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Data-based Marketing: “Human Intelligence is Indispensable”

Diana Degraa, Managing Director of Plan.Net Hamburg, talks about her technological experience, her tips for female talents and what role big data and business intelligence will play in the future.

The meaning of ‘creative’

What does creative mean?
What a question.
Ideally, creative is something one just is, without any lengthy discussion.
However, if I must.
Here goes:

Creative is new, unpredictable, capricious.
A smartass take on this is that being creative is a paradox. It is the meaningful combination of things which do not belong together.
And then you suddenly just get it.

The word “meaningful” is important. Randomly combining thoughts, feelings and forms usually ends in confusion. Creative combinations on the other hand must make sense – but ideally not until they are in the mind of the consumer. If he or she completes the chain of thought, decodes the ultimate meaning of a film or a picture then, test institutes please take note, the effect is much stronger than when everything is pre-digested.

Actually, “consumer” is a word that I don’t really like to use. Yes, ultimately, advertising is concerned with selling, but the more messages rain down upon us “consumers” the more we only take heed of the relevant ones. That can be the much-quoted “right product at the right time in the right medium”. Programmatic is the key word here. However, the crucial factor is that the better a message is packaged, the stronger – again – the effect. I prefer to side with “Saint” Sir John Hegarty, and refer to “the public” rather than to “consumers”. We want to sell to consumers. We want to entertain the public. What is good is that a well-entertained public buys more than a well-informed public. After all, we speak of a “buying mood”.

What is good entertainment in a creative form? It’s more than just fun. It’s a new, stimulating thought, for example. A new perspective on life, giving rise to the observation, “Wow, I’ve never really looked at that in that way before”. That is what we remember, that’s what we like to tell other people about.

Good creation thrives on strong feelings. Being enthused, touched, unsettled, buoyed up, amused, everything that moves you. Tedious lists of information do not move me. I am moved by good stories which end with a surprise. Human stories which turn my prejudices and my neatly ordered thoughts inside out and upside down, which develop a dynamic of their own, never to serve their own purpose but that of the brand. This is easy to say, but damn difficult to realise every day.

Of course, creative also means unyielding, untiring and tough. Here’s a good thought: it is not ideas which set good creatives apart from bad ones but their refusal to give up.

P.S. I’m quite proud that I didn’t use the current buzzwords “disruptive”, “diversity” and “digital transformation” a single time in this text. But if you need to, my dear public, just add them mentally where appropriate and then you too will get it. 😉

This article was published in German at W&V.

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.

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.

Trends 2017: Austria

In 2017 topics like programmatic advertising, business intelligence, data management, data security, mobile commerce and data-driven marketing per se will gain in importance. That’s not new. In reality, we already have to master all these areas and have to do “our homework” next year to drive and consolidate our knowledge and competences. Within the developments in the communication industry, especially in the digital field, we notice following main trends, which will more and more decide about “top or flop”:

  • Responsive Content
    2016 was the year of native advertising and content strategies – the focus was definitely on “CONTENT”. Online websites are (in most cases) responsive concerning the layout. BUT in the ideal case also the content adapts itself to the mobile device. There are many opportunities to improve usability and effectiveness of communication, with the background of the changing media usage. New ways and strategies to create and spread content successfully will gain a meaning – in this case in bits and pieces and not in 30‘‘.
  • Visuality & Iconic Turn
    Our world is becoming more and more “illustrated” – our environment is full of icons, pictures, videos. In the age of information overload we have to process information faster and more contextual. This means for the communication industry: Pictorial language and new ways of visualization will continue to be an important success factor.
  • Structuring data – Reducing complexity 
    Data management, data security, data-driven marketing, business intelligence – 2017 structured data will be more important than ever before. For all innovative systems handling data-driven marketing the ability of structuring data in a meaningful way is essential and inevitable. Making a complex world more simple – for everyone (customers & companies)!
  • Transition between Apps & Web 
    On the smartphone, we spend most of our time in apps, not in the browser. But marketers still focus their communication measures on the Web. 2017 priorities will shift. For example, there will be important questions about how to make the transition between app and web better – deeplinks and other gadgets can quickly become powerful marketing tools, especially in the area of mobile commerce.
  • Messenger Marketing
    Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger are the most important chat programmes and apps for communicating. Facebook is currently starting to monetize the Messenger, Whatsapp could follow soon. In 2017 mobile marketers must be there, where the target group is – and this is in any case also the messenger. It is time to enter into a dialogue on Facebook Bots.
  • Mobile Video content 
    In the meanwhile, the biggest “video problem” is solved for mobile devices. The size of videos is hardly an obstacle in LTE times. Videos are popular in all (personal) environments – with the strong tendency to live videos. Mobile video marketing must already be ensure in the production process that videos can be consumed in all living situations. Subtitling or a suitable call-to-action can be a way out.

