Agathe Guerrier

Common Sense, Dancing

Author, Agathe Guerrier, Head of Strategy, BBH Labs and BBH London

What happens when you cram the Crème de la Crème of contemporary marketing thinking into the RSA, in front of an audience of senior agency planners (and a few clients)?

Heated intellectual debate and a widespread sense of existential industry angst, that’s what.

On the 2nd September 2015, the IPA gathered Byron Sharp, Russell Davies, Les Binet, Paul Feldwick and more for a day of intense marketing “Unlearning”. It was like condensing the half dozen most influential books recently published on the subject of brand strategy, into a single day. And then I’ve just condensed that day into a succession of little one-sliders, one for each speaker (see slides 4 to 33). You’re welcome.

(For more books you won’t need to read, follow Matt Boffey’s excellent weekly Booknotes in the Drum)

It was a really fun, inspiring and brilliant day – but I couldn’t help thinking that we (= the planning community) were making it all sound more complicated and dramatic than it needs to be.

Here’s what I took out of the event:

  • There isn’t a “silver bullet strategy” – a single solution that works every time. The best strategists are those who are fluent in all the various theories and approaches, and based on whatever problem they’re faced with, use a mix of logic and imagination to pick one, combine a few, or even make up their own.
  • Each of the “theories” that were presented and debated on the day, tends to lend itself particularly well to a specific type of brand or issue (again see slides 4 to 33, and thanks to Dare’s Toby Horry who suggested this simple trick on the day).
  • The debate between people who see brand building as an art, and those who see it as a science, has gone on for years. It’s been exacerbated in the recent years by the parallel rise of Data + Behavioural Economics + Digital transformation – but it’s not new.
  • All the evidence points to the fact that it’s actually a mix of both emotional/ long-term/ brand building and rational/ short-term/ sales driving strategies that drives the best results.

So, how do we help brands grow?

By doing two things in combination:

  1. Remove barriers to usage or purchase by ensuring the product/ service works very well and is widely available. Think hard about whether new entrants could seriously disrupt the brand’s route to consumers by removing barriers that were thought of as immovable.
  2. Make the product or service really sticky mentally, emotionally and functionally by creating memorable assets/ features that are distinctive and salient.

So… There you go. Having basically cracked “strategy” (with a little help from my friends), now feels like a good moment to bow out. I’m leaving BBH and BBH Labs this week. I’m off to do new and different things that will still probably remain connected to brands, people, and technology’s ability to impact our lives.

It’s been a wonderfully ride, and I’m hugely honoured to have been heading up Labs for the last 3 years. I leave you in the safe hands of Jeremy and the BBH crew. Please stay in touch.

The Future is Bright, The Future is…

Authors: Three of BBH Strategy’s Under 30s – Melanie Arrow, Lucian Trestler and Shib Hussain

People theorising about the future tend to fall into two camps: the “everything will stay the same-ers” and the “there’s massive change ahead-ers”. We youthful lot at BBH are no exception. When the APG asked the industry’s under 30s to finish the sentence “the future’s bright the future is…” for their Noisy Thinking event, one of us thought the answer would lie in what exists and the other thought that what exists would pretty rapidly evolve. To settle it, we asked a third person, but unhelpfully, he decided that his view sat exactly in the middle.

To save ourselves awkward coalition negotiation talks, we’re turning to you, readers, asking you to decide. In a general election blog post special, un-edited and uncensored are the three sides of the debate for your reading pleasure. Who would you vote for?

 

Melanie Arrow: Strategy Director and steadfast stay the same-er.

The future is so radically indeterminate, so fast changing, so different, so obtuse, so totally beyond our grasp that it can’t be planned for. Today’s under 18s code, they programme, they hardwire and they delete the phone app – because who uses phones as phones anymore anyway? In fact, somewhere between 40% and 65% of jobs that children in primary school will do in the future haven’t been invented yet. In short, let’s give up now.

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But then, that’s not quite right is it? The future isn’t something to be viewed passively it is something to be invented. So, the real question for us Strategists is not what the future is, but how can strategy master it?

As I see it, strategy has one core strength – one role to rule them all, as it were – and it’s something I believe transcends now and future, no matter how complex that future is, because it represents something fundamentally true about the role of brands in our society.

Strategists make sense of the new, they narrate, articulate and contextualise. They distil and reduce. They simplify the complex and help brands to establish themselves as simple digestible, meaningful constructs in people’s lives. We sit on the precipice between technology and humanity, tethering what is changing (tech) to what never does (emotions, desires, feelings).

