strategy

STOP BUYING REACH AND START EARNING IT

Media is slowly suffocating social media. The relentless optimisation towards media efficiency and mass reach is resulting in shorter, less effective social banner adverts. This is disrupting people’s experience of social and not shifting brand metrics. It is time marketeers shifted their focus away from paid reach and towards organic resonance, writes Jack Colchester, Senior Data Strategist at BBH London.

In 2016, brands spent $27 billion buying media on Facebook, a hefty 57% year-on-year increase.

This is very good news for Facebook, but the transition from an inherently organic, social platform to a paid broadcast channel has had some immense consequences on the quality of social marketing output.

The primary consequence is that with big media budgets come big responsibilities. As brands spend more money they are asking for two things: reduction of uncertainty and proof of effectiveness.

Reduction of uncertainty has largely taken the form of guaranteed reach, through paid media. ‘We will reach 5 million people at a frequency of 2, to ensure your brand and product message is seen 10 million times’.

Proof of effectiveness is a more slippery beast to measure, but companies have shifted the focus away from active engagement metrics such as likes, comments and shares to more high brow efficiency metrics such as view through rates, completion rates, CPV and recall.

With attention spans on social being famously short, the argument goes that in order to maximise the performance of an advert that has reached 10 million people, we need to ensure that it is less than 10 seconds long, has prominent branding in the first three seconds, is formatted vertically and so on. This optimisation towards media efficiency is resulting in the bannerfication of social. In the process, this neglects the very thing that makes social different to other forms of mass broadcast marketing – the potential of immediate earned reach. To achieve it, we need to create work that deserves people’s attention, rather than disrupts it.

In short, earn your reach, don’t buy it.

Earned reach is not as dead as Facebook would have you believe, in fact our last two videos for KFC (here & here) organically reached 60 million people and created headlines across the world . A single organic tweet from Tesco this week about the tampon tax performed better (in terms of resonance and press coverage) than any paid tweet we have ever published.

Social platforms have been reducing organic reach for years in order to generate revenue, however the decline has been compounded by the use of paid media. Using paid media throttles organic opportunities in a ‘media squeeze’. I would suggest embargoing paid media for 24 hours after going live.

Earning reach means creating work that is inherently social and adds to the cultural conversation. This sounds lofty and worthy, but attention seeking, culturally informed work is the only way to combat the utter indifference displayed towards social banners.

The primary objective has to be fame. Achieve fame and all the other metrics will follow.

If you’re in the fame mindset of ‘what would the headline be’? then understandably the next most important thing is the primacy of the idea.

You need an idea that is provocative and culturally informed with brand or product baked in. Will this idea generate high levels of earned reach? Use the plethora of data that exists on customers to aid the strategic and creative process in uncovering what a culturally informed idea might look like. Crucially, this data should be embracing the outliers, you are not looking for generic social insights about how millennials prefer experiences over things. Instead it’s about uncovering social quirks, memes and trends related to your audience. If you want to be an additive to culture, you’ve got to know it.

To achieve the maximum potential of social, we need to stop selling the certainty of reach and start managing the uncertainty of fame.


BBH Live will be giving a talk on the theme titled ‘IS MEDIA KILLING SOCIAL MEDIA?’ at Social Media Week later this year. Stay tuned.

What’s love got to do with it?

By Thomas Wagner

Brand love should be dead.

Byron Sharp and the Ehrenberg Bass Institute should have seen to that.

But many in our profession are still pursuing it.
Brand differentiation.
Loyalty beyond reason.
It’s all alive and well.

Perhaps because we have a fundamental need to be seen to make a genuine difference to society that goes beyond selling stuff.
Make love, not commerce.

Perhaps because it helps us to sell stuff beyond advertising to clients.

But by now we should all know that most people won’t love the brands we work for.
Yes, some people might, but they won’t grow our brands.
Because brand love is not a prerequisite to growth.

So what’s our role then, when there’s no love around?

To paraphrase Jenni Romaniuk, Byron Sharp and the Ehrenburg Bass Institute:

Don’t worry so much about what they’ll think about you when they do.
Worry more about them thinking of you at all.

This has a whole host of implications for everything we do, from planning to creative to measurement.

However, incidentally, it also does creates a role for ‘love’ – if one is keen on the metaphor.

Just a very different one.

First of all, we have to make people love our ‘advertising’, ‘publicity’ or ‘content’ – whatever you want to call the ‘advertising-like-object’ that reaches the many people.

