Muzeable Thinking

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Still loving big data [Part 2]… but what about strategy?

Posted by on Nov 27th, 2012 in muzeable thinking | 0 comments

Muzeable Thinking No.4 from Tim Brooks 25th November 2012

More thinking out loud… we recently talked about some of the challenges that BIG DATA and the search for BIG INSIGHT are creating for brands and businesses. Our data rich, or obese -depending on your outlook – world is full of complexity and this is creating other challenges… not least for ‘strategy’.

At the heart of this lies a contradiction that goes something like this…

The world is highly complex and ever-changing, so traditional notions of a ‘fixed’ long-term strategy are increasingly impractical and probably ineffective. You need to be flexible and play what’s in front of you – and play it fast! Yet, responding to that very complexity requires deep strategic thinking – and sometimes it takes time to build a clear position[vs all the data] and a repeatable model that rises above the surrounding chaos/fluidity. This contradiction – the need to be both fast and ‘slow’ – has the potential to create confusion and even put a few scared rabbits in front of the headlights.

Some of the current rhetoric is describing a world where execution is everything and strategy matters less and less – we can’t bring ourselves to accept this! Surely ‘strategy’ STILL matters as a guiding logic that defines how a business will grow? The point is that strategy [and strategy consultancy] has to change and evolve to work in this new environment. In the future we will need to find more flexible models/frameworks that allow us to stay true to our ‘logic’ and coherently manage the key elements of our response to the chaos. Execution isn’t becoming more important – it’s always been critical – it’s just its ‘what’ and ‘why’ are harder to lock down than ever before. More experimentation does not have to equal less direction.

What needs to change?:
o For marketing the traditional obsession with creating a fixed positioning via endless workshops to lock down the insight and a single-minded something all packaged up in a highly specific version of the truth via a ‘brand arrow’ or a ‘brand circle’ or a ‘brand dodecahedron’ – whatever – just seems… anachronistic.
o Likewise, whilst finding a big comms idea that will cut through everything and make you famous can work, it’s hard to see many examples of people actually doing it ‘on purpose’. It always seems – and my own extensive experience of ad/comms production supports this – to be some very creative blind persons sticking tails on donkeys… that might not actually exist! Serendipity is not strategy.
o In our real time world marketing is increasingly driven by experimentation and if we’re honest we often don’t know what’ll work and what will be budget scattered in the wind. The new risk is that agencies and marketers in seeking sexy new stuff will let brands drift over time. That being [rightly] data-engaged will potentially see brands and businesses lurching from one interesting actionable data point to another equally intriguing actionable data point and unintentionally losing focus or, when under pressure, spiraling into a series of data-driven knee jerk reactions. Algorithms can actually compound this [witness elements of the banking crisis!], so the answer must be in thinking, not technology.

Increasingly all this all seem a long way downstream from the two key considerations that should be top of our agendas:
1. How can our business/brand deliver sustainable growth
2. How can our executional approach do what it has to do and balance our need for control/coherence and increased fluidity.

All of this is perhaps evidence that the consumer marketing models – founded almost entirely on branding and communications – that were at the heart of our past success need to be replaced by more rounded business approaches. Marketing needs to lead a deeper integration of data, channel, customer, service etc. and yes, it will include brand and communications, but as one part of this broader approach. Marketers need to first think business model and growth and not see their traditional, primary, relationship with the ‘agency’ as everything they need to succeed.

We need to ask ourselves tougher questions about the nature of our strategy – what does it actually look like and how can it ‘work’ within our specific culture and organisational realities? We need to challenge our notions on how we build effective long-term inputs. If strategy is to be useful, useable and used – it will need to be as robust and far reaching as ever, but it must be able to be executed with more flexibility and agility in the face of change and uncertainty. Increasingly strategy is about creating sustainable strategic growth frameworks™ versus building a more locked down, resource led strategic plan and set of pre-determined priorities. The strategies of my youth. Now, a small number of imperatives and some guiding rules of thumb, based on better understanding of how growth actually works will be its foundation.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for business and marketers is to understand that strategy DOESN’T actually start with strategy – it starts with GROWTH. Gone are the days of starting your strategy development by working on brand planning things… work out the growth mechanics™ of the category and focus exclusively on defining how you’ll grow – period. Then ‘strategy’ will simply be a tool to deliver this… perhaps not even a ‘thing’ in its own right! It will still need some vision and purpose, a clear destination and occasionally even a ‘rallying cause’, because that drives people, passion and culture, but the business stuff will be ALL ABOUT GROWTH! Maybe we all know that, but there is little evidence that it is replacing the old notions of ‘planning’.

