The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]


Strategy Is A Direction, Not A Shopping List …

I am getting fed up of hearing strategy talked about in terms of a process.

Of course, there is one, but it seems people seem to value the process more than what it is supposed to deliver.

Which is clarity and direction.

Something that will change the behaviour of the brand/business from the very next day.

Something that will help create a clear position in culture, not just in the category.

Something that will contribute value, loyalty and appeal to the audience that will move them forward.

Something that is focused on the long-term, not just the next quarter.

That’s it.

That’s all strategy is.

And yet, I am meeting so many people who are getting lost in the process or worse, getting lost in the word ‘strategy’ … saying nothing can be done without it being deeply involved at every step – and I mean ‘every’ step – of the process.

Now don’t get me wrong, thinking and expertise is important – but to imply that only someone with the word ‘strategy’ in their title can do it, is wrong.

Actually, it’s insulting … especially when you consider that so much of the magic happens when you invite people who see the World differently to the party.

But it’s happening.

I’m seeing it everywhere.

And what it’s doing is creating so many strands to the strategy discipline, they’re getting in the way of each other.

That might be good for the agency fee, but not great for the work.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying these strands of strategy don’t have value – of course they do – but in many areas, it’s not actually strategy … it’s not delivering on any of the 4 areas listed above … it’s simply helping push along the process of the output to get to a [allegedly] more effective result.

In other words, it’s short-term tuning rather than long term creating.

Adding obstacles rather than taking them away.

Or said more cynically, it’s more tactics than strategy.

Doesn’t have to be.

Not everyone is doing that.

Not everyone thinks like that.

But my god, it seems there is a lot of it about … and when you look at the amount of work that is being produced because of it, you have to admit that while there’s a lot of optimization, there’s not a lot of distinctive, magnetic energy.



Uncommon …

A few weeks ago, I met Nils Leonard, one of the founders of Uncommon.

While I had definitely encountered his agencies work before, I had not encountered him.

I wish I hadn’t.

Not because he’s an arrogant dick.

Not because he cares more about money than creativity.

Not even because he has let all his success go to his head.

But because he’s good.

As in really good.

Not just in his talent – which is obvious – but as a person.

He’s a charming, smart, funny and – wonderfully – self depreciating.

He has built, arguably, the most exciting agency in London right now and yet the prick is still generous, open, passionate and welcoming.

I have achieved 0.2% of what he has and I’m a miserable, egotistical dick …

Hell, even my partner-in-crime, Mr Weigel, fell under Nils spell … which means he’s either a witch, a hypnotist or just one of those absolutely talented wankers who you are genuinely happy for the success they are achieving because they’re building and earning it the right way.

With the work.

That said, I’ve heard there are some in the industry who hate him.

As in really, really hate him.

I can only assume they’re jealous about what he [and Lucy and Natalie] have created and are creating and – more importantly – how they’re actually going about doing it …

I don’t blame them, I want to hate him too … and while I could focus on the fact his laugh is a bit like David Brent’s and I’m not as keen on their Guardian work as most of their other stuff [though, to be fair, it’s more the line than the work]… the fact is, there are people you meet in this life – and I’ve been fortunate to have met and worked with a few – where you realise all their achievements aren’t because they’re political, self-publisiising, manipulative, ego-driven, cold and calulated assholes, but because they’re extremely talented and hard-working in a way that means they were always destined to exist at a different altitude to the rest of us.

No wonder he called them Uncommon.

Bastard.



Anything Is Easy If You Don’t Want It To Last

I am unashamedly a believer in brand.

I know there is a huge amount of talk about its commercial value, but – like the talk about whether we need ‘insights’ – there is plenty of evidence to suggest it continues to drive companies growth and revenue.

And while there are accademics, like Byron Sharp, who have proven people are far less loyal than they claim, the fact remains that loyalty – whether emotional or transactional – has significant value in building sustainable success for a brand.

But here’s the thing many brand owners forget.

To stand any chance of loyalty from your audience you need to be loyal to them.

Continuously.

It’s not good enough to simply offer discounts and early access.

Sure, that can help, but audiences know exactly why you’re doing it.

Real loyalty – by which I mean there is an almost irrational connection to a brand – is born from brands acting in ways that prove why people should care and keep believing in you.

Behaviour not just words.

Progress over the comfort of repetition.

Authenticity not just chasing popularity.

