2018 : More content, less social media

I've been increasingly frustrated with social media and the amazing time-sink that it now represents. I've been a relatively early adopter of most platforms, mainly as in my job it's easy to become a marketing dinosaur in the blink of a post.

However, it's been an ongoing journey of discovery, immersion and filtering. I stopped using location platforms (foursquare, swarm, Gowalla) a few years back after I was investing hours of my time in a platform that told me that Jeff in Dundee was the King of his local gas station (whoopee!). I've restricted my Facebook account to friends & family only, plus I've kept LinkedIn to business contacts that I know or have met. I also switched off notifications (on phone and by email) from all platforms. I really don't know why anyone has these enabled as you'll be in the app virtually every hour anyway.

 Last year I uninstalled Facebook, LinkedIn and twitter from my mobile devices to save me the endless cycle of checking twitter, then LinkedIn, then Facebook and repeating ad nauseum hundreds of times a day due to FOMO

The reality is, of course, I'm not missing out. The problem is that feeding and interacting with the networks has become a thing in its own right. I love seeing posts from friends on what they're up to, but I can scroll through pages of suggested posts and ads, and sometimes never see a single piece of orignal content from a human being. And, no, seeing that someone I used to work with 15 years ago likes their local pet shop in Albuquerque does not constitute interesting content. And don't get me started on the non-time-linear algorithm that tries to throw up what's interesting. Try following a sports match on Facebook. It's painful. 

That's not to say I'm opting out of social media. The reason I originally loved social media was content-based, not ad click-based. And I'm sure we'll see future developments that will improve the utility of the various platforms back towards human connection. These have to come, mainly as the next generation has already opted out of ad-driven platforms preferring more messenger-like forms of direct connection (Snapchat, WhatsApp, Instagram Stories etc.). 

For me, it's about moderation. And focussing on creating, sharing and consuming content. So here's what I'm doing:

1. Less social media

  • Restrict use of social media to desktop only. Except Instagram* :)
  • Facebook : Opt out of brands in my feed, keep just real people. You'll be amazed how that transforms your feed. You'll also notice what little content people post. No more infinity scrolling in hope of some nugget or other! 

2. More content.

  • Start the day with the (London) Times and New York Times. I subscribe to the digital editions of both, but hardly read the publications. (BTW - their Facebook feeds suck, as even as a subscriber you have to sign in for every single article).
  • Try out new sources of content. I use Stack and it is amazing - you get a different independent magazine each month, showcasing the best in content and design.
  • Read books! I have a varied backlog of books (some pictured above) - from music bios to business books to thrillers. When I was a teenager I used to get up early to read the latest sci-fi release before I went to school. In 2017 I think I read three books in total!
  • Write more business posts on this blog (I wrote exactly zero in 2017).
  • *Invest more time in photography. I still enjoy Instagram and love taking photos and seeing others'. I need to dust off the SLR and get back into Adobe Lightroom too.

Hopefully this'll rebalance my social media diet and make for a happier & healthier 2018. What are your plans?

And of course feel free to connect with me on Instagram, twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook (personal friends only)!

Rush 2112, persistence and authenticity

Picture the scene. Its 1976 and a struggling rock band are given an ultimatum by their record label : change your style or get dropped. The music industry was splitting in two directions : disco was hitting the dance floors and the distant screaming of punk was hurtling into the mainstream. The band was ploughing the deeply unfashionable furrow of prog rock & the public were growing tired of flabby, pompous expositions that lasted over 20 minutes.

So what to do? Change styles to gain commercial success? Or stick to the courage of your convictions? The band chose the latter, released a wonderfully pompous record (it's based on an Ayn Rand book! It featured an Overture! And side 1 was one continuous track! They wore silk kimonos!) and went on to subsequent critical and commercial success. The band was Rush and the album was 2112.

As time fades both may be relatively unknown to most music fans, but to those who know them Rush (and 2112) is a "love or hate brand". No one marginally likes Rush. They have both die hard fans and vicious detractors. In my opinion, that's to be applauded.

We can learn two things from Rush:

1. Persistence. Stick with what you know, love and are good at. Rush faced several moments in their career where they dropped out of favour. But they stuck with it. They've now made 20 albums, are still touring and have been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. What's more impressive is the band has featured the same line-up (Peart, Lifeson, Lee) since 1975. I don't know many (if any) bands that have stuck together for 40 years (and before you say Rolling Stones, Bill Wyman left in 1993).

