicle of media at all. This argument was made at an IAA gathering in Tokyo by Masataka Hosagane an executive creative director at Dentsu. Mr. Hosagane showed some creative work for a PS3 game, Last Man Everywhere, and an innovative hybrid of a children’s book and an I Phone (called PhoneBook of course) and described both of them as communication ideas ‘beyond the frame’.

Without doubt, both were compelling and both seemed to be independent of any given distribution channel. The specifics of these pieces are less important than the growing notion that there are more and more marketing communications in the form of seeded video in general and applications in particular that are intended for peer to peer distribution and thereby bypass paid distribution channels and, by extension, the invoicing departments of media vendors. The most obvious manifestation of this trend is the spawning of brand owner iPhones and Droid apps from a raft of advertisers big and small that fill the marketing trades on a daily basis.

The problem, however, is this. Firstly it is hard to really gain traction in an environment shared with 100,000 other apps, secondly all the data suggests that even the most successful apps with significant download volume trail off in usage with a rate of decay that is alarmingly precipitous. Finally, consumers en masse don’t read the marketing trades. The maintenance of reach, recency and frequency remain an essential plank of any brand marketing strategy that depends on durable visibility and it’s simply not possible to maintain a flow of apps and sustained usage that can fulfill this role.

As a consequence the frame remains central to the message distribution process and those applications that break out should be celebrated as a supplement but not relied upon as a replacement.

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Mega Bite


This image is a promotion for Windows 7 in Tokyo. No comment required

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The Digital Shelf

It is perfectly obvious that the only marketing activity that influences the sale of detergent is the number of facings in the store. The shopper goes to the store, they are arrested by the display and they buy. As a consequence the entire marketing budget should be expended on securing that shelf space.

Given this quite obvious correlation between the last pre-purchase exposure to the brand and the purchase itself it is perhaps surprising that the brand’s owners do not allocate budgets in this way and instead spend significant amounts of money all the way back from the shelf to the living room of the prospective buyer. They do this because they know, through a heady cocktail of regression analysis and common sense, that multiple contact points contribute to the emotional and rational preconditions for purchase.

These days we call this attribution modelling. We attempt to ascribe values to actions and attempt to create a communications recipe from assorted ingredients in order to create the intended outcome. This is not to underestimate the value of shelf space and most brand owners do not.

More puzzling is what to do about digital shelf space. It’s been said by wiser commentators than me that the results pages of search engines are very often the first digital touch point for brands and this has been extrapolated to describing those very results as shelf space. In the event that the shelf puts the consumer a click away from a transaction, this description has resonance. When it does not the analogy fades in both accuracy and relevance yet in both cases there is an assumption among the sellers of search clicks that budget allocation should start with them and only go to other channels when sufficient funds are allocated to capture every available click.

This represents a compound fallacy. First, wider marketing activity drives clicks; second, a huge quantity of consumer interaction with brands remains unmediated by search and third, if all marketers drank the same Kool Aid with the suggested vigor the results would be an inflationary spiral and an unwinnable game.

Search strategy is brand specific, it requires a determination of how and why people become aware of brands and of the path to preference and purchase. It requires knowledge of the brand’s channels to market and of the relative influence of each touchpoint. The focus needs to be on share of wallet in the category and not on share of clicks. The binary nature of search metrics is seductive but not everything that seduces you is good for you.

This is not the first time this blog has mused on this topic and it won’t be the last. Search has costs and it has opportunity costs. The attraction is that the costs are incurred against actions rather than exposures. The opportunity cost is related to those options you decline in order to fund those actions.

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Social Service

It has often been said that one of the distinguishing features of the web is that it is both a channel to market and a marketing channel. The stand out brands and corporations in web marketing know this and realized that what they did online had to add genuine customer value through any or all of choice, value, convenience, relevance and service.

It is the last of this handful of virtues that separates the good from the average on Twitter. Why do Best Buy, Jet Blue and Dell constantly top the list of brands that are leveraging social media?

I think the answer is simple enough; all these companies have found a way of creating genuinely enhancing experiences through the provision of real time customer service and advantage in the form of advice, information, discounts and benefits.

