How to cultivate partnerships with your French colleagues at a distance.

Germany and France – so close and yet so far. Many German businessmen see the French market as a challenge. The reason is often, that cultural differences are underestimated due to the close geographic location, although the fact is that both cultures possess very different mindsets and work ethics. Once this is understood you can not only find outstanding synergies, but can also have a lot of fun while working together (and you don’t have to hide in the cellar to have a good laugh, as often found in Germany… ).

The following is a small contribution to a topic that we are often asked about in our seminars: managing at a distance.

If you have established a good working relationship with one or more French colleagues, you have “capital” that you should under no circumstances neglect. Not only do you have a pleasant working relationship, but you also have a local confidant that can keep you up to date about news, strategic decisions and “Scoops”. You can also confidently test your own ideas according to his feedback. Here are a few hints for cultivating such relationships:

  1. Invest in relationship efficiency

According to German criterion, everything needs to offer a clear use. It is for this reason that you should view contact cultivation as a very important indirect advantage:

The time you invest in it always pays out in full in the end. Your colleague will warn you about the backgrounds for the behaviour of other co workers, get something done for you, warn you when something is going to be risky for you or your company, and so on! He will not do it for the cause, but for you!

  1. Always keep in contact

One of the most important tools for this is the telephone. It is widely used in France to exchange information or cultivate contacts. It is for this reason that telephone bills in French branch offices are often significantly higher than in German ones.

You should “keep a finger on the pulse” (“prendre la température”) at least once a week if possible by picking up the phone and speaking the magic words “Alors quoi de neuf?“ (“Hey, what’s new?“).

Most French conversation partners will reply to this by telling you what keeps them busy at the moment, how they are doing or what recent event has made a big impression on them. In this way, a game of ping-pong begins: Both expect the other side to pick up on the ball and return it. Because the other side is busy or under stress, you may receive a short answer, in which case you call back later.

  1. Just send a personal E-mail now and then

Surprise your French co workers by sending an email that contains nothing “official”. For example a personal joke or a hard riddle. The more often you laugh together and exchange social topics, the more you will profit from the positive sides of French culture. As a positive side effect you will have lots of fun working together!

  1. Stay authentic

This type of contact cultivation may not, particularly in business, be for everyone. Especially since you are more used to staying “businesslike” in Germany. It is therefore very important not to play-act but to stay authentic, otherwise this is not likely to work.

  1. Arrive a night early

Never miss the opportunity to offer a dinner the night before a meeting or after an official appointment to exchange pleasantries… There is no need to have a guilty conscience as a positive usage is often the result and it’s also a lot of fun!

  1. “Send the Elevator back”

“Renvoyer l’ascenseur” (“Quid pro quo”, or “you scratch my back I scratch yours”): This very popular turn of phrase in France means nothing else but to repay a favour that was done for you. If one of your French colleagues has problems, maybe you can offer him advice or show sympathy. If he gives you information, you should repay the gesture later if not immediately. This works especially well in France as it shows prestige and power to be the first informed (“Scoops).


About our guest author: Alexander Wurz is expert in intercultural management and the owner of Open-i-Consulting. He has devised and managed a large number of intercultural consulting and training projects worldwide for multinational companies. Alexander worked on several M&A consulting projects on the ‘human side of integration’. Besides being a teacher of intercultural management at several European universities, he is a well-known keynote speaker and consults at international conferences. This article is an excerpt from the book „Deutsch-französische Geschäftsbeziehungen erfolgreich managen“ (GABLER)


Serviceplan International Roadshow France Insights

Serviceplan International invites you to take a joint look at the French market, broaching the issues of current developments and business opportunities as well as diving deeper into the consumer landscape and the French way of doing marketing. Serviceplan International Roadshow France // 8 June 2016 – 2 pm // House of Communication in Munich – If you like to join our event please contact our organisation team at


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Honestly, would you believe any entrepreneur who boasted: “We know our customers better than ever, because of digitization! We have a huge database full of customer data which reveals their wishes. We fulfill these wishes immediately and make our customers happy – and they reward us for it with their purchasing power and strong loyalty”. Sounds good, right? But let’s be honest: Few brands could actually claim that so far. Most are experiencing the opposite: the decreasing loyalty of their customers as they turn away, are suspicious and “ad-phobic”. In Germany, for example, 44 percent of all manufacturers’ brands are losing more than 30 percent of their regular customers per year – and the number is increasing, as we found out in a study with GfK.

What’s going wrong? To get an answer a change of perspective helps. Consider the situation from the viewpoint of consumers. They are, according to global studies, disappointed; in the United States, according to Accenture, more than four out of five consumers (84 percent!) are frustrated, because companies do not deliver what they promise. And we are not doing much better in Germany; where only 30 percent trust brands and their messages. Instead of the hoped for closeness to consumers, the advertising industry is experiencing estrangement. It is as if digitization has not helped them to get to know consumers better,  as hoped, but rather to lose sight of them. With regard to entrepreneurial success, this is a catastrophic development. What can be done? One thing is clear; familiar methods will not help here, neither trusty advertising power nor wily technical finesse.

We need a fresh start. The product is no longer the starting point for all marketing activities, but the consumers and their life phases. They are the starting point of all activity; customer orientated production, brand management and marketing.

To inspire consumers, the marketing of the future has to create worlds of experience in which engrossing customer experiences ensure long lasting customer relationships. Airlines then sell travel events, not tickets. And car makers offer mobility experiences, not just cars. The product? It’s only part of a larger picture.

For marketing this change means, among other things:

1. Away from the “14-to-49-years-mentality” – towards micro-segmentation and personalisation

Because consumers move in the new consumer media world individually, media planning with rough-edged categories like “14 to 49” can no longer achieve a lot. In future the focus won’t be on target groups, socio-geographic data and ranges, but the stages of life, needs, experiences of each individual consumer. For the media planning for this personalization, we need more than ever to focus on methods such as micro-segmentation.

2. Away from the channel perspective – towards customer journey accompaniment

Nowadays, consumers use more channels, contact points and marketing resources for their purchases than ever before. The customer journey is now many times more complex than even ten years ago. Online or offline? It doesn’t matter, any mixture is okay. Studies show that few companies have concerned themselves with the customer journeys of their customers.

