Archive for the ‘Marketing’ Category


October 16th, 2012

I’ve learned that if you stick around long enough, fashions will always come back. My 13 year old son is taking a keen interest in my late 1990s wardrobe and record collection, which is a worrying sign in itself. Meanwhile, maybe it’s just coincidence, but I’m starting to see echoes of two phrases that infested the dozens of ‘new media’ business plans I had to wade through in my channel development role during that first dotcom boom; “if we build it, they will come” and “killer apps”.

The former was a line taken from Kevin Costner’s overblown 1990s philosophiser ‘Field of Dreams’ and if the quote appeared in any of the aforesaid business plans, they would go straight into the bin. I was much more interested in those adhering to another 1990s movie catchphrase, “show me the money!” I wonder whether some of the more recent digital disappointments, such as the Facebook share price, contain an element of that late 1990s wish fulfilment.

‘Killer apps’ is a much more interesting proposition. Back then it referred to the stand-out benefits that would drive consumer take-up. I always felt it was a bit conceptual, until real apps came along, and in a sense embodied it. The app is a killer app, or if it isn’t the app doesn’t get downloaded

Although apps are coming(quite slowly) to the main TV screen, I’ve long argued that their main influence will be on the companion screens that are now becoming a significant viewing accessory/distractor (pretty much in equal measure according the latest Thinkbox research (link – get TB approval). They provide an efficient way to access ancillary content and TV viewers are responding accordingly (1.5 million downloads of the BBC Olympics app alone).

Which is where I introduce Deloitte’s TV:Why? Report, (link – get Deloitte approval) which was unveiled at the Edinburgh TV Festival last week. It is, as always, full of well-argued, evidence-based insights into TV’s emerging role in the digital landscape. It analyses issues such as TV’s role in household entertainment, the future for connected TVs and the reasons behind  the resilience of TV advertising. The hot topic of the moment, though, and one the Deloitte report covers well, is the evolution of multi-screening. This is the landscape where the ‘killer apps’ affect (and are affected by) what is viewed via the main TV screen.

The fascinating headline from the report is that multi-screening is more about talking than interacting. Deloitte’s research suggests that most viewers will use companion screens to talk about the TV they are watching, rising to 4 out of every 5 teens and 3 out of every 4 under-24s. It is an extension of what TV viewers have always done; talk about the programmes and ads they are watching.

Meanwhile, there is far less enthusiasm for interacting with programmes. Only 4% of people strongly disagree with the statement “I can’t be bothered to interact with programmes” and only one in eight disagrees at all (compared to two out of three who agree). This has massive implications for how connected TVs are marketed and helps to explain why take-up and connectivity has been so slow.

The primacy of talk over interaction reflects the shared, communal nature of TV viewing, whereas interaction is often a personalised activity. It suggests the main impact of TV advertising is likely to be the ripple of discussion rather than the drilling down into deeper interactive experiences.

This ripple vs. drill analogy interests me, because




October 16th, 2012

I have been presenting a great deal in mainland Europe over the past year or so, and I have to say that I am having some of my preconceptions challenged by what is going on over there.

One of the major benefits of a career in media research in the UK is that, on most indicators, we have the most digitally advanced market in the world and the levels of creativity and innovation used to harness digital technology for marketing purposes has been well recognised. Most European broadcasters would accept that the UK is a year or two ahead in most respects, and they are interested in what we are doing here as a result.

Things are beginning to change, though, and the UK could learn a thing or two about what is happening elsewhere in Europe.

For example, I presented in Poland recently and saw firsthand some of the creative solutions that are being presented to advertisers to enable them to more effectively integrate into TV content. It rivalled many of the case studies I have seen from the UK demonstrating how broadcasters, agencies and brands can work together.

Or take Italy. Since Silvio Berlusconi loosened his grip on Italian politics, many of the regulatory restrictions he placed on digital development to protect his analogue-era media powerhouses are being dismantled, leading to a technology-led transformation of the TV experience (according to a recent New York Times article) and a significant shift in viewing from the cocooned Mediaset channels to quality alternatives such as Discovery Channels, which has recently launched two free-to-air channels. The Italian experience shows just how quickly the market can change once digital regulation is opened up and competition, creativity and innovation are unleashed.

