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5 forces for today’s digital business

22 Mar

5 forces for today's digital business


Technological Innovation as a Knowledge Creation Process

12 Jun


What if innovation is really just a knowledge creation process? A thought inspired by the SECI model of knowledge creation by Ikujiro Nonaka (1995).

To see if it could work I ran it backwards, now to run it forwards. Or if you’d like to do it for me you can have the PDF below. Let me know…


Brand Building in a Digital World

17 Oct

It was the JWT Grads open day today with lots of young, enthusiastic people running around the building and getting to sample the hospitality of the Comm. It’s all part of the 2013 JWT Grad Programme and entry is still open until 1st November. You can apply here.

Personally I’d have loved the opportunity to experience it all. This year’s Grads have also had the pleasure of training at Hyper Island and Google. They have also had the good or bad fortune to have a bald guy in a bad shirt talking to them about “Brand Building in a Digital World” as an Intro to digital planning and UX, an edited version of which is below.

It’s a quick run through of some ideas about digital, channels and experience but most of all it’s about what I’d like to say is the the nature of Brand building in a digital world: Manifesting the behaviour inherent in a brand idea to deliver a measurable, business building, marketing goal.

Not digital for digital’s sake or clicking around or wacky engagement for engagement’s sake.

This last word “Engagement” is a overused word. Everyone seems to have a different definition which makes it a difficult and debased term but if I was to define it I’d say…

Engagement is about “creating windows of enhanced attention to influence behaviour & motivations” in order to increase Brand Salience.

Brand Salience is building a brand’s propensity to be noticed or come to mind in buying situations by increasing the quantity & quality of memory structures buyers hold about brands and associated attributes.

Brand Salience is key to driving buyer choice & behaviour which is ultimately the real reason we should consider engagement as a tactic to increase the effectiveness of digital work.

Anyway if you can put up with that (it only lasts an hour) please give our Grad programme a go.

Creating a digital response – work that is good enough to share

27 Apr

The JWT Planning god, Stephen King once wrote “a good advertising idea has to be original enough to stimulate people and draw an intense response from them”.

I was thinking in this vein the other day about both the work we see produced in the industry these days and how we are increasingly asking ideas to behave, particularly online. In the spirit of sweeping generalisations I’d argue that the work produced divides into 3 categories: Good, Bad and Meh.

Good work is the stuff we all look at and wish we had done (or have done if you’re lucky), it has creative soul, creates an “intense response”, builds the brand and sells. It is rarer. We know it when we see it and should always aspire to it.

Bad work – we all know it when we see it. It lacks the love and the craft, it has the strategy (if there is one) showing through the seams and makes your toes curl up when you see it. But it does create a response. You do notice it and while you may not feel favourably about the creative, you are aware of what it is selling. It is also likely to be those ads the industry hates but the public remembers in a “we buy any comparing of your mum going to iceland via specsavers” way. There’s much more of it than Good work and it has a business effect even if we give it Turkey of the week.

Which leads to Meh work. Meh is the majority of the work we (don’t) see and hear on TV, in posters and online. It’s wallpaper, it’s ignored even though it’s probably been focus grouped to within an inch of its life and everyone got the KMA. There’s no response. It is everywhere and when we see it we just go “meh” and move on. I’d argue that if there is a choice between Meh and Bad choose bad, at least no one got killed making it and hopefully not much money was spent in the process.

It was this idea of intense response that made me think about digital work and how we want it to behave these days.

There is no such thing as a “Go virals on the interwebs” formula.

There’s no such thing as a brief for a “viral”.

But we do ask for our work to be shared more and more – it’s not just the confetti of Facebook Like and Tweet This buttons covering the web, it’s often part of the strategy or client brief. If we write “make it shareable” on a creative brief, it’s a bit like writing “make it good”. The answers is yes, of course, now what the hell do you mean by that?

Which led me to put together a diagram based on a collection of sources, theories and bits of research – which I tend to do if I’m trying to work something out. Generally involving circles.