3. The way from the advertising message to relevant content offers

Exaggerated advertising promises no longer match present purchasing behaviour, because consumers believe nothing without checking. Up to 90 percent of product research is made before visiting a store. Therefore, companies need to develop ideas on how they can support potential customers at an early stage with information and persuasive arguments.

4. Away from self-serving data analysis – towards the use of media for customer satisfaction

In future it won’t be about hoarding data for advertising purposes. Instead, companies should consider how they can use the information to shape their business model, improve their products – and ultimately to make their customers happy. That is the real power of Big Data. Its intelligent use can be absolutely decisive.

Marketing can only achieve this fresh, stronger position if it drops outdated mechanisms and tactics; instead it needs the courage to make a fresh start. The consumers will be grateful. Our task, the task of the agencies, is to accompany this change, sometimes even to carefully push it.

This means we agencies need to reconsider our services and processes, to monitor and constantly optimize them to be perfect consultants for our customers in these difficult, but also exciting times. At Serviceplan, we are working on it; on a daily basis, at more than 30 locations worldwide. And, as of March this year, also in Spain.

First released in World’s Leading Independent Agencies 2016.

“Communication without content marketing has no future”

Buzzword or not – the need for content is greater than ever. In these times of the Internet as a platform, the power is shifting to the consumer. It used to be the other way around. Today, I can simply click everything away or use Adblocker. The consequence: the consumer has the power.

But someome do it right and do not get clicked away. What do Vodafone and South Tyrol have in common? Both know how good content marketing works. They are among the winners of the German Content Marketing Awards, which were awarded in 2015 for the first time. The South Tyroleans impressed us with their visually stunning stories (, and mobile operator Vodafone with the witty product testing of the “Gadget Inspectors”. They also convinced us through their networking with other content offerings as well as consistent marketing. In short: Vodafone and South Tyrol practice content marketing as it should be: Paid, Owned, Earned, and balanced out.

Such exemplary practice is still rare in German-speaking countries. We are, in fact, currently experiencing an accumulation of “pseudo-content marketing”. Content marketing, which only pretends to be such. Sometimes even a single blog can already be touted as content innovation, or native advertising articles, just because they rate well in the rankings. Sorry, they may well be successful measures, but they are only details of a larger whole which would deserve to be called content marketing.

Properly understood, content marketing provides an opportunity to revitalize the entire realm of corporate communication with fresh impulses. Everyone could benefit from it – from PR, marketing, customer services, and sales right through to HR. Content marketing concerns us all because it could be the solution to an acute problem: the rapid loss of customer confidence and the resulting threat of revenue loss. Meanwhile, 44 percent of all manufacturers brands are losing more than 30 percent of their regular customers per year (Marken Roadshow).

To counter this, companies need to put customers increasingly and more consistently in the centre of their actions. They need to develop experience worlds in which customers’ needs are met at the right time and in the right place. The product does not play the main role in the marketing of the future. The time of Customer Centricity is dawning – and in it, content marketing plays a central role. That, because it creates values without which such an adventure world can not function. Strategically, cleverly placed content which is free from paralyzing “advertising speak” should spur the conversation with customers. To put it boldly: without content marketing, corporate communications has no future.

For this reason, communicators should first ask themselves some holistic questions:

  • How can we create a “customer experience” and we what content do we need at which touchpoints?
  • How can each piece of content contribute to increasing brand appeal?
  • Do current content offerings have the necessary quality – from brochures to native advertising?
  • Is all content compatible? Do they complement each other? Or is it more of a muddle?
  • Which “Paid, Owned, Earned” content, do we need to be convincing?

Even if communication professionals plan only single content-marketing activities, they should have the higher-level communication aims in mind. Then there is no dramaturgical problem later if the content marketing is expanded. The final goal should always be to have all the content elements interacting perfectly.

In order to enable content marketing to develop its full potential, companies should be aware of these ten rules:


  1. Focus on top quality

In content marketing, bad quality and mediocrity have no chance. Average, interchangeable content gets lost in the flood of information. There are nearly one billion websites, and around 2.5 million emails are sent per second, while over 10,000 tweets are sent and more than 100,000 videos uploaded to YouTube. Bitter, but true: no one out there is waiting for your content.

Nevertheless, 70 percent of American B-to-B companies are now producing more content than a year ago. This abundance is not inspired, but rather annoying. Four out of five US decision-makers complain they get too much information, and on top of that it is useless and therefore, after a brief scan, lands right in the trash.

To clarify: of course content marketing is also about creating new content, but it is the quality and networking with all other content offerings which is decisive, not the quantity. The content must be first class and unique, to earn the recognition of consumers and search engines. The bottom line is: if you do not strive for excellence, then you can just as well do without content marketing. And save money.


  1. Use your brand as a storytelling turbo-booster

Of course you need to know what content stakeholders expect from you, but this does not mean that you should only tell them what they want to hear. It is better to show personality and strength of character which is visible in every single piece of content. Use your brand as a source of good topics and storytelling. This clear focus creates trust – and is the basis for good business.

In content marketing, it is not just about building trust; it is also about giving a brand meaning. How that can succeed is shown, for example, by the TexMex chain Chipotle. From the top quality information on the website through to top class animated films and a lavishly produced series “Farmed and Dangerous”, each of these different content measures makes a single brand message clear: we are committed to healthy, responsible food. We sell “Food with Integrity”.

Or did you know, for example, that the engines which power the famous London Tower Bridge are from Bosch? In the “Bosch World Experience”, Bosch sent six young people to places where Bosch is active, and had them recount their experiences. Through this, stories, such as that of Tower Bridge, did the rounds, and Bosch succeeded through its content marketing campaign in positioning itself as a versatile and inspiring brand.

The Marriott hotel chain’s success came through its magazine “Marriott Traveler”. It is full of inspiration for avid travelling millennials. None of the articles is about Marriott – but the selection of stories makes clear: with its 19 hotel brands and 4,200 hotels, Marriott knows the furthest reaches of the globe. Content marketing allowed Marriott to promote itself, more or less indirectly – no matter where the journey goes.

Chipotle, Bosch and Marriott – three brands, three strong characters. They show that whoever adopts an attitude, has the best starting point for strong themes and storytelling.