The key to our inventing the future, then, is the thing that has always made us strong: Answering how does this new thing help people? How can it entertain them? Why should they want to use it or be part of it? Because without making this connection back to humanity – technology and new things are nothing.

So, to finish the sentence “the future is bright, the future is…” well, in truth, I have no idea, but I would bet on strategy to be able to simplify it.

 

Lucian Trestler: Strategist and sincere somewhere in the middle-er

 Orange, 1994 – ‘In the future, you wont change what you say, just how you say it.’

In the future a lot will be different BUT some things will be the same as they’ve always been. And some of these things will continue to be the fundamental tenets of planning. In my opinion, some of these things being;

Unchanging man

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Hard to believe this will become any less important.

What makes a great idea

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‘At BBH we aim to deliver intelligence and magic. We don’t believe that an idea is great unless it’s delivered off the right strategy and we don’t consider a strategy worthwhile unless it leads to inspiring work. Intelligence AND magic are mutually reinforcing’.

Understanding this process will continue to lead to great ideas.

The art of creating power

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Sir Lawrence Freedman defines strategy as the art of creating power. Notably, not a science. And in order to do this it must be continuous. It must carry on after you get punched in the mouth. Strategy (over planning) is ‘the evolution of the big idea through changing circumstances’.  Changing circumstances being the operative phrase here.

Consistency>Distinctiveness>Fame>Success

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“A brand cannot be distinctive if it is not consistent.” And communications will not increase a brand’s fame if they aren’t distinctive. Which is not great seeing as increasing brand fame is the most profitable objective for communications. And although this pattern is reflective of the findings of the marketing book du jour, ‘How Brands Grow’ by Byron Sharp, it is a pattern that has long been known by brands. Just look at the Catholic church.

In summary, what we have learnt will not one day become useless when some one proclaims that ‘X is dead’.

Quite the opposite.

In an uncertain future, knowing how to apply certainty will make strategy more valuable than ever.

Uncertainty + Certainty = Opportunity

 

Shib Hussain: Strategist and dedicated massively different-er

It’s expected that by 2020 more than seven billion people and businesses will be connected to the internet. In the face of so much change it would be foolish to assume that our clients businesses won’t change shape, some more radically than others.

The one’s setting the pace are already elevating their brands to offer more than their core product, becoming multi-layered businesses that service multiple customer needs in order to unlock further revenue opportunities and / or to lock them into said brand. Simply put they are becoming star shaped. A central brand proposition, surrounded by complimentary services.

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It would be naive to assume every client business will move this way, of course this is much more suited to some business categories that others. We’ve all seen the Charmin toilet finder app after all.

Similarly to future facing clients, future facing agency models are becoming more star shaped too.

Gone are the days of silos such as ‘digital’, ‘crm’, ‘atl’ – agencies either add value across the full customer journey or they’ll lose out to competitors who are wise enough to see that an agency’s responsibility doesn’t start and end when the campaign / site/ app/ promotion is delivered.

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This is something we’re seeing great success with at BBH, the full service mix is what clients need and want to service their complex (and often confusing) business models.

Finally it begs the question for staff.

What is the ideal agency staffer?

I’ve always been a hater of labels such as creative, planner or, worse, creative strategist.

In a world where ideas will be more complex and multi-layered, staff need to understand the whole value chain to and be able to create solutions that range from new service models through to  tactical ads.

Sure, we’ll have specialist skills, but the future agency pioneers won’t take on silo’d tasks, they’ll be able to see identify the right problem and suggest the right solution, without defaulting to however their agency makes money – admit it, we’ve all been there.

So, what can we do prepare for this future where we’re expected to do more (probably for less) and with more stakeholders and more complex businesses?

Skill up.

I suggest hanging out with those you normally don’t in your agency. Make friends with tech. Have a coffee with UX. Go for lunch with the data analysts. You’re going to need those guys more and more going forward.

 

21st Century Strategy, or the Art of Travelling without a Map

A couple of weeks back, I was invited to speak at the APG’s first Noisy Thinking event of 2015, inaugurating a series of talks on the subject of 21st Century Strategy. I was speaking alongside Neil Perkin of Only Dead Fish, Google Firestarters and soon Fraggl Fame, and Giles Rhys Jones from the start up revolutionising the world of location, What 3 Words.

Here’s a 2 minute summary of what I talked about. Or if you’ve got the luxury of a full 20 minutes, you can watch a video of the talk here and access other talks in the series, too!

