I was invited to take part in Campaign’s ‘Adland in Amsterdam’ feature. “Write about anything you want,” they said. This is the slightly longer version. You’ll find all the contributed opinion pieces and a write up of a roundtable discussion with fellow friends and inmates from adland here. My thanks to Suzanne Bidlake and Philip Smith for the opportunity of taking part.
Ours is an age of immediacy. Immediate communications. Immediate information. Immediate feedback. Immediate gratification. And the siren call of the short-term is seemingly inescapable in adland.
In such an environment, advertising could do worse than (re)learn some lessons from the product and platform builders.
Now amongst those involved in the development of digital products and solutions, the argument often goes that advertising, is a fire-and-forget solution. While building products and platforms is about building (and iterating) sustainable solutions. Campaigns come and go, platforms are “built to last”.
And indeed within the tiny world of adland, it’s easy to find evidence of a fixation with ‘ship and blip.’
Thanks to the immediate feedback loop of all things digital, our fixation with the short-term has been turbocharged. We ship. And then look for evidence of buzz. We count the views, likes, shares, +1s, pins, comments, tweets, retweets, downloads, links, follows, clicks and buys. And then we move on to the next bright shiny thing.
Our new fixation with so-called ‘real-time marketing’ with its promise of real-time optimisation is going to do nothing to encourage long-term thinking. As the novelist and cultural observer Douglas Rushkoff has argued, immediacy is more and more the central defining characteristic of our culture:
Our society has reorientated itself to the present moment. Everything is live, real time, and always-on. It’s not a mere speeding up… It’s more of a diminishment of anything that isn’t happening right now. So much so that we are beginning to dismiss anything that is not happening right now – and the onslaught of everything that supposedly is.”
Indeed so short is our collective horizon that work that forms part of a long-running campaign struggles to be rewarded by creative juries. They’re just “not new’.
Consider the Cannes Lions Festival. For all its undoubted prestige, it is patently not (with the exception of its recent effectiveness category) a festival of brand building, but of creative innovation.
So perhaps the product and platform builders have a point.
Except that those who believe advertising ipso facto to be a ship and blip, fire and forget business, fundamentally misunderstand how advertising creates profit.
For we know that sustainable value is built over the long term.
We know that pricing improvements are more likely to drive profit growth than volume growth alone.
We know that pricing improvements take longer to effect than volume increases.
We know that the most profitable of all campaigns are those that drive both incremental volume and the strengthening of margins.
And while short term (i.e. temporary) volume effects can be achieved through discount pricing, offers, incentives, incentive, or new product features, we know that longer-term effects such as share growth or reduction of price sensitivity demand creating, sustaining, and strengthening long-term memory structures.
The data from the likes of the IPA’s DataBank is plentiful, and is there for inspection by anybody who cares to look.
So while some will tell us that campaigns work like this:
We know from the work of Les Binet and Peter Field that effective campaigns actually work like this:
It is the curve that matters, not the blip.
If we cannot grasp the necessity of long-term thinking to profitable advertising, it is small wonder that agencies should stumble and fail to make the move into the development of products and platforms that have a real, enduring role in people’s lives.
So perhaps this suggests that rather than think in terms of campaigns, we should all be thinking more in terms in platforms and products. And perhaps the now-famous words of Jeff Bezos should be the ones we all create by:
If everything you do needs to work on a three-year time horizon, then you’re competing against a lot of people. But if you’re willing to invest on a seven-year time horizon, you’re now competing against a fraction of those people, because very few companies are willing to do that.”
Rather than stop-start-start spurts, we should be thinking of sustained engagement with the consumer.
Rather than looking just for short-term spikes (in buzz, ‘conversation’, and sales), we should be looking for evidence that we’re driving sustained growth.
Rather than simply counting the mute evidence of exposure and interaction, we should be using interaction as an active, on-going source of genuine consumer understanding.
Rather than thinking in terms of temporary audiences that come and go, we should be thinking of accumulating audiences over time.
