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.

Virtual Reality – where will it take us?

It used to be a hobby for geeks. Today, Virtual Reality edges towards the mainstream: The VR industry is expected to break the $1bn (£710m) barrier for the first time this year, according to Deloitte; and with Goldman Sachs predicting the market could be worth $80bn (£56.8bn) by 2025 the opportunities are only going to get bigger, taking the industry to new heights.

However, the strongest selling point of Virtual Reality is not only taking us to new heights or places, but turning us into someone else. It has the power to influence our physical and emotional responses to reality by letting us experience this reality – in a virtual world. All we have to do is to give them the access.

Earlier this year, at South by South-West (SXSW) – the big film, music and interactive trade fair, festival and meet-up in Austin Texas – Per Poulston, Chief Innovation Officer of Serviceplan Group, had a chat with Bruce Vaughn, the former Chief Creative Executive at Walt Disney Imagineering. He told him about what the Imagineering labs call “Portals”.

He used the gate to Disneyland as an example: It’s a simple gateway you go through to enter the Main Street in Disneyland. On it there is a sign saying: “Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy”. And that is what people do. They simply and immediately accept being in a world where giant mice are completely normal, where trash collectors routinely break out singing and where the small shops on the street are not fierce competitors but best friends. “Portals” allows us to transport people into a whole new world, a whole new experience.

Once regarded a science fiction fantasy, the idea of a virtual environment is now a very possible future and it works because it puts people at the epicentre of an experience and has the potential to dramatically change the way we approach education and the world of business.

When it comes to education, VR creates a sense of presence to help students vividly absorb and remember what they’ve learned. Technologies such as Leap Motion ensure that users can utilise their gestures and hand movements whilst in a VR experience, maintaining the sense of being in a classroom scenario.

We at Serviceplan Middle East have partnered with SAMSUNG to envision and create an easily deployable VR educational platform in the Schools of the UAE. We want to enable future generations to grow up supported by VR experiences in both the classroom and the workplace – which is very much in line with H.H. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum’s vision of wanting to provide “NEW GENERATIONS with the skills needed for the Future.”

By advocating for virtual classrooms, our philosophy is deeply rooted on enabling. We would rather train children to seek and to explore, to teach and to learn from each other, rather than simply being tutored. We would rather have them creating than consuming; innovating rather than just listening. The world of VR means that students have all the information they need right in front of them, without the need to interrupt the experience to reference external materials.

But this is more than just a novelty. Students in developing nations can also benefit from the same immersive experience. VR hardware is slowly becoming more affordable and, like the PC and smartphone before it, manufacturers will seek to produce more affordable options. These devices can then be distributed to developing countries, where students can gain access to the same level of high-quality education as their peers throughout the world. This furthers the democratisation of education, putting students across the world on an equal footing from the onset.

Perhaps the most utopian application of this technology will be seen in terms of bridging cultures and fostering understanding among young students, as it will soon be possible for a third-grade class in the UAE or USA to participate in a virtual trip with a third-grade class in India or Mexico.

Innovation is in Serviceplan’s DNA. In fact, our CEO, Florian Haller, reinvented the art of keynote speeches at our recent Innovation day In Munich by taking a free fall from a helicopter whilst inviting guests to experience an array of 360 and virtual experiences on showcase by our clients and partners, as a bold statement towards our future in innovation. The full clip can now be viewed on YouTube, while the virtual showcase can be experienced –first hand – at our Dubai offices in the upcoming Festival of Innovation. Visit serviceplan.ae to book your seat.

On integration we will stand

At Serviceplan Middle East, we’ve always counted on clients to recognize the fine line between defragmented and consolidated services as we stood our ground pro-integration. Here we share our successes and some hard lessons learned along the way.

A decade and a half ago, network agencies initiated the epic move towards specialization, marking the exodus of in-house media departments into global media houses. By the time we set up shop in Dubai in 2009, the argument has evolved into full service vs. specialist shops. Full service agencies were valued for their one-stop-shop solution, but were heavily critiqued for going broad but not necessarily going deep. On the other hand, specialist shops were esteemed for perfecting their individual crafts, but were deemed hugely lacking in macro perspectives.

