Lessons for Marketing Technology Companies From Cannes Lions Innovation

Last year I went to the Cannes Lions and one of the things that struck me was the volume of the conversations around data. You saw it in the presentations, the companies and organizations in attendance, and the general buzz around terms like cloud, IoT, marketing technology, innovation and data. Outside one of the conference halls, the organizers had placed quotes from advertising luminaries on the columns in the foyer. I was particularly taken by a quote from Sir Marin Sorrell, CEO of WPP, who said,

“Advertising is not an art anymore; it’s a science. I believe data informs great creativity.”

Cannes Lions Embraces Innovation

Cannes Lions marketing technology

Cannes Lions recognition of the power of data and technology in the world of creativity.

So it came as little surprise to me that shortly after the 2014 Cannes Lions, the event organizers announced that this year there would be a new “event within the event” called Cannes Lions Innovation.  Sure, the cynical among us may look at this as a new revenue stream for the event organizers, and we can talk about what agencies could have done with the money instead of a Lion, but I think it shows an awareness of the changing nature of advertising that Sir Martin clearly sees as well.  The huge growth of the Ad Technology, and increasingly the Marketing Technology, industries further demonstrates the direction things are headed in.

The Innovation jury was headed Y&R Global CEO David Sable, who I had the pleasure of knowing during my time as Creative Culturalist at Y&R New York.  David and his international jury had a difficult job to do. As jurors in a new category, there was no history to reflect on in these categories. Ultimately, the jury didn’t award any of the entries a Grand Prix. Sable commented on the situation:

“It was really quite challenging,” he said. “We were very cognizant of the fact that you’re setting a benchmark, making a statement, you’re hopefully creating a bar you raise next year and the year after.”

The winners in the Creative Data category did showcase a growing trend in advertising and marketing. It’s not enough to just push product. The best work not only delivers a message, but has real impact on the lives of people.  Gold winners included work for the Mexican Red Cross, Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Charitable Foundation “Change One Life.”

The work was diverse in terms of technology leveraged, but highlights the value of data, and the challenge of data in two key ways. From saving lives to affecting public policy, data has a potential real-world impact, but raw data is often so hard for people to synthesize and turn into something actionable that if often goes under-leveraged. That’s where the creativity of marketers come to forefront (and reinforces the quote from Sorrell). The Run That Town mobile game from the Australian Bureau of Statistics is a great example.

This quote from Sable really says it all:

[the work took] “the most shit-boring stuff you can ever imagine in your life, and turned it into something so compellingly interesting.”

 

Marketing Technology Needs To Embrace Storytelling

And that’s the key lesson for anyone making a mobile app or SaaS platform. How can you craft a story around the data you have? How can you make people feel something, even if you aren’t changing the world or saving lives? Changing behavior is incredibly difficult. You may have a superior product or platform, but if you don’t understand how to tell a compelling story about it, why should people take the time and effort to embrace it?

Having spent time now in the agency world and the marketing technology space I see the need for MarTech companies to tell a more compelling story. There are too many alternative solutions, in every niche, to just assume that the quality of your product alone will be enough. Regardless of what position you inhabit in the marketing stack, you have to matter to people. Saving time, reducing headaches, creating cost efficiencies, these all matter to people in business, but the story still needs to hold emotional impact as well.

MarTech companies can learn from other industries, both non-profit and for-profit, on how to tell those emotional stories. Even a technology company like Google understands the power of emotional storytelling. Now it’s your turn.

 

Of Brackets, Basketballs and Business

 

Your content marketing strategy or your bracket? Which do you have more competitive intelligence about?

Your content marketing strategy or your bracket? Which do you have more competitive intelligence about?

It’s that time of year again, when the country is consumed by March Madness, that annual rite of Spring in which Cinderellas, Dark Horses and Number 1 seeds all hope the months of hard work, planning and strategy sessions pay off. It’s a time when coaching staffs and scouting departments are working overtime, trying to find that bit of knowledge, that key piece of competitive intelligence, that will propel them to victory and the admiration of their peers – just like you trying to fill out your bracket for the annual office pool.

Perhaps that’s what makes the NCAA tournament unique on the American sports landscape (that and the associated drop-off in workplace productivity) – it gives everyone an opportunity to participate.

The brackets are the great democratizer of sports fandom. It doesn’t matter whether you went to Duke or a #16 seed no-hoper, everybody has a chance to win their office pool or impress their friends by picking the winners. This year a perfect bracket might also make you a billionaire. Spoiler Alert: The odds of a perfect bracket are one in 9.2 quintillion (you have a better chance of successfully navigating an asteroid field). It’s also a great opportunity for anybody who’s ever watched Dickie V, Clark Kellogg, Jay Bilas or Bill Raftery and thought, “I know more than those guys,” to put their brackets where there mouth is.

