The floodgates of NOCOMMERCE are opened by Amazon Dash ... this is important and highly disruptive.
With thanks to the good folks at Salt Digital, here's the first of 3 short videos looking back at my work in digital strategy ... this one focuses on Promiscuous Customers: Invisible Brands, written in 2001 with dear friend and co-conspirator David Stoughton.
Courtesy of my good friends at Digital Doughnut, a 30 minute talk from a recent Digital Leaders event challenging what I see as our most troublesome assumptions that currently inhibit intelligent progress for brand marketers.
Who's NOT talking about the Internet of Things?
Who's NOT wondered how to get a piece of the sqillions of bucks that IoT will - and we know that one way or another it's true - generate.
And yet, as with so many techno-cultural shifts (this one's truly tectonic), few of us have a sense of, beyond the undoubtedly enormous IT and telco RFP's that are already starting to fly about, where the value will lie for a) businesses and b) their customers.
This is THE hot spot for IoT. We have to get beyond the bewildered - albeit polite - shrug of the CMO, and the unconvinced shrug of the connected consumer.
We have to know how making dumb objects smart will create fresh, sustainable customer value, and, in the end far more critically, how it will build brands.
I have to say that I wrote about this in great depth (and disccomfort: this was 14 years ago now) with my then-collaborator and long-time friend David Stoughton, in our still-robust manifesto for digital value, Promiscuous Customers: Invisible Brands; we called it "information-based service value" in the book.
The information's now a given of course. But the hunt is now on the elusive value that configure-once, love-forever customer services will enable and sustain.
Some of us are (once again) thinking about this challenge in great detail. I'll be writing about it in the coming months.
A good - and far too long overdue - reboot to this old blog of mine. Labouring in the mines of agencyland had, as so often happened, dulled the edge of the remains of the brain.
No longer. Let's crack the IoT. It's where digital value REALLY takes off. And this is not, believe me, your mother's marketing.
Ericsson, the leading maker of wireless network equipment, sees as many as 50 billion machines connected by 2020. Only 10 billion or so are likely to be cell phones and tablet computers. The rest will be machines, talking not to us, but to each other. The combined level of robotic chatter on the world's wireless networks... is likely soon to exceed that generated by the sum of all human voice conversations. "Talk to me, one machine said to the other", The New York Times, 29 July 2012
Techno-rock legend has it that its iconic fathers, Kraftwerk, had but one telephone in their Dusseldorf base, the gloriously-named Kling Klang studio. The phone’s ringer had been disabled. But the band would pick up the handset once a day, promptly, at 11.00 every morning. And whoever was ringing in would get to speak to them. If not, well, too bad … Maybe catch you tomorrow.
Perhaps the greatest pop concert I’ve seen to date – at the Hammersmith Palais, 1981 – was Kraftwerk when they were on tour supporting their (at the time very quirky) Computer World album. Maybe I’m rose-tinted in my memories from all that time ago, but I’m sure that one by one, as the group left the stage, they left a dummy of each member poised behind the bank of computers that made up their instrumental line-up. And it seemed like the dummies were continuing to operate the computers right, through the encores.
The Kraftwerk message seems to have been: “You find machines fascinating, because you are yourselves machines. But there’s more: the role of machines in creating meaning in human life will keep on increasing, and the traditional divide between you and the machines will continue to become smaller. Just wait.”
And we did wait. And sure enough, the rewiring of the world that we’ve seen over the past 30 years has given birth to an always-on experience of human life that brings together flesh, blood and data in ways that only the cyberpunk authors could have anticipated when the process began.
Just Did It
How brands are built in digital, and indeed the cultural and commercial roles of brands in post-digital culture, versus their traditional roles, are fundamental questions that underpin the slightly more superficial weekly debates we hear in media and marketing.
What do we do with all this data? Do search, social and mobile move advertising forward or fatally hamstring it? Who really owns the brand, when so much equity apparently lives in areas that advertising can’t consistently touch?
And of course, Engagement … what is it? Why does it matter? How, why, when and where should we invest in it? What is it, by the way?
But like great art and porn (great or not so great has never been established I gather …), we sure know Engagement when we see it. And one inspirational heritage brand that has nailed it is Nike, in particular with its Nike+ program of runner engagement and activation. Nike+ has built powerful, shareable automated consumer value with an application whose entire impact depends upon shoe - or more recently, smartphone or watch - talking to network on the runner's behalf. All the user does is configure the service - the application does the rest.
This is M2M – machine to machine – technology applied to consumer branding, the Internet Of Things, brought to life. But what, exactly is going on here. And why is it so important?
At the consumer level, Nike+ takes a notoriously isolated stakeholder, the more or less serious runner, and gives them a platform. This platform takes raw data captured from a chip in the shoe, a wristband, or more recently a smartphone, and turns it into visual, shareable narratives of personal transformation.
Nike+, in fact, enables the kind of empowered self-expression that Marshall McLuhan I believe had in mind when he presciently defined media as “extensions of man”. But looking closer, we see the key lesson to be learned here. While Nike+ continues to build powerful equity and loyalty – indeed Engagement, that word again – among arguably the brand’s most critical stakeholders, the runners on which the brand was built, it does so without a sentimental need for consumer love or validation.
All the user does is configure the service and then … let it roll. The brand adds potent value, does all the heavy data lifting, and pops up at the end of each run with a beautiful story of the new, improved us … which if we want we can share, crow about, or just (as I like to think most runners do) quietly chalk up a little more personal progress with a tip of the hat to Nike.
This Engagement, in other words is built not on love from the consumer. It’s built on a crucial paradox, one that we must get to grips with if we are to continue to build brand equity “Behind The Line” in the VIP area of the connected consumer’s tribal life. This Engagement depends on enabling the consumer to Disengage – from both tiresome task and indeed, at least so it seems, the brand itself. (Note, by the way, that the model has this year been pushed out to other sports where Nike seeks traction, for example golf and basketball. This one's going to run and run.)
Loyalty without awareness
Almost 10 years ago to the day, my friend David Stoughton and I published a book – Promiscuous Customers: Invisible Brands – that took as its departure point the hypothesis that information, in and of itself, does not create value, and in many instances will attack it, both for consumers and brands.
To the contrary, the only information that adds value is that which removes both work and risk - perceived or otherwise - for the consumer.
We began the book with a robust attack on CRM – not the technology itself, but the underlying assumption by marketers that, per se, owning information about a consumer adds value to that relationship.
