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It is a case in point that brand managers and consumers – but also marketing and advertising managers – all have their sights on the same goal: to come into contact with one another at the right time, in the right place and with the right message. The problem is that they all take widely different approaches and that companies rarely carry out real-time evaluations of the data necessary for this.

Consumers looking for specific products or services expect treatment to be as personalised as possible – and, of course, for this to be available at all times, on all available devices and all possible channels. The proverbial “customer journey” has not been following a straight path for some time now. After all, there are endless possibilities for customers to strike up contact with the various companies. They can approach the brands directly or do so indirectly, for example via performance marketing channels such as price comparisons or social media platforms. The upshot of this is that the labyrinthine customer journey throws up more and more purchase process-related data. Marketers, on the other hand, want to understand and reach digital customers but naturally always have their own ROI in the back of their minds. Accordingly, they pursue a strategy that makes the most of their marketing budget. To do so, however, they must first find their way through the data jungle. And the ever-growing volume of data is making it more and more difficult for them to find the right information at the right time.

The golden growth years are over

For the most part, the vast bulk of the constantly collected data ends up gathering dust in a virtual drawer somewhere. Particularly in marketing, endless amounts of user data are collected with a view to tailoring a personal marketing campaign geared as closely as possible towards each individual shop or website visitor. At present, however, many marketing departments are still failing to apply any coherent strategy to this data and only analyse and contextualise it on rare occasions. Which in turn means that the data rarely points the way to clear optimisation measures and follow-ups. Before you start amassing data without any clear plan in mind, you should ask yourself a few questions:

  • Do I really need a constant supply of new data to run successful marketing campaigns?
  • At what point should I start collecting data and at what point should I stop again?
  • How can data be used in decision-making?
  • And what data is actually needed to manage campaigns successfully?

To begin with, the somewhat sobering answer to all these questions is that data collection will never stop. It is more a question of making better use of the (available) data. Which means that marketers should realise that the golden years of online retailing are over and that they need to come up with a decent data strategy. When it first emerged, the online market was able to chalk up rapid growth. In most cases, however, this was generated automatically given that a new market was effectively created, with consumer behaviour shifting online. These days, online sales are still on the rise, but growth is nothing like it was in the early days. This is because users are already online and the market is becoming increasingly saturated. And now everyone is vying for a slice of the pie! Accordingly, online players who want to remain at the head of the pack need to have more than creative campaigns in their box of tricks. After all, market saturation essentially means that all market participants currently have the same starting position. Which, above all, means that a clever data strategy can give players a significant competitive edge.

Data collection will never stop. It is more a question of making better use of the (available) data.

Sharing data across departments

And the good news? The first step towards a successful data strategy can be taken with an initial inventory of available data. Existing customer data is particularly valuable because it provides important information about purchase behaviour, frequency of visits and/or shopping, and the contents of customers’ shopping carts.

For companies, data that already exists forms the basis for targeting consumers with individualised advertising at a later stage. Here, it is important to compare existing data with other departments and to identify any overlaps. Regrettably, it is often the case that a company’s left hand doesn’t know what its right hand is up to. More often than not, this gives rise to data silos that will smother any usefulness the data might have had. Which means that it is all the more essential for all departments – from IT to sales and marketing – to communicate with one another and to pool their data in a common SSOT (“Single Source Of Truth”) solution. For this to work, the importance of the data must be communicated clearly across all departments. Ideally, each company should have its own data manager acting as an interface between the individual departments. This manager must have a clear idea of who constitutes the target group for marketing and sales and, with this in mind, collect, prepare and condense the right data accordingly.

The data manager is also in charge of determining the right format for storing data so that it is available via the SSOT afterwards. Product silos frequently end up being created, particularly in the case of large retailers and corporate groups. The data manager must ensure that data is linked in such a way that it can be used to create campaigns for different products.

Changing focus: meeting needs rather than making sales

A very important structural change in the market is the shift of focus from transaction perspective to customer lifetime perspective, i.e. that the customer now takes centre stage instead of the purchase transaction. Accordingly, it is increasingly important to find out how much individual customers are worth when they can be targeted directly. Consumers looking for specific products or services expect personalised communication complete with relevant offers. Well-informed customers research extensively and shop around, thereby leaving more and more data trails relating to the purchase process. Apart from the transaction focus, which only gears the data evaluation and direct communication towards the purchase itself, the customer lifetime perspective takes into account the customer’s long-term value. It aims to leave behind a satisfied customer who will come back again, who will recommend a service to others – and who might come back and purchase a product after deciding against it three or four months previously.

This gives rise to completely new approaches and questions that marketers must ask themselves:

  • What does the customer think?
  • What really interests them?

Right now, however, the most important question is:

  • How can I be sure of reaching the customer via all channels?

After all, customers move from channel to channel, sometimes going online to find out about a new product, other times approaching a sales assistant at the POS or calling up data on their smartphone or desktop PC.

Marketing managers must be able to bring together all this data from the various contact points and assign them to a specific customer. After all, brand managers and consumers – but also marketing and advertising managers – all have their sights on the same goal: to come into contact with one another at the right time, in the right place and with the right message. The company should be aiming to communicate suitable content to the customer on a regular basis, thus forging a lasting bond with the brand or the company. Without this bond, long-term objectives are not possible, and the company is left with its hastily set short-term goals.

