Category Archives: Strategy

A three channel model for digital communication

Ironically, one of the real barriers to innovative marketing is the whole existence of ‘digital’ as a category. The idea of ‘digital’ makes little or no sense from the perspective or either consumers or a marketers. The messy amalgam of technologies that we call ‘digital’ has been lumped together simply because they are a set of communication touch-points that share common technical infrastructure, often require similar executional skill-sets and have emerged at roughly the same time. Given this, it’s no surprise that there is considerable confusion and disappointment when media planners and marketers get excited about ‘the digital channel’.

Many of the more progressive marketers out there have realised that digital is a nonsensical category, and have drilled down to talk in much greater detail. They talk about podcasting, iPhone applications, twitter feeds and streaming pre-rolls. By pointing out that ‘digital is not one channel, but thousands’, we are suddenly in a complex, technically specific environment that makes it almost impossible to build clear, integrated strategies.

I believe that by finding a middle ground between these two extremes, we can create a notion of ‘digital channels’ that is more consumer-centric that the monolithic view, but also more strategically useful that the fragmented view. For simplicity, we might think about digital in terms of three channels; mobile, online, and digital out of home (DOOH). This is a useful model as each of the three channels creates a different sort of engagement with the consumer, providing different opportunities for marketers.

The mobile channel consists of all of those touch-points that are delivered through devices we carry around with us – mobile phones, personal media players, portable gaming consoles and so on. The channel incorporates touch-points as diverse as SMS messaging, mobile in-game advertising, and video-blogging. These can often provide connection with consumers regardless of time and location, but these devices are highly personal and marketers need to understand the value exchange involved in getting this close. The online channel is what most marketers think of when they talk about ‘digital’. Online describes all those activities we conduct while ‘in front of a computer’ – whether that be at home, at work, or somewhere else. The ‘digital out of home’ channel (DOOH) is a fascinating space that is emerging as more and more of the devices around us become digital, networked and interactive. From digital billboards and in-store screens to kiosks and transit media, DOOH presents an increasing array of places to engage the consumer in varying types of public space.

While it’s reasonably straightforward deciding what technologies and tactics sit within each channel, there are obviously grey areas. As mobile phones become more ‘computer-like’ and laptops become more ‘hyper-portable’, the categories blur. As we begin to be able to communicate between our mobile phone and a digital billboard, the categories interact. For the most part however, the three channel model provides a clear first step toward strategically planning communication activity that looks beyond the desire to ‘do something digital’, and identifies the basic nature of the roles to be played by digital within a broader communication strategy.

(cross-posted at the Naked blog)

Matching Luggage… I don’t get it!

For those not familiar with the term, ‘matching luggage’ refers to advertising campaigns where the same concept is used in a number of different channels. For example, an image from the TV commercial may become the billboard, one of the characters from the commercial may voice the radio spot… and so on. It’s generally used as be a pejorative term, but occasionally I have to stifle a smirk when a client earnestly requests some matching luggage as part of an integrated brief.

There are two simple reasons that advertisers like matching luggage. Firstly, it’s often easier, cheaper and faster to execute one concept and then repurpose parts of it for use in different channels. Secondly, there is an obvious appeal to the notion that seeing the same thing in different places will ‘reinforce’ the messaging.

There is a slightly more complicated reason that more progressive marketers often don’t like matching lugga  ge.  As media channels become more diverse and functionally distinct (think of the difference between a broadcast TV commercial and an interactive website), it makes sense to do different things in each channel, playing to their individual strengths. That may mean that one concept will live well in broadcast audio-visual channels, but a very different concept will be more effective in interactive text-based channels like SMS. In response to anguished cries from old school creatives about single-minded messaging, the new school tell us that as long as the core idea that lies behind the concepts remains true, consumers don’t need their luggage to be matching.

But I digress… I've got a more basic beef with matching luggage. I don't get it.

Every day I see ads… on the street, in magazines, online. And I don’t get them. Not (I like to think) because I am particularly stupid. Simply because I don’t watch enough TV.

The catch with matching luggage is that almost invariably the TV commercial is the core of the campaign. It tells the story from which frames, characters, or lines are snatched and shoehorned into other less ‘exciting/powerful/creative-friendly’ media – from bus sides to banner ads. So if you don’t see the TV commercial… you just don’t get it.

