Return on Time

This is the thought that’s been helping me most this year.

My to do list is never ending.

Trying to do it all drives you crazy.

RETURN ON TIME is the deciding factor.

Do the things first that can make a big, big difference.

Pretend the rest don’t exist.

People complain.

Look the other way.

Sounds brutal?

Yes, I’m a nicer person than that really.

But, think about Jack Welch firing the bottom 20% of his staff each year.

That was worse.

This is the same principle.


8 Rules for Surviving in the Era of Conversations

(The thinking in this piece first appeared in Contagious Magazine, Issue 16)

1 / You’re part of the conversation, whether you’re managing it or not. And the conversation is getting louder. Fred Reichheld of Bain Consulting says it best: ‘Today, negative word of mouth goes out over a global PA system. In the past, the accepted maxim was that every unhappy customer told ten friends. Now an unhappy customer can tell ten thousand ‘friends’ through the internet.
2 / Everything you do creates conversation, whether you think it’s marketing or not, and whether youknow it or not. Your pricing policy creates conversation. How your people answer the phone creates conversation. In the contagious age, the things that create conversation are not just viral ads. The single greatest driver of positive recommendation is ‘experience beyond expectation’. For advertising agencies, this means you can’t manage the conversation without having a point of view on every aspect of your client’s product experience. If they manage a bank, then most of the
negative conversation is likely to be driven by high fees, long queues or poor service. The advertising won’t fix that.
3 / Changing the conversation to your advantage is what grows your business. Brands with the most recommendation in their category grow four times faster than the category average (London School of Economics). Increasing recommendation by 12% doubles sales growth (Bain Consulting).
4 / Most of what is currently positioned as buzz or word of mouth is completely worthless. It’s transient and disconnected. It doesn’t change the conversation. Getting talked about is not, in itself, the driver of value. Changing the
conversation in the category is. Sometimes that difference isn’t visible until years afterwards. Some Grand Prix winners
have little long term impact. Wassup was certainly talked about, but Apple’s 1984 spot changed the conversation.
5 / You have to be talking about something that really matters to people to really change the conversation. Otherwise you’re just global small talk. Water cooler chit-chat. Suprisingly, even apparently dull categories can be important. Nobody talks about toothpaste, but people do talk about teeth, smiles, and feelings. Nobody talks about constipation, until they have it. But, when they do, you’d be surprised. (Check it out on-line).
6 / Great brands lead the conversation by having a point of view that transcends even the category. They have a vision and a set of beliefs that allow them to redefine the category they work in multiple times, often over decades. Renault, for example, has always beendriven by people-based innovation, not just engineering. This was most famously apparent in the Espace and its creation of the people-carrier segment, but has also allowed them to take leading roles in the low-cost car segment with the nofrills Logan brand, as well as in electric cars. Take a look at this statement of purpose to understand how they are as different from Peugeot as they were in the 1960s, or the 1980s – it’s just the concerns of the time that have changed.
7 / Broadcast marketing can also change the conversation too, but to do so you need to apply a higher standard. Even tooday, nothing gets people talking as much or changes the conversation as effectively as TV advertising. (Little known fact about Barack Obama: he started with Facebook, but he ended up by spending more TV dollars than any candidate in history; likewise, Susan Boyle didn’t get that virally famous by appearing on a small underground show. It was ten or twenty million people who saw her on ‘Britain’s Got Talent’. But you do have to think about your ‘broadcast media’ differently. Don’t think about the ad, think about the conversation that starts when
the ad finishes. No conversation? Don’t do the ad.

8 / Symbolic actions have immense contagious power, if they crystallise a powerful vision. Consumers know that talk is cheap. And what you do for them is more likely to get them talking than what you say you believe. The recently awarded Speights Great Beer Delivery created by Publicis Mojo in Auckland was a fine example. The brand is about the importance of beer and mates; putting a pub on a boat and sending it to the other side of the world so that NewZealand ex-pats in England could enjoy their favourite beer was a powerful way of proving that.

Are we 40 Years Behind, or 40 Years Ahead?

You could hardly be a planner and not ask yourself what you can learn from Mad Men.

Surely, we all want to relive the days when we were regarded as Delphic oracles by our clients, princes of capitalism by the public, and could still be blazed on Martinis by 12.30 (Oh happy days…)

Strangely, there might be a little more to it than that. In A Series, Episode 3, Don Draper kindly endorses Publicis’s global positioning….’if you don’t like it, Change the Conversation’ (Video to come later!)