2. Authenticity. Rush have never tried to pretend to be something they aren't (OK, so the mid-80s synth-based stuff was a slight wobble). They know what they stand for and bring that through in everything they do. Understand your core strengths and keep plugging away. Even if it's deeply unfashionable. That authenticity means a lot to their core audience - they repeatedly sell out stadiums around the world. But here's a slight twist on authenticity. When they play their older, more pompous stuff, they do so with both reverence and a slight tongue-in-cheek. They know it's a wee bit embarrassing in retrospect and deserves a wry smile. Authenticity can feature humour - that's so credible.

So 40 years on, with some persistence and authenticity, the band has sold over 40 million records, 2112 features in Rolling Stone magazine's Top 50 Prog Rock albums of all time (indeed subsequent albums "Hemispheres" and "Moving Pictures" also chart, and higher) and the album is cited are a major influence by many contemporary rock artists. So, with tongue firmly in cheek, here's Foo Fighters (& Rush) covering the 2112 Overture. A wry smile & silk kimonos in full effect:

New Order, cassettes & sky high consumer expectations

In this age of digital disruption, we talk a lot about fleeting customer loyalty and the war for consumer attention. We're all bombarded by thousands of messages a day, and in this noisy world its the experience brands deliver (be that service, support or creative marketing campaigns) that will win out. Which means consumer expectations are high. I mean really high.  Things like next (or same) day delivery, mobile app continuity, personalisation & online self service are all no longer nice to haves. They're now table stakes.

Take music streaming & Spotify as an example. 

The image above is the cover to "Brotherhood", the 1986 album by New Order (I provide a link as the other day someone told me they had to google "Human League".). Originally I bought this album on cassette (if you want to sound really out of touch, say "cassette" several times over). That was £4.99 (£13.67 in 2016 money) for nine tracks. I then bought the album on vinyl. Same nine tracks for £9.99 (or £25.37 today). And finally I got the CD version. The same nine tracks (but with an added bonus track!) for £14.99 (£36.28 today). So that's £75.32 spent on just nine tracks.

In addition, my ability to amass a comprehensive music collection was somewhat limited. I was likely able to buy 4 or 5 cassettes/vinyl/CDs a month at the very most. That's 60 albums or 540 tracks a year.

Now, along comes spotify and totally disrupts the entire music distribution market. Today, spotify gives you access to 30 MILLION tracks, on any device, instantaneously. That is world-changing, market disrupting and totally mind-blowing to someone who had to wait a year to get access to just 540 tracks, nine at a time.

Yet, that isn't enough. Oh no. In fact, I bet you're one of the people that refuses to pay £9.99 a month for Spotify Premium. You want 30 MILLION tracks, on any device, instantly available, anywhere. For free! You're crazy ;)

You see, making the world's music available to anyone, anywhere is now table stakes. For my kids (and some of you) its a "meh, so what?" With such high expectations even brands like spotify have to work harder. They have to up their game on AI, social sharing, intelligent recommendations, cross-device synchronisation and so much more. It's the wider experience that matters, not the core product itself.

And most brands are in this situation. Today, what separates great businesses from the good ones is the ability to provide customers with a meaningful experience — not just a great product - that ultimately beats those high expectations. 

So next time you moan about not being able to skip tracks or having to listen to Ads, just repeat after me "cassette, cassette, cassette".

...In the meantime, check out Brotherhood:

Getting personal in the peloton : the new business meeting

Us marketers love meeting customers or at least organising ways in which customers can meet other parts of our business. But increasingly its getting harder and harder to prise people out of the office for a few hours, let alone a half- or full-day. Of course we like to make it "worth their while" and entice them with seminars featuring reputable speakers, dynamic content and, sometimes, the hallowed industry gurus. 

Inevitably, it seems, we surround these events with food as if that'll be a clincher - be that a breakfast briefing, a lunchtime discussion or an evening roundtable. But I don't know about you, but I'm not exactly dying for another meal, in fact more often than not I'm trying to reduce meals out in order to keep that waistline/heart in check.

And of course if you're trying to reach more senior executives, the de facto choice is the Golf Day. But seriously, do you think the golf-mad CEO/CFO/CMO of a FTSE/Fortune company isn't already a member of a decent golf club, and not short of the opportunity to get a few rounds in  if needed?

Which is why I think the dear old world of events needs a shake-up. You're not offering any differentiation offering the same old same old. You need to do something different, that appeals to a more modern way of thinking about business relations. Increasingly attendees want something more than indulgence. They want something new, something that enriches them, something that they get a return on. Which is why cycling is starting to feature heavily on the corporate agenda.