And rather than thinking of strategy as a one-off event, we should be treating it as something that is continuous. As Lawrence Freedman (Professor of War Studies at King’s College London) writes in his recent magnum opus:
Strategy is much more than a plan. A plan supposes a sequence of events that allows one to move with confidence from one state of affairs to another. Strategy is required when others might frustrate one’s plans because they have different and possibly opposing interests and concerns… The inherent unpredictability of human affairs, due to the chance events as well as the efforts of opponents and the missteps of friends, provides strategy with its challenge and drama. Strategy is often expected to start with a description of a desired end state, but in practice there is rarely an orderly movement to goals set in advance. Instead, the process evolves through a series of states, each one not quite what was anticipated or hoped for, requiring a reappraisal and modification of the original strategy, including ultimate objectives. The picture of strategy… is one that is fluid and flexible, governed by the starting point and not the end point.”
Strategy, in other words, looks like this:
And like this:
Much has been made of the (rather obvious) differences between the product and its advertising, and much silly nonsense – “advertising is what you do when you don’t have a good product” – peddled.
But when we look to what makes for effective, profitable advertising, we see that effective advertising is not so different, not so divorced from good products and platforms. For both are by necessity, long-term activities.
It is of course an inevitable feature of a world of finite budgets and an ever-expanding array of possibilities and disciplines that vested interest works to silo and set into competition all the disciplines, products and approaches we are now presented with.
But recognising the shared agenda of advertising and platforms serves to remind us that marketing is not a bolt-on to product, and that product or platform development and advertising need not be antithetical.
Indeed it reminds us that sustained mental (and with it, physical) availability is as useful and valuable to people as products that meet their needs or wants. Advertising in other words, is a fundamental and intrinsic part of a product’s manifestation and value in the real world.
Speaking at an event to mark the fortieth anniversary of the planning discipline, Jon Steel, made an impassioned plea for better, longer-term thinking:
We should be angered by the accountability mindset that means we’re making more and more decisions based on what can be measured, rather than what’s really important. How many companies today are setting “Big, Hairy Audacious Goals?” Certainly not enough, and we are also culpable in their failure to do this. We need to inject more ambition into our objectives… the role for planning in the next forty years is to help clients once more to set the right objectives. The right objectives for brands and for business, not just for communications.”
It really is time for a more holistic perspective on marketing. For a more vigorous rejection of short-termism. And perhaps time that we gave up on the ‘campaign’ mindset with its attendant baggage, and adopted the perspective of long-term platform building.
Jeff Bezos, letter to shareholders, 1997
Les Binet & Peter Field, The Long And Short Of It: Balancing Short And Long-Term Marketing Strategies
Lawrence Freedman, Strategy: A History
Jon Steel, ‘Planning at 40: Solving the wrong problems‘
“It is very difficult to study history-in-the making, but what is occurring right now is the most powerful influence on the economy, the consumer and brand marketing since the Industrial Revolution. We are witnessing The Great Marketing Revolution. Our job is to be aware of it, its pattern and its destination so we can take sure, methodical steps to capitalize on it”
William T. Moran, 1956
[You don’t have to read this. It is an edited and slightly improved version of an older and longer post, written for the 50th anniversary edition of Admap. I reproduce it here only in so much as this place is also my notebook. The anniversary edition of Admap by contrast, IS very much worth reading in its entirety]
Has everything changed? Have all the old lessons and practices been rendered obsolete? Is marketing as we knew it really dead? And is it possible to move beyond rhetoric and ground the necessary speculation in at least a semblance of empirical evidence?
Yes… and no.
But let’s start with a simple framework for enquiry, something that gives us a starting point for thinking about how brands are built.
The levers of growth
It’s over a decade old, but that provided by the marketing consultant and former adman William Moran – a version of the 4Ps model – gives us a framework for evaluating marketing’s outputs, and for thinking about how marketing has changed, is changing, and must change.
For Moran the two fundamental processes which can produce change in sales, are a change in perceived Value and a change in Presence.
Change in Value he argued, can come about from a change in perceived utilities (attributes), and a change in relative price.
Presence Moran regards as “the lubricator which simply facilitates sales by reducing the mental friction in the consumer’s decision-making process.”
Moran distinguished between physical presence (being visible and easily buyable) and mental presence (being easily thought of).
Thanks to the the work of Les Binet, Peter Field, and the IPA we can identify some vital multiplying factors, namely time, investment and creativity.
We know that advertising’s ability to create value is most keenly felt in the long-term. Time, in other words is vital to success.
We know that the most profitable campaigns are those that drive both volume and pricing.
We know that campaigns require time for their effects to be felt, for while volume increases are relatively easy to achieve in the short-term, price increases take longer.
