Category Archives: Digital Marketing Ireland

The scourge of channel thinking – it’s about the idea stupid!

The biggest scourge in modern adland isn’t lack of budget.

It’s not encroachment on our business from consultancies or Google/FB/Amazon.

It’s not the talent war or our awful record in promoting diversity.

It’s self inflicted.

It’s the fact that so many marketers inside and outside agencies avoid big picture thinking.

It’s funny how you can’t remember big things, yet some small things stick with you forever. The words of a wise ad man I once worked with are imprinted on my brain.

We were in a pitch kick off meeting.

The type where conversation flows with ideas around how we might approach the brief.

Some of the younger heads in the room had discussed some social media thoughts at length.

Noticeably quiet throughout, our curmudgeonly old friend finally piped up at the end with this gem:

“Forget channels, gadgets, social, digital or new technologies. It’s about the idea, stupid!”

We could all do with some of that advice now.

The cartoon above from the inimitable and brilliant Tom Fishburne perfectly encapsulates what I’m talking about.

Sure we laugh at it. But it’s also an insight into the type of conversation that goes on in boardrooms across the world.

Agencies, tasked with coming up with a big, juicy creative solution to business problems respond with ill thought out tactical ideas –

“We’ll do some digital”

“We’ll build an app”

“We’ll use Snapchat!”

“360 video is the answer!”

“We’ll get an influencer”

But the medium is not the idea. As Tom Goodwin says, “we’ve become distracted by what can be done, not what makes sense” for our brands.

Limited thinking

To start with a channel based idea is to instantly limit your thinking. It means going straight to tactics without even thinking about good strategy.

It means lazily avoiding coming up with a big, bold, flexible creative idea or platform.

This excellent Linkedin posts sums up the point. (I’d also add that big data is not a big idea.)

Don’t get me wrong, great ideas need to live within channels. Great tactics bring great strategies to life. A big idea is nothing without a supporting cast of hundreds of small ideas that communicate it.

But execution should be an afterthought, not the place we start.

Why is this happening?

I believe there are four main reasons for the rise of “the scourge of channel thinking”.

First, channel bias means many agencies are pre-disposed to only thinking about solutions that reflect their specialities.

Social agencies see Facebook as the answer to every brief when the brand’s audience actually live elsewhere.

Big traditional creative agencies see TV as a necessity when a tweak to a brand’s user journey could be much more effective.

The big picture is avoided and the blinkers never get taken off, resulting in biased, ineffective ideas.

But when you see all problems in the same way and propose the same channel solution, then you aren’t being creative. Your ideas will almost always be analogous rather than being truly fresh.

Real creativity requires understanding that a big idea must work everywhere, and isn’t based on using a new channel or technology.

Secondly, this growing channel led executional approach is a result of awards chasing. Every year we see Cannes Lion winning ideas that do nothing for the brand’s business, bar garnering PR.

I’ve seen agencies try to fit a brand campaign into a new technology that they’ve bought into, not because it suits the brief, but because they believe it could be award winning.

To me that’s both stupid, but also ethically wrong.

It’s also partly a result of short-termism. The need for instant results has never been stronger in marketing. And thus, we rely on the crutch of channel thoughts rather than coming up with big, bold, longer term brand ideas.

(Ironically, a brilliant paradox outlined by Binet and Field is that long term thinking actually delivers better results in both the long AND short term.)

It’s also a result of the ‘availability bias’. Something new and cool launches (Facebook canvas, Insta Stories, Snapchat spectacles, 360 video) and everyone rushes to be the first brand to use it, fearful of being left behind. But just because something exists and sounds cool doesn’t mean it fits into a creative platform.

So what’s the answer?

Let’s remain channel neutral at least until that big idea has been decided. By all means, then move onto what this might look like in specific channels.

But the idea has to come first.

Idea uber alles.

That’s something that all good agency people implicitly understand, but it’s slowly being lost.

Matt Holt of Ogilvy UK sums it up perfectly:

 

Channels and platforms are the equivalent of creative canvases that we paint on.

But they’re benign without a strong creative idea.

It’s up to us as marketers to get creative, build cool things on top of them, to understand them, test them and sometimes break them.

But just using a new channel can’t be ‘the big idea’ on its own.

