Thursday, March 27, 2008

The death of advertising?

I came across a presentation of Paul Isakson who explores the future of marketing and advertising. It contains some pretty interesting views about the future and that is very much in line with a number of the conclusions of our strategic analysis at Vanksen Group. However, there are a few specific points that I think are worth discussing here. But first the deck of slides:

A few thoughts on the contents of the presentation:

  1. stating that advertising is terminally ill and about to disappear completely may be rushing to an extreme conclusion. Advertising and brand communications are undergoing a radical transformation and as a result they will not be what they used to, but I don't think they'll just disappear and here are a couple of the impacts I see:
    • in today's world despite the substantial increase of ways for marketers to spend (a lot of) money, it becomes increasingly easy to identify which half of the marketing budget is wasted and that puts a lot of pressure on all intermediaries and service providers (e.g. agencies, creative consultants, ad networks, PR agencies...) some of whom used to make a very handsome living on the inefficiencies and lack of transparency of the market;

    • with consumers being completely empowered and able to make themselves heard, no brand can afford the centralized one-to-many communication model and on top of that brand owners are now confronted with a completely new class of missions having to do with the way their brands are protected from an ever increasing number and sorts of abuse and practices that lead to either a decrease of brand equity (for a definition I recommend this site - search the page for "brand equity") or a reduction of return on the existing brand equity (loss of transactions, theft, counterfeit...)

    • for all of the fuss about online conversations, interactions, communities and generally speaking all of the latest fads surrounding viral campaigns, word of mouth and other practices of influence, the point is that these phenomena do not occur just like that by miracle. A brand does need specialized service providers to initiate, feed, amplify, dampen and monitor the process. In that sense, advertising and brand communications don't simply go away, but they are radically transformed and the truth is that no established agency is well prepared to deal with these new requirements of the market;

    • advertising in its first form may be less and less relevant in today's interconnected world of empowered individuals and communities, yet advertising remains extremely powerful when it becomes a service to the intended audience. When one thinks about the conditions of future success for advertising and brand communications without paying too much attention to the viability of their current forms or to what will become of current intermediaries and service providers, it does seem that they boil down to love, care  and respect:
      • successful successor forms should love people enough to be wanting only the very best for them, to reach out to them only with extremely relevant high-quality offerings. In that respect Paul Isakson's assertion that "the product is the marketing" is super relevant;

      • successful successor forms should care for the relationship between a human person and an offering. In other words care for the experience of the "user" with the "product" for as long as the relationship goes. That is especially relevant in a world where one doesn't simply air an ad and then there's nothing: in today's world every single piece of communication has some degree of remanence (it remains accessible over a period of time at least online, even after a "campaign" is over) and  successive communications have a cumulative effect;

      • successful successor forms should respect people who collectively form an audience (they're not just "targets") and thus never assume that they are owed attention, brain time and engagement. They must earn them through a balanced relationship, not by trying to high-jack the attention of a person who is really just trying to watch a soccer game or a movie and is compelled to go through a quarter of an hours of advertising carpet bombing. That's not respect and that's not balanced. That's manipulation and a fundamental violation of free choice, even though one of the benefits of the mechanism may be for the consumer to be paying a newspaper 25% of the price it would cost without any advertising revenues: that's just the nice manipulative excuse and besides it's not relevant in a world where publication is no longer a privilege of the few...

