Best Practices stalls improvement

Every “Best practice” should come equipped with a “Perfect enough” definition. If they don’t they are a recipe for stagnation. Here’s why:
When an organisation takes a new initiative, i.e. developing a Christmas themed ad campaign, and that initiative works, it would be complete idiocy not to do it again. The next time around the experience gained in the first implementation creates improvement in execution which in turn leads to improved results. This virtuous cycle continues, and the initiative becomes an institution, and somewhere around that time improvements cease to happen. You still get good results, but you don’t get significantly better results no matter how hard you try.
This is perfectly natural. Almost every type of activity has a limited max potential and as you get nearer to maxing out, the same effort to improve the execution yields less and less improvement of (business) results. It’s called an asymptote, a value that you can get close to, but never reach. In my experience it’s usually the S-shaped version that pops up in business, with a slow start, a good ROI on efforts in the middle, and then that discouraging lessening of improvement at the end.
What happens to almost all businesses (and their marketing departments efforts) is that by getting good at something and dubbing it a “best practice” they tend do do more of it long after they’ve stopped improving results. Good advertisers continue to increase media spend. Strong sales forces keep paying for ever moire training of sales people. Clever innovators focus even more on features. Imagine what would happen if they borrowed some insights from each other! But self-critique is hard (don’t I know it) and when the tactic feels good, it works, it’s safe, why bother casting for something else?
This is when your organisation needs to realize that you’ve traveled the curve beyond the point where it’s “perfect enough”, and you should be searching for new initiatives that still have potential to deliver meaningful payoff on invested effort and resources.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still be doing things that work. But good development takes good resource management, and if your looking to improve maybe it’s time to quit digging ever deeper and instead go prospecting at some other place. There’s got to be something you haven’t tried yet.

We are all competing with the Xbox

Not too long ago, if you had something interesting to say or something exotic to show you had a pretty decent chance of actually getting through to most people. And I really mean “most people” as in the majority of your nation or culture. After all, people led fairly predictable lives full of repetetive tasks and a slow information flow. You might think I’m referring to agricultural villages in the early 1900’s, but no, I mean the 70’s when I grew up.  At that time you could even catch the attention of a classroom full of 10-year-olds by telling them of far away places and historical times.
Those days are gone. Now, teachers are up against the Xbox. Or 48 tv-channels. Or the Internet. And they don’t stand a chance if they try running their old routines. This goes for all of us. Even if your target audience isn’t comprised of clan-members on WOW they are still likely to have high standards of reference when they decide what they’ll pay attention to. Do you really think your average print ad will do the trick? No, you’re right, it won’t. So what to do?
We all have to work with what’s unique and/or sought after. When it comes to education I’m convinced teaching could be much more effective if the classroom experience was had out of the classroom to a greater extent. Involving more grown-ups (parents, volonteers, etc), integrating subjects, and getting more hands-on experimenting will probably also be good things to try.  All of those are things the Xbox can’t do.
For businesses this means NOT trying to do what the market leader is doing, especially if all the competition is copying the leader. This is not news to any marketers, and still, incredibly many marketers do just that. The fastest path to getting some attention is usually to earn it. Create something worth paying attention to. Write a book about the stuff you know and your clients don’t and give it away for free. They’ll still come to you for help, trust me, but this time they’ll listen. Don’t piggyback on bought celebreties. Instead find some that actually like what you do, and put the spotlight on it. If they come to you instead of the other way around you’ll also save yourself some of the embarressment of having sponsored the wrong spokesperson (someone up for sponsoring Tiger Woods? anyone?No? He still plays very well.)
So remember that the next time you try to get some attention in this day and age: We are all competing with the Xbox.

Strategy doesn’t spark new ideas – that’s the point!

How do people come up with great ideas? Do they systematically work themselves through the target group description and the business strategy via the marketing plan and then come up with that one earth shattering creative solution that makes the brand a classic and the business an instant success? Of course not.
Actually, there’s a myth floating around stating that if you have a great strategy you’ll get great ideas for implementing it but that is simply not true. Instead, strategy is the filter that lets a bunch of random and loosely connected ideas and insights emerge as a coherent and forceful set of actions in the real world. This is what makes strategy so important. It’s what sets the direction and shape of the impact the organisation creates in the world. But ideas are created in a totally different part of the universe. They need brains and stimulation.
Have a look at this diagram I made:
Creative and strategy
1. Brains need stimuli to work well. Some of the best stimuli is often found in the background material that was produced when developing the strategy. Use this, but reduce it to a good brief. It’s not the data but the insights that matter! All prior knowledge and experience is also a great help. The notion that young people are more creative is pure bullshit, they are simply less self critical and that is a fantastic asset when trying to come up with ideas.
2. Brains are the main thing here, and anything that makes them operate better is valuable. Make brains feel safe (no, not helmets, it’s about confidence!). Don’t rely solely on brainstorming. It doesn’t work for everybody, and you get a better spectrum of ideas if you vary the circumstances. Alternate between rushing and taking time to think, between going solo and working together, between writing and doodling, use projective techniques (e.g. write a letter to Ronald McDonald or the King of Sweden explaining why your brand is so right for him), etc.
3. Ideas change when expressed. Sometimes what felt great in your mind look pathetic when stated on paper. That’s OK. Save it anyway. You just created great stimuli for another time or another person. It’s better to get 1000 half-assed ideas down on record and choose later, than to be self-critical and end up with a poor set to choose from. Collecting and cross-stimulating idea spawning brains is terribly important and one of the main reasons for having Creative Directors in advertising agencies. Someone needs to have this role in every team. Actually, everybody should do it but someone needs to be responsible. After getting it all on paper, put it in a place where it can be accessed, and make sure ideas go forward in the process.
4. Now, finally, the role of strategy is to function as a screen to filter and format whole batches of ideas into a shape that gives them mutual support and creates an impact on the world that reflects the values, visions, ambitions and goals that the organisation stand for. The really great brands and organisations of the world manage to do this, and because the ideas that get implemented share a core of strategic alignment they support eachother and creates a “gestalt” that we usually think of as a personality or a philosophy when viewed from the outside.
So, do strategy first and use it as a screen in the final descision making, but never expect strategy to replace the creative process. You need both and in the correct order. And that’s all it’s to it.

