Suresh Dinakaran is Chief Storyteller at ISD Global, Dubai and Managing Editor, BrandKnew.
Suresh Dinakaran is Chief Storyteller at ISD Global, Dubai and Managing Editor, BrandKnew.
What could/should “advertising” look like in 2020 and beyond? What should we do now for that future?
Some questions that crowd our every day artery. Restless consumers and fast changing technology are creating unheralded disruption. Advertising has always been a combination of art and science. Technology is now becoming a third variable. Advertisers “have to get all three of these things right”. They have to be three good.
There are Un Ignorable Forces of Change. Throwing Unabated Challenges to the status quo. But having said that, once recognised, respected and responded right, they offer Unprecedented Upside Potential for the Future. Let‘s examine them below:-
Exponential Advances in Science & Tech: With IOT, AI, Machine Learning etc, we now have a deeper real time understanding of things, people, situations. Bringing along with it an outsized and unprecedented responsibility for what we do with that knowledge.
Empowered & Skeptical “Consumers” : Wanting Customerization & Personalization (make it mine), seeking Choice(Give me tools to make better decisions), expecting Competitive Value (Give me more for my money), searching for Communities( Let me be a part of it), across multiple Channels (I want to call, click and visit). Individuals with lives, aspirations, challenges, family, communities. They want to be worthy of respect and you need to earn their trust.
Media Disruption & Redefinition : One way has become Two Way, Static is now Dynamic, Stationary is now Mobile, Passive is now Sensing, One-Dimension is now Immersive, Visual has turned Multi sensory. There exists Unprecedented Platform Design Capabilities for delivering Exceptional Contextualised Experiences.
Culture, Society & Our World : Straddling many a Divide across Health, Income, Digital, Education, Equality & Tolerance, Climate & Sustainability.
Inspiring, Measurable Business Models: A heady mix of The customer driven/ holistic model , The co creation model, The open innovation model , Network orchestration model , The Competitive Value Model, Transformation to full service provider model, The emerging market innovation engine model, The shift to digital and network business models
So what are the takeaways that we can extract from the above listed landscape?
– Traditional mindsets, including those about advertising and marketing, must be challenged and potentially changed. I am referring to the Mental Models: The Primary Impediment to Transformation- For eg: “It has always worked this way.” “We tried it and it didn’t work.” “We’re profitable; why change?..and so forth!
Before Roger Bannister broke the 4 Minute Mile on May 6, 1954, nobody thought that such a record could be set. We need to ask ‘ What is your 4 minute mile ‘ ?
It‘s the time to challenge our Mental Models of Advertising and Move from Marketers and Agencies, through Media, at Target Demographics toward being Cross-Silo Collaborators, from Ads toward Orchestrated Value-Creation Touch points, from Frequency toward When Needed, Wanted, Appreciated, from Reach toward Where Needed, Wanted, Appreciated, from Push and Persuade For Sales toward Multi Win Outcomes,pull & engage, from Ad Campaigns toward Initiatives in Holistic, Dynamic Ecosystem.
There is also a great upside in starting to use a new Vocabulary:
From Campaign To Initiative, From Content To Substance, From Persuading To Inspiring and Enabling, From Selling To Serving, From Seeking Loyalty To Earning Trust, From Disruption To Better/Alternate Solutions, From Features and Benefits to Brand Roles in People’s Lives, From Brand Differentiation To Brand Distinctiveness, From Employees To Brand Ambassadors, From Talent To Brand Stewards, From Consumers(myopic) To People with Lives, From Advertising Campaigns To Value Creation Initiatives, From Direct Response To Actionable Communications, From Big Data To Actionable Insights, From Success/Failure To Learning.
The time has come to challenge everything. Leave no sacred cows. Even challenge the objective of the firm from maximising long term shareholder value to aligning the objectives of the brand, the people (consumers…) and society.
– A strong call out to shift your focus from media mix to portfolios of all touchpoint orchestration. Go beyond the 4 Ps- bring in CeX, CSR, Packaging, Web & App etc all. The path to purchase is not linear any more. Operating in a sliver is not serving the purpose.
– Leverage the power of content( make RAVES– Relevant, Actionable, Valuable, Exceptional & Shareworthy) and the power of context( MADE: Multi Sensory, Audience driven, Delivery across platforms, Environment & location sensitive) that helps deliver your compelling brand purpose.