History proves marketing and big biz don’t readily embrace behavioural change/complexity. They prefer the quick, simple fix. It’s why we love TV plans… the world of ‘x hundred GRPs, with x% coverage, at x OTS’ and whilst that isn’t history… it’s definitely not the focus of the future. So, behaviourally this is a big challenge and an opportunity and those who embrace new approaches [not necessarily radical changes of direction] without forgetting the truths of the past will potentially be the winners. It’s important because there will definitely be losers!

The strategy consultancies and agencies that will work best in this epoch will not work like we did over the past 30 years – when consultancy found its voice. Those who will succeed will be those who understand the new context e.g. it’s possibly less about one off clever ideas. They need to understand only two things BUSINESS MODEL/GROWTH and executing ROUTES TO MARKET. This will requires expertise in many things – most of which feed from the BIG DATA/BIG INSIGHT start point – heavy analytics; retail [brick and click]; how brands need to engage in the new hyper-connected landscape; when to broadcast and when to try and dialogue; when to sell and when to be a neutral voice to explain the category; how to embrace transparency; how to think at a category level; how to embrace the new globalization; and [where Muzeable aims to help] how to think more deeply, but just as quickly.

This needs us to be courageous and to take a fresh look at the rules of strategy, innovation, category and brand management and be prepared to re-write some of them. Given the complexity and chaos we all face don’t believe anyone who tells you this will be easy or who offers you a quick fix or tells you they ‘understand’ – they are a]lying or b] utterly stupid! We will need to feel our way into the next epoch.

So once again… we’re loving the BIG DATA and the complexity, but whilst too many people see it as a panacea the reality is that for most organisations it will remain about potential. We can get there faster if we [business leaders, marketers, strategy consultancies and data experts] link in an unholy alliance to initiate the AGE OF BIG INSIGHT, whilst we, simultaneously, learn how to re-invent ‘strategy’ – we think based on a world of GROWTH MECHANICS and GROWTH FRAMEWORKS – to be fit for purpose at both an enterprise and brand management level.

Whatever you do, don’t listen to your customers.

Posted by on Nov 5th, 2012 in muzeable thinking | 2 comments

Muzeable Thinking No. 3 from Tim Brooks 5th November 2012

Recently a senior client tried to educate me. He said that their business was incredibly simple – already an increasingly unlikely start point in our current epoch. He said, that they have a [quality] product and then they listen to their customers and then they give them what they want/need. Simple! [GULP!]

It is hard to criticize as the business is doing well in a hugely difficult, highly commoditised, category. But, I do feel the need to comment.

  • Firstly, when your customers are major multiple retailers, then too much listening can be positively dangerous. When dealing with customers who are big, powerful, fast moving and often focused on the SHORT TERM, being responsive can, and usually does, lurch into being reactive.
  • Your strategy, your growth, your sustainability is not irrelevant to them, but it only really matters at points of temporary alignment or when they see the colour of your money. In tough times it all gets ignored in the battle to increase the daily till receipts.
  • Once you have drifted into being reactive [which is what listening as a plan nearly ALWAYS becomes], then holding the line and thinking about the strategic ramifications of key decisions drifts with it.
  • In this scenario there will be only two outcomes; downward margin pressure and over-promotion/price-led approaches – both leading to a gradual decline in brand health.
  • Retailers – businesses I respect hugely – are brutally efficient, relentless and effective in their ability to ravage and dominate businesses and brands that lose their raison d’être and defensible position in the category. The world is littered with borrowed-time-brands running on 70/80% of sales sold on promotion. Reactive listening will simply speed this decline up.

So, I came to the conclusion that listening to customers is unsustainable for a business seeking growth. More than that it is a hugely old fashioned and increasingly silly idea. The net result MUST be a reactive business. It must drive strategic dysfunctionality [unless you only have one customer!] and inconsistency in action, if not thought. At some point a set of complex challenges and issues will arrive that will require big, strong thinking and decisions. The listening, reactive business will not have a clear enough clarity of purpose to manage this. The listening and reactive business will not have enough leverage. It will have seen its negotiating stance gradually weakening over time – death by a 1000 cuts. The listening and reactive business will not have the courage to respond – saying yes all the time builds a numbness that leads to a demoralized and disheartened organisation.

