Nothing motivates the advertising market quite like the search for purpose. Even the search segment, which has always been one of the central points of contact in online marketing, is now reacting to the ever-increasing demand from users for an overriding sense of purpose of the providers. In this edition of SEO News, we take a look at new search engines and why ‘search’ has always had a purpose.

A binary search for meaning with an after-taste

Purpose is the word of the hour. Artificial intelligence and voice search have been all but forgotten again, with meaning and purpose taking their place as the latest marketing vehicles. Now, therefore, a positive contribution to society should also be made in business life. This will come as no surprise to anyone who has been dealing with search engines for a while now.

Google has always wanted to organise the world’s information. Microsoft has made empowering people the mission of its Bing search engine from the very beginning. But even beyond these visions, the issue of search and purpose could not be simpler, because search engines basically have these functions: finding meaning, providing information, reducing fear, and facilitating decisions.

In return, people not only entrust their search bars, microphones and camera lenses with their innermost doubts, fears and worries, but a technologised society also transmits location and transaction data, as well as behaviour and movement patterns to tech companies in the East and West. Although data protection has also been a topic of growing attention in Germany since at least the 1987 census, paradoxically it is becoming an increasingly scarce commodity in the information society.

To put it bluntly, one could say that the digital economy, loaded with great expectations, has so far done no more than collect the personal data of billions of people by the petabyte, only to then market said data to increase the prosperity of a few.  Simply adding up the current sales of the performance advertising top dogs Google and Facebook, advertisers’ exposure to our privacy is worth around US$60 billion a quarter.

As a result, data is increasingly being privatised with private companies profiting from their sale and everyone having to take responsibility for their own protection. For this reason, the US telecommunications giant Verizon has now launched a search engine called Onesearch which, similarly to the privacy search engine DuckDuckGo, which has been established for years, is committed to special measures to protect the privacy of its users.

Meanwhile, we ignore the fact that Verizon’s corporate portfolio also includes Yahoo, the classic data-handling mother of all search engines. Besides ignoring cookies, retargeting and profiling, according to Verizon search queries are transmitted in encrypted form. As a special feature, links to search results that are stored in the browser history, for example, are deleted after an hour, and the personal search result is then no longer visible. It almost goes without saying that the search history is not saved.

While the birth of a new search engine is always a big event, despite all its well-meaning features, Onesearch will probably have already experienced the peak of its use with the press release for its launch. This is because data protection alone is not enough of a purpose for a search engine. Users are not only prepared to hand over their lives in Is and 0s to search companies, but they have learned over the past 20 years that hardly anything makes the symbiosis of humans and technology as immediately tangible as a search engine. We are fascinated by the comprehensive store of knowledge, but also surprised by helpful information about our own neighbourhood. In contrast to social networks, the negative effects of the algorithm economy on society play a secondary role in the universal search. As important as the protection of personal data is in the networked society, Google’s long-term vision of a convenience engine with comprehensively personalised information seems to be a logical response to users’ need for technological meaning.

Job profiles at Serviceplan Group

It’s time for another one of our new Job Title Bingo videos! In today’s clip, our colleague Julia, a consultant at Facit Research, tells us what a Market Researcher does and how to become one.

She also tells us what’s in a mojito…

Click here to find out!

Escaping the cold and out into the sun. Nowadays, it doesn’t matter whether you book your next winter break at the travel agency around the corner, or on your mobile phone. In January’s SEO News, we will discover how, with Google’s help, we will soon be sending ourselves jet-setting off into the distance, and why you should never underestimate supposedly harmless hoaxes.

Travel agencies – fasten your seatbelts

This column has often spoken about Google’s vision of an omnipresent machine that provides information, solutions, and comfort.  Measuring the world in entities, to provide the basis for a real-time classification of all individual sensibilities, is a project whose scope could hardly be larger. In order to be able to know and serve the needs of each and every individual, however, as a company you have to get pretty close to people.

It’s safe to say that 2019 was not an easy year for the travel industry. Not only did the insolvency of the British tour operator Thomas Cook send shock waves through the industry and cost many jobs, but “flight shame” and “overtourism” have been two social trends that have really put the brakes on growth within the sector, rather than strengthening it.

