A Theory of Future Media

This article is intended to add some background and additional thinking to Mike Villiers-Stuart’s recent blog on Working Methodologies (Villiers-Stuart, M. 2016), in which Mike presents three strategic methodologies. In the context of these frameworks, we need to consider how we can deliver strategic approaches that bring value in a constantly changing landscape of digital channels and platforms. In short, how can we develop an effective digital methodology?

 Platforms, Channels and Formats 

“There was a time when people felt the internet was another world, but now people realise it’s a tool that we use in this world.”  Tim Berners-Lee

Since the explosion of the internet in the mid-1990s we have seen the continued growth of digital marketing channels (Meeker, M. 2015). Within the broad definition of ‘online’ there are an increasing number of platforms that offer opportunities for brand advertising; desktop/laptops, smartphones, tablets and, potentially, wearable devices. Eventually we might even include the connected fridge as a platform. These technologies have driven the emergence of new media channels, specifically web, mobile or social media. These channels have led to a plethora of formats from display ads to paid search to native content or video ads. As a result of this combination of platforms, channels and formats, marketing and advertising has become an increasingly complex landscape.

The other side of this challenge is that consumer behaviour in the brand context has become similarly complex. Arguably, our basic human needs, as defined by Maslow remain largely the same. The difference is that these needs are being played out in many different places. Way, way back, before the internet, advertising and marketing had limited touch points. The aim of advertising was to create something memorable, such as a jingle, a catch phrase or a concept, in the hope that consumers would remember them later at the point of purchase. In the UK the 1980s was a heyday for creative advertising. People such as John Hegarty (Levi’s 501), John Webster (Cadbury Smash, John Smiths, Courage Best) or Tony Kaye (Real Fires, British Rail, Dunlop) were writing adverts that were memorable, often repeated, and memed in playgrounds.

In today’s digital landscape the problem is not simply the numerous channel options, but also that consumers adopt new ones faster than brand advertising. Larry Downes’ identifies an increasing gap between these two groups (Downes, L. 2009) due to the exponential growth of the technology that drives digital media. It means that brands in digital are constantly playing catch-up with their audience.

maslow1

The Role of Planning and Strategy

‘If you have all the research, all the ground rules, all the directives, all the data — it doesn’t mean the ad is written. Then you’ve got to close the door and write something — that is the moment of truth which we all try to postpone as long as possible.’ David Ogilvy

The primary purpose of advertising and marketing is to create brand value, sell products and services, and through that, to create a return on investment (ROI). Simply placing adverts without any strategy in a complex digital media landscape is unlikely to deliver a return. Although some brands have tried this approach, advertising needs something more than just a ‘spray and pray’ strategy.

As early as the 1960s, even with fewer channel choices than now, it became apparent to some advertising UK execs that account managers could not rely on intuition or guesswork to develop their campaigns. Two people are credited with the development of the discipline known as planning; Steven King at JWT and Stanley Pollitt at BMP (Morison, M A et al 2012). They believed that they could produce much better results for clients if advertising professionals looked beyond pure marketing research and interpreted data in a more meaningful way. The discipline has since matured, or to use an advertising term, ‘rebranded’ into a range of roles. The Account Planning Group[1] lists a dozen key positions, and creative recruitment sites include terms such as account planner, strategic planner, strategist, creative strategist, and an old favourite, ‘brand anthropologist’ (Morison M A et al, 2012, Pg 7). The precise definition of who does what, and especially, who is more important in the pecking order, seems to be cause for considerable debate. Tracy Fellows, Chair of the Association of Account Planning said there is “a culture emerging in our industry that isn’t clear on what strategy is or what it does.” (Tiltman, D, 2011). In spite of this confusion, there are some broad principles that underpin the discipline that go beyond a single job definition. Some would even argue that job definitions are in fact, irrelevant.[2] Ultimately any strategy aims to take a brand from pain to gain – identifying a problem and finding a solution. That boils down to understanding research, developing some insight and through that, offering the brand a creatively led solution or ‘a moment of truth’. Regardless of what we title it, strategy is a meeting of analysis and creativity.

The Rise of Digital

Even in the 60s, the amount of market research was too much for an account manager to interpret (Morison M A et al, 2012). Now, with an explosion of digital channels we have many more measures and research data. Along side the market research offered by companies such as Nielsen, Kantar, IPSOS and Comscore, planners, or strategists for that matter, can also access some exotic analytics data generated from digital channels. Typically it covers usage information, such as web or app analytics[3] that works in conjunction with primary research conducted by a brand or agency.

fishburne1

Tom Fishburne, Marketoonist.com

At the other end of the process is the deployment of marketing and advertising. What tactics will the marketer use in order to deliver the strategy? As new platforms develop, tactics will inevitably change. The shift and the resulting opportunities to advertisers in digital platforms has been closely tracked for some years by Mary Meeker’s annual Internet Trends. Other indicators of a shift include Google’s ad revenue for search and display, which has nearly doubled to $20bn in a decade (Reported in Ad Week, July 2016), and social media advertising, where Facebook has seen revenues go from zero to $3.3bn in less than 10 years (Seetharaman, D. 2016, WSJ).

