Business is becoming increasingly digitalised and more international

Florian Haller, CEO of the Serviceplan Group, explains in an interview with Marketing Review St. Gallen on how the agency group is positioned and on current developments in marketing. He was interviewed by Sven Reinecke, Director of the Institute for Marketing at the University of St. Gallen and Friedrich M. Kirn, CEO of MIM Marken Institut München GmbH.

At the University of St Gallen (HSG) we teach students marketing and management. However, many of the people employed by agencies have not studied these subjects. You are a rare example of someone who has. Do you think that your training was helpful or would you choose a different approach now?

I benefited greatly from my time at HSG. And that’s because the advertising agency business has undergone some extreme changes over the last 20 years. Our core business used to be driven by gut instinct and was primarily creative;   I suspect a technical angle would not have been at all useful then. That’s all completely different now. Advertising agencies operate in a much more strategic and complex way. Advertising used to run on four or five channels; now we’re faced with twenty to thirty.  Not only that, these channels are also supposed to be interconnected. Apart from that, numerous new careers in the sector have developed over the years and now we can’t even imagine the advertising landscape without them:  just consider the digital forms of advertising. Business models have also developed enormously. It is nowadays essential that the management of a company the size of ours is based on strategic and theoretical principles. In this respect, I have no doubt that my course at the University of St. Gallen provided me with fundamental knowledge of great value. I think it’s a shame that so few high-achieving graduates from prestigious universities choose to work for large communication agencies.  However, maybe we should take it upon ourselves to put out a stronger message about the jobs and promotion prospects we can offer.

What were the events in your career so far that you would consider particularly “critical” and which have brought you insight?  

Each of the key points in my career was a real “aha moment”. Starting, obviously, with the course in St. Gallen and the “St. Gallen Management Model”. The most crucial thing I learnt was that managers should not settle for a superficial approach, but must recognise structures. The understanding and development of structures result in the design of successful strategies. Contact with businesses was strongly encouraged at St. Gallen: we gave presentations and contributed to manager seminars early on in the course. Even though we were quite young, it was quite normal for us to come into contact with senior management from Swiss and European companies. As a matter of course, this resulted in contacts which have endured now for decades. While I was at university, I realised how fantastic advertising can be. Incidentally, it was not clear at the time whether I would go to work in my father’s agency at some point.

Starting at Procter & Gamble after I graduated was an important time for me.  Going to Brussels and working for a pan-European brand in an international team was great fun.  The management helped us young marketing professionals feel personally responsible for our brands and we related very strongly to them. Over the six and half years at Procter & Gamble, I gradually realised that I would eventually want to work more independently so I joined my father’s agency.

How do agencies differentiate themselves from the others? Positioning, vision and principles at most PR agencies are very similar with little room for individuality, the focus is on brand management and creativity.

That’s true.  It is really difficult for an agency to set itself apart from the others in public perception. That is simply because agencies must live up to certain values. Customers expect agencies to be highly creative and not to damage their brands. It’s in their nature. There are no uncreative agencies.

We distinguish ourselves on the market with our four ‘i’s: innovative, international, independent and integrated. We are independent and partner-led.  We have an integrated structure, which, it should be noted, is not just theoretical, but actively part of our practice in the Houses of Communication. In our agency, traditional PR people work closely with media planners, data analysts and market researchers. Each agency within the group is a standalone unit. We have depth of specialisation but also integration. We achieve this by giving the teams geographical proximity and grouping them into customer teams. The other values that distinguish us are innovation and internationality.

Companies are increasingly pursuing a “one-brand” philosophy. Serviceplan operates as a group, but maintains very many “subbrands” and regional links. Is that not contradictory at some level?  Is it still necessary to maintain such a pronounced national presence in these global times?

There is a distinction between the service level and the brand level. At the service level, we do have separate agencies for specialist areas. For example, one undertakes nothing other than business intelligence. Another specialises in search engine optimisation. We see these specialist agencies as tools which customers can buy individually. Very specific expertise is developing in the specialist units.   Creatives look for other creatives and people working with technology need technology enthusiasts. As a group of agencies, we need to create the right environments and find employees that fit into the various areas. On the other hand, we are trying to cut back on the brand level. We don’t want each service area to have its own brand. That is not sustainable on the market. That’s why we have a brand for the creative product in the broadest sense:  Serviceplan. We have a brand for the ability to deal with channels – Mediaplus. The Plan.Net brand represents the digital segment, Facit covers market research and our newest brand, Solutions, deals with the realisation side of the business. The service areas are organised under these brands.

