Digital Strategy: from here to the future

This blog takes a deeper look at digital planning and strategy in brand marketing and advertising. It accompanies a useful overview of these strategic tools from my Birmingham City University colleague, Mike Villiers-Stuart in his blog, Overview: Working The Methodology. This article considers how we can deliver strategic approaches that bring value in a constantly changing landscape of digital channels and platforms. In short, how can we develop an effective digital (and future-proof) methodology?

 Platforms, Channels and Formats 

“There was a time when people felt the internet was another world, but now people realise it’s a tool that we use in this world.”  Tim Berners-Lee

Since the explosion of the internet in the mid-1990s we have seen the continued growth of digital marketing channels (Meeker, M. 2015). Within the broad definition of ‘online’ there are an increasing number of platforms that offer opportunities for brand advertising; desktop/laptops, smartphones, tablets and, potentially, wearable devices. Eventually we might even include the connected fridge as a platform. These technologies have driven the emergence of new media channels, specifically web, mobile or social media. These channels have led to a plethora of formats from display ads to paid search to native content or video ads. As a result of this combination of platforms, channels and formats, marketing and advertising has become an increasingly complex landscape.

The other side of this challenge is that consumer behaviour in the brand context has become similarly complex. Arguably, our basic human needs, as defined by Maslow remain largely the same. The difference is that these needs are being played out in many different places. Way, way back, before the internet, advertising and marketing had limited touch points. The aim of advertising was to create something memorable, such as a jingle, a catch phrase or a concept, in the hope that consumers would remember them later at the point of purchase. In the UK the 1980s was a heyday for creative advertising. People such as John Hegarty (Levi’s 501), John Webster (Cadbury Smash, John Smiths, Courage Best) or Tony Kaye (Real Fires, British Rail, Dunlop) were writing adverts that were memorable, often repeated, and memed in playgrounds.

In today’s digital landscape the problem is not simply the numerous channel options, but also that consumers adopt new ones faster than brand advertising. Larry Downes’ identifies an increasing gap between these two groups (Downes, L. 2009) due to the exponential growth of the technology that drives digital media. It means that brands in digital are constantly playing catch-up with their audience.

maslow1

The Role of Planning and Strategy

‘If you have all the research, all the ground rules, all the directives, all the data — it doesn’t mean the ad is written. Then you’ve got to close the door and write something — that is the moment of truth which we all try to postpone as long as possible.’ David Ogilvy

The primary purpose of advertising and marketing is to create brand value, sell products and services, and through that, to create a return on investment (ROI). Simply placing adverts without any strategy in a complex digital media landscape is unlikely to deliver a return. Although some brands have tried this approach, advertising needs something more than just a ‘spray and pray’ strategy.

As early as the 1960s, even with fewer channel choices than now, it became apparent to some advertising UK execs that account managers could not rely on intuition or guesswork to develop their campaigns. Two people are credited with the development of the discipline known as planning; Steven King at JWT and Stanley Pollitt at BMP (Morison, M A et al 2012). They believed that they could produce much better results for clients if advertising professionals looked beyond pure marketing research and interpreted data in a more meaningful way. The discipline has since matured, or to use an advertising term, ‘rebranded’ into a range of roles. The Account Planning Group[1] lists a dozen key positions, and creative recruitment sites include terms such as account planner, strategic planner, strategist, creative strategist, and an old favourite, ‘brand anthropologist’ (Morison M A et al, 2012, Pg 7). The precise definition of who does what, and especially, who is more important in the pecking order, seems to be cause for considerable debate. Tracy Fellows, Chair of the Association of Account Planning said there is “a culture emerging in our industry that isn’t clear on what strategy is or what it does.” (Tiltman, D, 2011). In spite of this confusion, there are some broad principles that underpin the discipline that go beyond a single job definition. Some would even argue that job definitions are in fact, irrelevant.[2] Ultimately any strategy aims to take a brand from pain to gain – identifying a problem and finding a solution. That boils down to understanding research, developing some insight and through that, offering the brand a creatively led solution or ‘a moment of truth’. Regardless of what we title it, strategy is a meeting of analysis and creativity.

The Rise of Digital

Even in the 60s, the amount of market research was too much for an account manager to interpret (Morison M A et al, 2012). Now, with an explosion of digital channels we have many more measures and research data. Along side the market research offered by companies such as Nielsen, Kantar, IPSOS and Comscore, planners, or strategists for that matter, can also access some exotic analytics data generated from digital channels. Typically it covers usage information, such as web or app analytics[3] that works in conjunction with primary research conducted by a brand or agency.