And we know that longer-term goals such as share growth or reduction of price sensitivity demand sustained brand building.
The creation of memory, brands, and sustainable business growth in other words takes time. And as such it is, like it or not, at odds with one of the defining characteristics of our age – immediacy.
This is not to deny the value of brands being responsive in the here and now.
Nor is this to suggest that short-term activity is without value. As Binet and Field note, the data suggests that the optimum balance of long-term brand building and short-term activation expenditure is on average around 60:40.
But simply delivering short-term activity does not lead to success in the long term, and long-term effects are not simply an accumulation of short-term effects. They are different kinds of effects.
Coupled with time, investment levels are a vital multiplying factor.
We know that the critical metric that determines the level of a brand’s market share growth is the degree to which its share of voice exceeds its market share (excess share of voice, or ESOV).
We know that an average of 0.5% points of share growth can be expected per 10% points of ESOV.
We also know of course that new, ‘earned’ methods of distribution marketing content have allowed marketers to extract new efficiencies.
But there is little evidence to suggest that the paid media investment and business results have been completely and irrevocably decoupled.
As Binet and Field conclude: “It is often asserted that share of voice is irrelevant in the digital era: this is not true. The correlation of SOV with market share growth is getting stronger and the returns on investing in SOV are also increasing as the level of brand choice continues to grow and the internet becomes more crowded with commercial activity.”
So to some degree, market share can be bought. However, we know that the unfair advantage that any marketer can choose to leverage is the power of creativity.
We know this from the IPA’s analysis of the 257 IPA Effectiveness cases studies for which Gunn Report scores were all available.
Creatively-awarded campaigns generate on average 5.7 points of share growth per 10 points of ESOV, compared with just 0.5 points of share growth for non-awarded campaigns.
So if the levers of brand building have been utility, price, and presence, and their multipliers have been time, investment, and creativity, where do we find ourselves today, in this, our digital age?
New forms of utility
We are seeing the malleability of software allowing for marketers to evolve, iterate and improve the product experience in response to consumer interactions in the real world, not the laboratory.
In some markets we are seeing the emergence of new models of product ownership, in which access to goods and services is rented, rather than outright ownership of goods given over to consumers.
The access, interactivity and immediacy that technology now affords us means we are able to directly involve consumers in the creation, iteration, and indeed running, of products and services.
We are seeing utility being used as a vehicle for publicity and promotion. Whereas product development and publicity occupied very distinct silos, marketing is now being “baked into” products and services.
Of course more intangible utility has not gone away. We all live and work – skilfully and effortlessly – within two worlds; the world of objects and the world of meanings. And we need this imagined world to give our identities, lives and experiences depth, significance and meaning.
But we are also are seeing new forms of utility. We are seeing new business models, new businesses, and new brands. And we are seeing product functionality being used to build and sustain the meaning and emotional component of brands.
So perhaps this new world of utility is teaching us marketing to value the sausage as much as the sizzle. And in as much as what people really need from marketers is not communications, but better products and services, it suggests that far from being ‘dead’, marketing’s original mission is very much alive and well.
New avenues of availability
Sharp, like Moran, has rightly underscored the importance of physical availability: “Being easy to notice and buy is essential, because buyers do not have strong preferences even for the brands they are loyal to.”
There was a time of course when physical shelf space and availability was the crucial factor in the quest to make brands easy to buy.
Today we are seeing digital availability being used to enhance physical availability, and we are seeing digital availability being used to replace or bypass physical availability.
We are seeing brands responding to and anticipating people’s need or interest.
We are seeing brands connect directly with customers, rather than via third parties.
We are seeing brands exploiting the interconnectedness of all things digital to create shelf space and make it easy for people to buy.
We are an explosion in the ways in which brands can create memory and meaning. Creativity is now properly unbounded, no longer constrained by media formats.
We are of course, able to give consumers the opportunity to interact in all manner of ways from the undemanding and lightweight to the participative and immersive.
We are seeing brands customize their content for different consumer segments.
We are certainly seeing brands relentlessly stalk consumers as they travel across the internet
We are able to employ consumers as advocates, ambassadors, co-creators, publicists, and media channels.
And increasingly, we are able to customize the content, timing, and targeting of our content.
New models of pricing
The economics of digital goods are allowing brands to offer consumers goods and services for free. As Chris Anderson first wrote in Wired magazine: “It’s now clear that practically everything Web technology touches starts down the path to gratis, at least as far as we consumers are concerned.”