At Adobe, we run regular rides around our major events and they're consistently sold out. Why? Well, they're certainly original (for now!) and the trick is to include cyclists of all ability. But the impression I get is people have an increasing interest in fitness and wellbeing. Getting outside for an hour or two and doing that without impinging on the working day (many of our rides are first thing in the morning) has an enormous appeal. Individuals feel an immense sense of satisfaction and, yes, you can have a conversation whilst riding too! And it sure beats enduring another three course dinner listening to that industry guru.

The perils of overt branding

It's often assumed that strongly branding your product or service is a good thing. Companies spend hours on brand guidelines and ensuring that every opportunity is taken to reinforce the logo, colour palette or strap line.  

But I'm not so sure. 

Take for example, the food delivery service Deliveroo. They're an Uber-type business that provides a delivery service on behalf of small restaurants and takeaways. In London they seem fairly prevalent now. You see their branded drivers whizzing around on mopeds or bicycles, highly recognisable by their blueish outfits and their Kangaroo logo. Most evenings I see 12 or more on a relatively short stretch of my local High Street.

But that's where the problem starts I'm afraid. As their highly visible drivers are hanging around in groups waiting for their next delivery, nursing their iPhones outside cafes or parked up on their bikes (or indeed smoking by the bins outside Nando's as they were last night) . It used to be we had disenfranchised youths hanging around on street corners. We now have Deliveroo drivers.  

So I'm not so sure this sends out a positive brand message. Other delivery services (FedEx, UPS etc) of course don't suffer this fate as their drivers have somewhere to go.

Now, this is nothing against Deliveroo and they are doing nothing wrong. I'm sure they provide an exceptional service, and a great employment option for bike owners with "spare capacity". But sadly for them though when I think of them I now think of bored drivers hogging cafe tables. 

Branding is less about a physical product but has always been about the wider experience. Its about the context in which an offering is made - which more often than not has nothing to do with the core business. Focussing on delivering a product from A to B may be your raison d'etre but what peripheral impact does that have on the community, environment or society. What defines the consumer perception of you and your reputation? Is this more out of the box then you might first consider?

And to prove my point as I was walking through Central London mulling over this post, one of their drivers nearly knocked me over cycling down a crowded pavement focussed no doubt on making a speedy delivery. You couldn't make it up.  

For marketing agencies : Five truths about clients from a client

I was privileged to be invited to join a panel discussion at the recent "Brief Encounters" event hosted by The Drum.  

The topic was "The Truth about Clients from Clients" and I was on stage alongside senior marketers from Honda, Macmillan Cancer Support and New Look.

Lots of great questions from the audience and loads of consensus from us panellists on the whole client/agency dynamic. Here's my five takeaways from the discussions:

1. Chemistry trumps ideas

If we get on like a house on fire, we'll forgive a below par idea. As long as we see the potential, we know that we'll get to that killer concept. Late nights and last minute deadlines are always a reality, so a good working relationship is important. Conversely a great creative idea will never make up from knowing we wouldn't get on. 

2. Cheapest doesn't always win

It's a myth that marketers always work to lowest cost. Where it all goes wrong is not being transparent with budgets from the outset. Asking for a Ferrari solution with a Mini budget doesn't help anyone.

3. Clients run pitches to steal ideas

Sorry agency land, as much as we'd all love to be sitting in pitches all day being wooed by agencies we just don't have the time. In fact we'd rather do away with the pitch process and offer up a small scale protect to get the ball rolling.

4. Agencies rarely understand the client

Interesting one this. Agencies are really good at understanding the end consumer (i.e. the target of the campaign) but not the client themselves. Most have really no idea of what it's like to be a marketer, how we're objectivised and what our day-to-day pains are. And it's not sitting in meetings with creative agancies. That's about 5% of our job. Remember its not just about meeting the business needs, its also about solving the marketers need. So take some time to better understand us. Then again, the situation isn't helped by the "employment economics" which mean the move from agency to client is common, but the other way is rare. 

5. Clients do a bad job at helping agencies understand our business

On the client side we do a really, really bad job of helping with (4). Having a more strategic discussion and being open on goals and objectives would help. And cutting straight to the "just give me the cost" conversation doesn't help either.

Finally, I do think a lot of these issues will diminish as the relationship between agency and client moves from being a transactional one to a strategic one. The trend for clients is definitely to in-source more and more traditional agency tasks such as creative studio and media buying, and this will require clients to need even more strategy counsel from their agency parties.

And to help, one final recommendation to any agency out there : get yourself an advisory board of senior marketers and get under the skin of what makes marketers tick. It will be the most valuable piece of consumer research you've conducted this year.

