Quite an evenly split battle for a good while in this month's vote but it was Graeme Wood's excellent Planning For Networks deck that won through in the end. So well done to Graeme, who gets the props of his peers and joins the illustrious hall of fame. And my thanks to everyone for taking part.
There's a good (albeit somewhat one-sided) debate over on Scamp's blog about Content Marketing. I have some sympathy with the view that, as Scamp says, 'to be done well, content requires way more thought and investment than it's currently getting'. There is, of-course, a lot of rubbish content out there. Just as there is plenty of rubbish advertising. And I'm sure we'll see more of it. Content for the sake of content is pointless and the worst approaches (as Thom Yorke talks about in the clip above, which was linked to in the comments to Scamp's post) are pretty soulless.
But there are pearls. My own favourite example of a brand that really gets content, and has invested heavily in using it for direct business benefit (and as a retailer, ensuring it is accountable and driving a good return) is ASOS. There is a not insignificant shift that is taking place in how many client organisations are approaching content. Through the course of work I've done for Econsultancy recently in the areas of content strategy, agility and innovation, marketing structures and resourcing, securing board level buy-in to digital investment, and marketing insourcing and oursourcing, I've interviewed dozens of senior client-side marketers. The areas of content and data come up repeatedly as capabilities that are seeing marked changes in approaches to resourcing, partnerships, use of techology, and building competencies. If (as many agencies do) we consider the media world in terms of paid, owned and earned media, then content and data are what sit at the centre. But the dynamic between what capability is developed in-house at client companies and what is outsourced to partners is continually shifting.
It was notable in some of the research conducted for those reports that many clients had invested in recent times in developing greater in-house content capabilities. In the report I just did on marketing insourcing and outsourcing, we did a quant survey as well as interviews and as part of that we asked whether overall, they thought more digital work will be carried out in-house or outsourced. Whilst a healthy number (32%) believed that more work would be outsourced over the next few years, the largest proportion of respondents (45%) anticipated that more would come in-house (leading me to ask whether this is the trend that no-one talks about):
When asked which areas that they are most likely to do more in-house, content related areas such as content marketing, email, and social media stood out.
This doesn't mean that advertising is any less important than it once was, but it does mean that it needs to be understood in the context of a much broader set of tools and approaches that clients are adopting. And adopting rapidly.
Time to open up for nominations for Post of the Month. As usual I've listed a few of my own favourites below, but please do add to these (in the comments or direct) with any posts that you thought were great, and that were posted in the month of February. I'll put up the extended shortlist for a vote in a day or two. OK, so my starting list is:
Here's my favourites from this week, curated by Fraggl:
The Sell! Sell! Blog had a great take on if the famous Volkswagen 'Lemon' ad was written today (above)
A useful deck from Big Spaceship on dealing with Twitter cards
A controversial piece with some good points from John Winsor, with five reasons why brands are cutting out agencies
A good take from Genevieve Bell (Intel's in-house Anthropologist) on what the tech business hasn't yet grasped about human nature (I liked her view on aspects on behaviour that don't change with the onset on new technology and those that do)
A couple of weeks back I went to the second of the Harnessing Disruption events put on by the folk at AdaptiveLab (I spoke at the first one a while back). The events are nicely informal gatherings focused on the theme of disruption in media. One of my favourite short talks from this one was on the unexpected theme of pricing strategy and came from Tom Whitwell, former Head of Digital at The Times. Tom knows a thing or two about pricing in digital, being behind the introduction of the paywall strategy in 2010. I'm not necessarily a fan of the way in which the paywall was so all encompassing, but his talk was fascinating not least because (as Tom points out) pricing is psychologically interesting, but also because it has direct and significant business impact (what seems like small changes can have a huge effect) and yet is rarely talked about. Tom talks about some of the psychology involved, the experiences of introducing the paywall, and how they later went about transitioning customers to enable them to double the price. The folk at AdaptiveLab will be doing more of these events and they're rather good. If you want to be notified about the next one you can sign up here.
