Posts Tagged 'fresh perspectives'

creative learning

An entertaining look at why we need to put more emphasis on creativity in education:

Thanks to newhighscore for sharing the clip, and to phil for bringing it to my attention.


Crowdsourcing continues to be one of the hottest topics in marketing today, but it receives its fair share of skepticism too.

That skepticism may have merit: to some, crowdsourcing seems like a simple case of repackaged logic.

After all, the marketing concept asserts that the best way to build a successful business is to offer people what they really want; because crowd-sourcing helps us understand what people actually want, it seems like a key ingredient of any successful business.

However, there’s a key difference between crowdsourcing and our previous, research-based approach: collaborative engagement.

The more we involve people in every aspect of developing our products, the greater their subsequent level of engagement, and the deeper their relationship with our brand.

This physical contribution and emotional engagement means people have a vested interest in your brand’s success.

In their minds, it becomes their brand too.

The death of brands?

So if people could always join forces to solve their problems, would brands still exist?

In its ideal form, crowdsourcing would mean we would never need to choose between different brands again, because our co-developed solutions would always satisfy our specific needs.

That Utopian vision seems appealing on many fronts.

There’s just one problem.

Democratic stagnation

The main challenge with crowdsourcing is that it rarely delivers radical innovation.

Indeed, two things lead me to believe that crowdsourcing could actually slow our rate of progress.

Firstly, everyday people tend to imagine the future in relation to their present.

Henry Ford summed this up beautifully:

“If I had asked people what they wanted,
they would have said faster horses.”

Secondly, the democratic process tends to dilute innovations down to a lowest common denominator.

Most people are fearful of change, and reject things that are far removed from their current sphere of familiarity.

As a result, involving too many people in the process risks death by democracy.

Right tool, right job

So, rather than using crowdsourcing to solve all our business problems, we might be better to use it for a more specific purpose.

Here’s my theory.

When we know what people want, we’re better placed to offer it to them in the most effective and efficient ways.

However, if we’re to succeed in adding value, rather than merely delivering it, we need to go one step further.

We need to show people what they could have; not just a better version of what they already know.

As a consequence, I think crowdsourcing’s real potential lies in helping us to identify the core benefits that people seek.

In other words, we need to get people to explain their ideal end, rather than asking them to design a shinier version of the means they currently use to get there.

It’s then our job to create truly innovative solutions that deliver those benefits better than anyone else.

Thanks to Neil for the inspiration.

escaping the spiral

One of the most enduring themes of the past decade has been the decline of traditional industry models.

Record companies and newspapers have been the biggest losers, yet demand for the ‘products’ these companies deliver has risen dramatically during the same period.

The two trends seem to be in conflict: how can something experiencing increased demand simultaneously lose its value?

Has classical economic theory come totally undone?

Let’s take a closer look.


As recently as the 1990s, a music collection of  100 albums (about 1,500 songs) was something to be admired, taking pride of place across a whole wall of the living room.

Today, even cash-strapped teenagers carry that much music in their pocket everywhere they go.

But still we crave more.

Numerous new services attempt to satisfy our insatiable appetite for a fresh and varied playlist – Pandora and Spotify are obvious examples.

Yet almost none of these seem to be making much money.

It’s the same story for news.

As technology has advanced, instantaneous, ubiquitous news updates have become the norm, and we’ve become so used to these ‘info fixes’ that we even experience symptoms of withdrawal if they’re taken away.

Demand for news hasn’t just grown; it’s exploded.

So why are news agencies disappearing at an inversely proportionate rate?

What’s going on?

From the outside, the reason appears very simple: these industries have become too caught up in what they think people are buying; not what those people actually want.

The music industry is still obsessed with selling albums, because that’s been their core offering for decades.

Of course, at the time of their inception, albums were a highly efficient (and profitable) distribution medium.

The same goes for newspapers.

But, as Dave Trott points out, people don’t buy the media.

They buy the content that those media carry.

And if they can find that content more efficiently (and cheaper) elsewhere…

A false equilibrium?

Despite initial appearances to the contrary, the trend of rising demand and falling profit in these media-based industries is actually in keeping with classical economic theory.