We’re seeing brands able to employ the minority of paying users to support the majority of non-paying users, because the cost of serving that majority is close enough to zero to call it nothing.
We’re seeing brands employ ‘freemium’ pricing models in which they offer free version of their product or service as a vehicle for recruiting users, and charging for advanced features, functionality, virtual goods, or an ad-free experience.
We’re seeing some brands test dynamic pricing.
Mobile technology has of course liberated consumers from having their choice limited by what’s in front of them on shelf. Consumers are now able to treat physical stories as showrooms in which they search for a cheaper option online.
Back to the future
Even a cursory survey such as this brings home the scope depth, and velocity of change we are surrounded by. These are indeed exhilarating times. But viewed through the lens of Moran’s simple model, they remind us of two essential things.
First, the fundamental brand building mechanics of value and presence, the subprocesses of utility, pricing, and the creation of physical and mental presence – together with the necessity of time, investment, and creativity – have not evaporated. Marketers struggling to keep up with and make sense of the blizzard of change, evolution, disruption, advice (good, self-serving, and idiotic) and opinion need not despair. Look beneath the veneer of rhetoric, and one sees that the old imperatives still hold true.
But this is not an excuse for complacency. While the fundamental outputs of marketing have not been rendered obsolete, how marketers deliver value and presence is most certainly being reworked.
Connectivity, interactivity, immediacy, sociability, transparency, collaboration, prediction, responsiveness, targeting, automation, disintermediation, customization, mobility… all of these phenomenon (and more) are fundamentally remaking how brands connect with consumers. Though our choice of how is, of course, always contingent. On the nature of the task, the competition, the audience, and the brand.
There is then, as much to unlearn as there is to relearn. And as technology and code continue to remake our lives, there are inevitably, new abilities to acquire and add to the old ones. For both the individual, and the corporation.
But lest we take too much comfort from this, Moran’s model also provides us with another vital reminder. One might even call it a wakeup call. Namely that marketing is not, and has never been, synonymous with advertising. Its remit and output is far broader and more far-reaching than merely the development of communications.
So when publicity can be baked into the product, product design can be a means of meaning manufacture, distribution can be baked into the product, physical products are assuming a digital life, social channels are becoming means of delivering customer services, pricing models are being used as distribution mechanics, marketing content is no longer a dead end and is becoming just the beginning of a customer journey, the gap between publicity and purchase can be compressed, the consumer is a distribution channel, and the consumer can no longer be held at arm’s length, it really is time to let go of the antiquated (and ill-founded) notion that marketing is synonymous with ‘messaging’.
And it is high time that we blow up the mental and organisational silos that still bedevil us – story versus code, advertising versus product, utility versus image, etc.
Perhaps if we all thought of ourselves in the business of creating connections – in the mind, between people, companies and brands, and between people and other people – then we’d find ourselves better adapted to the new environments and possibilities of our age.
In an age defined by its connectedness – people to people, people to things, and things to other things – that seems a far more accurate and useful perspective on what we all do.
“Only connect”, as E.M. Forster wrote.
What do the following have in common?
They were advertisements -for ideologies, for empires of thought, for families, dynasties, and institutions of power.
Moreover behind each and every one there was a client – a patron – who had commissioned and funded it. Serious men like this:
But what, you might ask, has any of this got to teach us about marketing and advertising in this, the twenty-first century?
The answer is simple. Everything.
Because they were created at the nexus of creativity and power.
Creativity that would endure, that would continue to surprise, delight, teach, shock, inspire, move and enthral for hundreds of years.
And power beyond anything wielded by today’s corporate clients – the kind of power that could make or destroy reputations, careers, and lives. The kind of power that invaded nations. That could put a man to death.
And therein – in this meeting of vast power and sublime creativity – lie the lessons.
But let us first start with a truth felt daily by those on the agency side, but rarely spoken of publicly – the last twenty years have seen a profound shift in the balance of power in client-agency relations.
The supply-side of marketing communications is over-populated like never before. Simply put, there are too many agencies pursuing not enough revenue. And so, as in any marketplace, the consequence of over-supply is inescapable. The buyer is in the driving seat – the terms and conditions, and the value put on ideas are increasingly set (and even dictated) by clients.