Its been said that customer service is the new marketing. It’s also been said that those companies that make service the goal across the employee base are the ones people will want to do business with. The notion of broadly distributed service within organizations has the added benefit of connecting participating employees with the broader mission of the enterprise. Forty something years ago President Kennedy is said to have asked a Cape Canaveral janitor the nature of his job. The janitor was sweeping the floor but answered ‘Mr. President, I’m helping to put a man on the moon’.

Tweeting for Best Buy might be less lofty but those that do are helping the company to separate itself from its competition. Looking beyond this group an increasing population of corporations are adding a service layer to brands through social media, mobile apps and other programs. Happily these services, like the brands themselves, require promotion. The ROI comes from the equation that says pay for creating awareness of a service and for directing the consumer to an experience you own. You can earn more exposure by how that experience is shared.

The message to brands is simple. If you want to think social then think service. Service sits at the heart of relationships between brands consumers and at the heart of the conversations those relationships create.

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Bent out of shape – part 2

My reader has been active. He has sent any number of interesting Twitter analytics pieces to illuminate the distribution curve question. This one is of particular interest.

Among the more revealing stats is that only 1 in 4 registered users tweets in any given month and that 75% of users have tweeted fewer than 1o times and that substantially less than 5% of users have more than 100 users.


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GroupM Interaction 09

We just published our annual view of the world and this short essay is its preface. It was written pre-microhoo.


Since we wrote Interaction 08 much has changed. A major economic disturbance has dampened the exuberance surrounding the online advertising industry, reducing the rate of growth in advertising spend and reducing both the number of eye-popping transactions and the flow of venture capital into businesses that project an ad funded future. Through all this our volumes of spend and impressions continue to grow in both absolute terms and in terms of share of total media investment although the rampant growth in available inventory has placed downward pressure on costs per thousand across the board.

A minor change has also impacted this report as rather than one extended essay by way of introduction we publish a number of market reports alongside our usual array of market level data.

A number of macros emerge from our observations around the world. Search continues to be the biggest contributor to the digital advertising economy as advertisers exploit the consumer intention it represents. As search grows, so grows Google, in both volume and market share. In display the market is increasingly dominated by ad networks, with attendant behavioral targeting and others whose mission it is to drive measurable return on investment. Social media continues its extraordinary growth in consumer adoption and interaction, with Facebook and Twitter capturing all the headlines but still little revenue in proportion to the total time spent or impressions available. Brand owners are enthusiastically embracing these platforms to build applications and services yet their owners see little direct commercial benefit.

Video advertising continues to grow. The ascendancy of Hulu in the US and equivalent aggregators of professional video content elsewhere are finally giving advertisers an environment in which they feel comfortable. This in stark contrast to the alternative offered by much of YouTube which, despite being the dominant distributor of video online, remains a minnow in respect of the percentage of the inventory which is used by advertisers.

The arrival of the I Phone in the middle of 2007; and other smart phones, has finally pushed marketers into the mobile sector yet this has led to the development of services and applications rather than large scale ad campaigns. If it is true that always-on broadband has become the de facto operating system for life then the pervasive, always there, mobile device has become its ultimate peripheral.

While embracing the channel with enthusiasm brand marketers remain challenged by the digital opportunity. For many the negative impact on analog media in terms of audiences and attention has been greater than the positive potential of consumer targeting and the creation of intimate relationships between brands and their user constituencies. Big brands still require reach but fragmentation makes it hard to turn that reach into engagement. Brands know that digital channels can provide real engagement but are challenged in scaling that engagement to a level of reach that moves the commercial needle.

The continued ascendancy of search , ad networks (for however long they survive as agency systems get closer to the underlying inventory) and affiliate marketing programs reflects the desire to pursue the ‘last click’, an action at a moment in time to which advertisers can attribute an action that they perceive to be of commercial value. These represent binary moments of success or failure and all the comfort that those entail, a comfort not replicated by the concept of the post impression window the very purpose of which is to quantify inexact events. In challenged economic times the flight to perceived certainty is understandable and these applications of the channel prosper in the same way as sales promotion when the marketer’s priority is short term sales and the capture of increased market share.