The labyrinthine customer journey throws up more and more purchase process-related data that often remains unanalysed. (Source: Tradedoubler)

BI solutions call for fast marketing decisions

To provide customers with individualised offers, it is essential to be able to harmonise the available data. Its inherent value must be determined and analysed. Given the mountains of data that cannot possibly be dealt with manually, suitable business intelligence (BI) solutions are virtually a necessity for companies and their marketing infrastructure. After all, it is not just a question of automating marketing processes but of interpreting the data correctly. Because if marketing management only includes pieces of the big picture, some decisions have to be made based on “gut feeling” instead. In this case, marketing decision-makers run the risk of making wrong decisions. Or, worse still, they are snowed under with data and can’t make any decisions at all.

What marketing managers need is a tool that allows them to process large amounts of data and to visualise the information needed for business decisions – in the form of easily grasped graphics and diagrams. (Source: Tradedoubler)

As far as the infrastructure is concerned, it is also important to have a central data repository, i.e. customer and campaign data linked and summarised in the SSOT. In this way, the data from all marketing activities – be it search engine optimisation, affiliate marketing, display marketing or social media – all comes together centrally. Ideally, the marketing team would be shown the evaluated data in real time via the corresponding BI solution and would determine optimisation potential based on this. Remembering, of course, to bear in mind the customer journey at all times. This is the only way for the shift towards customer lifetime value to work. Today, we can already see the trend for forward-looking companies to bundle extensive expertise internally, to be highly specialised and for their work to be data-driven and/or IT-supported to a great extent.

The customer journey must always be kept in mind. Only then can the shift towards the customer lifetime value (CLV) work.

From big data to smart data

It is fair to say that companies today have unmanageable quantities of data at their disposal. Only with the help of suitable software is it still possible for them to track online user behaviour completely over a wide cross-section of channels and end devices. This renders the data analysable, giving marketers insight into the extent to which individual platforms, channels, business models and publishers have influenced the purchase decision. Only with the aid of this information can they optimise all digital marketing measures and personalised advertising at the right time, at the right place, for the right person and on a suitable device. The message in a nutshell: successful decisions in online marketing are not possible without smart data.

Successful decisions in online marketing are not possible without smart data.

Five steps to better decisions

These five steps allow online marketing managers to keep track of their data:

1. Break open your internal departmental and channel silos! It is all too often the case that marketing managers seek out direct success in their own silo rather than focusing on the customer. Instead of this, you should embrace the customer’s cross-channel user journey.

2. If you want to go one step further, set up a dedicated BI team for analysing and classifying the data. For the best possible results, this should consist of a healthy mixture of people from marketing, IT, data management and sales.

3. The data strategy needs to be based on and geared towards a clear objective. For the BI team, that means only requesting data that serves a clearly defined purpose. A structured approach geared towards a specific objective avoids data simply being collected for its own sake.

4. The number of different software solutions in use should be kept to an absolute minimum. The more individual solutions are used, the greater the data chaos.

5. Make sure that you choose a business intelligence tool that offers uniform reporting and systematic analyses. This is the key to a successful data strategy – only in this way will the data be readable, analysable and capable of helping you make the right decision.

The future of search engine marketing is fully automated and has already begun. As you read this, artificial intelligence is managing millions of AdWords campaigns on Google. Contradiction can still help to put the power of algorithms in their place, but there is no stopping the trend.

The traditional keyword has long been redundant as a sole targeting parameter. In the past two years, the level of partial automation has risen constantly. Responsive ads and smart bidding are already a reality and they hint at the direction that search engine marketing will take in future.

Platforms like “Google 360” and the “Adobe Marketing Suite” show the way: it is clear that both systems are consistently broadening and enhancing the options for integrating and linking external data sources. Google and Adobe are already very close to achieving the aim of comprehensive access to the customer journey.

SEA campaigns are becoming more individual

The range of automation solutions on offer is a major factor in driving demand for these options. Furthermore, the complexity of today’s digital campaigns is always on the rise. Google and Adobe enable campaigns to be enriched with increasing amounts of profile data from a wide variety of sources. Traditional SEA campaigns therefore make increasing use of profile-based, individualised management. Every profile has a scaleable number of matches with relevant search terms – and the total of these matches will replace a more or less extensive keyword set.

At the same time, management of modern SEA campaigns will exceed what is humanly possible and will only succeed if artificial intelligence helps to process the large quantities of data needed for the targeted management of ads. In an ideal scenario, machine learning will help to steer the correct path between campaign aims, competition and search relevance.

Ultimately, the user decides between success and failure

While management of profile data is automated as much as possible, the quality and relevance of campaign content comes from the digital offering of the companies running the adverts. Whether it is a website or a data feed – companies like Google do not mind where the content comes from. Rather, the deciding factor is whether the data is relevant and current, responds to demand among the target audiences and is technically accessible to the marketing platforms. Optimisation of its digital offering makes the ultimate difference between a company and its competitors when it comes to search engine marketing, as its success or failure is still dependent on the user at the end of the day.

For agencies, this means that the SEA manager of the future will have to bring additional skills to the table. Process automation and increased data management in modern search engine advertising require strong division of labour and specialisation within the team. From programming and optimisation to quality assurance, previously separate functions from search engine optimisation (SEO), analytics, consultancy and traditional SEA will need to interact.

In the age of automated search engine marketing, interdisciplinary teams of specialists will need to ensure that agencies and customers do not blindly deliver a technological black box and that they keep the most important levers for economic success in their own hands.

