The Olympics has been both fabulous and frustrating. It’s been a great games with some fascinating stories of triumph and heartbreak but NBC has once gain contrived to make it near impossible for you to watch the games real time. Sure you can watch a lot online but not everything. It’s also frustrating to know that there are other content providers such as the BBC who have the content you want but to find you simply can’t access it because of rights issues. Put another way, the content you want has been created but the ability to access it on demand doesn’t exist. Yesterday’s mens 100m final was a great example. This event wasn’t shown live, instead you had to wait until almost midnight to watch the tape delayed version. CRAZY!!!! Of course the Olympics are a rare event and the prices paid by people like NBC require them to find ways of getting their money back BUT their approach is the same as many other content owners – force people to either watch it when we want them to or access it later via tape delay or some on demand service. There appears to be no other option. You can’t even click a button that says: ‘watch live for $5’. All this got me thinking about how much other content is out there that people would like to access but they don’t because it’s just too hard to get. In these Google and youtube infused days it seems crazy to be struggling to access content but we do. Some of the problem is that searching is still too dependent on our ability to describe what we are looking for and the other part is there aren’t always systems that allow us to see the content when we find it. Madness. What we need is the technology to find the right content AND the technology to allow you to access it. Here in California I have access to a mass of TV content that I don’t consume and don’t even want to consume. I’d gladly substitute 99% of the unwanted content for another few percent of content I do want. This all reminds me a paper Theodore Levitt wrote where he mentioned that people don’t want to buy fuel for their cars, they simply want to be able to drive somewhere. In other words they would never care if they saw the fuel. Likewise I don’t care what content I am given access to, I simply want the content I want. Of the hundreds of channels on my TV I could have three or four and be perfectly happy if those channels had just the stuff I want. In other words I want someone to do to the TV what Spotify has done to music. Now Netflix is trying to get there but even that has a long way to go.
I should be clear though, my argument is not just about TV content it’s about all manner of content that currently exists on the web that is either hard to find or restricted in terms of who can access it. Hence my belief that we are now in an era where the content creators have done a great job of generating material but those responsible for enabling us to access it have a LONG way to go. But when we get there we are going to experience events in a very different and even more exciting way. Until then, I’ll just have to put up with Bob Costas and NBC for a bit longer.
Look at your typical middle aged person and you will notice a few things:
- Their physical condition is showing signs of ageing. They weigh more than they did in their 20s and they are less flexible.
- Their hairstyle and dress sense gets stuck and they start to experiment a lot less. They’ve developed a look that they like (or can at least tolerate) and then they stay with it… for a very long time.
- Their values were created at a certain point in their development and getting them to change their POV is almost impossible. They have strong beliefs and they’re tough to change.
- They are more cautious. They buy safer cars, stop doing things that are more risky etc.
I can say this because I’m middle aged. I don’t think of myself as being middle aged but whenever I spend time with younger people I realize just how middle aged I am. I have a theory that brands are the same. Brands can get tired and a bit flabby. They are not as exciting and or as interesting as they were. The logo and general way the brand is presented has, in too many instances, changed little in the last decade. The values of the business are great but they’ve lost their punch and they’re not making any real contribution to the bottom line. How does this happen? Why does it happen? Is it a good thing? I’m afraid the answers to these questions are not great for most brands. Brands start to atrophy because the people driving these brands are themselves, often, middle aged. They are reluctant to ‘risk’ the brand. They are also less likely to see that the brand is starting to ‘get stuck’ with a certain ‘haircut or dress sense.’ Brands need to adapt to their customers. This means they need to reflect where their customers are, not where they are.
How can brands stay fresh? Here are some suggestions:
- Spend time with people who should become your customers in five years from now and make sure that senior executives witness these sessions. Listen to the their stories about brands and the ways they interact with them. You’ll learn something. After all, tomorrow’s customers will be today’s customers before you know it.
