Performance Firestarters 7: The Mobile Future - Performance or Branding?


For the seventh in our series of Firestarters events for the performance marketing community, we focused on a specific but fascinating aspect of mobile marketing - the question of whether its future will be more defined by performance or brand advertising.

Ian Maude from Enders Analysis gave a great scene setter supported by some good data showing how mobile is the driving force in both digital commerce and digital ad growth. Whilst PC penetration is forecast to remain relatively stable and mobile adoption is reaching maturity, Enders predict that Mobile will soon (by 2020) account for 75% of time online. We’ve seen rapid growth in mobile search and performance advertising and whilst this will continue it will be joined by a new wave of brand advertising on mobile as consumption increases and ad spend follows the eyeballs. Enders predict that we are moving towards half of all advertising spend being on the internet, with advertising becoming less TV centric, but the ability to fuse TV and internet/mobile audience data will be key.


Alex Hewson, Media Director at M & C Saatchi Mobile, talked about how 90% of their billings currently come from performance based marketing, and how performance based data underpins just about every aspect of their work. Their approach to planning for mobile incorporates elements of the customer journey from brand performance (intent, engagement), user acquisition (app install, registration, subscription), to life-time value (usage, retention, (re)purchase). He gave examples of how specific types of mobile-friendly targeting can be used to drive these different kinds of objectives, and then how a layered approach to buying (buying against different metrics to support different staged objectives) can minimise risk, and how post-install data for apps is key to properly judging value (given the wide gap that often exists between install and usage rates - something that is in-turn creating additional options to drive improved ROI). 

Alex finished by talking a bit about mobile creative in the context of data-driven test-and-learn, a theme built on by Ben Rickard, Head of Mobile at MEC, who spoke about what he called ‘mobile’s dirty little secret’ -  their research had indicated that up to 75-80% of UK mobile inventory is still standard 320 x 50 or 300 x 50 banner formats, meaning a huge missed opportunity for advertisers to utilise the kind of larger, more engaging in-feed formats that he believes will be key to the future of brand advertising on mobile. In terms of formats, said Ben, brand ads are running on old rolling stock whilst social ad formats are becoming the norm. And in fact the latest UK IAB Ad Spend data for the full year 2014 (out that very day) supports this assertion showing content and native ads (including in-feed advertising) are now a fifth of total display with social media advertising (powered by native) growing by 65% year-on-year, and representing one half of all mobile display now. Ben laid down a challenge calling for a new approach to planning with objectives driving formats, the centralisation of creative analytics and insights (through Celtra), greater availability (from owners) and demand (from advertisers) for larger, in-feed formats and mobile video, and improved standards across Europe on mobile brand advertising.

Scott Seaborn, Global Head of Mobile Strategy for Aimia (Nectar and Air Miles), finished with a witty and entertaining talk about moments in mobile history and how we tend to view the future through the lens of the past. Scott’s challenge was for brands to be braver about iterating in market with mobile, and to start with the unique, ‘personal’ attributes of mobile as a way to create compelling, creative, mobile-first ideas (he talked a lot about how mobile makes you feel, rather than just its visual aspects).


It was a fascinating evening and the debate afterwards echoed the fact that whilst consumption is in rapid growth, and ad spend is now really starting to follow that growth, there are still many questions that we do not have the answers to just yet. It certainly felt as though whilst the performance side of mobile marketing might have mature more rapidly, it is in the brand marketing side that many of these questions remain, but lots of optimism from our speakers that we are potentially on the verge of a step change in how we do brand advertising on mobile. The amazing Sciberia were on hand as always to take visual notes of the talks, and you can see their visualisation in all its glory here. My thanks as always to Google for hosting, to everyone that came along, and of-course to our excellent speakers.

The Full-Stack Employee


Chris Messina (who invented the Twitter Hashtag) wrote a post last week describing what he called the ‘Full Stack Employee’. This is, says Chris, the type of employee that has a powerful combination of skills, are adept at navigating the rapidly evolving and shifting technological landscape, and ‘make intuitive decisions amidst information-abundance, where sparse facts mingle loosely with data-drenched opinions’.

Whilst not necessarily having deep vertical expertise in more than one domain, such employees have an intuitive understanding of the value of design and UX, engineering and algorithms, but also narrative and storytelling, and can work with simple prototypes to develop learning. They are able to dynamically deal with shifting priorities and expectations and prioritise well. But they also have a strong curiosity, an appetite for new ideas, best practices, and also a desire to be more productive and happy in their work. It is this curiosity and desire to stay on top of developments in their own industry and others that separates them out.