  1. The customer journey is also your “content journey”!

Did you know that consumers already have up to 90 percent of the customer journey behind them before they enter a store? And that they have used up to eleven content offerings?

Consumers now possess, thanks to the “Internetization” of the media and trade channels, an enormous research potential and freedom of choice. Businesses need to make every effort to provide timely, excellent content at every single touchpoint. For us marketers this means that we have to make the customer journey to our “content journey”.

There is much to learn and explore. For example, we need to find out when or where an interested party could become a lead or buyer. Websites seem rather unsuitable for this: 96 percent of visitors, almost all of them, are not in a buying mood. When and where can we can present sales arguments without being pushy? We need to find an answer. So far, at any rate, consumers do not seem satisfied with the information supply; only 14 percent are currently of the opinion that brand companies provide a good multichannel experience.

One thing is certain; patience pays off. Three out of four consumers give purchase preference to the brand which best supplied the most useful content during the customer journey.
For this reason, all stakeholders need – also in sales – to appreciate the need for a particularly cautious approach to content marketing.


  1. Determine what content your local markets need

Localization has always been a particularly tricky task – in content marketing, it is no different. Again, it is about the right feeling for different cultures and tastes. Even US companies do not have this theme under control, as shown in a survey among the visitors to the Content World Congress 2015 in Cleveland; about 60 percent confessed that they do not have a strategy for global content marketing.

In any case it makes sense to build up their own expertise in every major market. The content marketers can then decide on the spot what content suits them. In American content circles, it is estimated that around 20 percent of content is suitable for localization.


  1. Promote your content as a product

It doesn’t matter how good your content is – if it isn’t marketed, it won’t have an effect. You have to beat the drums for content as if it were a stand-alone product – in the social web, with paid media or with other PR activities.

How this works is shown by the German lawyer information service, which, in 2015, was awarded the German Prize for Online Communication. The mediation platform for lawyers appears as a magazine which informs readers, through top quality journalism, on different legal topics, and only as a second step, matches potential clients to appropriate lawyers.

In the Social Web, the site is strongly supported by a Facebook page (with more than 65,000 Likes). There memes are posted with legal sayings, infographics and Newsjacking on current topics. This quality pays off; 41 per cent of blog or website visitors (300,000 per month) go there via the social web.

Paid content presents situations in a humorous way in full-page ads.

PR activities – on Ebay future ex-husband Martin G. auctioned the couples joint possessions – but halved: half a car, a chair or a teddy bear. The auctions became a worldwide hype – on YouTube, in the press, on TV, and on the social web.

When the public was informed that the action was initiated by the lawyer information service to draw attention to the lack of legal protection before marriage, no one was annoyed – on the contrary: it was seen as valuable.

Good content alone is therefore not enough; you need to draw on your media potential and determine a media budget.


  1. Bring all your communicators to one table

One of the trickiest tasks is to bring the different skills of each department together as a meaningful whole, but it is indispensable. Establish units for content marketing.

There must be people in the company who are primarily concerned with the theme of content. For example, PR usually has the most experience in storytelling and agenda setting. Marketing and sales, in turn, is better in the management of touchpoints, where storytelling could take place.

So there is no way around it; these two skill areas need to be brought together. How this can work, for example, is demonstrated by Metro with its Genuss-Blog (pleasure-blog). It is full of good stories which, in other points of contact, such as in the typical metro mailings, are developed further. And a PR expert is responsible for storytelling on the marketing touchpoints.


  1. Search for your efficiency killer

Cooperation is essential, if only for cost and efficiency reasons. It is not uncommon for different departments to produce the same content – such as an app – for the lack of joint content management. A US study illustrates the scale of this problem. There, B-to-B companies annually produce deficient content to the tune of 958 billion US dollars, simply because their content management is inefficient. And in the UK, this lack of cooperation skills leads to 15 percent of companies never publishing a massive 50 percent of the content they have produced .

Motorola Solutions has learned from this. The telecommunications company now has a pool for all its content materials which communicators add to, research in and use. Thus, ridiculously expensive duplications are avoided and the expert abilities of other departments utilized.

The potential savings in content management seem considerable. If you weigh this off against the cost of content marketing, you will probably quickly come to the conclusion that content marketing can pay off.


  1. Get content-strategic expertise

If your company does not have any employees with content-strategic competence, you should change that quickly. Even if you plan to outsource content marketing tasks, you need at least one expert in the company who can assess the quality of the work done externally and manage it objectively.
It needs to be someone with editorial know-how, who knows the brand messages, and who can handle the service providers involved, because there could be many of them: from the online agency to PR, events and media agencies. Ideally, they should be experienced in dynamic newsroom management, because content tasks are always a “work in progress”. We are dealing with evolving processes that need highly flexible management.

Content-strategic preparations are the pre-conditions for successful content marketing. Nevertheless, this step is often skipped in the mistaken belief that it is an unnecessary burden. But the absence of a content strategy is virtually a guarantee of failure, as shown by the Content Marketing Institute. Of the companies that are disappointed in their content marketing, only 7 percent have one. And of the completely satisfied? 60 percent are in possession of a content strategy.


  1. Stay alert – the content landscape changes rapidly

One feature of good content marketing is that it works in the long run. It is not a campaign that can simply be stopped and replaced. Content marketing is a long-term companion, which must constantly be monitored and refreshed.

So remain vigilant, because customer needs and favoured touchpoints change rapidly. Who knows what will come after Snapchat, Instagram or Periscope? We currently should, for example, monitor content publishing platforms, Medium, LinkedIn and Facebook attentively and, if useful, integrate them in content marketing strategies.

We should indeed use the power of Google and Facebook, but not accept them as God-given at the same time. Through their filtering mechanisms, it has become difficult to approach people outside their “interests bubble”. For this reason, companies should consider additional tactics to attract the people’s interest.

So as you can see, content marketing is much more than an add-on. It enriches all communications because it changes the perspective in favour of high-quality content, which is essential for the design of a fascinating world of adventure.


  1. Do not forget technology!

In the content marketing process, technologies play a significant role. What does that mean? In all stages of the process, the market offers different tools – from individual solutions to the emerging full-service approach for the mass market of the Top 500 advertisers: content / social marketing cloud systems. These provide integrated solutions for the entire process, but are leaner and more agile than the big marketing cloud systems.