This is not some kind of wistful nostalgia for the halcyon glory days of old. It’s just simple – and brutal – economics.
One need only look to the steady erosion of agency margins, the increasing prominence of procurement in agency relations, the phenomenon of the unpaid pitch, and the invidious and unilateral extension of payment terms as evidence of this shift.
But while clients are more powerful than ever before, the nature of creativity has not changed. It is still a fragile, emotional, personal, mercurial, and unpredictable enterprise, one that cannot be bullied into existence. The fact still remains that fear is rarely a spur to greatness, and brilliance is rarely the product of a set of suffocating edicts and requirements.
So the question now for every client is this: How can such power be a force for good?
How can it liberate rather than stifle creativity?
How can it stimulate the kind of creativity that exceeds the imaginations and expectations of the client and paymaster, rather than that which merely panders to them?
How can it achieve its ambitions without fracking to exhaustion the very sources of creativity upon which it relies?
In this environment, the patrons of old – those who enabled such genius minds as da Vinci, Michelangelo, Carravaggio, Rubens, Bernini to create some of the greatest works of art in the Western world – have much to teach all of us.
There are four lessons in particular that are worth reflecting on, and taking to heart.
First, the achievements of patronage teach us to nurture creativity.
It is no accident that the word patron, in Latin, means Father. A patron of the arts is one who “begets” and protects the Arts.
And while for most of human history art was a servant of power, both political and religious, the patrons appreciated the arts, liked them. Loved them, even.
Back in ancient Rome, Maecenas was one of the first and most famous patrons of the arts. While the purpose of his patronage was magnifying and extending the glory of Rome, he was also had a reputation for being more than just The Money, but being a man of taste and judgment.
Indeed that appreciation extended beyond the work of the poets he supported, but to them as individuals. For example he happily provided the great Roman poet Virgil with a subsidy that allowed him to write without having to worry about living expenses.
Ruthless, avaricious, corrupt, self-serving, grasping, venal, cruel, vain, selfish, greedy, they might have been. But the great patrons of old believed in the power of art. And they believed in the talent of those responsible for creating it.
There was nothing half-hearted about the patrons belief in art. And it could make for a difficult relationship. The likes of Michelangelo and Carravaggio were famous for the headaches they caused their patrons. The painter Salvator Rosa once told an imprudent client who had his own idea for a picture to “go to a brickmaker as they work to order”. But it was a friction borne of the patron’s fundamental belief in the power of art.
Moreover, patrons did not just commission work – such was their belief in the power of art that they actively worked to develop nascent artistic talent, and to create an audience for its works.
Michelangelo was talent-spotted by the Medicis at the age of fourteen.
The aristocratic Italian banker, art collector and intellectual Vincenzo Giustiniani was a torchbearer for the intensely ascetic religious art of Carravaggio. Many found his emphatically humble vision of the origins of Christianity troubling. Giustiniani however, worked to advertise Carravaggio’s approach to devotional art, seeking to secure him papal favour. Indeed without this support, many of Carravaggio’s most remarkable paintings might never have been created.
Secondly, the achievements of patronage teach us to be ambitious.
The patrons of Renaissance Italy were nothing if not full of vision, ambition and purpose.
Art existed to serve the needs and agenda of the institutions of power – church, state, guilds, corporations, and families.
So whether it was appreciation, awe, reverence, piety, humility, envy… patrons wanted to have an effect on an audience.
Full of ambition and purpose, Bernini’s Ecstasy of St Theresa was born of Conaro’s resistance to the reforms of Martin Luther that treated religious imagery as evidence of worldliness and corruption. In contrast to the Protestant belief that the written word was what mattered, it was work of art born of a belief in the power of imagery to inspire the faithful.
But it goes beyond this, for it dared to embrace mysticism – the possibility and desirability of an individual union with God. Something that the both the Protestant and Catholic Church unsurprisingly found deeply threatening.
And yet here she is, reclining on a cloud, her head thrown back in a sigh and her chest offered for yet another thrust of the arrow from God’s angel, all with Cornaro and members of his distinguished family looking on.
Third, the achievements of patronage teach us to be generous.
If there is one thing that characterizes patrons across the ages, it’s their willingness to lavish cash on the artists and their projects.
Luxury spending flourished in Italian courts and cities even as the country’s wealth was ebbing. So even while Italy was being sidelined by the discovery of Atlantic trade routes in the 16th and 17th centuries, such was their commitment to the arts, that the baroque popes lavished cash on marble and invested in the genius of Bernini.