Does it make any sense at all now to maintain a regional presence in so many countries and on so many continents or should agencies rather look for synergies in the individual markets?

The Serviceplan Group is the first German agency to have a significant international presence.  We have either our own offices or partnerships in other countries. We currently have a presence in more than 35 countries, ranging from France to Dubai to China. Although Germany is so export-oriented, no German agency has ever  operated on such an international level as Serviceplan. This is unusual because German companies are valued for their reliability and technology-oriented thinking, amongst other qualities.  Global players such as BMW want to work with partners who can design international advertising campaigns and localize them for the country in question, so a company needs different expertise in the various markets. Anyone planning a campaign for the BMW 7-series must understand the Chinese market where many more cars are sold than in Germany, for example. In a nutshell: our customers are adamant that internationalisation is essential. I must point out that internationalisation is hugely enriching for the Serviceplan Group. Kick-off events at which teams from China, Europe and the USA get together and jointly develop a vision are memorable experiences for me. Internationalisation is unquestionably also an emotive matter for us. It is clear that our expansion concentrates on hubs which are economically significant. It is important to us that the agencies in the different countries are independent and look after their customers.    Synergies are created between countries, of course.

Serviceplan’s “House of Communication” model has integration at its heart. I don’t want to ask you about your favourite campaign – no one likes to rank their customers –  but which Serviceplan campaign best showcases integration?

(He laughs) We provide every customer with the service that is right for them. I am proud of that. Our day-to-day operations produce real flagship projects, of course.   I am proud of much of the work we do for BMW in which we combine creativity, media and the digital approach. A good example is the launch campaign for the i8. It is quite simply a fantastic product and developing the campaign for it was a pleasure. And then there’s the global aspect and the roll-out on every channel. This is a challenge even for a large agency. Everyone likes to see a satisfied customer. However, there are also less high-profile cases which I find really exciting. For example, we developed a campaign for the German Bar Association that worked mainly on a viral basis. Innovative thinking is paramount in a case like that.

360-degree communication is frequently called for – however, SMEs with modest budgets prefer an 80:20 approach.  Can you give examples of when “integrated PR” might not be the aim and what the importance of branding is?

In my view, the term 360-degree communication is not very helpful. The primary aim today can’t be to advertise on every single possible channel. Firstly, there probably is not enough money in most cases and there is also the question of the logic behind it. Innovative concepts do take careful account of the channels available, but try to find an intelligent way of linking that makes sense sequentially.

The current trend towards digitalisation presents us with more than one issue. Increasing digitalisation has the effect of bring the competition closer together. I think this makes the brand more significant. There used to be high barriers to entry. Customers had to go into a shop for advice before deciding on a new jacket. Nowadays we have the Internet and it is normal to carry out the comparison with a series of mouseclicks. It is therefore easy to defend the proposition that brand work today is as important as never before.

Research is currently examining the subject of “sponsor activation”. Why is sponsorship in many cases, despite the high costs of rights, insufficiently used and integrated in brand management?  Are there any examples of best practice?

The Serviceplan Group has a small business unit which is concerned specifically with sponsorship. This is an exciting subject and sponsorship can be enormously effective advertising. At the same time, sponsorship will never occupy a central place in agency operations.  Sponsorship decisions are often made with a great deal of emotion and caution is advised especially in planning a budget. Anyone who invests in a sponsorship, which usually involves a considerable sum of money, must ensure that enough remains in the budget to follow up with advertising.  Only this approach makes sponsorship efficient.

The communication landscape is diverging into many parts; it’s almost impossible to keep track of it.  The digital advertising sector is dominated by two major players. What will communication and advertising look like in 2015? How are corporate budgets changing, what is happening to the work done at agencies and by other market players such as market researchers

I’m not at all concerned about this. There are many subjects not discussed in the current hype surrounding digitalisation. Going forward, companies will still need partners who can develop creative ideas. Even in digital advertising, there is a huge need for consultancy. Agencies which rely on their purchasing power in the media will disappear, because computers will take on this work. There are still no answers to the questions of which customer data I can have, what price do I pay for it and how do I segment the available data? The need for consultancy will grow, not diminish. When I translate my channel strategy to Google or Facebook, it is probably  quite clear which channels my budgets are being used for. That is not something that advertising customers will want. Our future opportunities will lie in using different sources and putting together efficient offers for our customers.

