2011 Clouds

About six months ago I started writing a series of observations about how the world of technology and marketing and communications are being changed by one another, and how many of the industries that have built up in those fields don’t feel to be a particularly good fit any more.

It then sat in my Google Drive, unlooked at and unloved while I tried to work out ways to get some money coming in to pay the mortgage and feed the kids.

It’s now time to dust off and start to circulate. It’s not particularly cohesive, and it’s a little ranty – but it’s aim is to spark thoughts and debate.

0. Scene setting

The world of media has seen profound disruption in the years since the rise of the consumer Internet. Value used to be generated in closed, proprietary networks monetising through subscriptions, “cover price” and advertising revenue.

The internet has destroyed much of the value in closed networks, and what value is left in media is in their brands more than their distribution. https://mmitii.mattballantine.com/2013/03/12/great-experiences/

The marketing industry (agency & client side) is still predominantly focused on mass media, closed-network models yet there is huge disruption within the agency world. https://mmitii.mattballantine.com/2012/08/24/disruption-or-marketing-in-the-early-21st-century/

Advertising spend is moving into the new world regardless. In the UK as of 2011 Internet advertising is largest single category of spend https://mmitii.mattballantine.com/2012/08/06/digital-takeover/

The experience of the CIO should be learned from: execution of the technical becomes much lower value; everyone in an organisation becomes a procurer and practitioner (if talented amateur) https://mmitii.mattballantine.com/2009/09/09/wither-the-cio/

IT supplier industry looks in hope to marketing as the new centre of revenue, mostly based on the over-quoted, under-evidenced  “CMO Spends more on IT than the CIO by 2017” Gartner prediction https://mmitii.mattballantine.com/2013/08/22/the-2017-meme/

Agencies are in disarray – everyone claims to be a “full-service, digital, mobile, social, creative, brand, media” agency these days https://mmitii.mattballantine.com/2012/08/24/disruption-or-marketing-in-the-early-21st-century/

Insight (https://mmitii.mattballantine.com/2011/10/03/skewed-questioning/) PR ( https://mmitii.mattballantine.com/2013/09/30/the-trouble-with-pr-in-a-world-of-social/) and corporate comms aren’t left unaffected either.

It’s time to rethink how organisations communicate internally and externally because our existing models are no longer fit for purpose.

1. Organisations are a reflection of their employees, not the other way around

We are in a changing world of work – the contract for a “job for life” whilst dead in reality for many years is now completely broken.

Big corporations offer little loyalty, but still expect absolute loyalty in return.

Loyalty comes from giving and gaining respect, and giving people the opportunity to leave (people there because they want to be, not some sort of Stockholm Syndrome).

Organisational management keeps returning to the scientific management ideas of Taylor, and simplistic ideas of motivation when it’s clear that they just don’t work (and are actually counter-productive) (see: Drive by Dan Pink).

As humans we converse and do business with people, and those people shape our perceptions of the organisations for which they work.

Most large organisations have been on a fast track to abstract out human contact in the past 20 years (customer service outsourcing, web, self-service etc).

A handful of organisations are differentiating themselves (in different ways) on people (Zappos (pre-acquisition?), John Lewis, First Direct).

But is the world now “The Start-Up of You”? – where we are all one-person businesses contracting ourselves to clients: https://mmitii.mattballantine.com/2013/03/28/the-start-up-of-you-review/

2. The concept of “personal brands” is bullshit

“Personal branding” (from Tom Peters onwards) usually start with the importance of authenticity, but the metaphor that they are drawing from – “real” brands – are utterly inauthentic.

Some are pure fabrication: Ted Baker, SuperDry;

Some are creative stories: Moo, Innocent;

Some draw on history: Ford, IBM

But none of those brand stories are “fact”.

For a person, we can’t work in that way – we can’t afford the duplicity. However we do have to adopt multiple personae in our working lives – and balancing those in a socially-connected, transparent world is a tightrope act that everyone needs to learn (balances also between private & public, and work and not-work)

Although personal brands might be dubious, many more of us will create brands to help negotiate the world around us

3. Being made up doesn’t lessen the value of a great brand story

Stories are how we communicate (confirmation bias means that we use numbers to support our narrative, rarely is it the other way around).

From Aesop, to the major religious texts, stories help cultures to learn and sustain.

Fact and truth aren’t the same thing – the Bible is “truth”, yet factually all over the place.

Stories are factually questionable because the way our memory works is factually questionable (memory is ever changing – not like the absolute of a hard disk).