The truth is, many fans do know more than the so-called experts because access to information has never been greater than it is today. Now, anybody – and everybody – has access to player highlights, detailed statistical breakdowns, games summaries and recaps, and the latest news regarding injuries. In fact, if anything, there’s too much information available.

What separates the best pundits, and bracketologists, from everybody else is the ability to not just collect information, but to interpret it. Understanding what’s valuable data and what’s noise is the key to picking the right #12 over #5 upset and accurately predicting which number 1 seeds will make it to the Final Four (and which ones won’t).

College Basketball’s Growing Analytics Trend

Much like how data has changed professional baseball (see Moneyball), college basketball is increasingly being driven by statistical analysis. When evaluating players, stats like points scored, rebounds and assists are now mere vanity metrics, similar to likes and follows in social media. Progressive coaches like these (ESPN Insider subscription required) realize that information has never been more critical. A pre-season article from this past November in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette outlines the changes:

“Athletic departments are spending thousands of dollars on computer programs to help better analyze data. Jobs once held by basketball experts are now being offered to graduates with finance, statistics and economics degrees, all in an effort to succeed in a crowded college basketball industry that generates $1.1 billion annually, according to the U.S. Department of Education.”

Competitive advantage can be a matter of knowing which matchups you can leverage or which defensive scheme to employ against your next opponent. It’s why coaches and fans alike have been rushing to KenPom.com these last few days, scouring the site that breaks down hoops analytics like no other. Knowing how to analyze real-time data, and more importantly how to act upon it in the form of critical half-time adjustments, is often a deciding factor.

Maybe this is why so many great college coaches have gone on to write business books. Mike Krzyzewski, Rick Pitino, Bob Knight, Dean Smith & Pat Summit all know the value of competitive intelligence and the advantages it brings on the court and in business.  Today, business resembles the frantic pace of a basketball game in the final two minutes as Social Media has created an ‘always-on,’ 24/7 business environment. For marketers this brings with it great challenges and equally great opportunities. Never before have brands had so many issues to deal with: increased competition, new and dynamic media channels, a participatory consumer with the means to speak loudly in the public forum; all these factors can make a CMO feel like an undersized point guard facing a full court press.

Utilizing Competitive Intelligence in Business

Yet at the same time marketers have access to tools that let them make sense of all this. We’ve seen the advent of Command Centers that help brands and their agencies take advantage of Real Time Marketing opportunities like the Super Bowl.  But of course not every brand can invest in a Command Center like Gatorade, or mobilize a strike force of writers, graphic designers, ad execs and legal teams to send out the perfect tweet to capitalize on a power failure like Oreo did last year. What most brand marketers need is an everyday tool that allows them to make sound decisions based on data, just like a good basketball coach does.

So, this year when you’re filling out your bracket, ask yourself this question: Do I have more information about the starting center for Wichita State than I do about my content marketing strategy? If the answer is yes, we’d love to talk with you. We’re Unmetric and we believe that when you connect people with information great things can happen.

The Death of Facebook?

Menlo Park, We’ve Got A Problem

Facebook’s got a problem. One that I saw coming last year (Ed. note: I certainly wasn’t the only one).  I was at a Facebook event in

Facebook Has A Facebook Problem

Facebook Has A Facebook Problem

New York as they explained to marketers how their system worked and how marketers could best leverage the platform. I remember sitting there and thinking, “So, this EdgeRank system is going to let Facebook determine what people see and don’t see in their feeds? Facebook is going to manipulate that so brands will have to pay to be in people’s feeds.” Again, I wasn’t the only one who came to that conclusion.

Fast forward to December 2013 and what do we see? Headlines like this:

Facebook Admits Organic Reach is Falling Short, Urges Marketers To Buy Ads – AdAge

Facebook Wants to Be a Newspaper. Facebook Users Have Their Own Ideas. – All Things D (WSJ)

Facebook Brand Pages Suffer 44% Decline in Reach Since December 1 – Ignite Social Media

Facebook Finally Admits That You Do Have To Pay For Ads To Reach Your Fans – J Campbell Social Marketing

That sounds problematic.  While this is certainly an issue of Facebook’s own doing, there is a fundamental misunderstanding of the platform behind this.