The central theme of SXSW has always been change: transforming itself from its humble beginnings as a music festival in the capital of Texas into one of the world’s leading conferences on technology, marketing and innovation, to the growing city of Austin itself. And Austin is changing rapidly, which becomes more and more obvious the more often you return. The influx of investments, jobs and residents can be felt and seen everywhere, as new high-rise buildings are being constructed downtown and new, fancy homes and shops take over residential neighborhoods in the vicinity, year after year. Austin’s continuing popularity certainly isn’t being embraced by everyone, especially among long-time Austin residents, who grow increasingly wary of endless traffic and skyrocketing housing costs. Silicon Valley’s latest solution fixing traffic by dumping thousands of electric scooters and bikes on Austin’s streets might be a welcome convenience for SXSW attendees, but an additional nuisance for the city’s residents.

Shifting perceptions 

As the city changes, so does one of its major draws for visitors. SXSW might still be labeled as a tech and marketing focused conference, but the growing emphasis on topics around work culture, relationships and leadership shows that technology and innovation might just not be enough to succeed in business in the future.
Opening the conference with Brené Brown and Esther Perel – two outstanding speakers on topics of belonging, empathy, and relational intelligence – was a perfect framing device for the rest of the week. The importance of applying these concepts, often dismissed as “soft” to one’s actions not only at the workplace, but in life at large, cannot be overstated.
Or as Gwyneth Paltrow, who currently is transforming her own career from Hollywood actress to CEO of her lifestyle brand Goop, put it perfectly: “Culture is your business plan”.

Reframing the toolkit of digital transformation

Does this mean we are done with digital technology? No more new gadgets, no more new platforms, no more disruption? Far from it. But digital transformation itself is changing. The past decade has handed us a toolkit with almost unlimited possibilities and technology has reached a point of productive ubiquity.
So, does ye olde Arthur C. Clarke quote no longer ring true? Has technology sufficiently advanced to a point, where it no longer appears to be magical? Not necessarily, but the tools we spent the last 10 years derivatively refining are now ready to be used productively in business and marketing. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, augmented reality, virtual reality, mobile devices and wearables, blockchain, robotics, digital assistants: they work and they provide value. It’s time to embrace them.

Technology as the trigger for and answer to shifting consumer expectations 

Walmart CTO Jeremy King gave impressive insights into how the world’s largest retailer does just that. Pretty much every technology listed above plays a major role in Walmart’s business processes: from blockchain for produce tracking, virtual reality in staff training to robotics and predictive analytics in purchasing and logistics. While King did not grow tired of repeating how customer and shopping experience were at the center of all of Walmart’s technological ventures, it surely also has an impressive impact on the bottom line, due to large increases in efficiency.
In another session I attended, Heather Hildebrand from Accenture Interactive shared examples on how Accenture helped retailers to improve the shopping experience for customers through tech by offering better personalization, curation and expert advice. Utilizing technology to create true, meaningful improvements to the overall brand experience is the pivotal challenge in the foreseeable future, as the tools are ready and at our disposal. At the same time, technology is fundamentally shifting consumer behavior across all touchpoints – so for now, understanding and properly reacting to those needs is of equal importance. This, however, takes effort and the willingness to think about hard problems and find hard solutions – too often marketers will take the easy exit. Why adopt to changing consumer behavior introduced by digital assistants if you can just launch a gimmicky Alexa skill and be done with it?Achieving equilibrium between playful utilization of new tools and meaningful impact on process and execution requires a change in organizational structure and leadership, though. Balancing culture and technology will be the new frontier of innovation.

The kaleidoscope of change

So, that’s a wrap on SXSW 2019 and it’s important to point out, that this is just my personal take. The sheer amount of sessions, panels and workshops across 29 conference tracks makes it impossible to even attempt to get a comprehensive overview of everything that is going on.
Due to all these possibilities, one could ask 50 different attendees and would very likely receive 50 different answers on what SXSW was all about in a particular year. And what anyone deems noteworthy might be influenced just as much by their current professional and personal challenges as it is by the overarching trends in programming of the festival itself.
I’m looking forward to returning to Austin in a year, not only to see how the transformation of the city is shaping up, but also for the unique mashup between innovation, culture, art and visionary spirit, that can only exist in this city, at this event.

It’s a nightmare for marketing managers. Where there used to be clearly defined spheres of action, today the digital economy throws up more and more new subject areas for the agenda which have to be evaluated and, if applicable, worked into your own plan. The “Internet of Things” (IoT for short) is one of these new fields. However, before we examine the significance of the IoT for marketing, let’s quickly look at how the market is developing. Because like many other digital developments, the IoT impacts a variety of sectors and processes, and it is by no means merely a subject for techies or nerds.

When the fridge suddenly starts surfing the net

The Internet of Things is invading our homes under the umbrella term of “smart home”, supporting us in our everyday office life, helping to optimise production and logistics processes (Industry 4.0), able to alter the mechanisms in the health sector (smart health) and impacting the world of mobility products (smart mobility). In short, there is no area where the IoT is not playing a role. And the developments are coming thick and fast. By way of an example: whereas two years ago, the first internet-enabled fridges were to be seen at the largest electronics fair CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas, at the latest IFA in Berlin, they were a fixture in the product ranges of nearly every appliance manufacturer. And in five years, we will have a hard time buying any appliance without internet access and display.

These developments are being driven by two guiding principles. The first of these runs as follows: “What can be done, will be done”. The Internet of Things is a gigantic experimental field where anything that seems to be more or less feasible, will also be tried out sooner or later. This may appear to be devoid of reason in certain cases but it definitely delivers new insights and empirical values. And even if the idea initially seems far-fetched, it may suddenly become an exciting solution in a different context of use. So you shouldn’t ridicule an initiative too early. Even if you’re talking about connected hairbrushes or fishing drones.