161003-metrics

Tom Fishburne, Marketoonist.com

At the other end of the process is the deployment of marketing and advertising. What tactics will the marketer use in order to deliver the strategy? As new platforms develop, tactics will inevitably change. The shift and the resulting opportunities to advertisers in digital platforms has been closely tracked for some years by Mary Meeker’s annual Internet Trends. Other indicators of a shift include Google’s ad revenue for search and display, which has nearly doubled to $20bn in a decade (Reported in Ad Week, July 2016), and social media advertising, where Facebook has seen revenues go from zero to $3.3bn in less than 10 years (Seetharaman, D. 2016, WSJ).

Such rapid growth creates a confusing landscape in which to deploy brand engagement. One example is the Internet Advertising Bureau’s Ad Unit Portfolio[4] which shows hundreds of options for just one of many advertising channels, display advertising. Another indicator of this is the growth is in technology providers in the digital landscape. Scott Brinker in the Chief Marketing Technologist blog found that the number of players in the market almost doubled between 2014-15[5].

The challenge for advertising agencies that stems from a changing landscape is that of risk. How do we prove engagement in new, emerging channels? Brands, by their very nature, tend to be risk-averse and shy away from what they see as untried channels. Therefore the role of strategy becomes more important in helping brands to understand the new landscape and manage that risk (and, of course, to spend the money).

Technology as a Tool

One of the biggest challenges of the modern digital landscape is that particular platforms or technologies drive a campaign. It’s not unusual to hear a client say ‘put a QR[6] code on it’ , ‘we want an app’, ‘let’s use iBeacons[7]’ or ‘we want an augmented reality campaign’. In some ways it is understandable. An emerging platform such as the smartphone is very feature driven, and thus the technology is at the forefront. The challenge is that tech-driven thinking is not strategic. All it is doing is describing the tools to deliver a campaign. Imagine that you commissioned a portrait but you only told the artist the brushes you wanted them to use? It’s no different in advertising. Describing a technological feature fails to show an understanding of the audience or the context in which they might be engaged. It’s important to keep in mind that the technology itself is agnostic – there is nothing wrong with it – but without a strategy it is often used poorly.

Furthermore a lack of strategy in emerging platforms creates a ‘me too’ approach – using a channel simply because everyone else seems to be doing it. When some brands are early into a channel and see a small measure of success, others jump on the bandwagon. User generated content in social media is a good example of this. There’s a Tumblr dedicated to this, called tellusyourstoryblog.tumblr.com, that documents numerous brands that have asked users to share their story. The most surprising of these is PreparahionH, the pile cream. A strategic approach might reveal that another ‘send us your selfie’ campaign is not the best way to engage an audience in this context.

From Pain to Gain: Strategic Methodologies

Today’s planning discipline in advertising agencies is essentially an applied practice rather than a theoretical concept. Although there are supporting theories, strategic methodologies are rooted in a practical delivery of a campaign to an audience – the straight forward pain-to-gain process. An effective strategic tool can be understood in three stages; research, insight and creative. Within each stage there are a number of smaller processes that contribute to the development of the strategy. Although it is often described in a linear way, the reality is that development doesn’t always take a such simple path. For example, creative might be considered at an early stage in the process then reviewed or changed following further strategic insights.

In a complex digital world, this process can understandably become confusing. In order to formulate an effective strategy it is therefore necessary to use a framework. Agencies often like to invent their own, but three such examples are DPDDD (Villiers-Stuart, M. 2014), SOSTAC (Chaffey, D. 2012) or Storyscaping (Legorburu, G. & MaColl, D. 2013). These are not solutions that can provide an answer, but instead are tools that describe the flow of development in which to deliver an effective, meaningful strategy.

