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Posting on BR’s Comment Central blog

As you probably noticed we recently relaunched Brand Republic blogs to a new platform. Keeping it simple, we moved to Word Press, which is a much easier to use and more flexible system than we previously had.

The move has meant some change to how contributors to Comment Central blog. In future if you would like to blog here what you now need to do in the first instance is drop our social media editor, Gordon MacMillan, an email and we will set you up and account. After that you will be free to post as before.

The Creative Director is Dead, Long Live the Technical Director? by @TheAgencyUK

TheAgency-Ad-Image

For many this is how the past four years have felt, with agencies seeing their creative revenues squeezed because the justification for spending on a subjective and less measured resource was deemed unnecessary, possibly even negligent.

But in the wake of an economic recovery the emerging sentiment is far from bleak. Brand owners are preparing to defend market share and fight for growth. Armed with marketing automation and rapier acquisition strategies there has been a dawning realisation that technology might support effective service, but it is simply a business as usual function, and creativity is how to score points of difference.

So what does creativity really mean in the era of the digital consumer?

We live in a world where media is increasingly fragmented and brands have to fight harder and harder to attract attention, and it has taken marketers a long time to come to terms with this.

People talk, share and collaborate more than ever before. Spending their time amongst 1bn Facebook users, watching 4bn videos on YouTube every day and actively tweeting with 200m people.

In the UK, on average, we now divide our time across 11 media devices per household and choose to research products across 22 websites before making a purchase.

So, in this complex world where every person is a digitally led consumer, the key to success lies in being different, being recognised and being talked about.

1. Be Integrated

A big idea is a great idea, but the story creative folk write today will be read in fragments. Advertising, promotion, publicity, social engagement even customer service has to be integrated, because the digital consumer will hop between channels. The key to consistency is data intelligence, but commercial advantage is found in how a brand creatively applies it to their marketing.

2. Be Commercially Creative

Being commercially creative in an increasingly automated world means two things:

Firstly you still need to be able to have great ideas that sell products. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, you need to apply great ideas that enhance and protect brand image – because if you damage that, the digital consumer’s voice has never been so powerful, and it can be a long hard road to recovery.

3. Be Collaborative

I believe that in a successful 21st century agency, creativity must be found in every team and that includes our clients. Technologists are as close to designers as strategists are to copywriters. Developing an effective agency service is about collaboration, and that’s why creative ideas can and should come from every part of the organisation. The perception that creativity is just about words and pictures is outdated. For some brands just getting the basics of marketing in place is still the priority, but for many it’s about maximising efficiency through effective collaboration.

Here at The Agency we are only as effective as the people we invest in and the clients we work with. So it’s no surprise that the most effective teams are to be found in collaborative and creative environments. The South West of England has built up an enviable talent pool fed by several world-class universities and a vast number of globally recognised brands. As has been the trend with technology towards co-working and open source, companies based here find that through effective networking they can also access world-class expertise. This allows even the smallest of teams to compete on a world stage. For us, our integrated and commercial capabilities are a direct result of the communities we engage with and the South West talent we attract, something that pays dividends for us, our clients and their customers.

Harnessing The Power Of The Digital Consumer by @TheAgencyUK

The-Agency-Commandments

We live in a world where media is increasingly fragmented and brands have to fight harder and harder to attract attention, and it has taken marketers a long time to come to terms with this.

People talk, share and collaborate more than ever before. Spending their time amongst 1bn Facebook users, watching 4bn videos on YouTube every day and actively tweeting with 200m people.

In the UK, we now divide our time across 11 media devices per household and choose to research products across 22 websites before making a purchase.

So, in this infinitely complex world where every consumer is a digitally-led consumer, how can a marketing team predict success?

The short answer is: we can’t. But what we can do is adhere to a set of principles that gives us the very best chance of success.

1. Be Integrated

Today it’s about recognising and understanding the digital consumer, and putting them at the heart of everything we do.

We know that successful marketing initiatives in today’s world rely on integration. This means integrating the marketing and communications that we send out with the multiple consumer touch points that feed in. This means building and integrating the IT systems that collect and share the data. This means adopting a single customer view wedded to a consistent and relevant brand experience.