The traditional travel agency, which has for decades been the administrative headquarters of our holiday dreams, has experienced a small uptick, despite the adverse conditions. Although their numbers have been steadily declining for years, physical travel agencies have recorded a small but constant increase in turnover over the past 15 years. The reason for the success of travel agencies in the age of online bookings lies in the comprehensive, personal advice they provide and the transparency of prices and fees for customers. Both of these factors are forces that the online travel business has not yet been able to overcome. Against a background of changing travel behaviour, moving away from package tours to individual holidays, all market participants seemed to have settled down comfortably into their respective segments of the almost 800 billion US dollar global travel market.

This column has often spoken about Google’s vision of an omnipresent machine that provides information, solutions, and comfort.  Measuring the world in entities, to provide the basis for a real-time classification of all individual sensibilities, is a project whose scope could hardly be larger. In order to be able to know and serve the needs of each and every individual, however, as a company you have to get pretty close to people.

As humankind’s entirely natural digital partner, the Search channel is virtually predestined for such a venture. A large number of us think nothing of trusting the input field of a search engine with our most intimate secrets, greatest fears, and most hidden passions.  For companies, webmasters, and SEOs, though, the challenge of generating genuine value from this social potential is growing ever greater. Paid ads, answer boxes as featured snippets, and the beloved “People Also Ask” questions – each of these is displacing the classic, organic click result from the top spots on the search results page. This is the other side of Google’s metamorphosis from a gateway to a portal for all of life’s questions and situations.

Google Travel as the new gatekeeper

A golden exception to these current developments is local search. Freshly fortified with an algorithm update for better recognition of local queries, and thanks to its prominent display featuring area maps, a route planner, and user reviews, the so-called “Local Pack” is evolving into the most important piece of inventory that the search engine from Mountain View has to offer stationary trading so far. As an electronic business card, however, the Local Pack has much more to offer besides. Branch operators have the option of chatting directly with potential customers, submitting individual questions and answers, and publishing upcoming events and company news as so-called “posts”. The “Mybusiness” service continues to provide the interface for this. As time goes on, however, local interactions with real people are set to become more important for rankings, as even in local searches, spam isn’t uncommon.

But all that is about to change… After several acquisitions, iterations and experiments, Google is starting to expand its flight and hotel search into a comprehensive, personalised travel consultant and planner. The new travel search tool “Google Travel” has been live in the US since the start of the year and has received positive initial reactions  from both the press and users alike.

Bookings are still made on the travel providers’ own websites, but as a gatekeeper Google will certainly soon be monetising its dominance. Last spring, SEO veteran Rand Fishkin had alreadyexpressed his regret regarding this to the start-ups and online travel industry employees present at SMX Munich. A few months earlier, on the other side of the Atlantic, a small website called Touringbird, an individual travel planning provider, which could not even be found via organic search, was launched. As it turned out a year later, the supposed start-up was in fact an experiment by Google’s incubator, Area 120. The site, which has since been discontinued and merged with Google Travel, allowed the search giant to test the application of its wealth of data in combination with the use of artificial intelligence under market conditions.

A golden exception to these current developments is local search. Freshly fortified with an algorithm update for better recognition of local queries, and thanks to its prominent display featuring area maps, a route planner, and user reviews, the so-called “Local Pack” is evolving into the most important piece of inventory that the search engine from Mountain View has to offer stationary trading so far. As an electronic business card, however, the Local Pack has much more to offer besides. Branch operators have the option of chatting directly with potential customers, submitting individual questions and answers, and publishing upcoming events and company news as so-called “posts”. The “Mybusiness” service continues to provide the interface for this. As time goes on, however, local interactions with real people are set to become more important for rankings, as even in local searches, spam isn’t uncommon.

A recent patent shows that, in addition to online check-ins and reviews, Google also wants to incorporate offline user behaviour into its quality evaluation of local companies. According to the document, movement patterns of individual users or EXIF data from uploaded photos are to allow conclusions to be drawn about the quality and relevance of local listings. This leaves a lot of room for imagination as to how conventional SEO work at the computer may also shift into the real world in years to come. In addition to optimising website technology, structure, and content, clever strategies for obtaining good signals from offline searches are now set to be in demand as well. Before long, the free cup of coffee offered in exchange for a longer stay at the corner shop may very likely count among the modern search engine optimiser’s trusted tools.