Looking ahead: what will Serviceplan look like in 15 years time?

Let’s be happy if Serviceplan gets through the next five years successfully. Joking apart,  whatever happens, we will be even more digital in 15 years time. The proportion of digital services at our company is already over 50%. Today, 30% on average of our customers’ advertising budgets is spent in the digital area. The topic of data will be important in the future. Serviceplan will be doing more content marketing than is currently the case and will be even more international. Despite the justified scepticism concerning the frantic collection of data and the analysis of big data in many countries on this earth, we in Europe must be careful that we are not left behind. I am a committed defender of data protection and the controlled use of data, but the future will be to a great extent digital and the business models developing from this future are also digital. If we want to participate in this massive trend, we must remain open to the digital world. Particularly in advertising, we must ensure that it is not only companies in the USA in their safe harbour that do everything that is not allowed here and earn good money with it.  It is therefore important to stop people being afraid of Big Data.

Finally, can we have a few words on your commitment to Switzerland, where Serviceplan of course has a branch?

Happily. My father is Swiss and so am I. I did my military service in Switzerland and I’ve studied and worked there and I have many reasons to be grateful to the country. All things considered, we are the largest Swiss agency in the world.  Switzerland is also an important market for us, because it is a hub for companies with international operations.  For example, we work for ABB international global, which is based in Zurich. I feel very at home in Switzerland.

This interview was published in Marketing Review St. Gallen.

I love this Samsung Gear VR Ad

It’s refreshing to see the new ad for the Samsung Gear VR that focuses on VR’s ability to let the viewer experience something rather than just watch a piece of content.

Three new routes to brand management

When brands become communicative self-starters without classic advertising. Tesla, MyMüsli or Westwing have shown us how it’s done

At one time, the advertising world was highly predictable. Three things formed the pillars of plannable marketing success: a big budget, extensive reach and clear positioning. This classic mix is certainly not outdated if someone wants to sell, say, gummy bears, toilet paper or beer.

Another approach is that of not making the classic media the exclusive central focus of a campaign – which often works like a charm:  Tesla’s off-the-wall carmakers, for instance, have achieved a brand awareness level of 60 per cent in Germany according to You Gov. Tesla is not a unique case: The breakfast cereal makers at MyMüsli or the furniture shop, Westwing, are brands who have largely achieved their fame by taking completely new routes. At the same time, their products, like their makers, are very different from one another. Nonetheless, they have certain common points that could be noted down in the new textbook for modern brand management:

A good story

A new product must have its own story. But not just any old blah-blah story. It has to be one that grabs the attention, that is different, and that interests people. And, of course, it has to be in touch with the zeitgeist. That means: successful brands pick up on mega trends – but in an unconventional, indeed sometimes even surprising, way. Tesla is surfing the wave of massively increased environmental awareness that has been building over the last few decades. It all makes sense so far. In addition, they are also triggering their very own brand surprise moment. Because in terms of design their cars are the absolute antithesis of accepted eco-style and functional, home-made solar-powered mobility. Their groundbreaking electromobility is housed in an extremely elegant, exceptionally desirable and very expensive car. It’s an elitist product that clearly separates smart ecological awareness from conventional green worthiness.

This game also works if you take it down to a smaller scale. MyMüsli has picked up on the trend for organic foods as its basis. It then fitted that trend with rocket engines, enriching the product with individuality plus convenience. An organic muesli that you can create yourself with online clicks is ornamented with personal fantasy names, and is then delivered by courier directly to your breakfast table.  Pour on the milk and get stuck in. Simply laid-back, tasty and healthy – that’s the way we live and eat today. On top of that, in order to show the maximum achievable, the product developers have got their calculators running red hot: according to the company, there are 566 quadrillion possible muesli variations. No-one can try them all in a single lifetime. You really can’t get more variety than that. It’s a great story that catches the fancy of every muesli maniac, and one that people enjoy sharing. However, since online sales and online marketing alone are not enough, for some years MyMüsli has increasingly been banking on its own shops in busy locations in relevant conurbations, staffed with real-life individual muesli consultants.