1. In the 20th century, creative strategy was akin to (and often called) ‘planning’. It was about long-term, carefully thought-out and crafted, brand centric narratives. It left little room for experimentation, and failure wasn’t an option. In the world of military strategy, it was Napoleonian. Strategy was about establishing detailed battle plans – ahead of the battle. And in the world of navigation, it meant crafting itineraries ahead of every journey, detailing every twist and turn on the basis of a good map. It was often robust and visionary, but often also slow and heavy.

2. Then the digital revolution happened. Which meant two things. Firstly, the digitisation of every day life and purchase habits gives us an abundance of real-time data on what people actually do and what choices they make, and how initiatives are performing. Secondly, well, it’s a revolution – an on-going transformation of the consumer culture, economy, and media, which renders most previous knowledge of the terrain obsolete. We move from Napoleon battle plans to drone combat strategy – precise, short-term, reactive, ‘customer-centric’. The trusted A to Z becomes less relevant – as the geography is constantly changing, and we have new tools that enable us to orientate ourselves in the field.

3. But at which point does 21st Century Strategy become so tactical that it’s not even strategy any more? Some argue Big Data leads to total Un-Planning. If we know exactly what users do and want, and we have the ability to respond and optimise activity immediately and in market, what is the need for intermediaries? Well, maybe I’m just trying to justify my job title here – but that need is a need for purpose – vision, foresight, ambition. I agree with Alistair Croll’s diagnosis: an optimised life can just mean an average life. Ultimately, ‘relevant’ cannot trump ‘interesting’.  And so there is still a role for 21st Century Strategy to fill in the gap between planning and tactics.

4. Technology and data have changed the way in which we do strategy, just like Citymapper changes the way people navigate cities. But as Lewis Carroll’s Cheshire Cat would say (I think), ‘if you don’t know where you want to do, Google Maps will be of no use to you’. And arguably, a fast-changing, responsive working culture makes the need for purpose and direction even more poignant. When decisions are taken quickly, it’s crucial that everyone is very clear on what motivates them. In Basset and Partners’ documentary Briefly, released last year, Frank Gehry talks about the importance of the brief as ‘clarity of purpose’. You could substitute ‘brief’ for ‘strategy’ throughout the entire video, and it works.

5. An over-reliance on data is dangerous. If you never look up from your phone or develop a sense of direction, you will definitely end up lost at some point, and you will probably have missed out on a lot of interesting sights along the way. Without context, a data point is just a data point – and you don’t know where you are.  More than ever, we need to be able to orientate ourselves in the wild. To maintain focus in times of changes. The more short term, fast paced and messy our environment becomes, the more we will need a framework to tell us where we are and where we are going.

6. So maybe 21st Century Strategy is the art of travelling without a map. It’s technical – using complex navigation instruments and diverse sets of information – AND instinctive at the same time. Strategists don’t like the word ‘AND’ – we like to sacrifice and focus. But in this instance, I don’t think we can chose any more. Nick Kendall recently argued  for the importance of bigger, not smaller ideas in a world that would have us believe that brands have run out of juice. Similarly, I believe that the real strategic challenge today, is to hold the holistic view of the brand, the one that reconciles a granular, data-led, tactical view, with the visionary, brand-led, transformative one.

7. Travelling without a map requires you to maintain a sense of direction above and beyond individual changes and movements. It is the ability to piece together a multitude of isolated, sometimes ambiguous or contradictory tacks into one purposeful journey. Finally – and this is very important, if you ever find yourself in the actual wild without a map – 21st Century Strategy is the calm in the storm. Everyone’s initial reflex, at being somewhere new and confusing, or maybe in a place that resists mapping, will be to panic. Business people don’t naturally like risk, uncertainty or ambiguity, which is surprising because real people are full of it. So ultimately, the role of the strategist is to provide a sense of confidence and steadiness. Because 21st century strategy may not always know how it’s going to get there, but it knows exactly where it’s trying to go.

 

BBH will be represented again at the next event in April, dedicated to young creative people and what excites them about our industry, so expect to read more from BBH youths on the subject of 21st Century Strategy here.

Designing for Attention

Author: Shib Hussain, Strategist, BBH London

The competition for user attention. (Image courtesy of College Humour)

Attention as a currency has long been discussed. It was brought to the mainstream by the work of Davenport and Becks in the aptly titled book, The Attention Economy. Everything (and now everyone) competes for your attention, however consumers only have a finite set of attention to ‘pay’ to all these competing messages.

Since The Attention Economy was written in 2001 much has changed.
The web has evolved, both in terms of volume and the medium through which it is delivered. Everything demands your attention, mobile competes with desktop, desktop competes with TV – and soon TV will compete with your wearable.

