Archives For marketing automation

These are confusing times for brands, and the people charged with growing them. On the one hand, we need to ensure the ROI of everything, while on the other we must pursue constant innovation. We need to be open to new technologies, platforms and networks, but we can’t spread our investments too thinly. We’ve got to stay on brand and on message, but we also need to go viral.

These competing ambitions make it very difficult for marketers and agencies to make intelligent choices for their brands – but it is largely our own fault. As an industry, marketing is particularly susceptible to ‘the shiny new object’ syndrome and, after attending SXSW interactive in Austin, Texas last month, I’m predicting that we’re about to start chasing after two diametrically-opposed aims yet again.

Plug in to everything.

Many of the presenters and panelists gave compelling testimonial that technology might not quite be everywhere, but it soon will be. More to the point, they believe it should be. Once we work out how the make wearable computing look more like clothes and less like, well, wearable computing, it appears inevitable that we’ll all be individually wired up, all the time. The ‘quantifiable self’ movement was also highly visible, arguing that the responsibility for monitoring health will soon shift to the individual – and the battery of sensors and transmitters embedded in our bodies.


data, story

Expect data everywhere.


Our homes, shops, offices, cars and skies will be literally buzzing with input/output devices, WiFied to the max and constantly shipping information to the grid. For marketers, this new tide of data will start to drive the automation of more decisions and more executions – we’re practically already there with automated media buying exchanges and personalised recommendation engines.

Easily half of the conference seemed to be welcoming our new Big Data overlords and the relentless efficiency it will bring to our lives, ready or not.

But stay, y’know, kinda human.

The other half, however, were preoccupied with that most human of endeavours – storytelling. There were panels and presentations and seminars and workshops on Product Storytelling, Immersive Storytelling, Content Storytelling, Transmedia Storytelling and on and on it went. The unified message from this side of the house seemed to be: use your marketing to tell human stories to human customers in a human voice, you’ll be able to make your brand appear more, well, human.

I’m being flippant here but some of the storytelling advice was pretty solid: stick to a linear format, don’t be afraid of offering complexity to your audience and don’t try and chase out all the imperfections, visual or otherwise. Implicit in all this advice was the belief that storytelling is an inherently good way to go about marketing.


Is it possible to pull together the threads of story and data for an experience that is accurate and human

Is it possible to pull together the threads of story and data for an experience that is accurate and human?


 Am I the only one who sees a problem here?

Maybe it’s just a re-imagining of the old above-the-line vs below-the-line marketing split for a fully digitized age, but I believe there’s a real schism developing here. The choice appears to be between a marketing philosophy based on ensuring the absolute accuracy of everything (marketing by algorithm, if you will), and one based on overtly accentuating the human element of communication (artisanal marketing, to borrow an adjective from the hipsters).

Perhaps the answer is ‘yes’.

Yes to being both data-informed and also to being story-driven, which is to say human. Just as we have seen the rise of ‘Data Artists’ in the visual arts world, ‘Data Visualisers’ in the statistics world and, more recently ‘Data Journalists’ in the publishing world, perhaps marketing is about to make room for ‘Data Storytellers’.



Data Storytelling: patterns stay in the background, humans take the stage.


This industry needs another made-up job title like a brainstorm needs a ninja evangelist – or like we need brainstorms, for that matter. Real creativity, however, often comes from combining two previously unrelated ideas to develop a new approach and I see real potential in combining these two ascendant disciplines.  A mashup of data analysis and storytelling could result in a new type of communication approach, one that is both accurate and human – and creative in a way we’ve not seen before.


This post originally appeared on the Firebrand Talent blog.


About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+

About the images: all photographs used with the permission of Martin Ollman Photography. Contact Martin directly for rights and commissions.


One of the things I really love to do (apart from this sort of stuff) is say “I told you so”. I know, its petty and vindictive but by god it is satisfying. I don’t get to do that very often, so I’ve lowered the bar to: “See, some smart people have done quite a bit of hard work and they’ve produced some research that confirms a hunch that I’ve kinda had for a year or two.”


B2B, buying, purchase, decision

Playing for the same team, but not necessarily on the same side.


I got to say that earlier in the week when this article appeared in Forbes, shining a light on group dynamics in the B2B buying process. We all know that these kind of purchases are collegiate decisions (this is one of the key differences with B2C marketing), and the research was able to put the typical size of what we call the ‘buying cell’ at 5.4 people (based on North American companies). Patrick Spenner, who wrote the article, made the implication pretty clear:

“The punchline is, if your commercial approach

isn’t attuned to group dynamics, you’re in trouble.”