Westwing has also picked up on the quick & easy feeling brought to us by the internet. Some of their smart people took a look at what’s happening in our homes. There is hardly any other nation that spends so much money on furnishing their homes than we Germans. In addition, we really love being at home – what is known these days as “cocooning”. So it’s more than logical to find some way of sparing us a journey: the previously unavoidable trip to the gigantic out-of-town furniture megastores.  Instead, this clever start-up conveniently delivers trendy branded furniture and interior accessories to your home. Since furnishings are largely chosen by women, obtaining new armchairs and tables is now no more difficult than buying a pair of high heels from Zalando.

Westwing plays very well on the psychology of consumers. A clock can be seen ticking on the Westwing sale portal. If you don’t order within the remaining time you get kicked out, and can’t get the trendy product anymore. It’s something we’re familiar with from classic retail… only while stocks last. Only after all received orders have been bundled does Westwing order the goods and deliver them. But customers pay upfront.

The stars on the top of the tree

Brands that move people, arouse interest, enthral, turn customers into fans who then become part of the brand. Participation is the new mantra.

Additional help is provided when management has a substantial media presence. Because successful brands and their stories need narrators. And they have to take to the stage. It’s something one has to want and be able to do. Self-marketing was long reviled as personal vanity. Indeed it is still widely considered a dirty word. Those successful individuals who have mastered the high art of personal presentation to perfection couldn’t care less.   They do their thing – and benefit the marketing of their brands. Tesla’s Elon Musk is the virtually ideal protagonist in this regard: A billionaire visionary as the face of the company. A man who not only wants to level e-mobility’s way into the mass market, but who is constantly making headlines in the worldwide press with other sensational projects. Sometimes it’s reusable rockets, another time he’s thinking about colonising Mars, or building a tunnel beneath Los Angeles that will catapult pedestrians from Point A to Point B. A positive madman, but one who delivers perfect storytelling, thus continuously recharging his manufacturer brand.

Although the German counterparts are far more modest, they are just as effective. Both the MyMüsli management troika – all former students from Passau – and Deliah Fischer from Westwing, are being celebrated as showcase founders, and given awards. None of them has any qualms about appearing on talk shows or blowing their own trumpets for their brand in a high-profile way. And they always make a fresh, personable impression. Deliah Fischer, who studied fashion journalism, has certainly contributed the most to Westwing’s high profile to date. A power woman who is well-received, and who is the face of a vision, an idea and, ultimately, of a brand. Those who buy something at Westwing are always buying a little piece of Deliah Fischer’s spirit as well. Just like at Tesla, where the ingenious founder Elon Musk is somehow always there as an invisible front-seat passenger. A really good feeling.

Discover the new possibilities

These days start-ups usually have a different business model and they do their advertising differently too. They are consistently living out the game change in everything they do. And that’s a good thing. Three days after MyMüsli launched in 2007 it already had 16,500 hits on Google. The founders later filmed their first TV ad – entirely on an iPhone – because their funds were limited. In the meantime the company can also afford to invest in classic advertising. However this is often also in the shape of modern, interactive formats.

MyMüsli was a huge media hit because the founders recognised the signs of changing consumer interests and adapted them intelligently. Tesla is a media self-starter, powered by Elon Musk. The marketing experts from Rocket Internet – who know how to promote start-ups online – are behind Westwing.  With the examples of all channels from social media to influencer marketing. It is the art of winning people over without a big budget and without classic advertising. This works exceptionally well on the internet which is why it is often the preferred medium for the new brand marketing.

The agencies too have long since had a rethink. They accompany their clients throughout the entrepreneurial process from strategic product development to integrated, interdisciplinary marketing.

Three golden rules for digital change

Just to get it out of the way right now: I don’t like buzzwords. They are like annoying mayflies that seize our attention but serve no useful purpose. Their intrusive buzzing makes it more difficult to formulate clear thoughts. And too many mayflies at once block our view of what really matters.

That’s why I’m not overly fond of expressions like “agile” and “4.0”. Too often people slap these terms on in front of or after everything they can think of with the idea of exuding a little disruptive transformation zeitgeist and to signal: I’ve got my finger on the pulse, and I (supposedly) have everything under control.