The model suggests that people will tend towards the most efficient satisfaction of their needs: that they try to maximise the benefits they receive, while simultaneously minimising the associated cost (in terms of money, time, effort, etc.)

As Adam Smith posited in 1776,

“…what every thing really costs… is the toil and trouble of acquiring it.”

He went on to assert,

“What every thing is really worth to the man who has acquired it… is the toil and trouble which it can save to himself.”

Let’s look at those two statements in context:

  1. From the consumer’s perspective, the cost of acquiring music and news content is not a pure price consideration: factors such as the effort needed to acquire and consume the product, as well as opportunity cost, are equally important;
  2. The worth, or value, these products deliver is hard to measure, because the benefits they deliver are usually intangible (except where unique access to news provides a financial benefit to the consumer).

The key issue in these industries is that people suddenly have access to identical value at a much lower cost.

So what changed?

What are people buying?

People don’t buy media; they pay for access to content.

But if that content is available for free, why would they choose to pay for it?

Free access to music has been around for years via radio; the main issue has been a lack of listener control in the playlist.

The only legal alternative has been to pay for the privilege to listen to what you want, where you want, when you want, by buying albums and singles.

But given the costs involved in this alternative, another popular solution has been to acquire an illegal copy.

Piracy is nothing new; it has affected the music business since it began.

However, until recently, the quality of an ‘original’ was always noticeably better than that of a cost-effective copy.

The advent of digital formats like MP3 changed all that. Today, people can quickly and easily create a copy that is identical to that which they would get if they bought it from the original source.

The problem for the record companies is that there is literally no difference in the quality of pirated content.

Furthermore, the industry’s continued protectionist approach to ‘selling’ music means that it’s often actually easier to find pirated copies than it is to find the original*.

Returning Adam Smith’s concept of ‘real cost’, this means that people have fewer and fewer reasons to pay the cost associated with original content; the only remaining motivator is conscientiousness.

Meanwhile, the situation with news is even starker: the industry itself has trained us to believe that news should be free, through ad-supported models such as CNN or freesheets.

When people have been so used to legal access to free news content, it’s easy to understand their current reluctance to move to services requiring payment – particularly when services like the BBC continue to offer free access.

Bene-fit for purpose

The only sustainable hope for these industries is to rethink what they’re actually offering.

The process is actually very simple:

What do people really want?

Where is it most relevant to them?

How can we deliver it to them and make a profit?

The critical step is to move away from thinking about how to improve the existing product, and to focus instead on identifying and understanding the benefits people seek.

New news

Why do people crave news?

It might be for a variety of reasons:

It provides information that helps us make decisions about our own lives (Will it rain tomorrow? Is there a crazed gunman on the run downtown?);

It offers a common topic we can talk about with others;

It shares opinion and that stimulates our minds and provokes further thought of our own;

It entertains and stirs emotion;

Perversely, it helps us put our lives in perspective, reminding us that “there is always someone worse off than yourself” (this is the only reason I can find for our continued obsession with ‘bad’ news).

However, none of these things belong to conventional news channels.

Indeed, most of those channels exist because they provide an audience for advertisers, and, arguably, they’ve never been truly focused on the audiences themselves.

Where would these benefits be most relevant?

What could we do to deliver it to them then… at a profit?

Change the tune

The task with music is a little more difficult, because it’s intangible and transient.

What exactly is music, and why do we love it so much?

What benefit does it provide?

It’s a question that has many different answers, because music means different things to different people in different contexts:

Sometimes it’s an all-consuming experience, like a concert;

Often, it’s something we use to define our personalities;

Sometimes it’s a means of escapism (like ‘cocooning’ on a crowded subway);

Sometimes it provides a reassuring background distraction;

Like fashion, it’s something that’s constantly evolving and fresh, providing us with something to talk about, and offering us things to look forward to.

I’m sure you can think of many more benefits (why not share them in the comments?).


It’s safe to assume that people’s desire for new music and fresh news will continue to grow.

As such, musicians and journalists are not – contrary to media scaremongering – on the verge of extinction.