This, remember, was at a time when loyalty models such as Tesco's Clubcard were starting to make a significant impact, and the apparently promising links between digital consumer data, connected markets, and the World Wide Web were the subject of enormous focus: a hypnotic and apparently self-evident data-driven model was bought into by most of the marketing community.
But we said no. You're wrong.
Much of the second half of Promiscuous Customers was devoted to the future impact of what we called "automated value". Our argument was, and indeed remains so 10 years on, that the sentimental assumption by marketers that empowered, connected consumers generally care enough about their brands to engage in repeated displays of active loyalty over long periods of time is entirely wrong.
Brand loyalty is rarely, if ever, about love - one well-known drinks firm even aspires to "brand adoration" - but about utility. The ascendance of the app has cemented the role of Automated Value at the heart of brand-building: "What can you do for me, that I can't (be bothered to) do for myself?" says the smartphone user.
Getting consumers to disengage
The arrival point for contemporary consumer engagement and loyalty is not, I'm relieved to report, that most trite of consumer gestures, the "Like", nor even the marginally more credible Retweet.
It's the point at which the consumer consigns the immensely hard and complicated work of creating information-based value to a brand application.
We may not get the brand love we crave for this typically offhand commitment... but what we get is worth far, far more.
While paradoxically, the consumer actively engages much less with our brand when they begin to rely upon an application for a particular service (let's stick with Nike+ as an example for now) we need to learn to see this as a marketing positive. They may clock off from the often tiresome active engagements via our website, but don't mistake this cold shift in engagement for a drop in loyalty.
This, in any sector where information plays a significant role, is the lion's share of the future of marketing and brand building.
Returning to Kraftwerk at Kling Klang for a moment, we should I believe accept that the connected consumer’s project of self-creation and –distribution is far too important, too central to meaning, for brands to expect to be able to just “pick up the phone” and get through whenever we feel like it. A further paradox of post-digital brand building is an end to promises of more product or service value, replaced by the need to deliver up-front, consistent “life-value” for the consumer. If it looks like creating more work without major payoff for the new king, we can be sure it’ll just bounce off.
We need to put down our need for love, and get with the unconscious loyalty program. It’s the future. (In fact, it’s already here, it’s just not evenly distributed!)
A single shared obsession
The business models and ambitions of the giant – and despite their sheer size, power and visibility, often unfathomable – technology firms that stand guard at the borders of the consumer’s online experience, Google (including YouTube), Apple and Facebook, need careful scrutiny and differentiation, in order for us to understand the threats and opportunities they separately and together represent.
One thing before we look at them individually. All three of the businesses – and the same goes for their many associated products and services – are distinguished by their obsession with consumer value, consumer control, and consumer power.
The value they command in their respective market spaces, along with the significant compromises and loyalty they demand quid pro quo of their users, all sit firmly upon this revolutionary imperative.
Each of them drives their users – often compromising, sometimes even destroying previous commercial value chains in the process – to the very heart of the value bulls-eye. Before, consumers languished at the right hand of the value chain, at the disposal of product and service providers, as and when they decided to bestow their outputs on the market. Now, connected, empowered and increasingly “flattered” customers sit at the control panel of a remarkable spider’s web of influence and information. And nothing at all will ever be the same.
This relentless, dramatic shift of value, control and power, from enormous traditional business concerns over to connected consumers, sets the foundation for all of the contextual and competitive changes that content marketers are now facing in the online market.
Nevertheless, outside this powerful unifying mantra among these businesses, each of them has an entirely different vision and strategic agenda that must inform our respective approaches to them as partners, as routes to market, and, all too often, as competitors for the highly valuable, elusive attention of the online audience.
Apple is not, primarily, a consumer technology firm.
Well, of course it is, but the reasons for Apple’s remarkable ascendance to become effectively the most valuable company in the world, do not primarily lie in its ability to engineer, time and again, a world-beating ergonomic experience in devices that continue to dominate – in both sales and sheer imagination – the consumer electronics market.
Apple is, or has been to date in its growth period under the consummate marketer and brand guru, Steve Jobs RIP, a brand marketing company.
And what it markets – manifested in, but to be understood as distinct from, its family of devices and cohesive, fully-integrated vertical ecosystem – is nothing short of “your perfect digital life”. It is legendary by now that converts to Apple find it almost impossible – even when forced to do so by, for example, corporate policy – to revert to other operating systems. Why is that? It’s not just about great design.
Here’s the key insight.
Irrespective of content – and this is absolutely key to grasp: no matter what task the Apple user is performing, whatever communications they’re sharing, no matter what content they might be consuming, the Apple experience in and of itself is transformational for its tens of millions of passionate users, in terms of, for example, a sense of identity, a feeling of flow, a comfortable control, an intrinsic aesthetic pleasure, above all, a genuine and profound joy in their connected life.
Apple, in other words, exists to provide an extraordinary experiential mirror for its customers, that continually reflects back to them an idealised vision of themselves, their lives and their worlds.
This, for now, exclusive hold over so many millions of consumers’ optimal online experience, is the root of the success of Apple’s iOS/iTunes walled garden ecosystem, now boasting some 250m accounts worldwide.
It’s also the basis of their startling, rather sudden ability to call the shots to the world’s biggest entertainment firms.
And this is how they’re able to inject a highly significant dimension of extra “Apple value” into the hitherto simple experience of selecting, buying or renting, and watching a home video.
More so than perhaps any other brand – and yet with a certain appealing balance, given that the passionate user experiences an unrivalled sense of control – Apple truly owns the customer relationship.
Google is, for many people, The Web. But behind the juggernaut lies a business that is great at some things and not so great at others. For every successful Google start-up there are dozens of failures, big and small.
We need to bear this in mind in our approach to them, to avoid the knee-jerk assumption that the company is all-powerful in online matters.
This isn’t the place to get into Google’s numbers … in a sense, their sheer scale masks the strategic truth about the business.
It has, for example, more or less single-handedly gutted the traditional advertising business by taking a huge proportion of online consumer attention by the scruff of the neck, at source, by creating the killer search engine. But despite its potential to kill entire categories, this is perhaps the only area where Google’s formidable ability to both destroy and reconstruct industries and sectors has fully manifested.
A key thing to remember about its two key entities – both of which are ad-led – the web search business and YouTube, is that they are above all on-ramps to experiences of some form, portals, if you like, to discovery, to relevance and to reassurance.
This gives Google remarkable power in an online environment that is, today, hardly navigable without the appropriate maps and guides. (How often do we hunt down URL’s for sites we seek? Almost never … we either link from another document, or we search, mostly via Google.)