Telling beautiful stories not just spouting facts or contrived ‘ads’.

As I said, there are some marketers who say none of this matters in a world where digital enables them to have ‘direct to consumer’ relationships at a fraction of the cost of brand building.

I get it. It’s quick and it can be powerful which explains why every day there seems to be a new company claiming it will disrupt the category.

But where they go wrong is not realising disruption without distinction [ie: brand building] doesn’t create long term sustainable value, it just creates new commoditization.

In such an extremely competitive, highly-pressured, fast moving world, I would argue that brand has never been so important to stand a chance of having a stronger future.

And while this might all sound hypocritical given I work for a company who is trying to invent the future of marketing – which includes building new ways to have D2C relationships for clients, finding new ways to interact with subcultures through digital and passionately believes in disrupting categories – the fact is we never do this without an obsessive focus on the authenticity of the brand and how we can help it create the future culture wants to follow rather than just exploiting the offers of the present.

For me, the real issue is we are seeing is companies wanting all the good bits of brand loyalty without much of the effort, for which I leave them with this story I heard when living in China.

The successful farmer plants their seeds and nurtures them in the knowledge that when it comes time to harvest, their crop is bigger and healthier. It takes time, but it is always worth it.



Best Of The Best Or The Least Bad?

Today I’m judging the Effies.

Oh awards …

I’ve written so, so much about them in the past.

Like here. And here. And here. And here.

I must admit, I am intrigued to see what they are going to be like in the UK.

Will they be a celebration of insightful efficiency or will they be like I experienced too many times in Asia, a stream of consciousness that just rumbles along till they think they have explained how they got to their idea and how they have proved it worked.

I guess we shall see later today.

I really, really hope they are good.

Not just because the Effies have always had a standard they’ve lived up to, but because it will give me faith the industry still has fight in it to do things right.

In my time in the UK, I’ve read a bunch of planning documents/portfolios/resumes that have been more about packaging.

Repeating a client brief in a way that has been ‘sexed up’.

Superficial.

Executional.

Literal.

There are a bunch of reasons for this.

Part of it is the lack of training agencies give their strategiests.

[Hence why we started the School of Strategic Arts]

Part of it is the huge amount of freelance planners out there who are doing exactly what they are asked because they are fighting for their livelihood.

And part of it is because of the client/agency remuneration deals which means planners are giving too little time to explore the best outcome to the problem they face.

Planning has a valuable role to play in effectiveness.

Planning has a valuable role to play in creativity.

But it needs to be allowed to do it to make it happen … so here’s hoping we see the best of what it can do today, because the Effies is not just important for the people who win, but for what the industry needs to get back to being.



Behind Every Clean Process, Is A Mass Of Messy

I love chaos.

Always have.

In fact, my approach to work can be summed up in 3 words.

Culture. Chaos. Creativity.

And yet, I do appreciate the importance of some sort of process … some sort of systematic thinking in terms of approach … because ultimately we are in the commercial creativity business, so we need some guide rails to ensure we’re heading in the right direction, even if I am removing any specific destination.

Where things go wrong is when people care more about the process than what the process is supposed to create.

Where systematic thinking goes from direction to dictation.

That’s when things go wrong.

That’s when potential and ambition are killed in the quest for control.

But here’s the thing …

For all the processes talked about.

For all the proprietary tools hyped.

The system agencies tend to end up adopting – even when they’re hidden inside a beautifully constructed, clearly planned out, client facing framework – is this.

This is not a criticism.

To get to somewhere new … somewhere interesting and intriguing … you have to take a leap of faith at some point, even in the most well-organised, well thought-out of processes.

Some people don’t like admitting that.

Some people don’t want the pragmatism of creativity to overshadow the ego of their process.

Some people don’t even want to accept creativity rarely follows a straight line through the entire process.

And yet it is creativities ability to solve problems in lateral ways that makes it so valuable and powerful, which is why for me, those who are comfortable with uncomfortable are the ones who create the most enduring ideas for brands, business and culture.

And the ones who aren’t?

Well they tend to be the ones who use words like operationalize or optimise or codify or, the old classic, ‘proprietary tools and processes’ a lot … the ones who want to feel in control, despite the fact what they’re actually saying is they want to replicate creativity rather than ignite it.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s always some element of process in any development of creativity – whatever form that manifests – but there’s also messiness and chaos and to remove that, not make room for that or go around that is either a lie or an act against the incredibly infectious possibilities of creativity.