Make ads people love. (If not pay for.)

So that they pay attention to it, remember it and subsequently think more of the brand – even, or perhaps precisely because of an absence of deep feelings for it.

Or so they might share it and talk about it and give us incremental reach.

We can make them love the packaging.

An iconic shape and canvas.

So it stands out on shelf and they can find and use it without much thinking.

Or so that the unboxing becomes a moment, to share and remember.

We could even make them love how they can try it, or buy it.

“Nike’s New Massive Store Is the Disney World of Sneakers”

Google Home

So that it is more memorable or irresistibly simple.

We can even have a go at making them love using the brand.

From start to binge in 5 … 4 … 3 … seconds.

Designing rewarding experiences that help build a habit.

So that perhaps, there is less need for thinking.

So let’s ditch the love keys.

They will never love you.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t love them.

WHY EXACTLY WAS THAT AD SO GOOD?

Written by: Lucian Trestler, Strategy Director, BBH London

As our last post hinted at, we’re getting a little obsessed with feeling here at BBH.  Nigel Bogle has always said ‘sell through the heart’.  We’ve always known it.

The problem with feeling is it can get a little vague – make people happy.   Make people cry. But I believe we can get way more precise about this.

Here’s a little repartee between myself and Byron Sharp:

Sharp

The more we pursue success through consistency, the more important it becomes to precisely analyse what made that first ad so amazing. So often this question is misdiagnosed and the tricky second album flops.

The drumming gorilla was all about joy right? A big, abstract, pure expression of joy in that quirky Cadbury’s tone of voice right? WRONG. It was all about a very specific type of orgasmic joy. The type that you can only experience after an outrageous build up. The release was the important bit there. Kind of like that release of sensory joy that can be experienced when you finally sink your teeth into that chocolate you’ve been craving. The build-up and release that wasn’t in any of their other ads.

gorilla-20160311090549209

Epic strut. That was all about a bloke dancing outrageously in public right? WRONG. We have all imagined how awesome it would be to burst into a power walk like that on days when we are bossing life and Queen B comes on shuffle. No one has imaged expressing that feeling on the pole. Ok, very few of us have imagined that.

Understanding exactly what that feeling was that made that ad so good is crucial, I would argue, in rolling out hit after hit.

The Under Armour ad with Misty Copeland (I will what I want) was all about that feeling when self-belief puts you on top of the world. Then came Giselle. Then Phelps. Each one a masterclass in spine tingling self-belief.

Our industry moves fast and naturally this means we obsess about the next big thing. And that’s a good thing. But we don’t stop to look back and reflect enough. By taking the time to ask – why exactly was that ad so good? – we (especially strats rustling up briefs) can pinpoint the exact feeling that needs replicating and help crack that tricky second album.

FEELING GOOD ABOUT MARKETING’S FUTURE

Written by: Lilli English & Will Lion (Heads of Strategy, BBH London)

Here’s a useful squiggle. It’s a model of how things change.

Picture1

For the last few years it’s felt like we’ve been in the cauldron: a bubbling, unpleasant mix of low client and marketing confidence; a procurement culture that sees our services in the same way it sees the staples; talent with exciting options extending far beyond agencies; an ever increasing media and technological complexity; a reliance on testing work that raises the floor but limits the ceiling; a collective impatience to deliver results faster than they might be able to arrive; and a culture of extreme rationality to make sense of it all, which is sure to balloon as we deal with the uncertainties now ahead of us.

So in response everyone’s been scrambling to create the perfectly optimised marketing machine. Data, science, accountability, logic, technology, utility. These are the heroes. These are the things we reassure clients with now.  And rightly.

But frankly, that’s not enough.  Only focussing on the machine is drying out the work. It’s become sterile, mediocre, samey, complex – across the industry. It’s no wonder the world is blocking us out.

Even Google’s feeling it:

“I have a colleague who is writing a paper on the future of marketing: it’s data, data, science, science. I’m like, “it’s not!” Or rather, it is those things, yes. But if you fall down on the art, if you fail on the messaging and storytelling, all that those tools will get you are a lot of bad impressions” Lorraine Twohill, Global VP Marketing at Google.

And it’s just not working as well for clients. As the IPA discovered last year, thinking only short term and rationally has made our creativity half as powerful in the last few years. Half!