Sweden provides a very different example, which also offers potential lessons for UK media. The Swedish market is one of the most technologically advanced in the world, but the advertising powerhouse is considered to be good old-fashioned newspapers. This is because Swedes pride themselves on their education levels and interest in the world around them, and newspaper readership is considered a symbol of these values. It is also in large part due to the power of the local press to service the significant local advertising industry in Sweden; the leading free-to-air broadcasters have invested in dozens of localised transmissions to take a share of those local revenues from an estimated 36,000 potential advertisers.

The local advertising market in the UK has always been considered hardly worth bothering with, especially as television advertising opportunities for local advertisers significantly reduced with the pulling back of ITV’s regional franchise system. I think this is a lost opportunity and offers one of the few substantive opportunities for addressability. I’m generally sceptical about how important addressability will become, but unlocking the regional and local advertising opportunities that still exist could be a simple yet valuable solution to a revenue challenge.




October 16th, 2012

I conducted a piece of brand research a couple of years ago, which dared to raise a question few people in marketing ever ask; “are there any brands out there that you would refuse to buy, at any price?”

The answer, at the time, was an unqualified ‘yes’! It was remarkable how many markets and brands were deemed toxic by consumers, many of them in the services sector. These were spontaneous outpourings of rage – we just gave them time to get it out of their system. There were many numerous examples of poor, almost non-existent customer service, especially at those times when customers are most in need; when the technology goes wrong.

There are several brands already banished from the Brennan household, mainly due to the above complaint, but my recent Escher-esque dealings with Microsoft have resulted in an addition to the toxic brand gang. I won’t bore you with the details, but it consists of many failed attempts to re-access a closed Hotmail account (bloody hackers!) leading to a constant loop around the message boards for a solution. At least I knew I was not alone; endless exhortations to the God of Inaccessible Alternate Email Accounts came from around the globe, with not a single answer to pacify them. It has been more trouble than it has been worth, so I’ve just opened a Google account instead.

But it’s refocused my attention on the problem of toxic brands because, sure as eggs is eggs, if I asked that same question today, there would be even more candidates across even more markets . In fact, I would bet good money that the number of brands spontaneously placed in the toxic category would outweigh those in the ‘buy at any price’ equivalent.

Which is odd, really, because the industry spends so much money on the latter. One of the myths of social marketing is that brand advocates will lead the way, spreading the good word in a way that paid-for media could never achieve. But one thing I’ve learned over the years is that people with a grievance outshout the satisfied every time. Try it the next time you’re at a dinner party and the conversation has dried up. Ask the question “are there any brands out there that you would refuse to buy, at any price?” and listen to the grievances pour out. There will be no more awkward silences, I can promise you.

So why isn’t more invested into the opposite-of-advocates (see, they haven’t even got a recognised name)?  I believe their existence is a failure of marketing and a challenge for media planning – after all, why try to reach them? But it is largely due to the increasingly digital mindset of technology-led services. I explore this whole issue of digital vs. analogue mindsets in my new book (shameless plug), focussing on the enduring ‘analogue’ strengths of TV, but the digital vs. analogue paradigm extends across the marketing spectrum.

For many digital-mindset brands, it is virtually impossible to speak to or even email a real human being representing the company. As a consumer, your key interaction with the brand – when you most need them – will all too often result in an online infinity loop or, at best, a highly scripted, often surreal interaction with what may or may not be a real human voice. There is little room in either ‘brand experience’ for analogue qualities such as ‘common sense’, empathy or lateral thinking. As such, the services industry often struggles to match branding promises against the reality of faceless, commissioned, unresponsive CRM based on algorithms, efficiency and ‘hands-off’ customer servicing.

There are technology-based brands that get it, and these are often what I would call analogue-mindset businesses. Companies like Apple and Sky are far more customer-focussed, responsive and…well, just a bit more human in how they interact with their customers. All of the latest insights emerging from neuroscience, cognitive psychology and behavioural economics have opened our eyes to what those analogue qualities are worth in business terms, and I’m surprised that so many technology brands have failed to grasp that fact.

It’s interesting that I’ve just mentioned two brands with more than their fair share of brand advocates, but they are also two brands that rarely get mentioned when the ‘toxic brand’ question is asked. But then the question itself rarely gets asked in the rush for Facebook ‘likes’ and brand champions.

In the meantime, I’d suggest a bit more focus on the ‘opposite-of-advocates’ would yield a great deal more in the way of business performance. If you want to find out who they are, or how strongly they feel, just ask that question at your next dinner party. Then lean back and listen to the roar. You might not get invited back, but you’ll be much better informed.