- Do good brand analysis that truly establishes a baseline that marketers can use and share it with all your marketing partners so they are all on the same page. Make sure this analysis is centered on where your next wave of customers coming from, not where your old customer base is.
- Get all your marketing partners contributing to the ‘state of the brand’ analysis. By this I means that your agencies often have a great perspective on where the brand is but they don’t always share that with all the right people. You need a forum where some pretty bad and good things can be shared about a brand. This forum must be accessible to all your partners so they can also take the insights
- Take some risks. Brands need to learn to be willing to fail in their marketing. Safe marketing doesn’t change the status quo. Safe may be fine if you are the market leader but for brands that are challenging they have to be ready to take risks, just as teenagers do every day. These risks won’t kill the brand and could lead you towards a whole new paradigm.
- Experiment with new technologies – the amount of technology now available to help marketers is incredible. Your brand is a core business asset; you should be looking at investing in it. Businesses invest in technologies for the workforce, why not the brand?
We can all spot brands that are stuck in the past, or are struggling to keep up. We need to all look in the mirror and make sure our brand isn’t one of them. If it is then it’s time to get to work. We live in an era where the willingness to take risks is reducing because of the state of the global economy but the ‘do more of the same’ strategy is rarely a good one and in these ultra competitive times, potentially suicidal. The state of the brand defines its life expectancy. If your brand is entering middle or even old age, then you need to try and reverse the course of nature. Fortunately for all of us, you can do that with brands, provided you have the nerve…
Dish Network just introduced its Hopper technology that enables customers to skip through the ads in shows they’ve recorded on their DVR. It’s causing uproar in TV land as producers worry that with no ad revenue there’ll be no way of funding their shows in the first place. The ‘old’ TV model relied on customers being held hostage and thus being forced to watch ads. With the advent of VCRs and then DVRs, customers could, with some luck, skip most if not all the ads by fast forwarding through them. The Hopper technology simply improves on something we all try and do anyway so it’s hard to see why there’s such a fuss. Businesses that rely on taking customer’s attention hostage are doomed. Let’s imagine that you couldn’t skip the ads just for a minute. If that were the case and there was a two minute break in your show, isn’t it likely you’d use that two minutes to visit the bathroom, check email and or make a cup of something to drink? In other words customers have choices that don’t involve watching annoying ads, so trying to find ways to prevent them from skipping them is like shutting the proverbial stable door… Wouldn’t it be better if advertisers accepted that the old ad model was broken and instead focused on creating content that people actually wanted to see and engage with? Ad agencies are very capable of creating such content but they need to be given the latitude to do so. That said, they also need to propose a new approach to their customers rather than proposing the ‘old way’ yet again. Advertisers and TV producers may complain about customers skipping ads but they should watch those ads and as themselves how many of them would they ‘choose’ to watch if they were given that choice? My guess is that, if they’re honest, they’ll answer a big fat zero. So instead forcing a diet of content on consumers that they don’t like, marketers need to focus on giving the customer content that they want to engage with. If they do people will start looking for technology that gives them ads rather than the opposite.
We all know what a mess Europe has been in the last few years. The lack of central controls has resulted in some slow and often poor decision making, that has dragged the region into another recession and has cast doubt on the future of the single currency. There is a lesson in here for all those running marketing at a regional or global level. If they want to run a coordinated campaign across more than one country, they need to take control and be willing to make decisions that will be unpopular at a local level OR they need to accept that their campaigns will not be consistent. Just as the EU learned, all too late, that it needed to enforce economic controls on Greece, or risk collective failure, so CMOs need to enforce marketing controls.
The failure and success of some brands is seen when they pitch their business around the world. Some brands involve local countries but make it clear their vote will only assist in decision making, not define it. Others are overly democratic and allow local countries to veto certain agencies and thus create a ‘lowest common denominator’ decision, where the least offensive agency wins. This does nobody any favors and results in two years of misery for everyone but the chosen agency (actually even they don’t really enjoy this process).