Specialist agencies have become the norm as digitalization started to hound traditional full service agencies. Today, the territories are all but blurred. The demarcation line between creative and media houses have seemingly vanished – with media agencies becoming content creators, and creative agencies becoming learned consultants of content platforms. Specialist agencies started offering integrated and consolidated services, while big network agencies began shape-shifting again. Take the decision of one French powerhouse in late 2015 when it announced that it was restructuring its ranks into four consolidated hubs, putting client services at the heart of its mission. Transformation, it claimed, will be driven by the fusion of technology and creativity, with focused divisions in creatives, media, and technology among its four hubs.

Sticking to our “I” Guns

As believers of Integration, the plan was crystal clear from the onset. While we started the traditional route delivering only offline services in 2009, we stuck to our long-term vision of building a “Haus Der Kommunikation” in Dubai to offer specialized services under one roof. We knew there was no room for alternatives since we belong to an independent, family-owned agency group, headquartered in Munich, whose “Haus der Kommunikation” concept has weathered the industry’s shifting tides across 45 years of operations. 7 years into our own experience, we came to realize that boundaries aren’t limitations but opportunities to reinvent oneself, if only to stay profitable and above water in a region that has yet to see its full potential but is already besought with fierce competition from all angles.

When we started, well-meaning industry advisers were saying you either go big or you go boutique. Boutique was the preferred route to gain a good share off the pies of big-name regional clients who remained stable or were recovering fast post 2008. Niche offerings, they said, would help one zero-in on specific gaps that big networks may not be quick or flexible enough to fill in. Niche, they argued, would guarantee a steady flow of income for boutiques for as long as niche is delivered with measurable efficiencies.

The problem? We were neither big nor boutique. We were, in reality, gap-fillers in our own industry, occupying a niche somewhere between a big network agency and a specialized boutique shop. We were extremely careful not to get across as another “indie” house wanting to capitalize on Dubai’s diversity and central location as we highlighted the hybrid nature of our concept. “A subsidiary of Europe’s largest and most successful independent agency group poised to offer innovative communications, innovative digital solutions, brand-individual media, and strategic market research under one roof,” we soon realized, is a concept unheard of in the region. Worst, it is one that often leaves most clients baffled, and at times doubtful.

But their doubts weren’t unfounded. On lots of occasions, we were too adamant to prove our case that we barged into pitches for specific requirements with a full portfolio of consolidated ideas that span offline, online, even experiential. Most times we would leave presentations patting our backs, elated over pleasantly surprised and extremely impressed prospective clients, only to rub ourselves sore come decision time when we are finally told that while our concept was by all means strategic and commendable, budgets could only accommodate specified requirements. Yes, those heartbreaks came in a handful, alongside our more substantial wins.

But with almost 8 years worth of learnings, we’ve come to reinvent ourselves. Not only are we the first agency established outside of Europe that ultimately catapulted the group’s internationalization, we are also the first to introduce a fifth communication pillar – Serviceplan Experience, which offers brand storytelling in a physical space. Today, Serviceplan Middle East continues to stand its ground, advancing the group’s three invincible “I’s” of Integration, Internalization, and Innovation.

 

Creativity is Matthias Harbeck´s profession and calling

First published in Red Bulletin Innovator.
Interview: Christoph Kristandl

Creativity is elusive. Only too well we know of situations where it abandons us. If we need an idea, if we brood over the solution to a problem – simply nothing comes to mind. It happens. But what if creativity is your occupation? If you have to drive yourself to peak creative performance every day in order to create something new, something as spectacular as possible, and to convey a message as well. And what if it’s a message that nobody wants to see? – Advertising. A conversation with the multiple award-winning Matthias Harbeck.

The Red Bulletin Innovator: You were honoured with more than 600 national and international awards, including 22 Lions in Cannes. Do such honours mean something to you?

Matthias Harbeck: Naturally. If you win a Golden Lion, that’s a feather in your cap. There are people who say that Cannes is something like a parallel society. The true needs of the client would not count for anything there, and it’s a vanity exhibition of creatives who celebrate themselves there. There is even a grain of truth in that. But apart from the fact that quite excellent work from day-to-day business is also honoured in Cannes, you have to view it as similar to prototypes at an auto show or the haute couture of the great fashion shows. What you see there you will never encounter on the street.