The top players here are called Sprinklr and Percolate. We at the Serviceplan Group use all the technologies for our customers . We need to as well, as increasingly customers themselves bring along their own proprietary technologies and solutions or we need to modify them at the customers’. This means we must be flexible.
In the content distribution process, we are currently strongly focused on the global rock star, Sprinklr. However, we are also investing heavily in our own developments to have the technological development capabilities to meet individual customer needs in our own hands.
For that we have developed two of our own technologies: one for asset and workflow management, the second for analysis and reporting.

Is content marketing just a passing trend? No way.


First published in German: Leserautor Gastbeitrag in W&V.

I will get straight to the point; I’m a big fan of the EU. It annoys me when economists complain about bureaucratic pettiness and sluggishness in Brussels and Strasbourg. Of course, there are many things to improve and one might well wonder about regulations such as 1677/88 / EEC, which dictates the degree of curvature in cucumbers.

But honestly, do those wondrous details have notable significance when compared to what the EU has done so far? Never, ever. So, we should more praise it rather than criticise: We take advantage of a travel without restrictions, a simplified flow of goods, improved transport and logistics, a more flexible labour and training market and the establishment of mandatory standards which have been a boon to the auto industry. These are the significant achievements of the EU, of which we Europeans can be proud.

We are creating an economic area which connects many nations; we are growing together. Out of “Made in Germany”, “Produit en France” or “Made in Britain” (to name only a few EU countries), comes “Made in Europe”. Businesses need to learn to think and act more European.

Winners BMW and Bosch

Especially German brands appear to have understood this. In a representative study “Best Brands 2016″, conducted by Serviceplan with partners and GfK in five EU countries, six German brands dominate the top ten European Brands: Porsche (1. Place), BMW (2.), Bosch (3.), Adidas (5.), Audi (6.) und Miele (7.). Two French brands made the top ten (Michelin, 8. and L’Oreal, 10.), as well as a Swedish (Ikea, 4.) and Swiss Brand Nestlé (9.).

All German companies have shown impressive figures. For example, BMW was looking in 2015 at its most successful year ever and in Europe alone, selling nearly one million vehicles. For Adidas, sales in Western Europe increased by a splendid 14 percent. The Bosch Group reported significantly stronger sales growth in Europe in 2014 with an increase of 4.2 percent to 37.5 billion euros (as of 12/15). And Miele recorded for 2014/15 its highest growth since 2005: by 8.3 percent to 3.49 billion euros.

It is notable that BMW and Bosch, two of the top companies on the winners’ podium, combine sustainability and bold future orientation. The car makers are preparing, with the utmost determination, their transformation into an electric mobility company before and were named the most sustainable company in the world in 2016 (according to market researchers Corporate Knights).

‘Made in Europe’ is in demand

Bosch stands out because of its advanced products for the networked mobile world – but also due to its ethical business philosophy: “A decent way of doing business, in the long run, the most profitable, and the business world values such an approach much more than one would expect,” wrote Robert Bosch in 1921.

The founder and Jean-Claude Juncker would probably have well understood each other because his beliefs correspond exactly to what the President of the European Commission calls for today. “In Europe we need a renaissance of the social market economy,” he noted in 2014 at the “Best Brands” gala evening, in his opening speech to it.

To put it bluntly, all the leading brands of Europe owe their remarkable success to the EU decisions. Their successful positioning as European brands also makes them popular worldwide. In countries such as China and Russia, goods “Made in Europe” are very popular.

This unique success is in danger through inner-European border closures. Just imagine what consequences this may have in the long run if a stagnant flow of goods paralyzed production and logistics. If performance and competitiveness decrease, purchasing power drops. That would be a chain reaction which would set European brands back by decades, and our economy with it.

I hope that politicians of all EU nations are aware of the consequences of their actions, and that they are prudent enough, to not lose sight of the original goal: the creation of a strong Europe as a common economic community with values which secure our common prosperity – whatever the current political turmoil.

As the old year comes to an end, the time comes to take a look to the future. The experts from the Serviceplan Group put together their personal favourite communication trends for the year 2016.

Florian Haller, CEO, Serviceplan Group

To inspire consumers, the marketing of the future has to create worlds of experience in which engrossing “Customer Experiences” ensure long lasting customer relationships. For marketing this change means, among other things:

1. Away from the “14-to-49-years” mindset – toward micro-segmentation and personalization
Because consumers move individually in the new consumer and media world, media planning with broad categories such as “14 to 49” can no longer achieve a lot. In future target groups based on socio-geographic data and ranges will be replaced by the analysis of stages of life, needs, and the experiences of each individual consumer. To accompany personalization through media planning, we need more than ever to focus on methods such as micro-segmentation.

2. Away from the channel perspective – towards “customer journey” accompaniment
Today, consumers use more channels, contact points and marketing resources for their purchases than ever before. Their “customer journey” is now many times more complex than it was even ten years ago. It is no longer a question of online or offline but of the mixture thereof. According to studies, so far few companies have really looked at their customers’ journeys.

3. Away from the advertising message towards relevant content offers
Exaggerated advertising claims no longer match the purchasing behaviour of the present because consumers believe nothing at face value. Up to 90 percent of purchasers have already done their product research before they visit a store (Forrester). So companies need to develop ideas on how they can support potential customers at an early stage with information and convincing arguments.

4. Away from technology focused data analysis – towards the use of data for customer satisfaction
In future it will not be about hoarding data for advertising purposes. Instead, companies will need to consider how they can use information to shape their business model, improve their products – and ultimately make their customers happy. The intelligent use of data will be decisive. This new strengthened position can only be achieved by dumping outdated mechanisms and tactics – and instead having the courage to venture a new beginning. The consumers will be grateful.

Ronald Focken, Managing Director, Serviceplan Group

1. Agencies must start consulting for digital transformation in order to prevail against new competitors from the consulting side.
Today Deloitte Digital has a worldwide turnover of 1.5 billion US dollars and is placed 11th in agency rankings. Accenture, Deloitte & Co. are going into the agency market to fight for our budgets. They have better access to customers because they have direct contact to the CEOs. However agencies can also win strategic projects in this growth area, and have the chance to improve their profitability. Agencies which do not invest here are losing opportunities to improve their reputations as well as long-term customer relationships.