Successful linking of different Google services

To be sure of ending the year with one more compelling overview, let’s round off the last SEO News of 2019 with a detailed look at the newest mobile phone camera to hit the market. Here we encounter a cold, electronic eye; behind it, no didactic supercomputer like the HAL 9000 of Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”, but instead the new addition of a search engine.   Already integrated into the current generation of Android mobile phones and driven by such enterprises as Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and Pinterest, in the coming year we’ll see that the fastest connection between the user’s brain and their wallet isn’t the ear or mouth, but the eye.

Google actually laid the foundations for its development work a few years earlier with its app Google Trips, which has also now been discontinued. The result they are now presenting is a tool that combines personalised searches with historical and real-time data to offer the entire spectrum of individual travel inspiration and planning using three simple tabs.

Broken down into “Where to stay”, “When to visit” and “What you’ll pay”, at first glance all the basic questions relating to travel are presented in an easily accessible and comprehensive manner. The comprehensive and familiar information from Google’s local search for almost any location around the globe can not only be marketed within the immediate geographical area, but can now be directly monetised as added value in travel planning. The company deliberately places the transparency of the final price at the centre of its marketing communication in order to distinguish itself positively from the competition. According to a study by EMarketer, despite ecological and social headwinds, the global travel market will be reaching the trillion dollar mark in just two years’ time. This means that the pie is getting bigger, but who gets a slice is still up for grabs.

To be sure of ending the year with one more compelling overview, let’s round off the last SEO News of 2019 with a detailed look at the newest mobile phone camera to hit the market. Here we encounter a cold, electronic eye; behind it, no didactic supercomputer like the HAL 9000 of Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”, but instead the new addition of a search engine.   Already integrated into the current generation of Android mobile phones and driven by such enterprises as Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and Pinterest, in the coming year we’ll see that the fastest connection between the user’s brain and their wallet isn’t the ear or mouth, but the eye.

The proliferation of technologies that enable open searching with the help of visual information is now also underway in Europe and North America, several years after Chinese search machines like Alibaba and Baidu first made important pioneering achievements in this area. Through advancement in the development of artificial intelligence and the gathering of ever more extensive volumes of data, it’s becoming increasingly easy for users to perform search queries that would be difficult to express assisted only by text or even speech.

The most important driver for visual search, however, will turn out to be that optimal searching is the ideal partner to e-commerce. With the launch of its visual search tool, US fashion chain Forever 21 has succeeded in increasing its average shopping cart value by approximately 20%. Inspiration portal Pinterest recently announced that around 80% of its users begin their shopping session with a visual search. The shortening of the customer journey in the young target group of 18 to 34 years is a powerful factor in the battle for online sales. Soon enough, the path from “I want” to “I have” will be just a camera click away.

From the point of view of search engine optimisation, this means it would be advisable to extend content strategies by a visual dimension, and to optimise technical deployment of picture and video files within digital assets. 2020 will not only see us experience the proliferation of visual searches, however, but also witness the first steps on the road to a multimodal search matrix consisting of text, speech, camera input, and (offline) context.  That’s why we advise you to stay on the ball, keep reading our little column, and, most importantly,  have an excellent start to the new year.

Duck Duck Go buys into Android

With almost 90% of the market share, Google’s Android dominates the smartphone operating system market worldwide. Hard-wiring your browser to your own search engine gives you quite a valuable asset. The EU’s competition watchdogs have now also realised this, imposing on Google a fine of around five billion US dollars in March 2019. In addition, the company was required to provide users with a choice of search provider when setting up their mobile device, much in the same way as Microsoft had to make alternatives to the Internet Explorer browser available in the Windows 7 operating system in 2009.

Google has now successfully fulfilled this obligation with the help of an auction, much to the disappointment of the search engines participating. Three selections were auctioned in a total of 31 EU markets. The bidding was on the click price that the third-party provider would be prepared to pay Google for each search action.

Duck Duck Go comes out on top

The result of these auctions now reflects neither the market position nor the quality of Google’s alternatives. For example, Microsoft’s successful search engine Bing was only used in the high-revenue UK. In Germany, new Android users will have the choice between the US providers Duck Duck Go, InfoSpace and GMX-Suche from Germany’s United Internet group. The search engine Duck Duck Go, which specialises in the data protection, was the biggest winner in the auction and was used immediately in all markets. Despite criticism from participating companies, this procedure has not yet been called into question by the EU. Even though the auction procedure is a proven method of ensuring fair access to a limited market, the demand for a permanent click price speaks volumes about our beloved monopolist’s understanding of the market.

