Taming Marketing Babylon

Prompt: the tower of babel made of neon marketing ephemera against a stormy sky (MJ5)

It’s often said that the very things that initially attract you to someone are the things that eventually begin to grate on your nerves. This old saying perfectly captures my relationship with the marketing industry.

Early days, I fell in love with Marketing’s creative, “whatever works” approach. A magpie-like mentality to pick and choose the best concepts and strategies for success from our own as well as other disciplines. Yet, over time, I have become increasingly frustrated with the neverending onslaught of synonymous, mutated, and spliced frameworks, models, labels, jargon, and “stuff”. It’s bloody exhausting.

The tragedy of this situation is that the genuine ideas, original concepts, research and science that underpin our profession are buried beneath this barely held-together tower of shiny marketing trinkets. This dearth of context and historical understanding has led me to call my blog “Marketing Babylon”. Way back in 2006, when I was still a fresh-faced agency-side rookie.

The paradox of marketing is that the creative freedom we love is both our saviour and our tormentor. It’s what makes our industry innovative and adaptable, but it also spawns a convoluted mess that leaves most marketers befuddled and, frankly, less effective. And in a classic “it’s always the children who suffer”, it also stunts the growth of our junior team members, even those with some formal training. 

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What to ask in a job interview when they say “So do you have any questions?”

There comes the point in most job interviews when the interviewer asks, “Do you have any questions?” πŸ€”
There’s plenty of content on how to answer questions in an interview, but not much about how to ask them.

Here are some of my go-to favourites, specifically for creative agencies:

πŸšͺ Tell me the story of the last time you fired a client. How long ago was it? What happened?

I’m not saying agencies should fire clients left and right. The point is many of my challenging experiences in agencies were due to the combination of difficult clients and weak leadership with poor boundaries or little regard for the team’s mental health. It often required me to step in and protect the team at a personal cost. The answer can be quite telling.

🌱 What’s the background of senior people? Did they grow within the business? How quickly?

This question is great for understanding diversity and potential career paths.

πŸ† Tell me the story of a project/campaign you are particularly proud of. Followed by:
More briefly, what are some past projects that are typical of what I’ll be working on?

These questions can reveal a lot about values, culture, and working style. Pay attention to: How long ago was it? What do they choose to mention/spend more time on? Where’s their passion (if it’s there at all)? Who gets the credit? How does the story reflect ways of working and client relationships?

β€’ What’s your social media policy?

This little question can help you identify red flags around control and micromanagement.

πŸ’» What are your remote work platforms/tools?

This gives you an idea of the company’s agility and overall relationship with technology. Are they still using outdated systems? Have they adopted tools like Slack, or do projects still happen on endless “CC everyone” email chains? Do they think about AI?

πŸ’Έ Towards the end, don’t just negotiate your starting salary. Ask – What is the typical policy/rate for raises, and how long after starting the job does it usually happen? What about for over-performance?

With most agencies, getting a raise can be like pulling teeth, especially the first one. Compensation should be more straightforward, and the culture surrounding it can reveal a lot. Growing, successful organizations tend to be competitive and honest. Even if the answer isn’t your ideal, it provides a guideline for future negotiations.

🀩 Don’t fall for the one nice room. Ask to have a walk around the studio.

Observe the entire work environment as it reflects the business’s health and the team’s priorities. Also, what’s the vibe? Do people seem happy? Relaxed? Stressed? Are there rushed individuals or playful teams?

What are your favourite questions to ask? 🧐

AI and creative development: Rocket fuel for human creativity?

Rocket fuel for human creativity? πŸš€πŸ’‘
Hear me out…

I have spent most of my career leading teams in the quest for breakthrough solutions (and searching for them myself). The typical process combines two approaches: quality-dominated development of “new stuff” and quantity-dominated curation of “existing stuff”.

1. Quantity dominated: curating numerous references to existing stuff in the hope of discovering inspiration or direction. Mood boards and best-practice research both work that way. This approach is cheaper, faster, and less demanding. However, this approach might not result in the desired breakthrough due to its dependence on previously explored concepts.

2. Quality dominated: developing fewer bespoke things that have not existed before. Think of a quality storyboard/draft/wireframe or even good scamps. It is slower and requires creation and iteration, mindfully mining opportunity spaces. It’s quite resource-intensive (time, money, energy, attention, people) to reach even a rudimentary prototype.  

Typically, you start in quantity mode and progress to quality, then alternate between the two. πŸ”„

Enter a third, hybrid mode of strategic creative development, which has an interesting “serendipity acceleration” effect. This the agile-adaptive approach that AI unlocks. It mixes our original ideas with a vast field of references (wider than any human can hold in their head). 
It can start at either end and can rapidly move to the other:

– Quality to quantity: You develop a significant bespoke seed and feed it to an LLM, trained on existing references, to rapidly generate new results for you to iterate. πŸ’‘➑️🌐
– Quantity to quality: you use prompts to generate a large number of starting points which, in the absence of bespoke seeds, gravitate more towards the existing references, but take a “quantity is quality” approach and select the best of those to develop and craft further. πŸŒβž‘οΈπŸ’‘

Note how the typical shift between divergence and convergence thinking, crucial to success, becomes faster and more cost-effective.