Such rapid growth creates a confusing landscape in which to deploy brand engagement. One example is the Internet Advertising Bureau’s Ad Unit Portfolio[4] which shows hundreds of options for just one of many advertising channels, display advertising. Another indicator of this is the growth is in technology providers in the digital landscape. Scott Brinker in the Chief Marketing Technologist blog found that the number of players in the market almost doubled between 2014-15[5].

The challenge for advertising agencies that stems from a changing landscape is that of risk. How do we prove engagement in new, emerging channels? Brands, by their very nature, tend to be risk-averse and shy away from what they see as untried channels. Therefore the role of strategy becomes more important in helping brands to understand the new landscape and manage that risk (and, of course, to spend the money).

Technology as a Tool

One of the biggest challenges of the modern digital landscape is that particular platforms or technologies drive a campaign. It’s not unusual to hear a client say ‘put a QR[6] code on it’ , ‘we want an app’, ‘let’s use iBeacons[7]’ or ‘we want an augmented reality campaign’. In some ways it is understandable. An emerging platform such as the smartphone is very feature driven, and thus the technology is at the forefront. The challenge is that tech-driven thinking is not strategic. All it is doing is describing the tools to deliver a campaign. Imagine that you commissioned a portrait only by describing the brushes you want the artist to use? It’s no different in advertising. Describing a technological feature fails to show an understanding of the audience or the context in which they might be engaged. It’s important to keep in mind that the technology itself is agnostic – there is nothing wrong with it – but without a strategy it is often used poorly.

Furthermore a lack of strategy in emerging platforms creates a ‘me too’ approach – using a channel simply because everyone else seems to be doing it. When some brands are early into a channel and see a small measure of success, others jump on the bandwagon. User generated content in social media is a good example of this. There’s a Tumblr dedicated to this, called tellusyourstoryblog.tumblr.com, that documents numerous brands that have asked users to share their story. The most surprising of these is PreparahionH, the pile cream. A strategic approach might reveal that another ‘send us your selfie’ campaign is not the best way to engage an audience in this context.

From Pain to Gain: Strategic Methodologies

Today’s planning discipline in advertising agencies is essentially an applied practice rather than a theoretical concept. Although there are supporting theories, strategic methodologies are rooted in a practical delivery of a campaign to an audience – the straight forward pain-to-gain process. An effective strategic tool can be understood in three stages; research, insight and creative. Within each stage there are a number of smaller processes that contribute to the development of the strategy. Although it is often described in a linear way, the reality is that development doesn’t always take a such simple path. For example, creative might be considered at an early stage in the process then reviewed or changed following further strategic insights.

In a complex digital world, this process can understandably become confusing. In order to formulate an effective strategy it is therefore necessary to use a framework, such as DPDDD, SOSTAC or Storyscaping. These are not solutions that can provide an answer, but instead are tools that describe the flow of development in which to deliver an effective, meaningful strategy.

Strategic Realists

Realists or cynics? It all depends on your perspective. With the rise of digital channels, strategic methodologies have become more complex. Inevitably, some argue that it creates an unnecessary mystification of the process. Chief amongst these is Byron Sharp (2010). He proposes that advertising is not sufficiently underpinned by empirical research and suggests that the objectives of many strategic methodologies are false. Strategists may focus on creating brand value through storytelling that will deliver brand fans or advocates. Advertisers will cite passion brands such as Harley Davidson or Apple who deliver a brand story that creates advocates who will purchase more frequently and encourage others to do so. The most referenced example of such brand fans are those that have the Harley Davidson tattoo. Sharp’s research identifies the concept of a fan as largely a myth and that the purchase/repurchase rate is similar for most brands. A little more vociferous in his argument is Bob Hoffman, Ad Contrarian (2007). A long-standing ad-man, Hoffman believes that brand strategists are mistaken in identifying consumers as ‘fans’. He suggests that what is described as ‘brand advocacy’ is nothing more than convenience and habit. He would go so far as to argue that brands are misled by their agencies who are creating something of ‘an emperor’s new clothes’ about what is fundamentally a simple process. He suggests that this is why brands will deliver inappropriate campaigns such as social media ‘Tell Us Your Story’, smartphone apps that are hardly used, and banner ads that are rarely clicked on. The Advertising Realists believe that it is really not that complicated. Arguably it’s in the interests of agencies (and their fees) to make it seem so. The Strategic Realists are typified by an irreverent, almost punk spirit that seeks to break down much of the pompousness of current advertising strategy. An Open Letter to All of Marketing and Advertising is a good example of this approach (Anon, 2010), which ends with the plea:

‘If you’d like to tell me what’s good about your product, fine. I may buy it. I may not …But, not to put too-fine-a-point on it, please, please, PLEASE, if you wouldn’t mind, awfully. Leave me alone. Thanks.’