  2. in a couple of his slides Paul shows the contrast between "old world" and "modern marketing", which he seems to sum-up in the change of flow from product-to-consumer to consumer-to-product. I suppose his point is that the consumer is a whole lot more empowered to influence products today, yet at the same time existing tools and practices for involving consumers / users in the design of products seem extremely inadequate and ineffective (see Steve Jobs' quote). I think this ties back to the fact that in a whole array of fields of economic activity the means and tools of production inherited from the industrial revolution need to be (re)imagined as Tom Peters would say.To make it more specific with examples starting with the field of product design and software development:
    • traditional methodologies had "determinism" as their philosophical foundation, which is why it was assumed that a good product could not be designed unless the right amount of expertise was invested upfront in planning, engineering and design. It was assumed that the more effort would go into studying a product, specifying it in the greatest of details and then moving to execute in a rigorous, martial and rigid manner was the safest way to delivering something that met the needs of a market. In the field of IT the way this took form was a development methodology called waterfall: it's based on the premise that if one analyzes and captures exactly all of the requirements of a user then the outcome of the development process can be nothing but success. Alas (fortunately as far as I am concerned), the world is a chaotic and messy place and determinism does not work very well as shown by the scientists of chaos theory and by those working in the field of complex adaptive systems. Hence rigid waterfall-like approaches mean guaranteed failure of product design at very high-cost, which then creates incentives to invest a lot of money in advertising and communications to salvage the initial investment. That's why we see more fluid ways of doing emerge, and that's one of the things I was looking for by attending my recent scrum master training in Paris. So no wonder focus groups don't work very well and if all "modern" marketing does is invert the flow by giving the initiative to the consumer without changing the "layers" between the consumer and the product, then it's bound for failure. Marketing and product design ought to learn from the field of complex adaptive systems and agile software development. That's where the future of marketing lies and large collaborative open-source projects provide ample evidence to back that claim.

    • a second example of the inadequacy of tools and practices inherited from the industrial age would have to do with the way many companies are organized and run, especially in France. They're set-up as collections of pyramids walled and fenced from each other with "importance" being given to the guys at the top of the pyramid who get more or less absolute powers through the command-and-control paradigm of management, which leads people working under their "supervision" to fight and compete to get to the top instead of cooperating to achieve business results. Usually in such organizations there is also an unspoken assumption that is tyranny both for the teams and for the "bosses": "the boss knows better". That's what is stifling initiative, innovation and movement, while killing productivity in a major way. There's no flow in this form of organization and the time it needs to adapt to an ever changing market is just not an option today. Again, managers ought to learn from complex adaptive systems, focus on hiring the right people and then let them self-organize to achieve results.

  3. traditionally there's been a sort of back and forth movement in the field of marketing and communications with fads like "customer-centric marketing", "ego marketing", "brand-centric marketing", "lovebrands"... All the authors and researchers who have been involved in identifying, formalizing, teaching and practicing these things have something in common: a fascination for the occurrences of high-quality interactions between one or more human persons (the consumer or the buyer) and a (branded) product. It's what Tom Peters calls the WOW effect. Now, I think it is relevant to note that this WOW effect is not the result of some unique characteristic of either party to the relationship (the consumer or the product / service): you don't get people WOWed only because there is something exceptional in the product or service, but you do get the RIGHT people WOWed with the finely targeted product attributes that exactly match their "secret" needs, those they cannot express in a focus group or interview. In that sense, Paul's point about the relevance of emergent digital ethnography and collaboration do make great sense. In a certain way this is a great instance of real-world application of some of the stuff discussed by Robert Pirsig in Zen and the Art of Motorcylce Maintenance, a book that was recommended to me in the mid-nineties by my good friend Roberto Ostinelli, the CTO of OpenSpime. So of course, since current advertising is in essence a hired gun for wealthy brands who seek to manipulate the masses and talk them into buying more of their stuff, its does not really qualify for a world in which the balance has been shifting dramatically to become refocused on the quality of experience and hence on the relationship, on the way a product or service "meets" the people who will use it to achieve something of importance to them. There is simply a clash of values between the old form of advertising and communications and today's world.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Well, I guess it's done in the fullest sense of the word: the scrum master training is over and it's been an exciting couple of days with Jeff Sutherland and great participants. There was theory, there were facts (many) and there was also practice, where I got an opportunity to play with nice fun people like Nicolas and to benefit from the creative ideas of Denis, two team mates in a practice sequence that we blew away. One of the missions was to build a four story house of cards (that's where Denis creative use of post-its came in). Great fun. Here are the pictures.