The third mode cultivates a dynamic and responsive creative process. It’s like rocket-fuel for serendipity, turbocharging the creative journey and maximizing the chances of finding that elusive ‘Eureka!’ moment. By leveraging human-machine collaboration, this approach accelerates not only serendipitous discoveries but also enables rapid generation, iteration, and refinement of ideas, making it easier for creatives to reach “terminal velocity” in their pursuit of breakthroughs, all while reducing the cost and time required.

It’s already happening, don’t get left out.

Version 1.5 of β€œThe Sceptic’s Guide to ChatGPT” is out.

Language-Based AI: The Photoshop of Knowledge Work

Adobe stock. Seemed only fair.

All analogies are flawed, but some are useful.

Language-based AI is like Photoshop for the rest of us. πŸ–₯οΈπŸ’ƒβš‘

Hear me out… (less than 2-minute read)

In the world of graphic design, there was a time when only the most skilled designers could create high-quality visuals. It required many years of training and was a time-consuming manual craft.

But then, a tool emerged that changed everything β€” Photoshop. Suddenly, everyone with a computer could create stunning graphics, and the speed of production increased exponentially. This tool democratised the craft of design, making it accessible to the masses.

Adobe’s Creative Cloud approached 30 million paid subscribers last December. 🀯

However, despite this democratisation, not all designers were suddenly equal, nor will they ever be. Just as it is with many types of skills and tools β€” equal access doesn’t guarantee equal performance, let alone greatness.

But wait, there’s more to this analogy. πŸ€“

Photoshop was more than just a tool for making graphics. It also enabled designers to experiment with new techniques (that in the wrong hands scream “photoshop”), create unique styles, and push the boundaries of what was possible in design. And they still use real-world materials and inspiration.

Do designers have to keep up with the evolution of Photoshop? Most of them do. Or you can find your comfort zone and stay there. But unless you’re amazing, it comes at a price. Or you can decide you’re a 100% old-school craft artisan or let someone else import your work into Photoshop. There are implications for that too.

The arrival of AI in knowledge work is like Photoshop for the rest of us. AI is transforming the way knowledge workers operate, automating tasks we didn’t think could be automated, speeding things up exponentially, and providing new possibilities previously impossible.

But like with Photoshop, AI still requires human expertise to use effectively.

You are the designer, not AI.

Education, talent, and hard work still count. Hard work beats talent sometimes, but only up to a degree.

The power of AI lies in the hands of those willing to keep learning and adapting to the technology. But just because you have access to AI tools doesn’t make you a master of your field.

And downloading a pirated copy of Photoshop doesn’t make your nephew a top-tier graphic designer.

But maybe he could help you with that lost dog ad or retouch your dating photos.

Speaking of which, have you tried using it for job applications? It’s a game-changer. πŸ˜…

Finally, word processors that can actually process words.

But that’s another analogy…

Don’t settle for client-brief capture. Get-To-By should be more.

I recently had an enlightening conversation with the director team at one of my favourite creative agencies, and the Get-To-By (GTB) framework resurfaced yet again.

To clarify, there’s nothing inherently wrong with using the GTB framework to summarize a client’s brief concisely. Summaries are valuable, especially when they help capture the task at hand and perhaps contain a problem statement. You can also use them to show the client you understand their objectives.

However, issues arise when the process ends there, leaving creative teams with inadequate strategic guidance as they move into ideation and development. In short, neglecting to provide a solid creative strategy does them a disservice.

(It’s worth noting that GTB is not the only way to capture strategy. I personally prefer more straightforward, creative, and narrative-based frameworks.)

So, let’s revisit the advice from the original post:

The Get-To-By (GTB) framework, popularized by BBDO Worldwide and others, is widely employed in advertising. However, when misused, it can lead to weak strategies and misguided creative teams. An effective GTB should succinctly capture the audience, creative task, and strategy while avoiding non-strategies marked by empty loops and bare assertions.

To enhance GTB’s strategic efficacy, consider the following:

1. GET: Define a clear audience, connected to proper segmentation.
2. WHO: Meaningfully describe the audience, addressing their problems or perceptions.
3. TO: Identify the desired behavioural change that supports your end goal.
4. BY: Remember that ‘By’ is the heart of the creative strategy. Answer the ‘how’ and avoid closed loops or bare assertions.
5. Optionally, add a ‘Because’ to provide reasons to believe and ground the proposition.

By remaining mindful and strategic, we stir creative teams towards the most promising opportunity space(s), increasing the likelihood of positive outcomes.

Let’s devote more attention to crafting strategic GTBs and steer our industry clear of non-strategies.