Four letters that really spell things out

In contrast, I greatly appreciate the acronym VUCA – which has its roots in the US military world of the 1990s – because of its longevity and expressiveness.

The four letters stand for: Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. Four harmless letters that really spell things out. Because they very accurately describe both the current condition our world is in, and what we can expect in exponential doses for the future – with consequences for the organisation and the individual that are as yet very difficult to predict.

We are all well aware that the environment in which we move has an absolutely elemental influence on both the strength of an organisation’s value chain, and on every employee. VUCA thus challenges us to systematically question the existing rules of successful company management – whether we want to or not.

Because: methods, structures and doctrines that secured value creation over the long term in the past, have now already become – at best – toothless tigers. In a worst-case scenario they can cost an enormous amount of energy and destroy value creation.

But what does that mean for you as a CEO, CDO or CMO in concrete terms? In a VUCA-influenced world, how is substantial value creation produced? What are the new success factors of an entrepreneurial elite that is experimenting on the very front line with courage, curiosity and a sizeable portion of pioneering spirit?

I have been engaging intensively with these questions for around ten years. The key empirical findings can be summarised in three core theses.

1. Embrace, don’t fight.

Why fight against something that can’t be changed anyway? That costs a vast amount of time and energy. Time and energy that we’re lacking elsewhere – where we really can effect change and move things. So one of the elementary VUCA slogans is: Choose your battles wisely. And accept that our world is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. Stop complaining about the world as it is. Instead, interpret all occurrences and events as development helpers, as invitations to develop – for yourself, as a team, as an organisation and, ultimately, as a society – taking things to a new level of consciousness that is capable of seeing opportunities in a new light. Entirely in keeping with Einstein’s thesis that problems can never be solved with the same thinking as was used to create them.

2. Haste is the opposite of fast.

When the carousel of life revolves ever faster, one runs a high risk of succumbing to bustling actionism. Fast, faster, fastest. So that at the end of the day, we can all slap each other on the back and congratulate ourselves on how much we’ve achieved in such a short time.  Without realising how much the corporate organism is overheating. And without paying attention to what truly is value creation – and what isn’t. So one of the VUCA success factors is: learning to handle speed consciously.

In this context, “consciously” means not being driven but rather deciding in a concentrated way when to step on the gas (namely with regard to decision-making and implementation processes) and when reducing the speed is time well-invested (for example when it comes to integrating people into change, strategy or vision processes). To put it another way: In those places where communication significantly boosts value creation). The time required for this is won not by working faster, but by smartly working “differently”.

3. We-intelligence instead of I-intelligence.

Around 90 per cent of the data that exists worldwide today was created in the last two years. This volume of data doubles every year. The global knowledge society is increasingly dependent on thinking and working in networks – and realising that the individual (the individual person, individual department, individual organisation or individual nation) is not in a position to resolve VUCA challenges alone.

The future belongs to those employees or organisations who succeed in accessing official and unofficial networks as a resource, and using them for the good of society. When it comes to making the right decisions quickly, rigid hierarchies are obstructive, while clear rules and a shared understanding of the purpose of the common activity are beneficial.

Organisations that succeed in capitalising on the we-intelligence of colleagues have a lead.

They make use of a large number of new instruments. These range from hybrid role models (on Project A a person is the manager, on Project B the technical expert) to team self-organisation (for instance, the team leader is elected by his colleagues), to more effective steering instruments (collective goals replace individual goals) through to innovative decision-making methods (effectuation, consultative individual decision-making, etc.)

New rules for a new time: VUCA throws the existing rules of successful corporate management overboard. And invites us to successfully shape our future according to new rules with curiosity, passion and the gift of truly listening. In keeping with Karl Popper’s thesis: “Instead of posing as prophets we must become the makers of our fate.”

Let’s embrace VUCA and make the best of it – together!

For anybody who wants to explore this matter in greater depth, I can recommend the following VUCA classics (in german):
•    Reinventing Organisations by Frederic Laloux (2014)
•    Organisation für Komplexität by Niels Pfläging (2014)
•    Denkwerkzeuge der Höchstleister by Gerhard Wohland und Matthias Wiemeyer (2007)

In the shadow of acid attack

An acid attack is the worst kind of crime anyone can commit. There should be severe punishment for the perpetrator and a ban should be enforced on the availability of acid! Acid victims not only suffer physical trauma – also the mental trauma is devastating! Those close to the victim also put up with unimaginable pain and suffering to see their loved ones going through such misery. Some of these victims lose their sight and others succumb to their injuries. An acid attack is the most abominable crime.