The second principle is that the real aim of IoT developments is to simplify flows, interactions and processes for users. The task here is to analyse process sequences, identify the benefits provided by connected devices and products and exploit them to our own advantage. So when devices automatically analyse parts subject to wear and tear and reorder them at the right time, breakdowns and the potential user frustration ensuing from them are eliminated. A good basis for a long-term customer relationship. And therefore also a great opportunity which you should take advantage of as a brand and not leave to your competitors.

One thing is sure: Both perspectives are driving developments relentlessly. Why and how can those responsible for brands now act to actively shape the development of the market and therefore to position themselves for the future? For this, we will look here predominantly at the areas of smart home and mobility, in other words spaces which are usually highly relevant as touchpoints for our target markets.

“Things” become touchpoints

In our homes, in particular, new smart products are coming onto the market almost daily, and everyday things which have hitherto been analogue, are now becoming smart, networked system modules. The fridge already mentioned will not only be available for direct food orders via a touchscreen in the future, it will also analyse its own contents in order to produce its own shopping lists independently or to support health-conscious nutrition.

Cooktops and ovens will be remotely controlled or easily operated through natural language assistants. Light compositions, burglar protection, optimisation of energy consumption — already feasible today, in future ubiquitous as a result of the rapidly rising range of products. Car manufacturers, too, have long since initiated changes to their product portfolios. As well as vehicle production, they are positioning themselves as service providers, and they increasingly view cars as “smartphones on wheels”. As well as primary vehicle services such as the temporary release of engine performance or entertainment offers, manufacturers will also include external services in their vehicle environment for a charge. Insurance, delivery services — whatever the heart desires and users can benefit from is welcome in the coming app economy in cars.

What unites all touchpoints, by the way, is the increasing control of the environment through voice control systems such as Alexa, Siri or Google Assistant.

Challenges and opportunities

The task in both areas is to master fundamentally different challenges which go beyond simple operation. Consumers clearly expect “machines” to think proactively. Digital control — fine! But real simplifications only succeed if you are also successful in identifying the particular user, knowing and pinpointing their profile and making them proactive offers in return. To do so, we need to generate user IDs and use them as seamlessly as possible throughout the customer journey with the data saved to the cloud. That’s the theory, at least. Because ownership of the interfaces with consumers — which is what the user ID is — and ownership of the data are regarded as critical factors in future success. In short, everyone wants a piece of the action and they are all manoeuvring to face up to platform giants such as Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon.

As well as the structural challenge — user IDs and cloud services — the task is to develop and implement the right offers for the future. In contrast to the past when this job was usually performed by clearly defined specialist profiles for research and development, this development environment requires far greater capabilities which have to be combined, demanding a new way of working. New digital services will not be the sole responsibility of the R&D department, and the trend towards “advertising as a service” will also extend the variety of topics on the marketing agenda. As it is no longer the idea on its own that is crucial for the success of a new product but above all the way in which it is implemented and to some extent also the speed, collaborative styles of working and greater agility than shown in the past will be important criteria for success. Product specialists will then encounter information architects, designers, programmers, analysts and lateral thinkers. And ideally, consumers will also quickly become part of the team in order to develop sensible services for this new market. The challenges for marketing can therefore only de facto be met by interdisciplinary task forces able to quickly develop IoT offers — hardware as well as digital services — in close collaboration with the aid of design thinking workshops, rapid prototyping and iterative development processes.

Donald Trump is a complete failure. Above all when it comes to marketing. He is a textbook example of what not to do. He should have known better.

Donald Trump – oh dear, not him again. On this side of the Atlantic, we don’t want to see, read or hear any more about the presidential impersonator over on the other side. Not until we receive the news that he is finally gone. At least he appears to be working hard to make that happen. And despite all the signs of fatigue, this actually makes him interesting. Especially for those involved in marketing. After all, when the Americans elected Trump to head of state, for the first time it was not a politician taking office but rather someone who consistently denies being exactly that. In fact, Trump was a brand up until then, just like Coca-Cola, Oreo or Ariel. Something people see on TV so often that they’re bound to try it out at some point. However, things have been going wrong for the Donald Trump brand ever since.

There are of course a number of political reasons behind this, but these are only one part of the story. Trump regularly crosses red lines – the one surrounding the events in Charlottesville was clearly one too far. He made it clear that he is not just suspected of xenophobia, racism and anti-Semitism, but does in fact sympathise with far-right radicalism and neo-Nazis. If Trump the businessman were less narcissistic and if he didn’t surround himself with so many bootlickers, he would probably have a word with his head of marketing in light of the resulting situation. It’s like McDonald’s only wanting to sell the Big Mac and nothing else. Trump insists on serving the old-established customer base, which all polls indicate has since become a substantial minority. He never tries to appeal to a new clientele. Perhaps he’s not even interested in being re-elected?

In that case, a personality brand such as his can be an extremely positive thing, and advertisers would be happy to see more of it. We need only take a look – in a much more harmless context, of course – at coffee roaster Albert Darboven, who advertised his beans on television. Or Claus Hipp, the friendly baby food patriarch. These are people who can build trust. Faces that represent a product as well as the company that produces it. They convey truthfulness. However, the Trump brand, which should represent the president for all Americans, has become a fake.