So far, so expected. But the new news here is not that there are several people who need to agree on a single B2B purchase, but that the lack of agreement starts very early in the ‘buyers journey’. By the time the buying is even a third of the way through the process (typically before your marketing has even shown up), they’re arguing. And they’re generally not even arguing about the price, or even which vendor, or even the solution. In a lot of cases, they can’t even agree on the problem.


B2B, buying group, purchase

Show where the gaps are, and you can help the group structure a more productive argument.



But also: “Yay!” – that’s pretty fertile territory for creative marketers to be working: defining problems, rallying groups, offering possible approaches to problem-solving. Notice how the product (arguably the least interesting bit of B2B marketing), doesn’t get much of a look-in?

What’s interesting here is how ill-equipped ‘funnel-oriented’ marketing automation tools and technologies are to respond to ‘buying cells’ in general, let alone one that might be in open conflict. The creative opportunities lie instead in the application of a little psychology and also through partnership with publishers.

Group dynamics, illuminated.

We’ve been exploring the idea of approaches that target the ‘buying cell’ in a particular company, where the offer (of distance education or networking or custom site visits) is made on the proviso that the entire cell takes part, as a cohesive unit. We’ve also had great success with publishers who track their users, not at the individual level, but at the company or even department level. When enough people from related roles in a single company start consuming a specific type of content (say, data centre migration), you can safely assume that a major data centre migration project is being kicked around.

The question then is, what can your brand offer that is genuinely useful (no, not another whitepaper) to this group, knowing that they are probably arguing mightily about whether they even need a data centre?


About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+

About the images: all photographs used with the permission of Martin Ollman Photography. Contact Martin directly for rights and commissions.


Don’t trust the survey, trust the clickstream: Netflix knows you have horrible taste – via

As soon as something goes wrong in an agency (mercifully, not as common as you’d think) everyone starts yelling about process. Who followed it, who didn’t, why it doesn’t work and how it should. That’s the wrong time to be worried about process, frankly. What’s more interesting is how almost no-one, at these critical moments, ever pulls out a piece of paper with ‘The Process” written across the top and holds everyone accountable to it.

And that’s because the piece of paper doesn’t usually exist. ‘The Process’ is a mystical thing in most agencies, something akin to a belief system, that unites individuals of common vintages, departments and roles against pretty much everyone else, particularly when the shit starts meeting the Dyson Air Multiplier.

Why there really is no ‘The Process’.

Image by Martin Ollman


‘The Process’ is rarely written down, partly because it’s hard, thankless work but mainly because the variables involved in producing (or even not producing) work in an agency have become awesome in scale, and a decision-tree style logic flow is simply unable to cope with reality. This is where software appears to be stepping in.

ERP-style approaches to the production process have been around forever, mainly in the form of print-production workflow management software that have grown over time to encompass digital and screen production. But they just monitor the process – they don’t really help you understand or improve it.

On the other end of the spectrum, big agencies like Ogilvy (the one I work for) have developed a series of tools  for integrated planning, briefing and delivery called Fusion, but these major on the intellectual end of the endeavour. At a more prosaic level, Fusion doesn’t really tell you what was supposed to be done today and whose throat you’ll have to choke to get it.

What both of these approaches have in common is a fairly high level of required investment: either in terms of straight-up dollars for software purchases or the kind of deep-bench global-network intellectual capital that’s required to develop something like Fusion from scratch.

Enter the cloud

Image by Martin Ollman


Over the last few weeks, Adobe has been roadshowing it’s new Marketing Cloud offering which brings together 5 different analytics dashboards into a single management platform: it’s big on tracking and analytics, offering some Digital Asset Management and predictive capabilities. If they can get it to talk to Creative Cloud, it’s going to be fairly powerful for agencies where creatives and strategist and producers are already talking. (Just cos the software is integrated doesn’t mean the teams using the software are).

Adobe’s move came hot on the heels of SalesForce’s identically-named Marketing Cloud (maybe these guys could use some marketing themselves?) which appears to be social-media monitoring (their recent Radian6 acquisition) layered onto the one-push distribution platform of BuddyMedia. Similarly, the value proposition is insights-from-data, the model is pay-as-you-go and the experience is dashboard-heavy. Initial reviews were mixed for Adobe, slightly more positive for Salesforce.