However, this also means that Google increasingly depends, not just as a competitor against other search engines, but far more broadly in the war for consumer attention that it fights with its two giant competitors, not just on its ability to help us find stuff at all, but – under increasing pressure – to help us find The Right Stuff.
In other words, not just search results – lists of more or less options – but the actual experiences that await consumers once they clear Google’s on-ramp and are onto the highway, are critical to the company’s strength of position going forwards.
Another way to understand this is as follows.
Google’s declared mission is, to paraphrase, to give us mastery over the world’s information. Now, we’re spoiled for information: the search results that used to delight us just for being there at all, begin to irritate us, and we begin calling for deeper, more substantial value. It is, in fact, what lies behind the search result that interests us.
So, even though Google’s search business is not intrinsically concerned with or geared towards what comes after the search (for a start, it’s not what they get paid for … more than one person has pointed out that Google doesn’t in fact find and aggregate information that’s relevant to consumers, but finds and aggregates consumers that are relevant to the brands that fund it), the company is forced into becoming much more of an experience business.
Interesting? Yes. For a number of reasons.
Hold the ticker-tape for just now, but we begin to understand, at least superficially, why the company continues to explore and invest aggressively around the edges of its search business (the company’s acquisitions in 2011 alone cost it some $40bn), and also why YouTube has suddenly begun to find content of longer form and higher quality of such interest. And the company is clearly utterly determined to get Google TV front and centre in tomorrow’s media landscape.
Let’s look at this from yet another angle. Apple and Facebook, individually and together don’t only exercise phenomenal influence over both range and quality of online experience, but are increasingly able, albeit to a degree standing on Google’s shoulders, to support consumers in finding, evaluating and sharing high quality entertainment experiences. They are, therefore, increasingly able to compete in new and quite compelling ways, on Google’s home turf of search and discovery.
Facebook is perhaps the most potentially destructive force in this case, one of the key reasons for Google’s focus on its Google+ social network, alongside its recent and controversial integration of services (read consumer data …) under one universal scheme.
If Google is, like the three other giants, playing for a dominant share of the experience pie, it needs to move rapidly and convincingly beyond vanilla search-and-result on the one hand, and LOLcats cuteness in YouTube on the other.
We can’t jump straight from here to the all-too-common “Great! They need us more than we need them!” assumption.
But we can, quite reassuringly, see a significant fit for the world’s highest quality long-form content alongside the world’s biggest information company, as it seeks to move convincingly – let’s not forget, in the face of very, very persuasive and aggressive competition from Apple and Facebook – into the broader and very competitive arena of rich, profound consumer experience.
A concern here, certainly, remains Google’s core revenue model. As long as it remains almost entirely advertiser-driven, the company has little intrinsic interest in sustaining or enhancing the value – market pricing or perceived – of our product.
We are thus in danger of being left a vehicle for another purpose altogether … a premium reward for the consumer attention that is to be sold on – still at commodity prices for now – to Google’s own customers, brands who, like Google itself, still have insufficient grasp of entertainment to be considered true long-term partners.
If Google is, for many consumers, The Web, then Facebook is what they do with it. Staying away from its current valuation and IPO (happening at the time of writing) the company pulls in by far the highest volume of quality consumer attention in the world.
This is the reason for Facebook’s truly explosive commercial success, the fascination with its valuation, but above all, its profoundly disruptive effect on the media market, including the giant incumbent, Google itself.
And the key underlying driver of all the above, that propel the business forward? Its users – 50% of whom, so now 500,000,000 – use Facebook every day remember – both create and consume Facebook’s content (if that’s still the right word for such a biblical torrent of incredibly diverse material).
It’s also essential that we appreciate that, just as with Google and Apple, consumers’ motivations are not simply to consume content. The driver of social media behaviour among connected consumers is above all self-expression. It’s our stories, first and foremost, that we tell on Facebook and the content of Big Media is sometimes, sometimes not “co-opted for this higher purpose”.
When consumers take on the role of tellers of their own stories, and the platform itself takes care of assembly, distribution and – above all – the precious feedback that Facebook delivers (its dynamic is far more about the Like and the Comments than it is about the publishing), the value of professional content of any kind, while not disappearing, is radically shifted into a new and quite unfamiliar context.
What is being shared on Facebook, therefore, is not primarily our content, or indeed anything of direct commercial relevance. It’s billions of personal narratives of consumer identity, that may or may not feature references or links to our product.
It’s also for this reason that the value exchange that has underpinned consumers’ (admittedly dwindling) willingness to consume ad spots in the context of linear media, is broken, and in the age of social, brands are obliged to retread their budgets, to take into account what’s being called “engagement”. If I’m producing what I see as compelling content for myself and my personal tribe, advertisers play – at least for now – little tangible role in its creation, promotion and distribution, and thus my willingness to tolerate – let alone appreciate – interruptive messaging is, understandably, sharply reduced.
(Impressive though they may be in isolation, when stacked against the volume and depth of consumer attention it commands, and compared to how other forms of media are valued and monetised, Facebook’s revenues at the time of writing could be seen as pitiful.)
So – perhaps more than the other two giants – Facebook’s revolutionary dynamics and its resulting extraordinary upending of culture, commerce and consumer power, represent a powerful threat to traditional media and indeed to many of the web’s huge incumbents, that must first be looked right in the eye in order to establish where and how defensive imperatives and offensive opportunities can be found, balanced and exploited.
Specifically from the home video perspective, Facebook is the least passive, richest and most vibrant online environment currently in play. As such, we need, I’d argue, to approach this entirely new continent as first and foremost a foreign territory: one with enormous riches indeed, but also with close to a billion empowered, spoiled inhabitants whose goodwill and possible custom we must negotiate for with care.
Beads and tomahawks are not enough to conquer Facebook. As with Apple and Google, its potential as a mere content distribution channel is far outweighed by the alternative – many of them actively movie-hostile – forms of consumer value on offer.
If we can grasp and align with these, appreciating that in Facebook, far more than any other media channel, the consumer truly is king, we can begin to leverage this titanic new player while still in relative infancy.
Nothing about Amazon? Ah ... That's for another day! And it's a big, big story.
A troubled history
Stephen King's brief, urgent paper, "What Is A Brand?" was produced 40 years ago at the dawn of the seventies.
Even then, branding was struggling for its seat at the high table of commerce:
I wonder whether all top management are involved deeply enough in the nature of their brands. Do they realize fully enough that it is from the success of brands rather than as products that the profits will come? Do they fully understand the nature of brands? Do they set company objectives in terms of brand positioning or simply in financial terms?