And do you know what… I don’t even think customers really like it or more importantly benefit from the sycophancy of listening.

So, stop listening to customers and giving them what they want and start building a superior perspective on what the world – category/shopper/consumer – needs. Then start dialoguing with your customers to determine the best way to implement YOUR strategy with them. The net result might be some of that clichéd win-win stuff. Whatever, it must get beyond just being a negotiation stance – a macho attempt to say ‘no’ occasionally etc. and start to focus on the core attributes and behaviour of a high performance team; a shared purpose, some specific and measurable objectives, some of which articulate longer term outcomes etc. All powered by a clear perspective that defines how you will deliver growth. This will quickly change the dynamics of any customer relationship. It’s not easy, but it might just be the only way.

It’s well documented that it’s no different for consumer facing businesses. They have proved categorically that listening to consumers is no basis for anything very breakthrough or important.

Don’t get me wrong, always have the customer/consumer in the room, yes, listen to what they are saying, but never, never, never let that act of listening get enshrined in your purpose or strategic intent. I know there are businesses that might be exceptions to this rule – I’d like to hear about them – but I suspect not many.

Loving BIG DATA, but what about BIG INSIGHT!!

Posted by on Oct 28th, 2012 in muzeable thinking | 0 comments

Muzeable Thinking No. 2 from Tim Brooks 22th OCTOBER 2012

‘BIG DATA’ is this year’s black! Truth is we’ve had too much data for a long time, almost from the moment Gutenberg started up in business, but to state the bleedin’ obvious, the digital age is magnifying this exponentially. This current manifestation of ‘data obesity’ is not just about scale it is also driving change in ways that matter to brands, businesses and marketers.

The rapid growth in potentially meaningful, real time, transactional data perhaps most epitomises this change. Few would deny that this data can be powerful and it gives organisations the ability to understand what specific customers or consumers are doing. It also creates dialogue opportunities that are rapidly changing marcomms. We can experiment, learn and adapt our activity in ways previously unimagined. The next few years will demand a huge growth in our analytic capabilities – genuinely data driven marketers will be in high demand and companies will be able to make ‘real time’ decisions and create targeted offers and added value for their audiences.

BUT… [there had to be one eh?]

A couple of watch outs or opportunities immediately strike me…
• Too many people don’t know the meaning of the word insight. Only strategy is a more abused word in the business lexicon. They talk about insight when they mean data. Of course there is insight in this transactional soup, but it is mainly ‘know what’ not ‘know why’… so OPPORTUNITY 1: we must [and quick] develop better ways of finding and using real time BIG INSIGHT and BIG INTUITION alongside BIG DATA.
• Lots of the data is powerful and will support improved operational efficiency and commercial opportunity, but… I sometimes wonder where it drives competitive advantage? It’s difficult to see that the millions of records captured by phone company A will be very different from those generated by phone company B – so the data itself is NOT the source of difference. OPPORTUNITY 2: will be using it creatively and mastering the ‘mash up’ of different [sometimes apparently disconnected] data sources to find BIG INSIGHT… sadly this will create another dark art to bamboozle marketing teams the world over. This is despite the rhetoric, as yet, a nascent capability.
• There is also another area that fascinates… there is a deep contradiction inherent in the digital landscape. It in one moment generates the huge numbers of records that are the making of the BIG DATA world and at the same time the whole point of digital is that it is ultimately a one to one, two-way medium… so OPPORTUNITY 3: marketing needs to grapple with MACRO forces of the environment and the NANO forces of communication/dialogue. This is exciting, but REALLY COMPLEX… and history proves marketing and big biz don’t readily embrace complexity… who’s going to simplify it for us?

So BIG DATA really is a big, game changing, yes, but whilst too many people see it as a panacea – hail the new messiah – for most organisations it’s value will take too long to arrive [like so many digital innovations] and will be too much about potential unless we – marketers and data experts – collaborate more innovatively and closely to create the AGE OF BIG INSIGHT… at the moment we are mainly just staring at it each other across the dance floor!

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