Nevertheless we do not want to forget about the real communication trends, which we do not find in the media every day, but with which trend researchers are mainly concerned with. Digital detox, the non-existing disruption and related retro-trend, Postgenderism, (finally) customer-oriented NFC solutions and innovative e-governmental services will also be increasingly focussed in 2017.

Looking behind, looking ahead.

The rules of VR are still unwritten. A rare opportunity for brand communication.

Innovations in the communication sector are routinely advertised and seldom redeemed. With virtual reality, it is different. This ‘Next Big Thing’ justifies every hype. VR used to be under rather than overestimated because it really is a completely new medium.

When a new, successful medium develops, it must be compared for a time with what is already known, in order to learn about the concepts. This influences the creative form for a while. Film began as, ‘living photography, perfect in every detail and life-sized’, television as visual radio, the World Wide Web as hypertext. With VR it is exactly as the name implies, which in this case refers to: VR is ‘something like reality’. Naturally, VR explains as little about reality as any other medium. But we leave out research and convention, in order to classify VR as a medium. That is why every article about VR is a personal account, and that is why experience really makes a difference here: you cannot grasp what you have not experienced.

VR will be regarded as an immersive medium, with the promise of ‘as if’ — as if you were there, as if you are the person, being represented. The idea of visual immersion is, however, actually older. In 1787 Robert Barker built his walk-in, 360-Degree-Views and called it ‘Panorama‘. Even older are the ‘peep-boxes’, which were popular in 19th-century salons and funfairs; small, wooden apparatuses for viewing exhibitions on paper, wood or glass. Early VR-Gears as well.

These panoramas and peep-boxes were primarily optical illusions. With digitalisation in the 1980’s, came tactility in production, the viewer becoming an actor. Jaron Lanier developed the ‘Data Glove‘ and characterised the notion of Virtual Reality. The visual representation, which the Data Glove can operate, is still abstract and prone to blocks, but trendsetting. One’s own body awareness influences what we see. We can act within the picture.

In modern VR both come together — physicality and panorama. To that end, VR has a few tricks up its sleeves, which effectively outwit our brain. And currently, it seems to be, as if we still fall for this repeatedly. The transfer to the virtual abyss in the laboratory for the umpteenth repetition got the heart pounding and generated measurable, bodily fear. False experiences in the VR-Dummy, the simulated person, who ‘I’ am, can trigger quasi-traumatic effects. So noticeable , that the consciousness researcher Thomas Metzinger, formulated an Ethics of VR Production with his colleagues.

vr-gocht-header

In British Thorpe Park, the mentalist and illusionist Derren Brown, been sending visitors to his ‘Ghost Train‘ since July. Equipped with a VR gear kit, you are literally a participant in a gruesome scenario, attacked by demons and other such passengers. Brown strengthens the already convincing VR illusion with motion, change of location, and being touched by actors. Pure immersion.

And there is a lot to say about it, that this miracle of ‘presence’ passes, that it is a phenomenon of the pioneer phase. It does not lack the experience of recipients or the rules of form. Both producers and recipients are still experimenting. It is an exploration of the grammar of the medium, the conventions made possible.