Achieving this demands impartiality, appropriate utilisation of technology, a thirst for knowledge and a long-term partnership with brand marketing teams and their end customers.

2. Be Independent

Successful marketing demands an integrated marketing team who are connected by more than just a floor plan. They’re a team of independent thinkers who share an understanding of the consumer, who make a deliberate attempt to pool their different skills to create the most compelling experiences that lead to engagement, provoke action, drive loyalty and deliver sales.

Independence is key. Integrated teams work best when they’re free from the complexities of marketing, not hamstrung by cost centres, processes or conforming to industry trends. Independence means media impartiality, free thinking and a single-minded objective to only work in the best interests of brands and their customers. Independence is the bed where creativity can flourish.

3. Be Commercially Creative

The rapid expansion of technology into our lives has focused marketers away from ideas and towards infinite measurability.

The onset of Big Data means that we’re getting better at predicting the things that motivate buyers, and the marketing automation tools that exist allow us to test, learn and time our communications to perfection.

But it’s not the sophisticated CRM systems, technologies or mobile applications that make marketing efforts a success.

It’s standing ahead of the competition and being noticed for the things brands do best, and in a media-saturated world, creativity is the key to achieving engagement with the digital consumer.

The most successful organisations apply their ideas and creativity to every consumer touch-point. Initiating a clear set of principles that help them shape their brands and remain focused on their commercial performance.

So being commercially creative in an increasingly automated world means two things: Firstly you need to be able to have great ideas that sell products. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, you need to apply great ideas that enhance and protect brand image – because if you damage that, the digital consumers voice has never been so powerful, and it can be a long hard road to recovery.

Marketing Trends Tipped For 2014

Future-Marketing

 

Each year is a new beginning that brings new challenges and experiences to all aspects of business, and it’s natural to see various reports from various experts on the trends to evolve over the next 12 months. The Guardian has made a list of its own predictions for the 2014 marketing landscape, in an article that outlines the developments that industry professionals must watch out for throughout the year. Here are some of the trends forecast to guide marketers in 2014.

2014 is going to be an interesting year for mobile, as the technology will penetrate even more into the world of retail. According to figures from eMarketer, smartphones and tablets were responsible for 18% of UK e-commerce sales in 2013, with revenues more than doubling to £8.2 billion. This year, m-commerce is forecast to rise by 53.3%, exceeding the growth of retail e-commerce threefold.

Mobile’s potential won’t go unnoticed by advertisers, who are expected to almost double their mobile budgets to £2.26 billion this year.

The unprecedented adoption of mobile devices will also trigger an increase in mobile traffic. This will not only exceed that of desktops, but will also make smartphones and tablets consumers’ mainstream gadgets, as they will allow them to perform more tasks on the web anytime and anywhere. This must suggest to marketers that the always-on consumer is arriving.

Marketers can also make use of content creation to spur consumer engagement, since this will also be among the opportunities offering solid growth potential this year. The most cost-effective ways for content creation will be embracing native advertising or partnerships with renowned publishers.

Another strong trend that will take off in 2014 will be that of “visual sharing,” which will see the marriage of the three most popular formats of 2013: mobile, social and video. Video is tipped to become the top tool for consumers wishing to share experiences, and will also be a primary tactic for brands seeking to capitalise on the success of Twitter’s platform Vine and the launch of video on Facebook owned Instagram.

5 Tips to Successful Branding by Phil Blackmore @TheAgencyUK

The-Agency

I’m going to start this article with a confession…

I am a Yahoo! email user and have been for 15 years. There, I’ve said it. Now I know it’s not big, or clever but it is reliable, easy to use and hasn’t really changed much since its beginnings in 1995. Read More »

Do You Have App Fever? by @TheAgencyUK

Oli-Ward

Company exec “We need an app!”

Marketing exec “Okay. But, what’s it going to do?”

Company exec “It doesn’t matter, our competitors have got one / apps are very in / look at Apple, they’re doing well…”

Sound familiar?

Gadget-envy, about an emerging platform is rife in the current age of ever-changing technology, but in many cases that I see every day this clouds decision-making, and leads to “app-fever”.

