Archives For strategy

A couple of years ago, agencies went bananas* for Creative Technologists. Everybody started hiring them (except W+K, apparently) and so lots of people started adding that title to their LinkedIn profiles.

More recently, agencies have been creating Customer Experience roles. These are often based on more traditional UX skillsets, blown out to encompass more of the real-world touchpoints where customers meet and experience the brand, including call centres, retail environments, live chat, user groups, social networks and so on. Again, lots of people with related skills are recasting themselves with this title.

Here’s a prediction: Agencies will spend 2014 hiring ‘Growth Hackers’

This job title is emerging with warp velocity from start-up land, where it was originally coined by Sean Ellis in a post on his Startup Marketing blog. Growth Hacking originally described the low-to-no budget art and science of attracting new users to a brand new web-based start-up. Ellis describes a Growth Hacker as “someone whose true north is growth. Everything they do is scrutinized by its potential impact on scalable growth.”
Now the term is stretching and morphing to describe the pursuit of customer growth, to the exclusion of all other business-related pursuits.


Growth Hack, agency, strategist,

Growth Hackers don’t wait for permission to launch.


They’re part marketer, part coder, part strategist and all do-er. Growth hackers don’t learn to do, they learn by doing. They embrace that ‘fail fast, fail cheaply’ attitude to in-market experimentation. Instead of talking a lot about agile / scrum / lean / bootstrapping methodologies, Growth Hackers just fire up a browser, whip out the credit card and code together some existing services to create a new mini-machine for growth – one that can be switched off as soon as it stops firing.

Most importantly ‘Growth Hacking’ is the coolest newest skillset to emerge from startup land. Like most cool new things born of startup land, Ad Agencies will soon want some of that action.

Another prediction: Agencies will spend 2014 trying to figure out how to charge brands for ‘Hacking Growth’.

This will be the tricky bit. A lot of brands will probably sit in the Agency boardroom and listen to the Growth Hacker pitch, take a long, deliberate pause and then ask, in varying degrees of politeness: “Then what the fuck have I been paying for all this time?”

The other problem will be that true Growth Hacking is characterised by its lack of budget. Many claim that this lack of working dollars are precisely the precursor chemicals required for the bootstrapped, agile, bare knuckles marketing innovation (the ‘hacks’) that are the most valuable product of Growth hacking. Agencies are generally unfamiliar, if not downright uncomfortable, recommending their clients don’t give them wads of cash.


marketing, funnel, growth hacking, agencies

Agencies and Growth Hackers already have this in common: funnel obsession.


Hacking your growth to spite your agency model

Growth Hacking is lashed irrevocably to the mast of performance – everything is obsessively tracked and relentlessly analysed. When Growth Hacking starts emerging as a practice in large, established agencies, some parts of the business are going to be very familiar with this level of accountability (media, social) and some less so (creative, strategy). By contrast, newer, smaller agencies constructed of a small, senior team supported by an Agency Operating System will be, by definition, Growth Hacker agencies.

Another potential hiccup is individual agency, with a small ‘a’. Agency-side Growth Hackers will need authority to act and access to the tools that allow them to do so. Can they speak or act on behalf of the brand? Can they download a new app without needing IT to unlock their machine? Do they need Finance to pre-approve a subscription or software purchase? This procedural stuff is not trivial.


Growth Hack, Agency, speed

Growth hackers don’t care whose ball it is.


Speed is critical for Growth Hacking to be effective – under-exploited APIs have a limited lifespan as viable hacks. If you’ve got to make a pretty powerpoint and wade through rounds of meetings with the Vice President of No, the opportunity you want to hack might have already evaporated. By way of example, Airbnb famously ‘hacked’ Craigslist to get to build its own critical mass, now that hack has been shut down.