Truth is, anyone can build the machine and churn out lukewarm porridge – but that’s not good enough. There’s a better way. A way that makes more of a difference. So yes we must build the most fearsome set of pipes but we mustn’t forget to fill them with the magic.

Finding our feeling

That’s been our mantra to BBH strategists for the past year. For us the answer lies in going back to one of the great timeless truths of how our creativity works:

We make a commercial difference by making people feel.

It’s painfully simple, we know. But fundamental – and all too easy to forget.

Just look at what’s happened last year: FEELING TRUMPED ALL ELSE. We learnt that you can throw out all the facts and rationale you want, if you don’t get how different people feel and how to make them feel, you’re nowhere.  The likes of Trump have undeniably understood and exploited this, far better than their opponents.

Picture2

Go back to our own industry, and the data tells us the same story. We know that when people feel emotionally connected to a brand they are 52% more valuable (HBR), they create more profit for companies, and they do so more efficiently (IPA).

It’s no surprise – making someone feel ignites their brain, earns you a small corner of their memory, which in turn drives their behaviour.

Making people feel. It’s essentially our safest marketing strategy.

But for us this goes beyond confidence in the foundations of marketing – it’s a vision for how to build differentiated brands in the modern world.

Every corner of a modern brand’s experience, from comms to counter, needs to be smoothly connected and efficient now.  Of course it does. But bring more feeling to those moments – more beauty, surprise, warmth, awe – and you elevate yourself into greater difference. Especially as experiences gets more commoditised, feeling will pay back. It always has of course, but now it just has more places to play. And as nerdy as it is to admit it, we think that’s incredibly exciting.

6 things to try out:

  1. Turn the new wave of intelligence into opportunities to create magic. Learn to love DMPs (data management platform) and BPMs (beats per minute). Infuse the whole new connected brand experience with feeling, whether that’s something you see on a TV, play with on a phone or touch in store. Sure there’s a symphony of computation going on behind the curtain but make everything feel magic to the punters.
  1. Give your client confidence in feeling: Gather the hoards of evidence to prove feeling makes a commercial difference and arm clients with the framework and tools to convince their peers and bosses. A few examples for starters: IPA 2014, HBR 2015, IPA 2016, Neuro-Insight, BrainJuicer.
  1. Attract and retain talent who get the power of feeling. We need sophisticated plumbers who know their DMPs from their GRPs. But find the precious few who can do both intelligence and magic, across different ages and experience. When it comes to finding young talent, we look for CVs that balance a restless curiosity across a broad set of interests with depth of skill and/or expertise. Red flags include jargon, platform snobbery, and evangelism around one way of thinking.
  1. Stop thinking, start feeling for great work: Evaluate the work by how it makes us feel. The more precise the better – find the feeling that is proven to change behaviour and track that feeling relentlessly. For example for Audi, we pursue the feeling of desire right through to purchase, as much in TV as in programmatic. And we’re embracing new ways of measuring emotion – from facial coding to neuroscience. We know that too much logic can kill creativity, but often forget that this applies to our own internal creative reviews as much as it does client pre-testing.
  1. Sell the work with feeling. Seduce the heart and give the head reasons to follow. It’s what we advise clients do, but it’s something we all too often forget when selling to them. Simple things can make all the difference – working in proper time to rehearse (if humanly possible); planning a great client experience from the moment they walk in the agency…
  1. Prove the value of feeling. Measure the emotional response to your activity with forensic intensity, from the smallest interactions to the most epic campaign; and prove feeling delivers difference to our clients’ fortunes, again and again.

Feeling works. It’s what we can do that others (and the algorithms) can’t. And it’s what we all got into this game for, isn’t it?

 

 

 

 

 

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.

What Platform, Which Brand?

Author: Damola Timeyin, Social Strategist BBH London

Every year arrives with a glut of predictions about which technologies will experience ‘hockey stick growth’, which will ‘jump the shark’ and how brands will exploit these ‘new frontiers’. We as marketers we are as guilty as anyone of creating more questions about how brands should approach the opportunities, than we provide coherent answers. The result is a mixed bag of bold attempts, questionable executions and the occasional triumph.

The cynic in every marketer will argue just because a brand can, doesn’t mean they should, it’s haloed consumer space after all. The pragmatist, may accept the new order of things, acknowledge the potential and recognize the shift in consumer attitudes towards brands in these spaces.

Whether a cynic or pragmatist, before making the leap, a commitment should be made to apply better judgement when deciding where and how to proceed. Not just for the sake of the brand, but for the sake of the consumer on the receiving end of our communications.

