I wrote a post a while back about the difficulty of applying traditional approaches to marketing to a new generation of multi-faceted and super-connected products. Whether you’re talking about physical devices like the iPad (a huge number of converged functions supported by a complex ecosystem of digital services) or virtual ones like Foursquare, the impulse to dramatize a single-minded value proposition in communications is increasingly complicated.
Infographic by Section Design demonstrates the iPad’s complexity
Two new posts from Paul Worthington of Wolff Olins and Henrik Werdelin take this thinking a step further, calling into question long-held assumptions governing the relationship between brand and product. Traditionally, the role of the brand has been to elevate the product. Your audience may not be interested in the toothpaste category and your brand of toothpaste may be undifferentiated in the marketplace; but the identification of a bigger, more engaging brand promise / purpose / mission to attach it to will elevate it and make it (and therefore the product) aspirational for that audience.
But increasingly, digital products are re-writing these rules. Werdelin points out that “few digital products are true commodities” meaning less need to differentiate on purely emotional terms. In fact the opposite is true “digital products are instead successful when they solve a problem and also look pretty and feel good–not the other way around. The importance of the packaging will of course change as more digital products get made and their utility becomes commoditized. But for now, the product creates the brand.” And if the product creates the brand, the marketing challenge is less about projecting that brand via advertising and more about finding ways to stimulate usage (participation) so that people can be enveloped in a multi-faceted user-experience.
As an example, Paul Worthington points to Google posing the question “is the Google brand elevated beyond the Google product, or does the Google product create the expectation and underlying narrative for the Google brand?” Despite Google’s many laudable efforts to build its brand over the last year or so (a lovely Superbowl spot, Teach Parents Tech, ‘Life in a day’ etc) which have sought to build warmth and humour into it, perceptions are still almost exclusively driven by people’s daily interactions with the search engine whose utility suggests solidity, trustworthiness and straightforwardness. In the case of Google, the product creates the brand and not the other way around.
BrandZ data suggests Google’s utilitarian, product-centric brand associations.
Contrast the way in which the Google brand is constructed with how Microsoft have gone about presenting Bing. Putting aside the fact that Bing appears just to be copying Google’s results, it has been built in a manner that seeks to differentiate it from Google by making the presentation of results (in theory) less overwhelming and more relevant. The descriptor “decision engine” has been coined in order to explain this value proposition and in this way (like Google), the brand is defined by the product.
And yet the advertising campaign has accompanied the launch of Bing appears to seek to do the opposite – to build a brand image around a higher-order consumer benefit (the avoidance of information-overload). Though true to the product, how credible is this benefit for consumers generally happy with Google? Does Google really leave us paralyzed and incapable of making decisions (it may have uncovered 30 gazillion results but how often do you go beyond the first page)? Whatever the case, Bing ran with it, employing advertising hyperbole to make their point more forcefully and in the process making an interesting but somewhat shaky insight seem faintly ridiculous.
Whilst I’m not suggesting that Microsoft were wrong to use advertising (they needed to build awareness quickly), I can’t help thinking that they could have been smarter with the role that they ascribed it. Though it would be nice for Google to have some competition, no one is crying out for an alternative. So rather than running advertising which seeks to engage people in the hope that they are encouraged to (maybe) consider Bing next time they’re searching online, why not be more direct? Why not create initiatives that directly drive usage and have people experience the ‘decision engine’ for themselves? And why not use advertising to publicize these rather than just tell people about the brand in a not very convincing way?
To their credit, this is exactly what Microsoft (with the help of Droga5 http://www.droga5.com/) did in partnership with Jay-Z around the launch of his autobiography ‘Decoded’ (great Fast Company write-up here). Armed with a compelling property, Droga5 created a worldwide scavenger hunt where, in advance of the book’s release, all of its 320 pages were posted in a variety of unexpected locations (ranging from a rooftop in New Orleans, a pool bottom in Miami, cheeseburger wrappers in New York City, a pool table in Jay’s 40/40 Club) with eager fans keen to get an early look encouraged to hunt them down. And Bing became the indispensable tool for doing so, with clues revealed and locations posted on its maps meaning that dedicated page-hunters were enjoying habit-forming interactions with it around 3 times every day during the life of the event.
As a planner, it is tempting to seek to craft acute comms propositions which shed light on the complexities of the brands we work on. To build complex analogies and elaborate metaphors which bring their benefits to the surface. However, with technology products whose experience in its totality is what’s compelling, we must accept that traditional comms will never be able to do them justice and find ways to enable people to experience these benefits rather than having to listen to us talk about them.