The answer – then, and perhaps all the more so now – is an emphatic “No”.
Now the unforgiving context within which marketing and advertising must operate, along with a number of questionable assumptions that have come to prevail, have forced branding’s role and value even further into the background.
One of the least satisfying developments since digital advertising has so radically disrupted the industry, is the current demand for ROI at every turn. This has pushed brand managers into a position so defensive that they can often only point to e-commerce conversions to justify investment in anything digital, other than perhaps the most meat-and-potatoes search program.
The assumption seems to be that the lion’s share of brand building is still best achieved by blanket messaging via above the line advertising, and that digital investment sits – as it perhaps always has since its inception – further down the pipe, alongside direct marketing and retail.
Such developments, given particularly that the balance sheets of many of the world's biggest businesses continue to list brand equity as a dominant line, are surely an immense concern.
At a time when swathes of quality consumer attention are lavished on social and smartphone, can we seriously continue to imagine that brand equity – like royalty at a rugby international – watches from comfort and safety in a warm hospitality box, while every other significant aspect of the connected consumer’s life, including our own products and services, is kicked vigorously around the chilly playing field of digital?
No. Brands, for better or worse, are being actively, constantly and irresistibly constructed and deconstructed in digital. We are fascinated and bewildered by capricious shifts in the tribal sentiments of connected consumers: utter indifference to our most exquisite, flattering siren calls one moment, and the next, their inexplicable rush to engage en masse, triggered by an apparently tiny flutter of influence in a corner we never knew existed.
We have to date gained no convincing idea of how to play under the ever-shifting goal posts of 21st century marketing. Certainly the performance of advertising in digital – while spend increases every year, the bulk of the investment is still in the “defensive”, hygiene-factor area of search – continues to vex all but the most dedicated of advocates.
Here we revisit and review this important element of Stephen King's substantial legacy, the argument for advertising’s key role as architect and builder of the brand equity that translates as preference and premium prices, through the unsentimental lens of post-digital culture and commerce.
An evolving role
… whatever people might wish to call the process of creating a property that combines tangible and intangible attributes, can be symbolized in a trademark that creates influence and value if properly managed … Well, that is branding by any other name.
Rita Clifton, Chairman and CEO, Interbrand
Adaptation is, as it happens, part and parcel of branding's story. Stephen King wrote in terms of its “waves”, or evolutions, within the broader history of marketing.
He wrote about branding very much as a defensive imperative, first used by consumer product manufacturers to push back against the wholesalers that dominated consumer product marketing from the late Victorian era, and second – starting in the 1950's – against the retail chains whose dominance of brands' channels to market, alongside their aggressive own-brand programs, created a game of cat and mouse that continues today.
The latter in particular challenged manufacturers to investigate sources of value, beyond the product itself, to sustain both preference and margin.
So Mr King completed his paper by pointing to the need for advertising to build and sustain new forms of ownable added value around the consumer brand.
First, we can recognise that in the 1970s it may well have a different role from the past. Added values and their effects on profits will become more important … Secondly, we can improve our methods of setting advertising’s objectives, by thinking of them in terms of the advertising’s contribution to the added values of the brand … And thirdly, we can recognize that advertising itself is a totality … If we try to produce it by the atomistic approach, we will end up with a sort of Identikit brand … (which) will never come to life.
As we read his words, we have feelings of both familiarity and regret. His argument could live very comfortably in any seminar in 2012, but what have – indeed since long before they were written – always been common sense marketing rules to live by, remain curiously, stubbornly peripheral to current marketing practice.
Nevertheless, we also realise that a large element of the historic role performed by branding, before we arrive at the generally accepted creation and attribution of added value, has in sharp contrast been defense against an ever-threatening – and ever mutating – diminishment of perceived value.
If wholesale and retail have been the source of such threats to date, has digital introduced a new player?
Shifts in power
Branding has always been just as much about power as about value. This is even more evident, at a time when connected consumers are still in the early stages of flexing newfound powers of “mass self-expression”, co-created meaning, identity and belonging, and their own tribally-based, direct influence over which ideas attain currency, and which fade away to nothing.
These are the kinds of cultural tasks of search and selection that brands have performed for us until recently. Do they still deserve their rather exalted position? Because viewed through a lens of global connectedness, brands are (until we intervene … whether and if so, how we do so is the subject of our enquiry) merely “yet more ideas” floating among a cast of literally billions.
As Umair Haque, the economist and media theorist, has correctly pointed out from 10 years ago, where media, pre-digital, were scarce and thus highly valued, and consumer attention was plentiful, now media are overwhelmingly everywhere and consumer attention is the new gold.
We see a dramatic shift in power here, one that overturns the brand communications apple cart once and for all.
It's the power of the connected consumer that sets the scene for branding's next, “third wave” challenge. Along Stephen King’s branding timeline, first wholesalers and then retailers have historically set the challenges that great advertising has met, time and again, shoring up meaning and value not only around products and services, but crucially, within consumers’ own daily lives.
We now have a third protagonist, globally connected consumers themselves.
And while the battle for control of meaning and value remains the focus, we are today severely handicapped not only by earthquakes on our playing field and goal posts that never stop moving: we now learn that our star player is injured and may never return to top form.
The moving goal posts
Advertising, brand-building’s primary weapon of mass communication, is today in trouble. At its root, uncertainties about its role and value boil down not to its effects – arguably more measurable than ever before – but to a growing doubt about what it’s actually for. The strident insistence on ROI at every turn, points in the end not to questions about what is achieved in any given campaign or tactic therein, but about what it’s worth. Not so much what are we doing or how, more why.
We’re reminded of the familiar description of an accountant as one who know the price of everything but the value of nothing. Measurability per se is, at least in digital channels, not a challenge. To the contrary, it’s the struggle for advertisers to reach some post-digital equivalent of the impression, of familiar, trusted reach and frequency, that underpins this crisis.
While ad spend remains stable for now, there's an emerging sense among brand owners that, even when bullseyes are consistently hit, they're shooting at the wrong targets. That somehow, the game has moved on.
I think this is close to the truth. Consumer presence and consumer attention have – a key and rarely-acknowledged legacy of the digital revolution – become uncoupled. The implicit value exchange that has underpinned advertising's very successful partnership with media is fractured, when formerly precious content is commoditized by sheer volume and choice.
Why else would we be hearing incessantly about the challenge of "engagement"? Behind all the talk about this still-elusive concept, is the sense that while the consumer eyeball may still drift over the messaging, the mind is elsewhere, “otherwise engaged”.
