Ramblings of a Strategist: The Brand Challenge & Opportunity


The Brand Challenge

The next ten years will see the continuing ferocious acceleration of change in how companies attract and build loyal customers.

One of the key drivers of this change is the disruption caused by the digitalisation of our world through technology, and the accompanying changes in customer behaviour and needs.

Digital channels and platforms will soon be the main and only brand touch-points and therefore will become the critical space for brands to engage customers.

Interactive brand experiences will become the new competitive advantage, and the depth of digital engagement delivered by the experiences will become one of the key measures of brand value.

These changes promise to disrupt markets, bankrupt the status quo and reward brand innovation and dynamism.

The Brand Opportunity

Digital has created amazing opportunities for brands to reach customers on a 1 to 1 basis, creating interactive personalised experiences that have the potential to build loyal and valuable long-term relationships with customers.

The humanisation of brands through digital means that all brands must understand how to act and react in interactive spaces. Trust has become the new brand currency – and has led to the opportunity for real, digital, value-led brands that represent their products & services authentically at ground level, to disrupt markets.

The opportunity for brands to stay ahead and innovate using digital platforms to quickly create, test and learn new product & service ideas and enhancements has never been greater and easier.

Digital now affords organisations with the will the potential to quickly and easily build a rapid fire innovation mentality within previously staid and static brands and create innovative digital experiences that deliver deeper and more long-lasting customer engagement.

 The Digital future is brand led  – and companies that can deliver consistent brand experiences across all channels will earn the continued loyalty of their customers over generations to come.

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The Old…they wanna buy stuff and be cool too!


The Old – they may be closer to getting their one way tickets to space…but they still want to buy stuff and feel cool. And they have the money…and nothing to lose.

Why do middle-aged middle of the road middle managers in the Advertising industry insist on excluding the old? Is it too hard a job to convince them to stop using the old brands they used when they were young?

If Superdry can convince a whole generation of 40 year old men to dress like their 6 year old sons..then surely we can get those 40 year old’s dads to dress like their 40 year old sons?

Surely advertising, if it wanted to, could make the old cool again?

Wouldn’t that be a challenge worth taking instead of selling them 2 pairs of faux leather shoes for £9.99?

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Advertisers – I am old and I miss me mum


Consumerism and the buying of objects can be said to be an attempt to recapture the lost mother we had as a baby (the perfect mother we created) whatever age we are. And shopping could thus be defined as a non-psychoanalytical way of working through the ‘loss’ of the mother, and this is experienced as an internal ‘lack’ (as Lacan called it).
Therefore buying a new Mac is not just a thirst for new technology, or a need to read your email on a 27 inch screen – it is in fact a satisfaction of a deep internal need to recapture that loving beautiful object (i.e our mother) which was lost when we grew up. Similarly, taking things into the body such as tobacco smoke, alcohol, drugs and food can be seen as a way to fill the hole (however temporarily) left by the ‘loss’ of the original all loving mother.
What this means in relation to advertising is that products and services can be branded in accordance to what parental function they perform and what particular ‘lack’ they fulfil in us. Some brands and their products aim exclusively at the ‘primary mother replacement’ (PMR) market (consumers who are looking for holding, unconditional love and security from their brands – waitrose, volvo). Some aim at the ‘primary father replacement’ (PFR) market (consumers who are looking for logical adventurous all conquering freedom from their brands – nike, google, porsche). Some consumers will mix and match brands but generally there type of ‘lack’ will determine their brand choices.
What is very clear from this psychoanalytical view of advertising is that our upbringings and the unavoidable disappointments inherent in them can be directly related to our shopping behaviour and our alignment with certain brands. We consume creatively, and those creative decisions are influenced by the feelings we search for, and the feelings we search for are created by that ‘lack’ we experienced in our childhoods. And therefore advertising’s ultimate job is to fill and brand that lack with products and services. It is pure manipulation. But a manipulation we all desperate want and look for.
And here comes the money shot – this lack never leaves us, is never filled, is ever present in our buying behaviours. Therefore the old need products and services that alleviate the pain of loss as much as the young. It does not dissipate. The untapped market seems huge – so why sell everyone the elixir of youth when what we actually want is the warm embrace of a primary replacement brand? Let’s get mothering!!!

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Digital Strategy – a question of life and death?


So, you’ve got some decent players, you have a team name and colours and a nice crest. Everyone knows what they have to do – go forward and score.
But hang on..how do they go about scoring? What are the tactics? And what are the opposition going to do?