2. Facebook, Google and Co. will become agency competitors and also sell creative services.
Many continue to claim the opposite, but the issue will arise – if not in 2016, then in 2017 or 2018. Direct distribution channels to customers are increasingly being forged. Google is not only at the Cannes Festival with a large stand because of the creatives, but also because of the large branded manufacturers. Selling of creation is already common in the United States. There, large agencies compete against the creative departments of social media companies. Facebook and Google offer creative concepts, and are getting business because social media has become one of the main channels for customers.

3. The idea no longer pays, complexity will increase and so profitability will continue to decline.
The big trend could therefore be to counter this by bringing together the power of agency associations for a stronger voice in politics and business. So far, only the Association of PR agencies is taking a stance and providing with Pitch-Block and the certification of pitch consultants for new rules.

Wolfgang Bscheid, Managing Director, Mediascale

Data-driven campaign management will be a big issue in the coming year – both in the media and in creation. This trend is being driven by several factors. Firstly, programmatic reach extension is increasing making data-based media buying much easier again. Our new platform solution PREX (Programmatic Exchange) gives our customers all available reach sources options automatically bundled for individual campaigns. In conjunction with CORE and NERO, our analysis and targeting products, both internal and external data can thereby be used for accurate reach selection and creative assignment. On the other hand, customers now know from their own experience what added value data can do, and so they now press for the use of profiles data for media selection.
However, creation will have to face this challenge next year significantly more intensively than it has done this year. I am very sure that the active participation of our creative elites will provide a huge boost in this matter. So hopefully next year we will see what is really possible when modern media control technology and great design get together.

Stephan Enders, Head of Mobile, Plan.Net Group

1. The invisible Web
Internet growth is unstoppable and consumer demand for apps unbroken. However, it is time to take a U-turn: the example of Apple reveals this in the fact that they provide an increasing number of interfaces between native apps and operating systems, so making new widgets possible. Based on personal preferences, places or situations you access relevant information and functions in your calendar day overview, push notifications, or even on your search page, and all this without having to open the app itself. The native app is increasingly merely a “base station” on your smartphone. The possibilities of native apps are thus paving the way for how we will deal with future digital content. Relevant content will find us. Websites and apps, as we know them will fade into the background.

Closely connected to the invisible web is the increasing:
2. Digitalization of our environment
and thus the associated additional networking of our connected mobile devices. The Web of Things will come to life and thus the exchange of information from device to device will become more relevant. First and foremost is the suitability of beacons for doing several tasks. Already, simply by their existence, we are able to track passage frequencies through open Bluetooth interfaces and thus utilise this passive use of technology for the optimization of sales areas. It can be used for indoor routing systems and for the careful use of exclusive offers via push information. And finally, beacons are also suitable for authentication in mobile payment systems and access control. After Apple exclusively achieved dominance with the introduction of “iBeacons”, Google followed with its open system Eddystone and Facebook is bringing in its own hardware. The latter is distributed free to shopkeepers to give a spatial meaning to Facebook Likes. Thus stores can succeed by using Facebook app push notifications in relating their own product Likes to smartphones and thus perform hit-sure referral marketing on the basis of personal data. Of course, beacons are not all-purpose wonder weapons but, used wisely, they are perfectly suited for the digitalization of our environment. So 2016 will also be a beacon year!

3. Chat is back. And augmented reality refuses to die!
Lately a number of new chat-based services have emerged. The makers addressed the question: What do users already use intensively? The answer? All forms of chat, Messenger and SMS applications, devoid of any frills, concentrating on the essentials. One example is the concierge service “Mission Control” by Lufthansa. The range of such services will grow in 2016 with certainty. And Augmented Reality (AR) experiences will have a renaissance. In the meantime, in some areas, for example as with instructions via AR glasses for automotive repairs, the technology has already found its place. Now the renowned “New York Times” has (re)discovered the strengths of augmented reality for journalism, and augmented individual reports with 360-degree insights into report locations. Thus readers can literally immerse themselves in the action area, not with costly new hardware purchases, but with their smartphones, and Google Cardboard from the finest papier-mâché for five euros. That immersion is not only restricted to journalistic worlds, but also to brand worlds, is self-evident.

Thorben Fasching, Marketing & User Experience Director, hmmh

From the multi-touchpoint trade perspective three topics will come to the fore in 2016.

Firstly: Off- and online will continue to grow together. The shopping behaviour of many customers is forcing traders not only to expand their digital business, but also to advantageously connect their touchpoints with customers to guarantee an uninterrupted shopping experience.

Secondly: It is also increasingly recognized here that intelligent CRM activities, including through the use of BI systems, can already partly run local one-to-one marketing campaigns in real time. This leads to a significant optimization of cost per new customer, so that conversion rate optimization will almost automatically experience a renaissance in 2016.

Thirdly: Despite convergence, native applications are increasingly becoming the surprise winners. Already declared dead two years ago, as traffic moved to mobile browsers, today, around the world, 80 percent of mobile traffic is attributable to native applications. Even transactional business is increasingly observed here.

Tobias Grewe, Partner, Serviceplan Köln

From employer branding to applicant experience – companies become applicants

The term “applicant” no longer applies only to the eligible job seekers, but equally to companies which seek highly skilled professionals and whose business success depends on their success in the battle for the best talent. Eligible job seekers are scarce and have now become “critical consumers”. Companies now need to apply to these coveted talents rather than vice versa. Candidates do not just want credible insights into the working environment of a company, but also quick access to relevant and authentic information and, above all, transparency with regard to the handling of their uploaded applications. So it is no longer just about the application process, but also about creating, as potential employers, a positive “applicant experience” – comparable to the customer journey we know from brand and product communication. “Make them care and make them buy” is the goal. To achieve this, the challenge is to make employers’ content with the right employer story perceptible at all relevant touchpoints in the information, application and negotiation phases – from job ads or careers pages to touchpoints which often do not take communication concepts into account, such as fast feedback on applications or even acceptance or rejection communications.