The fragmentation that so concerns advertising and the media that serve it, is happening just as much within a single consumer’s field of attention, as it is amongst a brand's target audience. And attention is a zero sum game.
So what has happened to cause this? And if branding is, as we noted above, concerned with building associations around products and arrives, then how, in this age of consumer empowerment and tribalism, are these often far richer and more plentiful associations being built. And perhaps more vexing, by whom?
Macromedia and Micromedia
Think of today's powerhouse brands. Coke, Mercedes, and the remaining handful of other great legacy brands were built, and continue to thrive, on the back of enormous advertising budgets. They are, in fact, entirely constructs of media. Ever since its rightly-famous “1984” campaign, Apple has marched in that number too. Steve Jobs was in many ways an advertising man more than a technologist. But do we feel that the Apple brand resides in advertising? Or is its victorious brand nourished by some other, deeper source?
Think now of the 21st century barbarians at the gate. Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Twitter are representative. For their billions of daily users, life without these brands is unthinkable. And yet, Facebook only began to advertise in September 2012, and Google only some 2 years previous to that, launching its now-won Chrome browser war against Explorer and Firefox.
Without contradicting Stephen King’s core premises, the new powerhouse brands of the digital age are clearly being built without any direct dependence on the media and advertising system.
This, perhaps, is not big news for most of us. But where does this leave the FMCG brands whose products and services are not, as the technology giants are, hardwired into daily consumer culture? How are they to argue their way over the threshold into the party?
It helps if here we divide media into two constructs. Visualize them as two separate circles, like you’d see in a Venn diagram. Consumers and brands map across both, but as we’ll see, the power of advertising – digital or otherwise – to create and distribute brand meaning and value in both is highly restricted.
Let's call these circles “Macromedia” and “Micromedia”. Big TV, Big Web, and Big Advertising are all largely moored in Macromedia. It's corporate, it's about big stakes, big budgets and big risk. But these days, it also has a fair amount of nose pressed up against the window of Micromedia.
Micromedia is that personal, “me and mine”, tribal zone of intimacy that is the most fascinating and troublesome consequence of the connecting of consumers.
If Macromedia is about the heft and swagger of Big Media, Micromedia's ruler is the powerful, often ruthless consumer (increasingly a troubling word, in terms of its assumptions). If Macromedia is about consumption of media by consumers, Micromedia is about self-expression by consumers to each other and, in some instances, back to our brands.
We have to now largely acted as if Micromedia were a new, younger, subordinate territory within Macromedia. We have thus assumed that plain vanilla digital advertising would, as traditional advertising has done so well in the past in Macromedia, build brands and drive purchasing in Micromedia. But this is where the “digital is just another channel” school of thought has failed so crucially.
In Macromedia, digital is indeed “just another channel”. But in Micromedia, the very fabric of the environment is digital, and furthermore the primary dynamic, the prevalent flow, is not from industry to consumer, but quite the reverse: outbound consumer self-expression and co-creation. These are the “extensions of man” that McLuhan wrote about so cryptically back in 1964, finally come to life in social and mobile, with transformational results.
This is I believe why the consumption-based advertising that has always ridden, with enormous success of course, on the tails of content, has struggled so frustratingly in Micromedia. Advertising in Facebook and mobile remain at the time of writing profoundly unconvincing in terms of both consumer acceptance and brand acceptance.
We have long talked about above, below and through The Line. I call this new challenge “Behind The Line”, the line of course being the far-from-permeable membrane that separates Macro- and Micromedia.
The technology giants that have ridden the web to commercial dominance have without exception done so by establishing a strong base in Micromedia, by empowering our already power-hungry self-expressing, co-creating connected consumer. While they do advertise, they sustain their brand equity above all by further empowering their customer Behind The Line.
Note, by the way, what happens when any – and it doesn’t matter how dominant they may have been – of the new powerhouses steps out of line (another Line to worry about here, perhaps!). Netflix (pricing), Facebook (trust and data), Apple (maps) and plenty more have felt the freezing breath of the hostile consumer tribe when their exhilarating new power is diminished or threatened even slightly.
A brand built in Micromedia is thus a still a house built on sand, that shifts along with the restless, capricious moods and desires of the globally connected consumer. Even a luxurious palace like Apple’s is intensely, incessantly vulnerable. So perhaps we should be careful what we wish for.
Experience and Expectation
While we may now understand a little more about the constructs and dynamics that make up Digital The Culture, as opposed to Digital The Channel, the question remains, if we are to build brands in digital, what must change?
I’m still myself in the early stages of developing planning frameworks that bring Macromedia and Micromedia together to enable true “Behind The Line” brand communications.
It’s my belief, however, that branding in the post-digital era demands we move far beyond messaging, to take on the active management and optimization of consumer experience across all key touchpoints, right along the entire product lifecycle.
I also belief as a consequence that brand equity can be viewed and ultimately valued as a sort of snapshot in time of the sum of goodwill and otherwise that such experiences engender in what is, remember, a globally connected, highly tribal consumer.
Brand building, which has till recently lived almost exclusively in advertising, has been primarily a brand-controlled system of linear, almost entirely one-way “Promise and Delivery”. In the digital age, a new and, for now, chaotic dynamic has come into play, disrupting a lot of what we knew before, challenging all the rules and roles of marketing.
In contrast to the regimented lines of Promise and Delivery, we have in Micromedia a corresponding but very hard to reach cycle of consumer Experience and Expectation. Our brand Experiences – good, bad, indifferent – drive our brand Expectations (and also, note, our own brand Expressions via social to our hundreds, thousands or millions of networked cohorts). And round again of course.
But what matters most here is that the cycle is driven not by brands, but by consumers in tribes. Advertising (digital or otherwise makes no real difference) holds little sway here. To revisit McLuhan, the medium is in this case not just the message, it’s also the product or service itself. There is no time, in digital, between the Promise and the Delivery. Indeed, there is no longer effective difference between them: what we say and what we then do are held up for public scrutiny
So the dynamic between Experience and Expectation, how that plays out across the network, and how in turn we choose to invest in engaging the attention of the consumer, will I suggest be the future of brand building in digital. Advertising’s more precise role has yet to unfold, but clearly whether it’s digital or not, branding’s traditional vehicle has, in Micromedia, a secondary role.
If digital is indeed to build brands, and one way or another we must find out how, my last point is that less focus on Return On Investment, and more focus on improving the powerful consumer’s Return On Attention, would be an excellent departure point.