Picture: iStock/Getty

Good food, great conversation and 5 trends in B2B Marketing

In the early 2000s, predating social media, I was keen to meet fellow marketers and get insights into what other tech brands were up to. To cut a long story short, with a few ex-colleagues we set up a series of regular dinners where we got together 15-20 senior marketers and just "chewed the fat". It was cathartic and enlightening in equal measures, and really helped me gain some new perspectives in my own marketing efforts. Sadly the dinners came to an end after a few years as 1) we all had day jobs  and 2) we have since seen a tsunami of content readily available on the web.

That said, I still think there's a role for physical events where peers can meet and compare notes. I really value the occasional lunch with friends in agencies and brands, and they always give me food for thought (pun fully intended).

So it was with pleasure that I accepted a recent invitation to speak at a marketing dinner organiser by the wonderful guys at Propellor. A great mix of experienced client-side and agency-side marketers and we had a great discussion. Whilst I was the 'main attraction' (blushes) and shared my own views on the state of marketing, it was still great to get some feedback and the debate was great.  Here were the top five takeaways from the evening:

  1. No longer boring to boring: digital has brought on a golden age for B2B marketing.
  2. Data puts credibility back into B2B marketing
  3. Don’t let your insights overshadow great creativity
  4. The jury may be out on the white paper, but content and vision is king
  5. Customer experience is the brand & product

You can see the full write-up on the Propellor blog.

So, if you want to learn or develop your marketing skills, don't get hung up on training courses and formal events. Invest some time with a colleague, ex-colleague or agency contact and have a coffee, lunch or informal meet. Trust me, you'll learn a lot. And hopefully have a jolly nice time too :)


Chicken cheques and airplane toilets. The power of great customer experience.

In this digital age, customer experience really is the new brand. No longer can you persuade, cajole or influence through empty promises or trickery. Consumers are totally empowered - able to find out in seconds about you or your competitors and to make well informed decisions about where to put their loyalty. And that loyalty is fleeting too. The age of sticking with a brand for life is just as outdated as the notion of a job for life. You as a brand are no more than the sum of the experiences your customers enjoy or endure. Your brand is not what you say it is, its what your customers experience and what they say it is. Take two examples from my own recent experience.

If you're a parent with young kids living in the UK you've probably enjoyed the delights of Nando's - the upmarket fast food restaurant specialising in Portuguese-style chicken dishes. Recently my 12-year old visited with a few friends. During the service one of the assistants dropped a glass, splashing my son with Coca-Cola. It was all resolved quickly and without fuss, but the manager insisted on taking our details and recording the incident. All very good. All very standard.

However, a few weeks later we got a typed letter from the area manager apologising for the incident. Not a pro-forma letter mind you. A personalised letter detailing the exact incident in detail, outlining measures taken to stop it happening again (i.e, training) and offering a small compensation by way of a "Chicken Cheque" (great name!) for my son and his friends to have a free meal in future. Now that's impressive. Which all means that whenever I now pass a Nando's I point it out and recommend to the family we go for lunch or dinner there.

Result : Great experience. Happy customer. Loyalty strengthened.

Compare that to a recent experience with a major airline. I'm a frequent flyer with British Airways and always fly BA when possible. But on a recent family holiday, I decided to make a change to an airline renowned for great customer service. The booking process and pre-flight experience was fantastic. Lots of promises and expectations of a sleek, contemporary experience. However when we got seated on the plane we realised with horror that we were sitting in a row alongside the toilets. Normally toilets are located in the galley area but on this plane configuration (which I've never seen before or since), the galley had been removed and extra rows of seating put in. The result was that if you were seated at the end of our row (as my wife was) you could reach over and touch the toilet door. So that's six hours looking directly into the toilet and/or closing the door as people left it open. Given we were expecting two meals on the trip, you'd have to say if a restaurant sat diners that close to the toilet they'd be shut down. Needless to say the holiday didn't get off to the best start. We complained to the cabin crew and filled out the usual complaint form. I, however, assured my wife that taking to social media would be more effective and as soon as we landed I tweeted my disgust direct to the airline. At this point you're probably thinking the social media team jumped right on it and calmed me down. Sadly, not. In fact neither channel got a single response from the airline. An experience totally at odds with the initial promises.

Result : Poor experience. Unhappy customer. I'll never fly that airline again.

So, be warned. No matter what industry you're in, the digital reality is bringing about a massive transformation in which the customer experience has become your brand. And that ultimately is the gauge of your success. Now, who's for a Nando's?

Do you know what your marketing is saying?