The team's achievement (OK, the fourth level of the house is minimalistic, but on the other hand that was the description of the requirement in the story point, so why go beyond and take the risk of send everything crumbling down?) with Denis trying to hide behind a bottle of water ;-)


Nicolas, who's given us a great tip to properly achieve estimates: make sure you are absolutely clear about what "done" means... and that makes a world of difference both in terms of quality of estimates and in terms of making the interaction between team members really productive and uplifting:


The team's achievement with Laurent at the right hand side in the background. Laurent works for CRP Henri Tudor, Luxembourg's public research center, which means that Luxembourg had some serious proportion of the audience in this session of scrum master (there were 4 people from Vanksen Group, Laurent and myself - I count at least 50% from Luxembourg given the amount of time I spend there!).


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Upgrading my "software"

One of the things that I most love about being a freelance professional is the freedom to choose how I go about upgrading my skills, the software that I have installed between my ears if you will. In fact, following trainings that can help me better coach and help my customers is a priority. That's one criterion for choosing and that's what led me to participate to a two-day training session organized by Xebia with Jeff Sutherland (who I find very impressive with his great combination of expertise, experience and common sense - highly recommended!) on scrum a method that he's helped invent. Scrum does seem to be the kind of methodology that truly binds agile practices of software development teams to agile product management, i.e.exactly what one needs to help customers in fast paced and high-growth business contexts. For more about Scrum this is a good link. No nonsense approach to projects, smart implementation of lessons from complex adaptive systems and action orientation are the characteristics I most appreciate in the approach. I will definitely be looking for projects and environments where to apply this stuff...

Friday, March 21, 2008

Full speed ahead for Linked In

Linked In is evolving big time with the integration of social networking functionality of a new sort and with the extension of its services to cover company profiles, something I consider awesome. A few months back I wrote a piece stating why I did not believe in Facebook for business and how a combination between carefully chosen Facebook-like functionality and Linked In functionality would deliver major value. Now more than ever, Linked In is becoming a real custodian of professional identity, pretty much like Google will increasingly be the authority to ascertain the identity of individuals (in fact they already act as a trusted third party for customer details verification in e-commerce transactions).

Anyway, here's a nice little video of the product manager doing a demo of the new feature, which will help propel Linked In to a position its look-alike competitors will have hard time catching up with. And by the way, this is the sort of stuff I would love to see more product managers do for their products.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

OpenSpime's interview: exciting and challenging

A couple of posts ago, I told you about OpenSpime and now you can listen to Roberto and David in their very interesting interview.

Quote from the IT Conversations online resource

Bruce Sterling suggested the creation of a new type of technological device, called "spime", that through pervasive RFID communications and GPS navigation can track its history and interact with the world. OpenSpime, a project of WideTag Inc., enables individuals and corporations to better understand their environment, through the use of a series of GPS-enabled sensors.  Co-founders David Orban and Roberto Ostinelli join Phil and Scott to discuss the concepts and technologies.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Where's the agency?

Quite an interesting trend in the space of advertising as online media, especially those that have a participative audience, are now reinventing the value chain of marketing communications. This does look like a validation for those of us who feel the role and mission of agency is to undergo dramatic changes in the months and years to come. Watch this space!

Current TV is reaping the rewards of the new trend of commercials created by users.
According to MediaPost, Current TV is running several ads created by users with key advertisers including Sony and Toyota running half their inventory from the amateur ads.
This is a win-win for Current TV because it gets individuals participating and tightens the relationships with advertisers through the VCAMs (viewer-created ad messages).
 blog it

Understanding business growth to manage more of it

To many people the very idea that growth can be a problem for a business may sound strange. Yet, growth is the cause of demise of many new ventures and proper management of business growth is one of the most critical tasks for managers to perform. I put together some slides to outline some very important aspects of growth sustainability mainly from the financial perspective. Hopefully it will give entrepreneurs some food for thought. Enjoy and please let me have your feedback.

Nope, the world ain't flat Mr Friedman

Some good material presented at Media'08 in Australia. Should it come as a surprise that the concept of a flat world is being challenged from "down under"? This presentation is quite interesting in that it challenges a few stereotypes and generally accepted truths and thus puts in perspective a number of success stories that capture so much of our attention these days. No I am not rambling about Facebook and its ridiculous valuation... at least not too much. Enjoy this good stuff!

Monday, March 10, 2008

The rise of mobile search?