With this imperative in mind, I’ll leave you with a final, wise thought from The King.
How to measure advertising and its effect is not terribly hard if you work out in advance what sort of response you are trying to get, because the basic question then is: Are we getting that response?
DELTA is a tailored executive development program, that enables business leaders to grasp and internalise the critical impacts of the ongoing digital revolution.
Outside the enterprise, top teams now see a market in perpetual disruption. Change, already utterly pervasive, often seems unmanageable.
Business leaders have no great interest in becoming digital ninjas. But most lack a confident, sector- and enterprise-relevant and communicable point of view regarding the true impacts of the connected consumer, social media, the smartphone, and the role and value of data in driving strategy and competitive advantage.
It’s the way technology changes consumer behaviours that leadership above all needs to grasp, in order to establish a firm and ownable foundation. And this is where DELTA comes in.
Clients master the essential cultural and commercial effects of digital. They can then put it down, and move on to meet the many challenges that this radically changed environment creates.
This tiggerish little piece published in today's MediaTel's Newsline begins to explore the impact of M2M (Machine-to-Machine) on consumer engagement and loyalty.
I'm addressing why data - in the absence of any intrinsic value - continues to hypnotise the market, and how we might begin to move beyond this limiting misconception towards a less wishful, more commercially viable philosophy.
Here's my latest piece for the excellent Mediatel Newline, challenging the "Data Tautology" that keeps us going back to Facebook looking for marketing solutions that in fact, aren't there.
Fast Food: Design Classic
I don’t only drink Coca-Cola because of how it tastes, I drink it because of the way it looks and what it says about me. It says, ‘I am a consumer of a timeless and classic brand.’ In his article ‘Living in The Material World: Marketing And Meaning’ (Market Leader Magazine June 2012) Grant McCracken pointed out that even sub-cultures or anti-pop cultures are defined by big brands. Instagram (as hip as lomography but for lazys) is full of filtered photos of Black Milk, San Pellegrino and Nike Blazer’s. Do brands define us?
First, the paparazzi take unflattering photos of celebrities and then the writers come up with the shocking stories. What we don’t seem to focus on is the FACT in the photo itself. An unedited photo is fact. The photos of celebrities in trashy weeklies are more real than the fictional airbrushed photos in high fashion magazines. Airbrushing should be accepted as an art form. We should appreciate the effort that has been put into making Kate Moss look twenty. If celebrities are our religion, Kate Moss is our God. We want our God to look good.
Type ‘Lindsay Lohan Coke’ into Google Images and there are several photos of her with white powder around her nose / looking worse for wear. These are labelled with ‘Lindsay Lohan Breakdown’ and writers create whole articles of bullshit to sell copies. We will never know what statements are true unless we are acquainted with the stars involved.
If you search for ‘Lindsay Lohan Coca-Cola’ there are also several search results.
If we look at the photo as it stands we see Lindsay Lohan holding a bottle of Coca-Cola. That is fact. But what does this say about her? Perhaps she drinks it because she sees some comfort in a brand that generations of ‘somebodys’ and ‘nobodys’ have consumed before her. The classic logo is a reflection on her; an accessory to complete an outfit.
Lindsay Lohan has been charged with driving under the influence (her mugshot was all over the press) but where are the photos of her with drugs? Although there have been years of speculation concerning her personal life, when we look at the sheer amount of images of Lindssay with Coca-Cola we know that one thing is true about her and that is her Coke ‘addiction.’ She enjoys consuming the Coca-Cola brand.
It is known to be used as an appetite suppressant. A meal in a can - a Guinness a day but a little more sinister. Lindsay Lohan is under pressure to look good; as consumers we like things that look good (Junk food for example.)
Celebrities and food and drink brands are in a co-dependent relationship. There are countless photos of celebrities munching on McDonalds. Britney Spears at the Drive Thru is a good example of a celebrity ‘keeping it real.’ There are old videos on Youtube (amongst Man Vs. Food and Epic Meal Time) of celebrities plugging fast food companies, for example Lindsay Lohan and Jell-O. Remember Britney’s deal with Pepsi vs Xtina’s with Coca-Cola in the 90s? (So trendy right now.)
Since then Fast Food has gone in and out of fashion (with the help of Supersize Me) in the same way as the Curvy vs Skinny debate. The internet generation’s consumption of the struggle between Paparazzi/Celebrities reached its peak around the Size Zero Era (when Britney shaved her head.) Images of celebrities eating Fast Food were trash gold - and still are. They have connotations with depression and emotional breakdowns. We have a similar love/hate relationship with Fast Food that we have with these celebrities
The main link between celebrities and fast food is that both are sold as a flawless package while the reality is that they are not so beautiful after all. A good example is the reality of a Big Mac. In photos it looks big and juicy but when the goofy guy at the counter hands it over it is small and pathetic. It is the same for images of Kate Moss. In the Rimmel London adverts she looks flawless but in photos of her smoking Malboro Lights or taking coke she looks like a normal thirty year old. She’s not ugly but she’s not perfect. Burgers still look good in the flesh but it is their imperfections which make them attractive - especially the fake cheese melting all over the place.
Recently a video was released by McDonald’s Canada showing the process that McDonald’s products have to go through before they are photographed. Should we care? We eat fast food because it looks good, tastes good and makes us feel good (even though it’s not as big or juicy as in the photo.) Burgers are movie stars - ‘Le Big Mac.’
Fast food is a design classic. Now Supersize Me is a distant memory, ‘Cool’ brands such as Lazy Oaf and Eastpak sell products heavily inspired by Fast Food. Lazy Oaf stock a t-shirt for a UK based burger blog called ‘Burgerac,’ burger socks, burger wallets, a french fries tote and a pizza jumper. It’s attractive, it’s appealing and its smell is the Chanel No.5 of the masses.
They tell you to be conscious of each mouthful you eat because it’s good for your health. Recently I went to a burger joint in Brighton called ‘Grubbs’ and was conscious of how attractive the branding and packaging was..
It was the best meal I ever ate.
(Amelia tweets at @ameliabayler.)
Here's my latest column for today's MediaTel's Newsline, an exploration of the - seemingly - profoundly negative implications for quality journalism that derive from personalisation services on one hand, and so-called targeted advertising on the other.
A pretty bleak picture, I'm afraid ... I continue to find that wherever I look, data is clearly not much of a friend to media.
And I can't help but grieve a little - as one must also for the parallel casualties in music, literature and film - for the collapse of "quality for quality's sake" that this trajectory forces on our culture. Would the great journalists of today and yesterday ever have emerged, let alone made a living, in such a punishing climate? Of course not.