Strategic Realists

Realists or cynics? It all depends on your perspective. With the rise of digital channels, strategic methodologies have become more complex. Inevitably, some argue that it creates an unnecessary mystification of the process. Chief amongst these is Byron Sharp. He proposes that advertising is not sufficiently underpinned by empirical research and suggests that the objectives of many strategic methodologies are false. Strategists may focus on creating brand value through storytelling that will deliver brand fans or advocates. Advertisers will cite passion brands such as Harley Davidson or Apple who deliver a brand story that creates advocates who will purchase more frequently and encourage others to do so. The most referenced example of such brand fans are those that have the Harley Davidson tattoo. Sharp’s research identifies the concept of a fan as largely a myth and that the purchase/repurchase rate is similar for most brands. A little more vociferous in his argument is Bob Hoffman, Ad Contrarian (2007). A long-standing ad-man, Hoffman believes that brand strategists are mistaken in identifying consumers as ‘fans’. He suggests that what is described as ‘brand advocacy’ is nothing more than convenience and habit. He would go so far as to argue that brands are misled by their agencies who are creating something of ‘an emperor’s new clothes’ about what is fundamentally a simple process. He suggests that this is why brands will deliver inappropriate campaigns such as social media ‘Tell Us Your Story’, smartphone apps that are hardly used, and banner ads that are rarely clicked on. The Advertising Realists believe that it is really not that complicated. Arguably it’s in the interests of agencies (and their fees) to make it seem so. The Strategic Realists are typified by an irreverent, almost punk spirit that seeks to break down much of the pompousness of current advertising strategy. An Open Letter to All of Marketing and Advertising is a good example of this approach (Anon, 2010), which ends with the plea:

‘If you’d like to tell me what’s good about your product, fine. I may buy it. I may not …But, not to put too-fine-a-point on it, please, please, PLEASE, if you wouldn’t mind, awfully. Leave me alone. Thanks.’

Tools for The Job

All of this presents our core question. Which strategic methodology, if any, is the most appropriate? Perhaps the solution is to take a strategic approach to strategy itself. Just as technology is a tool, a strategic framework is simply there to deliver a job. The job of good advertising. That choice of tool should consider the values of the agency, the needs of the client and the campaign objectives. Thus, the DPDDD methodology is an effective tool for clients who are results driven, looking for an end-to-end solution. SOSTAC, on the other hand, is designed to meet the needs of a marketing-led approach. Storyscaping is a more in-depth tool that can help build the brand idea, especially in an omni-channel landscape. Storyscaping lends itself well to engagement for passion brands but it may over complicate the process where consumers are uninvolved with the brand, such as the classic FMCG product, a packet of soap powder.

These are just examples of how the tools might be applied and are far from exhaustive. Ultimately the choice of methodologies should be underpinned by the basic principles of strategy – identify some relevant research, critically assess it to create some insight and develop creative that meets the needs of the brand.

Bibliography

Legorburu, G. & McColl, D. Storyscaping: Stop Creating Ads, Start Creating Worlds, 2014,

Villiers-Stuart, M. Overview: Working the Methdology, 2016,
http://blogs.bcu.ac.uk/futuremedia/2016/10/07/overview-working-the-methodology/

Meeker, M. Internet Trends 2016, 2015, KPCB

Morison, MA et al Using Qualitative Research in Advertising, 2012 (2nd Ed) Sage Publications

Downes, L, The Laws of Disruption:Harnessing the New Forces That Govern Life and Business in the Digital Age, 2009, Basic Books

Tiltman, D. The death of the big idea and the future of strategy, 2014, Brand Report
http://www.brandreportblog.com/the-death-of-the-big-idea-and-the-future-of-strategy-david-tiltman-warc/

Seetharaman, D. Facebook Revenue Soars on Ad Growth, 2016, WSJ
http://www.wsj.com/articles/facebook-revenue-soars-on-ad-growth-1461787856

Sharp, B. How Brands Grow, What Marketers Don’t Know, 2010, OUP

Hoffman, B. The Ad Contrarian, Getting beyond the fleeting trends, false goals, and dreadful jargon of contemporary Advertising, 2007

Anon, An Open Letter to All of Advertising and Marketing, 2010, PSFK
http://www.psfk.com/2010/08/an-open-letter-to-all-of-advertising-and-marketing.html

[1] There is a list of key planning roles to be found at http://www.apg.org.uk/#!apg-planningjobguide/c1lkf

[2] This might be controversial to some who believe the difference is significant, such as Jinal Shah who argued the importance of the planner vs strategist definition in his Constant Beta blog: http://jinalshah.com/2012/05/29/lets-fuckin-set-the-record-straight-account-planners-and-digital-strategists-are-not-the-same/

[3] These kinds of analytics are typically drawn from individual web-site based logs into formats such as Google Analytics. In addition there are aggregations of this data through tools such as GS Stats Counter or Google Trends to highlight just two.

[4] The IAB Ad Unit Portolio [http://www.iab.net/adunitportfolio] looks at ‘display ads’ such as web banners, mobile and video advertising formats.

