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:

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.


Move over B2C - B2B is the cool kid on the block

As cool as you get IMHO  

As cool as you get IMHO  

I've been lucky enough to have worked in several companies containing both consumer-facing and B2B businesses. And having always been on the B2B side I had always hoped that some of that "consumer marketing magic" would rub off on its poor relation. Interestingly it never did. In fact, twice, at two different companies, I was looked on with something close to derision when I suggested that I could move over to the consumer marketing team. It was clear that the borders were closed.

Today, I'm quite convinced i would receive a different response. The hard line between B2B and B2C marketing is rapidly dissolving. Easy access to technology, the digitisation of most audiences and a realisation that purchase decisions are universally emotional means it's hard to make the division. 

Both disciplines need to mix art with science. And the war for attention, and ultimately loyalty, is fought just as keenly, and intelligently, on either side. Even the most B2B of B2B industries has a digitally-engaged, social media active customer base. I should know. I once marketed tech into the commercial maritime industry. And even those guys were interacting online.

Good B2B marketing is about creating compelling value propositions, providing ROI and building lasting relationships. But great B2B marketing is about understanding the customer, standing out amongst the crowd, delivering an outstanding customer experience across the entire customer lifecycle and creating a lasting, emotional connection. Doesn't sound much different to B2C to me. 


Marketing tech comes of age. Welcome to #CannesLions!

Another year, another Cannes Lions and the advertising industry celebrates all of its glorious achievements. An event like no other, its part-party, part-social network, part-conference, part-Awards ceremony and part-serious business. Everyone mixes these in different proportions. Some never see all the wonderful conference sessions, some never see the parties and some never make it out of back-to-back meetings in sponsored pavilions or terraces. But most have a great time.

What was particularly noticeable this year was the continued transition of Cannes Lions from advertising to marketing. This "Festival of Creativity" now majors more on the science than the art of communications than ever before. As we've migrated to digital interaction, the topics has likewise migrated to big data, programmatic advertising and cross-channel communication. Which naturally has meant the likes of Facebook, Google, twitter, LinkedIn, AOL and MSN have all earned the right to have higher and higher profiles at the Festival over the past few years.

This year, however, has seen the interest in tech bring in more of the "marketing tech" players (many really only focussed on B2B) and straight-down-the-middle tech companies. I was fascinated to see Marketo, Salesforce, Oracle, Workfront, Thunderhead and others all have presences on La Croisette. Now, I don't want to tell these guys how to do their marketing, but I'm not quite sure the Advertising & Marketing fraternity will understand nor register their presence there. After all lead nurturing, pipeline management, project management and workflow is hardly top of mind for agency types. And some of the vendors are not even dedicated to marketing - marketing is just one use case of their technology. 

It's a tough gig - as we at Adobe know. Marketers don't want tech - they want to deal with fellow marketers who get their challenges. And it'll take a long time for them to change their perceptions of certain technology providers. We're lucky that our own connection with the marketing community goes deeper than most. Our marketing tech platform is founded on a strong creativity heritage built up over 25+ years and we're the only tech marketing company that bridges creativity (aka advertising) and digital marketing. So Cannes makes perfect sense for us.

Regardless, it's great for the industry that marketing tech providers are getting more profile. And it is indicative of the phenomenal growth we're all seeing in the marketing tech arena. Marketing tech is definitely coming of age but it remains to be seen whether all that sun, Rosé and marketing dollars in Cannes is worth all that effort.

Attention all marketers! Stay curious! At least for your career's sake...

Early on in my career I noted that a lot of my peers were rooted in the past, and were at risk of being left behind professionally. They just couldn't "move with the times" and were becoming marketing dinosaurs.

I realised I needed to learn from best practice and actually started a marketing networking group. With a group of friends, I got together 12-15 Marketing Directors for dinner every few months to discuss the latest trends and issues in marketing. It really helped me as it contributed to my learning and growing. And to give you an idea of how early on this was in my career, it was pre-social media and at a time when many businesses asked "do i really need a website?"

So, I'm always amazed at how many marketers aren't interested in the profession and in learning about developing technologies or initiatives. For example, how few have a smartwatch, fitness band, twitter account or have used sharing sites such as instagram. Or how few haven't tried out Uber or Hailo or subscribed to Netflix. Let alone backed something on KickStarter or rented a room through AirBnB.

These may sound like trivial things and when I say this I see many people roll their eyes. But regardless of what industry you're in, or even if these things are not that relevant for your business today, understanding their implications is important. And putting your head in the sand isn't going to help either. Do you think social media, wearable devices, cloud technology etc is just going to go away? And anyway, why wouldn't you want to try out new things and learn?

And it's the small things that can make all the difference. Here's three simple examples from my recent past:

  1. I have a Pebble Watch and now an Apple Watch. Not necessarily because they're going to figure in my marketing strategies, but because I wanted to understand the future implications of marketing into such a personal space. The rules of email marketing for example will change forever if consumers are receiving emails in a 2x2cm screen.
  2. I've owned fitbit, jawbone, jawbone UP fitness bands. Why? To start to realise the enormous potential of collecting different and more personal types of data. (Oh, and as a bonus, I also discovered that tracking steps alone does not make you healthy. I subsequently ditched the bands and lost 15kg by just watching what I eat and doing no exercise...)
  3. I wrote a daily music blog for a year. Why? Because it helped me understand the discipline, issues and challenges of producing fresh content on a regular basis. Content marketing is one of the hottest topics right now and I wanted to see what it was like to be a content marketer.