If something is going to be good enough to share with the small numbers of people closest to us online – our friends, colleagues and family plus maybe that network of weak tie people who may notice us in their feeds – then first it has to create a response and then it needs to enable people to get a benefit or value out of sharing.

Stephen King talks about an “intense response” but one way of thinking about this is to consider it as a “physical response” – whether that is shivers going down your spin, your eyes opening wider, your mouth watering or that look on your face when you are surprised or realise something that should have been obvious.

But being good enough to cause a response is only the first step. There also needs to be a reason to share – whether that is selfish or altruistic – that encourages people to go to the effort of posting that link or writing 140 characters of witty commentary. No-one likes to be old hat so if there can be a sense of timeliness or being on the upward curve of popularity then this can contribute to the odds of the work being seen as “Good enough to share”. Then the work stands a chance.

If – and it is a big if – an idea can achieve this then our challenge as strategists and creatives is to address the mechanics of modern sharing. We need to make it easy to share by breaking the idea (or even in some cases the brand) into “atomic units” that can be experienced in different contexts by different audiences and communities.

At its simplest this process involves identify the themes, communities, sites and assets needed (from bespoke emailed pitches to animated gifs, short titles/description that tease and are detailed enough to be engaging but don’t give it all away, supercuts, image macros or behind the scenes photos) to encourage and make sharing easy, at its more complex it involves treating your brand or idea like an API. This relates to the increasingly common challenge we face as agencies with getting more value from our ideas and budgets – “skinning the pig” – but also meeting even more multichannel requirements.

A simple example is below. A few months back JWT made a film for the Male Cancer Awareness Charity called Rhian Touches Herself. We were very lucky in that some very talented people gave their time for a worthy cause (full story here). We were also lucky in that the idea caused a “physical response” (if you haven’t seen it I won’t say…), gave an excuse to Strengthen Bonds, got people to respond to each other and we managed to ride and reinforce an upward curve of popularity for a good cause for a period of time. There are probably better case studies out there but I’d argue it is good start.

Facebook Privacy improvement

20 Aug

Facebook seems to have made “a few” privacy gaffs lately but it’s nice when something goes right.

The new iPhone App had a some interesting upgrades (not to mention Places) but what I liked was the active reminder of “who you’re broadcasting your Status to”.

At them moment you can select the usual Facebook defaults but I think in future it would great if you can create your own groups – that way you can finally manage your different relationships/identities and split work from home or old uni mates or strange stalkers…

Target Kaleidoscopic Spectacular: when good campaigns go bad.

18 Aug

Shared real world experience – check. Live video – check. Facebook & Social media integration – check. Teaser buzz campaign – check. $150,000 donation to anti-gay governorship candidate – ahhh bugger.

The Target: Kaleidoscopic Fashion Spectacular in New York City at the Standard Hotel, sees Mother N.Y. and Target debuting a massive indoor/outdoor spectacular to promote the store’s fall line of clothing. The event is shared through Ustream video on a Facebook page and pulls together people’s responses and coverage using the hashtag #TGTSpectacular and OpenGraph.

It is a really nice campaign, another example of what I think is the future of Brand Reality Creative: work that combines utility and brand story in a way that effects the real world.

Unfortunately the “community’s shared responses” all over the Facebook page and wider web have nothing to do with the campaign and everything to do with the Target’s donation to Minnesota Forward, a republican group in Target’s home-state of Minnesota, which is a lot less equal rights focused than Target itself.

The campaign has now become a channel for debate and outrage with people a lot less interested in the spectacular 20-minute performance accompanied by an original soundtrack by Squeak E. Clean, aka Sam Spiegel, performed by a 30-piece orchestra and 10-person chorus.

Transparency and consistency online is vital. If your brand and your deeds diverge you will be found out and called out.

Unfortunately for Target and Mother NY this has happened in a big way – just showing that for real people there are a lot more important things than advertising.

So what is planning and strategy now we’re all digital?

9 Dec

There seems to be a lot of debate going on about the role and value of planning and strategy within agencies.

Planners and strategists sometimes like to ask why and reframe questions multiple times, but if we’re to avoid risking the old recursive logic loop/analysis paralysis/navel-gaving problem, I think in this case it may be good to question what we’re really debating?