Just as Angela Merkel realized, it’s important to show leadership on critical decisions, so must CMOs. Now it may be that the company’s internal structure (who holds the purse strings is of course the definition of internal structure) may work against a company running marketing programs across regions. If that’s the case, then efforts to have a regional or global agency are doomed before they start. Organizing the financial and human resources are the first step a CMO should take BEFORE they embark on finding the right agency partners. At the end of the day, agencies cannot make up for the inherent weaknesses of internal structures. If anything they will amplify them. If, because of politics, a CMO can’t affect the right changes here, then they should focus instead on having each country make the very best LOCAL decisions and stop worrying about the regional or global brand efforts. For the agencies involved, perhaps the advice they must all stick with is to avoid pitching business where there are a dozen decision makers spread across a region. We’ve seen how dysfunctional the EU has been lately. Businesses that employ the same basic process will fair no better.
If you Google the best Super Bowl ads, the one thing that all the lists of ads have in common is that majority of so called ‘top ads’ are designed to make us laugh. I’ve been involved in marketing for several decades and at no point have I come across research that says if you make people laugh they will then go out an buy your product. Which then begs the question do the agencies create funny ads because these ads work, because they enjoy making funny ads, or because such ads win awards? I suspect the answer is ‘all of the above’.
The fact that the most expensive ads of the year are also the most amusing does make me wonder if marketers are missing an opportunity for the other 364 days of the year (actually 365 this year). Why isn’t humor used routinely? Why instead do most ads try and stimulate some other emotion such as fear (ING – what’s your number, All State’s Mayhem ads)? Watch the Acura ad from this year’s Super Bowl that featured Jerry Seinfeld and the car barely gets a look in. This may be because you can’t yet buy the car, or because they paid so much to get Seinfeld that they want their money’s worth. Whatever the reason, the humor makes you remember the ad. This is more likely the reason. Again though, why don’t more ads make you smile?
I don’t watch much live TV. Indeed the Super Bowl is one of the few times I watch a live broadcast and even then, I’m hardly gripped. I am British after all. I know the ‘live’ piece is a major reason why the ads are so highly priced. You have a massive audience that is watching live, rather than recording it to watch it later. This means that few people are doing what I do normally – fast-forwarding through the ads. But would we fast-forward through ads if they were a part of the entertainment in the same way Super Bowl ads have become? I suspect many would not.
Back in the late 1980s I recall going to movie theaters at least 10 minutes before the start time so I could watch the adverts from people like Levi’s. This was a golden era for advertising. Adverts were made by the likes of Ridley Scott and they were visually stunning and generally entertaining. They were in short a part of the event, not an annoyance you sought a way around.
As marketers look to embrace digital channels I wonder if there is a lesson in here. Should we be ensuring that we make the marketing channels as engaging as the content the customer is really looking for when they go online? You bet. This is of course why so many brands are trying to crack social marketing. Again though, I do wonder if brands are missing a trick. So many brands that have engaged through channels such as Facebook and Twitter do so in a relatively serious way. I’d urge these brands to think again and look at those funny TV ads. After all, we like to remember the good times. So if brands want to be ‘Liked’ perhaps they need to focus more on making us smile 🙂
Earlier this week I read about how the Internet advertising industry continues to grow at an incredible pace. It’s still smaller than traditional channels such as TV and print but while these channels stagnate, the Internet, it seems is growing like the proverbial weed. This will not surprise anyone in marketing. We all know that fewer people are reading newspapers and sitting down to watch the news on TV. Despite this, many in marketing still view the Internet as just one of several important channels. If anything they view traditional channels as still having the edge. Is this because they still spend large percentages of their budgets on big TV ads that we all avoid with our DVRs? Or is it because we view traditional media as the root of content and the Internet as merely a convenient distribution channel? Whatever the reason I’d suggest such thinking is outdated. The Internet is, in my book, now officially king. Youth audiences view the Internet as their primary source of content to the point where they almost ignore traditional forms of media. Even older audiences, thanks to smartphones and tablets, are now turning to the Internet as their first point of content consumption. Think about it. When did you last use a physical newspaper as a real source of news content? Today’s news is real time and completely digital. We simply don’t wait for the printed word anymore. TV still plays a role on major news items like the death of Osama Bin Laden but even there the Internet helps us get deeper perspective and raw content. But the Internet offers more than just content delivery. The Internet has become a fabulous research tool, enabling us to price and quality check products and services in ways that were unimaginable a decade ago. The Internet now handles the sales and support of a large number of products and in some cases has revolutionized whole industries – music, books and video being obvious examples.