People Are From Mars, Brands Are From Venus

What we’re seeing is a mismatch of purposes. What people want to do on Facebook and what brands want to do on Facebook are, depending on your outlook, either simply different or fundamentally opposed.  I have over 1,000 connections on Facebook and the amount of times I’ve seen those connections talk about brands, unaided and with positive sentiment, is something I could count on one hand. Complain about a brand? Sure, all the time. Make fun of a brand? Frequently.  Most people just aren’t on Facebook to have a “relationship” with a brand. They want to wish a cousin happy birthday; talk about the big game on Saturday; post a photo of their daughter going to her first day of 5th grade; or share a video of an adorable dog trying to catch its own tail. These are all personal, intimate expressions of people connecting with other people.

By contrast, most brands are posting stock photos of their products or trying to solicit engagement with entreaties like, “share this post if you think Fall is the best season!”  That is when they can find time between bouts of self-immolation with posts that range from insensitive to downright insulting.

So, at its core we have a purpose problem, not a technical one, and brands are caught between Scylla and Charybdis. On one side they are being squeezed by Facebook, asked to invest money if they want to be seen by more than a small percentage of the people who have self-selected as being interested in the brand. On the other hand, be careful what you wish for because a lot of people would try to figure out how to turn off updates from brands if they were exposed to the pablum most brands turn out on a regular basis.

So, Should Brands Even Be On Facebook?

As exposure rates continue to decline (without paying to play), should brands even bother with Facebook? The answer, as with most cases in Social Media, comes back to this fundamental question: What do you want to do?

If driving sales is the primary business objective right now, and you need volume, I’m not sure Facebook is the best platform. Especially if you don’t have an established community of millions of people. But having some presence on Facebook certainly makes sense. People are there, they want to know that you are there. But maybe your Facebook presence should be less about your products and more about the story of your brand. Or what if it was completely focused on your employees? Or your customers?

The Problem Isn’t Facebook, It’s You.

Remember in Ferris Bueller when a stoned out of his mind Charlie Sheen is talking to Ferris’ sister in the police precinct. She’s telling him about the cosmic injustice she faces daily as Ferris lives a charmed life. He tells her the problem isn’t Ferris, it’s her. She should stop worrying about Ferris and just deal with her own issues. Very Zen.  Similarly, brands should stop worrying about Facebook and its constant tinkering with its own system and start worrying about the time of content they create – whether on Facebook or any other platform, from Twitter to YouTube to a website or mobile experience.

If you create content that contains value, that entertains, informs or educates, people will find it (and share it). If your content contains a human truth, if it speaks to people’s emotions, you’ll build a community that will want to engage with you.

Should a Fast Food Outlet Employ an All You Can Eat Strategy in Social Media?

Burger King Norway has decided to “Think Outside The Bun” when it comes to social media. Wait, that’s Taco Bell’s tagline. Ok, let’s just say BK Norway is taking a decidedly unconventional approach in regards to their Facebook page. FastCo.Create has the details. The short version is that BK Norway offered followers to their Facebook page a coupon for a free Big Mac – the key product of their chief rival! – to those people who would unfollow BK Norway. That’s right, they gave away somebody else’s signature item in an effort to lose followers. Why on Earth would they do that?

Social Media strategy, brand loyalty and community engagement all put to the test

Social Media strategy, brand loyalty and community engagement all put to the test

Here’s the thing about Facebook “likes,” especially for brands: Likes are a cheap, and I would say frequently arbitrary and misleading metric. Especially when you lure an audience with free goodies and coupons. Those are fans of your brand, those are fans of a brand called “Gimme Free Stuff.” Listen to what Burger King Scandinavia marketing director Sven Hars said in explaining the rationale for the move:

“This campaign gave us the opportunity to get rid of all the fans that just liked us because of freebies,” says Hars. “We stopped focusing on how many likes we had, and put time and resources into finding out what to talk about and how to engage our fans.”

Bingo. Several key insights here. Let’s break ’em down:

1. They got rid of the “fans” that were just there because of the freebies.

Those people are going to be nothing but a drain on resources. They’ll want to know when they are getting their free food, and then they’ll likely complain about the quality when they do — both in public. Don’t believe me? Go ask TGI Friday’s.

2. They stopped focusing on “likes.”

Quick, go to your Facebook profile and review the brands you’ve “liked.” My bet is that you can’t remember ever “liking” about 30% of them, you have patronized another 30% in the last year (or ever) and then there’s another 30% that you do use/buy, but their Facebook presence has nothing to do with it. Focusing on “likes” is a never-ending race to nowhere. What’s a successful number of “likes” to have? One million? Ten million? Who knows. Likes are a result of doing the right thing, not a means to and ends.