This is, however, unsatisfactory for advertisers and publishers. The market cannot be sustained by an obsessive focus on the last click which represents what is typically referred to as the bottom of the purchase funnel. Purchase decisions and consumer behavior are now almost equally affected by broadcast, addressable (internet) and social channels and managing and activating this confluence of influence have become the heart of the communications channel planning challenge.

If we take a step away from our screens and our mice we might reflect on the historic purpose of brand marketing. One interpretation is that brand marketing exists to create social relevance for goods and services; to make a given audience aware of a brand and its function and to suggest its suitability in fulfilling a given want or need. Critically marketing seeks to convert the unconverted. If this is true, and you wish to trade at scale, then social relevance requires significant exposure of messaging and the need for that messaging to encourage a deeper brand experience via a retail channel, a web site, or a brand sponsored event or community.

The function of advertising is to create visibility for brands on the one hand and to act as a signpost to deeper experiences on the other. This is still true. But the bar for communication has gone up. Real value exchange between consumers and brands has become paramount. Much of current marketing science was built on the assumption that repetition of well crafted messaging to passive and somewhat attentive consumers was enough. Today the use of media, or more accurately screen time has become anything but passive. A generation or two ago children were berated by their elders for watching too much television. They were told that in earlier, more wholesome times leisure hours were spent making music, playing soccer in the park or hanging out with friends not sitting and staring at television. It may have been bad for kids but it was good for advertisers. Today those kids spend their time playing Guitar Hero (making music?), playing Halo on X Box Live  (soccer in the park?) and on Facebook (hanging out with friends?). In short leisure has become active again with many attendant challenges for brand owners wishing to create social relevance in high involvement environments.

In response to this challenge advertisers and their agencies have realized that paid media channels alone may not be sufficient to meet their goals. Advertisers want to create media they can own and control. They want their messaging to earn exposure through peer to peer transmission via social networks and their messages to be discovered by consumers through those same channels and via search. In creating owned media advertisers are also realizing that commerce and services are of high value and that the attention given to brand web sites that provide neither is diminishing. A cursory glance at the size of brand web site audiences almost always leads to the conclusion that they make little contribution. As a result the emphasis shifts. Brand web sites are repurposed as repositories for content which is distributed more widely around the web and specifically into environments where consumers actually spend their time, a concept becoming known as edge marketing.

Many brand owners dream of the moment when their content or message ‘goes viral’ and becomes a YouTube hit. Few succeed. The ocean of content is deep and wide.  Relatively few brand owners ask themselves the question ‘why would a consumer keep this piece of content, and why would they share it with others? This question has appeared on few creative briefs yet it seems to be at the very heart of peer to peer communication. It would be a mistake to think that viral hits are the only measure of success. More important is to engage consumers with brands and associated experiences to an extent sufficient to persuade them to capture that experience in text, pictures or video and to share the resulting content with others via direct transmission or their personal web spaces. The consumer, for better or worse, is now a fully fledged party to both the creation and distribution of brand content. The successful stimulation of such participation is indicative of engagement and also influences the prominence of brands in search listings. As the volume share of clicks on the major engines leans more and more towards the organic listings the value of prominence created by well-distributed content increases. Brands recognize how online channels influence the consumer, brand reputation and the propensity to act. But much of the proof is indigenous, comprising measures such as clicks to a destination or sales through an e commerce channel. In many markets this has still been enough to drive online advertising to between 15% and 20% of total media investment. Continued growth from this source will correlate with changes in broadband penetration and the proportion of GDP from e commerce.

The obsession with the last click and now the economic downturn have conspired to create a digital advertising landscape that is dominated by the pursuit (albeit a successful one) of direct response. If the pervasiveness and significance of the channel develops as we expect this cannot be adequate for businesses that seek to create, nurture and profit from brands.