The only thing that’s likely to disappear is the existing media model.

So how will we access these benefits in the future?

Much as I hate to inflate an already over-hyped solution, I believe the answer is ‘something social’.

Services where people already go to seek similar benefits – to talk to people, to find out what’s new in their world, to seek emotional stimulation – are the most obvious places for them to seek music and news benefits too.

I believe we’ll see an increasing number of social services combine these offers in their bid to become our ‘one-stop shops’ for all such content.

I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t include TV and movies too.

Services such as Facebook have a great opportunity to became the de facto source for news and new music, although I suspect it will be a new, as-yet unheard of successor, who’ll bring about this next step in the web’s evolution.

So what’s new?

I suspect that, although you’ve nodded your head a few times during this post, you don’t feel there’s anything revolutionary in its content.

But that’s possibly because, in this simple format, it all seems obvious.

And I think that’s the problem: perhaps it’s so obvious, we’ve been missing the forest for the trees.

But, the good news is, the solution is very simple.

If we focus on the benefits that people seek – the real value that they perceive in the things they consume – then we have a chance of delivering it to them at a profit.

Sadly for some, it may be too late to save the mass media model, but the rest of us have a real opportunity to learn from their mistakes.

Thanks to Willsh for setting this thought process off with these lovely posts: one, two.

good vs evil

Most people believe that good will triumph over evil.

This optimism is a core tenet of humanity.

Indeed, it’s so ingrained that we often assume that ‘good’ and ‘evil’ will be easy to tell apart – like night and day.

Sometimes this is the case; some crimes can never be justified, while some acts are universally welcomed.

However, much of our world view dictates ‘good’ from ‘evil’ on a purely subjective basis.

For example, religion will likely always remain a matter of individual opinion.

The same is true of culture.

There’s little doubt that globalisation has led to a degree of homogenisation of attitudes and behaviour, and we’ve lost much cultural variety along the way.

But this is nothing new; the Greeks and the Romans are perfect evidence that even the strongest and most influential ‘civilisations’ rise and fall.

This is because culture and ideas are subject to the same principles of evolution as biological species: only the fittest survive.

And as with biology, the key to continued survival is genetic diversity.

This means we must draw from as many influences as possible, but at the same time, ensure that we do not distill everything into a single, homogeneous result.

I was reminded of this while watching a fantastic TED talk from Dan Dennett (below).

He approaches the topic of cultural propagation from a philosophical angle, but there’s a clear relevance to advertising and planning in there too.

For me, the abiding lesson is that our individual cutural and moral perspectives are never ‘good’ or ‘evil’.

They’re simply subjective perspectives.

cut out and keep

Hypebeast and Today and Tomorrow have already featured this fantastic partnership between Lego and Muji, but it deserves more than a quick twitter link.

The concept is so simple that I’m sure children all over the world already have their own version.

However, there’s nothing wrong with brands celebrating existing behaviour.

The reason this partnership works so well is that it builds on the essences of both brands: Lego’s boundless creativity, and Muji’s delightful simplicity.

Here are some more images borrowed from the original Yoshikage Kajiwara post (in Japanese):

On a related note, take a look at this glorious anthropological study of Lego ‘nomenclature’, and this inspiring post from Russell Davies on the importance of imagination in play, communications, and the world in general.

Many thanks to PSFK for alerting me to the Muji partnership and nomenclature posts.
UPDATE: John seems to like this too… what is it about planners and Lego?

everything’s relative


Most of the time, success isn’t about how good you are; it’s about how good you are relative to everything else.

The toilet cleaner category is dull, but brands that stress an 0.2% improvement in efficiency just make it worse

So, while these may not be the best adverts of all time, they make me smile.

And voilà: they differentiate Ambi Pur from the rest of the category.

Job done.

Thanks to Inspire me, now! for sharing.

planning for the future (5): less talk, more action

less talk more action

We all know that actions speak louder than words.

But many brands still focus the majority of their marketing spend on talking.

It’s time to redress the balance.


Advertising does a good job of telling people things.

That’s fine if we want to raise a bit of awareness.