When agencies are at our best, we’re coming up with big, risky, uncomfortable creative ideas.

A great big idea offers an ‘Aha’ moment.

It unlocks the mind and removes constraints. You know a great big idea when you hear one, because straight away you can think of hundreds of possible channel focused ways to communicate it.

Mark Pritchard, one of the most powerful marketers and most important marketing agitators of modern times, summed it up perfectly with his recent quote on P&G’s approach:

“We try to no longer think of digital as something separate that we tack on at the end of the campaign. We also try to resist thinking about digital in terms of the tools, platforms, QR codes, augmented reality, holograms or whatever’s coming next in technology. we try to see it for what it is, a tool to build our brands by reaching people with fresh creative campaigns.”

Big idea first, channel, medium, tactics and execution second.

It’s about the idea, stupid!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Influencers and the paradox of self decleration

Maybe it’s the filter bubbles that I operate within on social media, but it strikes me that there’s a growing feeling that ‘the emperor has no clothes’ when it comes to ‘influencer’ marketing. From the Pepsi clusterfuck to brilliant articles like this and this, it feels like the bubble is about to pop.

That’s unfortunate, because the theory behind this approach is pretty sound. In a time when consumer cynicism/skepticism is incredibly high and attention is hard to come by. Using a credible, independent, trusted third party to verify your brand should be a positive step.

But, as with many other new trends with a shred of actual substance behind them, brands and influencers have combined to extract all the authenticity and credibility out of the market.

Without wanting to add to the chorus of naysayers, I’d like to propose a new law/heuristic/rule of thumb that we need to start applying to influencer marketing (and indeed other areas of marketing and business where hubris and bullshit reigns.)

It’s called ‘the paradox of self deceleration‘. (Catchy eh? Someone else can surely come up with a better title!)

It goes like this:

If you call yourself an ‘influencer’, ‘thought leader’ or an ‘entrepreneur’ on the internet, it’s very likely that you’re not one.

Self praise is no praise. Amongst all the issues with influencer marketing, one is the mislabelling of influencers by themselves. Having an Instagram account with a few million followers doesn’t make you an influencer, no matter how many times you use that hashtag. The irony is that really influential people don’t need to label themselves. They just are influential.

Similarly, just having a blog doesn’t make you a thought leader, or having a business idea doesn’t make you an entrepreneur. These are things that because of what you do, just declaring it yourself doesn’t make it a reality.

An old boss of mind Gary Brown wrote a brilliantly contrarian piece a few years ago about the cult of entrepreneurship and the bullshit that surrounds Irish startupland and made some brilliant points:

“The best way to be an entrepreneur is to go and start a business, call it a business, create a few jobs, and let someone else call you that. Self-proclaimed titles are very dangerous.”

It all reminds me a bit of the clip from The Office when Michael DECLARES BANKRUPTCY and expects it to actually mean something!

 


 

It strikes me that far too often people are happy enough to label themselves something but not put in the hard work to actually back the label up with credibility.

It doesn’t work like that.

Don’t claim you are, show you are. Because one thing’s for sure, if there’s no substance behind a claim, eventually, you’ll be found out.

The Second Captains paywall – A smart, calculated experiment in new media models…

Full disclosure before we kick off – as you can see below, I’m a huge Second Captains fan. I’ve got the mugs and yearbooks. I know all the quotes, I’ve seen the TV show and I’ve followed the lads since they were fledglings on Newstalk.

And I’m also an avid media watcher, meaning this week’s announcement that Second Captains is moving from its cushy nest in Irish Times towers towards the wilds of a paywalled, community funded model from next Monday made me irrationally excited.

Maracana with the lads

A photo posted by Shane O Leary (@shaneoleary1) on

The Captains have decide to offer fans a ‘metered paywall’ model, in the guise of a New York Times or Irish Times, and will begin charging users €5 a month for a new ‘World Service’ edition.

The show will be kept ad free, and two free shows on Monday will remain, but in place of Thursday’s double bill, they will instead put out one daily podcast between Tuesday and Friday.

Mark, Ciaran, Ken, Simon and Eoin have shown plenty of balls in their media career. They’ve backed themselves to move from Newstalk, set up their own podcast against the backdrop of some scepticism, pitched and their own TV show, and won a new audience through their summer stand-in slot on RTE Radio 1.