Living life with the fear of being attacked is like living with your breast to a knife. This knife is constantly hanging in your mind, butchering your confidence every day, wherever you may be. I have experienced life like this and my confidence suffered terribly as a result of the laming fear.
Being a teenager in a small town was not easy then. And when my parents warned me about these acid attacks that just take place without any rhyme or reason, it truly made me fear for my life – it was like a psychosis taking over my mind. The backgrounds to these attacks are all about jealousy or revenge for turning down a date or marriage proposal!

My school was very close to where I lived. It was the best convent in town. My friends would pick me up every day from my home and we would walk to school together – nevertheless I constantly feared becoming the victim of an acid attack. This fear continued to live in me like a burning fire, threatening to destroy me. There were days when I had imagined how my face had been turned into a disfigured, melted shape. I tried to take all necessary precautions like forever checking if someone was following me. Over the years, I developed a fear, which would never actually come true. Perhaps because as I got older my parents asked two people to accompany me to and from school, like body guards! In the beginning, I had been able to walk to school with my friends and gradually my freedom was taken away from me to ensure my safety and I was always driven the short distance to my school premises.

It was not only me who lived under this constant fear. Many of my friends would discuss the consequences of this crime and would try to avoid any situations that might happen to lead to something like this occurring.
More than 20 years have passed since then, but acid attacks still instill fear in my mind. Acid is so cheaply available. You can buy it everywhere today, despite the fact that, had it been outlawed, it would have saved the lives of so many women!

Today was another such day on which I met a few of these victims. Such brave girls and women, who have left me so inspired. They remind me that life is about standing up to any difficult situation, facing the truth and finding the best way to improve what may seem like a hopeless situation. I recounted my fear of being attacked to these women and they astounded me with their perfect smiles, confidence and incredible courage; fearlessly challenging life to live full lives despite what they had experienced.

Fear is just a thought that can gradually fade away from one’s mind, but a molten or disintegrated face is a constant reminder of what can be stopped today for a better future tomorrow. Attacking someone with acid is the most inhumane act anyone can ever do to anyone and I strongly feel that this evil action should be eliminated from the minds of every individual. This can only happen by creating awareness and correcting the education of young people.

Job market for advertisers: Just looking is not enough

First of all, it bodes well for the communications agency business model when larger numbers of vacancies are announced across the board. On the other hand, we also need to find the colleagues we are looking for and that is currently a problem for many agencies. None of us operating under the traditional designation of ‘agency’ have so far succeeded in conveying to the outside world that the new digital and media career paths of which there are so many can also be followed in agencies. Nor that most of them even originated in agencies. Frequently, we don’t even appear on the radar of young digital natives, who prefer to look towards internet companies and start-ups.
Just the word ‘agency’ brings an analogue image of the traditional advertising business to the minds of many people. That has not reflected the real situation for a long time. We are simply not saying that sufficiently clearly

Although there are enough opportunities to do so. University marketing is one of the most efficient. It is never too early to allow potential colleagues to share in our business and to inform them about the abilities and significance of communications agencies today. If a large agency is not maintaining an active partnership with at least 10 universities, it should come as no surprise if it never finds the staff it is looking for. Sporadic presentations and attendances at trade fairs are not, however, enough. Agency days and working groups looking at real customer cases are the way to go. Collaborating with the universities means more work, but it yields a great deal and not only job applications. We also get a lot of feedback and an outsider’s view from those who really drive us forward – our future colleagues. They know that agencies can still be places full of inspiration where you can fully commit to your career.

Digital Creation: The art of concentration or the return of pragmatism

Not so long ago a digital creative approached me and wanted to discuss a problem with me: “When I get a briefing I have absolutely no idea where to begin. There are so many possibilities. And platforms. And innovations. Somehow you can make everything – and nothing”. I understand him completely. That is precisely why, on the one hand, being a creative in 2017 is really difficult. On the other hand, exactly why it is so exciting.