Job profiles at Serviceplan

We’re playing job title bingo! In our brand new video interviews we tell you what our colleagues do and what is behind their partly very interesting job titles. Because with over 80 job descriptions in our agency group, you can lose track of what’s going on.

Click right in and find out what Georg does as Copywriter at Serviceplan Campaign X besides writing texts!

Christmas is widely recognised as an opportunity for us to put our mobile phones down for more than 15 minutes and feel truly at ease in the offline world. To explain why that would be a bad mistake, here’s December’s edition of SEO News.

Left out in the cold

This column has often spoken about Google’s vision of an omnipresent machine that provides information, solutions, and comfort.  Measuring the world in entities, to provide the basis for a real-time classification of all individual sensibilities, is a project whose scope could hardly be larger. In order to be able to know and serve the needs of each and every individual, however, as a company you have to get pretty close to people.

As humankind’s entirely natural digital partner, the Search channel is virtually predestined for such a venture. A large number of us think nothing of trusting the input field of a search engine with our most intimate secrets, greatest fears, and most hidden passions.  For companies, webmasters, and SEOs, though, the challenge of generating genuine value from this social potential is growing ever greater. Paid ads, answer boxes as featured snippets, and the beloved “People Also Ask” questions – each of these is displacing the classic, organic click result from the top spots on the search results page. This is the other side of Google’s metamorphosis from a gateway to a portal for all of life’s questions and situations.

The prospects of local search

A golden exception to these current developments is local search. Freshly fortified with an algorithm update for better recognition of local queries, and thanks to its prominent display featuring area maps, a route planner, and user reviews, the so-called “Local Pack” is evolving into the most important piece of inventory that the search engine from Mountain View has to offer stationary trading so far. As an electronic business card, however, the Local Pack has much more to offer besides. Branch operators have the option of chatting directly with potential customers, submitting individual questions and answers, and publishing upcoming events and company news as so-called “posts”. The “Mybusiness” service continues to provide the interface for this. As time goes on, however, local interactions with real people are set to become more important for rankings, as even in local searches, spam isn’t uncommon.

A recent patent shows that, in addition to online check-ins and reviews, Google also wants to incorporate offline user behaviour into its quality evaluation of local companies. According to the document, movement patterns of individual users or EXIF data from uploaded photos are to allow conclusions to be drawn about the quality and relevance of local listings. This leaves a lot of room for imagination as to how conventional SEO work at the computer may also shift into the real world in years to come. In addition to optimising website technology, structure, and content, clever strategies for obtaining good signals from offline searches are now set to be in demand as well. Before long, the free cup of coffee offered in exchange for a longer stay at the corner shop may very likely count among the modern search engine optimiser’s trusted tools.

A special look

To be sure of ending the year with one more compelling overview, let’s round off the last SEO News of 2019 with a detailed look at the newest mobile phone camera to hit the market. Here we encounter a cold, electronic eye; behind it, no didactic supercomputer like the HAL 9000 of Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”, but instead the new addition of a search engine.   Already integrated into the current generation of Android mobile phones and driven by such enterprises as Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and Pinterest, in the coming year we’ll see that the fastest connection between the user’s brain and their wallet isn’t the ear or mouth, but the eye.

The proliferation of technologies that enable open searching with the help of visual information is now also underway in Europe and North America, several years after Chinese search machines like Alibaba and Baidu first made important pioneering achievements in this area. Through advancement in the development of artificial intelligence and the gathering of ever more extensive volumes of data, it’s becoming increasingly easy for users to perform search queries that would be difficult to express assisted only by text or even speech.

The most important driver for visual search, however, will turn out to be that optimal searching is the ideal partner to e-commerce. With the launch of its visual search tool, US fashion chain Forever 21 has succeeded in increasing its average shopping cart value by approximately 20%. Inspiration portal Pinterest recently announced that around 80% of its users begin their shopping session with a visual search. The shortening of the customer journey in the young target group of 18 to 34 years is a powerful factor in the battle for online sales. Soon enough, the path from “I want” to “I have” will be just a camera click away.

From the point of view of search engine optimisation, this means it would be advisable to extend content strategies by a visual dimension, and to optimise technical deployment of picture and video files within digital assets. 2020 will not only see us experience the proliferation of visual searches, however, but also witness the first steps on the road to a multimodal search matrix consisting of text, speech, camera input, and (offline) context.  That’s why we advise you to stay on the ball, keep reading our little column, and, most importantly,  have an excellent start to the new year.