—-

Consumers are more likely to embrace brands who bring something complimentary to the party, whether that’s content or an experience, delivered in a way that reflects the consumer’s behaviour on that platform.

Platforms themselves are making it easier for brands to add value, Snapchat being a recent example of a platform that quickly embraced branded content and experiences, by building a non intrusive means for brands to communicate with users, through “Snapchat Discover”.

Whilst there’s an app for everything, there isn’t yet an emoji for every feeling. So recently Mentos made an appearance in messaging platforms by creating branded emoticons, which helped people to express these feelings in conversations in this space. Not only did these ‘Ementicons’ meet a need in a way that was in keeping with platform norms, it helped the brand to communicate with an audience on a platform where it’s difficult to cut through.

BBH’s latest campaign for Clarks’, ‘From Rats To Rudeboys: The story of the Clarks Desert Boot’ is an example of an idea with cultural relevance with a clear purpose; to re-establish the connection between the brand and an iconic shoe.

The cynic in us may see the campaign’s use of WhatsApp*, as an opportunistic choice, borne from the desire to connect with ‘millennials’ rather than the best way to deliver documentary content.

However the pragmatist considers the core of the idea; cultural stories from the past told from first person perspective today. Assess its components; stories told in film, audio, copy, photo and music formats over a fixed period. And crucially evaluates the audience behaviour, young individuals predominantly consume information about culturally significant events from peers and trusted news sources via mobile platforms.

Taking these factors into account, the experience of receiving a narrative of real life events, by the people who were there, would be diminished if there was no sense of immediacy. The user journey would be fragmented if content for a single narrative was distributed through multiple channels. The opportunity to personalise the experience lost, if there was no means to communicate directly with thousands at once. Using a platform a platform like WhatsApp, allows the brand to create immediacy, deliver a seamless and direct user experience, with mass personalisation that no other platform could facilitate.

What platform is right for what brand? As with most questions, the answer is of course, it depends. In this case it depends on the what the brand wants to do.

*To experience the final instalment of the ‘From Rats to Rudeboys’ experience, WhatsApp Jamaican Dj and Clarks Desert Boot trader, Major Stitch, on 07481495645 to hear his story.

 

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.

The Man That Didn’t Blink

Author, Jim Carroll, Chairman BBH London
First published in Advertising Week Europe supplement

Egon Schiele- Portrait of Albert Paris von Gutersloh
I knew a man who never blinked. It was quite discomfiting. I’d not considered blinking that important until confronted with its absence. This chap just seemed a bit odd, a little lacking in emotion. Was he perhaps an android? When talking to him I couldn’t avoid the impression that he was unnaturally certain of his own opinions. And that that blind certainty was what I was finding unattractive. I realised that, whilst I like the self-assured, absolute certainty can be troubling, alienating, disturbing.

I guess that’s why I’ve always responded better to leaders who, though boundlessly confident, exhibit a sensitivity to risk and doubt, a consciousness of paths not taken. I’m rarely convinced by absolute conviction.

For similar reasons I feel certainty in advertising has always been fool’s gold. Claude Hopkins wrote Advertising Science back in the 1920s. And science has given us analytical tools and techniques that have dramatically enhanced our understanding of consumers and our ability to communicate effectively. But, however much we may wish it, science has never given us certainty.

I recently attended a stage adaptation of the great Henry Fonda movie, 12 Angry Men. At its heart it’s a celebration of reasonable doubt, and an indictment of the unreasonable certainty that so many people carry around with them. I was struck by the idea that reasonable doubt is a force for good in society. Because life is an ongoing navigation of trade-offs, dilemmas and contrary preferences. Life isn’t about certainty.

In our business I’ve seen how, many a time and oft’, the quest for unreasonable certainty has actually fostered doubt and indecision. The pursuit of total proof can close windows of opportunity and analysis paralysis can inhibit bold leaps forward.

Recently we have all been redesigning the marketing model. We have embraced the vision of a customer engagement system that is more connected, more targeted, more knowing and less wasteful. Something that learns, creates, adapts and distributes in real time. But we should not imagine that any new model will deliver unreasonable certainty. All models need ideas to animate them. And the best ideas occur at the intersection of logic and magic, at the meeting point of rationality and emotion.