Why produce it then?

What’s extremely successful moves the industry forward. Sometimes the idea is so extraordinary, often the technology too. It works with media innovations that can set trends for everyday life.

With what, for example, have you been successful in that regard?

With real-time advertising, for example. With Serviceplan we were able to score a coup with that a few years ago: over 90 minutes of the Champion’s League Match of Arsenal against FC Bayern we switched six 60-second live spots directly into commercial blocks of Free-TV channels. You’re watching normal advertising, for example, on PRO 7, when suddenly an announcement comes, the game is seen live for 40 seconds, and at the end, the Sky-Order Hotline appears, so that in the future you can see such games completely live. The response was huge. Also because, of all things, in one of the slots Lukas Podalski scored the goal which left Arsenal only one down at 1:2!  The idea was relatively simple, but the technical implementation was complex. But that’s the sort of thing we’re attempting: something extraordinary, which makes the industry sit up and take notice and which can then take a pioneering role, too.

What advertising trends can we expect in the coming years?

Consider the films in our newsfeeds on Facebook, where you only hear the sound when you intentionally click. That’s not a trend that comes from advertising, but it changes the thinking of the creatives. You have to succeed in being so good in the first two, three seconds that people click on that video. That also means that the sources of inspiration change. You focus on silent film, for example, and why Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin were so good at it. Perhaps we’ll soon also produce moving images in 15 different versions in order to optimally satisfy users’ differing expectation profiles and to be able to address them digitally in individual ways. And then there are hardly any campaigns that are originally made for the mobile phone screen. That is a big issue.

“Advertising must be so good that, ideally, people even actively search it out.”

How do you deal with the fact that nobody wants to see advertising?

It is a step forward that increasingly we can provide people with customised content. In the past that was not possible technologically. But that does not make good ideas superfluous, on the contrary. More than ever, we have to surprise and involve people through a new kind of staging. The trouble is that we’re in a permanent competition with thousands of advertising messages, indeed, messages of every sort. On top of that is the public’s practised avoidance of advertising. Therefore, the good idea, the great story, the fascinating staging is more important than ever. Advertising must be so good that people don’t want to just see it and share it, but rather, ideally, they even actively search it out because people are talking about it.

With all the staging, doesn’t the product sometimes get left behind?

That is the great challenge. On the one hand, communication has to become ever more entertaining. On the other hand, there are clients who pay for it and say, “Now where is my product that I want to sell?” Just to say that a screw costs 2.99 Euros is not communication, that’s information. You have to do a balancing act: to maintain contact with the brand and at the same time deliver a certain factor of desire.

“When is a Yes a Yes” while doing business in India

A tribute to an intercultural classic

Whenever I meet new business partners in an India-related context across the globe, I cannot resist asking the question: Please tell me what, from your perspective, seem to be the most frequent challenges while doing business in India? – and a part of me already knows that one of the most enduring topics on the top of the charts list is going to be mentioned: The issue of not knowing when a Yes, in an Indian behavioural cultural context, is a Yes.

What I am going to describe happens to me, as an Indian, as well.

I often find myself, even while I am receiving good news, such as for example “Confirmed”, “Yes, it will be done ASAP/by tomorrow/next week”, “Consider it Done”, or, even more confidently, “Yes!! No problem!!!” initializing a process of trying to work out, among others, the following points:

  • Is this a Yes about the relationship (me), or is it a Yes about the subject (it)?
  • Is the Yes a Yes that will also work tomorrow? Have I provided all the necessary information? Have I made myself properly understood?
  • Is it possible only under special circumstances (for example, a colleague has brought both dinner and a sleeping bag to the workplace), or doable in general? Is what I asking for an exception, or an exemption, without my having realized it?
  • Would it now be a good idea to respond with: ”wow, thanks, that is good news, and what can I do to support you?”
  • Is the one and only person responsible for the “Yes” communicating with me, or is a feedback loop with colleagues and/or superiors required, so that the “Yes” does not only signify an individual´s expression of goodwill? Am I communicating with the person accountable for the end result?
  • Is the Yes an agreement, or is the Yes a commitment?
  • Is it a Yes to the problem that needs to be fixed, or is it a Big Picture Yes about the process?
  • Did I fail to notice that I was actually being told a “Yes, and….”?
    Could the missing “and …” part have provided me with the additional information that the outcome would be a “No”?