But….

Since The Attention Economy was written in 2001 very little has changed!
A lot of brands are still taking an analogue approach to the web, both when designing experiences and sharing content. Putting the extended version of the ad on YouTube is a prime example of us not taking the lessons of the attention economy on board – there are few ads people want to watch, let alone watching a four minutes director’s cut. And yet we often see online as the opportunity to create longer content, breaking free from the shackles of a 30second TV spot.

Here’s two thoughts that may lead to an alternative approach:

Start with attention, not message
Understand how much time you have first before deciding how to craft the message/experience. Imagine working from a starting point that a user has to be able to completely customise a car in 20 seconds. This would flip the traditional approach of how a brief and the output is approached. Design would focus on maximising ease and speed – not the multiple messages that need communicating. The experience would be rooted in showing the core product story, not the marketing veneer. This leads nicely on to the next key point to consider….

Design for ‘the lazy consumer’
In the words of Stanford’s BJ Fogg, ‘we are designing for the lazy consumer’ (as opposed to brand advocates). This means we may need to sacrifice complex digital storytelling, for a simpler narrative.

Tinder comes to mind as a great example of designing for laziness, it makes finding a match quicker and easier. It chooses to sacrifice extra features and functions and simply focus on the core job a user is trying to complete – find a match. This sacrifice is reflected in the UX and importantly, the data input to begin with. Data input is the key. The onboarding of Tinder is designed for a lazy user. There’s little or no forms to complete and limited choices to make before the user gets to see matches. Dating sites as a category have over the years fallen to ‘feature creep’, adding more layers and therefore adding more complexity to the task.

Although these may seem like two simple things to do, they can easily be overlooked and too much focus put on the brand experience as opposed to consumer behaviour. Thinking about these may help move digital experiences into things that people find useful as opposed to time consuming, something that will be beneficial for all parties involved!

I’ll end it there, as I’m sure there are at least another 10 things screaming for your attention right now….that’s if you made it this far.

High-Performance Creativity: A new framework for Creative Businesses

[slideshare id=35100709&doc=bbhlabsspot-140525125924-phpapp02]

A few weeks ago, I was in sunny (but chilly) Aarhus to speak at the SPOT interactive conference.

There are a couple things you need to know about Aarhus:

1. It’s the second biggest city in Denmark after the capital, Copenhagen;

2. The airport is 45km away from the town centre and a taxi will cost you £70, so take the shuttle bus, especially if you’re travelling on the Labs budget.

I was there to talk about BBH’s answer to the challenges and opportunities that creative businesses face today. The tensions between creativity and commerce, and the question of the monetization of creative outputs in the digital economy, had been recurrent throughout the day, since SPOT started out as a music conference, and a lot of the participants (including RECHO app developers, who launched their app at the conference) were connected to the music business, which has obviously had to spend the last two decades revolutionizing its value model.

Have a flick through the presentation if you fancy. Or read the ten points below for the gist of the keynote.

1. BBH was founded on the belief that growth needs space, and space needs difference, and creativity is the best tool at creating difference. Far from seeing creativity and commerce as opposites, we have a fundamental faith in the ability of brilliant creativity to deliver business results.

2. Conveniently, the IPA has actually proven through correlating Gunn report awards (a good proxy for quality of creativity) with ROI data, that creativity multiplies the effect of marketing investment by a number included between 7 (historically) and 12 (more recently).

3. Increasing connectedness of users, platforms, objects, channels, brands, devices, life, and generally everything, means that creativity needs to adapt both its inputs and outputs in order to continue to deliver commercial success.

4. We call this new type of creativity, High Performance Creativity.

5. High Performance Creativity is:

–       Rooted both in genuine user and business insight;

–       Fuelled by real time, real world data;

–       Connecting all of a brand or property’s touch points into a consistent ecosystem that it itself connected to culture, to deliver at scale.

6. High Performance Creativity generates a new breed of creative ideas. Here are four examples.

7. Data-led ideas:

The New York Times reported that Netflix, which has 27 million subscribers in the US, found the idea for their version in House of Cards by running the numbers. The combination of the high popularity and engagement rates of David Fincher films, Kevin Spacey films, and the British version of “House of Cards” suggested that commissioning the series would be a very good bet on original programming.

In the BBH world, a team led by Creative Technologists has recently created a digital Audi billboard in Waterloo station which runs on real-time, station-related data. Check out the video inserted in the slide.

8. Network ideas: Sometimes the best strategy to triumph is to partner with the obvious competition. When your customers don’t care about what you make any more, think of what they do care about, and go befriend it.