This shows in a wide variety of forms, leading to an explosion of ideas. Currently, it seems VR can be anything: theatre, film, documentary, e-learning, horror-trip, and yes, even video conference. One of the founders of the US production firm Wevr, Anthony Batt, describes it perfectly [‘Studio 360’, New Yorker, 25. April 2016]:

‘Does that mean our stuff is always perfect? Fuck no! It means we start with no idea of how we´re gonna make a project work, and we make it work. Or we don´t, and the whole thing turns to jello, and we learn.’

It is a great opportunity for brand communication, to take part in the development of this grammar. Two features help in the process: first, today short formats are best suited for VR and second, are comparatively cost-effective, feasible productions.

Let’s face it: 90% of brand communication is more or less friendly circumvention. Re-targeting is no fun for the audience. With VR, an ad may finally be a spectacle. Well done, it allows your audience to have a (spectacular, enlightening, shocking) experience. To take part in this entirely new medium is an opportunity, that will not so quickly come again.

 

vr-roadshow2-2016-teaser

Join the VR experience live with our Roadshow “Reality by Virtuality” in Hamburg, Cologne, Munich and Berlin.

The Opportunities of Digitisation

“It is time to expose the heinous nature of the phone, and condemn its many inventors.” No, this critique is not aimed at the smart phone. This is not about digital detox or the NSA. The citation comes from an 1877 edition of the New York Times. The author was already worried about the privacy of citizens. But criticising technology has not stopped its development: more than three-quarters of Germans now have a smart phone. For those under 30, it has superseded the television as the most “indispensable” device. Digitisation has reached our pockets and handbags, and even our bodies.

This fact has far reaching implications, and has created many opportunities, but also risks. As with every important technological development, there will be attempts to misuse these new capabilities. However, the opportunities created by digitisation far exceed the risks. We will learn, as a society and as individuals, to deal with it and we will mature in the process of digitization.

Opportunities for the Individual and Society

Today we take completely for granted that we can use our smart phones to buy our bus ticket, read the news or weather forecast, listen to music, time our jog, and chat with friends. For individuals, this digital transformation means more comfort, quicker access to information and new forms of communication. According to Statista, around 14 percent of Germans meet their partners through online dating sites. We pay for this comfort with our data. How we deal with this new currency in the future will be a social and individual learning process. Data protection is an important topic in politics, business and for each individual.

Before the discovery of printing, knowledge was hoarded in monasteries, where information was copied by hand. Reading was a privilege for those who could afford books. Today, everyone with an Internet connection has global access to information and educational resources. The democratisation of knowledge includes not only the consumption of information, but also freedom of expression: via commentary, blogs and social media, we can take part in public and political life. But we must also be able to cope with the fact that these capabilities will be used to every degree of stupidity. More importantly, in a networked world, social mistakes get visible more quickly than ever before. The Wikileaks revelations, for instance, could never have happened without digitisation.

Opportunities for Business and Marketing

In many markets, digitisation has allowed companies to provide service without spatial or temporal restrictions. This will give a boost to all industries. And digitisation will help processes to become even more efficient. A recent Bitkom study estimates that the potential for increase in productivity (keyword industry 4.0)  in Germany could result in a gain of up to 78 billion Euros by 2025.

For marketing and brands, the digital transformation means they can, and must, be more relevant and employ more targeted communications. The right message at the right time in the right place requires data – not necessarily personal information, but also anonymous information are sufficient. People, users and consumers expect brands to offer more service in the future, as well as clear added value and to take meaningful action.

Criticism of technology is always an important part of societal debate. However, the past has proven that it is much more useful to make market developments than to reject them categorically. This is especially true for the digital transformation.

This article was also published in Horizont, edition 40/2016.

The customer in the centre! Seriously?