3. They decided to do some research and focus on the people who matter

Most brands, especially in this category, just pump out product promotions, but Facebook – and by extension social media – isn’t, or at least shouldn’t, be about that. It should be about understanding how people live, what they really want, and being part of culture. Then figure how your brand (not your product) fits in.

Yes, BK Norway has a lot fewer fans on their Facebook page. But these are people who, when given the choice, declared they would prefer to stay loyal to Burger King over their chief rival. Now BK has set up an us vs. them situation, just the type of thing that can be the catalyst for building a true community.  Again, here’s Hars on the results of the move…

 “There are so many more conversations going on between both us and the fans, and the fans in general,” he says. “Focus on quality for us has led to a dedicated and loyal fan base, and has also made it easier for our fans to connect to the brand.”

Conversations are a better way of measuring than mere “likes.” In a category where quantity usually trumps quality, at least when it comes to products, it’s great to see a brand focus on the latter.

#Anchorman2 Isn’t A Movie

durango burgundyAnchorman 2 is a Transmedia Experience.

Or at least that’s what it has become. If you’ve been paying attention recently you’ve seen Ron Burgundy, the character created by Will Ferrell in the modern comedy classic Anchorman, all over the place.

 

In Dodge commercials

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On local news in Bismarck, ND

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At the Canadian Curling Trials in Winnipeg

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Of course this is all promotion for Anchorman 2, which hits theaters later this month. But it seems to me it is more than that.  I’m sure Ferrell, like other celebrities will make appearances, as himself, on Leno, Letterman, The Daily Show, etc., but it’s not often you see actors, in character, going to places like Winnipeg or North Dakota, and make no mistake, those locations are carefully chosen. They are chosen so as to be discovered, and shared, by Ferrell’s fans, who are rewarded for scouring the Internet and sharing their discoveries with the community.

No, Ferrell is engaged in another form of storytelling. He’s created a transmedia experience that is well, experiential.  Ron Burgundy now inhabits a sort of pseudo-fictional, quasi-reality that doesn’t just promote the “Anchorman Universe,” but expands upon it.  The Burgundy character is a cartoonish trope familiar to those well-versed in the Judd Apatow school of comedy. He’s the buffoonish man-child, egotistical, self-centered and infantile. In other words, he’s a lot like people you see on TV.

Burgundy’s appearances at various events and within car commercials break the barriers between performer and audience, but not in the same way that say, Garry Shandling broke the 4th wall on It’s Garry Shandling’s Show. Usually when performers engage more directly with the audience they break character – a knowing wink or nod, an admission that they know this is fiction, and they know that you know. But not with Ferrell/Burgundy. It’s more of a McSweeney’s style of humor. An “I know you know, and you know I know you know, but I’m not going to acknowledge it”-sort of performance art.  By maintaining the illusion, Ferrell/Burgundy pull us into their world while inhabiting ours. Ferrell’s comic forebearer is more Andy Kaufman than fellow SNL alum Chevy Chase.

But like another SNL ‘Not Ready For Primetime Player,’ Mike Myers, Ferrell is gifted at creating characters infused with a certain humanity that makes them believable while at the same time fulfilling the requirements of comic absurdity.  Their genius being the ability to inhabit these beloved characters but not be totally typecast by them.

~

So we come to the question, what can a brand learn from this? How can a car company or a QSR or a CPG manufacturer leverage this sort of cultural capital?  Surely there is no shortage of brand characters out there. GEICO has come pretty close with the Caveman characters. (Full disclosure, I thought the Caveman-spinoff TV show was cleverly written.) Old Spice achieved a certain degree of transmedia traction with The Man Your Man Could Smell Like via the YouTube response videos.

But most brand mascots don’t have the multi-dimensionality or talent of Ferrell/Burgundy.  Perhaps the best move is in fact the one played by Dodge. Borrow the equity and interest of an existing character. It seems to be working, as sales of the Dodge Durango is up 59%.

With notable exceptions like John Carter we live in a world where the blockbuster hit is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Anchorman 2 is going to be a huge hit (BoxOfficeMojo predicts the film with double its predecessors take, raking in a total of $165 million). From movies to video games to awards shows and events, the opportunities for a brand to create a transmedia experience, rather than just a sponsorship or TV spot, are endless. Kudos to Dodge for not simply hiring Will Ferrell, but for understanding culture and figuring out how to triangulate between the product, the character and the actor.

 

Further Reading:

Transmedia Planning

Entertainment Weekly on Burgundy/Dodge Partnership

The New Yorker Explores the Viability of “The Blockbuster” 

Innovative Storytelling

Untethered: How People Will Shape, And Be Shaped By, The #FutureOfRetail

Back in October of 2013 I was asked by PSFK to write an accompanying piece for the 2014 Future of Retail report. My essay, republished below, originally appeared here.