All of this shows that the Internet has become an incredibly important channel for businesses, governments and other organizations. But my belief that the Internet is now THE marketing channel is perhaps best illustrated by imagining a day where the Internet was shut down. Just think about how difficult it would be if you could not use the web, email and VOIP? It would be catastrophic for some businesses to lose the Internet for just a day. Imagine if it went away altogether? Replacing the role the Internet plays in commerce is hard to imagine. We now use the Internet to drive so many aspects of our business. Again, though it shocks me that so many people in marketing are not viewing the Internet as king. From where I sit, the Internet is THE marketing channel and the sooner people start putting the Internet first in their marketing plans the better. The disappearance of newspapers would be sad and irritating but we’d survive. Losing cable or satellite TV would in some cases be desirable. I for one could live without Judge Judy and Oprah for a very, very long time. But if you unplug even a portion of the Internet, commerce would grind to a halt and democracy would take a huge blow. So when you next sit down to write that marketing plan on your computer or tablet, make sure the first thing you work on is how to harness the full potential of the Internet. It’s a fabulous place that, while not perfect, quite simply rules.
The sovereign debt crisis that started with Greek governments spending habits and has caused financial markets to take a beating in recent weeks has received remarkably little press considering it could result in the world being pushed in to a double dip recession. Indeed a quick look at the major headlines of the NYT and WSJ in recent weeks will show you that they have covered the story for sure but that other items such as the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico have garnered greater attention. Similarly you havn’t seen the debt crisis trend on Twitter. I can only speculate as to why and my speculation is that the topic is both boring and complex. Two factors that ultimately make it less likely to get picked up and talked about. But just because something is dull and complex shouldn’t prevent it from being talked about if it’s important. Surely?
I grew up in an era where the BBC covered stories because of their importance, not because they were easy to understand and interesting. I learned to be interested in the Middle East issues simply because the BBC kept on covering them. I worry that in an era of self publishing and an era where traditional media will do anything to get a reader/viewer, the complex and potentially less interesting stories will get short shrift. This would be a terrible outcome. Sometimes we need to be forced to consume news that we find tough to get through. That may mean devoting less time to stupid human tricks on YouTube and more time to the complex economic issues going on in Europe right now. I say this, not because a focus on Europe would necessarily improve the Greek debt crisis but because today’s Greek debt crisis is tomorrow’s equally dull story that has a more immediate impact, much closer to home.
PR agencies are hiring again What’s interesting is that by and large agencies seem to be trying to steal talent form each other, rather than use this as an opportunity to bring in people from outside the industry. This is understandable at one level but a massive, enormous, huge (did I make that clear?) missed opportunity at another. Hiring great talent is what makes great agencies for sure but we also need to keep any eye on where the market is going. Right now the market is moving away from traditional PR towards digital at heck of a pace. Now is our chance to hire people from other disciplines that offer new skills and new thinking. I know some agencies are doing this but many (read almost all) seem to be saying they are transitioning their agencies towards digital but are then hiring people with traditional skills. Make any sense to you? If you owned a railroad business that was transitioning to become an airline, would you hire train drivers or pilots?