He has meticulously built up this image of a tough property mogul who has become a billionaire through unconventional methods and good old elbow grease (something we can’t know for sure, by the way, since he stubbornly refuses to reveal his tax returns). The old “anybody can make it” story. In marketing, there exists a classic triad for brand trust: Raise awareness, generate sympathy, and arouse the willingness to buy. Trump’s election was simply a case of job done. The electorate bought into him. If you look at it from a business point of view, he succeeded in establishing his brand in a completely new market. The superman of the business world was now going to show politics the ropes. But then, egomaniac that he is, he began unnecessarily cutting those ropes.

Trump’s success as a campaigner is also down to the economy of attention prevalent in today’s world. Twitter, the preferred communication medium of the US president, gained an unexpectedly high number of new users in the first quarter of this year – nine million. 8.9 million of those are attributed to Trump. The respected New York Times and Wall Street Journal have also recorded a noticeable growth in popularity since he entered office. Clearly, people are looking for more than just news, and want signposts to help them navigate the jungle of information brought about by the Internet. After all, the web is not just a convenient source of daily information, but also a hotbed of misinformation due to its over-abundance. Too much, too quick, too often, and too unreliable – we are inundated with news and click bait, whether from politics or economics, with everyone trying to vie for our attention. We look for guidance and direction in this jungle. In other words, we look for truthfulness and trust. That’s what brands stand for. Once I have found “my” brand, my world is in order and I can confidently leave everything else aside.

One might then interpret a brand as being a good thing. It isn’t. It is only good for sales. In politics, for example, the brand of populism has massively increased in value in recent years, as analysed by Giovanni di Lorenzo, editor-in-chief of “Zeit”. He spoke about this during his keynote speech at “Best Brands” – an event where the best brands in Germany are awarded prizes. Populism means simple orientation with clear guiding principles and, above all, with enemy stereotypes. Which brings us back to Donald Trump. His populism has not only damaged his own brand, but this movement as a whole. The populists have been unsuccessful in their attempts to gain power in the Netherlands and France, and the story will be the same in Germany. It’s impossible to win in Trump’s wake.

The guy has a knack for marketing, as he demonstrated during his campaign. But politics is not his thing. That’s why he continues to act as though he’s still on the campaign trail. As much as we like to rant about politicians, The Donald makes it clear that even this job is one for professionals. It would be interesting to find out the course that his company’s business takes in light of the political debacle. According to the US press, after Charlottesville, charitable associations no longer wanted to book his golf club in Florida where they would have held events for a lot of money. And apparently he has been unable to sell a holiday villa in the Caribbean, even after lowering the price. Perhaps this is down to the “dictator chic” style of the interior design. Unfortunately we don’t know any more details.

What cannot be ruled out, however, is that the Trump brand has become a financial burden on the Trump company. After all, the most important thing for a brand these days is the product (something often underestimated or overlooked by those responsible). Whoever makes a promise about a product needs to keep it. If the detergent doesn’t actually make clothes whiter, then customer confidence – the essential capital of the brand – quickly disappears (by the way, have you noticed that this type of advertising is barely used anymore? There is a reason for this!). If the president just keeps producing sound bites and failing on his promises instead of getting down to politics (which we are actually used to with politicians, but didn’t expect from this anti-politician), then something is wrong with the product. Quality has never been more valuable.

 

This article was also published at Horizont

Diana Degraa, Managing Director of Plan.Net Hamburg, talks about her technological experience, her tips for female talents and what role big data and business intelligence will play in the future.

What does creative mean?
What a question.
Ideally, creative is something one just is, without any lengthy discussion.
However, if I must.
Here goes:

Creative is new, unpredictable, capricious.
A smartass take on this is that being creative is a paradox. It is the meaningful combination of things which do not belong together.
And then you suddenly just get it.

The word “meaningful” is important. Randomly combining thoughts, feelings and forms usually ends in confusion. Creative combinations on the other hand must make sense – but ideally not until they are in the mind of the consumer. If he or she completes the chain of thought, decodes the ultimate meaning of a film or a picture then, test institutes please take note, the effect is much stronger than when everything is pre-digested.

Actually, “consumer” is a word that I don’t really like to use. Yes, ultimately, advertising is concerned with selling, but the more messages rain down upon us “consumers” the more we only take heed of the relevant ones. That can be the much-quoted “right product at the right time in the right medium”. Programmatic is the key word here. However, the crucial factor is that the better a message is packaged, the stronger – again – the effect. I prefer to side with “Saint” Sir John Hegarty, and refer to “the public” rather than to “consumers”. We want to sell to consumers. We want to entertain the public. What is good is that a well-entertained public buys more than a well-informed public. After all, we speak of a “buying mood”.

What is good entertainment in a creative form? It’s more than just fun. It’s a new, stimulating thought, for example. A new perspective on life, giving rise to the observation, “Wow, I’ve never really looked at that in that way before”. That is what we remember, that’s what we like to tell other people about.

Good creation thrives on strong feelings. Being enthused, touched, unsettled, buoyed up, amused, everything that moves you. Tedious lists of information do not move me. I am moved by good stories which end with a surprise. Human stories which turn my prejudices and my neatly ordered thoughts inside out and upside down, which develop a dynamic of their own, never to serve their own purpose but that of the brand. This is easy to say, but damn difficult to realise every day.

Of course, creative also means unyielding, untiring and tough. Here’s a good thought: it is not ideas which set good creatives apart from bad ones but their refusal to give up.