Personalisation is currently one of the mega trends in marketing. In less than two years, the market has developed to the point where there is no avoiding it. For business clients and solution providers as well. On the provider side, almost all industry giants, such as Adobe, Oracle, Salesforce, Microsoft, and IBM are building out their cloud marketing solutions. On the client side, they are increasingly looking for answers on how to use these new opportunities for profit. Finally, as a private user, most individuals have experienced how impressive personalisation and automation can be when scrolling through recommendations on Amazon, or when their own smartphone calculates, unasked, the time it will take to get from work to home. And new capabilities promise that this is just the beginning. It’s high time to use this potential for your own customers. Many of the mentioned cloud solutions now provide hitherto unimagined possibilities. Customers can now find more relevant information and be more quickly and efficiently served and supported, whether it is before or after they make a purchase.

Nevertheless, individual companies should be cautious. Experience shows that, over time, personalisation cannot remain a marketing trick. The decision to adopt these technical solutions is only the beginning. True personalisation means the desire or intention to distinguish one client from another. And you must be willing! This is not just a task for systems and machines, but rather it is a task for people, and, finally, the whole organisation. When companies take the route towards personalisation, they quickly realise where the opportunities lie, as well as the risks. Departmental structures, which for years guaranteed successful business management, now prevent many companies from truly understanding customers’ interests and using that knowledge effectively. It seems logical and paradoxical at the same time: to serve and support customers individually with relevant information, more people and departments in the company must work together without barriers.

This means creating horizontals that include departments such as sales, marketing, customer service etc. When a customer has just signed a mobile phone contract, it doesn’t make sense to them to continue seeing incompatible products from the same brand. Or if the customer is inconvenienced with answering further questions to supplement an online profile, but they’ve been a valued customer in retail stores for a long time. Vertical integration is required as well: areas such as procurement, IT, legal, etc., need to implement the necessary infrastructure, data and systems, as well ensure legal compliance. How should an IT department know which system is the best fit for a certain marketing strategy? The consulting market to prepare companies for the age of personalisation is booming right now. From a conceptual standpoint, but as well from the organisational perspective, removing barriers across departments makes companies more capable of acting.

But the challenge goes even deeper, who says that personalisation is a good fit for every organisation? Who says that it will be the decisive competitive advantage for a company within a sector? Companies should truly consider whether this is a mega trend they need to follow, and if so, how they can differentiate themselves from competitors. Is the desire to serve clients on a more personal level really in the DNA of the company, and therefore a competitive advantage, or is the competition ultimately superior? In the digital age, personalisation and automation mean an extremely fast pace and the ability to interact, which must be overcome in the long run. And this is a question not only for “old” competitors: this isn’t the first time a mega trend brought new players to the field who understand little of the traditional performance-related competitive advantages of an industry. However, recent factors, such as a consistent focus on personalisation as a key success indicator, have made attacks on established industries…

Cannes 2016 – a summary

Two weeks of Cannes are over – an extremely great, exciting but also exhausting time. Strenuous for the brain and the creative muscle. 25 judges from 25 countries. 25 completely different minds with different views, with statements, inflammatory speeches and discussions; simply fantastic.

My conclusion from the area “Direct”: there weren’t any radical, major trends, but there certainly was a “hidden trend”, namely Gender Equality. This issue is becoming more and more important. No matter whether female, male, transgender or homosexual – every person has the same rights.

This is recognised not only by the NGOs but also more and more Super-Brands are showing a clear stance and taking a stand.
A great example is Doritos:

My other highlights

Snapchat, WhatsApp, mail and Facebook … That all trends in communications bring a work that Grand Prix shows that our voice is our most original communications organ, proving “The Swedish Number”:

And yes, breast cancer prevention can be fun. A lot of fun even:

My personal favourite is Case OPT-Outside of REI: it’s incomprehensible when an outdoor retailer abolishes its strongest sales day of the year and thus triggers a whole movement. And with a clear message: do not go shopping – go outside on Black Friday. Enjoy your life, your loved ones and nature. Great great great!

Until next year!!

What brands should consider: 10 rules for content marketing

“Communication without content marketing has no future”

Buzzword or not – the need for content is greater than ever. In these times of the Internet as a platform, the power is shifting to the consumer. It used to be the other way around. Today, I can simply click everything away or use Adblocker. The consequence: the consumer has the power.