Prepare for the Growth Hack hype-o-thon

One of the clear indicators that Growth Hacking is not quite ready for big-brand prime time is the dearth of method and repeatability. This will be a fine line: too much process will kill the creativity at the heart of Growth Hacking but, like Social before it, some commonly accepted tools and best practices will have to emerge before it moves out of the garage.
Agencies are very familiar with creating processes and methodologies and frameworks, then packaging them to create perceived value. I have no doubt this will happen. I have no doubt it will also inspire the Growth Hacking backlash.

How agencies might get it right

Leaving cynical re-branding aside for a moment, I definitely see a place for Growth Hacking thinking, services, teams and talent, delivered within a traditional agency structure and applied to specific projects for established brands.

Think: new product launches; land-grab new market entries; activation campaigns; aggressive, short-term competitive plays.

Neil Patel is a leading educator in the Growth Hacking scene and he doesn’t see the role staying in startup-land for long, either:

“One more note on the future. For now growth hacking is relegated to startups, but eventually, growth hacking will be a part of fortune 500 companies. Startups generally lack resources, and the established relationships, that would allow them to be effective with the tactics of a traditional marketer, so they are somewhat forced to growth hack. However, there is nothing about growth hacking that cannot be applied to larger corporations. If growth hacking can work without resources, imagine what it can accomplish with resources.”

The part that makes me, on balance, optimistic about the rise of the role of ‘Growth Hacker’ is that it could offer a valid hybrid role for people who don’t fall into rigid definitions and job descriptions, yet still enjoy working alongside talented specialists on big brands to create things with genuine commercial impact. Agencies still have a chance at remaining one of the best places to do that from.


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.


* I really dislike bananas, by the way.


Then this happened:

A few days after I wrote the the post, Sean Ellis (quoted earlier in the post as the ‘coiner’ of the term) was kind enough to tweet this:


Sean Ellis, Growth Hacking, twitter



The discussion has since moved over to Sean’s excellent new community at where several people are saying they’ve already been approached by ad agencies for consulting gigs and roles in the last month or so. Which is a bummer for me, as it kind of screws with my prediction.

If only those agencies had waited till January 😉


Even then, they are still kind of dopey. Ok, dopey is a bit harsh. At best, they are an imprecise measure of a spectacularly subjective quality, which is, ironically, ‘quality’. At worst, they can totally warp an agency’s culture and turn relatively normal people into career dickheads. Irregardless, it was welcome news to learn that both our China team and our Sydney team were handed silver trophies from the DMA Echo Awards last week.

When we’re talking about demand generation in particular, the Echos are the creative awards you want to win, because of the fairly significant and reasonably rigorous effectiveness component of the judging criteria. The work has to be good, it has to be real and it has to have worked.

What was really interesting was that the two pieces of work were for the same client, reaching the same (basic) audience, entered in the same awards category to produce the same awards result: silver. But the 2 pieces are radically different from each other – in form, strategy and tone.

The Ogilvy China team produced a branded content film called Parallel Paths for the Notes productivity suite, which told the story of two young and hungry salesmen climbing the corporate ladder, and let the Lotus information flow naturally throughout the story. This piece picked up a similar coloured trophy from Spikes just a few weeks earlier.

The Sydney team were tasked with convincing CIOs to outsource parts of the workload and resources they would normally consider to be the domain of ‘their department’. The approach here was to appeal to the audience as people, not roles, and draw a parallel (see what I did there?) with their own workloads – in this case, mowing the lawn.

DMA echo, award, Ogilvy Sydney

It’s hard to ignore the fact that someone just sent you a load of grass.


The “Grass Pack’ as it became known is particularly interesting, as it’s almost retro in execution: a completely analogue, dimensional mailer. It was particularly effective, I believe, because of the contrarian approach the team took to delivery. The average IT manager’s inbox is overflowing with messages, while their in-office pigeon holes would be lucky to see more than the occasional leaflet. If you want to stand out, move away from the crowd, which is part of the reason why a piece of artificial turf outperformed a dozen email campaigns, combined.

I don’t like to say “I told you so”.

