Sunday, May 17, 2009

Less Haste, More Speed..

Not me; I drive like a little old lady. Photo via Lazyousuf. Usual rules apply.


I've been to rather a lot of talks in the last week or so, so I thought I should write about all three of them, and the overriding thought that's been left with me. It's about not dicking about with things and, rather, doing them speedily.

Speed has been on the mind of the planning community for a little while - most notably the 'Fast Strategy' conference last year which I went to. I think if I learned anything that day, it was that really good strategy can take a long time to get to, but given enough pressure and a (lack of) time, you can get to a good place. It's how pitches are won, and also - why so few clients have the confidence to go with a pitch strategy.

And, thoughts turned to how to sell quicker strategies. Not hasty, ill-formed strategies - the kind of which are hypothesis which haven't been tested, but instead - well founded thoughts which are arrived at quickly using client data, the t'terwebs and tested against current punters. Often, these come from outside the category.

So it was with some interest I wandered along to meet possibly the father (in my eyes) of Fast Strategy, Mr Adam Morgan. His book, Eating The Big Fish, has been a staple for planners in the last ten years or so.

And he spoke on Tuesday about how he was, frankly, a tad pissed off. A little bit cross about how folk (marketeers, planners, communications bods) misinterpreted his theory about challenger brands. Most people, he proposed, view challenger brands as a David vs Goliath story. You're always the little guy, picking on the big brand, or the big issue. And, frankly, he thought it was toss - there was far more depth to the theory than that.

There's probably not enough space for me to go into a massively detailed look at how he sliced it (13 times, which I, in all honesty, thought was stretching it a little far). I liked the idea of a brand being the people's champion (any excuse to use The Rock in a presentation is something we should all get behind) - to fight for a cause which the public believed in, though the danger is that it becomes a little po-faced and obvious going forward; I wouldn't see it as a long term strategy if the brand hadn't done in the beginning. I also thought the idea of a brand as a visionary was interesting - taking a position which is well above that of a category, and never returning to it. The brand is in the category because it believes it sees further than the rest. Could potentially become very arrogant, but it's still interesting. The next generation was another good one - working in a category you know has to change, and you're the first, trying to get it to realise that things have moved on.

There were ten more, but they were all variations on a theme. Essentially, be provocative, but pick just what it is you're going to be provocative about. What *really* interested me, which wasn't talked about, was how you arrive at that challenger position. How do you pick a fight in the first place? Which is the right one? Do people properly quantify it?

My theory behind all of this was a reasonably simple one. I think people like the theory of challenger brands because it's bloody quick (usually) to find what you want to fight against. What's tricky is not being hasty when you're refining it. What IS it about the company/belief/you're going against? Sure, you want to pick a fight, but have you really considered just why you want to challenge it?

Great strategy is born when the challenge is well nuanced, and shaped to be the right one. Getting there will take some degree of time, unless it's so overwhelmingly obvious everyone has decided to do it.

Anyway, the second talk I went to was another IPA sponsored one, but this time, was by the IPA Strategy Group, who had put on a talk about those cheeky 'game changers', who have flipped how we see comms. Or rather, as I took from it (again, broken record) - how to do innovative things quickly.

We had Dan Hon from Six to Start (the name of which I later discovered is from board games...funny) talk about the project the guys have done with Penguin, Tim Malbon from Made by Many talk about MBM's internal processes, and how successful they've been, and finally Giles Andrews from Zopa, who talked about how it came into being.

And again, the same old horse chestnut kept resonating. Be bloody rigorous with your thinking, but don't be precious about it - that way leads to rigid corporations and hasty, and ill-advised decisions. These companies are doing well because they've worked in a genuinely collaborative way - check out the slideshare presos from the first two.

I did stop and wonder just how hard it'd be to implement some of the processes at work. I wondered whether it'd only work with quite small companies; the more people you get, the more emphasis there is on haste, the more messages fail to get disseminated, and the processes begin to break down.

But then, thinking along those lines, what would happen if you set a limit on the number of permanent staff on board, and kept the processes the same, getting your freelance staff/exterior companies to work to it? I think it'd potentially be very compelling.

It ties in a little with the final talk I went to this week, 'What can Google see?'. In short, don't worry if you missed this. I hadn't read the book, but the talk was spoiled by the amount of people who turned up who were either conspiracy nuts, or didn't really know what Google had done in the last few years - what programs they'd developed.

What was interesting was the topic of the 'numerati', which was term used to describe all of the mathematicians, statisticians and computer scientists who have a access to the digital footprints we leave online. I wanted to know more about these people, rather than the pat explanation of what search terms people look at, and the idea of very basic market segmentation they can do, which was what the talk focused on.

Imagine, if you will, a flexible, but tight process (think Chinese Fingertrap agency), which is run by a combination of creative agency people, and the numerati. That'd be really interesting; staffing it partly with freelance people who buy into the principles of the agency, and full timers who have the ability to work flexibly yet tight when the need dictates. There'd have to be a cap on the amount of people who worked there, to ensure the agency kept its principles and the quality didn't slip.

This would go along with Tim's thought about the first, small strategy, which could be overruled in an environment where you have to rigorous and speedy.

Anyway...those were the three talks. Some randomness; let me know what you think.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Global Shouldn't Mean Good Enough...

It's a cheeky globe. Look at it there.

Hello hello. Not written anything for a little while, but I thought I should.

Working for a very big network agency with quite a lot of worldwide business, I come across all sorts of brands every day, ones i've never heard of, and may never work on ever again, due to some of the obscure markets we work in.

This has some tremendous benefits - you get to work with and observe consumers of nationalities you don't know a great deal about, and deal with markets you really don't know anything about. So it's a great learning experience.

That said, it's also hugely daunting; who am I to say or judge what housewives in Russia will look for in a deodorant or a bleach? And you do begin to realise that no-one really knows much about certain markets and segments - it's amazing really, but there's a damn good reason why they're called emerging markets.

One thing that working here HAS taught me, having worked on the odd global campaign or just how much harder it is to sell really good work globally. Sure, you can sell 'nice' or 'good enough' work. But that's not why I got into the business, and surely not what most people wanted to either; nor work on clients where all you do is adapt, adapt, adapt the work.

And it makes you appreciate things - like just how good an idea has to be to work across each market, and how very good the whole network has to be to get each networked agency (because, God knows, sometimes the biggest problem is making the decision about which agency does what) singing from the same hymn sheet.

No, I wanted to write this post to talk about how, because there is such a fight, and because there are so many more people the work has to be sold to (unlike nice, straightforward domestic work, which basically has a Marketing Director and his or her wishes) - 'good enough' is presented as the right way a lot of the time.

And i'm tired of 'global' being used as an excuse for the work being crap. So that difficult Portugese client won't buy the work? So craft something which'll appeal to him or her. Don't just sit back and let the final hurdle bugger all of the work. Frankly, i'm tired of lowest common denominator work selling.

I'm chuffed that thinking like 'When a baby is born, so is a mother', 'Dirt is good' and 'The world's local bank' survive. But these are too much in the minority. And if advertising's becoming more worldwide, there's never been more of a need to stop thinking of global as another swearword (next to 'client') and as a reason why the work didn't sell. The work didn't sell because the agency didn't do enough.
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