Very pleased and flattered to see the good old Bowling and Pinball meme that I pushed out in 2007 taken forward into fertile territory by my close friend Peter Sieyes and colleague Rob Malcolm in this very useful piece for Wharton: Knowledge In Action.
It astounds me - in a good way :-) - that the thinking should have such legs ... Though somewhat alarming to imagine my headstone in (I hope) the very distant future: "You know ... the bowling and pinball bloke"!
Here, by the way, are the videos I first used when explaining the model to the great and the good of media and marketing.
I'm very pleased indeed to have this comprehensive article featured in the July issue of Market Leader.
It combines what I believe to be some of my most incisive observations of the current media and marketing zeitgeist, pointing up the critical conceptual blocks, and providing I hope some meaningful clues for the way forward to credibility, significant brand investment, and of course, growth.
I'll also be speaking around these insights in the coming months, so if there's a slot in an event schedule that might fit the bill, please do let me know.
Here also, in a connected vein, is an account of yesterday's panel at Mediatel's excellent Media Playground event, questioning the relative value of data in marketing vs advertising. A hot discussion, too.
Clearly the subject du jour, consumers' increasing discontent with the new targeting, and the implications for advertisers, are examined again by the excellent Liz Jaques in today's Mediatel Newline.
With astringent thoughts from your humble author for extra zing ...
For some months now I've been admiring the writing of Frederic Filloux and Jean-Louis Gassee, the French co-authors of The Monday Note.
Today's TMN edition has prompted a rare post in this blog ... Filloux writes a searing yet icily-argued attack on assumptions re Google and Facebook's respective futures in ad revenue terms, using the Do Not Track controversy, and Microsoft's apple-cart-upsetting declarations, as his departure point.
Connected to this, but standalone in terms of its vigour and urgency, is Gassee's equally thoughtful yet brutal body check to what he calls "The $20B Opportunty Mirage" of mobile advertising. I've leave you to read it, but it's bracing stuff.
Overall, their positions (a) that ownership and manipulation of data confer no intrinsic value or entitlement, and (b) that simply pointing to how enormous mobile advertising could/should be consitutes proof of commercial potential, are very much in line with my own views.
They also bring a wealth of evidence to their arguments that make this work credible as well as invigorating reading.
James Gleick's masterful work "The Information" is taking my breath away.
The quality of scholarship combined with the accessibility and the sheer excitement of information's journey from pre-history to present, post-social, day is superb.
Make a point of reading this remarkable book.
I just rediscovered this, a talk I gave for Sun Microsystems a couple of years ago. The video and slides are very well put together, unfortunately the host - who shall remain nameless - inserted himself rather shamelessly into the proceedings ... however, if you jump to 02.18 minutes in, there's some rather good stuff there.
With kind permission from the excellent MediaTel Newsline, this is a well-received, rather tiggerish piece I wrote in late April on the true role and value of data for marketers.
The goal was to debunk at least some of the Big Data nonsense, much of which is actually blocking the way forward for what I've come to call "Small Data" and it's crucial future role in creating meaningful consumer value.
The already over-extended notions of "targeting" and so-called "relevance" are also in my sights, I'm afraid. Sorry 'bout that, fanboys ...
Anyway, here is the piece, and I expect to have a second MediaTel article unpicking the conundrum of Engagement online early this week.
(With kind permission of the excellent Market Leader, for whom I write with both pride and enjoyment.)
Having grown up glued to black and white Hollywood masterpieces from the Golden Age every Sunday afternoon - at the time, it was that, football in the street, or homework - The Artist draws on references that are almost every one entirely familiar. And of course, like almost everyone, I love it.
It's funny - in a sneaky, better-than sort of way - to hear about the poor punters who demanded money back when they found the movie is - well, 99% of it - really silent. And all black and white.
Take a little Singin' In the Rain - well, OK, rather a lot of it - throw in the better Astaire and Rogers masterpieces and a generous sprinkle of the Pickfair silent dramas of pre-1929, when as we know The Jazz Singer blew silence away forever, and, aside from the genuinely glorious acting that features in every minute of The Artist (and how good to see the great Malcolm McDowell, in a tasty cameo role that surely he'll treasure more than much of his later work) you've got a good summary of the tone and structure of the movie.
There's been - if only prompted by the Academy Award nominations that the movie has earned - a certain amount of soul-searching Way Out West about THE MEANING of The Artist. At a time when the major studios are scrambling to differentiate their still-potent output from the millions of frat-party fart-lighting and cute kitten clips on offer to the less discerning audience via the usual sources, any film this quiet, this unswashbuckling, this unstarridden, and, well, this small, is going to get folks a-talkin'. And a-worryin'.
It strikes me - not that I know much - that THE POINT of this lovely film is to remind us that magic - and Hollywood was always about magic - only works hand-in-hand with severe restriction. An empowered, choice-spoilt audience with all the magic they'll ever need in the palm of their hand, will paradoxically find magic almost nowhere. (Magic is also about the things that you could never imagine yoursself doing. Not just special effects. It's more about writing, in the end, than CGI.)
But put them (well, me, and many thousands of others, anyway) in front of a black and white, silent film for 100 minutes on a cold, wet afternoon, and The Artist returns magic, along with romance, compassion, tragedy, comedy, pathos, cuteness, in spades.
I keep telling anyone who'll listen - for reasons I'll explain below - that in 1929, 95,000,000 Americans went to the movies every week. Of course, like my Sunday afternoons with Busby Berkeley and friends, they had nothing better to do. As the every-tiggerish Umair Haque pointed out some years ago, before moving on to larger econonomic matters, there was a time when attention was infinitely plentiful, and media - stuff to watch - was rare, to the point of being god-given.
And this - actually rather brief, in the grander scheme - Golden Age of the screen was very much built on the profoundly humble, often mundane, rarely privileged, and perhaps above all, physically grounded lives of its audience.
Which brings me to my conclusion.
Any nostalgia that I felt on seeing The Artist was, in the end, little to do with a hankering for the age of the silent movie - those Sunday afternoons weren't THAT much fun, believe me - and all to do with a pang of the loss of a simpler age in the much more recent past ...
One where our infinite connectedness, power to choose, limitless access to channels for self-expression, and our regal bestowing of attention on media objects on the merest whim (with disenfranchised consumer brands creeping around the edges of Facebook, Twitter and the rest, beckoning and gurning like the dancing dads at your 18th) had not yet made us like cranky, jaded children after far too many sweets, allowed to stay up far too late for our own good.