Great insight requires great creative – even in B2B

I have worked with several B2B brands, and most of them had a very good grasp on what made their customers excited. Others quickly recognized the importance of what I  found out while researching their target markets. Insight seems to come natural to people in B2B markets. Unfortunaltely, I can’t say the same for their grasp of creative execution.
Now, here’s a cautionary tale on the dangers of not being able to make the leap of faith from strategy to execution: You’re in B2B. Everyone you deal with is a pro. They might not buy one of your products every year (because it’s a huge machine that costs $50 000) but they are experienced and know what they want. You also know what they want, because like you’re buyers you’ve lived practically you’re whole life in this business. And what they want is a turbo-charged RX450 compressor powered Rock Combustor that will run 4500 hours or more before requiring maintenance.

Tomas Lundgren

Tomas Lundgren

There are many other firms selling similar machines, cheaper, more expensive, higher powered, etc, but you are the only one who sell such a low-maintenance machine at a reasonable price in the high-power segment. You’ve got your insight into the target audience down pat. If anyone buys this, it’s because they know maintenance is a real drain on the overall budget to keep a machine fleet operational. So, you brief the agency. The agency people nod and take notes and go to work.
They come back with a concept that is visually daring, has a memorable pun in the headline, and really stresses maintenance costs, but it doesn’t show the machine. Instead the image shows a guy dressed in a business suit asleep in a bed (aren’t we supposed to appeal to a male audience here?) with a “dream bubble” above where dollar bills are jumping across a fence. You immediately feel uneasy. This doesn’t look like what your company usually put in its ads. Actually, no one in your industry have ads that look this way. There’s supposed to be a machine in the picture. Or a bikini babe. Or both.
You’re customers are serious people that buy serious, powerful equipment for serious amounts of money. This is not going to work. So you say you like the copy and appreciate that it makes a good, strong point for maintenance cost reduction, but end up giving your great-idea-but-I-don’t-know-if-I-like-this speech to the agency team.
The art director stares at the table. The copy writer says it reinforces the headline that you said was good. The account manager tries to make a case for it, but quickly accepts defeat and takes the team back to the agency to have another go. A week later they arrive again, this time without the art director. It now looks like a typical industry ad, but nice. They’ve used your best product shot and done some quite magical effect in some image processing software and it looks stunning. Your boss is gonna love it. The guys at engineering is going to pin it to the wall and buy you a round. The customers are going to be impressed. This is going to work!
But of course it doesn’t.
Your customers, while not insensitive to the seductive image of a powerful yellow machine in a glowing late afternoon light, are so used to seeing product shots that they just skim over your ad. They are busy worrying about all that money disappearing in maintenance, and actually, they haven’t been able to sleep very well lately because they are going to take serious heat because of that budget running wild. They sure would like to find a low-maintenance machine, but can’t.
Your company still sell it’s quota that year. You even get a little bonus, and you’re very popular with engineering. Everything has worked out fine, just like last year , and the year before that.

75 million users that doesn’t Twitter


Yes I have a login for Twitter. I registered, tried it, didn’t find it very stimulating. Not much fun reading, and mostly frustrating to write. I simply never got hooked on Twitter, or the other examples of “micro blogging”, but I always put that down to me being a very sophisticated and selective consumer of communication. Turns out I’m more the absolut prototype for the regular Twitter account registree.

Twitter’s been dragging in new registrations in huge numbers over the last years, but the truth is the vast majority of those people never use it. It so happens that only about 17% of people ever send a single tweet in a given month. And 40% have never ever sent a Tweet!! Twenty-five percent have no followers.And on top of that, fewer and fewer new users are joining.

Still, 17% of 75 million are still very very many people that at least send one tweet a month. But the numbers show that maybe the hype is very far off the mark, and we need to question just how engaging Twitter really is. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, social media is not about the tools but the thinking.

Just as with styles of music though, new communication formats seldom disappear entirely. It will be interesting to see where Twitter and microblogging will find it’s balance and becomes appreciated bythe majority of it’s users because it fullfills some special need that other formats don’t.

Here’s the original post at Clickz.