What formation will you play? What players in what positions? Which channels will they play through?

In football, just being on the pitch guarantees nothing. Just being able to kick the ball forward towards the goal does not mean you will score. You need a strategy. Much like Digital.

Like an England team 1-0 up in the World Cup Quarter Finals with 30 minutes to go, many companies have a ‘kick it away and hang on’ attitude to digital strategy too. A kind of ‘siege mentality ’ approach. These companies generally get buffeted by the winds of innovation worst than most and not surprisingly suddenly find themselves at the bottom of their group about to be dumped out of the tournament. Kodak, Blockbuster, HMV have already been through that – and there will be many more to come.

Digital is building up a hurricane of change for a lot of industries. Many mistook the initial calm they experienced as they watched other industries being decimated as meaning the storm had passed them by – but they have since discovered the calm was actually the eye of the storm. Now, as they look around at the carnage, it is too late. They must rebuild from scratch.

The trinity of the digital revolution is – 1. business model innovation, 2. technology upgrade & integration, and 3. customer behaviour change. And like a 3 legged robotic monster, this triad of change is roaming the business world causing havoc and reducing once successful businesses one after another to dust with no respect for reputation or history.

As Bill Shankly might have said had he become a Strategist and not gone in to football,

‘Digital Strategy? It’s not life and death, it is much more important than that!’

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How to Survive the next Alien Technology S-Curve


Watching in shock as the reigning world champions Spain got thrashed by Holland I pondered on how quickly the almighty bedrock of the status quo gets pushed around so easily and so unexpectedly sometimes. It is like a little success and stability precludes us from believing in anything changing ever again. Our brains yearn for a stable knowable world that is unchanging – even in such a changeable thing as football.

It is very similar in business. Market leaders sit back and fall into a lazy belief that current success and profit equals future success and profit. They forget to listen to the market and their customers. Then their customers’ buying behaviour changes in reaction to new technologies and boom! suddenly there is a new incumbent and they are playing catch up.

It seems too much winning breeds too much confidence which then becomes the seed for future failure.

The key to getting ahead and staying ahead is innovative reinvention. But not reinvention for reinvention’s sake – but reinvention squarely based on anticipated future technologies and customer behaviour. Listen, learn, invent, change, listen, learn, invent, change etc. It is a continual process of change.

Mass products and services are always behind the curve – that is their natural place. But the curve now changes with such violent speed that companies can find themselves behind so quickly that unless they have invested in good strategic R&D they will not catch up.

Technological change is now so quick and so unexpected that companies need future vision and strategy to react with speed to this ‘alien technology’ that emerges from nowhere. They must be forever expecting alien entrants to their market and must be prepared through visionary R&D spend.

In short, get ready for an alien invasion!

R&D spend is crucial for every company in every industry in the Digital Age because it is the only way to prepare for future customer behaviour change brought about unexpected technological advances. No company can now solely rely on incremental improvements to current products & services. They need strong strategies in their back pockets ready for new s-curves and the technological and customer behaviour changes that give market disruptors competitive advantage. In digital, strategic vision is everything.

The equation is simple : No visionary R&D equals no answer to market disruptors

If a new technology suddenly appears in your market, how will you react? You can’t suddenly turn into an innovative company – innovation takes vision, strategy and investment over a period of years.

Innovation is not reactive, it is predictive.

Kodak had two very big tech s-curves to deal with in their market – digital photography and the camera phone – both of which they did not take seriously. And both of which radically changed their customers’ behaviours and ultimately bankrupted Kodak. They went from an innovative company to an incumbent trying to protect the status quo. They lost.

How do we prepare for this? How do we create and keep a mental state of siege in the culture of our company so we are ready for an alien s-curve?

S-curve blindness is a common trait of incumbents. This needs to be replaced with a type of s-curve hyper-anxiety – the feeling that any disrupting innovation outside of our industry is an immediate threat to our future and needs to be prepared for.

We need to prepare ourselves for the emergence of alien technologies – and build our companies around this type of thinking.

Ultimately the question is – would you survive an alien technology s-curve in your industry? If the answer is no I suggest you get a skunk works funded and up & running immediately. Your days may be numbered.

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The New Social Advertising Funnel (alla Tron)

Tron New Advertising Funnel

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May 17, 2014 · 9:26 am

Inverting the Funnel


Social Advertising – a sketch:  inverting the funnel by activating advocacy 

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