Technology is not the solution

In the world of media technology is often lauded as the saviour.  The magic bullet which will solve all of our needs, be it for analysis, targeting, optimisation or the favourite phrase on everyone’s lips, ‘big data’.

Advertising agencies push it hard as a USP (not very unique if everyone is doing it!), advertisers look for technology solutions that will ‘super charge’ their marketing, and the tech companies themselves do their best to stir it all up into a frenzy in order to sell their product.    The world of technology in media and marketing is a difficult one to navigate, categorising tools and understanding how they fit together is difficult enough in itself as this post and the associated infographic exemplifies.

But in reality, technology is rarely more than a facilitator, and businesses that lose sight of that will be left disappointed and frustrated when they work out that their latest tool isn’t going to revolutionise their advertising campaigns.

Technology as a Facilitator

I am a great believer in technology and its uses in advertising.  In fact, it is my job and build technology solutions that make our advertising campaign more transparent and effective.  But this effectiveness, and the role technology plays in our day to day lives, is purely as an insight tool, an efficiency driver and a facilitator.  It cannot (and nor would we want it to) take the place of the team managing and driving our advertising campaigns.

Technology is a key part of the modern day advertising agency life, it makes analysis easier, facilitates speed of changes in advertising and takes away the paper work of old but it still needs the people telling it what to do, or to interpret the information it produces.

Advertising is about People

As much is it is people you are trying to target with your advertising, it will be people who make your advertising work for you. Behind ever technological innovation, or every data analysis tool, there will be somebody interpreting the output and revising your advertising accordingly.  The technology makes a lot of things possible, but without the people driving them, none of it will become a reality.

In a recent survey conducted by Econsultancy 70% of in house marketers stated they planned to increase their investment in technology in 2014.  The leading areas of proposed increased investment were CRM (49%) and Analytics (47%).  My concern is that this investment is being seen by some as the end game.  Buy the tool, problem solved. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Too many times I have seen businesses paying large fees for a piece of technology that is adding no value to their business or their marketing because it is poorly configured or poorly used.  Signing off an invoice to buy the tool doesn’t solve a problem, investing in the people to understand and drive the technology might just do that.

So next time you are pitched a technology solution, or somebody tells you how technology is set to revolutionise the advertising landscape, look beyond the technology and think about what it will take to drive it.  That’s where the real value is added.

My Marathon Story in Pictures

On Sunday 6th April 2014 I ran the Greater Manchester Marathon.  26.2 miles of pain, suffering and desperation in the name of a great cause, Action for Alports. It is a campaign on behalf of Kidney Research UK which focusses on Alports Syndrome, a rare kidney condition which as yet has no real known cause or cure.

After an injury hit training programme my sights were set pretty low, just finish it!  26.2 miles later I can happily say I achieved that goal, but not after some dark moments along the way.

To distract me from the physical pain I decided to take some selfies along the way, I tried to do every mile but a lack of mile markers made that tricky. Thankfully I did manage to catch some of my pain and suffering in photo form, and the relief at the finish line.

So far I have raised £550 but if you are feeling generous, you can still donate at http://www.justgiving.com/forrest-rob

2014: have we forgotten the art of storytelling?

In days gone by, before mass penetration of television, advertising was more restricted to print and posters and the format was very, very different.  Press ads were more like the advertorials of today.  Text heavy, copy written, and informative pieces which proclaimed the product benefits and were meant to be read.  Mad Men’s Don Draper famously said, “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.” And advertising at this time it was very much about a dialogue.  You portrayed your product through textual conversation and positioned it as you wanted in the readers psyche.

Is storytelling a forgotten skill?

Lazar Dzamic suggested that storytelling is the Advertising agencies what hammering is to Blackmiths.  That storytelling and the ability to do so, “(is) in every fibre of every successful agency, historically and today.”  I would argue it is something that has diminished significantly as the world of advertising has become more focussed on numbers and data.

Advertising has moved from the story board to the spread sheet.  The modern day advertising agency employee spends the bulk of their time with their head in a spread sheet either planning, or measuring advertising campaigns for our clients.

Partially driven through evolution of the available tools for measuring advertising effectiveness, and partially through an increased clients need to justify advertising spend it is a reality of our time.  And in an age when the effectiveness of a campaign is measured by the numbers it produces, whether an effective story was told through the campaign is quickly forgotten, if it was ever considered at all.

It’s time to start telling stories again

Whatever us media men like to tell you people continue to be less and less affected by advertising. To stand out and gain share of a consumer’s mind-set you need increasing amounts of coverage.  The barrage of advertising we face in 2014 makes us less effected by each piece of advertising we might see.  So advertisers have a choice, advertise more, or advertise more effectively.

More and more advertisers choose the former option.  Increase frequency of adverts to give them a greater chance of you noticing them.  Others try the later through quirky executions whilst ignoring product.  Most evidently in the world of finance where competition is fierce and the product is boring.  Whether “you’re so MoneySuperMarket”, comparing meerkats or singing like an out of work opera singer advertising is less about the product and more about standing out and sticking in your head.

But for the brands who can’t afford to increase frequency, or pay a ‘creative genius’, is it time to revert back to the story telling days of old?  Purveying the values of a product and taking the viewer on an experience through the advertising.  I believe it could be, and this extends from not just to paid advertising in mainstream channels, but incorporates all touch points a consumer has with your brand.  We live in a world where everything is connected and the message you put across in your advertising needs to be backed up everywhere else a consumer engages with you.  Whether it is through social channels, PR initiated content, search, or your own website.  A user will interact with your brand in many ways before making a decision whether to purchase from you, so all of your channels need to be telling the same story.