The Reality of New Technology

We love shiny new tech as much as the next geek, but we’ve all seen new technologies set to be the latest “big thing” that turn up riddled with bugs, have low up-take, or, like QR Codes, are little more than a death-slide to product and service commoditisation.

So what do we mean by technology?

Are we talking about a website, a mobile app, a new customer database or social media platform? Or something simpler, like pay-by-SMS or CRM. What are the options and their advantages, user base and likely future popularity?

Do any of the above actually enhance the customer experience, offer value, or improve your chance of making a sale?

If yes, can you measure its impact, and assign an accurate return on investment?

Correctly implemented measurement tools are where digital can offer a unique advantage, providing proof of ROI, and can give you data to inform your business decisions, and allow you to quickly react away from an unsuccessful strategy.

Does the ROI fit with the commercial objectives for your business?

Is that investment best spent elsewhere? Consider your options, as any marketing spend has an opportunity cost associated with it. Would improving the existing mobile website experience result in more sales than investing in a new app?

In Conclusion

The adoption of any technology shouldn’t be led by what your competitors are doing, by the latest trend or on a whim.

Technology can be as simple as contributing to the bottom line through improved process or providing you with the data that your business needs to make smarter, more profitable decisions. Now that’s not a bad place to start.

10 Golden Rules For A Successful Celebrity Affair by @TheAgencyUK

Ewan-McGregor

The celebrity machine took hold in advertising decades ago, and as Ad Men and Joe Public we’ve been pushing, pulling and undressing celebs to capture a sneak peak into the brands they live with. But, the influx of semi-celebrity, the invention of zelebrity’s and the see and forget nature of the media means that at any one time there are a huge number of people looking to cash-in on their 15 minutes of fame. Read More »

Being Commercially Creative by @TheAgencyUK

The-Agency

Phil Blackmore, creative director at The Agency, discusses what being “commercially creative” means for a business and how to ensure success.

It’s Monday morning and I’m taking a brief for a new client. The brief is well written, focused and full of promise. But as I scan the page I see a familiar phrase rears it head… ‘The creative idea must be commercially focused’.

It’s a phrase I’ve seen a lot since the start of the recession and one that is often bandied around during brainstorm sessions. But what does it really mean? And how does it affect the creative process and output?

Well, being commercially aware and focused is of course crucial to a creative’s armoury – and something that we criticise students fresh out of uni for not being. But the concern I have is that being commercially creative these days seems to mean shifting focus onto short-term sales with less consideration to building medium term brand equity. Which in my opinion is wrong, you need to always consider both.

Yes, there are physical objectives to hit, targets to reach. But selling product or services on the spot are just one facet of being commercially successful for a brand and not necessarily a great long-term strategy. The brand image needs to be considered, nurtured, protected – so that it can live a long and fruitful existence.

Take Dove for example. In 2007, they launched their campaign for real beauty. It was a beautifully simple idea… use real women to connect with real women up and down the country. It was met with massive success, and sales soared. They’d found one of the holy grails for brands – respect and revenue.

But alas they creatively lost their way as it transpired that the real women in the ad weren’t so real. They had been retouched according to digital artist Pascal Dangin. Dove refuted the claim of course, but the damage was done and there was no going back.

So in summary, being commercially creative in today’s world means two things. Firstly you do need to be able to create great work that sells product. But secondly, and perhaps more importantly, you need to create great work that enhances and protects the brands image – because if you damage that, it can be a long hard road to recovery.

Source: Dove, 5 Famous Ad Campaigns That Actually Hurt Sales, cracked.com

What We Need To Do To Stimulate Growth In The UK Creative Sector (Part 3 of 3) by @TheAgencyUK

Saman Mansourpour The Agency

What Makes a Creative Start-Up Successful?

Small creative businesses are intensely inter-personal, so authenticity, and understanding how your business might be perceived is the key to success.

1. The founders need focus – to know what the business is doing, when it is slipping, and most importantly who can help.

2. They need resilience – an understanding and acceptance that they will always be on the edge.

3. They require great teamwork and a culture that allows teams to thrive – start-ups need people around with complimentary skills.

4. Start-ups need honest, open communications and the confidence to learn.

To achieve the above, start-ups need access to an open network of talent, external knowledge, advisors and clients.

