I am not a leader.
It took me many years to realise it. Indeed I was in a position of some responsibility when the truth dawned. I finally understood that I am in a relationship business, but I’m uncomfortable with relationships; that I shrink from delivering bad news, when I should be characterising it as good; that I am emotionally squeamish, when leadership requires psychological strength. I was a disappointment to myself.
Despite, or perhaps because of, this revelation, I have remained interested in the art of leadership. What defines a great leader? How do you spot leadership potential? Can you train it, learn it, define it? I’m aware that a wealth of airport management books endeavour to answer these questions, but I confess I’ve never felt compelled to read them. Let me offer my own, admittedly simple, perspective on the subject.
In the course of my career I’ve been fortunate to have worked with quite a few great leaders. And I have to say that, on the face of it, they have little in common. Some were passionate and visionary, others were practical and pragmatic; some were sensitive and personal, others were pugnacious and combative. None was in any way a perfect paradigm. Indeed all have been flawed, often in very engaging ways.
But there was one particular thing they all shared. Their leadership style was consistently an extension of their own strong personalities. They were authentic, but they were also larger than life. Their very real virtues had found a louder voice, a bigger stage. They were hyperboles of themselves if you like.
Leadership in my experience is The Amplified Self.
This analysis has led me to a relatively straightforward piece of advice for the aspirant leader: establish what you’re good at and do it in a bigger, bolder way.
And yet this is easier said than done. ‘Know thyself’ was inscribed above the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. It was a resonant maxim precisely because self knowledge is so difficult to achieve.
I probably spent the first ten years of my career working out what I had to offer professionally. However much my appraisals identified the occasional virtue, I couldn’t help concentrating on the cited shortcomings. Because they were the same shortcomings year after year: a sluggishness with spreadsheets and Harvard Graphics, a lack of commercial rigour in my arguments, a failure to make eye contact in meetings. Like a diligent student I would concentrate on addressing my weaknesses. But however hard I tried, with every passing year my appraisal changed very little. And I never did win that IPA Effectiveness Award…
I think there comes a point in everyone’s career when we give up addressing the faults we cannot correct, the blemishes we cannot wipe clean. The point in one’s career when one focuses on building on strengths and virtues, accentuating the positives rather than eliminating the negatives. And I think that’s the point that one finally gets to discover one’s true leadership potential.
If you think you have the charisma, stamina, vision and appetite to lead, don’t spend your time reading the text books, mimicking your predecessor, emulating your hero. Don’t be someone else’s shadow, their pale imitation. Don’t try to be someone you’re not.
Look in the mirror. Isolate your truest strengths, the ones that set you apart, that make you unique. And turn those strengths up to eleven.
Be your own Amplified Self.
The news in April that Nike may be discontinuing their wearable personal fitness tracker Nike+ Fuelband was met with a mixed wave of reaction spanning shock to schadenfreude. As more and more marketers consider offering utility and added-value services it seems worth giving a few minutes’ consideration here to its rise and purported fall.
Launched at South By South West in 2012 amongst much neon-lit fanfare, Fuelband felt like an inexorable, natural next step for Nike+. The nerdish joy of being an early adopter made the fact mine needed replacing three times in the subsequent year easier to bear.
Taking a step back for a moment, I’m reminded of a phrase that comfortingly comes up occasionally when you’re a new parent: ‘everything is just a phase…this too shall pass’. Indeed, take a look at Gartner’s 2013 edition of their Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies and, sure enough, wearable user interfaces are placed at that most infamous of positions, the Peak Of Inflated Expectations. This is where cracks start to appear before a technology descends into the Trough of Disillusionment.
So is this just a stage? Or a sign of something else? Certainly in Fuelband’s case, its competitor Fitbit simply has had more traction and success, capturing 67% of the market in 2013, though not without a recent furore over a product recall.
The specific issues with wearables currently seem to centre around maintaining user engagement. To illustrate this, research by Endeavour Partners found that one third of American consumers who owned a wearable product stopped using it within six months.
Strong technologies with decent long term prospects habitually haul themselves out of the trough and go on to be successful. It strikes me for wearables to resolve the engagement issue and do the same in the months and years to come, two things need to happen:
1. Device consolidation
Fuelband’s minimal data collection and feedback loop already seems quaint. Nor does any smartwatch on the market offer a fully integrated solution. Instead we should expect a single, beautifully designed wearable device, capable of doing everything a smartphone already does and more – including capturing and reporting full body data – without draining battery life or weighing a ton. An Apple-led eco-system inevitably gets cited as the answer here, which does seem most likely when you add up the stories of a sophisticated Healthbook app and an iWatch on the near horizon, together with patents granted for earbud and/or headphone sensors. Nike pulling back from a hardware battle it can’t win makes more sense when a partner like Apple looks set to move centre stage.