When I look at my long distance communication with other Indian counterparts, have I said “Yes” often enough, in a world where a continuous necessity to adapt often seems to be the only constant? Just recently, a conference hotel where I had booked a large group for a team event and made the prerequisite down payment informed me that my booking had been cancelled six weeks prior to the event, because I had neglected to “confirm the reconfirmation”. It would have been really essential to emphasize at periodic intervals, that the Yes is a Yes is a Yes is a… – I guess you got the picture.

sayyesI am told that I often behave in a predictably Indian way whenever I am confronted with a deadline and someone writes that “it would be really nice if you could provide this by…”. I automatically wait for a few days after the deadline before I respond with “I am happy to report that I am in the process of completing the article”. That´s a “Yes” as well, only a bit more on the elastic side. But then, I am also reacting to a request that I could too easily interpret as negotiable.

This only really works if I speculate successfully that the other side, knowing that I am an Indian, has calculated an invisible additional buffer. In the short term, I have gained additional time. In the long term, I have just helped cement a cultural stereotype, which is not really helpful.

Have I covered all the aspects? Probably not. A “Yes” is, and, as it seems, continues to be in many cases, a point of departure rather than a point of arrival.

When I ask around for good practice recommendations, one of the responses is “Prepare for a Plan B if turns out that it wasn´t a Yes after all”, which does not contribute to an atmosphere of eye-level cooperation, predictability and trust.

Some experts would encourage you to “Learn to Love Ambiguity”, or “Minimize your expectations at the beginning of working together, so that you gain room for pleasant surprises”. It´s not a great long term setting, if your time is mostly occupied with interim damage control. Others may encourage you to spend a lot of time ensuring micro-feedback loops, so that you can celebrate micro-targets. For example, you get the “Yes” confirmed as “Yes, it´s still a Yes” by sending the Indian colleague a friendly reminder every 41 minutes or so : In this scenario , I would feel sorry for both you and the Indian colleague, as both of you might eventually be too exhausted to even appreciate a positive outcome.

I personally benefit from understanding that “Yes” can be the beginning, and is not necessarily the end of a process when we start working together. I try my best to make my counterparts aware of their co-ownership towards achieving a joint result, ensuring that my motivations and requirements are well understood in advance. I invite their participation not only for the end result, but also for the steps leading there, such as creating a realistic time line where things are possible not only as exceptions, but as a rule. In this way, we ideally move together from a simple agreement to the task, towards the far more co-responsible commitment to the process. I invest in time getting to know my counterparts and understanding the environment they work out of, in turn letting them understand where my thoughts and requirements are coming from.

It seems that we often have the tendency in India to start with a huge bandwidth of options, such as the ones described earlier, and then progressively shrink it, while our understanding of the person and the process grows.

If this happens to you, you could gain a practiced eye enabling you to recognize what goes into a “Yes” process – making it easier to repeat success stories and cut off non-efficient processes, with greater confidence and rapidity. You establish a functioning communication culture together with your Indian partners, with a good understanding not only of what you said, but also of what you actually meant, and vice versa. You build a good working relationship, the outcome of which will be the “Yes.” As an Indian friend once summed up:

“When my trust grows, my sentences grow shorter”.

After having spent some time together exploring the “Yes”, some of you may ask “and what about the ‘No’”?
Now, that´s another interesting story…

 

sujata_banerjeeAbout our guest author: Sujata Banerjee has been working in the field of cross-cultural management since 1992. She was born in South Germany, has consistently maintained home bases in Germany and India, and benefited from work experience in both countries. Her main areas are: Intercultural workshops, expatriate and reintegration cycle coachings as well as corporate strategy in internationalization processes.

 

We are looking forward to dive deeper into this discussion with the “Serviceplan International Roadshow: INDIA INSIGHTS” on Tuesday, November 22nd 2016 at the House of Communication Munich. Are you interested in participating in the event? Please contact the dedicated event team via email. The number of participants is limited.

Download invitation.