In a truly software-inspired move, Shift has also entered the fray as an open-source marketing integration platform at a distinctly lower price point (read: free). This Venturebeat report lays out the basics, but it essentially draws together data from a host of specialist platforms into one uber-dashboard “somewhat analogous to Facebook’s social graph… sort of like Facebook for your marketing campaign.”

‘The Process’ as Operating System

These marketing cloud services seem to be pitched at advertisers – the marketing departments of businesses that actually sell stuff. This is inherently dangerous for agencies: if clients start to confidently handle their own execution, using platforms that automate and automagically improve performance, what the hell do agencies do?

What they should be doing, I believe, is to remain focussed on the strategic and creative thinking that is the heart of every good campaign, while simultaneously getting skilled up on these new ‘tools of execution’.

What does your Agency run on?

Image by Martin Ollman


Where I think some of these cloud services could ultimately be very useful is as the Operating System of Agencies. I forsee a time where smaller agencies can start approaching larger clients, offering the bespoke thinking that agencies are really good at, with the flawless execution that, quite frankly, they are uniformly not.

For these cloud-based vendors, smaller (and maybe mid-size as well) agencies represent a whole new class of re-seller. An ecosystem of trained, certified and supported agencies, developing creative solutions and executing them via a sophisticated delivery platform could radically re-shape agency-land outside of the holding-company-conglomerate-networks. ‘Powered by SalesForce’ or ‘Adobe Cloud-Certified’ could be the ‘Authorised Dealer’ of the agency world. Any bets on how long it will take Google, Facebook and perhaps Amazon to start building/buying/rolling out their version of an Agency OS?

Interestingly, a few Agency infrastructure items washed up in my feeds while I was writing this: ViaMark in the states has re-launched it’s ‘Agency franchise’ model after mothballing it for a few years during the financial crisis, offering to standardise the back-end functions of billings and media booking for small local agencies; at the other end of the spectrum, this AdExchanger interview with Tim Hanlon suggests that mega Agency groups (like the upcoming Publicis-Omnicom merger) will need to arrange themselves as an ‘Agency Stack’ to remain relevant. If this recent attempt by Publicis to mandate Lotus Notes as their email infrastructure is anything to go by, there’s still work to be done. 

And now I have a question for all the senior-level big-agency dreamers out there: would you be more likely to consider starting your own agency if you had a pay-per-use OS that handled all the ‘busy work’ while you stayed focussed on the thinking and the clients?

Tweet your answer to @barrieseppings using #agencyOS


About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+

About the images: all photographs used with the permission of Martin Ollman Photography. Contact Martin directly for rights and commissions.


Part 2 of the series B2B Marketing – four creative opportunities for 2012″

Last year we spent a fair bit of time coming to grips with marketing automation. Actually, to be fair, we spent most of the year cowering under the bed, absolutely terrified by the mind-bending scope, complexity and operational tedium of platforms like Unica. These technologies promise to automate, analyse and optimise pretty much every single thing a marketer could hope to do, but for someone operating from the creative end of the advertising agency spectrum, they can feel like the end of days.

Dig a little deeper and you realise that these technologies want the same things we do:

  • a consistent tone of voice
  • a building narrative for a brand story
  • logical pathways for multiple customer journeys
  • measureable interaction with the audience
  • and, most importantly, longevity of campaigns

Platform technologies, it turns out, demand platform thinking. They have the ‘Test, Learn & Optimise’ cycle built into their DNA. They simply refuse to co-operate with one-off, isolated tactics. They tell you when your ideas are working and they tell when they aren’t, which encourages creative & strategic experimentation by limiting risk: these platforms can be pre-programmed to kill failures early & cheaply.

The really big shift that these platforms demand, in terms of thinking, is in terms of timeframe and ROI. These are long-term tools for long-term marketing plays. They reward persistence, patience and consistency. And agencies are starting to respond, changing their mantra of 360 degree marketing (using all the available channels to ‘surround the audience’) to one of 365-day marketing: being always present, always on, always responsive.

This platform thinking has a downside: it’s a hungry beast. If you’re going to show up, every single day, you’d best be prepared to have something to say, every single day. Which is why platform thinking plays nicely with content marketing, and why marketers could probably benefit from thinking like publishers.

Next up: Why Direct Mail is the comeback kid>

Missed Part 1? See why Content is the kingmaker, not the king>