A colleague of mine recently reminded me of the Mark Twain quote, "If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter", illustrating the challenges in exerting some editorial brevity into communications. It's a lesson we should all remember. In this age of citizen journalism and a tsunami of social sharing the value of a good editor has been lost in the belief that we are all publishers. A recent Instagram connection proudly stated "Sorry for over sharing but I use this channel as much as a journal as a social channel" Well, you know what? The rest of us don't, thank you very much.

Having (or being) an editor is almost a dirty word, likely due to the biased, unpalatable views often espoused by a few, politically motivated press outlets. However it is a rare skill (like good copywriting) that I'm convinced will be appreciated in the years to come.

So I wonder what Mark Twain would have made walking the aisles of dmexco (now there's an image!), the behemoth of a tech/marketing/advertising show that attracted over 40,000+ visitors to rainy Cologne this week. Not for his views on brevity, but more about clear communication.  

The event, to say the least, is overwhelming. With over 1,000 exhibitors I really don't know what the average visitor makes of the Expo. Or even where to start. In a show populated by members of what is fundamentally a communications business, it's impossible to differentiate the rows upon rows of companies. The language is confusing and often makes no sense.

I'm a tech marketer of some years, and even I struggle to comprehend what everyone is saying. For example, I'm not sure what "actionable transparency" is, and whether I need some? And "relevance makes the difference" sounds good, but relevant to whom? I'm all for change, and definitely like better content, but I feel stupid as i've never spotted I needed help "transforming content connections". 

And I know summing up what you do is always tricky but saying you only provide "technology for category leaders" surely annoys everyone aside for a single company in one category? And why would you want to limit your prospect pool anyway? 

I like to get all touchy feely, but I shudder to think what a "Touch-tell-sell-model" is? And "more than analytics" shouts insecurity and a lack of confidence. Plus I know all of our jobs will one day be taken by our robot overlords, but "Real People. Real Results" says the rest of us have fake people and fake results. 

However, my favourite descriptor goes to a sentence that surely has only come from a martech random word generator : "Data-driven marketing personalises the modern customer experience". Tick. Tick. Tick. All the digital marketing boxes checked!

And hey, I'm not saying everyone's perfect. We all fall into the same traps in our respective microcosms. I guess putting the digital marketing industry all into one big room only highlighted in sharp relief the challenges marketers have in making sense of the myriad of suppliers

So please please please, marketing/advertising tech world, lets spend more time to write a shorter message, and hopefully use words which we can all understand.

[For guidelines, check out this Marketing BS Detector]

Image c/o: http://mzansispellingbee.org

Want to know what a "persona" should be? Just brush up on your Italian.


We debate a lot about personas in marketing - agonising over how we can segment our customers and prospects into neat, convenient groupings to make our lives easier. Yes, getting a more granular understanding of customers is a good thing. After all, we all want to be marketed to in a more relevant way based on our socio-economic or demographic situation. I'm a middle aged father of two young boys so would expect a brand to build a relationship with me differently to, say, a 20 year old student. That makes sense.

But that's yesterday's thinking I'm afraid.

Consumers today are more demanding and our loyalty is fleeting. Take my 12 year old son for example. He has only got into messaging his friends in the last year. Yet in that time he has moved from Skype to Instagram to whatsapp to snapchat to uvuu(?). I wouldn't want to be in the messaging app game. He and his friends don't care that they've gone to the effort of setting up a profile in one of these apps - they'll go where the next thing is.

And the so called MEllennial generation is not a youth thing - it's crossing all demographics. Yes, I may be a middle class, middle aged marketing director, working in marketing tech, living in West London and married with two kids. But under no circumstances lump me together with all the other middle class, middle aged marketing directors, working in marketing tech, living in West London and married with two kids. I am an individual, not a segment.

Which brings me on to Italian. For "persona" in Italian means "person", not segment, not grouping. And I think that definition is appropriate for the modern marketer.

We're now at the stage where we can personalise our marketing more than ever before. Segmentation was borne of an era where the process was manual. Today we can automate our marketing around digital behaviours and customer insight. Yes, I might have bought a pair of shoes online last week but that doesn't mean I'm going to buy another pair this week. But repeated visits to the socks pages and one abandoned cart session containing two pairs of socks is a strong indication I'm in the market for socks. Plus I have a Club Card and am a loyal customer. So a promo or special offer may be appropriate.

As a consumer I'd love that.

So the future of personas is individualisation. Yes, some ground work needs to be done around general target audiences (some of the basics of marketing never change!). But letting behaviours drive your marketing will help you target the person not the persona.