I love to say it. Which is why I’m going to point out that I called Direct Mail “The comeback kid” a couple of years ago, and I think the assertion is still valid. There are a lot of fundamental disciplines that classic DM can offer to digital campaign planning (the importance of the list, the creative opportunities of segmentation and personalisation, the advantage of perceived value versus actual cost and so on).

But if you treat the desk space (rather than the desktop) as media space, the reach and frequency of creative mail can be spectacular, especially if you are selling into a ‘buying cell’ of multiple stakeholders and decision-makers.

I don’t think these pieces are good because they won (I think they are good and they won). We’ve had other great pieces struggle in award shows this year, I believe, partly because the complexity of the solution slowed them down. We’ve even had pieces rejected by awards show entry co-ordinators for being in the wrong category, only to be rejected again in the categories suggested to us by those same co-ordinators, again for being in the wrong category. At that point, you know it’s time to walk away from that particular casino.

Again, congrats to our China team for creating entertainment from email software and to our Sydney team for cleverly moving against the herd.


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+


Not all customer insights come from customers: 5 Lessons in Luxury Car Design From the Guys Who Park Them

How do you find out what your audience is thinking?

Start by thinking like a scientist.

Our recent post on the ongoing tension between global brands and local audiences prompted some requests for advice on finding and developing local insights – the sort of deep audience understanding that lets you tune a global strategy for more effective local activation.


focus group

Focus groups: everyone acting like clowns and delivering completely random returns.


At Ogilvy, we’ve developed a simple approach for ‘bootstrapping’ your way to local insights, one that doesn’t require the time and money of traditional audience research methods, such as the dreaded focus group. This approach was developed specifically for some of the global brands we work with here at Ogilvy, but can be easily adapted to most brands and situations.

customer insights

We call it The Relevance Engine, but that’s just a nifty title for a serve of common sense, spiced with a dash of curiosity and simmered over a little bit of actual work. Like most things in this business, it’s not rocket surgery.

The starting point is the audience – you really have to be able to at least name them before you start. It doesn’t have to be a full-blown persona (although that wouldn’t hurt), but at least some sort of pen-portrait of the audience your brand has, or the one it would like to have, in a particular market.

You can’t just shake an audience and expect an insight to fall into your lap. This is where I believe a lot of marketing-focussed ‘big data’ investments are going to go absolutely nowhere – massive systems will be constructed to collect terabytes of data without ever being asked a single pointed question.

The Relevance Engine asks you think like a scientist and requires you to be a little disciplined: you need to start with a hypothesis.

This hypothesis should relate to your audience and maybe even your brand (or at least your category) and be something that you think might be true. The hypothesis might be something likeEntrepreneurs in our market expect some form of government assistance” or “Parents in our market are very competitive about their children’s progress, but realise it is now socially unacceptable to display it.”

Once you have your hypothesis (you can call it a hunch, or an assumption, or an idea, if you like), you then use The Relevance Engine to test it, to prove it to be either true or false.

In the version we use, we place the hypothesis in the middle of a circle and then, around the edge of the circle, we have eight different categories of data that we could potentially test the hypothesis against:

1. Global Brand Guidance

This sounds contradictory, but you really should see if there’s anything in the existing or supplied materials that answers your question first. Your local market may not be as different as you first thought. The global guidance also might contain something relevant, hidden away in a support point, or an explanatory section or an appendix. First rule of research is make sure the research hasn’t already been done.

2. In-house research

This one is not always so easy to tap into, but the company behind the brand has almost certainly conducted some research around their product and the intended audience: a feasibility study, a competitive analysis, product history, category survey etc etc. If you have it, go back to it. If you don’t, ask the marketing department to share it. If they don’t have it, ask them to ask the sales people, or the product people, research people, lab, finance or whomever. A lot of global brands have dedicated research departments or teams. Find them, use them. Nothing is more compelling to a client than findings based on their own research.