But someome do it right and do not get clicked away. What do Vodafone and South Tyrol have in common? Both know how good content marketing works. They are among the winners of the German Content Marketing Awards, which were awarded in 2015 for the first time. The South Tyroleans impressed us with their visually stunning stories (www.wasunsbewegt.com), and mobile operator Vodafone with the witty product testing of the “Gadget Inspectors”. They also convinced us through their networking with other content offerings as well as consistent marketing. In short: Vodafone and South Tyrol practice content marketing as it should be: Paid, Owned, Earned, and balanced out.

Such exemplary practice is still rare in German-speaking countries. We are, in fact, currently experiencing an accumulation of “pseudo-content marketing”. Content marketing, which only pretends to be such. Sometimes even a single blog can already be touted as content innovation, or native advertising articles, just because they rate well in the rankings. Sorry, they may well be successful measures, but they are only details of a larger whole which would deserve to be called content marketing.

Properly understood, content marketing provides an opportunity to revitalize the entire realm of corporate communication with fresh impulses. Everyone could benefit from it – from PR, marketing, customer services, and sales right through to HR. Content marketing concerns us all because it could be the solution to an acute problem: the rapid loss of customer confidence and the resulting threat of revenue loss. Meanwhile, 44 percent of all manufacturers brands are losing more than 30 percent of their regular customers per year (Marken Roadshow).

To counter this, companies need to put customers increasingly and more consistently in the centre of their actions. They need to develop experience worlds in which customers’ needs are met at the right time and in the right place. The product does not play the main role in the marketing of the future. The time of Customer Centricity is dawning – and in it, content marketing plays a central role. That, because it creates values without which such an adventure world can not function. Strategically, cleverly placed content which is free from paralyzing “advertising speak” should spur the conversation with customers. To put it boldly: without content marketing, corporate communications has no future.

For this reason, communicators should first ask themselves some holistic questions:

  • How can we create a “customer experience” and we what content do we need at which touchpoints?
  • How can each piece of content contribute to increasing brand appeal?
  • Do current content offerings have the necessary quality – from brochures to native advertising?
  • Is all content compatible? Do they complement each other? Or is it more of a muddle?
  • Which “Paid, Owned, Earned” content, do we need to be convincing?

Even if communication professionals plan only single content-marketing activities, they should have the higher-level communication aims in mind. Then there is no dramaturgical problem later if the content marketing is expanded. The final goal should always be to have all the content elements interacting perfectly.

In order to enable content marketing to develop its full potential, companies should be aware of these ten rules:

 

  1. Focus on top quality

In content marketing, bad quality and mediocrity have no chance. Average, interchangeable content gets lost in the flood of information. There are nearly one billion websites, and around 2.5 million emails are sent per second, while over 10,000 tweets are sent and more than 100,000 videos uploaded to YouTube. Bitter, but true: no one out there is waiting for your content.

Nevertheless, 70 percent of American B-to-B companies are now producing more content than a year ago. This abundance is not inspired, but rather annoying. Four out of five US decision-makers complain they get too much information, and on top of that it is useless and therefore, after a brief scan, lands right in the trash.

To clarify: of course content marketing is also about creating new content, but it is the quality and networking with all other content offerings which is decisive, not the quantity. The content must be first class and unique, to earn the recognition of consumers and search engines. The bottom line is: if you do not strive for excellence, then you can just as well do without content marketing. And save money.

 

  1. Use your brand as a storytelling turbo-booster

Of course you need to know what content stakeholders expect from you, but this does not mean that you should only tell them what they want to hear. It is better to show personality and strength of character which is visible in every single piece of content. Use your brand as a source of good topics and storytelling. This clear focus creates trust – and is the basis for good business.

In content marketing, it is not just about building trust; it is also about giving a brand meaning. How that can succeed is shown, for example, by the TexMex chain Chipotle. From the top quality information on the website through to top class animated films and a lavishly produced series “Farmed and Dangerous”, each of these different content measures makes a single brand message clear: we are committed to healthy, responsible food. We sell “Food with Integrity”.