[5] A rise from 947 in 2014 to 1,876 in 2015 http://chiefmartec.com/2015/01/marketing-technology-landscape-supergraphic-2015/

[6] QR codes originated as a means of tracking parts in the vehicle industry. They were adopted in Japan as a means of delivering a URL to a mobile device due to the complexities of translating Japanese into Roman-type URLs. However, there are few examples of successful campaigns in Europe and the US. I discussed this problem with Graham Charlton at Econsultancy (2013) in the following blog post: https://econsultancy.com/blog/62397-qr-codes-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly/

[7] I looked at the challenge for Beacons in this blog post: https://brandsandinnovation.com/2014/10/28/beacons-the-saviour-of-retail-probably-not/

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Five Good Examples of Brand Innovation from Cannes Lions

Cannes Lions, the Oscars of advertising, will kick off later this week with innovation at the heart of their approach. Increasingly, the deployment of technology has been a strong element of the awards. In 2012, Nike’s Fuel Band won the Grand Prix Prize and last year, it went to Nivea’s beacon-based Bracelet . This year’s nominees contain a strong smattering of connected objects. Here are some of the stronger contenders:

Nike RISE LED Court

This is the kind of experiential campaign that you would expect from the sports giant. Big, flashy and well-executed:

Clever Buoy

Arguably this isn’t brand advertising but simply a good concept from Australia. Sharks emit a unique sonar signature and buoys strategically located near the coastline can be used to alert lifeguards of the proximity of sharks:

Hammerhead

From sharks to cycles, R/GA (the company that developed Nike’s Fuel) is a T shaped device that clips to a bike’s handlebars. It connects to a smartphone and uses lights to guide the cyclist around their route – thus mitigating the need to become distracted by their phone.

Samsung Safety Truck

This is a simple and effective concepts that the tech manufacturer developed in Argentina. The country suffers particularly high road fatalities, not helped by the large number of single-lane roads. Their truck simply used a wireless camera at the front and projected the road ahead onto a screen behind so that drivers could easily see if the road ahead was clear. Maybe all trucks will have something like this one day?

The Dancing Traffic Light

This campaign superbly solves the problem of over-eager pedestrians in an engaging way. Instead of a static red person, they dance! Simple enough, but the dancing pedestrian is actually a member of the public in a nearby booth. Their movements are translated into a simple red LEDs that keeps pedestrians entertained instead of trying to cross in front of the traffic:

Internet of Things Strategy – how businesses are using it already

Trillion fold rise in computing powerThere’s much talk about the Internet of Things (IoT), from wearables to connected devices. We’re seeing lots of shiny new gadgets, but what are the implications for business? Should everyone have a strategy? Without wanting to create a sense of panic, businesses will be surprised by the speed and impact that a rapidly connected world will have.

Moore’s Law, is a good way to understand the growth of tech – it’s not actually a law, but a suggestion that computing power will double every 18 months. In fact, things have developed faster than that and we’ve seen a trillion-fold rise in speed/power since the 1970s. It’s what makes wearables, cloud computing and the Raspberry Pi all possible. It’s not just the growth of computing power either. We’ve also seen the development of new sensors, interactions, big data and AI, along with rapid prototyping tools such as Arduino or 3D printing (often financed by crowd funding). The trouble is, humans aren’t great at understanding the concept of exponential growth, and the academic Larry Downs has pointed out that society, business and governments all develop at different linear rates. In other words, we are responding much slower than the technology is developing.

The concept of the Internet of Things is not simply that devices can connect to the internet, but whole ecosystems that make relevant connections between objects and people (or even cows). Connected homes and cars are obvious examples, but the IoT is also impacting on health, industry (especially with robotics) and agriculture (through sensors). This creates a wealth of data that is increasingly being analysed by intelligent machines.

Why is any of that relevant to businesses and brand marketing in particular? The development of mobile devices is a good parallel. Consumers were ahead of brands in using the devices. They also had an expectation that there would be mobile compatible services. Many businesses were slow to get on board, but are finally getting there. The growth of the IoT means that consumers will also expect businesses, even service-focused brands, to be more efficient and more integrated. That doesn’t mean producing pointless apps or gadgets, but rather, providing a better customer experience by leaveraging the benefits of the IoT. An example of how this integration works is the way that health insurers are using fitness and health monitoring products as part of their customer offering.