The next major leap will come with wider recognition that online marketing is a significant driver of positive offline marketing effect.  In most categories, and in most markets, less than 10% of all commerce is online so influencing the 90% is the greater prize. The work of many inventory owners including Microsoft, Google and Yahoo in partnership with research vendors ranging from Nielsen to Comscore and Dynamic Logic demonstrate that both brand metrics and sales are impacted  by online advertising and that clicks are only a piece of the puzzle.


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Optmizing for what?

Optimization in some approximation of real time is the topic du jour and it’s a fine thing to buy exactly the right inventory at the right time, place and price. It’s even better if you know why you are doing it.

The problem is distinguishing between the rather easy task of  applying targeting filters (demographic, geographic and behavioral) and the rather harder one of determining the outcomes required. In the cases of those outcomes that are evidenced by indigenous online events (you sold a thing) it sounds easy but the truth is that even here its hard because most often  it’s multiple events that lead to the last one. The problem compounds when you do business in multiple channels and becomes exponentially harder when long term marketing effect rather a sale NOW is the principal goal of the activity.

The challenge then is to identify the events that drive revenue in your business and to optimize against those events. The variety of revenue events is endless; take an automotive company as an example and look at these events in reverse order from the actual or metaphorical last click:

  • I bought my third Ford
  • I bought me second Ford
  • I bought my first Ford
  • I booked a test drive
  • I visited a dealer
  • I used an online car configurator
  • I used a finance calculator
  • I visited a ‘model’ web site
  • I visited the Ford web site
  • I put Ford into my consideration set
  • I like Ford
  • I am aware of Ford

Getting your prospect to and through each of these steps has a value and a cost  and what’s more each step will have a bottleneck of its own together with performance, communication and optimization challenges that go with them. Solving for these issues is marketing’s riddle of the sphink and a function of insight and creativity every bit as much as speed and efficiency.

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Of water and music

I don’t know who said it first but whoever did say ‘I remember when water was free and you paid for music’ has been re-quoted rather a lot.

The truth is not quite so simple. For the pre-digital generation the concept of free streaming music was very familiar. We called it radio, and in the US unlike many other markets the performers and their managers were never compensated yet were happy co-conspirators as the tracks played on the radio led to album sales and it was them that supported the music industry ecosystem. The radio stations prospered by selling advertising.

The big then and now differences are four fold:

  1. Radio listeners never gained possession of the content (although I do remember recording the BBC chart show at 5pm Sunday on my cassette recorder)
  2. They certainly never got to share that content
  3. They never got to self schedule and were restricted to the editorial whims of any given station or format
  4. Streaming music services have had very limited success in attracting large scale advertiser support

One thing does remain the same. A lot of people DO pay for music. In the US in 2008, according to the IFPI 1.1 billion digital tracks and 66 million digital albums were sold in 2008. The situation outside of Europe is less healthy. On a per capita $ basis the US spend was almost double the amount in the UK, four times more than in Germany and 20 times more than in Spain.

It is this phenomena (together with continued piracy and illegal file sharing) , possibly, that explains the drive in Europe for subscription services in Europe provided by independents like Spotify, handset manufacturers including Nokia ‘Comes with Music’ and Sony Ericsson ‘Play Now’, and networks ranging from BSkyB, Orange, TDC, Neuf Cegetel, TeliaSonera and others.

There is considerable variety in these services but the essence of them all is a monthly subscription that grants access to unlimited streaming music coupled with limited download capabilities that enable offline consumption. The twist is that the access to the stream and the ability to download persists for only the period in which the subscription continues to be paid.

Broadly speaking all these initiatives have been welcomed by the music industry but the fear must be that many users will use initial subscriptions to build their digital libraries and abandon those subscriptions for free streaming and much less frequent paid downloads after that period. If this is true the gains for artists and labels may be short term and it may need more than music to maintain a healthy subscription environment.

The most logical response is much greater content bundling with subscriptions in which single providers can price and distribute whole rafts of copywright content from music to film to TV programs and games. Doing this will simplify the market by allowing consumers a choice of providers across all their entertainment requirements and a choice of rent or own across content and platforms.

By the way; you see a lot more tap water on New York restaurant tables these days.

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