Individuals need to be able to tell their stories in the context of where they are – not just to regurgitate an on-message brand story.

4. People have conversations with people. Brands talk at people.

When brands talk about having conversations with customers, what they generally mean is trying to convert Facebook into a broadcast medium with voting.

Consumers don’t want to talk to brands – they want to talk to people, and they want to shout about shit service in public (social) places.

If brands really wanted to be leading the way in conversations, they’d put a lot more stock in staff at the front line of customer services.

Multi-channel is going to place immense pressure in organisations on the vexed question of “who owns the customer”. The likely answer is the customer, and forget that at your peril.

5. Internal and external communications are a continuum, not a divide

In an age of transparency, placing strict divides between external (marketing and PR) and internal (HR and Internal Comms) is based on old-world models.

Regulation and confidentiality are still important, but information is like water, leaking out in the most unexpected of places.

From Don Tapscott – “In an age where everyone is naked, you better be buff”.

6. Metrics are barometers, but should not become end goals

Marketing is under increasing pressure to demonstrate “ROI” – yet most of the measures in place are weak indicators that have little meaning (“Likes”!), or complex measures that nobody really understands (engagement).

Digital fads leads to commissioning of stuff – “we need some social”; “we need some mobile”.

The “why?” can get lost: what are organisations ultimately trying to achieve, and how does a mix of digital tactics help to fulfil on that?

If you set a measure as a goal: the meaning of the measure changes (Goodhart’s law) and people will cheat to hit it (Campbell’s law) – witness online polled awards: you don’t end up with the best, you end up with the candidate who could execute the best “vote for me” campaign.

7. The means of production are now in everyone’s hands

The means of global publishing, insight, content creation and delivery are now in everyone’s hands at little or no cost.

The value of content/marketing professionals becomes much more difficult to sell when there is no longer a big capital cost associated with doing these activities.

“Amateur” content might actually be better than “professional content” (or there might be a long tail that is good – enough monkeys with enough typewriters).

In other instances it might kill something valuable: Survey Monkey has heralded the death of the social research survey as we are now utterly over-surveyed (akin to misuse of penicillin).

That latter case also is as a result of point 6: on site surveys are mostly there to provide metrics to justify the existence of web site investment.

8. Social science unlocks the secrets about change. Designers make beautiful objects.

Given that marketing is essentially applied sociology, there are surprisingly few social scientists or psychologists leading behavioural and cultural change programmes (AKA marketing campaigns).

Some elements creep in – eg behavioural economics: do sociology (Maureen Lipman “You’ve got an ology” in 1980s BT campaigns) and psychology (equated to mental health issues by many) have branding problems in the world of marketing?

Dominant creatures in the world of marketing appear to be salesmen, planners and graphic designers; lots of talk about more evidence-based work, but it still tends to be the big flashy stuff that gets the plaudits (eg Red Bull).

9. The creative industries are anti-creative

The creative world mostly follows herds and trends.

The risk averse world we are in leads to a lack of risk taking (eg West End new productions are either old productions reworked, films turned into musicals, or pop songs strung out with a storyline)

Creatives also don’t want to unpick their process – goose that laid the golden egg syndrome.

Oh, and they really really don’t like the word process either.

10. Most people are innumerate

This isn’t an education issue – this is a human issue; we don’t process numbers (particularly big ones), percentages or exponentials at all well.

We also suffer from confirmation bias, so the numbers we see are the ones that support the stories we wish to hear.

Numbers appear to be necessary to justify any business decision: but those numbers also suffer from confirmation bias (amongst other things).

Numeric facts or fiction aren’t the same as stories.

11. Most companies are business-to-business

Unless you are a retailer, utility or retail financial institution, you probably don’t deal directly with end customers – your customers are other businesses.

However B2B marketing is the poor cousin of B2C.

In an increasingly automated, online world, fight for virtual shelf space becomes even more difficult; I’m likely to press “repeat my order” or base my decisions to purchase on recommendations by others or by algorithms.

In that world, the opportunity to exponentially increase traditional marketing spend for smaller and smaller return is huge.

Unfortunately, though, for big brands most new startups born in the digital era are direct-to-consumer.

12. Placebos and propaganda account for why most communications activity is unmeasurable

Lack of double blind testing makes it impossible to know if your campaign is having an effect, the mere repetition of your brand or product, or just chance.

The sleeper effect makes this even harder to understand- impact may fall well outside the timeframe of a traditional campaign (even in to the next one) https://mmitii.mattballantine.com/2013/10/02/placebos-and-propaganda/

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