P.S. I’m quite proud that I didn’t use the current buzzwords “disruptive”, “diversity” and “digital transformation” a single time in this text. But if you need to, my dear public, just add them mentally where appropriate and then you too will get it. 😉

This article was published in German at W&V.

Florian Haller, CEO of the Serviceplan Group, explains in an interview with Marketing Review St. Gallen on how the agency group is positioned and on current developments in marketing. He was interviewed by Sven Reinecke, Director of the Institute for Marketing at the University of St. Gallen and Friedrich M. Kirn, CEO of MIM Marken Institut München GmbH.

At the University of St Gallen (HSG) we teach students marketing and management. However, many of the people employed by agencies have not studied these subjects. You are a rare example of someone who has. Do you think that your training was helpful or would you choose a different approach now?

I benefited greatly from my time at HSG. And that’s because the advertising agency business has undergone some extreme changes over the last 20 years. Our core business used to be driven by gut instinct and was primarily creative;   I suspect a technical angle would not have been at all useful then. That’s all completely different now. Advertising agencies operate in a much more strategic and complex way. Advertising used to run on four or five channels; now we’re faced with twenty to thirty.  Not only that, these channels are also supposed to be interconnected. Apart from that, numerous new careers in the sector have developed over the years and now we can’t even imagine the advertising landscape without them:  just consider the digital forms of advertising. Business models have also developed enormously. It is nowadays essential that the management of a company the size of ours is based on strategic and theoretical principles. In this respect, I have no doubt that my course at the University of St. Gallen provided me with fundamental knowledge of great value. I think it’s a shame that so few high-achieving graduates from prestigious universities choose to work for large communication agencies.  However, maybe we should take it upon ourselves to put out a stronger message about the jobs and promotion prospects we can offer.

What were the events in your career so far that you would consider particularly “critical” and which have brought you insight?  

Each of the key points in my career was a real “aha moment”. Starting, obviously, with the course in St. Gallen and the “St. Gallen Management Model”. The most crucial thing I learnt was that managers should not settle for a superficial approach, but must recognise structures. The understanding and development of structures result in the design of successful strategies. Contact with businesses was strongly encouraged at St. Gallen: we gave presentations and contributed to manager seminars early on in the course. Even though we were quite young, it was quite normal for us to come into contact with senior management from Swiss and European companies. As a matter of course, this resulted in contacts which have endured now for decades. While I was at university, I realised how fantastic advertising can be. Incidentally, it was not clear at the time whether I would go to work in my father’s agency at some point.

Starting at Procter & Gamble after I graduated was an important time for me.  Going to Brussels and working for a pan-European brand in an international team was great fun.  The management helped us young marketing professionals feel personally responsible for our brands and we related very strongly to them. Over the six and half years at Procter & Gamble, I gradually realised that I would eventually want to work more independently so I joined my father’s agency.

How do agencies differentiate themselves from the others? Positioning, vision and principles at most PR agencies are very similar with little room for individuality, the focus is on brand management and creativity.

That’s true.  It is really difficult for an agency to set itself apart from the others in public perception. That is simply because agencies must live up to certain values. Customers expect agencies to be highly creative and not to damage their brands. It’s in their nature. There are no uncreative agencies.

We distinguish ourselves on the market with our four ‘i’s: innovative, international, independent and integrated. We are independent and partner-led.  We have an integrated structure, which, it should be noted, is not just theoretical, but actively part of our practice in the Houses of Communication. In our agency, traditional PR people work closely with media planners, data analysts and market researchers. Each agency within the group is a standalone unit. We have depth of specialisation but also integration. We achieve this by giving the teams geographical proximity and grouping them into customer teams. The other values that distinguish us are innovation and internationality.

Companies are increasingly pursuing a “one-brand” philosophy. Serviceplan operates as a group, but maintains very many “subbrands” and regional links. Is that not contradictory at some level?  Is it still necessary to maintain such a pronounced national presence in these global times?

There is a distinction between the service level and the brand level. At the service level, we do have separate agencies for specialist areas. For example, one undertakes nothing other than business intelligence. Another specialises in search engine optimisation. We see these specialist agencies as tools which customers can buy individually. Very specific expertise is developing in the specialist units.   Creatives look for other creatives and people working with technology need technology enthusiasts. As a group of agencies, we need to create the right environments and find employees that fit into the various areas. On the other hand, we are trying to cut back on the brand level. We don’t want each service area to have its own brand. That is not sustainable on the market. That’s why we have a brand for the creative product in the broadest sense:  Serviceplan. We have a brand for the ability to deal with channels – Mediaplus. The Plan.Net brand represents the digital segment, Facit covers market research and our newest brand, Solutions, deals with the realisation side of the business. The service areas are organised under these brands.

Does it make any sense at all now to maintain a regional presence in so many countries and on so many continents or should agencies rather look for synergies in the individual markets?

The Serviceplan Group is the first German agency to have a significant international presence.  We have either our own offices or partnerships in other countries. We currently have a presence in more than 35 countries, ranging from France to Dubai to China. Although Germany is so export-oriented, no German agency has ever  operated on such an international level as Serviceplan. This is unusual because German companies are valued for their reliability and technology-oriented thinking, amongst other qualities.  Global players such as BMW want to work with partners who can design international advertising campaigns and localize them for the country in question, so a company needs different expertise in the various markets. Anyone planning a campaign for the BMW 7-series must understand the Chinese market where many more cars are sold than in Germany, for example. In a nutshell: our customers are adamant that internationalisation is essential. I must point out that internationalisation is hugely enriching for the Serviceplan Group. Kick-off events at which teams from China, Europe and the USA get together and jointly develop a vision are memorable experiences for me. Internationalisation is unquestionably also an emotive matter for us. It is clear that our expansion concentrates on hubs which are economically significant. It is important to us that the agencies in the different countries are independent and look after their customers.    Synergies are created between countries, of course.