As Martin and I said at Cannes, chaos creates what order can’t.



Variety Is The Spice Of Life …

I saw this person on the tube recently.

I don’t know who they are.

I accept I have no right to talk about fashion or shoes.

But a pair of brown crocs with some glittered-up stones glued to them feels the sort of things by a Blue Peter host would have come up with circa 1982.

What makes it even more confusing is they were carrying an LV bag.

And while I haven’t seen such an odd pairing since I saw Cate Blanchett and her husband, I have to say I loved it.

It was quirky.

It was individual.

It was the sort of thing that pushes ‘fashion’ and could either crash and burn or open up a new chapter of it. And given we live in a world that tends to play safely in the middle, the people on the edges are the ones we should be looking at and celebrating.

When Martin and I did our Cannes talk for Warc, we talked about ‘the edge effect’.

It’s a genuine term – associated more with nature than planning – but the point is still valid. If you want to move brands forward, play to where culture is heading not where it is and to do that, seek out the people on the edges not smack bang in the centre.

_________________________________________________

UPDATE:

Since I wrote this post, I discovered these shoes weren’t the work of a children’s TV presenter, some Pritt Stick glue, some stones from the garden and a couple of tubes of glitter but a real live bloody shoe designer.

Christopher Kane to be precise.

And what’s more, they cost £325.

THREE HUNDRED AND TWENTY FIVE POUNDS.

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

Suddenly my wifi cup, remote control ball and basically 99% of everything I’ve ever bought looks a wise investment in comparison.

So to Mr Kane, your career might be done but you made me feel better about myself.Ta.



Careful. Your Data Is Showing …

The big conversation in marketing right now is around data.

So it should be, it’s insanely valuable and important.

But the irony is, while it can absolutely help us have deeper understanding about our audiences behaviour and habits – information that can lead to more powerful and valuable creativity – it’s alarming how many companies who claim to be experts in this field express themselves in ways that are the opposite of it.

Here are 2 ads I saw in Cannes …

Really?

You think that is going to convince people the data and technology you have is going to lead to better work?

You think that represents the language of your audience?

Sure, I know it’s Cannes and so there is a certain sort of person who is attending there at that moment – but they’re still bloody human.

Quite frankly, this is more an ad for celebrating ‘the old way’ rather than the new.

As Martin and I said in our presentation – if companies think creativity can be reduced to an engineering problem, then they don’t understand how society actually works.

Sure … you want consistency if you’re doing surgery.

Or making rockets.

Or producing food.

But society as a whole, is a mish-mash of complications and hypocrisy.

A group where their passions extend to far more than what they transact with … but how it integrates with their life.

Their fashion. Their music. Their games. Their language and imagery. Their context.

If you remove this from the process, you are simply creating the answer you want, not the answer that actually stands a chance of moving cultural behavior and attitudes for the long term, not just the short.

Or said another way, making brands successful in ways culture wants to stick with.

As I said, data has a huge and valuable role to play in all this.

I’m fortunate to have an extremely good data partner at R/GA … someone who not only knows what she’s doing, but appreciates it means nothing if it doesn’t help create better work.

And that’s the thing … great data doesn’t want the spotlight.

I see too much work where the brief seems to have been ‘show this data point’.

Or worse, too many briefs where it is the data point.

Great data – like great PR – is, in a lot of ways, invisible.

It liberates creativity rather than dictates it.

Revealing opportunities to think laterally not literally.

Helps you make work that reaches audience in more powerful ways.

Whether that’s where you play or how you play.

Put simply, data is an incredibly important part of modern marketing but – and this is where many people fall down – it can’t do it all.

It needs help to help make great work.

It can guide … it can reveal … it can lead … it can do so much, but it can’t do everything.

For data to truly show its full potential, it needs the nuances of culture added to it. Not purely for scalability, but for resonance.

As I’ve said many times, we need to stop looking to be relevant and start wanting to be resonant.

Making work that feels it was born from inside the culture, not from an observer.

Or said another way, work that doesn’t patronise, condescend or bore people.

Are you listening IBM and Neilsen?

Data with culture opens up more possibilities for creativity.

Allowing ideas to grow and go in places we might never have imagined.

Ideas that feel so right to the audience rather than explain why they should feel that way.