And, of course, a lot of things used to be simpler. You settled down with a couple of sheets of white paper, copious amounts of coffee and maybe a packet of cigarettes and  “used your imagination”. Created familiar formats like 35-second TV spots from nothing, or filled a double page in a magazine with new contents. You wrote ten articles and the Creative Director had the in hindsight comparatively easy task: he had to decide which of them was the funniest, most surprising or most amazing. Then you scribbled ten notices, edited them and repeated the process. In those days everything was prepared fairly quickly and you knew that it would be turned on its head later.

Today it’s all different.

In-depth knowledge, huge amounts of research, a seamless strategy, intelligent data- aggregation and, based on this, precise target group segmentation; nowadays, these often seem to be the basic prerequisites before you can even begin to think about a headline. At least, that’s the theory. And it does make complete sense. In this – admittedly exaggerated – form it is, however, extremely costly, both in terms of expense and time. Above all, though, one factor is often forgotten, which hasn’t changed since the “good old days”: healthy understanding of people and a creative talent. Of course, as a creative one should be up to date with current technology and platforms and ideally be able to use them. Close cooperation with media and strategy is also absolutely essential. But a good idea is still a good idea today. Only the basis on which it can be developed has changed. New formats want to be fulfilled and technical possibilities exploited.

A solution to the problem or a solution looking for a problem?

An innovative, creative task is characterised, by definition, by providing a new solution for an existing problem. At a time in which, however, many things are happening “because they can”, the tables are turned in many instances. Today there are new solutions and to a certain extent problems for these have first to be found. For example: only seven years ago there was no iPad. Then suddenly there it was and agencies and customers alike asked themselves what effect this technical achievement would have on their business. Suddenly the supply was determining demand. Almost overnight creatives were forced to invent useful applications for a new device. It’s just as if the wireless were discovered today and tomorrow copywriters are having to write radio spots.

The principle of trial and error

So the only thing we can do is just try things out – because they are there and because we can, because it’s fun and not because we feel forced into it. Whether it’s VR, Chat-Bots, Facebook Live or Alexa. We should transfer this innovative gold-rush fever, which the tech start-ups demonstrate, to our own work. We should allow ourselves to be infected by this almost childlike impulse to play in this fascinating period and try things out. And if something doesn’t work, well that’s no bad thing. Then we just have to do things better, change them – or leave them and do something else. It sounds banal but it is nothing other than prototyping. Quickly changing something to test whether it works.

Of course there are no comparison values and no market research can answer our acquired urge to know whether something is right or wrong. But it doesn’t have to because nowadays the most important test group of all tells us whether it likes something – the consumers themselves.

Trends 2017: Korea

Shift to Post Smartphone World

A new era “after Smartphone” arrives. Powered by soaring mobile traffics, AI (Machine Learning), VR / AR / Fictionless computing are hot icons to catch up with. And autonomous vehicles, for sure!

All this techs are continuously connecting us from this to that, here to there. On December 14th 2016, Wynn hotel announced plans to equip all 4,748 hotel rooms at Wynn Las Vegas with Amazon Echo. And on the same day, Amazon succeeded their first drone delivery service with Prime Air in UK. And what else? Uber started its first autonomous vehicle operation in San Francisco whereas Silicon Valley start-up, Lucid Motors launched the luxury electric car, Lucid Air which goes 400 miles on a single charge. All these are happening day to day and we even do not have enough time to get surprised. Let’s not forget: For all that, Future is made for us, “human-beings”. Let’s enjoy this new techs and ride the comfort and convenience to the fullest.

Mobile All

In 2017, mobile is expected to stand even more at the centre of all communication in Korea,  which ultimately leads more to mobile commerce. With 91 % smart phone penetration rate (No. 1 globally as of March 2016) & the fastest internet speed, South Korean will likely consume more contents at mobile. (even TV contents are consumed at mobile)

In line with this trend, contents (including advertising) will be developed & formatted in mobile platform. And mobile advertising  will be further developed to reach right audience with more sophisticated performance measurement tools.

Tech-driven Contents

As the novelty factor of VR/AR technology cools down, creating more relevant contents will become essential. With Naver and Kakao – two of the biggest online industry giants in Korea – beginning to invest heavily in AR/VR content development, Korean consumers are sure to be presented with various, yet more relevant, contents to choose from.

Along with VR/AR, other technologies – such as AI and Livecast – are being implemented in various marketing platforms. This suggests that now more than ever, technological developments are pushing the evolution of marketing tools – something that the content creators must keep pace with.