3. Publishers

Do you remember back when magazines where printed on paper and when you read them, little subscription and survey cards would fall out? Publishers have always spent an enormous amount of time maintaining an intimate understanding of their readers. Digital publishers are getting even more intimate. Find a publication (print or online) that targets the same audience your brand does and then ask them about your hypothesis. If your brand has a marketing budget, I’ll bet the publication will tell you the answer over a nice lunch, which is what this industry needs more of. Seriously.

4. Channels & re-sellers

If your brand allows it’s products to be sold via other means (retail stores, affiliates, representatives, agents, re-sellers and so on), go and test your hypothesis with them. Drop in to their outlet, call them up, buy them a coffee or a beer or a steak sandwich or a bowl of noodles and have a chat. They’ll know a lot about your audience, because your audience are their customers.


insights, science

Disclaimer: The Relevance Engine won’t turn you into an *actual* scientist (like this guy).


5. Salespeople

Every global brand has a sales department or team or function. Whether these people sell directly to end customers (in the case of big b2b and technology brands) or to a distribution network (financial products, retail, travel, entertainment etc), they’ll also know a lot about your audience, because your audience are their commission and, therefore, the car they drive, their kid’s education, family holiday destination (you get the picture).

In many large organisations, the disfunction between sales and marketing can actually work to your advantage here: coming in as a neutral 3rd party (agency or consultant) often allows sales people to share more than they would inside the company structure. At the very least, they are usually surprised and pleased that someone is asking their opinion about a topic in which they regard themselves an expert.

6. Digital newsfeeds

Ok, so Google reader is dead. And missed. But there are alternatives, and some of them are very, very good. (Flipboard, we’re looking at you, you saucy little neo-digital-magazine-minx you) Regardless of what you use, the basic premise here is simple: ask your computer to test your hypothesis for you. Using an RSS reader of some sort, tune your digital/mobile/computing apparatus to your desired audience and hypothesis (use a few logical keywords and phrases) and have the magic of the internet stream a constant feed of articles, opinions, stories, alerts and trends past your eyeballs as you go about your daily life. Before long, something utterly relevant to your experiment is going to show up – clip it, file it. Done. Great job, internet!

7. Social Media

An increasingly increasing portion of the web is now composed entirely of people opinionating. If you can’t find your audience (and, by extension, what they’re thinking about) on social media, it is quite possible ur doin’ it wrong. Go find the prominent voices and influencers for your audience on social networks, find the groups and chatrooms and discussions, find the blog posts and tweetchats and hangouts and slideshares, and LinkedIn groups, and pinterest boards and tumblrs and webinars and oh god, I’m getting fatigued just trying to keep up with all the fabulous new ways we’ve invented for people to bloviate online. My recommendation? Quora. Go post your hypothesis there, as a question, and see what happens. Failing that, try Reddit. Feeling brave? Ask 4chan.

8. Live events

We’ve written at length about how to make live events work for brands in the digital arena but what about flipping the equation for a second: how can you use an event to listen to an audience, rather than just talk at them? You could try just going to one and listening, for a start: Walk the floors, eavesdrop. If it’s an event you have presence or permission at, try interviewing people, running a survey or getting a presenter to ask the question and get a show of hands. I’ve seen video confession booths, incentivised surveys – all sorts of stuff. One thing that’s true of all events, everyone wants to offer an opinion. Use that opportunity.


insights, customer

Leave no stone unturned in your search for insights.
Or, you could do it the easy way.


Tired now

That seems like a metric shit-tonne of work, right? And it would be, if you were crazy enough to interrogate all 8 data sets listed here. (There are plenty of others available, but these are the most accessible).

No need. The Relevance Engine may require a bit of discipline, but it doesn’t demand complete masochism. Just pick 3. You can even pick the 3 easiest ones if you like – although we’ve designed the whole thing to be relatively easy to complete from your desk with just a couple of afternoon’s worth of work (even less if you delegate).

The results are in

What does a successful ‘scientific result’ look like? I’d say 2 confirmations from 3 different sources is a positive: take a few choice quotes & a handful of stats, put them into a nicely-laid-out ‘research deck’ and hey presto: local insights, backed by science. Any global team worth it’s salt will allow a local team to pursue a genuine insight if they’ve done their homework.