CONNECTED TELEVISION – How TV’s Analogue Strengths Have Created a Digital Supermedium’

Effectiveness Is In The Eye Of The Beholder

March 2nd, 2012

It’s only since I began regularly blogging on media matters that I have also started to ask odd questions whenever I’m confronted with a straightforward headline. I should have been satisfied with the report from the USA’s Association of National Advertisers (ANA), announcing research amongst major advertisers showing a renewed faith in television. To quote Bill Duggan of the ANA; “This survey confirms that the death of television has been greatly exaggerated. Our findings shine a spotlight on the bullish attitude that advertisers have towards the medium, including passion for new TV and video platforms.”
It confirms something I’ve always felt about USA media, ever since I went on a media ‘fact-finding’ trip to New York in 1989 and returned disappointed – in many ways, they have always been a year or so behind us. Such a headline from UK advertisers’ body ISBA would hardly raise a yawn these days, it has become so taken for granted.
But something in the article intrigued me. The report stated that, compared to 2010, the number of advertisers judging TV ads to be more effective tripled. That seems like a massive jump to me in such a short space of time and I double checked to make sure there hadn’t been some game-changing event that had taken place in the USA without my knowledge. Not really.
So, how to explain such a leap in confidence in a medium which has probably been battered and bruised even more in the States than it has here in Limey-land? I’ve come up with three possible answers;

1.   Television really IS getting more effective over there. There is a good case that it is, but the technologies that are cited by the ANA, such as new video platforms and addressable advertising, are nowhere near mainstream enough yet to have made a noticeable difference.


2.   American advertisers are finally getting the tools to measure and correctly attribute TV’s contribution to effectiveness. If true, this would persuade me to re-calculate our lead over the USA to two years or more. It’s often surprised me, though, how less well-established 360 degree effectiveness evaluation is Stateside.


3.   It’s more of an emotional thing – they just feel more confident about praising TV. I think we sometimes forget just how ingrained the ‘TV is dead’ narrative became following the emergence of Web 2.0 until just a couple of years ago. I believe the UK industry only really began to reject it as too simplistic around 2009, which would mean (if my time-lag theory is correct) the tables would begin to turn in the US in 2010 – the low base year from which TV’s perceived effectiveness has tripled.


Of course, as always, it is probably a combination of all three, but if I had to select one of those alternatives as my main influence, it would have to be third. On the one hand, so much of what we do is based on emotion and ‘herd’ behaviour, why not advertisers’ sense of excitement (or ennui) in TV’s place in the media landscape? But it must also be based on an increased understanding of how effectiveness works and how to attribute TV’s contribution, especially given the sterling work recently from the IPA, ARF, PWC, Deloittes and Thinkbox. So, maybe it is the second answer as well. That seems more like it – left brain and right brain working together.
Either way, come on USA – catch up! (And how often do we get to say that?)

Keep taking the tablets

February 3rd, 2012

I attended the always lively and entertaining ‘The Year Ahead’ event hosted by Mediatel last week, where we were once again entertained, informed, inspired and challenged by the predictive powers of Ray Snoddy and Torin  Douglas, the Mitchell and Webb of media punditry. It felt a little strange this year; there was less focus on new technology than usual and rather more retrospection, especially given the momentous events from the last twelve months leading from Murdoch to Leveson.  As such, the newspaper industry was in the spotlight rather more than is customary but, despite the obvious concerns for its future, I felt there was more confidence and less defensiveness than we’ve come to expect. Part of that confidence came from the early signs that, for once, digital technology might be more of a saviour that a slayer through the emergence and rapid uptake of tablet computers.

A great deal has been written about how tablets are affecting media behaviour, but now we are seeing significant penetration levels (including the emergence of around a million multi-tablet households in the UK!) we are moving from speculation to observation. One of the points made at ‘The Year Ahead’ event was that consumers appear to be prepared to pay for content on their tablets that they would always access for free via their PC.

It is a truism (that happens to be untrue) that once people are used to getting something for free, they can never be persuaded to pay for it. The same used to be said about pay TV; why would people pay significant sums of money for TV that had never cost them a penny previously, apart from what they had been forced to pay via the BBC licence fee? In fact, even before BSkyB transformed the pay TV market through the Premier League deal in 1993, it had successfully persuaded almost three million households to pay for a very limited, nine channel pay television package dominated by archive and imported programme content. That was despite the inconvenience of having to get a satellite dish installed and a price point that invited unfavourable comparison with the value of the BBC licence fee cost.