I don’t think I’m the only one. I’ve seen lots of ads for Tivo recently, as the time-shifting revolution creeps up on us Aussies. I’m pretty sure Foxtel IQ is going to put a dent in the amount of TV ads people actually see. DVD sales and online downloads (legal and illegal) of TV series continue to climb as we learn to hoard and binge rather than relying on scheduled programming. And at the end of the day, many of us (teens and young males in particular) seem to have better things to do that watch telly.

For more and more Australians, in a fragmented, technology-empowered media landscape, those beautifully crafted little thirty second stories are becoming an anachronism. That’s not so bad – there are still plenty of places to get a message to us unsuspecting consumers. But if advertisers continue to rely on us having seen their thirty second spot, then when we read that print ad, glance at that billboard, or open that direct mail… we just won’t get it.

(cross-posted from the Naked Communications blog)

Merry Christmas, Big Issue Bill

I buy the Big Issue from Bill. If you are a regular around Central Station, you may have noticed Bill. He’s a wiry looking older chap, who has constructed a vertical shelf as a shopfront which he wheels around with him. It provides a holding place for his magazines, music from a battery operated stereo, a collection of personal paraphernalia (including a small plush dog that often ‘escapes’ onto the nearby pavement), and a topical sign that greets passers-by.

You are most likely to spot Bill this time of year, when he dons his Santa jacket, hat and beard. He’s not a foolish man, so in this heat he opts for blue workman’s shorts. Buying a copy of the Big Issue from Bill is always and experience – I won’t share any of his wit and wisdom here, perhaps in another post.

Today Bill had a little surprise after he handed me the magazine. He reached down into a box at the bottom of his wheelie-shelf, and pulled out a plastic tray and a little piece of paper. From the tray he offered me a ‘tempter’ – a chocolate éclair to chew on. And then he handed me the piece of paper. ‘It’s a Christmas card’, he said, by way of explanation.

The ‘card’ is a quarter of an A4 sheet, printed with festive bunting and a photograph of Bill’s fluffy canine companion (wearing his Christmas headgear). It simply reads, in a suitably festive font, ‘Merry Christmas And a Happy New Year from Big Issue Bill And friends’.

My question is a simple one. Why is it that ‘Big Issue Bill’ is far more skilled at experience and relationship marketing than most of the faceless, charmless monster-corporations whose saccharine Christmas music and tacky festive displays we endure every day?

Merry Christmas to you too, Bill! See you next year.

(cross-posted from the Naked Communications blog)

Marketing imitates art. Badly.

First, let it be said that I am a big fan of M Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, The Village and so on). I was however very disappointed by the Australian digital promotion for his latest film, ‘The Happening’. You can check it out at the website or on YouTube.

Credit where credit is due, it’s great to see the promoters doing something for the Australian market beyond simply changing each ‘z’ in their film website to an ‘s’. However, what they decided to do was to create a Flash Mob ‘happening’ in Pitt Street Mall and film the crowd response. Again, I can definitely see the connection to the film. My only issue is this…

Compare their promotion to the ‘Frozen in NYC Central Station’ performance art piece that has been making the rounds (and currently has twelve million views on YouTube). They are practically identical, with two important differences. One was original and one was not. And one is more engaging than the other in pretty much every way. If you haven’t seen them both, I’ll let you have a look and decide which is which.

I love the appropriation of culture (and art specifically) into marketing. And I love the co-opting of marketing and advertising for artistic purposes. The mingling of discourses challenges and enriches both sides of the fence. What is disappointing to see is the wholesale copy of art into marketing with no attempt to add anything – and usually a dilution of the power and engagement of the idea. In an world when avant garde art was retricted to uber-trendy art factories on the lower east side, you could safely bet that most of your customers hadn’t seen the works that your marketing was riffing (or ripping) off. In a world of YouTube and Google, you no longer have that luxury.

Let’s bring more from art to marketing that a carbon copy (apologies to Warhol, crown price of carbon copying). Let’s bring the creativity, the passion, the lack of restraint. Now that sounds like fun! – brett

[This entry is cross-posted on the Naked Communications Australia blog.]

Digital’s Live Connection, Digital Media (Asia)

A while back I spoke to Sarah Yin, a journalist who was writing about the use of digital to create real-world connections for Digital Media (Asia). Interesting article, came out in March. Apparently this is what I said;

“Digital is a wonderful environment to foster word-of-mouth,” says Brett Rolfe, a director at Naked Communications in Sydney. “It can make it easier to find audiences that you wouldn’t find easily in the real world, and you can be more tailored in your digital communications.”

However, Rolfe warns that digital media can only act effectively in this sort of campaign when clients are clear about two things: who the audience is, and whatmessage they want to communicate.