However, advertising frequently behaves like the pseudo-tailors in ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes‘.

This clip sums up the reality of far too much marketing:

But in today’s hyperconnected communities, this ‘massive hyperbole’ approach no longer works.

No amount of advertising will make a bad product good.

It’s just too easy for people to spot a ‘naked’ brand, and to tell everyone else about it too.

More often than not, advertising isn’t the answer.

People want proof; not just claims.

So how can planning help?

We need to broaden our perspective.

We need to help brands understand what people really want, and then to identify the most profitable ways of delivering it to them.

We need to add value, from end to end: from informing R&D to inspiring customer service.

Key Benefit

If we give people what they really want, we won’t need to persuade them of anything; they’ll experience it for themselves.

Key Action

Allocate a minimum of 90% of your brand’s resource to identifying what people really want, and creating a solution that delivers it.

Use the remainder to demonstrate your brand experience to the people who are most passionate about its benefit.

If you’ve done the first bit right, they’ll do the rest for you.

Shaping the Future

Throughout this series on planning for the future, there’s been a recurring theme: how we can add real value.

If planning is to remain relevant, its role must evolve from promoting brands to actually delivering their benefits.

The new planning manifesto is simple:

less talk more action 2

The Rest of the ‘Planning for the Future’ Series

Introduction: a new planning manifesto

Use communications to deliver value: moving from advertising to adding value

It’s all about the benefits: a simple example of how to deliver a brand’s core benefit with a TV ad

Add CSR to everything you do: how contributing to the greater good can help your brand too

Blend the mix: towards more strategic distribution

Want to know more about planning for the future? Get in touch here.

planning for the future (3): add CSR to everything you do

add csr to everything

Monday’s introduction to planning for the future highlighted an exciting shift in advertising’s role:

“Rather than simply interrupting [people's] escapism, we now have greater scope to make [their] lives better.”

Today’s suggestion – to incorporate an element of CSR into everything you do – continues this logic:

If brands are to become a meaningful part of people’s lives, they need to enrich those people’s lives too.


Give, and you shall receive

This applies equally well to brands as it does to people; indeed, many of the world’s great brands were born on the principle of cooperation.

Lever Brothers built the foundations of today’s Unilever on the principle of ‘doing well by doing good’.

Similarly, Cadbury created an entire social eco-system for its workforce around the company’s factory in Bournville – an approach rooted in the Quaker ideal of mutual benefit.

For some reason, this ‘considerate’ approach to business went out of fashion for many years, reaching a low point in the corporate greed of the 1980s.

However, a renewed focus on ‘Corporate Social Responsibility‘ (CSR) became popular in the 90s, and brands today cannot justify a lack of broader conscientiousness.

But CSR isn’t just a ploy to enrich the company’s annual report.

Indeed, simply throwing money at a charity can often seem more like an acknowledgment of guilt than genuine concern.

For CSR to be effective, brands must demonstrate a real commitment to driving change and helping people.

This is most effective when the area of CSR focus relates to the brand’s core purpose and expertise, and integrates with the brand’s overall marketing.

For example, while I’d applaud a petroleum brand that donated 10% of its profits to feeding the poor, I’d admire and celebrate that brand much more if they invested the same amount of money in developing ecologically balanced sources of energy that ensured a brighter future for everyone, not just their shareholders.

However, it’s often difficult to justify that kind of longer-term CSR to shareholders, who invariably demand results today (and not 30 years down the line).

The good news is that CSR is a powerful and effective way to build a successful brand – a financial benefit that even myopic shareholders can relate to.

This is because CSR has the ability to create much deeper connection and engagement than broadcast advertising ever could; by helping communities and society at large, brands can demonstrate that they’re on the side of the people, and that helps to establish a more powerful bond.

So how can brands make best use of CSR opportunities?

Let’s return to the Run London example from yesterday’s post.

Nike incorporates a significant ‘community’ element in each iteration of this event (and indeed in much of its broader marketing).

For starters, all participants are encouraged to raise money for charity through sponsorship.

Other initiatives, such as Nike’s ReUse-A-Shoe Program, take the concept of CSR even further:


Feeling good about a brand makes it much easier for people to justify choosing it over alternatives.