Over a period of 37 years Cosimo Medici spent a sum equivalent to 10 million dollars supporting the arts, building churches, villas, the Medici Library, and aiding Greek scholars who were fleeing Constantinople in 1453.
The journalist and art critic Jonathan Jones writing for The Guardian puts it well:
Let us remember that most of the world’s great works of art are the fruit of spendaholic patronage by magnificos who knew how to tell the accountants where to go… The best argument in favour of generosity is that no one remembers a skinflint fondly.”
And finally, the achievements of the patronage teach us to build to last.
We operate in a corporate world handcuffed to quarterly reporting cycles, in which the average tenure of the CMO is just forty-three months, which still struggles to grasp the fact that sustainable, profitable brand-building is a long-term undertaking, and is aided and abetted by a communications industry that fetishizes short-term bumps, blips and buzz.
Consummate brand builders, the patrons of old created not just for the here and now, but for generations hence.
The cathedrals of medieval Europe are a vivid example of the concerted and sustained patronage of prelates, kings, nobles, merchants, craftsmen, guilds, and their will to see the glory of God permanently and physically embodied.
So, dear clients. You are wealthy. And you are powerful. But when it comes to to creating an environment in which creativity can flourish, you are perhaps in need of new heroes. New role-models. And a new standard. For power is just as capable of stifling creativity, as it is in liberating it.
The relationship between power and creativity, between mammon and the muse has always been a complex one. Good clients – be they emperors, kings, dukes, popes, cardinals, bankers, and yes, even marketers – have always been alive to this truth.
However as the possibilities of our creative revolution continue to expand and bloom before our very eyes, more clients – if they wish to take advantage of them – will need to wake up and accommodate themselves to the very real risk and potential of their own power.
This is most certainly not to indulge in the lazy fantasy that clients become pliant, fawning “I love it, run it!” pushovers. The relationship between patron and artist after all, could be a famously fractious, even combustible affair.
Nonetheless, how to exercise a much expanded power in a way that properly stimulates creativity rather than fracks it to exhaustion feels like one of the more urgent issues before any corporation.
And in a world in which the explosion of creative possibilities has been matched by an expansion of corporate power, those who exercise the levers of finance and power could do worse than think and act like a patron.
To nurture creativity.
And build to last.
For when married to creativity, intelligent, nurturing, generous power, power with taste, ambition, and vision, is capable of achieving marvels.
Culture moves at the speed of our machines
It took a full seventeen days for news of Nelson’s victory in 1805 at the Battle of Trafalgar to reach London. The news had travelled at 2.7mph.
News of the 1891 Nobi Earthquake in Japan travelled at 246mph, taking one day to reach London.
And in 2008 it took just one minute for news of the Sichuan earthquake to reach – London, travelling at 204,000mph.
The Wright brothers’ first flight in 1903 reached 6.82mph.
Less than ten years later the Air Speed record had risen to 68.171mph with Alfred Leblanc’s flight.
By 1948 the record had reached 670mph.
Eleven years later the record stood at 2,193.2mph.
Aldous Huxley might have been right in his claim that speed really is the only pleasure invented by modernity.
Indeed the evidence is everywhere that the metabolism of our culture has shifted fundamentally.
We consume, discard and move on faster than ever before. More passes through our eyes, hands, ears, mouths, stomachs, and minds at a faster rate than ever before.
A river of novelty and sensation runs through our culture and through us as individuals.
And everywhere we look, we can find evidence of that speed and immediacy is not merely a phenomenon of our modern times, but has become an everyday expectation. We inhabit a culture that increasingly expects swift delivery and instant gratification.
Thus we have instant home loans. Instant tans. Instant messaging. Instant coffee. Instant approvals. Instant downloads. Instant replays. Instant results.
When the doors don’t close quickly enough, or it doesn’t arrive faster enough, we punch impatiently at the elevator button. We sound our horns as soon as the traffic light turns from red to green. We harrumph with exasperation when our transatlantic flight’s departure is delayed by twenty minutes. We drum our fingers on the counter while our allegedly ‘fast’ food is being prepared.