A change in thinking is taking place or must take place soon. A refusal must therefore no longer be a rejection, but, perhaps, more of a thank you, connected with an invitation into the company’s talent pool. Even candidates who you have to reject are often underestimated multipliers for the company’s image. In the digital world and its associated evaluation forums, bad experiences are communicated quickly. This holistic view is important for the development of future employer branding concepts which is important for a coherent applicant experience regardless of whether it leads to employment or rejection.

Rami Hmadeh, Managing Partner, Serviceplan Middle East

Trends 2016 – It’s all about personalized experiences.

The consumer in the Middle East continues to desire and respond to highly individual marketing and advertising. The fact that they want to be wowed, courted, heard, understood and appreciated at any touchpoint of a unique customer journey also explains why Me-Commerce keeps growing in importance. Consumer-to-consumer communication on social media platforms, immediate access to content through mobile as well as beacons and near-field communication are becoming stronger triggers to drive purchase decisions – simply because they satisfy a growing demand for personalised shopping experiences. Accordingly, content marketing is on the rise, too. In 2016, 60 percent of marketers in the Middle East are said to increase their content marketing budgets, with more than 30 percent of them planning to spend up to a half of their digital budget on it. The challenge will be to create and distribute content that is valuable, relevant and attractive enough to retain a clearly defined audience – and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action. This is where ‘Big Data’ will continue to play a decisive role, however we’re talking more about the ‘right’ rather than ‘big’ data. It goes all back to being truly personal, individual and authentic. Marketers who manage to establish an on-going conversation with their target customers with the right content on the right touch-points will definitely be on top of the trend in 2016.

Manfred Klaus, Board Spokesperson, Plan.Net Group

For 2016, I see three trends, in which we should invest in the long term. Content competence will be a key success factor in brand communication in 2016. Only those who appreciate relevant content for the target group (for whom and why?), creation-management and content generation (what and how?), as well as controls content management and distribution (where, how often and how much?), can achieve sustainable success.

Extensive data expertise is essential to understand and assess this. This includes identifying company-wide mission-critical KPIs, generating them through integrated systems and analyzing them to be able to make timely predictions about the effects of future decisions.

This is the cornerstone of the business relevance trend, which will create an all-encompassing assessment grid of all facets of (digital) communication. This will represent the foundation for the future economic success of companies.

Michiel Noens, Strategic and Innovation planner of Serviceplan Belgium

2016 – The year of consumer data control

The fight for data control is in full swing. Powerhouses such as Google are trying to get more and more control over data. But this hasn’t passed by the consumer unnoticed. The Internet of Things powers their data consciousness, and wearable technology will increase its market presence and user adoption in 2016. This direct connection to their personal data has made them aware of the influence it has over who they are and what they do. In the meantime consumers are providing more data than ever for marketers to mine. The key is to find the right balance in giving data back to the consumer while providing the service to make it manageable and the knowledge to understand it all, thus protecting the value perception of the brand.
This increase in data is directly connected to the increase in marketing automation. To promote the content or story we create, we know we have to provide the correct pieces of the puzzle throughout the customer journey. Tools such as automated media buying, detailed campaign tracking and CRM software allow us to connect with the consumer with the right message at the right time. They are aware of this now. And we have to be honest and show them we know who they are, but also to allow them to control the data we manage. So, do you control your data? Do you track their activities? Are you transparent with your customers? Get in control now and share it with all of them.

Per Poulsen, Innovation Director der Serviceplan Gruppe

2016 – Year of all things virtual.

Oculus Rift, Microsoft HoloLens, Magic Leap. It might all sound familiar, but so far the only virtual reality experience for normal people was the 360-degree videos on YouTube and Facebook or the Google Cardboard viewer. In 2016 the high definition gadgets will finally hit the consumer market and probably change how we play games. But it will also change how we interact and how we tell stories. The virtual will be supporting the real and vice versa. People will expect experiences that create a world in which they count. They will become part of your brand, and you can become part of them.
Many companies are still battling with creating meaningful advertising on TV and Internet but in the virtual world, the entry effort is even higher. Here, the story you tell will decide if you get an audience at all. It is not enough to create something new. Are you able to tell the story of your product in an emotional way? Do you know what the essence of your brand is? Can you create the right “brand” feeling in a room that doesn’t exist? If not, now is the time to figure that out or your company will miss the next wave of consumers.

Klaus Weise, Managing Director, Serviceplan Public Relations

2016 will be the year of content and the year of the monkey.

With a bit of malice, one could argue that content marketing has perhaps a market share of at least 80 percent, at least according to the trade press, and in industry community discussions. In real life and in the budgets of the advertising industry on the other hand, content marketing only plays a subordinate role. While there are few valid figures on this, in a study by market research company Facit Research, 84 percent of surveyed managers and marketing managers admitted to having no performance measurement of their content marketing.  But if content marketing throughout the marketing mix played such a significant role, then one would also definitely want to measure the success of these measures. I think in 2016 this will change. Content marketing is experiencing its breakthrough. Content marketing will be further professionalized; and become much more than just traditional corporate publishing in a new guise. Content marketing is increasingly based on a well thought out strategy and will continue to have larger budgets available. Content marketing will become increasingly performance-oriented, and success controls in content marketing will become the norm.
2016 is, incidentally, the year of the monkey in the Chinese calendar. The Chinese horoscope says of apes: “This sassy animal bursts with exuberance and brings a lightning-fast pace and fantastic motivation with it. The monkey increases communication, humour and wit, and helps us with grace and ease through stressful times. Business flourishes. The monkey provides the ability to find unconventional solutions to old problems.”
That monkey is definitely content marketing.

Imagine you were head of communications of the coffee house chain Starbucks. That you had a business card with important-sounding titles that would probably fill an A4 page and including buzzwords such as global communications, digital relations, storytelling and senior vice president.

You have a very decent salary, unlimited access to the business’s admittedly good coffee and a young hip and most incredibly cheerful team around you. That the good mood of your team is mainly due to the fact that they spends a notable part of their time on YouTube, Facebook, news channels, chats and other blessings of the digital age, has not been told to you – but that’s another story.

Let us continue with your boss, who has only three letters – namely CEO – on their business card, but who earns the equivalent of your annual salary in a single day, and has given you an order. This is it in brief: Make sure that this year’s Christmas paper cup becomes a major topic of conversation, preferably worldwide, and that on a shoestring budget. That should be feasible with smart storytelling in this age of social media.