2. Currency systems like NikeFuel need to have real world relevance and meaning.
Most likely to be brought about by stronger connections to product, tangible goals and other services. Certainly in Nike’s case their commitment looks to be to the software, not the hardware, with the launch of Fuel Labs in San Francisco, which will, they claim, “continue to leverage partnerships to expand our ecosystem of digital products and services, using NikeFuel as the universal currency for measuring, motivating and improving.” Make no mistake, for Nike, stepping back from Fuelband represents a course correction, not a category bale-out.
And the tech and activity industries as a whole will continue to run with wearables regardless. Witness the fact Facebook are buying things again, with their purchase of the activity app, Moves. The app doesn’t require another external device to work: it runs in the background, sensing motion and making assumptions on your activity and calories burned. And Google is working on wearables too, with the announcement of Android Wear, an OS for wearable tech.
Fuelband and its detractors, we may come to realise, represent just the baby steps down a long road for wearables.
Tonight we’re co-hosting an event with Decoded to celebrate the “New Revolutionaries”, the people transforming their industries through creativity and technology in glorious combination.
Kathryn Parsons, Lindsay Nuttall and I are lucky enough to be hosting a night of inspiring showcases and talks celebrating the people driving that creative revolution.
We’ve got two tickets to give away if you fancy it: please just tweet us @bbhlabs or @bbhlondon or leave us a comment below.
Alternatively, we’ll be live streaming the event via Twitter thanks to our friends at Streaming Tank and we’ll write up the event for this blog when we’re out the other side..]]>
Some edited highlights:
It’s not just that what we did on a PC is moving to a mobile. It’s a fundamental shift in the base of devices the world is using. It’s worth dwelling on the impact of some of this – of a world with this proliferation of geolocated, connected computing devices.
Software is replacing a plethora of tools and tasks. Who needs a landline? A torch? A spirit level? A dictionary? A phonebook? A PC? Ultrasound machines? Calculators? Schoolbooks? Nike axing the Fuelband shows how specialised hardware is being threatened.
Anything that can be done by a smartphone or a tablet will.
This isn’t just a niche behaviour. ‘Over-the-top’ digital services like WhatsApp, Viber and Netflix have made complex tasks and behaviours completely mainstream. And it’s impacting all sorts of industries on a massive scale:
We aren’t just living our lives through our mobiles, we are living our lives fundamentally differently through mobile devices.
If that’s not enough food for thought there, add in the fact that smartphones rely on rare earth elements that are in short supply, with no clear substitutes and some of them due to run out as early as 2020. Just as we get hooked on these devices they will soon start to run out.
Which makes for a cheery thought given just how damn indispensable they are now. So maybe you don’t just need a mobile strategy, you need a post-mobile strategy as well?
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.]]>
The problem with having a conversation is “it takes place in real time and you can’t control what you’re going to say” explained Sherry Turkle at a not-so-recent Ted Talk. That’s not the case online though. Facebook posts, Tweets, Instagrams allow us to curate, edit and filter what we want to say in pursuit of personal promotion. Ephemeral media allows us to share the moment and not live with them forever!
But it can be awfully exhausting. Especially, if like me, you don’t have a good eye for a good photo. There are particular times when sometimes we just want to share experiences with our friends. Unfiltered, immediate real-time moments. Moments that are being championed by the new wave of closed and/or transient products such as Whatsapp, Kik and Snapchat.
For brands, this provides exciting new opportunities to engage fans. Especially with reports that 700 million messages are being shared daily on Snapchat and 38 billion on Whatsapp. Despite these overwhelming numbers, only a handful of brands are really having a good crack at it. Surprising really when so many brand talk about wanting to build genuine relationships with our customers, because what better place than the channels where people feel most comfortable being their genuine selves?
The biggest barrier for many brands wanting to build a presence is a lack of insight. Without this how are we supposed to know the content that resonates best with our audience, or even who they are? Increasingly there are studies such as Sumpto’s study on student habits which are providing that insight. In the mean time, brands are taking a leap of faith to know what content to produce and how to behave.