Ideas for all sorts of services to mobile users abound and have been around for the past couple of years. Nothing significant has happened thus far as the mass adoption of multimedia mobiles has yet to take place especially because users climb the learning curve very slowly and tend to use their devices mainly for telephony. Yet forecasts about mobile services that can be "monetized" remain fairly bullish. Here are a few factors that will likely change that:
1. devices with pre-installed IP telephony client software are hitting the market
2. the iPhone's impact will be felt both in terms of consumer adoption and in terms of strong influence on the design of devices by other manufacturers, thus setting new standards of usability
3. new forms of wide area IP connectivity will make it more affordable for people to be always on while on the move

Mobile Search: The New Frontier

Recent figures released by The Kelsey Group expect U.S. mobile search revenues to reach $1.4 billion by 2012.  In 2007 this figure was $33.2 million, and 2008 is expected to see a figure of around $102.3 million.

Spain was the most willing to pay for their search services, while avoiding the sight of ads in their mobile search experience, with 51% indicating so.  Consumers in the U.S. were also receptive to this idea, with 49% supporting this notion.  Consumers in the U.K., however, were least open to this idea, with only 38% saying they would take this option.
 blog it

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Wisdom of crowds or herd mentality?

"Wisdom of crowds" is one of those fads especially online and I think there's a myth to dispel. Opinions, concepts, software, decisions and content may emerge and get build as a result of adding-up the individual inputs of many people, but that does not mean that where one identifies group phenomena there's necessarily intelligence, let alone wisdom. Since I think words are important, let me get back to the basics of what the word "wisdom" actually means, referring to a definition quoted from

quality or state of being wise; knowledge of what is true or right
coupled with just judgment as to action; sagacity, discernment, or

2.scholarly knowledge or learning: the wisdom of the schools.

3.wise sayings or teachings; precepts.

4.a wise act or saying.

While there are cases in which the collective intelligence of many participants to a process of creation or evaluation may yield positive results, I believe there are conditions for that phenomenon of collective emergent intelligence to actually take place and I doubt it should be called "wisdom". And I doubt it's relevant to characterize any group behavior as "wisdom of crowds" as some people tend to do. Since there are a couple of business ideas out there that rely on the assumption that collective intelligence can be exploited by merely putting together a community of users, I think there are quite a few entrepreneurs who should think this through. Sometimes crowds are just dumb and there's nothing very wise about herd mentality as shown in this excellent story of Gaston Lagaffe (click to enlarge).


Thursday, March 6, 2008

Quote of the day

"A perfection of means, and confusion of aims, seems to be our main problem."
Albert Einstein

Amazing how this amazing mind went as far as defining something that characterizes many businesses in particular where information technology is involved.What good is it to have all the bells and whistles of modern user interfaces, all the collaborative dynamics of participative media and social networks, all the daring and bravado of a new business, if one doesn't have a clear picture of what game they are playing or if they keep changing the game to avoid making hard choices?

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Trends in online advertising and strong growth in Belgium

In an industry that has been growing at a yearly rate greater than 20% for the best part of the past decade (source: PricewaterhouseCoopers), with the 2006 growth standing at 35% according to Pew Institute, Belgium's online advertising spend has grown by 50% to 273 million euros in 2007 according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau. Of course, that is tiny as a share of the global online advertising revenues which reached 17 billion dollars (about 12 billion euros) in 2006 according to Pew Institute.

Here are two interesting reports published in 2007:

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Idiot's guide to the subprime mess

Last summer a new word entered my English vocabulary: subprime. Here's one of the best presentations on the topic. Studying the subprime mess (yes, "mess" seems to be the word most often associated with my new English word of last summer) I came to the conclusion that sophisticated financial constructs may require a number of "quant" eggheads, crazy scientists taken out of their natural environments and a fair share of arrogant financiers, but at the end of the day some of the stuff they do just does not pass the test of mere common sense. Financiers sometimes behave like those alchemists of old times who had not understood the symbolic dimension of their quest and kept trying to turn lead into gold, except that most financiers of our times pursue no quest whatsoever.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Carbon emissions: facts to make a difference