There are a few companies have already understood how they can leverage the IoT:

– Nike’s Fuel Band (now discontinued) was an example of a brand utility that took their running up into a technology product

– Nivea used beacon technology to deliver a cheap, paper wrist-based tracker to parents

– Disney has made a $1bn investment in their Magic Band, which makes every element of their parks into a frictionless experience

Then we have an increasing number of businesses where the IoT is core:

– Home control devices such as Nest or Hive are fundamentally IoT companies

Tesla cars are all connected devices. When there was a problem with their software, rather than having an expensive recall, the company was able to make an over the air update and avoid a potential PR disaster

– Withings, the French health tech company only create connected products such as their blood pressure monitor or scales

– Then there’s Uber. They are the world’s biggest cab company but they don’t own a single vehicle. The app is classic IoT by contextually connecting passengers to taxis and their drivers. ‘The Uber for X’ is now the current shorthand for this type of connected business

These examples show how most brands can include the IoT as part of their customer strategy. So what can you do about it? I’ve been looking at IoT strategy for a while now, and come up with a few simple ways in which brands can see how to implement it:

– Connect your existing channels and devices – from Twitter to the excellent IFTTT there are many ways in which to connect your existing activities across a range of devices. There are many good examples – Twitter was how Louis Vuitton connected their ‘Hello Cube’ project, extending it from The Tate Modern to a global audience

Apps as a service layer – it’s not just Uber. Smartphones are the core devices for the IoT. We need to move beyond apps as a goal and instead think, of them as the service tool that makes relevant connections to create ecosystems. Air BnB (who book more rooms than The Hilton Group), Waze, Lyft (transport), Depop (vintage clothing) or Yplan (events) are all superb examples of how to create a connected, frictionless service

Smart watches are not small smartphones – the initial raft of Apple Watch apps have focused on two main areas – notifications and scaled down apps. Notifications make sense, but don’t recognize the full potential. Many brands (I won’t name them) have simply scaled down their iPhone efforts into slightly pointless Watch apps. The solution? It’s about creating the service layer (I mentioned above) that has been successful on smartphones

What’s the real problem? Many brands allow the tech to drive their marketing campaigns (think QR codes, iBeacons or drone deliveries) and with more of it about the challenge is even greater. Many of the current smartwatch apps address a phantom problem – that taking your smartphone out of your pocket is a major challenge in your life. Ditch the technology, think like a user and address a real problem

From health to transport to industry, the IoT has the opportunity to make the world a better place. However, even when the tech is there, the applications won’t keep up. Microsoft’s Bill Buxton talked about The Long Nose of Innovation. He took the (computer) mouse as an example, which went from a wooden block in the 60s, to Xerox Parc in the 70s, the Apple Mac in the 80s and finally to all PCs. When it comes to the IoT  we are at the early stages of that long nose. For brands and marketing, the best thing to do is to experiment, innovate and see what you can do. Just don’t make a pointless Apple Watch app.

Three Emerging Brands the Show The Future of Fashion Technology

Forget the smartwatch hype, here are three UK businesses that could drive the next generation of fashion – they all make use of technology, but not to lead the product. Instead they use it to offer a great the user experience.

Cute Circuit

Even if you don’t know their name, you probably know their work. They have been around for over 10 years and during that time they have created a number of successful pieces for Katy Perry, the Tweeting Dress for Nicole Scherzinger and the Huggable Shirt. In many ways this company embodies the concept of ‘wearable fashion technology’. Much of this is done by using LEDs that are part of the fabric combined with traditional techniques such as pleating. It means that the clothes can be made skin-tight and fabrics can move in an organic way. , Cute Circuit also have a retail, ready to wear line. The company makes use of LEDs secreted throughout their garments – these can be used to create patterns or messages, all controlled from a smartphone app. For their 14/15 catwalk show, data from the web was fed to the mixing desk and used to create bespoke, changing patters on the clothes. My favourite is the Tweeting handbag. It looks similar to a mid-sized clutch bag, but Tweets and words can be displayed on it.

Lost Values

Trained in both fashion and technology (at MIT), Elena Corchero prefers the phrase ‘smart materials’ applied to her work. Her range of clothes, jewelry and toys generally avoid batteries or circuit boards, instead focusing on smarter fabrics to solve problems. The Lflect range, for example, uses a reflective wool to produce scarves, hats and gloves that are aimed at keeping cyclists safe without the green, hi-viz jacket. The Ecolorium range of jewelry uses stones that change colour in ultra violet light. The objective is to warn the wearer (or friends) to cover up or use sunscreen.

Depop

They don’t make clothes and they don’t use LEDs or clever materails. However, this UK-based app is on its way to changing fashion retail, and particularly that of the vintage market. Using a familiar Instagram-style interface, it allows anyone to post items for sale and other users to like, comment or buy, via a frictionless experience (helped by Paypal). Already popular with millennial users, the app has expanded to the US and secured VC funding. I don’t use the word ‘disruptive’ lightly, but Depop is one of the few apps that has the opportunity to change the market for clothing retail.