I don’t think it is just the role of planning.

From the Redscout and PSFK content stream to comment pieces like this, these debates actually seem to me to point to being about more than planning.

I think they’re about the role of agencies in a digital world, a world where one day there won’t be “digital” agencies or departments, just agencies that produce great ideas with a digital DNA.

It is in this context that I’ve been exploring the idea that agencies need to help brands to function as both enabler (of services, content, utility, entertainment) and filter (of noise, relevance, need) for people in order to have a role beyond passive loyalty. Brands not only need a position within a market/category but must also have a clear point of view their role in the world and as a contributer to the culture of their purchasers. This way agencies can evolve to help our clients to solve business problems in a culturally and practically positive way.

Strategy and Planning is in the ideal position to lead this process.

Planning and strategy needs to be more about doing. It needs to be involved in collaborative agile scrums with creatives or technologists to help shape the structure and effectiveness of a response, not just had over a brief.

Insight generation seems to be built all too frequently around the barriers to communication but it could be more about potential benefits, understanding, utility and cultural opportunities if strategic planning were to spread upstream in the process and even get involved in client NPD.

But spreading influence up and downstream should not mean diluting deeper analysis and thought to become a Jack of all trades.

It is vital that the deep dive, research methodology of good strategic planning and insight generation is maintained.

We can do this by exploring the culture and narrative around the challenge we are exploring and building a robust understanding of people in terms of their actions (What they do), the social context (Who they do the action with) and motivation (What they think or feel).

By definition insight occurs when people recognise relationships or make associations between objects and actions that can help them solve new problems. Insight generation is about recognising relationships that are already there or that can be created when two disparate facts/conditions come together. It is similar to the way the famous Telegraph cartoonist Matt described his art as, “putting two unconnected news stories together” to come up with something entertaining that makes you think about both the stories in new ways.

In this context strategy and planning is a creative act.

So instead of working alone, perhaps planners could adopt the partnership or team structure used in creative departments to combine different skillsets or areas of expertise (data/financial modeling paired with behavioural & technology insight)?

Admittedly some of this may sound like the protestations of a reformed sinner – having returned* to strategy/planning about a year and a half ago after 9 years as a hybrid creative and digital strategist I still have my little creative strops – but I think it is the external perspective on what planners do that is important.

We need to be the most effective people in the room, not the most intelligent.

So why is there a picture of Space Invaders at the top of this post? Because it is a great image (from a T-Shirt on Threadless, go and beg them to reprint more!) and because I think it is a great metaphor for planning and strategy – creating unexpected value by looking at the world from a deeper and different angle.


* Thanks to Trevor Wright the Planning Director at IMC who took me on many moons ago as a fresh faced, mop-topped grad, and gave me a position as a “Strategic Planner and New Media Manager” (big title with a small but gratefully accepted paycheck) before kicking me off to the creative/tech department after a couple of years when he realised that the agency “could plan anything but it wouldn’t matter if you can’t deliver it”. You can find him at Westminster Business School these days and I definitely recommend it.

Developing digital campaign strategies and the role of brand planning in the future

28 Aug

I was asked about a process for developing digital campaign strategies – particularly integrated campaigns – the other day, and I thought I might share some of my thoughts. Anyway, what began as a simple process piece became a series of thoughts about the role of digital strategy and brand planning which is probably on my mind as I embrace my hybrid journey more to the strategy side.

Obviously there is no set way, and every challenge requires a different approach but…

For us developing digital campaign strategy often begins with redeveloping the brief collaboratively with our clients in light of 6 core digital strategy/creative principles:

  • Empathy – Understand and appreciate the people you are talking to on their own terms without shouting. Promote their point of view.
  • Permission – Talk don’t push. We have no right to talk to anyone, it has to be on their terms. They have to give us permission or it is just extra noise.
  • Appropriate Intervention – Do things when it is right not just because we can. Technology lets us target according to time of day, part of a journey or behavioural activity.
  • Relevant Conversation – Talk about what they’re interested in based on what they have been doing and previous conversations.
  • Action/Interaction – Be playful, be useful. React and reward. People define their identities through their digital behaviors and connections and brands can be this glue.
  • Reality – The real world will always trump the virtual. Show and connect, don’t tell. Take interactive into the real world. The internet isn’t computers talking to computers, it’s people.