– Be always in beta– in adaptive experimentation mode to foster innovation, to learn faster & better, to attract and retain better talent, to hoodwink competition.
There’s no shortage of screens and there’s no shortage of impressions. But there’s a shortage of high value connection points between brands and consumers, which is the whole point of advertising. You have to create effective engagement with the consumer that gets them to buy.
Latin is very much Greek to me but as I come towards the end of this piece some Latin to keep an eye on. We have passed those days of ‘ Caveat Emptor ‘( meaning Buyer Beware). The new skid on the block these days is ‘ Caveat Venditor ‘ ( meaning Seller Beware ).
As the brilliant Bob Hoffman puts it ” If you want to die an imbecile in advertising, don’t pay attention to art, literature, history, science, anthropology or nature. Pay attention to the Kardashians “.
Going back to Latin mode- friends- Semper Vigilans (meaning stay vigilant)!
Numerology and Marketing Math!
We are all swayed by possibility. As we are swayed by short cuts. Human beings are hardwired to be lazy. So, unless and until there is a by design effort to put in the emotional labour, routine is the ardently followed also ran. Mundane replaces the potential jugular. It remains that way, because its always been done that way. So why upset the applecart? But what happens when the cart is being toppled?
I am not a numbers person. Far from it. It somehow just doesn’t add up for me. So, I have almost subtracted it from my life. But, being in the space that I am, and observing the brand marketing communications around me, I am tempted to do a deeper dive and know more.
25 to 70% off: Most of you would have seen these numbers scream out at us day in and day out from newspapers, billboards, radio ads, digital ads etc. In fact, some of us were mistaking the 25 to 70% off to be a tourist destination(considering how many of them sprout all over the city)- One cannot miss it because leading brands across industry verticals with the support and ‘ advise ‘ of big ticket advertising agencies make sure such campaigns are run 13 months in a year. So, that makes it 24X7X395. A different numerology this!
The ever lasting love affair of brand and marketing experts with 25 to 70% off remains a mystery. Or by now, it should not be. Considering the amount of time ‘ the practice ‘ has come to root. And the practice has been perfected beyond question. And ably aided by ‘ brand guardians ‘ who toe the line willingly as this ‘ ad vise ‘ is coming from senior czars at the big ticket ad agencies– how can they get their ‘ numbers ‘ wrong? They use ‘ fancy ‘ calculators!!!!
I have heard somewhere that ‘ the more things change, the more they remain the same ‘. Very recently, a very senior brand and business head of a market leading brand called me saying that they are in troubled times. They were losing market share and from being a clear category leader with over 65% retail market share, it was time for store closures, downsizing(or rightsizing to make it sound sweeter) and market share dipping to below 40% – all that in a matter of about 18 months. Inspite of increased marketing spends as advised by the ‘ experts ‘. My question to him was to understand what were they doing different to what was being done and not surprisingly the answer remained ‘ we have aggressively started doing deep discounting and instead of doing it 4 times a year, we remain committed to doing it through the year ‘…so there you go, enough said – ‘ the more things change, the more they remain the same ‘.
So, do these brand owners and guardians take their coveted ad agencies to task? I’m afraid not. If that were to happen, how can they make ‘ interesting, cerebral conversation ‘ saying that our brand works with XXXX agency – they are in the Top 5…and walk around with a chip on their shoulder. And be ranked among ‘ Top 50 ‘ Marketing Professionals in XXXX. To be flagged on their Linked In profile.
Customers buy only on price and the more you deep discount, more loyalty they bring to the equation is still the belief(believe it or not). We can keep bribing them and they will keep flocking like bees to honey. But, what happened? The numbers are not adding up. The 25 to 70% off numerology chapter needs to turn the page. The strategy is now clearly a ‘ has BEEn ‘! And still being tried Bees Saal Baad( Twenty Years Hence for those not familiar with Hindi).
So, where are they headed? To me the writing is on the wall- or is it on the palm?
Palmistry, anyone? Could be easier. Palm off your responsibility to someone or something else! Enough suckers around.
As for me, I am calling up my Mom(God Bless Her) to know more about the occult practice..you guessed it: Numerology!