Serviceplan’s “House of Communication” model has integration at its heart. I don’t want to ask you about your favourite campaign – no one likes to rank their customers –  but which Serviceplan campaign best showcases integration?

(He laughs) We provide every customer with the service that is right for them. I am proud of that. Our day-to-day operations produce real flagship projects, of course.   I am proud of much of the work we do for BMW in which we combine creativity, media and the digital approach. A good example is the launch campaign for the i8. It is quite simply a fantastic product and developing the campaign for it was a pleasure. And then there’s the global aspect and the roll-out on every channel. This is a challenge even for a large agency. Everyone likes to see a satisfied customer. However, there are also less high-profile cases which I find really exciting. For example, we developed a campaign for the German Bar Association that worked mainly on a viral basis. Innovative thinking is paramount in a case like that.

360-degree communication is frequently called for – however, SMEs with modest budgets prefer an 80:20 approach.  Can you give examples of when “integrated PR” might not be the aim and what the importance of branding is?

In my view, the term 360-degree communication is not very helpful. The primary aim today can’t be to advertise on every single possible channel. Firstly, there probably is not enough money in most cases and there is also the question of the logic behind it. Innovative concepts do take careful account of the channels available, but try to find an intelligent way of linking that makes sense sequentially.

The current trend towards digitalisation presents us with more than one issue. Increasing digitalisation has the effect of bring the competition closer together. I think this makes the brand more significant. There used to be high barriers to entry. Customers had to go into a shop for advice before deciding on a new jacket. Nowadays we have the Internet and it is normal to carry out the comparison with a series of mouseclicks. It is therefore easy to defend the proposition that brand work today is as important as never before.

Research is currently examining the subject of “sponsor activation”. Why is sponsorship in many cases, despite the high costs of rights, insufficiently used and integrated in brand management?  Are there any examples of best practice?

The Serviceplan Group has a small business unit which is concerned specifically with sponsorship. This is an exciting subject and sponsorship can be enormously effective advertising. At the same time, sponsorship will never occupy a central place in agency operations.  Sponsorship decisions are often made with a great deal of emotion and caution is advised especially in planning a budget. Anyone who invests in a sponsorship, which usually involves a considerable sum of money, must ensure that enough remains in the budget to follow up with advertising.  Only this approach makes sponsorship efficient.

The communication landscape is diverging into many parts; it’s almost impossible to keep track of it.  The digital advertising sector is dominated by two major players. What will communication and advertising look like in 2015? How are corporate budgets changing, what is happening to the work done at agencies and by other market players such as market researchers

I’m not at all concerned about this. There are many subjects not discussed in the current hype surrounding digitalisation. Going forward, companies will still need partners who can develop creative ideas. Even in digital advertising, there is a huge need for consultancy. Agencies which rely on their purchasing power in the media will disappear, because computers will take on this work. There are still no answers to the questions of which customer data I can have, what price do I pay for it and how do I segment the available data? The need for consultancy will grow, not diminish. When I translate my channel strategy to Google or Facebook, it is probably  quite clear which channels my budgets are being used for. That is not something that advertising customers will want. Our future opportunities will lie in using different sources and putting together efficient offers for our customers.

Looking ahead: what will Serviceplan look like in 15 years time?

Let’s be happy if Serviceplan gets through the next five years successfully. Joking apart,  whatever happens, we will be even more digital in 15 years time. The proportion of digital services at our company is already over 50%. Today, 30% on average of our customers’ advertising budgets is spent in the digital area. The topic of data will be important in the future. Serviceplan will be doing more content marketing than is currently the case and will be even more international. Despite the justified scepticism concerning the frantic collection of data and the analysis of big data in many countries on this earth, we in Europe must be careful that we are not left behind. I am a committed defender of data protection and the controlled use of data, but the future will be to a great extent digital and the business models developing from this future are also digital. If we want to participate in this massive trend, we must remain open to the digital world. Particularly in advertising, we must ensure that it is not only companies in the USA in their safe harbour that do everything that is not allowed here and earn good money with it.  It is therefore important to stop people being afraid of Big Data.

Finally, can we have a few words on your commitment to Switzerland, where Serviceplan of course has a branch?

Happily. My father is Swiss and so am I. I did my military service in Switzerland and I’ve studied and worked there and I have many reasons to be grateful to the country. All things considered, we are the largest Swiss agency in the world.  Switzerland is also an important market for us, because it is a hub for companies with international operations.  For example, we work for ABB international global, which is based in Zurich. I feel very at home in Switzerland.

This interview was published in Marketing Review St. Gallen.

Digitalisation has revolutionised the world of media and communication. Will there soon be a period of rest from it all? No, it’s going to continue racing on just like it has, since digitalisation – as a driving force – has brought about several exciting developments. These five trends will keep us on our toes in 2017:

1. Customer centricity and personalisation

The consumer will be at the forefront of all activity

In the past, a product and a campaign were developed for as many people as possible. Mass advertising via scattergun approach worked. Tempi passati – to be ahead of the game today, we need the opposite: to successfully address individual consumers. Advertising is therefore going to experience a powerful shift towards personalisation. “Small Data” as described by Martin Lindstrom and micro-segmentation will help contribute to this development.