Below are some starting points to get your brand in the right direction…
Be a nice surprise – I’m on Snapchat because it gives me a different way to be have an entertaining conversation with friends. Unexpected and at times silly content that simply serves to provide moments of amusement during the drops in my day. Brands wanting to engage with me should aim to have a dialogue that shows them in a refreshing light. It is intentionally ephemeral, so brands should feel comfortable exercising their personality more through less formal content and giving access to parts of the brand a fan would not normally ever experience.
Be a real person – The content I receive on Kik is from people at their most unguarded. They are not trying to add a filter of coolness and I’d expect that approach from any brand I followed. Have a look at MLB’s Snapchat strategy who rotate account ownership to different players and staff to keep the narrative interesting and provide a more rounded experience of the sport.
Be effortlessly charming – Use it as another broadcast channel for your print campaign and I’m out. There are platforms like Facebook which are better geared for driving sales. This is important on closed platforms particularly as the ambition should be to add value without the expectancy of an immediate exchange – that’s not to say there aren’t business opportunities to be had! Whatsapp, for example, has the functionality to provide customer service better than a tweet ever could.
Don’t expect to turn into Taco Bell overnight but start with good insight (and good manners) and someday your conversation should begin to promote itself.]]>
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.
You’re equal but different.
You’re equal but different
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.]]>
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.]]>
BBH London are looking for an experienced mid-weight digital producer with specific experience in display advertising (online banners). Mobile and outdoor digital advertising experience would be a bonus.
The right candidate will join a growing and dynamic team working on high-profile briefs for world-class clients. It’s a demanding but fun environment.
The role requires working directly with client teams and creatives to own projects from concept through to delivery. This includes responsibility for budgets, timing plans, general project management and liaison.
If you are a motivated team player with lots of initiative, and would like to join a high-performing team at BBH, then we’d love to hear from you. Please tell us about yourself here, under Digital.
Last week Disney’s icy fairytale Frozen became the 6th highest grossing film of all time. It had already taken more money at the box office than any other animated film in history, relegating Pixar’s Toy Story 3 to second place. Incredibly, a two-man leadership team is behind both films and their respective studios: Ed Catmull and John Lasseter.
So BBH was highly animated when we welcomed one half of this duo, Ed Catmull, Pixar’s co-founder and President of both Pixar and Disney Animation, to talk to us last week on his two-day visit to London promoting his new book Creativity, Inc.
Together with the backing of Steve Jobs, Ed and John built Pixar from scratch and I doubt if anyone reading this hasn’t seen, and loved, one of their films. Pixar’s 27 Oscars and $7bn revenue is a pretty compelling demonstration of the creative and commercial yin yang, but what is truly remarkable is that when Disney acquired Pixar in 2006, Ed and John were put in charge of Disney Animation, then on its knees, and pulled off the same trick again. Frozen is testament to their methods and it’s these methods that were the subject of Ed’s remarks.
What I found fascinating listening to Ed was that he talked more of failure than success. Sure, we’re all well versed in the merits of failing fast, it’s practically an internet meme, but the scale here is epic and the anecdotes are richer. Ed shared stories about how so many iterations of new movies suck. Really suck. “On Up, the only thing to stay the same from the start was the bird and the word Up”.
He went on to talk about how the best people know how to rip up months of hard graft and start again if it’s not working and how there has only been one film when the reset button was not pressed (Toy Story 3 for the record). He concluded that “failure isn’t a necessary evil. It’s not evil at all, but a necessary consequence of doing something new”.
Ed went on to describe Pixar’s ‘Braintrust’. Basically a steering committee, but one where absolute candour and a shared investment in success, ensure that even the gnarliest problems are worked through and solved.
And what made him most proud? Not Toy Story or Frozen, nor the awards and the revenues, but how his people react when things go wrong. Like for instance an employee accidentally deleting 90% of Toy Story 2 during production. Two years work by 400 people gone and the back-up failed (you’ll have to read the book to find out what happened).
Another topic he warmed to concerned people and process. “Give a great idea to a poor team and they’ll screw it up. Give a poor idea to a great team and they’ll either fix it or throw it away and start again”. People trump process every time. His barometer for how a movie is progressing? Not the quality of the work (it will probably suck, see above), but the spirit in the team producing it.
And it was a person not a process that Ed talked most passionately about. No-one worked with Steve Jobs longer than Ed Catmull and he was clearly moved when talking about the compassionate side of Steve that never made the biography. Ed finished with an observation that was pure Steve Jobs: “Making processes better and more efficient is a vital task, but it’s not the goal. Excellence is the goal”.