Possible roles for artificial creativity in marketing

Artificial intelligence is presently used in marketing primarily to forecast consumer behaviour and increase the efficiency of brand communication. As everybody knows, however, analysis and control are only one side of marketing; creativity is at least as important, because creativity is ultimately the only means for brands to set themselves apart from one another in a lasting way. With this in mind, in what follows we investigate the question of what role(s) machine learning and/or computational creativity could play in the marketing of the future.

1. Artificial intelligence as a driver of the digital transformation

Whilst the first phase of the digital revolution around the turn of the millennium was focused on the construction of digital infrastructure and the digitalisation of products and services, the years that followed were primarily about conceptualising, designing and establishing digital distribution channels and building sustainable digital business models. Now that a lot of companies have negotiated this phase, it’s presently the development of artificial intelligence that is characterising the digital transformation and driving it forward. Assisted by increasingly powerful processors, increasingly capacious data volumes, and increasingly sophisticated algorithms, recent years have seen machines begin to learn:  artificial intelligence is here, and it’s evolving. This has set a phase of development in motion that is now unstoppable, and which may well represent a turning point for a large number of sectors and industries. AI is currently revolutionising medical diagnostics, making autonomous driving possible, using predictive analyses to plan production capacities, assisting the early detection of attempted scams and supporting investors in the form of so-called “robo-advisors”.  Even though many of the accompanying ethical and legal questions have yet to be answered, increasing numbers of people are talking to Siri, asking Alexa, conversing with Cortana, and chatting with bots.  AI is establishing itself in our everyday lives, changing the rules of the game in many areas of the economy and, in the course of these developments, inevitably transforming marketing as well.

2. Artificial intelligence in Marketing

Artificial intelligence is presently being used in marketing primarily to minimise waste coverage and to make marketing communication faster and more efficient. Everybody knows, though, that analysis, control and management are only one side of marketing; creativity is at least as important, because strictly speaking, creativity is the only means for brands to set themselves apart from one another in a lasting way. This assessment takes on a greater significance still when it is borne in mind that all market participants will be making use of the aforementioned possibilities of AI in the medium term and that this will serve to level out the differences resulting from its effects.  

3. Artificial or Computional Creativity

A large part of the creative economy shares one thing in common: creativity is the final human bastion that artificial intelligence is unable to penetrate.  Even if this view appears plausible at first, however, we’re likely mistaken in the belief that machines can only analyse what exists and are incapable of creating anything new. Today, computational creativity stands alone as a field of research where scientists and artists are working together to fathom how creative computers are capable of being. A glance at where and how artificial intelligence is already finding applications in various creative disciplines in the present day reveals some astounding and unexpected examples. After just 20 minutes of “training” with a real human voice, for example, the audio encoding program Voco from Adobe is able to synthesise and copy it 1:1.

4. Artificial intelligence and campaign creation

Fundamentally, the creative process can be divided into divergent and convergent thinking: Whilst divergent thinking is about generating as many completely different, ideally unprecedented and sometimes crazy ideas as possible, convergent thinking aims to identify and pick out the idea with the greatest potential in order to optimise and further develop it.

Both in divergent and in convergent thinking, there are tasks that artificial intelligence can take on. Based on current developments in computational creativity, there are essentially five different possible roles for AI in the creative process – although these are far from easy to delineate from one another.

  • AI as muse

AI can memorise an enormous number of a company’s own campaigns and those of its competitors, and so knows what has worked well in the past. Based on these, it can develop ideas and suggestions that have the potential to open up unexpected new ways of looking at things.

  • AI as a creator

Assisted by deep learning models, AI systems are capable of independently developing a multitude of distinctive campaign ideas, images and promotional material.  Following this, AI is then also able to evaluate and implement those candidates that best meet the originally defined specifications.

  • KI as a tool

In just the same way as a pen, a movie camera or a musical instrument, AI can be used and operated by people to create campaign images, ads or jingles – to name just a few examples.

  • KI as an assistent

Working as a helper and support worker, AI can independently carry out such preliminary working steps as preparing text, picture or layout options.

  • KI as a gatekeeper

At the end of the creative process, AI can ensure that the drafts and proposals prepared fall within previously determined constraints, such as CI guidelines.