Or did you know, for example, that the engines which power the famous London Tower Bridge are from Bosch? In the “Bosch World Experience”, Bosch sent six young people to places where Bosch is active, and had them recount their experiences. Through this, stories, such as that of Tower Bridge, did the rounds, and Bosch succeeded through its content marketing campaign in positioning itself as a versatile and inspiring brand.

The Marriott hotel chain’s success came through its magazine “Marriott Traveler”. It is full of inspiration for avid travelling millennials. None of the articles is about Marriott – but the selection of stories makes clear: with its 19 hotel brands and 4,200 hotels, Marriott knows the furthest reaches of the globe. Content marketing allowed Marriott to promote itself, more or less indirectly – no matter where the journey goes.

Chipotle, Bosch and Marriott – three brands, three strong characters. They show that whoever adopts an attitude, has the best starting point for strong themes and storytelling.

 

  1. The customer journey is also your “content journey”!

Did you know that consumers already have up to 90 percent of the customer journey behind them before they enter a store? And that they have used up to eleven content offerings?

Consumers now possess, thanks to the “Internetization” of the media and trade channels, an enormous research potential and freedom of choice. Businesses need to make every effort to provide timely, excellent content at every single touchpoint. For us marketers this means that we have to make the customer journey to our “content journey”.

There is much to learn and explore. For example, we need to find out when or where an interested party could become a lead or buyer. Websites seem rather unsuitable for this: 96 percent of visitors, almost all of them, are not in a buying mood. When and where can we can present sales arguments without being pushy? We need to find an answer. So far, at any rate, consumers do not seem satisfied with the information supply; only 14 percent are currently of the opinion that brand companies provide a good multichannel experience.

One thing is certain; patience pays off. Three out of four consumers give purchase preference to the brand which best supplied the most useful content during the customer journey.
For this reason, all stakeholders need – also in sales – to appreciate the need for a particularly cautious approach to content marketing.

 

  1. Determine what content your local markets need

Localization has always been a particularly tricky task – in content marketing, it is no different. Again, it is about the right feeling for different cultures and tastes. Even US companies do not have this theme under control, as shown in a survey among the visitors to the Content World Congress 2015 in Cleveland; about 60 percent confessed that they do not have a strategy for global content marketing.

In any case it makes sense to build up their own expertise in every major market. The content marketers can then decide on the spot what content suits them. In American content circles, it is estimated that around 20 percent of content is suitable for localization.

 

  1. Promote your content as a product

It doesn’t matter how good your content is – if it isn’t marketed, it won’t have an effect. You have to beat the drums for content as if it were a stand-alone product – in the social web, with paid media or with other PR activities.

How this works is shown by the German lawyer information service, which, in 2015, was awarded the German Prize for Online Communication. The mediation platform for lawyers appears as a magazine which informs readers, through top quality journalism, on different legal topics, and only as a second step, matches potential clients to appropriate lawyers.

In the Social Web, the site is strongly supported by a Facebook page (with more than 65,000 Likes). There memes are posted with legal sayings, infographics and Newsjacking on current topics. This quality pays off; 41 per cent of blog or website visitors (300,000 per month) go there via the social web.

Paid content presents situations in a humorous way in full-page ads.

PR activities – on Ebay future ex-husband Martin G. auctioned the couples joint possessions – but halved: half a car, a chair or a teddy bear. The auctions became a worldwide hype – on YouTube, in the press, on TV, and on the social web.

When the public was informed that the action was initiated by the lawyer information service to draw attention to the lack of legal protection before marriage, no one was annoyed – on the contrary: it was seen as valuable.

Good content alone is therefore not enough; you need to draw on your media potential and determine a media budget.

 

  1. Bring all your communicators to one table

One of the trickiest tasks is to bring the different skills of each department together as a meaningful whole, but it is indispensable. Establish units for content marketing.