In all of this, their fans have followed them.

But this is a different kettle of fish. Asking people to pay 5 quid a month is where the rubber hits the road.

Niche or enormous, there’s no middle

I’ve spoken before on this blog about how media is fragmenting and new models are emerging. Essentially, to succeed in modern media, there are two choices.

On the one hand, you can strive for enormous scale and hope that pays off. Try to make money by monetising your readers through display, print or paywall subscriptions, try to speak to everyone and cast the net as wide as possible. This requires experimentation and a reliance on distribution platforms, since most of us consume our media through social feeds now (and also leads to clickbait). Buzzfeed is probably the best example, but most daily papers play this game too.

On the other hand, you can be really, really valuable to a small cohort of people and hope that they love your work enough to provide enough income. Often, this requires a heavier paywall and ancillary revenue streams like events, merchandise etc. You can see this in effect across media, in places like The Economist, The Farmers Journal, The Information, Skift and in podcasts like ‘The Anfield Wrap’ and Marc Maron. In a similar vein, individuals like Tim Ferriss have created their own mini media empires too. It requires that you understand your fans, are very close to them and relies on you continually creating lots of value for them.

There’s very little middle ground between these two options, and media companies without serious scale or serious relevance are getting squeezed badly.

With the Second Captains paywall, the lads have chosen the latter route.

‘1000 True Fans’

They might not have heard of it,  but the way Second Captains as a brand has grown takes a lot from the ‘1000 True Fans’ approach, first coined by Kevin Kelly. According to Kelly, because of the lowering distribution costs on the internet, it’s now much easier to reach the people who really love what you do. The 1000 figure is just an arbitrary number, but the essence to his point is that if you can find a certain number of people who will buy anything that you put out, who really get huge amounts of value from what you do, and then service them directly without intermediaries,  you’re in business. It’s a theory that’s still very relevant in 2017, as the lads will attempt to prove.

If you lived in any of the 2 million small towns on Earth you might be the only one in your town to crave death metal music, or get turned on by whispering, or want a left-handed fishing reel. Before the web you’d never be able to satisfy that desire. You’d be alone in your fascination. But now satisfaction is only one click away. Whatever your interests as a creator are, your 1,000 true fans are one click from you.

The way Second Captains has grown its following has been both methodical and masterful. This move to paywall hasn’t come all of a sudden. They haven’t just started asking people for money, their growth has been staged, they’ve built slowly and smartly creating products and events, branching out into other media and even building their own brands through journalism.

With the new model, they’ll likely be ramping up these extra revenue streams, but critically fans are already used to paying. According to producer Mark Horgan, speaking in the Indo this week, “The way our audience has developed is interesting. Many are the same people who listen every week and they want more. They’ve been dedicated since the beginning. It’s also rolling the dice in some ways, but it’s perfect for this type of journalism. At our last event, in December, we sold out in hours. Part of the deal with the new membership subscription is that members will get first call on tickets.”

The benefit of radio and podcasting is that it also really lends itself to creating strong relationships with fans, since your in their ear for 4-5 hours every week. It seems the lads are now ready to monetise all the work they’ve put in to these relationships.

$$$?

So what are the economics like? From the outside, this seems like a gamble. Why move from under the brand of a large media group (The Irish Times) that can offer you distribution and fame?

But Killian Woods put out this interesting set of tweets during the week, and, even with back of fag packet sums, the money part seems to make sense.

When you really analyse it, the risk here is small and calculated. The lads have a hugely valuable brand. That won’t be going away. They own their own channels too, which is crucial.

And even if this goes wrong, the worst case scenario is they go back to usual podcasts and sell advertising. I’m also pretty sure that another media company would come calling very quickly. But it won’t go wrong. They’ve done the sums, they know how much their fans love them and they’ve seen other models in media make money this way. This is never going to be an explosive growth business, but I’d be pretty bullish that it’s a smart decision.

Irish people are willing to pay small recurring amounts in subscriptions for a high value service, particularly in sport, and particularly if it’s a company with a strong value offering that you can’t get anywhere else.

Best of luck Second Captains, and congrats on a ballsy call that should show the way for the rest of Irish media.

They never go home those boys.