Tools for The Job

All of this presents our core question. Which strategic methodology, if any, is the most appropriate? Perhaps the solution is to take a strategic approach to strategy itself. Just as technology is a tool, a strategic framework is simply there to deliver a job. The job of good advertising. That choice of tool should consider the values of the agency, the needs of the client and the campaign objectives. Thus, the DPDDD methodology is an effective tool for clients who are results driven, looking for an end-to-end solution. SOSTAC, on the other hand, is designed to meet the needs of a marketing-led approach. Storyscaping is a more in-depth tool that can help build the brand idea, especially in an omni-channel landscape. Storyscaping lends itself well to engagement for passion brands but it may over complicate the process where consumers are uninvolved with the brand, such as the classic FMCG product, a packet of soap powder.

These are just examples of how the tools might be applied and are far from exhaustive. Ultimately the choice of methodologies should be underpinned by the basic principles of strategy – identify some relevant research, critically assess it to create some insight and develop creative that meets the needs of the brand.

Bibliography

Villiers-Stuart, M. Overview: Working the Methdology, 2016,
http://blogs.bcu.ac.uk/futuremedia/2016/10/07/overview-working-the-methodology/

Meeker, M. Internet Trends 2016, 2015, KPCB

Morison, MA et al Using Qualitative Research in Advertising, 2012 (2nd Ed) Sage Publications

Downes, L, The Laws of Disruption:Harnessing the New Forces That Govern Life and Business in the Digital Age, 2009, Basic Books

Tiltman, D. The death of the big idea and the future of strategy, 2014, Brand Report
http://www.brandreportblog.com/the-death-of-the-big-idea-and-the-future-of-strategy-david-tiltman-warc/

Seetharaman, D. Facebook Revenue Soars on Ad Growth, 2016, WSJ
http://www.wsj.com/articles/facebook-revenue-soars-on-ad-growth-1461787856

Sharp, B. How Brands Grow, What Marketers Don’t Know, 2010, OUP

Hoffman, B. The Ad Contrarian, Getting beyond the fleeting trends, false goals, and dreadful jargon of contemporary Advertising, 2007

Anon, An Open Letter to All of Advertising and Marketing, 2010, PSFK
http://www.psfk.com/2010/08/an-open-letter-to-all-of-advertising-and-marketing.html

[1] There is a list of key planning roles to be found at http://www.apg.org.uk/#!apg-planningjobguide/c1lkf

[2] This might be controversial to some who believe the difference is significant, such as Jinal Shah who argued the importance of the planner vs strategist definition in his Constant Beta blog: http://jinalshah.com/2012/05/29/lets-fuckin-set-the-record-straight-account-planners-and-digital-strategists-are-not-the-same/

[3] These kinds of analytics are typically drawn from individual web-site based logs into formats such as Google Analytics. In addition there are aggregations of this data through tools such as GS Stats Counter or Google Trends to highlight just two.

[4] The IAB Ad Unit Portolio [http://www.iab.net/adunitportfolio] looks at ‘display ads’ such as web banners, mobile and video advertising formats.

[5] A rise from 947 in 2014 to 1,876 in 2015 http://chiefmartec.com/2015/01/marketing-technology-landscape-supergraphic-2015/

[6] QR codes originated as a means of tracking parts in the vehicle industry. They were adopted in Japan as a means of delivering a URL to a mobile device due to the complexities of translating Japanese into Roman-type URLs. However, there are few examples of successful campaigns in Europe and the US. I discussed this problem with Graham Charlton at Econsultancy (2013) in the following blog post: https://econsultancy.com/blog/62397-qr-codes-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly/

[7] I looked at the challenge for Beacons in this blog post: http://brandsandinnovation.com/2014/10/28/beacons-the-saviour-of-retail-probably-not/

Overview: Working the Methodology

Here is a brief explanation and some sketches of the model I put together in class to help frame the workflow around the methodologies we use in our projects on the programme.