Clock Clock by Humans since 1982
This is an exciting time for planning. Disciplines are converging meaning that we’re no longer restricted to (brand, media, digital, data etc.) silos while increasingly sophisticated and participatory campaigns call for us to play a far more active and creative role in the development of work (vs. handing over a brief and twiddling our thumbs while we wait for the tracking results). Today we are less the strategy department doing the thinking so that creatives can concentrate on crafting TV scripts and headlines and more a part of a broader team of creators, working together towards creative solutions to our clients’ business problems. But feeling excited about the possibilities of our evolving discipline is different to having time to actually realize them (whatever they say about our cognitive surplus).
Just before moving to New York, I attended an APG (British Account Planning Group) ‘group mentoring’ event hoping to discuss the weighty issues of the day and learn at the feet of that evening’s assigned mentor. Except that we didn’t get past the first point on the agenda “what’s on your mind?” The session was completely dominated by planners moaning about how little time they have. Lack of thinking time, lack of time to interrogate problems, lack of time to spend with creatives coaxing out ideas – like the white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, we were in terror of time ticking away.
Whilst planners can be delicate souls who enjoy a bit of a moan and a naval-gaze (Carroll described the white rabbit as ‘wearing spectacles…his voice quaver, and his knees quiver, and his whole air suggest a total inability to say ‘Boo’ to a goose!” which could equally be applied to our kind), I was startled by the unanimity of the sentiment and the depth of feeling. Particularly when industry trends suggest that this ‘speed-up’ of the way we work will only continue to gather pace. Our clients are having to engage in ever more ‘real-time’ interactions with consumers calling for less theorizing and more doing. This means that our work is increasingly ‘in beta’ as we look to hone and refine, test and learn, iterate and optimize. The ability to continually track consumer sentiment and engage with them whenever and whenever they are is a blessing but it can also be a curse (just ask my wife). The notion of a campaign going ‘out the door’ is something we may never fully experience again.
So how is a planner to reconcile the growing demands on our time?
For me, our jobs can be divided into 3 parts – Inspiration, Creation and Administration – our key challenge: finding the correct balance between them.
Both inspiring ourselves through our reading, research and conversations with others and providing inspiration to our colleagues and clients – creating the right conditions for great work.
This activity demands that we be connected. The growth of social media has brought unprecedented opportunities for planners to share data and access sources of insight previously out of reach. We are no longer held back by lack of information (Blogs, articles distributed via Tweets, presentations on Slideshare mean that we can find almost whatever we desire), our obstacle is our ability to organize it into something useful. We are lucky to do jobs where browsing the net counts as homework but to consider this activity a luxury is a mistake. The gathering of intelligence and insight is a vital activity and not one that we should put on hold when we’re pushed for time.
Having gathered our inspiration, we put it to work during the process of creation. Whether working alone or as part of a team, the objective is to come up with the creative solutions that will engage consumers and solve our client’s problems.
Our abundance of information and inspiration is a wonderful thing but it can also be overwhelming. There must come a point where we switch off and direct our energies towards creation – a process I find easier when disconnected. Nicholas Carr argues in ‘The Shallows’ that the internet has altered the chemistry of our brains, making us less able to concentrate on complexity and more prone to flitting from one ting to the next. Though the debate rages, I notice this trend in my own behavior and find that I’m most productive on long flights ie. when there are no distractions (I dread the introduction of WiFi to the 14 hour-er to Seoul on my way to Samsung where I do much of my best work). Without distractions, I’m able to focus on a problem and work thorough its intricacies without the temptation of taking a Facebook break if it gets complicated. This week I will be experimenting with the freedom app which locks you out of email and the internet for a pre-determined amount of time to allow for proper concentration on the task at hand.
Emailing, organizing… all the boring stuff that gets the bills paid. Though important and not particularly taxing, this activity saps time and is a favorite of procrastinators. We must put a time limit on it and get it done to enable us to do something more useful.
So how should planners manage their time. By connecting with others and gathering sufficient inspiration to allow them to shed new light on a problem, by allowing adequate time and space for creation and by getting administration done as quickly and efficiently as possible. I’ll check in soon to let you know how I’m doing.
After I attended the Global Leadership Summit at Best Buy last month, I wrote a piece arguing that ‘the connected world’ (the holy grail for technology and media companies) is not something that can be easily defined and packaged (much less explained via traditional communication channels). Rather it is a complex ecosystem of kit, connections and content allowing individuals to better engage with their passions and interests through technology.
As marketers, this is complexity we’re facing more often as we find ourselves trying to present the increasingly complicated user-experiences enabled by these connected technologies. And the channels we have conventionally relied on; dependent on reductive thinking and neat propositions are ill-suited to the richer, more multi-faceted experiences required to bring them to life.
As if to demonstrate this point, this inforgraphic by Section Design shows how the iPad (the ultimate converged device) does basically everything making it (as apple have demonstrated with their advertising) equally difficult to define.