Nowadays a day seldom goes by without some piece of news regarding the sorry state and dismal prospects of the Earth's environment. These are the days of inconvenient truths. Opinions are numerous, conceptual ideas abound,  more or less scientific and rigorous conclusions widely distributed and each person responds in their own way. Some will feel anxious, others don't know or pretend not to know (so they can drive an over-sized car with an engine that makes a noise that is music to their ears), others still feel a century is too long a time to worry and a few do what they can to help.
The point however is that we all seem to be like drivers or airplane pilots deprived of instruments, flying or driving blindly in the worrying knowledge that the wall we will hit is getting dangerously close. That's the key issue: we lack data about the impact of our daily micro-decisions on the environment even though there are all sorts of calculators of environmental impact out there. What we do not have is a means to measure what is going on as it's happening, which is really a pity in a world so connected. That's precisely one of the challenges OpenSpime, the self proclaimed "infrastructure company for an open internet of things", seems to be addressing with a pretty cool infrastructure that combines sensors, software, the Internet and mashups to deliver actual maps of carbon dioxide emissions. A good friend of mine is their CTO and I am impressed with what these guys are presenting in this video:

Influence marketing: almost astrology?

I recently wrote a post on the doubts that are being cast over the central proposition of Gladwell's Tipping Point. While I would love to write a bit more of how I would apply concepts from the field of complex adaptive systems to influence marketing, we should start from the beginning that is defining influence in as rigorous a manner as possible. According to, influence (as a noun) is:

  1. the capacity or power of persons or things to be a compelling force on
    or produce effects on the actions, behavior, opinions, etc., of others:
    He used family influence to get the contract.

  2. the action or process of producing effects on the actions, behavior, opinions, etc., of another or others: Her mother's influence made her stay.

  3. a person or thing that exerts influence: He is an influence for the good.

These definitions of "influence" center around the process, power or energy that establishes a cause-and-effect relationship between a person or a phenomenon and the behavior of someone else. Therefore it does seem that "influence" is about someone or something whose existence in the more or less immediate environment of a sentient person will result in that person adopting a position, initiating an action of generally speaking having a behavior. So if I were to "demonstrate" that there has been influence from someone (let's call that person the influencer) on someone else (let's call that person the subject), I would need at least the following elements:

  1. proof that the influencer has been able to trigger a change in the subject's environment AND

  2. at least a strong indication that the subject has recorded the change in a conscious or unconscious manner AND

  3. a clear link between the recorded change and the subject's behavior AND

  4. a way to be certain that the subject's behavior would have been different or less deliberate without the change initiated by the influencer in their environment

For all the technology in the world, no matter how sophisticated the techniques of so-called behavioral-targeting or behavioral-marketing, nobody will ever really know for sure what is actually going on in the mind of the subject, let alone measure it. Furthermore, the actual dimensions of an influencer's behavior that will trigger changes in the decisions of the subject will largely remain unknown unless one decides to have an in-depth interview with the subject using advanced approaches derived from psychology and neuro-sciences. In short, influence marketing is as full of wishful thinking and imprecision as traditional marketing, but since the core of the matter seems to be influence, here's another definition of "influence" that may make practical obstacles easier to pass for influence marketeers even though they will need to change parts of their sales pitch:


a.the radiation of an ethereal fluid from the stars, regarded as affecting human actions and destinies.

b.the exercise of occult power by the stars, or such power as exercised.

Replace "stars" with "very influential people", an example of which would be my cat, and presto, you have a definition of influence marketing that comes very close to what the whole shebang is all about. That is until we figure out a way to model and replicate the phenomenon...

How to run a (re)branding workshop

In recent work sessions and discussions with customers and prospective business partners I was asked to provide some input regarding a process that could support a (re)branding exercise. While I have by no means developed anything to generate relevant brands or names for products or services, I have been asked to run workshops aimed at helping teams agree on the (re)branding of one of their products or services. These sessions were structured using several tools coming straight out of NLP as well as methods developed by Dr De Bono and a fantastic design company called IDEO. So I decided to make the process available under Creative Commons license for anyone who may need to use it. Feedback is very welcome as I look forward to the opportunity of improving the way the workshop is structured and the adequacy of the issues tackled. Please note that these slides are "facilitator's training or prep" rather than stuff that can be shown to the participants of the workshop.