What is exciting about the modern age of marketing is the opportunity it affords us to explore this happy interaction between art and science. At BBH we’ve been talking a lot about High Performance Creativity. We believe that technology enables a more intimate relationship between creativity and performance, and that that intimacy will generate better, more effective work. We believe that data should not just be big; it should be strategically insightful and creatively inspiring. We believe that performance measures should not be backward looking proofs, but live, forward-facing guides. We believe that, while High Performance Creativity cannot promise certainty, it can deliver incredible potency.

I’m reasonably certain about this.

When Everyone Talks and No-One Listens

Author: Jim Carroll, Chairman, BBH London
First Published in Hall&Partners magazine, Matters.

Max Schodl - Still Life with Samovar and Chinese Teacup

It’s often said of the characters in Anton Chekhov’s plays that ‘everyone talks,but no one listens.’ The cast of feckless aristocrats inhabit a troubled world of melancholy, loss and ennui. They speak endlessly at each other of their dreams and disappointments, but they rarely pause to listen. Their relationships seem compromised by their own emotional deafness, their solipsism. They live lives of empty chat and listless languor, punctuated only by another trip to the samovar.

I wonder has the world of brand marketing something in common with Chekhov’s? Could modern brands be accused of speaking without listening? Talking loud, but saying nothing? Always on project, never on receive? Do they sometimes come across as egocentric and emotionally needy?

Sign up, sign in, sign on. Check in, check out. Like me, friend me, share me. Blipp me, bookmark me. Rate me, recommend me. QR code me. Upload me, download me. Facebook me, fan me. Tweet me, re-tweet me. Hashtag why?

There’s a tremendous assumption in much current marketing that consumers have infinite time and attention to dedicate to brands, regardless of the category they represent or the content they serve up for them. With a wealth of new media channels available to us, it’s often easy to confuse talking with conversation, to mistake interaction for a relationship. And as long ago as the nineteenth century the writer HD Thoreau was observing,’We have more and more ways to communicate, but less and less to say.’

In my experience strong relationships tend to start with a little humility and self knowledge. The best advice for brands seeking a relationship might be: don’t talk too much and only talk when you have something to say.
 
But can contemporary brands really be accused of not listening? Surely all serious players nowadays manage substantial research and insight programmes. Surely we’re endlessly soliciting feedback, measurement and learning?

Well, yes, but are brands engaged in the right kind of listening?

To my mind much of modern research practice could be deemed ‘submissive listening’. ’Hello. What do you think of me? What do you think of how I look and what I do?  How would you like me to behave? Do you like what I’m planning to say to you? What would you like me to say?’

Is this the stuff of a healthy relationship? Surely brands’ engagement with consumers should begin from a position of equality and mutual respect, not submission and deference.

Au Pairs - Playing with a Different Sex

You’re equal but different. 
You’re equal but different
It’s obvious.
So obvious.

Au Pairs, It’s Obvious.

We could also categorise much of our research  as ‘reflective listening’: recording what people say, wear, like and do, so that brands can play it back later to them in communication. There’s an underlying assumption that consumers empathise with brands that share their values and outlook on life. I’m sure they do. But one man’s insight is another man’s cliche. And reflective listening, interpreted literally, often produces communication that is curiously unrewarding. Because dialogue is more than elegant repetition and relationships are more than an exercise in mimicry.

Surely listening and talking should exist in close proximity and dynamic relation to each other. It’s called a conversation. And you’ll find spontaneous, instinctive, organic conversations at the heart of any healthy, happy relationship.

Of course, the hyper-connected, real time world of the social web affords us an opportunity. It’s the opportunity to demolish the distance between listening and talking; to inspire conversations between brands and consumers; and thereby to create vibrant, enduring, sustainable relationships. It’s now possible for listening to drive brands’ thought and action, tempo and timing and we we should all be striving to put it back at the centre of our communication models.

There is, nonetheless, a nightmare scenario. What if brands continue to propel their mindless chatter through the infinite arteries of the electronic age, without respecting our audience’s limited time and attention? What if our attempts to listen continue to betray a submissive and reflective orientation towards consumers?

At the end of Chekhov’s Three Sisters, twenty year old Irina decides to give up on love before love gives up on her.

I’ve never loved anyone. I dreamed about it for a very long time – day and night – but my heart is like a piano that’s been locked up and the key is lost.

It’s one of the saddest lines in theatre. I worry that if we don’t start listening properly to consumers, then consumers will stop listening to us.