O2O Almighty

The O2O (online-to-offline) business, which has emerged as an icon of Korean start-up since 2014, is steadily growing. In fact, the O2O service barriers are relatively low. Now, however, diffusion and differentiation are more emphasized in O2O biz in order to settle in the market.

Large platform companies such as Kakao are expanding the scale of service diffusion by acquiring related O2O services or providing various services within one type of app by combining the power of O2O service in the related area for win-win.

Personalized O2O services are on the trend such as ”Travel Accommodation” service reflecting the characteristic of single target who enjoys his / her life, “Personalized Beauty” service reflecting the consumer tent that pursues wellness and “Services aiming at 3049 target” that has emerged as the premiere of the health consumption market.

This O2O service, which makes consumers’ lives convenient and enriched, is expected to grow further thanks to mobile acceleration and easy mobile payment service.

Five marketing trends for the year 2017

Digitalisation has revolutionised the world of media and communication. Will there soon be a period of rest from it all? No, it’s going to continue racing on just like it has, since digitalisation – as a driving force – has brought about several exciting developments. These five trends will keep us on our toes in 2017:

1. Customer centricity and personalisation

The consumer will be at the forefront of all activity

In the past, a product and a campaign were developed for as many people as possible. Mass advertising via scattergun approach worked. Tempi passati – to be ahead of the game today, we need the opposite: to successfully address individual consumers. Advertising is therefore going to experience a powerful shift towards personalisation. “Small Data” as described by Martin Lindstrom and micro-segmentation will help contribute to this development.

This concentrated focus on individual customers, also known as “customer centricity”, will even have an impact on product design: Experience and service provider worlds will emerge, where the actual product – in other words, the merchandise – will simply be one aspect of many. A car manufacturer will then not only sell automobile models, but also complex mobility solutions. Those that are able to use their brand environment to inspire consumers will benefit from lifelong loyalty from individual customers who will possibly – for example with “Amazon Dash” – buy the product again and again at the click of a button. In the marketing of the future, there won’t be any room for “one night stands”.

2. Sincerity and authenticity

Brands need to fight for their credibility

As strange as it might sound: Brands need to be more honest and transparent than ever, especially those for which pretentious claims and marvellous make-believe worlds were devised. In today’s “post-fact” branded times, in which cynical and socially dangerous business flourishes due to fake news, they cannot allow themselves to be pulled into this ever increasing black hole of implausibility. The damages to customer trust and revenue would be huge. Instead, they need to fight this lack of trust steadfastly with honest, authentic communication. Clever content marketing will play a central role here.

3. Storytelling and motion media

Moving images tell riveting stories

People are fed up with content – there is simply too much of everything. They react irritably in response to a lot of what they see. They decide within seconds whether they find an offer good or dreary. Then, they click it away or block it. There is no more ‘neither here nor there’, no more ‘in-between’. The winners of 2017 will therefore be those who understand how to captivate their audience with exciting or interesting stories. If there is one typical characteristic in people, then it’s this: We love stories. Pictures and films are especially well-suited to storytelling, because they can be consumed more quickly and intuitively than text. For this reason, a worldwide advertising trend using films and motion media will set in. First-class work will be rewarded by a strong viral response.

4. Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence

New technologies will become standard

New technologies will leave their niche positioning as hip inventions and will become practical marketing instruments.

  • Exciting new brand experiences arise from Virtual Reality. The best examples of this are Etihad’s A380 guided tour or the Ikea application “VR experience” in which the kitchen can be examined before purchase. Advertising will become more playful, gaming experience is advantageous.
  • Artificial Intelligence advances with giant steps and will enrich and support communication. Thanks to AI, chatbots will develop into essential contact points to alleviate the strain on and improve customer service, for example.

5. Creativity and marketing technologies

Creation takes over leadership

The power of creativity will experience increased appreciation. Because let’s be honest: The enthusiasm for the technically doable, measurable and automatable, which we have digitalisation to thank for, often forced creativity into the background. Online marketing shows us all too well how a dominant belief in technology can squash out any creation and quality. For us marketers, our first and ultimate goal must always be: To ignite enthusiasm for a brand. In the end, it is a top-class, surprising idea that makes the difference. The competition can also operate technology. They are simply great tools – no more and no less.