Last week we did a big development sprint on Fraggl. Since we launched the beta in December sign ups have far exceeded our expectations (which is amazing) and open and click rate (two key measures for us) have remained consistent and consistently higher than industry average (by a large multiple). We did a user survey a couple of weeks back and that enabled us to validate a number of approaches we've taken as well as get some broader feedback. We've been making regular tweaks to the service but wanted to push through some bigger changes and also do some more work on the forward looking roadmap. So it's a good time to do a bit of an update.
To begin with, we've implemented a number of fixes including the removal of duplicate links (occasionally something was getting surfaced more than once), further tweaks to the algorithm, and (importantly) the implementation of responsive formatting to make it play nicer on mobile. We're also redesigning the website to improve the UX, and working on a better reporting app that can give us improved insight into current usage.
Looking forwards, we've done a lot of thinking around developing the roadmap, and what the future offering and model could look like, doing things like starting by writing the release for our idea (aping the Amazon product development process), creating mock-ups and walkthroughs that explain the user experience, making a pitch deck and so on. We have some tremendously exciting ideas around how the Fraggl offering could develop, how we can create more value for our users, and how we might take the product into some new areas working with some interesting partners (more on that soon). As part of this we're running an experiment to see what happens when we plug the algorithm into a pre-curated list from a different vertical subject area and the results so far have been really interesting, so lots to think about.
In the meantime, our thanks to all those who have provided feedback so far, and watch this space (and Fraggl on Twitter) for more updates. And if you'd like to try Fraggl out, you can of-course sign up here.
I loved this advice from Todd Henry for staying focused through long-arc projects and remaining less prone to procrastination and the 'assassins of creativity', particularly when we start work at the beginning of the day. Instead of always beginning with the end in mind, says Henry, we should end with the beginning in mind. His two-minute strategy (and I quote):
1. Before you close out your work for the day, capture any open questions that you are currently working on. If you were to continue working right now, what would be the very next thing you would do?
2. Write those questions and the next thing you would do on a post-it, or a sheet of paper, and leave it where you’ll see it the next day.
3. Determine right then what you’ll do first when you next sit down at your workstation. Establish a starting point for your work. This will give you immediate traction. Having something to do prevents the paralysis that accompanies needing to decide what to do.
Henry quotes Hemingway who said that “The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day … you will never be stuck". Sounds like good advice to me.
These are four paintings by the artist Stephen Taylor. They are four of my favourite paintings, and I have copies of them hanging in my living room. I wrote about Stephen here. He spent most of two years in a wheat field in East Anglia painting the same oak tree. He painted it in a huge variety of weather, light, and detail. He painted when the wheat was ripe and blown by a late summer wind, when the snow was thick on the ground, when the earth was bare and cold. He painted in the early morning light just after sunrise, in the heat of a summer midday, and when the tree was lit only by moonlight. A whole series of paintings capturing the complexity of a single living thing and the living things that surround it. Alain De Botton devoted a chapter of his book on ‘The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work’ to Stephen describing how his approach to the painting of the tree was about the story not of each individual leaf but of the dynamic mass of the whole.
I've used this before now as an analogy for change, to make the point that, much like the tree through the seasons, change is a complex thing that is likely to have multiple dependencies that all influence and impact each other, but more than anything it is a process, not an event.
I have a personal example of this – in 2006, just when so-called 'Web 2.0' or the social web was beginning to take off, I was working for a large publishing company. I strongly believed that this new connected world was going to going to change everything about what that company did. But it felt like nobody was really taking it seriously enough. So I put together the most compelling presentation I could, full of unassailable facts about how this was going to change the world, and I went round and presented it to five operating boards that ran the different divisions of the business. I got to the end of that process and sat back, expecting a tidal wave of new ideas, innovation, changed thinking. But nothing happened.
I had forgotten that not everyone had been on the same journey that I had. I had wrongly assumed that one powerpoint deck would bring change. It was a valuable lesson for me in the importance of taking people on the journey with you. Change is a process, not an event.