Strategy models are not orphans

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Illustration by: @momok (I don’t have to credit, but I want to)

While developing work for both recent client projects as well as my D&AD masterclass, I realised one of the cardinal sins of the way many agencies and consultancies present strategy.

Most times, when an agency puts a model or a framework in front of a client, it as if it came from nowhere. It is almost never credited to the original inventors. Even agencies that would never share a creative work without crediting its origin (although orphan case studies and best practices are also common), often wouldn’t dignify strategy the same way. Continue reading

Has Gillette made a mistake? Marketing meets politics

So apparently some men out there are throwing their toys out of the pram because of Gillette’s ‘The Best Men Can Be’ advert.

Gillette dares to suggest the rising awareness of toxic masculinity, and its harm is an opportunity for growth. Perhaps (GASP!) for change, or even a commitment worth making. That’s just too much, man!

However, some men are raging, because, you know, #notallmen.

So let’s sort this thing out first, shall we? THEN we can discuss whether it’s sensible marketing… Continue reading

Brand Strategy Returns to Radical Simplicity

simplicity.gifBranding was born to make things simpler. A collection of clear signs, telling a focused story, replacing complicated explanation. It helps your audience recognise you, hire you, and understand what makes your company a better choice. It’s fundamental stuff. Hopefully, the right branding influenced the right brand perception. And, according to Keller’s definition of brand, your brand supports the creation of ‘a mental structure to clarify decision’.

Brand platforms were born to articulate the ideas driving your branding. Your team and your agencies could then understand what it was all about, so they can deliver on it. Create the communications that tell your story. Design experiences that deliver the promise.

But somewhere along the way, things went horribly wrong. As marketing professionals were working on making things clear, consistent and easy to use, for many companies things were getting complicated. It started with something positive – a wider recognition of the importance of brands. Continue reading

Between your Brand and your Employer Brand

employer brandBusinesses are always looking for new competitive advantage and have started to catch on to the employer value proposition (EVP) as an attractive differentiator. This is a powerful tool for attracting and retaining talent, but is fraught with problems if handled badly.

However, there are really only three aspects of successful EVP that need considering:

The EVP must work together with your brand strategy

Just like a successful brand strategy, a successful EVP doesn’t just reach out, it reaches out to the right audience, so you can engage not only with the best talent, but the right talent that is best for you.

The war for talent, however, isn’t won on recruitment alone. For your existing workforce it serves as a reinforcement that they are at the right place; and it fuels their commitment to a long term career with you. With the cost of finding and replacing senior talent easily matching twice their annual salary, a strong employer brand is not just a nice to have, it’s an essential investment.

Your overall brand strategy already defines what your company is about. It taps into your history and culture and leverages your tone and points of difference. If you develop an EVP independently of your brand strategy, you will essentially split your brand in two. Instead, create a platform consistent with your brand strategy that clearly communicates what it means for talent. With multiple strategic frameworks involved it can get tricky. Continue reading

3 Marketing Trends for 2017

3+marketing+trends.gifIt is most likely that the universe and its trends don’t really care that the calendar digits have flipped over. That being the case, here are some wider trends that I believe we saw starting in 2016 and will go into 2017 and beyond.

Inter-agency collaboration making for better marketing, and also making marketing better

With the rising importance of interconnected media on the one hand, and budget pressures on the other, clients are expecting agencies to work together.

At WPP it’s called ‘horizontality’. Ad agencies join forces with their clients’ technology partners and digital agencies. Media agencies, using their scale, have tried to make the most of this trend by building in-house planning, creative and digital capabilities. However, more often than not they find themselves as the hubs of cross-agency collaboration. In a few cases large integrated marketing and PR agencies, are heading that way too.

As they go through those changes, all agencies also need to collaborate with growing in-house teams of tech people, designers and content people – partly due to clients looking for agile and efficient ways to respond to the market. I wonder if agencies have done enough to put in place cost-effective, agile response mechanisms.

An unexpected but positive side effect to this trend is a return to radical simplicity in brand strategy. The basic principles of most brand platforms and frameworks are the same, but agencies working to differentiate themselves give rise to superficial differences with models evolving into increasingly questionable metaphors. Onions, Temples, Keys, Keyholes, Bulbs, Fish, you name it. Worse yet, they are often clumped together, forming chimera-like creatures combining the ugliest, most scrupulous aspects of both marketing and organisational politics.

A method-salad starting point doesn’t allow agencies to stay focused and work in concert. As agencies and clients both now have to keep multiple teams on the same page, they are forced to go back to the fundamental elements that everyone can agree on and understand. This creates a natural distillation process that is very healthy for brands as well as for marketing as a discipline.

Social media is finally maturing

After a period of social media overhype, that work is being refocused around pragmatic goals and accountable measurements. As social media becomes more ubiquitous, the market stops seeing it as an end-all-be-all shiny-new solution that you either buy into or no. Continue reading

Marketing helped create post-truth politics, but must resist their lure

 This year’s political campaigns hold an ugly mirror to marketing. In an era where many marketers are obsessed with questions of purpose and social responsibility, politics have run away in the opposite direction, embracing the bad habits marketing is trying to leave behind

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The results of the US election draw a line under a shift in political discourse. The rise of post-truth politics is here regardless of who won. The story of this shift is very much intertwined in the role marketing plays in popular culture.

Despite being coined in 2010, the term post-truth politics has only entered mainstream public debate in the past year. The twin shocks of the British EU referendum campaigns and the US presidential election have intersected with a series of compounding factors that are amplifying this specific type of discourse. Continue reading

Marketing Should Promote A New Masculinity

Recent coverage of the state of masculinity is alarming. The latest research from the advertising association research arm Credos points to the negative effect advertising can have on boys’ body image. The same effect it has had on girls for many years. That research joins mounting evidence of a crisis related to the shifting roles of men, often blaming the void created by the decline of some of their ‘traditional roles’, such as being breadwinners. Make no mistake, those roles can be oppressive, sometimes toxic, and are cultural myths in their own right.

A recent study by the Journal of Gender Studies went as far as blaming the financial crisis for the rise of the ‘Spornosexual’ – young men using their toned bodies on social media as a means of feeling valuable in society. A part of a larger trend where fitness regimes are shared with the world as a visual means of getting positive attention. Attention that hides the flip-side of body-policing and shaming. Maybe we shouldn’t strive for that specific form of gender equality.

Putting aside moral panic, where the BBC condemns porn for causing erectile dysfunction in teenagers, it’s easy to feel empathy and concern when considering how boys learn what it means to ‘be a man’. The pressures of toxic masculinity can end in anxiety, depression and violence. Harming both men and women, particularly those who are vulnerable to begin with. Continue reading