These principles should help us develop objectives that combine communications with people/technology insight to create a strategy that considers the total experience of consumers — that aims to be useful, useable and delightful. They act as a sense check and stop us marching off and doing something just because that is what the brief says.

The next stage is actually beginning the strategy itself – this means banning words like Twitter or YouSpace/MyTube and thinking about people.

It is about developing consumer insight, and to do this we use several techniques including developing Digital Footprints (what our audience does and does not do digitally), segmentation and  – because we have a UCD practise – Personas.

I think Personas are a key tool in communicating consumer insight. Their narrative and empathy-building aspects are particularly useful but they must be three dimensional enough to move beyond functional/task-based and inform the strategy, design, and communication goals of a campaign.

Using personas in developing a digital strategy enables us to think beyond execution and deliverables. It enables us to authentically play where our target plays, join their conversations and engage them in new ones. Personas are often developed during client and stakeholder workshops where we can also tackle conventional wisdom of a category, explore what motivates consumers and the path to purchase, and develop opportunities that fulfill consumer needs and turn convention on its head. 

The personas again enable us to sense check and think about the people who are going to experience our activity. 

It’s is also around this time that the old challenge I used to mutter as a creative rears its head: “Tell me something new, tell me something I don’t know?” It’s these bits of insight and research – whether about people or culture or the brand – that can give us the hook or spark that make a core thought. And only then do I get to start drawing one of my diagrams

I think the ultimate goal of this process is to develop a digital strategy that combines brand story and utility in a way that seeks to affect change in the real world – strategy that is right for business objectives, brand AND people who experience it. And they are not “end-users” but that is an argument for another day.

Ultimately I think digital strategy should be about developing less of a campaign and more of an idea/insight/experience that can exist as part of digitally enabled culture. 

The way digital strategists can do this properly and have a real business changing effect is to integrate Brand Planning and brand development into the process. They should not be separate. Digital strategy should not be about just about channels and Brand Planning should not have the carte blanche on what brands can and can’t be and do. Digital is the culture now.

I’ve always thought that the best digital creatives and planners are the ones that can instinctively answer the brief but then ask “wouldn’t it be fun if?”. They ask “what if”, have a playful feel for “things that are good enough to share”, and know that people “don’t wake up thinking about our brands” (MobileYouth). 

Indeed while there has always been a debate in interactive circles about Communicaton + Content v. Utility + Context it is  now more about a challenge to show not tell, to focus not so much on awareness but building sustainable grass roots support and “moving from an era of finding customers for our products [brands] to an era of finding products [brands] for our customers” (Seth Godin). It is acknowledging that every brand touchpoint has a social value.

Maybe we can combine this implicitly “iconoclastic” (or realistic) digital approach with traditional brand planning? 

Digital is home of Beta. Instead of treating a brand as a fixed artifact that is handed down with an approach that borders on Platonic Realism I think the more questioning and people-centric approach of digital strategy and creative can help develop brands for real people. Brands should be about getting fans to make more fans by giving them social currency and letting people use and shape the brand itself –whether directly or indirectly through insight feeding back on a continuous brand development process.

Perhaps this idea of the brand as digitally enabled piece of social and cultural currency can free digital strategy from focusing too much on channels/executions and in turn free brand planning from the shackles of 30 second mood films dependency?

Twitter and The Machine Stops

8 Jun

It is an old cliche that the fictional inspiration and vision of our modern interactive world stems from the typewriter of William Gibson. While to some extents this is true – after all Neuromancer inspired a fair number of technologists to go out and create their own interpretations of “Cyberspace” – perhaps the truest reflection of our modern reality is a lot older.

November this year sees the 100th anniversary of the publication of E.M. Forster’s short story The Machine Stops. Forster’s vision is of a world where “the entire population communicates through a kind of instant messaging/video conferencing machine called the speaking apparatus, with which they conduct their only activity, the sharing of ideas and knowledge with each other.”