Disclaimer: She is a retired Math teacher.
Of Tenants & Landlords!
NOTICE: Your tenancy can expire any time!
Just a bit about the striking harbinger of a shift- our wholesale tilt towards becoming a tenant society. Today we may have the mistaken notion that we own things because we paid for them(through the nose or credit card go figure out) and brought them home, but as long as they run software or have digital connectivity, the sellers continue to have control over the product. The hunter becomes the hunted (or in this case the landlord becomes the tenant or should it be the renter becomes the rented…)- we are renters of our own objects, there by the grace of the ‘true owner’.
Older batteries, ageing phones and the ever so gentle nudge to buy the new smartphone…we all go through it.
We seem to have fewer rights as digital tenants than we do as tenants of real estate(where eviction is subject to due process and both sides have a voice and a choice).
How long before our devices start behaving like spies and taskmasters in our own (smart) home? Connectivity and embedded intelligence are at the fulcrum of push and control that large corporations exercise over us on their path to bigger margins and greater profits.
For all the tenancy rights violation, we just may be at the tip of some tenancy riots. So the next time you purchase something, ask ‘ Is it yours truly ? ‘.
We have often heard about terms like ’ Be Limitless ‘ and ‘ Endless Possibilities ‘. These are bandied about in self help books, motivational speeches and even some business negotiations..” Considering the synergies that exist between our two organisations, there are endless possibilities that we can collaborate on “, is not very uncommon CEO speak. Well, (enough) said!
The reality on the ground is very different though. There is not much weightage accorded to the magic and energy of ‘ possibility ‘. And even less so in the case of what empowers possibility ie ‘ enrollment ‘. Often times we all are barking up the wrong tree. Consider that we look at this situation like if it were to be a quadrant with four concourses.
Concourse 1: High Possibility; High Enrollment: This is where most of our tribe is headed. Showing up, enrolling and putting in the hard yards, the emotional labour in the hope that at the end of it, they would realise what was envisaged as possible when they began. It’s indeed a very overcrowded space, fuelled in large doses by what we call the ‘ herd mentality ‘ and the supposed ‘ wisdom of the crowds ‘. Needless to say, the competition in this concourse is the highest.
Concourse 2: Low Possibility; High Enrollment: How to get into the Brazilian national football team ? Or any of the top NBA teams. Or getting admission into the IVY League Universities like Harvard, MIT etc. The odds are heavily stacked against the participants but the level of intensity and desire to get on board is at its highest which reflects in the insane number of enrollments for that special pie in the sky. In such cases, the existing eco system also keeps triggering and stimulating the hope and promise and thereby the corresponding spike in enrollment to get on board.
Concourse 3: Low Possibility; Low Enrollment: Yes there are such tribes..wanting to be lava surfers and ride the lava spitting out from the Mauna Loa (one of the world’s biggest volcanos) but there is neither a structure nor system in place to bring this to fruition. Little wonder such things see the lowest in terms of both possibility and enrollment.
Concourse 4: High Possibility; Low Enrollment: Strangely, this is the most under tapped area of the quadrant inspite of this being the area with the highest potential. It could be areas like being a social worker or a nurse or a music therapist. There is always a Minimum Viable Audience(MVA) and our enrollment can see that audience being connected to, engaged with, influenced and impacted.
What can we distill from this? Which is the Blue Ocean that is calling out to us? How much enrollment are we planning to put in to swim to where we want to be? Are we prepared to guts it out? Yes, the possibilities are out there. Enrollments are open. Apply now!
The Golden Cage? Probably yes.
Intrusion capitalism paves the way for what has been called the ‘ convenience economy ‘. And like billions around the world, we are almost comatosed into not only acceptance but to dig deep and stay there. The numbness of convenience, shall we say? And apart from the occasional murmur or a sporadic protest, life goes on.
We don’t have to go very far but look at a few examples. Let’s begin with one of the usual suspects-brands like Amazon, Amazon Prime and their accompanying eco system that touches the lives of millions of customers around the world every day. For about US$ 10 a month( if you are in the US), you get a vast pool of content, priority door step delivery at the most economical value for zillions of products. And with Alexa(another Amazon wonder) taking root as a serious tool for search and e commerce, the cesspool of dependence has only gone deeper and broader. Since there is no better reason( or a better alternative by far), we as customers are happy to be remain comfortably domiciled.