We’ve come to expect things so quickly that we can’t wait more than a few seconds for a video to load. Krishnan and Sitaraman’s analysis of the impact of video stream quality on viewer behavior reveals that viewers start to abandon a video if it takes more than 2 seconds to start up, with each incremental delay of 1 second resulting in a 5.8% increase in the abandonment rate. This means that after five seconds, the abandonment rate is 25%. And after 10 seconds, half are gone.
The decline in Americans’ personal personal saving rates — the percentage of disposable income save – has been much documented and commented upon. Back in December 1982, American’s saved 9.7%. By December 2012 it had declined to 3.6%. A whole gamut of reasons have been suggested for the decline, but one must wonder whether our growing focus on immediacy has also played a role.
Even the lag between buying online and waiting for delivery is demolished. As the author and cultural commentator Douglas Rushkoff has noted, the new incarnations of consumer goods and services “are successively less tangible, reducing the friction associated with purchasing, using, and disposing of real objects… As if coming full circle to the era of lords and vassals, we no longer own the land at all but simply pay for the right to use it”.
And of course in Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, SMS, we have our own, personal infrastructure of delivery and immediacy, our own always on, instant news channels that enable us to distribute and consume content, whether it’s home-made, bought, borrowed, or stolen.
Surveying this, our culture of immediacy, the sociologist Professor John Tomlinson argues that we are witnessing the closing of “certain separations that have historically defined the terms of human culture…”
And indeed wherever we look, delay and distance is being squeezed out of our culture and lives. We are witnessing the closing of the gap between the departure and arrival of anything. Between ignorance and knowledge. Between knowledge and experience. Between wanting and acquiring. Between acquiring and consuming.
As the gaps become compressed, so too does the gap between the past and the future. As if inhabiting some kind of rolling CNN news story, in a culture of immediacy we increasingly find ourselves living in one long, continuous present-tense. One, long Right Now.
Of course this culture offers us thrills, satisfactions, gratifications, pleasures, benefits, and advantages aplenty. And it isn’t just the ephemeral, the disposable, and the inconsequential that fills so much of consumer culture that has become accelerated. After all, we can can get informed and smarter faster. And we can deliver life-saving medicines faster.
But while there is much good to be had, and much to be thankful for in this, our culture of immediacy, the mechanics of effective branding run counter to the drift of culture.
For while our culture’s metabolism has accelerated, the means by which sustainable growth is created has not.
Sustainable memory-building takes time
To be found, considered, chosen, bought and consumed, brands rely on the creation of memory structures.
William Moran characterized this as the creation of ‘mental presence’ – what some refer to as ‘salience’ or ‘mental availability’.
Definitions of what exactly this constitutes abound, but Moran’s is pithily useful: “The degree to which a given brand comes to consumers’ minds in the context of a particular purchase occasion or consumption occasion.”
Clearly this is more than just top of mind awareness. To “come to mind” in purchase or consumption situations demands both quantity and quality of brand memories.
Quantity refers to the number of associations a buyer has about a brand, while quality refers to both the strength of the association and the relevance of that memory to the buying or consumption situation.
Of course what we call memories are connections between neurons. The more connections there are, the more memories there are. And the stronger the connection, the stronger the memory.
To create strong connections between neurons requires repetition. Robert Heath has characterized the process as one of repeatedly walking a path in the grass. Every journey we take on it makes the path more visible, more enduring.
In other words it takes time.
Thus, Coca-Cola is imbued the world over with associations of happiness because for 125 years it has one way or another talked about, celebrated and brought to life one thing.
There is another dimension to the act of repetition that we cannot ignore,
Professor Daniel Kahnemann’s work has shown how repetition makes things true. As he puts it “A reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth. Authoritarian institutions and marketers have always known this fact.”
The impatient marketer might look for ‘reasons to believe’, but psychology teaches us that saying a thing – repeatedly – makes it so.
Sustainable business growth takes time
And if creating enduing memory takes time, so too do the business effects of advertising.
In The Long And The Short Of It: Balancing Short- And Long-Term Marketing Strategies, Les Binet and Peter Field report on their of analysis of the IPA Effectiveness Databank. The data held therein is the product of 30 years of the IPA effectiveness Awards – numbering some 996 campaigns, for 700 brands in over 80 categories.
Their analysis makes it clear that (contrast to our culture of immediacy) advertising’s ability to create value is most keenly felt in the long-term:
The total number of business effects rises steadily as the campaign length increases… This is largely as one would expect: the longer a campaign runs, the more investment has been put behind it and the more time it has to generate effects.