It’s not yet possible to say which of the five paradigmatic AI roles described here will play a part in the future creative process, and in what way. That’s why it will be important in the coming years to devote the necessary time and resources to testing out these different roles, gathering relevant experience and further developing the technology. It’s especially important to be prepared for the likelihood of it remaining uncertain for some time what works and just where the journey is headed. The only certainty for now is that the question is no longer whether AI will radically alter marketing’s creative process but how it will.

Many website owners were shocked by the news earlier this week (perhaps reading this article) revealing that Google was “planning its biggest algorithm update in five years”. According to the information provided, a new technology called BERT (which stands for “Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers”) is set to provide better recognition of search queries.

With horror we remember that in 2015 the search engine released its mobile index, which was dubbed “mobilegeddon”, and which was dragged by the press. Just a few months later, hardly anyone remembered this paradigm shift on Google and the effects of the update were, thanks to diligent search engine optimisers, barely noticeable. A similar situation is expected when it comes to BERT.

It has been several years now since modern SEO work has been focused purely on keyword optimisation. The focus has rather shifted to the coordination of search intention with digital offers. The new BERT algorithm enables Google to more reliably identify different intentions in a search query based on language constructions and changing contexts, and associate them with the most relevant results. When it comes to artificial intelligence competition, this is a big step for Google. Website operators, on the other hand, do not have to respond immediately to the announcement from Mountain View. The creation and optimisation of relevant content for human users should continue to be a top priority in order to build authority and trust for generic searches in key target groups with their own offerings. This content should provide appropriate results for high-volume search queries for maximum relevance and engagement. For websites that primarily benefit from brand searches, the BERT update is unlikely to have a significant impact. What’s more, the company also states that the new algorithm will initially only be rolled out for the English language. A date for its launch on the German market has not yet been announced.

In any case, it is a good idea to regularly monitor your organic traffic when a search engine update like BERT has been rolled out to detect mid and long-term changes. However, there is no need to blindly take action, as Google usually extensively tests its updates, rolls them out slowly, and regularly re-calibrates them after they’ve gone live.

We’re calling it the Serviceplan Group Middle East Diary: Every week, one of our team members will be sharing what’s currently going on in her or his life at Serviceplan Middle East.

There’s one thing we can all agree on –  management in a time of VUCA is an arduous task. So, there is a great temptation to be too eager to reach for the latest “hammer” (i.e. the latest management methods) in the naive assumption that every problem is a nail to be hit. And because managers are taking less and less time to think about things, they are morphed into agitated actors, naively hoping they will achieve their goal more quickly. It would be much better, however, to have some practical and user-friendly differentiation tools at hand to avoid falling into these traps. So, if you want to use your time and energy wisely, it is a good idea to know the difference between “blue” and “red”. Curtain up on the colour theory of transformation.

New colour theory

Colours have always been good orientation aids. Red and green traffic lights are not just for road traffic. Some companies have literally appropriated a colour for their brand so they can burn themselves into the customers’ memories. Think about German Telekom’s magenta or the Nivea blue. In the area of organisational development, too, there are colour codes that help to differentiate initial situations so that the most suitable and effective option for action can be selected.

We owe the categorization according to blue and red to the systems theorist Gerhard Wohland. He has thus described two very different problem categories, the differentiation of which is becoming increasingly important in the VUCA and transformation age. Because in fact, the world isn’t just about nails.

Blue stands for the world we are familiar with. Under this heading you can find everything that has a linear causality: Action A leads to result B – even the tenth time it is repeated. Blue challenges are relatively stable and at the same time quite complicated – think of a faulty movement, a technical problem or an upcoming tax audit.

Conversely, red stands for everything that is highly dynamic and complex. In the red world there are no predictable causalities, so action A sometimes leads to result B, but sometimes to result C or D. Red problems are also subject to constant change. Anyone who has ever dealt with an angry customer or the introduction of a transformation project knows what I mean.

Hammers and screwdrivers

The two colours do not just define different starting situations or problems. They also distinguish the tools of the trade that are the most useful for dealing with these scenarios.

Very few of us would think of tightening a loose screw with a hammer, yet in 2019, it is common for managers to work on red problems using blue tools. This is why so many transformation projects hit their limits and produce sub-optimal results and lots of frustration. Increasingly, we observe just the reverse, namely that blue problems are being tackled with red tools (“We’re working agile now!”). Then we wonder why the so-called promise of salvation in New Work doesn’t work out and instead, we are just becoming more and more inefficient.