Talk Like a Tech Brand

Authors: Jim Carroll, Chairman & Nick Fell, Strategy Director, BBH London

artgame

From Art Game, by Leo Caillard

The Marketing World is in awe of tech brands.

It has visited the Valley, gathered at the Googleplex. It has listened to their leadership and consumed their case studies. It has invited them in for partnerships, hangouts and huddles. It has adopted their products, processes, principles and patter. It has acquired their interior design, appropriated their casual clobber.

But has the Marketing World learned how to talk like a tech brand? Is there an underlying assumption that tech brands can teach us how to behave, but not how to communicate? An ongoing suspicion that the engineer-led cultures of tech brands don’t quite ‘get’ communication?

We suspect the Marketing World has a long held, deep rooted belief that tech brands obsess too much about their own product and experiences; that they’re introverted.

Tech brands may make cool products, but they’re not so hot on insights and benefits, emotions and humanity. They don’t understand empathy. And whilst tech brands revel in the complex, coded and arcane, they’re not schooled in single-mindedness and sacrifice. They don’t know how to drill down or ladder up. They may get big data, but they don’t get big ideas.

So for all their many virtues, there’s not much the Tech World can teach the Marketing World about communication. Or so the conventional wisdom goes.

But conventional wisdom may actually be an albatross around our necks. This same wisdom tends to create a convergent mush of mood board marketing, a farrago of facile insights and shallow lifestyle posturing. Modern brands from all sectors would do well to look properly, not just at how tech brands behave, but at how they communicate.

Let’s consider a few themes.

1. Pride in product

Tech brands spend the vast majority of their time and energy in the pursuit of innovation; creating astounding products is their main obsession. There is always something new to say, whether it’s a big breakthrough or a modest upgrade. Which is why their communications are so firmly rooted in product truth.

This might be considered old-fashioned in a world of purpose-led brand building. But it provides a refreshing break from the pseudo-insights, hyperbole and overly-elaborate ideas which fill much of today’s communications landscape.

2. UX meets advertising

User experience has been defined as “the totality of an end-users’ perceptions as they interact with a product or service” (Kuniavsky, 2010).

Tech brands employ user experience design to create products which we love to use, but the influence of UX is also clear to see in how tech brands talk.

Thinking in terms of “end-users”, not audiences, means the usability of the communication is given primary importance. The result is often a visual language which is clean, precise and with plenty of white space (more on the rise of “flat design” in Adam’s post here). Tech brands also use as few words as possible to meaningfully make the point. This type of communication is disruptive precisely because it respects our desire for space and time.

3. Narrative through product

Tech brands cannot rely exclusively on the elegant delivery of product truth to succeed.

As in all other categories, communications which evoke an emotional response help brands to create affinity and preference. However, tech brands do not treat emotional and rational approaches to communications as mutually-exclusive, like oil and water. Instead they intimately combine the two; using the product as a medium to weave rich and emotionally-engaging narratives.

For example, telling the story of a teenager building a media empire through interactions on a web browser in BBH’s Google Chrome campaign or showing a dramatic rescue through a GoPro camera attached to a fireman’s helmet.

4. Cultural collaboration

Conventionally, brands employ celebrities as a means to gain attention and credibility. These are often one-dimensional, transactional relationships.

Tech brands, on the other hand, enter into genuine partnerships with individual and institutional players in culture with the aim of creating something fresh and interesting for the world to explore. Google and Arcade Fire, Samsung and David Bailey and Intel and Vice are all examples of this.

In these relationships, both parties have a part to play; the cultural collaborator is the “cool kid” to the tech brand’s “geek” persona, bringing creativity and humanity to code and hardware.

When the most innovative tech brands work with the foremost tastemakers, the result can be an irresistible combination of science and art, left brain and right brain, intelligence and magic.

5. Built-in marketing

With the previous themes, we have considered the unique way in which tech brands talk in their marketing communications.

But tech brands are also highly skilled at building marketing directly into their products. When we use Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and SnapChat, we also promote them. For example, to access my friend’s pictures on WhatsApp, I have to download the app. This built-in network effect means that WhatsApp has grown to over 350m unique monthly users, with 400m photos being shared every day. All of this without any significant marketing investment.

So, let’s not just admire the Tech World’s innovative culture, agile processes and beautiful products. Let’s embrace their very particular perspective on communication. It’s a perspective that could perhaps lead us out of some of the cul de sacs of contemporary marketing. Whatever business we’re working with, in whatever sector, shouldn’t we all consider talking like a tech brand?