This picture is replicated with the profit metric, though with a notably greater increase between 1 and 2-year campaigns.”
Most profitable of all are campaigns that drive both volume and pricing… Their principle characteristic is that incremental volume is achieved whilst strengthening margin.”
No 3-month campaigns report major pricing effects.”
Volume effects are quick to achieve but pricing effects take much longer.”
The creation of memory, brands, and business growth takes time. And as such it is, like it or not, at odds with one of the defining characteristics of our age.
This is not to deny the value of brands being responsive in the here and now. Or the value of a brand demonstrating its currency, of surfing the ever-changing waves, fads and currents of popular culture. Or of providing short-term bursts of interest and fame.
Nor is this to suggest that there is no value in short-term activity. As Binet and Field comment:
The IPA data suggests that the optimum balance of brand and activation expenditure is on average around 60:40, though this may vary by category and is driven by how category expenditure divides (typically 60:40): the objective is to achieve equal share of voice within brand and activation.”
Direct campaigns [campaigns that use immediate behavioral triggers] work most efficiently over short time frames… They are essential for short-term sales efficiency. But direct campaigns are not efficient drivers of long-term growth (over 3+ years).”
That said, simply delivering short-term activity does not lead to success in the long term. As Binet and Field observe:
The way in which long-term effects are generated is fundamentally different from how most short-term effects are produced. Although long-term effects always produce some short-term effects, the reverse is not true and long-term effects are not simply an accumulation of short-term effects.”
So however much it may be the spirit (for better and for worse) of our times, we cannot allow our expectation of immediate delivery and satisfaction undermine our ability to deliver value.
Immediacy in adland
Yet symptoms of impatience are already to be found. We probably should not be surprised. After all only hermits, the psychopathic and the sociopathic are truly immune from the drift of culture.
Thus we see that the ability to deliver realtime marketing content can lead to the demand for realtime results.
The abundance of highly responsive communications metrics that digital interactions generate can lead to the assumption that success is to be found in the here and now.
The demand for immediate (job, decision and budget) justification can lead to short-term effects being passed of or taken to be the same as effectiveness (there is a difference).
The expectation of immediate change leads researchers and their methodologies to ignore the multiplying effects of time and repetition.
The demand for rapid career advancement leads to job tenures in the corporation that are too short to see real, meaningful business growth.
So where does this leave us?
Brand building does not move at the speed of culture
The metabolism of our culture continues to accelerate.
But – and the evidence is clear on this – the metabolism of sustainable growth has not.
So building successful brands will as it has always done, continue to take time.
In the preface to his book Present Shock, Douglas Rushkoff (who could hardly be called a Luddite) warns us that:
“Our society has reoriented itself to the present moment. Everything is live, real time, and always on. It’s not a a mere speeding up, however much our lifestyles and technologies have accelerated the rate at which we attempt to do things. It’s more of a diminishment of anything that isn’t happening right now – and the onslaught of everything that supposedly is.”
Ensuring that we do not fall victim to the diminishment of anything that isn’t happening right now it will demand of us a degree of fortitude. It will take a new degree of vigilance. It will require a determination not to give in to the expectation or demand of immediate delivery and satisfaction.
However much that may surround (and indeed delight us) us in our personal lives.
Les Binet and Peter Field, The Long And The Short Of It: Balancing Short- And Long-Term Marketing Strategies
S. Shunmuga Krishnan and Ramesh K. Sitaraman, ‘Video Stream Quality Impacts Viewer Behavior: Inferring Causality Using Quasi-Experimental Designs’
William Moran, ‘Brand Presence And The Perceptual Frame’, Journal of Advertising Research, October/November 1990
Douglas Rushkoff, Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now
Michael Stillwell, A Farewell To Alms: A Brief Economic History Of The World
John Tomlinson, The Culture Of Speed: The Coming Of Immediacy
It is human nature to extrapolate from our own, personal experience of the world.
And sometimes it is a useful place to start.
But as these exhibits from Thinkbox demonstrate, we would do well to remember that in some of our media and technology habits, we are very different from people in the normal world.
So next time you hear somebody claim that “everybody” is doing this, or “everybody” is doing that, take it with a grain of salt.
The chances are that they’re talking about themselves.
(If anybody has similar comparisons for other markets, do please share).