Now take your local insight, turn it into a value proposition (if you need help doing this part, you can get it here), put it in a brief and off you go: you’re got most of everything you need to create locally relevant work for your globally-powerful brand.


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.


You know? The big, tropical fruit? The one with the yellow-green skin? Bright orange flesh inside? Millions of seeds? Ok, here’s a picture:

Yes, it's a papaya. Actually, two of them. Used under Creative Commons. Image by Guah.

Used under Creative Commons. Image by Guah


Yes. That’s exactly what an agency planner is like. Sometimes they get called strategists, or strat/planners or even ‘hey, you’, but you know who I’m talking about. As a creative, I find planners to be absolutely fundamental to the creative process. They would be the discipline I’d choose to take to my ‘agency desert island’.

I’ve been lucky to have worked with some great ones. Here’s how to tell if your papaya/planner is one too:

They are a little bit exotic.


Planners might look different to you and me.
Or they might look normal. Either way is fine.

Papayas are not available everywhere, nor should they be. Unless you are actually standing in Tahiti, papayas always look like they’ve come from somewhere else. When they are growing locally, they’re usually transplanted. Planners, you’ll notice are often imports. Or they’ve been away for a while and now they’re back. At the very least, they’ll be sporting an accent of some description. The important thing here is that their ‘statelessness’ gives them a sense of the wider world, often born of direct experience. This shows in their thinking and their approach. Getting outside of a culture, or country or even demographic gives you a much clearer view of what’s really going on. As a creative, you need to start in this place. Your planner can get you there.

They’re only good when ripe

You can tell by giving them a squeeze – the flesh will have some ‘give’ in it. I’m mainly talking about papayas at this point, but I’ve met planners who were similar in this regard. Whether you measure ripeness in terms of age, tenure, time, immersion or some other metric, the unifying characteristic is direct experience. I’m not maintaining that young planners are not useful. They are, provided they’ve invested quite a bit of their time in a particular game (music, fashion, TV culture, cars, sports). They’ve absorbed a particular culture of genre or ‘scene’. It’s got under their skin. To ripen, both planners and papayas need some exposure to the sun, to ‘get out there’. You don’t ripen by being the guy who reads the internet before everybody else does.

They’re good for you

Here's a taste I'm not a fan of. Bananas. They're uniformly awful.

Here’s a taste I’m not a fan of.
Bananas. They’re uniformly awful.

Okay, so maybe you’re not a fan of the taste (I’m talking Papayas here, people), but it’s hard to argue the health benefits. Similarly, planners make you smarter by photosynthesising life + research + thinking into wisdom and then filling you up with it. Often, when you need it most, sometimes when you just want them to shut the fuck up. Either way, you should listen. You’ll be better for it.

They’re better with lime

Not all papayas are awesome on their own. They often need the tang of lime to make them truly sing. So too, he best planners are generally sunny optimistic souls with an acidic, contrarian streak. So while they are always alive to possibilities and potential, presenting strategic market challenges as opportunities for creative thinking, they also have a healthy sense of scepticism. They are pragmatists & realists, able to separate the technology from the use value, the gadget from the emotion, the fad from the trend. This ‘squeeze of lime’ is there to push your thinking, to ask you to take your idea beyond being merely cool into the realm of the genuinely useful.

A little goes a long way

This very expensive medical image was taken inside an actual planner's brain. While she was still alive.

This very expensive medical image was taken inside
an actual planner’s brain.While she was still alive.

I like papayas, but I couldn’t eat a whole one. I feel the same about planners, in the sense that, while i consider them creative partners, I wouldn’t share a room with them. They need space to roam, otherwise they can start stinkin’ up the place, getting over-ripe, over-thought. The other reason you only need small doses is because many of them are way up the I end of the I-to-E scale on the Myers Briggs spectrum. They do their thinking on the inside of their head. Which means that when they do finally speak, they’ve pretty much got it figured out. That’s the time you need to listen, consider and then see how what they’ve just told you impacts your work and thinking. Usually for the better.