Newspapers, though, seemed like an even less promising prospect. News has become commoditised by the internet and it is much harder to monetise digital content in this environment. Although it is accepted that digital revenues will always struggle to counter declines in newspaper circulation, mobile devices – especially tablets – do offer a ray of hope.

The always reliable Pew Centre in the USA calculates around a third of the 25 million tablet owners in the States have paid for access to newspaper content on their device, either directly or via a bundled service.  Their research (published last month) also shows that tablet owners are much more voracious consumers of news content and news access is a bigger part of their tablet consumption that social media, books or video consumption.  The money appears to be on bundled subscription offering the best way out for the struggling industry, but at least there appears to be a way out compared to the pre-iPad predictions.

This led me to wonder what is it about tablets that they can change the potential business model for a whole industry? After all, they are just a better way of accessing stuff we’ve always been able to access, and generally for free.


First of all, like many (most?) technological innovations, especially the expensive ones, tablets are quite a middle-aged phenomenon. I believe the average age of a tablet owner is around 42.  They are not typical early adopters of other digital technologies and, for this middle-aged, upmarket user base, cost is far less of an issue than for other demographics. (It is also the core audience for news media; later adopters might be less willing or prepared to pay for news content).

But it’s not just the profile of tablet users that is influencing the value they place on the content; there is something much more emotional going on. In many ways, tablets are the computing equivalent of the Nintendo Wii, but more personal. Their ease of use and instant gratification, as with the Wii, increases usage and engagement with the content (It’s interesting that game apps are one of the most popular categories).  For less experienced or enthusiastic online users, it can be empowering. As an entertainment device, it is associated with fun, not work.

I also think there is something emotional going on with the apps themselves. There is a sense of ownership, even with the ones that are free, whereas access to a URL feels more like renting the content. I saw exactly the same phenomenon in a research study I recently completed; people with comprehensive access to on demand TV content still preferred to have the best stuff on their DTR because they felt that was ‘theirs’.

Tablet ownership is going to grow exponentially over the next few years and it is already changing the nature of the online experience for many people. If newspapers, and other content providers, can provide content which is customised around that experience, and adds value to other media touchpoints (such as the print edition), then the tablets might be good for their health.

The Power of Storytelling- The Invisible Influencer

August 10th, 2011

Researching an article I am writing for ADMAP, looking at why storytelling is such an important element of brand marketing, I was struck by the huge amount of research into storytelling’s ability to influence us, educate us, affect our behaviour and improve our memory and understanding. These are, of course, critical to advertising effectiveness and it is no surprise that those media that can create long-form narrative-led brand communications perform best in driving the bottom line.

There is an ancient Indian proverb that sums this up brilliantly;

“Tell me a fact, I may believe it. Tell me a truth, I may believe it. but if you tell me a story, it will live in my heart forever”

Those last two words – heart and forever – sum up the power of storytelling in that it affects our emotions and our long-term memory; and, of course, that is where brands live – in our emotions and in our memory!

There has been a surge of interest recently in the concept of ‘Transmedia Storytelling’ and many major multinationals now employ storytelling experts. The irony is that too much attention in the past few years has been on the ‘transmedia’ side of the equation and not nearly enough on the storytelling aspect.

Part of the reason for that is that marketing appears to have ignored the phenomenon in terms of trying to understand its importance. When I drowned myself in the available research on the power of storytelling, I was struck by the dearth of material that emanated from the marketing community. I had to look to the worlds of education, social anthropology, psychology, sociology, organisational theory and theology for the evidence; fortunately there was plenty of it around.

Storytelling has a proven and significant impact on engagement, emotion, communication, comprehension, critical thinking, language, social behaviour and memory. There is plenty of evidence to show that we are born with a narrative understanding of the world around us and that babies relate to narrative far better than any other form of communication. It is innate, fundamental and long lasting.

So, why doesn’t the marketing community take it more seriously? Is it because, culturally, stories are seen as frivolous, emotive and belonging purely to the world of fiction? Is it because we are still tied to the rational, mechanistic, fact-based view of ourselves even in the face of so much counter evidence?

Whatever the reason, if we are to truly understand and exploit the power of story to influence the consumer, we need to research it from a marketing context. Then we can all live happily ever after!