A good (and befittingly, Danish) example of this is part of the spectacular Lego recovery story. Upon realizing that kids were more interested in blockbuster film and video games than they were in small stackable bricks, they initiated a whole new collection of franchises, and in one swift move turned themselves into a successful cross-platform entertainment brand, driving growth through innovation in gaming and film partnerships such as Harry Potter and Dark Knight. More recently, this strategy has taken the form of a long-term partnership with the Cartoon Network.

Working with our friends at Refuge, we were faced with the issue that domestic violence is an issue young women don’t want to talk about. So we found a way into their conversations by associating ourselves with a property they did want to talk about (make up and beauty) through celebrity blogger Lauren Luke.

9. Shoppable ideas: The idea that the various steps alongside the consumer journey from awareness to purchase are separate in time and mindset is eroding in the digital age, since all phases are increasingly connected. In the new world, those steps have become layers of a single ecosystem.

Founder Nicola Massenet describes Net A Porter as a fashion magazine that sells, rather than an ecommerce property. Quality creative content delivered by top fashion journalists and photographers, one click away from purchase: that’s inspiration and conversion wrapped into one. A winning strategy that has gone full circle this year with the launch of Porter Magazine.

At BBH, we have recently created a product for British Airways which similarly combines inspiration and delight through content, with optimized e-commerce. Picture Your Holiday is an intuitive holiday planning tool which allows for both dreaming up and buying your next trip away.

10. Triple Win Ideas: A lot of success stories in the world of digital products and services, come from unlocking a group of users or a type of use for the product, that wasn’t part of the original plan. So it’s always worth asking yourself who else your idea could be a win for.

Dog-sharing services such as Tailster put dog owners in need of a sitter, with dog lovers who don’t have their own pet. Dog owners get a cheaper rate on a dog walker or sitter, and dog lovers get an hour with a dog.

BBH Zag recently partnered with OMG Plc to create the world’s first intelligent, wearable camera.

The partner company had created a medical product designed to help those with memory loss. We set out to help them create a mass consumer product with cutting edge tech credentials. Positioned as a life streaming and social photography tool, Autographer launched in the spring.

 

More to come shortly on High Performance Creativity; in the meantime let us know what you think.

Thanks go to Mette Marcussen from Shareplay  for inviting me, Paul Tyler from Handling Ideas for moderating the day, as well as all the other speakers for their inspiring points of view.

Introducing thinky.do

 

As Jeremy hinted at last week, we want to make more experiments this year. One of the key things we took away from Robotify is the need for a more modest approach that genuinely allows for speed, failure, mess … experimentation, really.

thinkydologo_black

So for this year, we’ve baked lightness and pace into the process itself in order, we hope, to accelerate learning, but also to have more fun.

Our ambition is to create and release 10 experiments in 2014. We will do this by adopting a ‘hit and run’ approach to the exercise. Each month we’ll pose a new question, and we’ll run a live session to generate and prototype answers. We’ll force ourselves to ship something within 25 days and with a tiny budget – the month’s experiment needs to have sailed before we agree on the next brief.

We might end up with 10 failures, but we’re certainly hoping for 10 pieces of learning, 10 horizons broached, many more new people met and at the very least, to have done something fun with something new, every month for a year.

This new framework means our focus will be on people before machines, behaviours before builds and live development, not drawn out processes. Inspiration might come from platforms, from partners or from people’s imaginative uses of technologies and the web. It could come from anywhere really, as long as it gives us an opportunity to learn.

As well as more experiments, we’re also looking for more involvement from more people. So we’re going to be inviting the whole of BBH and our partner MediaMonks to experiment with us, and a bit later this year, look at how we can go even more open source. For now, we’ll post the question up on the blog before we run the working session and welcome comments and insight. And, as we did with robotify.me, we’ll make the learning process itself transparent, with briefs, ideas, and development being posted in (almost) real time on our new experiments platform.

This new home for Labs experiments is thinky.do. From now on, this is where anyone interested can follow the erratic ballads of Labs experiments, though of course we will point at new thinky.do activities from here and from our twitter every now and again.

 If you head there now, you’ll see that we’ve put up our question for the first experiment of the year. It’s all to do with crypto currencies and the creation of value. We’re holding our first live session this afternoon at BBH in London, so expect to hear more very soon.

We’re excited about switching up a gear in experimentation and we’re definitely curious to see what happens. If you’d be interested in joining us for the ride, please drop a note to collaborators@bbh-labs.com, leave a comment here or at thinky.do.