With 2.2 billion users every day around the world, Facebook is a monster drug(combining its repertoire of Whats App, Instagram users) and there is no saturation in sight as the time spent on these platforms seem to be only increasing. Data theft, brand safety, privacy intrusions etc have not stopped the eccentric growth of this juggernaut. Sometime back, the powers that be at Facebook actually mentioned that they are addressing the privacy and data theft concerns and they are prepared for a 95% success. Very recently, under pressure from several quarters, the commitment went up to 99%!!! It’s akin to an airline saying that we are 99% sure of our landings. 1% can be seriously debilitating and you don’t have to look further than the New Zealand shooting which went live to understand what I am trying to say. But, just like the case of Amazon, there is no mass exodus. On the contrary, the clamour to get in is only increasing. The absence of a viable, palatable alternative definitely helps the cause. People are staying put!
As Steven Van Belleghem espouses in his book Automation, AI and the Customer Experience , just as there is a mandatory audit of all corporations’ financial statements both internally & externally, there has to be a regulation in place calling for ‘ algorithm transparency ‘. Because, presently only the outcomes are understandable while there is no clarity on the inputs- especially the bias and the prejudice that gets fed into the codes to manipulate outcomes. I think this is a clarion call for a basic ‘ code of conduct ‘ and the earlier it gets put into place, surveillance capitalism will have some guard rails.
Till then, the (algo)rithm is going to get you! And it’s quite possible that you go blue in the Face(book).
“It’s lonely at the top. 99% of people are convinced they are incapable of achieving great things, so they aim for mediocre. The level of competition is thus fiercest for ‘realistic’ goals, paradoxically making them the most competitive.”
Ironical isn’t it that we are knowingly ultra competitive when we are striving for mediocrity. And, ironically, the fiercest competition is for the second-class prizes. And we still don’t get it!
It’s a long never ending tirade. Justifications that are shallow, hollow and mere escapism. I am referring to the reasons why we endorse and end up doing mediocre work. Let’s look at the usual suspects..
The brief was lousy..
I hardly had any time..
The customer does not value quality..
We never get the right price..
It’s a one way street, we are always the one being short changed..
Does it really matter? As nobody ever notices..
You are always critical..
This market never appreciates high quality..
The management will never understand..
I have always done it this way..
My boss is a jerk..
I don’t want to fail..I rather play safe..
Half hearted, half baked, short cuts, excuses. Period. Nothing else. They are all sad facades, masking the real issue. The outcome where sub optimal emotional labour is committed will always reflect a huge gap between what could have been and what is.
If you’re not willing to fail, you guarantee you’ll stay average-at-best.
If you want to grow into an extraordinary version of yourself, you must be willing to fail — a lot.
“Stay in your lane.” Focus on you. Learn all you can. Experiment, fail, discover what works.
When you see the 25 to 70% off ad screaming from every second billboard in town for every second brand, that is when you come to realise the often heard ‘ herd mentality ‘. Find safety in numbers. Conform, adhere, comply, fit in, exist, survive, get along, pass by. By design, the quest for supreme mediocrity(read comfort food) is perennial and offers perpetual succour. Or so it seems considering the seriousness with which it is latched onto. And there is no letting go. And that, amongst a community of really bright minds who came into the profession with a clarion call to make their own little dents in the universe. And what are they managing to do- drive people away from the profession.
You have to decide to opt either for the wood or for the trees. Do you want to care enough to create something better? Introspect and the answer will be very close at hand.
Most people will stay in mediocrity.They’ll continue fighting with the majority for average, subpar prizes.
It doesn’t have to be this way. The road that leads to an incredibly exciting, fulfilling life is waiting for you. It’s free and open, and there are no crowds. And pay no heed to the ‘ wisdom of the crowds ‘ narrative- it’s just a more sophisticated coinage for finding solace in the average, the sub par, the mediocre.
You can either take a ‘ leap of faith ‘ or retire to a ‘ sleep of fate ‘. What got you here is not going to get you there. As Todd Henry so beautifully captured in his book ” Die Empty ‘- Unleash your best work every day. Practice the art of non-conformity! That’s what we preach and practice at ISD Global. And we get to do that every day. Gratitude!!