‘Mad Men’ of course, came from the days before TV distorted everything. And therefore, there was more focus on ideas and on genuinely media neutral execution. You might recall that in Series 2 when they pitched for American Airlines, there was much mention of the menu cards. Something that today is often hived off to another supplier, while the ‘Advertising Agency’ is asked to focus on the ‘Advertising’.

For students of the history of advertising, it’s not surprising that in those pre-TV days there was a greater emphasis on recognisable properties. The Leo Burnett ‘critter family’, of the Jolly Green Giant, Tony the Tiger et al, to say nothing of the Marlboro Man, was largely created to give tangible standout in a world before TV storytelling.

Now, of course, we are once again past the age of TV omnipotence. With huge fragmentation, it’s hard to stand out. And once again the very definition of an ‘advertising property’ is in flux. There are some who think that ‘critters’ might make a comeback. Certainly, there’s a case for saying that now, as we are once again in many multiple media, standout is back to being important.

But, increasingly, another school is gaining the upper hand – which is to say that critters, by their nature are owned by a company not by the customer, and that something different is required. More like an epicentre, or an eco-system, which guide people into being part of the brand.

Examples like the Converse Gallery, Project Refresh, or even branded utilities like Nike+ give a centre to the brand’s activity that acts like a black hole – drawing in the people who want to interact with it.

Our feeling is that this needn’t necessarily be purely digital, although as time goes on, most of them are likely to have a digital component. But, the shape of epicentres might be driven by the things other than the brand that the customers are interested in. For example, Maliboom-Boom is our project for Malibu. Not too surprisingly, it’s epicentre is music, with a digital radio  station. Likewise, our award winning and highly effective project for British Army Recruitment, uses gaming as an epicentre.

Now Fashion Really is a Tribe

For a while now, luxury brands have been moving on-line. The first switch came with heavily   flash driven applications, that could give you the rich, video driven, personalised experiences that a luxury brand deserves; then the i-phone & smart phones turned luxury customers from luddites into early adopters (‘they’re easy to use, you just need the money to buy them!); finally, a bit of recession never did anyone any harm. Saving money…..On-line fashion show anyone?

Now, one of the more interesting developments in recent years, Burberry’s Art of the Trench ( which has received over 4 million hits since November.

Interesting because it is:

–          A state of the art community building exercise (technically, we all know that a fashionbrand’s fans are a tribe, but rarely has it been made tangible quite like this).

–          A functioning social utility (Need ideas on how to wear your Burberry? – if I suggested a site on this, you’d probably have me arrested for criminal tedium – but done  by real people, it sort of works.)

–          A spectacular switch from the fakery of fashion to a real-life ‘street fashion’ approach, which is a very smart way to create anti-bling….

But what is really interesting about it, at least to me, is the way it brings to life something which we’ve always sort of known. i.e that brands really are more like tribes than logos.

As social utilities and social networks mature, that will become more and more self-evident.

Thoughts from The Worldwatch Institute

The Worldwatch Institute’s Annual Report for 2010 observes that most Americans consume their not inconsiderable body-weight of natural resources every day. At that rate of consumption, the planet can, they claim, support only 500,000,000 people.

Unfortunately, travelling the world as I do, I know that most of the so-called ‘developing world’ aspires to the American consumption driven lifestyle. It’s the business narrative of the last 20 years: Chinese, Indians, Brazilians et al seeking to raise their standard of living by joining the consumer society. And there’s several billion of them.

So what if electric cars, probably the biggest step in any environmental direction right now, are really solving the wrong problem? What if the real issue isn’t to moderate the impact of consumption, it’s to limit consumption altogether?

As advertisers, that ought probably to make us shift uncomfortably in our seats. We are supposed to be ‘want creators’ after all. And, at the very least, it’s likely that most of our clients will expect sales to be going up, not down.

So what’s the way out?

– Could durability become fashionable?

– Will we have recyclable houses, not just recyclable milk cartons?

– Will we start to prefer the idea that we should rent or share cars, and that it’s somehow uncool to want to own them?

If everything happens that Worldwatch imagines, we will be unlearning the very idea of what success means in a consumerist society.  Impossible? Maybe not. There was a society before before consumerism, so no doubt there will be another one that comes after it.

We live in exciting times.