So far, we’ve opened up 3 methodologies and all of them are workflows: SOSTAC is a marketing tool, DPDDD is a project process and Storyscaping is about building experience spaces.

All 3 perform many of the same functions: they generate insights to inform decision-making. They are proven pathways to professional practice, good templates for our research and essential check-lists in our project management.

1. SOSTAC http://www.smartinsights.com/digital-marketing-strategy/sostac-model/ developed by PR Smith, examines:

Situation Analysis…/…Objectives…/…Strategy…/…Tactics…/…Actions…/…Control

2. DPDDD http://blogs.bcu.ac.uk/futuremedia/2013/06/05/future-media-the-new-rules-of-digital-communication/ attributed to McCann Digital, looks at:

Discovery…/…Planning…/…Design…/…Development…/…Deployment

3. Storyscaping http://www.storyscaping.com/educators/ created by SapientNitro’s Gaston Legorburu and Darren McColl, integrates:

Brand values and customer experiences in shared story systems.

We often “pick ‘n mix” from all 3 methodologies to help us frame our projects, describe what we are doing and structure our workflows, reports and presentations.

The illustrations here flow in a linear fashion: from research… to insights… to decisions… to measurement… because good ideas have to be rooted in relevance and guarantee returns:

1. I’ve located the brand at the beginning of the whole issue because this is often the ‘hero’ to be championed in our business and marketing objectives. We usually want to build or extend brand value to customers and so increase the premium. The plan is to deliver a good user experience, this will help build positive perceptions, loyalty and ultimately the bottom line… (See de Chernatony et al Creating Powerful Brands 2013 for lots more on this).

1

2. The brand is a shared collection of values and experiences between its products/services and their users. It’s in this shared intersection that the brand community is established as a “we” located between “us” and “them”; some online examples include https://www.pottermore.comhttp://www.redbull.tvhttps://members.hog.comhttps://discussions.apple.com/welcome

2

3. Brands need to constantly monitor and audit that relationship amongst their users… and amongst their competitors in the sector. How are “we” performing? Are “we” competitive? Are “we” value for money? How can “we” improve? What insights can “we” get from industry? What insight can “we” get from our customers?

3

4. All this data and information comes from real people through primary market research  and industry or academic/published sources as secondary market research. It is a measure of the shared experience between the brand and its users. This data is valuable insight that helps us to build representative ‘personas’ from our demographic samples. These personas and their lifestyles are the brand’s targets.

4

5. The personas help us to ‘position’ the brand in its competitive sector and map users’ ‘perception’ of the brand. Is this where “we” thought the brand was located? Is this where “we” want to be? Where do the brand’s personas want it to be located? How can they get maximum value? Where does the brand need to be located to deliver the best experience?

5

6. The brand uses this positioning and these perceptions to map a journey of where it needs to be by plotting a trajectory into the personas’ preferred location. This is a journey the brand its going to have to make if it wants to adapt and change its users’ perceptions and behaviours. Along the way, it will have to ‘reach’ its personas by hitting touch points in their lives as ‘super fans’, ‘fans’ and ‘potential fans’ of the brand.

6

6a. And it’s the lifestyles of those personas as super fans, fans and potential fans that lights the way. The stuff they care about, the language they speak and the media they consume is all essential insight into how “we” communicate with each other. The persona insights show us how to organise our creative direction, strategy and planning. They give the brand its “Organising Idea” (Legorburu G, McColl D, Storyscaping  2014) that curates all the other ideas e.g. “Taste the Magic” (Coca Cola 2016).

6a

7. Now the brand can plot that journey, it can plan its trajectory of added value by optimising personas’ touch points in a ‘narrative curve’ (Campbell J, The Hero with a Thousand Faces 2008) that targets media platforms and channels to tell a story and deliver relevant communication through shared experiences that are in line with what personas want. The insights from 5 and 6 show the brand where to find the super fans, fans and potential fans, how to key into their habits and how engage them. This is their shared ‘user journey’.

7

8. And the effectiveness of that user journey is measurable when ‘key performance indicators’ reflect word of mouth and buzz around persona touch points as communications activity ripples out across channels and platforms in owned, bought and earned media. In turn, this will give projections around return on investment as well as offering the potential to exploit the product life cycle (Vernon R, International Trade and International Investment in the Product Life Cycle 1966) with opportunities for brand extensions and monetization through transmedia and merchandising at key stages along the way (growth, maturity, decline or set-up, climax, resolution).

8

That’s it for now… We’ll unpack all the above in greater depth as this semester unfolds; I just wanted you to have a copy of this overview from our first 2 classes as a reference for any thoughts you might want to develop in your assignment, as something to accompany my videos slide stacks and a general picture to work with going forwards.