They are polarising

Papayas are binary fruit, in that they are either brilliant, or inedible. There is no in-between, no sliding scale. In this regard, planners are exactly the same. I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked with some blindingly brilliant ones (and encountered the other kind) but I haven’t actually worked with an okay planner. Or even a mostly good one. The same can’t be said of other disciplines in our industry. There are competent suits, capable production managers, solid leaders. I myself am a highly-regarded not-too-bad copywriter. And all of these people and skills and levels of ability are good and useful.
Planners, however, either need to be fantastic or they need to be doing something else.

Let @barrieseppings know what your favourite planner tastes like.


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.


Why are some brands and agencies struggling with social, despite (or perhaps because of) a visible enthusiasm for it as a marketing approach? Even once they master the jargon and the etiquette and the technical wizardry required to ‘go social’, and then resource it properly and secure executive sponsorship – social seems to, well, just…

It could be the curse of the newly-converted, or perhaps it’s FOMO*, but whatever the motivation, it manifests itself similarly each time: the team becomes overly-focused on social. Not as a tool, or as a channel or as a technique, but as a ‘thing’ in and of itself, with it’s own raison d’être. It’s dangerous, but not uncommon.

When social becomes the objective.

It tends to happen with most shiny new technologies, usually once the technology gets enough media coverage and certainly once the Vice-President’s kids start using it on a regular basis. Happened with digital. It’s been kind of happening with mobile, in fits and starts, for a while now. It’s about to happen full-throttle with ‘content’. And it’s in full swing with social. We’re all doing it, but we’re not always entirely sure why.

Here’s a simple test: replace the shiny new technology (social) with a trusted, reliable, commonplace technology (say, telephone). Would some of the briefs or programs or even job titles we’re pursuing make as much sense? Would you consider hiring a Vice-President of Telephone? Would we build up a Telephone Team, with dedicated Telephone Experts? Would we unleash a 65-page deck detailing our Telephone strategy? Prolly not.

Make social behave like a channel.

(image courtesy Martin Ollman / BugLogic)

(image courtesy Martin Ollman / BugLogic)

I’m not suggesting we don’t need expertise in new technologies. In fact, we need expertise in all of our technologies – that’s how we get good at profiting from them. But what we need, most of all, is purpose: a reason to put these technologies and expertise and resources to use.

Here’s how you find one for social in your business, or brand or agency:

  1. Find a business objective.  Or even a business unit or a department, because they will usually (not always) have an objective, or at least a role to play within a business.
  2. Describe how that objective is being tackled right now. Who is working on it? What resources do they have? What are the results like? Are they getting better at it over time, or less-better**?
  3. Ask ‘social’ how they would do that tackling. Does it sound like they could support it? Augment it? Improve it? Replace it altogether? Make social ‘play its way’ on to your marketing team and earn its position through performance. (BTW, does anyone know why I, of all people, am using a sports analogy? Really, I’d like to know what’s gotten into me.)
  4. Give social a run. But not on its own. Invite it to meetings, let it join existing teams and projects and departments, either as resource or skills or training. Make sure it has a defined role, a position to play and results to deliver.
  5. Rinse (the data) and repeat. It’s the fastest way to get better at discovering what social can do for you.

In a nutshell: social can’t be an objective, it has to have one.

Placing bets vs making investments.

The reason I used ‘Telephone’ to replace ‘Social’ is because it’s also a good way to think about the investment we make in social – and not about the size of the investment, but rather its consistency. If we set up a phone number for our audience to reach us on, we wouldn’t follow that decision with a series of quarterly meetings to decide whether we’re going to pay to keep that number connected, or to have someone pick it up when it rings. As the use of social normalises (just like it did with phones) we’ll have to normalise our investment in it, too.

* Fear Of Missing Out.  It’s a real thing, apparently.

** A polite way of saying “Starting to suck”