Taking the consumer on a journey at every touch point they have with you and nudging them along the road to purchase and yourself into their consideration set.

How you do this is not so straight forward, and due to the changing nature of our current media landscape, there is no blue print to follow.  You need to use a balance of media types which suit your particular audience or brand.  This will include both broadcast and ‘direct response media’ as nothing exists in a silo.  Paid and earned media need to work in tandem so make sure they are planned together.

Joining the dots between the channels you use is going to be the tough part and sometimes you just need to have faith in what you are doing.  But having a consistent story running through them all is a must.  Its time us advertiser got a little jackanory!

Entrepreneur vs Intrepreneur; is there a difference?

The world of the entrepreneur is one which is well documented.  Through the more recent success stories of Branson, Jobs and Gates and the historic much quoted tales of Henry Ford, people have been mesmerised by stories of billion dollar companies founded in bedrooms and garages.  And spawned from these stories are the debates about what it takes to achieve such success and what it is which separates out these successful entrepreneurs from the thousands of people who had similar dreams but ultimately failed.

In recent years there has also been a rise of the lesser quoted intrapreneur .  The person working in a fast paced and entrepreneurial manner but within an established business owned by somebody else.  Is it purely the ownership of the business which is different? Or are there fundamental skills difference between the entrepreneur and the intrapreneur ?

Ali Golds, Managing Director and Founder of Operation Enterprise and The Juno Project, lists 10 key skills she would associate with an entrepreneur whilst admitting “when you look at the list, you will see that we all need these skills on a personal level too…so in theory, there shouldn’t be anything that will take you very far out of your comfort zone.”  Her list is:

  1. Creativity
  2. Good Communication Skills
  3. Can Present Information
  4. Can Present Themselves
  5. Focused
  6. Problem Solver
  7. Intuition
  8. Builds trust
  9. Resilient
  10. Risk taker

Looking at them in slightly more detail, would they apply to an intrapreneur  as well as an entrepreneur?

Creativity: there are undoubtedly many opportunities within an organisation to be creative and indeed often creativity is needed when negotiating procedural and political challenges so I would say the most successful intrapreneur s would rank this up there with their key skills.

Good Communication Skills: essential for the intrapreneur .  Communicated up the tree to influencers as well as communicated within departments and teams is a vital skill to the intrapreneur .

Presentation Skills: Another essential for an intrapreneur .  Whether it is presenting results or plans at a board meeting or to clients and teams the ability to present information that can be easily digested and understood goes hand in hand with communication.

Focussed: I would group this with being driven as a key skill of an intrapreneur  which may be even more important than it is with an entrepreneur. As an intrapreneur  you will face challenges, road blocks and politics on a daily basis which, without this drive and focus, it is easy to succumb to.

Problem Solver: The problems may be different but the skill is the same.  You might not be solving funding or cash flow problems but that doesn’t mean that the challenges are any less, the intrapreneur  needs to be a master problem solver.

Intuition: The entrepreneur uses their intuition to sniff out new market or product opportunities, the intrapreneur  probably does this less.  That’s not to say they don’t use it, but they are often led by an overarching business strategy which diminishes the need for this skill.

Builds trust: Without the trust of peers and superiors the life of an intrapreneur  would be pretty shot lived.  A critical skill whether working inside someone else’s organisation or on your own.

Resilient: Group it with focussed and driven as key, keep knocking at the door until it falls down!

Risk taker: Risks are different for an intrapreneur .  It is not their money they are risking, more their careers and reputations.  You could therefore argue the risks are less, however try telling that to an intrapreneur  who has just put their neck on the line to the CEO!

So all in all intuition and risk taking seem to be the main differences as far as I can see, although another observer may look at this differently and interpret these as vital for both roles.  But if it is not skills which differentiate the intrapreneur from the entrepreneur what is it?  Personality traits? Mindset? Priorities?  Maybe I need to do another post as a follow up, watch this space.

New Google Mobile Ad Label

As mobile search continues to grow in importance and steal share of overall search from desktop, it is Google’s number one objective to ensure they effectively monetise this channel.  As pointed out in a previous post they only have a couple of levers they can pull to maximise revenue through search assuming search volume is already taken care of.  These are average CPC generated per search, and CTR on revenue generating listings.

Whilst performing a few search on my mobile (iPhone) at the weekend I noticed a new display feature on the mobile paid search listings which I hadn’t seen before and a few tweets seemed to confirm that this was new and I was part of a test.

Historically Google has always labelled Adwords listings as ‘sponsored’ or ‘Ads’ and differentiated them with a (slightly) different background colour and a logo top right of the screen, as seen below in a screenshot taken this morning.

Google Mobile Listing

But on Saturday what I was getting was different.  The background colour has been removed and each paid listing had a gold/yellow icon next to it labelling it as an ad.

New Google Mobile AdwordsNew Google Mobile PPC

Now Google runs tests all the time so it may be this format never makes it beyond a test group however this change is a lot less subtle than those previous and could be looked at from a number of different angles.

  • Angle 1: Google is being more transparent in labelling which listings are paid and which are not therefore providing a more clear choice for the user.
  • Angle 2: Google is trying to increase CTR from their paid listings.  By placing them on the same background colour and including an eye catching logo which increases stand out.  Seller ratings and Google+ are said to increase CTR by anywhere between 5-20% through the inclusion or a differentiating icon.  Whilst this badge doesn’t provide the same by way way of recommendation, it could have a similar affect in terms of stand out.

What do you think? A good hearted move to be more transparent or a cynical move to increase CTR?

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