Now, I'm not advocating jumping on every digital bandwagon in your marketing. Far from it - chasing the next shiny new thing is a dangerous path for any marketer. However, investing the time in these digital developments outside of work keeps you current, up to date and ahead of the curve. It also gets you some perspective as you have the chance to experiment too. 

And on a career front, they also open up new opportunities for you professionally as you'll add innovation and creativity to the list of your many skills. And it'll also stop you being that digital dinosaur that I know I continually try not to be on a daily basis.

Spinal Tap, Wales and Digital Marketing Technology

I'm delighted to be speaking at the Online Influencer 2015 event in Cardiff in May. And not because it's always flattering to be invited to speak, but because Cardiff is my home town.

Growing up there a lifetime ago, I would never have imagined that a business conference (let alone a technology or digital marketing conference) would be hosted there. In fact it says a lot for the progress "provincial" UK towns have made over the last 30 years in moving out of the shadow of London. From being a frankly poor relation to London in terms of cultural, artistic, retail and lifestyle, I'd say cities like Cardiff can give London a run for its money any day in offering both a high quality and variety of life for its citizens.

So whilst holding a digital marketing technology event in Cardiff may raise a few eyebrows, OI15 is not only welcomed, but long overdue. And building on this trend I've also in the past week been approached about similar events in Manchester and Belfast. 

Anyway, I was interviewed in advance of the event, and here's a transcript. You'll find out about my thoughts on trends in digital marketing technology as well as discover my favourite film. Looking forward to OI15 and hoping to turn it up to 11!

Oi: So John 2014 has been and gone what were the highlights for you?

JW: I’ve been really excited by the explosion in both the uptake and variety of digital marketing technology over the course of the last 12 months. Its a strong indication of the focus on marketing right now, and for the profession I think that’s great. Technology is  a great enabler for today’s marketer. You can do amazing things at scale, quickly and at relatively low cost. I also think 2014 saw the rise of the generalist in marketing. After years of specialism (SEO, SEM social, ad buying etc) we saw the best marketers having digital DNA in their blood, but operating across many traditional silos. They have taken a step back and realised that what is truly essential is the ability to utilise core marketing principles in the digital age. The future is in core skills and blended, integrated technology.

Oi: What Social tech and digital trends do you anticipate coming to the fore this year?

JW: I see three big trends:
1. Cross channel’ will become ‘one channel’: our physical and digital worlds have collided and customers no longer differentiate between the two - they want a great experience regardless of when, where and how they interact with a brand. In 2015 brands will be focused on making sure all channels work seamlessly together, bringing together the best of online and offline to create the ultimate customer experience.

2. Data will be used to drive decisions, not defend decisions. Until now, marketers have been primarily using data to report on campaign success retrospectively, with the main objective being to prove their worth in the business and on the bottom line. We will see this change in 2015 with advanced maths and algorithms more frequently used to inform decisions about how, when and where to best spend future marketing budget. 

3. Brands will live or die by their mobile chops. After years declaring this year will be the year of the mobile, the tipping point has been reached. Time spent on mobile devices has never been so high and over the next twelve months, marketers will look to mobile as the foundation of the customer journey and prioritise creating relevant touch-points. Major brands will face tremendous competition in the battle to reach mobile consumers and the winners will be those who can deliver highly personalised content across screens. 

Oi: What can we expect from Adobe in 2015?

JW: I’m just seeing phenomenal interest an uptake for our Marketing Cloud. And 2014 was a great year for Adobe with our Marketing Cloud being rated the best by analysts Forrester and Gartner. 2015 will see us continue with this momentum. We’re all about making our platform not only the easiest to use but also the best at letting marketers share data and put it into action where and when it matters. Our customers want to give the best, personalised, relevant experience to their customers, so we need to make sure the platform rises to that challenge.

Oi: What is the best part of your job?

JW: I love marketing marketing technology to marketers. I get the issues, challenges and can relate to what our customers are going through. I can also talk from the heart when I’m sharing what we and our customers are doing with Adobe Marketing Cloud. There’s never been a better time to be a marketer. I love that.

Oi: Social technology has made Marketers jobs harder – discuss…

JW: I wouldn’t say harder. Just….different. When I started my career marketing was almost an abstract thing, with marketers far removed from customers. And campaigns were planned when we had bandwidth or a gap in the marketing calendar. Measurement involved sending out a direct mail or running an ad and then getting an agency to tell us the results three months later. When it was too late. Nowadays, with social, marketers are drawn more into a conversation with customers (quite literally) which is a good thing I think as marketing is only about understanding what your customers want. And social, as well as digital marketing more generally, can give you that live feedback. Of course this is challenging and requires many marketers to reinvent themselves. Some marketers will adapt to the change and some won’t. And that’s hard for many.

Oi: Favourite film?

JW: In terms of what I’ve watched the most, it has to be Spinal Tap. I first saw that movie when it came out, and was relatively obscure. You weren’t sure if it as a documentary or not. Of course now its a cult classic and the joke is well known. But it still stands up to the test of time, especially for someone like me who was a budding musician for many years. It also transpired to be my wife’s favourite film too, so it has a nice role in my life.

Oi: Are you looking forward to coming back to Cardiff for Oi15?

JW: Of course! I was born in Cardiff, and my family are still there. And its awesome to have a digital marketing conference in the City. I don’t get back as much as I’d like, so its great to have another reason to make a visit too.

Oi: Thanks John - we're glad you're coming home too :)

(Interview re-posted from the OI15 site).