The people of Forster’s future world have almost no real human contact and are totally immersed  in their virtual world of endlessly recycled, secondhand ideas at the expense of being able to survive in the real world when finally the Machine Stops. They have culturally evolved to a point of their own physical obsolescence.

I was reminded about this story that I first read at the tend age of 14 when I was putting together a presentation (or “deck” as some people insist on calling them, again inspired by Mr Gibson) about Twitter. 

I was putting together the quick “Two wider trend implications” bit about Twitter’s value as:

  • A real-time search/help engine
    • Raw results, unfiltered and updated immediately.
    • No waiting for Google to crawl links
    • Breaking news, live event coverage (e.g. #G20)
    • A live-feed of what the web is thinking and sentiment tracking via, Tweetscan, Tweetdeck, Twendz
    • Gmail outage: people switched to Twitter for help
    • People now ask their friends and peers for help, insight and expertise on a day-to-day basis


  • An open-source experience model
    • user experience is poor
    • Most activity is off-platform even when people are using a desktop PC
    • Huge list of APIs and Apps, large developer community
    • The core service actually needs the community in order to function effectively
    • A mainstream breakthrough for crowd creativity & open-source business trend

when I was struck by the thought that Twitter is the real embodiment of Forster’s Speaking Apparatus.

Twitter’s 140 character limit and reliance on linking to external applications, webpages, photos etc for real content value beyond simple utterances (so well parodied in McSweeney’s INTERNET-AGE WRITING SYLLABUS) makes it the perfect self-recursive media.

Indeed the prominence of ReTweeting R/T perhaps hints at this need to for Twitter to evolve before it eats itself. Harvard Business School’s recent study shows that “the top 10% of prolific Twitter users accounted for over 90% of tweets“. For Twitter to expand the number of value exchange providers it needs to expand the value creation possibilities beyond human RSS. It needs to be integrated into the concept of Social Periphery and maintain its roots in the real world rather than allow itself to be become a virtual one. Then again I’m probably grouchy because all my friends are still on Facebook…never going to be one of the cool kids….

Anyway in the spirit of recycling ideas and sharing I’ve uploaded the presentation below. I’ve missed a couple of credits (particularly to Matt at iLevel who did the sterling work on media opportunities), but I’m sure you’ll come across the ideas in other places where you can thank them directly:

Potential impact of the recession on online advertising

22 Feb

In the next phase of the recession there is going to be even more pressure for blunt, back to basics messaging.

Much online advertising is already crammed to bursting with USPs and “brand essences”, proof points and CTA keyframes but it is often the phatic element – the charm, the entertainment, the engagement and the smile – that means a brand actually connects. While this may seem to pander to some marketing director’s belief that we’re all frustrated artists or 15 second Cecil B De Milles (god bless the Art Director job title for this & years of confused looks at parties before my girlfriend jumped in with “he’s in IT”) it remains true that it is the best stories that you remember and want to tell other people.

And this is even more so online where you can’t force anyone to do anything. People are more than happy not to click on your banner ad and visit your flash microsite. Be honest – they really don’t care about your brand as much as you do. We need to make them interested and then make them care. Once again the new economic reality means we have to resist the pressure to art direct the brief.

I’m not saying we should cram our comms work with the digital equivalent of Pinteresque dialogue (loading bars anyone?) or big budget After Effects heavy video, but in a post “age of excess” world the smart brands can provide people with the entertainment and rewards that they used to pay for themselves.

I believe it is Brand Reality Creative that provides the perfect bridge between the important phatic entertainment and brand story AND vital real world reward and social currency.

Interactive creative must provide a framework that people can use to make their own magic/tell their own stories and balance “doing stuff for the brand” with “doing stuff for people”. We need to combine story and utility in a way that can affect the real world while reflecting the fragmented nature of the real web (not the marketing web). This means that online advertising needs to be less advertising and more entertaining applications and shareable content in paid for places.

Only by achieving these goals can we prove the synergistic value of interactive creativity in the face of the recession.