“We feel that what you should be doing with any communications problem is identifying touchpoints where you want to relate to the consumer. This is entirely influenced by what your product is, who your consumers are and what objectives you have at that point,” says Rolfe.

Yeah, sounds like me. You can check out the full issue here.

Integrated Head, Specialised Hands

[This post is syndicated from the Naked Australia blog]

Many agencies and networks seem to be struggling with the ‘specialisation vs. integration’ dilemma. On the one hand, fragmentation of marketing vehicles (particularly in the digital space) is demanding ever-deeper specialised expertise. Being digital experts used to be enough – now we have mobile experts, search experts, and any moment we will no doubt see the spawning of mobile search experts as the technical specialisation continues. On the other hand, an increasing (and long overdue) disenchantment with shoving the same old ads down the same old media channels is demanding greater strategic integration from agencies. When client’s expect a media-neutral ‘big idea’ to be the foundation for their campaigns, agency groups can no longer rely on sending around a slick TVC and expecting studio to create ‘matching luggage’ executions across print digital et. al.

Some of the networks (particularly the digital ones, like Isobar and the ill-fated Blue Freeway) attempt to address this conflict between specialisation and integration by bringing together a group of diverse specialist agencies under one roof. In this way they can assemble the right mix of specialisations in response to a given problem. This approach is also adopted by a few of the more forward-thinking international clients who bring together multi-disciplinary ‘agency councils’ to work toward a single integrated idea. The challenge with the ‘multiple specialists’ approach is twofold. Firstly, it relies on agency cooperation, and while this often starts with the best intentions (P&Ls and political infighting notwithstanding), cooperation is often hard to achieve unless the groups consistently work on projects together. Secondly, bringing the right mix of specialists together is impossible until you know the shape of the solution – as a result, agency councils often steer the outcome (innocently enough) toward their own expertise… regardless of the nature of the problem.

A better solution is to separate strategic and creative thinking from execution. Agencies that focus on developing media-neutral insights, strategies and ideas are not under the same pressure to develop deeply specialised technical skills as executional agencies. For this reason, clients can brief a single ‘integrated strategy and creativity’ agency to develop the architecture for a solution in response to their marketing problem. As long as they apply sound strategic analysis and innovative thinking, these agencies can build the integrated ‘big idea’ foundation that can then be briefed out to specialist executional agencies. Importantly, these specialists can be chosen based on the proposed solution – making sure you can have the most appropriate partners every time without limiting your options.

Integrated strategy and idea, specialised execution. It probably doesn’t make life that much easier, but it does give you a better chance of creating some really good marketing.

Quarterly Marketing Cycles

Around this time of year, as many clients are mired in the arduous process of getting annual marketing plans signed off, I always have the same realisation. That this will be another year that such-and-such client will destroy any chance they have of doing anything really innovative because of the speed mandated by an annual marketing cycle. They treat managing a big brand like captaining a big ship – it takes a long time to change course, and if you hit anything you are pretty much screwed. This may not have been a problem ten years ago, these days (particularly within the digital space) it is the reason that every Goliath needs to be terrified of the many Davids just itching to take them down.

I was talking to a very on-the-ball client last year, and we discussed this problem. I told them that if they wanted to make a difference, if they wanted to really and seriously leave their competitors in the dust, they just needed to one thing… change from an anual marketing cycle to a quarterly one. Revisit strategy, spending, the lot, every three months (hell, why not make it two). I realise it’s impossible for most big companies, but if they can find a way to embrace that speed of change internally it will finally equip them to capitalise on the equally rapid pace in the external communications environment.

It’s not just media planners

Here’s an odd one from a public toilet somewhere between Sydney and Bellingen (can’t recall exactly where). Any thoughts on the meaning of the symbol below the sharps disposal shoot? Because I’d be thinking twice before moving into the syringe recycling business…

Choice Overkill goes to Adland

After people have been bemoaning overwhelming choice in modern society for years, we seem innundated with ‘choice ads’ over the past few years. HSBC, Dove, Orange, BBC World, the list does go on. And now bloody dodgy outdoor for Sultana Bran. Tasty? Yes, compelling and unique, oh my. And lets use witty juxtaposition to… damnit, I can’t even be bothered to critique this unoriginal drivel.

PS. Not all choice ads are crap. Some of the brands I mentioned above I remember because they did real, engaging choice ads (big tip of the hat to the BBC World interactive billboards). But real and engaging this aint.