The 19th century French physiologist Claude Bernard said that “It is what we think we know already that often prevents us from learning” . So true, isn’t it. Being comfortable in our existing biases and prejudices.
It’s the swanky decked to the hilt conference room of a major healthcare brand. Huddled are some really bright minds including the hospital CEO, medical experts, Architects, Project Consultants etc. The matter on the table is the design of the ICCU(Intensive Cardiac Care Unit) at their upcoming new hospital. Inevitably, the design blueprint presented did not depart too much from what has already been executed in multiple ICCUs across thousands of hospitals worldwide. Been there, done that. Enter the intrepid Customer Experience Manager, newly appointed at the hospital and what she suggested immediately managed to raise many eyebrows. ” How about borrowing some design thinking from the Formula 1 Pit stop ‘ as we look at building the new ICCU ? she suggested. One could hear a pin drop. In that room, was more than 200 years of insights and experience and all that was being the cold shoulder. The young lady went onto elaborate what her thoughts were. The Formula 1 Pit Stop is where critical decisions involving millions are taken in micro milli seconds that will affect many stakeholders, almost a life and death scenario. All she was suggesting was to borrow thinking from a completely heterogeneous industry that had nothing to do with healthcare. And to her credit, she won the day. The legacy thinking was punctured to arrive at a smarter solution that was equally if not more relevant to the cause at hand.
Similarly an airline check in counter can actually gain inspiration from observing a hotel front desk check in process. Or a bike supplies store seeking inspiration from beauty retail brand like Sephora to get more customers comfortable with buying and using bikes.
We define such thinking as ‘ analogous inspiration ‘ wherein you remain and in fact seek thinking and ideas from an industry completely unrelated to your own. Only to realise the unlocked value hidden therein.
Till about some years back, we connected ‘ subscriptions ‘ as something that the media industry especially newspapers and magazines used to ensure they have a loyal customer base. In the current context, we have vast tranche of products and services including cars(yes Volvo already implemented it in Sweden), Fashion, Airline tickets, OTT(Netflix, HBO, Amazon), Fintech, Furniture etc using that route to grow and more importantly retain customers.
It’s not that such ‘ break the mold ‘ thinking be restricted to organisations and brands alone. Shalane Flanagan is an American long-distance runner. She holds the American record times in the 3000 meters (indoor), 5000 m (indoor) and 15K road race. She won the bronze medal at the 2008 Olympics in the 10,000 m (since upgraded to silver). She also won the 2017 New York City Marathon. What is interesting to understand in her case is that by design she would train with her rivals– yes you read it right- her rivals. To her it was an opportunity to go beyond her own arc of biases and understanding and soaking in new approaches that otherwise she would not have been privy to.
The whole thought is to replace the context you are in and seek newer, untapped contexts as sources of inspiration. This is something that we try to practice regularly within ISD Global where I work. There are better stories outside the book you are reading. So, go ahead, turn the page!
It’s episode one of the cult classic Mad Men series and ad-man Don Draper in the climax reveals the campaign idea for Lucky Strike cigarettes ” It’s toasted “. A scene that captured attention and sparked the show’s runaway success. It’s toasted was also a real tagline for Lucky Strike cigarettes, adopted by the brand way back in 1917.
Those were the heady days of advertising– an eclectic mix of craziness, Machiavellian egos, cult personalities, big ideas, mind numbing creative campaigns, wild parties, rock and roll, high profit margins(15% commission days)….it goes on. Little wonder it was the industry that a lot of talent aspired to get into. Made for good conversation piece.
The times they have a changed. Advertising as an industry is no longer the flavour of the season when it comes to attracting top talent. This inspite of being a 560Billion US$ industry worldwide in 2019 and growing over 4% compared to the previous year with N America and Asia Pacific reflecting the maximum growth.
What could have happened especially over the last decade and a half? Let’s examine a few factors:
Clearly the advertising industry of the future(if it remains to be called that) and the talent that moves there will certainly not be a thing of the past. When change is the only constant, an industry remaining constant without change is not an attraction. As an US$560billion industry, it has enough muscle to bounce back(as long it does not rely on muscle memory). All the die harders(Bruce included) are willing and waiting!