The difference between skill and knowledge

The blue tools include above all knowledge. Without sound knowledge, no movement can be repaired, no technical problem solved and no tax audit carried out. You analyse, then you fall back on tried and tested methods. Solutions flow into processes, checklists, regulations and manuals. Project planning, stable structures and hierarchies enhance efficiency. The question now is: how does that work? So the expert is the king and knowledge makes all the difference.

In contrast, the red tools are mainly about ability, a mixture of creativity, intuition (a good feel for the situation), talent and a high level of dialoguing skills. This is what is needed when new, previously unimagined quantum leap solutions are on the agenda in a highly dynamic context. Instead of standardised processes, agile methods come into play, testing and observing in iterative cycles. Instead of rules, principles, i.e. attitudes made visible, come into play. Because there is no operating manual for solving the exceptional problems.

Rigid hierarchical models hit their limits and are replaced by more agile decision-making systems and organisational designs. Leadership occurs in the sense of social legitimation and ‘followership’: It drives forward the person that the others want to follow. Decisions and the resulting actions take place under ignorance, i.e. the precise consequences of an action cannot be predicted. The key question is: Who can handle it well? And so, the interdisciplinary team of experts becomes the king and the human being makes the difference.

Fatal errors and their ramifications

In fact, reality is usually much more complex than theory. There are many situations that involve both blue and red components, such as the global launch of powerful standard software by a customer. On the one hand, a demanding consulting project requires a great deal of standardised specialist knowledge (blue problem) and, on the other hand, a highly dynamic mix of reactances, power games, personal sensitivities and interdependencies with other transformation projects is high on the agenda (red problem).

In situations such as these, it is all the more important to differentiate very precisely and to use your blue and red tools in the right place, because if blue and red tools are exchanged due to ignorance or carelessness, this is what happens: For the blue portion, the result is a mediocre solution, because everyone has a say regardless of their level of expertise – and true experts are not usually the most extroverted speakers. At the same time, there is increased frustration at wasting time and energy, because there is unnecessary discussion about the “right” solution, even though “good practice” already exists. Meanwhile, the red part of the challenge blows up in the faces of the implementation team, because they are trying to manage complex dynamics with plans and insisting on rules and standard processes, so they inevitably fall flat on their faces.

A specific practical example:

Would you like to know how the colour theory of transformation is successfully applied in practice? Let’s take a look at Allsafe a Baden-Württemberg-based manufacturer of load securing systems for lorries and aircraft. Detlef Lohmann, the managing partner of the medium-sized company, already started over ten years ago to very systematically and successfully eliminate mechanisms that prevent value creation – and resisted the temptation to use the same tool to develop the optimal organisational setup. Instead, he made very careful observations, analysed the particular context and made repeated adjustments.

Two concrete examples that illustrate this: Today the organisational design for the sales process, which is primarily dominated by red, is strongly oriented towards the concept of networking and the principle of self-organisation. There is no sales manager and the team is responsible for defining its own annual targets. At Allsafe, the production process, on the other hand, has considerably more blue aspects. Consequently, the organisation relies on clearer structures and more hierarchical elements and chooses a lower degree of self-organisation (even though this is significantly higher than in some very conservatively-run organisations because the staff organise their own shifts). As well as this, there is great importance attached to systematically building up knowledge using a skill matrix, in order to ensure that there is a high degree of flexibility in terms of production.

Conclusion: each area has found its optimal setup and both solutions operate equally side by side. Their success has proven them right. The company has already been awarded top employer status four times and its profits are consistently on the rise.

Farewell to Aristotle

We are living in a time when the red parts of the world are increasing significantly. But the blue parts won’t all disappear overnight. Therefore, the ability to differentiate between red and blue value creation domains is a skill of elementary importance that is a challenge for us all: We are called upon to become bilingual and to alternate between the blue and red options for action, based on our needs. We must always be mindful that blue tools are not automatically bad and red is not automatically good. In other words: The screwdriver is not inherently better than the hammer.

The colour theory of transformation teaches us to detach ourselves from Aristotelian thinking in the sense of either-or, and instead to familiarize ourselves with thinking both ways. This is an attitude that can benefit us in many other situations. Let’s get started right now.

 

 

Kristina Kipp is Content Marketing Consultant and Mario Dorozalla Content Marketing Manager at Serviceplan PR & Content in Berlin. Their job is to use smart storytelling to bring a product or service to the attention of consumers. The interesting thing about this is that the target group might not even be aware of it today. But they will be tomorrow.