Furthermore, genuine CSR inspires people to talk about the brand, driving word of mouth and amplifying ROI.


Identify as many relevant opportunities as you can for your brand to give something back to its communities, and assign a meaningful portion of your brand’s resource – money and effort – to delivering these contributions.

Previous posts in the ‘planning for the futureseries

Introduction: a new planning manifesto

Use communications to deliver value: moving from advertising to adding value

It’s all about the benefits: a simple example of how to deliver a brand’s core benefit with a TV ad

planning for the future (2): use communications to deliver value

add value to everything

In yesterday’s introduction to planning for the future, we saw that planning is evolving into:

The process of identifying the most relevant and engaging times and places to deliver specific brand benefits, and the most efficient and effective ways to deliver those benefits in that context.

The first step in this evolution involves a fundamental shift in how we view brand communications.

Rather than merely promoting other forms of value delivery like products, brand communications can become a viable means to deliver benefits of their own.


People don’t actually buy products or brands; they buy things that enable them to achieve specific aims.

As a consequence, brands that help people to achieve their aims more comprehensively are more attractive, and therefore more valuable.

Planning can help add to this value by enabling brands to create more opportunities to satisfy.

Our challenge is to turn every single interaction – including communications – into an opportunity to help people achieve their aims.

Nike already champions this approach.

It understands that people don’t buy ‘sportswear’; they buy things that enable them to participate in sporting activities.

So the brand focuses on creating more opportunities for people to enjoy those activities.

Run London is a great example, creating deeper engagement not just with the brand, but also with running:

Run London doesn’t just build engagement either: over 30,000 participants pay to take part, and the event generates more than £1million in revenue.

Given this, it’s easy to understand why Nike employs the same approach in football with Joga3, and in fitness with the Rockstar Workout.


When everything a brand does helps people to satisfy their wants, needs, and desires, it becomes a much more valuable part of their lives.


Identify the core benefit that your brand offers, and then identify ways to deliver it through every interaction – including communications.

planning for the future

hearts and minds

Planning is the process of identifying the most efficient and effective ways for brands to share the things they want with the people that matter to them most.

Until recently, that has translated into identifying the most compelling ‘big brand ideas’, and then broadcasting them to apparently homogeneous audiences through conventional mass-media.

However, this approach no longer delivers the results we need.

Contrary to the laments of the media industry, this is not because attention has become more scarce; indeed, people actually have more free time now than they used to.

The real issue is that people have more opportunities to participate in a wider variety of activities, and unsurprisingly, they are choosing to focus their attention on those activities which offer them the greatest rewards.

In place of some of the time they used to spend ‘fire gazing’ – escaping the boredom and drudgery of everyday life – people are increasingly harnessing their cognitive surplus to learn and grow.

This more varied behaviour means that ‘audiences’ are increasingly dispersed: fewer people are doing the same thing at the same time, and mass-media are increasingly less ‘mass’ as a result.

However, this actually presents more opportunities than it does problems.

Rather than simply interrupting people’s escapism, we now have greater scope to get involved and make their lives better.

But, in order to achieve this, we need to rethink our approach to brand communications.

We need to move away from planning that centres on people’s ‘media habits’, and focus instead on the things that people are trying to achieve through those habits.

In other words, we need to ask why people do what they do, not just what they do.

Once we understand people’s motivations, we’ll find it much easier to find more relevant roles for our brands:

If people want passive entertainment, how can we help with that?

If they want to learn something new, what role can we play?

If they have a challenge, how can we help them solve it?

Brand communications can evolve into a means to deliver actual value, rather than simply a means to promote other forms of value delivery.

The benefit offered can be as simple as passive entertainment, but interactive experiences, education, and even corporate social responsibility (CSR) hold even greater potential.

In line with this evolving quest for people’s hearts and minds, planning’s role needs to evolve too, becoming

The process of identifying the most relevant and engaging times and places to deliver specific brand benefits, and the most efficient and effective ways to deliver those benefits in that context.

Over the next few days, I’ll share some ideas that can help make that future a reality.


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