Is The Artist, therefore, one last longing look back, or a sneak peek forward, with perhaps a promise of happier times for moviemakers, beyond today's gruelling battle for the attention of these spoiled, rather unattractive children?
I'll say it's neither, not for me anyway. It's a glorious example - reminder in fact - of what occasionally happens when storytelling and acting talent is left alone to do what it does well, which is not merely to give us yet another expensive, instantly-forgettable chunk of content (I love blockbusters as well as the next bloke, by the way) but to touch our hearts deeply, with a far smaller, more daring, more caring slice of real magic.
Dedicated to the late Jonathan Cecil, who cared enough to dig out and bring me hard-to-find, connoisseur's books about the great silent movie stars when I was a silly South London boy, and who would have adored - and written far more insightfully and lovingly about - this film. R.I.P.
This is the first in a series of posts that will form a rolling white paper, examining and getting to grips with what I have come to think of as the remarkable challenge facing organisations of all kinds - and above all, businesses: the state of perpetual disruption.
In the two areas I work most in - media and marketing - and in particular at their points of overlap, where questions about, for example, the role and value of advertising, and the true impacts of social media, continue to proliferate without satisfactory resolution, there's a pining for one outcome above all.
When will things go back to some sort of "normal"?
Every year in recent memory has been "The Year Of Something", hasn't it? The last 5 years have each been The Year Of Mobile, for example.
And what happens? The devices come thicker and faster, consumers pick them up, run with them, co-create with both each other and the new technology giants - GAFA as I've heard them dubbed (Goggle, Apple, Facebook and Amazon) - myriad new forms of value. It all rushes forward.
But here's the thing. "The Year Of Mobile" never actually arrives. And no one gets more of a real grasp on things than we had last year or the year before.
And yes, it has indeed been "The Year Of Apple, Google (incl YouTube) Amazon and Facebook" ... for each year as long as we can clearly remember. But the GAFA giants are now almost ecosystem fixtures, the shiny utilities of some kind of new economy. They'll quite happily take the dollar bill in their respective business and revenue models, but really they have no more useable insights for us than British Gas or Thames Water.
Asking Google or Facebook what you should do, is rather like asking Lloyds of London where you should make your investments. They're generally nice enough people, but it's not their job to care. (And actually, they don't know either.)
We are, it seems, on our own now.
And there will be no returning to "normal" any more, in the sense of familiar, predictable models and markets for exploiting content, for building brands and above all, for developing and executing strategies.
I intend no melodrama, but it's really over.
If strategy is above all about the way we think, then an environment in which what we think - and what we think we see - are now invariably inadequate, always too slow, and often badly wrong, no longer lends itself to what we can call outbound strategy - where we plan for and then "do things" to our markets that create competitive advantage.
Strategies overall - and strategies for innovation are no exception - are only meaningful when their objects, and, just as crucially as we'll see - the contexts within which those objects exist, and within which value is identified, articulated, productised, communicated and eventually delivered, remain more or less fixed, relative to meaningful market coordinates.
Things need to sort of stay where - and indeed what! - they were yesterday, if you like, for new forms of value to be confidently developed and placed into the market.
This is no longer the case, and sets up a powerful cause of the perpetual disruption that, I am arguing, will plague businesses and their brands in the post-digital era.
We learned, at a fundamental level, to view change as occasional, disruption as rare - to be feared, exceptional - and innovation as something elusive but achievable, that businesses "do" to markets, to sustain and now and then refresh what has been, till recently, broadly visible, explicable and manageable positions for their various brands.
But Normal, from here on, is a state of perpetual - and accelerating - flux.
We are already, for practical purposes, passing through the so-called Information Age. Where are we now then?
On one hand, I'd feel comfortable calling this "The Age Of Disruption". But that - as well as leaving us despondent and rudderless - implies that there's a plausible end point to this new state of perpetual flux. No, we need something both a little less apocalyptic, and a little more realistic.
I've written periodically about The Age Of Meaning for the past 6 or 7 years, and while I wouldn't dream of claiming to have had the answer to our profound conundrum all along, I do feel that when we come to grips with perpetual disruption, it will be in part because we have finally - with backs against the wall - learned the fine art of the management of meaning.
I'll be returning to the management of meaning later in this process, but for now, I'm sticking to the exploration of the problem. To jump ahead too quickly, to rush a solution, will be to underestimate the problem and compromise any sort of useful insights and ways forward.
For now, we have a huge conundrum to deal with.
The trading context of customers, competition, culture and communications is constantly accelerating in both speed and scale, already far beyond a level at which business can usefully react with so-called innovations .
This context has become, in the end, irresistible. It consists, at its most basic, of billions of connected consumers, the technology giants that both enable and add value to their connectedness, and the second-by-second interaction between them, that feeds and fosters an especially concerning new kind of value. Benckler, in his contemporary economics masterpiece The Wealth of Networks, calls this "non-market value": an inauspicious term, no?
Our issue here is not merely the now-tiresome challenge of how to evaluate and thence monetise, for example, the big social networks. It's more far-reaching, and concerning.
The new post-digital trading context is more than just value-neutral ... It's "value-hostile", precisely because, unlike any other in history, it's no longer neutral ... passive ... waiting, if you like, for something to happen, for our decisions and actions to stir it up. We have, till recently, been able to take quite well-researched products or services (indeed, more recently, consumer experiences) and push them into the market, accompanied by a fairly cogent but above all confident program of communications.
This happy paradigm - whatever happened to paradigms, by the way? - has been supported and reinforced above all by a context that kindly agreed to stand still while we marketed to it. Channels - even early online channels played nice - were neutral; consumers were usefully bound by a combination of postcode and ponderous research programs; insights were valid and fresh for, well, sometimes years!
Oh, and data ... Well, there was so little of it, and it changed so rarely ... We were even able to sometimes make use of it, before the music and the dance started again.
I don't have to bang on, surely, about how little of this comfy value chain remains. Dismantled byinformation, wielded by immensely fluid tribes of flattered, entitled consumers, whose very empowerment and daily delight by the GAFA Crew, is paralleled by the disempowerment and daily dismay of the enterprises tasked with somehow delivering - let alone maintaining (let alone predicting!) - something called shareholder value.
There will be answers. But first we need to fully explore and grasp where the levers of power have moved to, and which of those we are entitled and able to get a grip on to begin navigating a cultural and commercial landscape that will no longer stand still.
Till next time. Thanks for reading.