You think though, that since 1997 Starbucks coffee has, during the festive season, been served in seasonally designed cups, and so in winter 2015 it would not really be new nor particularly original. You think that even the best story can go stale after many tellings and that no one would want to hear it anymore, and certainly not want to tell it to their friends. But you also think about your business card, its contents, the good free coffee and the team – which you believe would be pretty disorientated without you.

So you get down to work. You think of paper cups in a Christmassy design while on your morning jog through the park, in the shower, and during many meetings and brainstorming sessions. You also ask someone from your hip team to write a briefing which meets the wishes of your CEO.

You send the briefing to your advertising agency, your PR agency, the social media agency and, just to be sure, to your media agency.

And since Starbucks now also employs a content marketing agency, they get the cup-briefing too. So now a lot more people are thinking these days, whilst jogging, while taking a shower, as well as during meetings and brainstorming sessions about Christmas paper cups, and how to make the world talk about them, on a shoestring budget, of course.

And after many considerations you would then perhaps have a concept that aims to make this year’s Starbucks Christmas coffee cup a viral hit. The idea: This years cups are completely unadorned; in a discreet red, free from reindeer, snowflakes and other season-typical design elements.

To make sure it stands out and above all causes a stir, you hire a suitable social media-enabled oddball – by profession allegedly a former preacher – with the beautiful name Josh Feuerstein. In a video he then accuses Starbucks of hating Jesus, and points to the cup’s simple design as further evidence of the retreat of Christian values and symbols of the American life.

In the video, which he shares on Facebook, he brandishes his pistol. To make sure the cash register rings loudly in coffee shops in the weeks before Christmas however, the armed preacher does not call for a boycott of the coffee chain, but rather the opposite. He calls on people to outsmart Starbucks by going to the nearest store, buy a coffee and in answer to the inevitable Starbucks question of which name should be written on the coffee cup, answer “Merry Christmas”.

As a next step, the alleged Starbucks hater asks viewers to make a selfie with their Merry-Christmas-paper cups and to share it on social media with the hashtag #MerryChristmasStarbucks and thus be part of a great movement against political correctness and for maintaining Christianity.

Let us further assume that you introduce this concept in various meetings, defend it and in answer to the question of whether the media would see through it and punish it by ignoring or even exposing it, your answer would be: No – it’ll work! It will get a seven minute contribution with a live interview on CNN, which will get it further coverage from the media – from the international “Washington Post” to “Berliner Kurier” and in thousands of forums and blogs.

Feuerstein’s video alone, with the Starbucks logo in the background, will be clicked on facebook an incredible 16 million times, you predict boldly.

Well, if you had really said that, then you would have been right. And you would – I think – have done a pretty good job. The coolly calculated “shitstorm” is the epitome of marketing.

A hot cup of coffee brewing in the early morning is the best aroma to wake you up, from a gruelling yesterday! But if you are working for a start-up company, your morning never arrives because your day did not end. It was just the clock ticking that glided you into yet another day! Yes, running a start-up is not just challenging but extremely taxing. Since there is a plethora of newbies everywhere, the market is buzzing with start-up success stories.

So far, it is my third attempt to run a new company from scratch successfully. Honestly, this journey did have days of highs and lows. However, here are few tips for anyone thinking about doing a start up in the near future:

i /

Plan your day a week in advance. You don’t need to be the MD of the company, but you must always put yourself in his/her shoes to be a part of this journey.

ii /

Select your team members carefully. People who are equally enthusiastic and willing to take risks at the drop of a hat just like you. Never hurry a decision, as these will be people, who will lay a strong foundation for your company.

iii / 

Budget every small expenditure and think twice before increasing it. Try to keep your costs low to ensure profitability.

iv / 

Never over promise in your forecast sheet with a lengthy list of clients.

v /  

Each day means putting in extra effort in your company to be successful.

vi /  

Contact even the deadest leads, you never know what can bring change in your fortune.

vii /  

Do not waste your time with clients who are dilly dallying your proposal over a month! It means you just tried your best and they definitely do not want to do business with you.

viii /  

Maintain a checklist for yourself every day.

ix /  

Celebrate every victory, however big or small it might be.

x /  

Take your team for a lunch or dinner whenever it is most suiting.

xi /  

Never be disappointed if you have not tried enough, as success is definitely not in your hands.

xii /

Encourage every member of your team to do the best, congratulate them on every occasion they deliver.

xiii /

Be social, meet more and more people and attend events that increases your avenues for better networking.

xiv /  

Deliver quality work and live up to your commitment.


In the end, success or failure is just another ladder. If you succeed you have done your numbers right and you can achieve even higher. But, if you have failed you have learnt a lot from just one experience and that is a knowledge which is a treasure for your future growth.

When President Xi Jinping visited Germany last year he proposed to make 2015 the “year of innovation cooperation between Germany and China.” Back then no one could have foreseen that China would be facing a deepening economic crisis in 2015 but in highlighting innovation I feel that China’s president has highlighted a factor that will be pivotal to the success of German companies over the coming years when it comes to increasing profit and market strategies for China. This applies equally to producers of branded food items and consumer goods and mechanical engineering sector companies.

There are now around 5,000 German companies active in the Chinese market. And innovation can become their new USP. It’s no longer enough for German companies to “just” convince with their quality and experience. For a great deal has also changed in China in recent years – Chinese companies are no longer production service providers and manufacturers of cheap mass products. They have learnt from Europe and the West, copied a great deal in impressively painstaking detail and are ultimately producing at a substantially lower cost. In terms of price and product, more and more Chinese companies are becoming serious rivals. In order to avoid ceding pole position to forward-looking Chinese companies, German firms must strike out in new directions. And be prepared to develop new business models. In this context, unexpected moves are increasingly being considered, including “out-of-the-box” expansion and innovation – some of these are extremely audacious moves that do not even provide synergies with the company’s core business but which are demanded in China.

For example, a company is prepared to add a completely new product to its portfolio that doesn’t yet exist in this form but is perfectly tailored to the needs of consumers in the Chinese market.