In ‘How Google Works’ Eric Schmidt describes the people that can have the biggest potential impact in a business - so-called 'Smart Creatives' are the product folk who combine a triumvirate of skills around technical knowledge, business expertise and creativity: 'when you put today's technology tools in their hands and give them lots of freedom’, he says, ‘they can do amazing things, amazingly fast'.

Lord knows with 'Smart Creatives', 'T-shaped' and 'Pi-shaped' people, and now 'Full-Stack Employees', we're not short of monikers to describe people who may have strong vertical expertise, but also have lateral empathy, knowledge and attributes that mean they can work well in rapidly changing, ambiguous environments.

But the point remains a good one. As Chris Messina says, the conventional seams between disciplines are becoming ever more blurred, the set of skills necessary to succeed are broader and more nebulous than they’ve been before, and so being a polymath has real value to businesses. It may sound like a big ask to accommodate so many attributes in one person, but it is increasingly employees like this that make the difference within and for organisations, and as Chris says:

‘the nature of work is changing, and the highest value employees are those who can handle ambiguity and synthesizing enormous amounts of information into strategically useful tactics.’

Nobody's saying that those with deep, vertical expertise have little value - an organisation needs many different types of people to thrive after all.  But I like this idea a lot, not least because I have always found it hard to categorise my own skills and knowledge or even career focus into a neat box labelled with a job title. 

Photo Credit: See-ming Lee 李思明 SML

Post Of The Month - March 2015 - The Winner


Delighted to announce that the winner of Post Of The Month is Heidi Hackemer and Armando Turco's take on why Great Planners are Schizo. There was a strong showing for Pats McDonald's Unconscious Consumption post, and also Brian Millar's Why We Should Design Things to be Difficult to Use  but it was Heidi and Armando's talk that won through in the end. So well done to them. They now join the Hall of Fame. My thanks to everyone for taking part.

Google Firestarters Comes to Australia


I'm really excited to announce that, on the heels of our events in New York and our recent one in Austin at SXSW, Google Firestarters is coming to Australia. We'll be running two events in one week - one in Melbourne on the 21st April, and one in Sydney on the 22nd April - both on the theme of 'Adapting Strategy for the Adaptive Age'. We want to delve into how strategy and planning is changing in response to the impact of digital technologies on the practice of marketing and advertising.

It's a broad subject, that will no doubt touch on themes that have arisen at previous Firestarters - the intersection of technologically-native practices like user experience, service and product design with planning, impact on agency remuneration and the way agencies work with clients, iterative strategy, and how agencies innovate. But it's also a defined enough topic for us to have some wide-ranging but cohesive debate and it will be fascinating to gain a new and potentially different perspective.

As always with Firestarters we have some excellent speakers. Google's Head of Strategic Planning out of New York, Abigail Posner, will be in Australia and on the roster for both events. And I will be there to moderate both events. Our full line up is:

Melbourne 21stApril, 6pm, Clemenger Auditorium:

Dave King, Director of Strategy at The Royals

Eaon Pritchard, Head of Strategy, Red Jelly

Roger Box, Director of Digital, Clemenger BBDO

Abigail Posner, Google

Sydney 22nd April, 6pm, Google HQ:

Simon Small, Exec Strategy Director, Isobar Australia

Sudeep Gohil, CEO, Droga 5

Jason Lonsdale, Exec Planning Director, Saatchi & Saatchi

Abigail Posner, Google

As always with Firestarters, I have some guest passes to give away to readers of this blog, so if you'd like one, please leave a comment below or contact me direct (stating whether you'd like the Sydney or Melbourne event). 

I'm so pleased that Firestarters is coming to Australia and expanding globally in the way that it is. It's a hugely exciting and positive thing. 

Post of the Month - March 2015 - The Vote

Thanks for the nominations everyone. Our vote this month is between:

Great Planners are Schizo by Heidi Hackemer and Armando Turco

Unconscious Consumption, The Rise of Low Involvement Digital by Patricia McDonald

The Web's Grain by Frank Chimero

Why We Should Design Things to be Difficult to Use from Brian Millar

25 Things You Missed at SXSW by Hugh MacLeod

Does Big Data Really Matter For Agencies? by Sue Unerman

Why Buzzfeed is the Most Important News Organisation in the World by Ben Thompson