The-future-of-Retail-PSFK

Perhaps more than anything else, the 21st century has been marked by its ability to disconnect long-held paradigms from what were previously perceived to be sturdy moorings. Many of the things we’ve long held as truths, be they in relation to work, family, religion, media or technology have been blown apart by cultural upheaval and scientific advancement. The result has been that people – let’s do away with terms like ‘consumers’ for now – have been thrown into a new reality (or emancipated from the old one, depending upon your viewpoint).  This sort of disruption inevitably benefits some and hurts others, especially in the short term. But as an equilibrium is achieved, people learn how to maneuver in the system.

PSFK’s Future of Retail report, not unlike a William Gibson novel, provides a provocative peek into the very near future. As Creative Culturalist at Y&R New York, it’s my job to observe, and ideally directly experience, these trends and help our agency, and by extension our clients, make sense of them.  Having digested an executive summary of the FoR report, I’d like to propose a sort of macro-macro trend. One that speaks to the larger societal evolution we are experiencing, manifested within the retail category. I call it untethered.

As retailers slough off the physical back end of manufacturing via off-shoring, and outsource other, ‘soft-cost’ functions such as tech support, we’ve seen the retail industry ‘untether’ from local communities in many ways.  I think we’ll see this continue and, combined with other advances in technology, the ‘untethering’ will also appear ‘at the front of the store’ as the very notion of the “store” itself changes.

We’ve seen the dramatic affects on retail as the way people buy products has changed, first from home computers and more recently from their mobile devices, or the ‘showrooming’ trend.  Now as content becomes a sales channel via mobile and 2nd screen technology – the report provides interesting examples of this – the very nature of the ‘storefront’ changes.  Is a shoppable music video a piece of content, an advertisement or a digital shop? The answer is “yes.” Omni-Point-Of-Purchase as the report refers to it blurs lines and removes friction from previously discreet interactions.

An intriguing knock-on effect of this could be how this alters the roles of employee, customer and ‘brand advocate,’ that elusive yet highly sought after super fan that has been the Holy Grail of corporate social media efforts. You could also easily throw in ‘producer’ to the salesperson/customer/advocate mix. Sites such as Etsy now allow virtually anyone to become their own retail brand, further ‘untethering’ the individual from the systems of the last century.

Can a retail brand exist purely in the digital world? If so, what does it mean to be a ‘salesperson’ of such a venture? Does that role cease to exist? Or does that person become ‘untethered?’ Could there be a new role, in the vein of an Avon representative, where you become affiliated with a number of brands, earning money for selling and promoting products? Now a person can use the entire arsenal of social networks and tools to act as a salesperson, customer service rep and brand advocate, and it could be done anytime, from anywhere.

Retail brands have long courted influencers with large networks, but the efforts usually lacked real strategy and it was difficult to track success. Now however the tools exist, from real-time big data dashboards to personalized customer profiles that remember purchasing histories, to allow a new type of employee to really drive the bottom line for retailers, and provide retail value to people.

We’ve seen the rise of the curator in recent years. Those clever and resourceful folks with impeccable Pinterest boards and finely appointed email newsletters. In an ‘untethered’ world these people will become ‘retail consultants’ perhaps getting paid a commission from an company, but perhaps also benefitting from a customer subscription service. The purchase funnel is now a purchase network and those savvy enough to understand the game – from all sides – will surely figure out how to benefit from it.

The ‘untethered’ retail environment opens new interpretations and opportunities for loyalty programs as well, another trend noted in the report. We’ve come a long way from the ribbon cutting ceremonies of old. Gamified, social experiences disconnected from a retailer’s physical space (if they even have one), will encourage new and novel partnerships.  There will be an opportunity to re-imagine the loyalty program from the individual to the community – especially in an ‘untethered’ world where people will have a greater need than ever to connect.

In an untethered world the role of advertising, and the advertising agency, will – must – evolve. The same pressures being brought to bear on retail will also be evident in the world of marketing. Communications will need to be further customized, personalized, relevant and delivered in real-time. But the nature of the message will need to change as well. Instead of a brand sponsoring a movie, perhaps a movie will sponsor a brand? Young directors will offer to make films about a retailer or their product, imbed sales opportunities directly within the film and receive a percentage of the sales.

All futures are possible at this time, but this we know for sure – those that don’t embrace the future, be they retailer or person, will find themselves in a world in which they will struggle to succeed.