There must be people in the company who are primarily concerned with the theme of content. For example, PR usually has the most experience in storytelling and agenda setting. Marketing and sales, in turn, is better in the management of touchpoints, where storytelling could take place.

So there is no way around it; these two skill areas need to be brought together. How this can work, for example, is demonstrated by Metro with its Genuss-Blog (pleasure-blog). It is full of good stories which, in other points of contact, such as in the typical metro mailings, are developed further. And a PR expert is responsible for storytelling on the marketing touchpoints.

 

  1. Search for your efficiency killer

Cooperation is essential, if only for cost and efficiency reasons. It is not uncommon for different departments to produce the same content – such as an app – for the lack of joint content management. A US study illustrates the scale of this problem. There, B-to-B companies annually produce deficient content to the tune of 958 billion US dollars, simply because their content management is inefficient. And in the UK, this lack of cooperation skills leads to 15 percent of companies never publishing a massive 50 percent of the content they have produced .

Motorola Solutions has learned from this. The telecommunications company now has a pool for all its content materials which communicators add to, research in and use. Thus, ridiculously expensive duplications are avoided and the expert abilities of other departments utilized.

The potential savings in content management seem considerable. If you weigh this off against the cost of content marketing, you will probably quickly come to the conclusion that content marketing can pay off.

 

  1. Get content-strategic expertise

If your company does not have any employees with content-strategic competence, you should change that quickly. Even if you plan to outsource content marketing tasks, you need at least one expert in the company who can assess the quality of the work done externally and manage it objectively.
It needs to be someone with editorial know-how, who knows the brand messages, and who can handle the service providers involved, because there could be many of them: from the online agency to PR, events and media agencies. Ideally, they should be experienced in dynamic newsroom management, because content tasks are always a “work in progress”. We are dealing with evolving processes that need highly flexible management.

Content-strategic preparations are the pre-conditions for successful content marketing. Nevertheless, this step is often skipped in the mistaken belief that it is an unnecessary burden. But the absence of a content strategy is virtually a guarantee of failure, as shown by the Content Marketing Institute. Of the companies that are disappointed in their content marketing, only 7 percent have one. And of the completely satisfied? 60 percent are in possession of a content strategy.

 

  1. Stay alert – the content landscape changes rapidly

One feature of good content marketing is that it works in the long run. It is not a campaign that can simply be stopped and replaced. Content marketing is a long-term companion, which must constantly be monitored and refreshed.

So remain vigilant, because customer needs and favoured touchpoints change rapidly. Who knows what will come after Snapchat, Instagram or Periscope? We currently should, for example, monitor content publishing platforms, Medium, LinkedIn and Facebook attentively and, if useful, integrate them in content marketing strategies.

We should indeed use the power of Google and Facebook, but not accept them as God-given at the same time. Through their filtering mechanisms, it has become difficult to approach people outside their “interests bubble”. For this reason, companies should consider additional tactics to attract the people’s interest.

So as you can see, content marketing is much more than an add-on. It enriches all communications because it changes the perspective in favour of high-quality content, which is essential for the design of a fascinating world of adventure.

 

  1. Do not forget technology!

In the content marketing process, technologies play a significant role. What does that mean? In all stages of the process, the market offers different tools – from individual solutions to the emerging full-service approach for the mass market of the Top 500 advertisers: content / social marketing cloud systems. These provide integrated solutions for the entire process, but are leaner and more agile than the big marketing cloud systems.

The top players here are called Sprinklr and Percolate. We at the Serviceplan Group use all the technologies for our customers . We need to as well, as increasingly customers themselves bring along their own proprietary technologies and solutions or we need to modify them at the customers’. This means we must be flexible.
In the content distribution process, we are currently strongly focused on the global rock star, Sprinklr. However, we are also investing heavily in our own developments to have the technological development capabilities to meet individual customer needs in our own hands.
For that we have developed two of our own technologies: one for asset and workflow management, the second for analysis and reporting.

Is content marketing just a passing trend? No way.

 

First published in German: Leserautor Gastbeitrag in W&V.