This concentrated focus on individual customers, also known as “customer centricity”, will even have an impact on product design: Experience and service provider worlds will emerge, where the actual product – in other words, the merchandise – will simply be one aspect of many. A car manufacturer will then not only sell automobile models, but also complex mobility solutions. Those that are able to use their brand environment to inspire consumers will benefit from lifelong loyalty from individual customers who will possibly – for example with “Amazon Dash” – buy the product again and again at the click of a button. In the marketing of the future, there won’t be any room for “one night stands”.

2. Sincerity and authenticity

Brands need to fight for their credibility

As strange as it might sound: Brands need to be more honest and transparent than ever, especially those for which pretentious claims and marvellous make-believe worlds were devised. In today’s “post-fact” branded times, in which cynical and socially dangerous business flourishes due to fake news, they cannot allow themselves to be pulled into this ever increasing black hole of implausibility. The damages to customer trust and revenue would be huge. Instead, they need to fight this lack of trust steadfastly with honest, authentic communication. Clever content marketing will play a central role here.

3. Storytelling and motion media

Moving images tell riveting stories

People are fed up with content – there is simply too much of everything. They react irritably in response to a lot of what they see. They decide within seconds whether they find an offer good or dreary. Then, they click it away or block it. There is no more ‘neither here nor there’, no more ‘in-between’. The winners of 2017 will therefore be those who understand how to captivate their audience with exciting or interesting stories. If there is one typical characteristic in people, then it’s this: We love stories. Pictures and films are especially well-suited to storytelling, because they can be consumed more quickly and intuitively than text. For this reason, a worldwide advertising trend using films and motion media will set in. First-class work will be rewarded by a strong viral response.

4. Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence

New technologies will become standard

New technologies will leave their niche positioning as hip inventions and will become practical marketing instruments.

  • Exciting new brand experiences arise from Virtual Reality. The best examples of this are Etihad’s A380 guided tour or the Ikea application “VR experience” in which the kitchen can be examined before purchase. Advertising will become more playful, gaming experience is advantageous.
  • Artificial Intelligence advances with giant steps and will enrich and support communication. Thanks to AI, chatbots will develop into essential contact points to alleviate the strain on and improve customer service, for example.

5. Creativity and marketing technologies

Creation takes over leadership

The power of creativity will experience increased appreciation. Because let’s be honest: The enthusiasm for the technically doable, measurable and automatable, which we have digitalisation to thank for, often forced creativity into the background. Online marketing shows us all too well how a dominant belief in technology can squash out any creation and quality. For us marketers, our first and ultimate goal must always be: To ignite enthusiasm for a brand. In the end, it is a top-class, surprising idea that makes the difference. The competition can also operate technology. They are simply great tools – no more and no less.

In 2017 topics like programmatic advertising, business intelligence, data management, data security, mobile commerce and data-driven marketing per se will gain in importance. That’s not new. In reality, we already have to master all these areas and have to do “our homework” next year to drive and consolidate our knowledge and competences. Within the developments in the communication industry, especially in the digital field, we notice following main trends, which will more and more decide about “top or flop”:

  • Responsive Content
    2016 was the year of native advertising and content strategies – the focus was definitely on “CONTENT”. Online websites are (in most cases) responsive concerning the layout. BUT in the ideal case also the content adapts itself to the mobile device. There are many opportunities to improve usability and effectiveness of communication, with the background of the changing media usage. New ways and strategies to create and spread content successfully will gain a meaning – in this case in bits and pieces and not in 30‘‘.
  • Visuality & Iconic Turn
    Our world is becoming more and more “illustrated” – our environment is full of icons, pictures, videos. In the age of information overload we have to process information faster and more contextual. This means for the communication industry: Pictorial language and new ways of visualization will continue to be an important success factor.
  • Structuring data – Reducing complexity 
    Data management, data security, data-driven marketing, business intelligence – 2017 structured data will be more important than ever before. For all innovative systems handling data-driven marketing the ability of structuring data in a meaningful way is essential and inevitable. Making a complex world more simple – for everyone (customers & companies)!
  • Transition between Apps & Web 
    On the smartphone, we spend most of our time in apps, not in the browser. But marketers still focus their communication measures on the Web. 2017 priorities will shift. For example, there will be important questions about how to make the transition between app and web better – deeplinks and other gadgets can quickly become powerful marketing tools, especially in the area of mobile commerce.
  • Messenger Marketing
    Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger are the most important chat programmes and apps for communicating. Facebook is currently starting to monetize the Messenger, Whatsapp could follow soon. In 2017 mobile marketers must be there, where the target group is – and this is in any case also the messenger. It is time to enter into a dialogue on Facebook Bots.
  • Mobile Video content 
    In the meanwhile, the biggest “video problem” is solved for mobile devices. The size of videos is hardly an obstacle in LTE times. Videos are popular in all (personal) environments – with the strong tendency to live videos. Mobile video marketing must already be ensure in the production process that videos can be consumed in all living situations. Subtitling or a suitable call-to-action can be a way out.

Nevertheless we do not want to forget about the real communication trends, which we do not find in the media every day, but with which trend researchers are mainly concerned with. Digital detox, the non-existing disruption and related retro-trend, Postgenderism, (finally) customer-oriented NFC solutions and innovative e-governmental services will also be increasingly focussed in 2017.