Such as the “lunchbox for women.” This was designed for an entirely new type of woman in China – the “woman@work” target group. The modern Chinese woman is proud to work and illustrates this with a trendy insulated mini handbag in which pretty little nutrition snacks in eye-catching packaging and a mini cola light bottle are carried to the office. This product not only satisfies young Chinese women’s need for a fashionable accessory but also ticks the calorie awareness and healthy eating boxes. For part of the box is also a healthy muesli bar for the office. So the manufacturer of this box has done everything correctly: they have recognised the trend and the fact that millions of working, fashion- and figure-conscious women regard such a stylish, low-calorie accessory as a must-have.

The Chinese are often ahead of us in consumer research and are faster to reconsider their position and strike out in pioneering new directions: for example, the Chinese domestic appliance manufacturer Haier recognised that China’s most important food, potatoes (for some time now China has accounted for one in four potatoes grown worldwide), must be washed prior to sale in the local market if they are to sate the hunger of 1.3 billion people. Some farmers had been doing this in their washing machines. Haier spotted the gap in the market and reacted quickly. In western China a market for washing potatoes AND clothing was launched, sales of which swiftly hit the million mark. An example of an innovative approach by a Chinese company which illustrates how easy it is to offer alternatives to what is currently on offer by identifying the market’s needs. When a company conducts consumer-oriented research, this is perfectly executed application innovation.

Another Chinese company achieved similar success with the marketing of a “portable cooking station” – for what could be more obvious than offering China’s estimated 350 million migrant workers the opportunity to prepare meals whilst on the go. A prime example of target group innovation and the perfect demonstration of how a company can successfully innovate in its own country. “Disruptive ideas” is the name given to such pioneering and ultimately profitable concepts which bring innovative ideas to fruition.

However, German companies should also be seeking niches in sectors in which the Chinese have long been market leaders such as wind energy. China may be in the process of becoming world champion in the production of offshore wind power but it has huge maintenance needs – and this is precisely where German companies can take advantage: by identifying where China has technology gaps and helping to fill them. When major companies pinpoint the potential in maintenance and technical support, a German company can swiftly become an indispensable knowledge partner. Do the Chinese have modern helicopters and offshore vessels for maintaining their installed capacity offshore? Definitely not. And these are precisely the interfaces where action must be taken and innovative approaches adopted to create new, successful business models.

The boss of a German consumer goods company remains relaxed in the face of China’s economic woes, stating recently: “China is and will remain the engine room of the global economy.” The company’s cosmetics unit is continuing to achieve double-digit growth rates in China. But here again inventiveness is required and a reconsideration of the purchasing behaviour of Chinese consumers. In China cosmetic products are increasingly being bought online rather than in supermarkets or pharmacies. And naturally the needs of the digital consumer are completely different to those of the customer in a store. How do you reach the “digital native consumer”, who until now has been able to smell the shampoo bottles in a store or test hand creams and body lotions for consistency and fragrance? Here a great deal will depend on brand presence and packaging – both need to be so effective and convincing that the online buyer feels no need to test it.

This is where the empathy and know-how of package designers and marketing pros really come to the fore while trends and patterns in China must also be constantly taken into account and approaches adapted in order to fully satisfy the needs of the Chinese online consumer and increase sales. The European cosmetics company will then be well placed to achieve its sales goals.

In addition to product innovation and opportunities for differentiation from the Chinese competition, local requirements must naturally also be taken into account in operational execution – particular characteristics in the Chinese R&D departments of German companies but also the demands of Chinese companies with regard to localisation.

The balance between “innovation as a USP” and the commitment to “R&D localisation” needs to be maintained and stable. This will ultimately determine whether German companies enjoy long-term success in China.

About our guest author: For more than 20 years Daniela Bartscher-Herold, EAC Consulting, is advising German companies in China. Her lecture at the “International Roadshow China” (Serviceplan, Munich – 17. November 2015) will deepen your knowledge about the value of innovation for German companies acting in China.

Finally back in 1985, just a few hours after he left 1955, Marty McFly travels thirty years into the far future, to October 21st, 2015 to save his unborn kids from tearing his family apart.

The plot might be hard to follow if you never saw the movie but, to keep it simple, the hit sequel “Back to The Future Part II” takes us on a journey into the 2015 that Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale imagined in the mid-80s. Flying cars, video conferencing, biometric security & payment, autonomous drones, holograms, self-tying shoes laces and of course hover boards. This is how 2015 was meant to be.

Since the premiere of the movie, a whole generation of hopeful fans has been looking forward to these inventions and a few of them even became reality. The camera drones are already here, although the dog-walking version seen in the movie still isn’t around. Hover boards have been invented in different versions, although so far just as marketing stunts. Pepsi created a limited edition “Pepsi Perfect” bottle, and we might even see a limited edition of Nike Power Laces. But why are we so fascinated by the imagined gadgets from a 1989 blockbuster hit?

We love the technology because we love the story.

Back to the Future was a love letter to the 50s, and watching it today is also a love letter to the 80s. From the music to the fashion to the simple good-versus-evil storytelling, it makes us think of what we thought was a simpler time – which really wasn’t any simpler than today; we just didn’t pay taxes back then when we were kids.

The story of a teenager in love and his relationship to his family captures us, because we’ve all had the “I must be adopted” discussion in our heads as teenagers, when looking at our parents. What if you could change who they were – or what if you could have gotten to know them on eye-level as teenagers? Time doesn’t really matter when it comes to human nature. Some things just never change.

Technology has brought us faster computers, the Internet, social media, smart devices and a plethora of ingenious inventions. But when we close our laptops for the day, we jump on our bike (invented in 1817) or take the subway (1863) or drive our cars (1769) and go home to our families. We hunt a paycheck instead of livestock, live in modern caves and cook over modern fire, but the basic things are still based on creating and supporting a family and keeping them alive. And everyone knows about the wonder, imagination and insecurities of being a teenager in love.

So tonight, find a location in your neighborhood that shows the “Back To The Future”-trilogy – there’s more than you might think – or invite your family and friends to your home cinema. Turn of your smartphone and send a kind thought back to the days where video rental was something you did at a store, before social media or even the Internet was invented – and remember that something never changes. And tomorrow morning when you get to the office, remember the person you wanted to be when you were younger. Sit down, open your computer, and if you want to sell something – don’t start with the technology, start with a great story!