Nurturing the Creative Ecology

Ecology is an appropriate description here – there are small and large entities, energy flows, clients and suppliers, a constant dynamic of change and adaptation, and a need for a suite of mechanisms – it’s debateable how effectively external agents can support a creative ecology, let alone create one, but it can grow naturally through facilitated and effective networks.

What is clear is that open networks; willing guides, brokers and helpers ; a wide range of interlinked activities ; a range of companies and the active engagement of education and public sector organisations all play a key role.

The role of Universities is to create the need for a business approach early, provide experience and stimulus to shape it, and also maintain better connections with alumni.

Start-ups are powered by individual energy, so external agents should recognise that learning and growth happen every day, and should therefore:

  • Promote good practice,
  • Reward innovation and achievement,
  • Re-frame “failure” as learning,
  • Provide easy, visible support when the individuals recognise the need,
  • Provide a talent pipeline for them to draw on.

Saying “there’s a lot of people starting up” – you might as well say “everyone’s gambling” – but the key is how many are rolling 6’s, and how do we measure their success?

There will be plenty of failures, but the strength of the South West ecology is becoming more apparent every day.

What We Need To Do To Stimulate Growth In The UK Creative Sector (Part 2 of 3) by @TheAgencyUK

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Access to Talent:

1. Emerging From a Company

Many of the creative start-ups in the region have been set up by experienced individuals in search of autonomy. Some start with close partners – even married couples – with synergistic talents.

Paul Cross and Richard Godfrey (iPrinciples) left Microsoft to set up iPrinciples in 2003, having had a complete experience (including an entrepreneurship course at Cranfield) within the firm, whilst Saman Mansourpour (The Agency) moved from London. Nicky Robertson (Mendip Media) left the BBC having seen the opportunity in online alongside TV, seeing it as the way to break down the monopoly held by broadcasters.

Many creative start-ups open their doors with good business contacts and projects already in place. However, young entrepreneurs will sustain a low-risk lifestyle – often no mortgage, and savings in the bank. Nicky Robertson (Mendip Media) noted that the difference between freelancing and start-ups is the need for very sophisticated and authentic teamwork, and investing in the people.

Greg Ingham (Mediaclash) left Future Publishing once it had experienced significant growth, and set up in partnership with his wife. “I found myself getting a little institutionalised – I looked around the room and they were all really great people, but some were accountants, some lawyers, and I thought there’s no-one here that writes or designs or codes, and it’s time to move.”

Coming from big companies, both Greg Ingham (Mediaclash) & Saman Mansourpour (The Agency) said there’s a real danger in over-engineering your start-up, though this does provide a resilience when things get tough “Grit and hard work is essential – but you need a bit of luck as well, and at any point we take our eye off the ball, you can see it on the balance sheet.”

Saman Mansourpour (The Agency) says their plan was to get to critical mass as quickly as possible. Most will grow to 10-12 people some will “step-up” to a larger scale. But scale requires financial resilience, that often needs significant investment.

Small companies can still be very effective in this sector. Dave Kelly (Storm Consultancy) started up with “a healthy dose of naivety”, took advice from many people when starting up, and noted the power of operating “OODA Loop” to outmanoeuvre larger companies (Observe – Orientate – Decide – Act) with feedback at each stage.

The close relationship between the people in a creative start-up means questions can be more direct, and ideas-building agile and fast. They can be light on procedure, and need a little luck.

Simon Coles (The Keep) says a crucial point in his decision to set up was when he couldn’t realise the full potential income for his work, and realised clients were also becoming resentful of the charge out rates.

Being able to see a large-scale trend that creates a new opportunity is the key stimulus for people leaving a corporate environment to start up. Nicky Robertson (Mendip Media) saw the rise of non-broadcast video, and set up directly in response. The speed of change is often slower than the evangelists predict, but the change has been delivered.

2. Starting Up Straight From University

The south west is well-supplied with University incubators, business support etc., and increasing business-awareness in University media courses is a fundamental aim of the Skillset Tick accreditation.

Dave Jarman (Bristol University) noted that inside Bristol University the theme has moved from Education about Enterprise to Education through Enterprise – it’s intertwined, not an add-on.

“It’s different for different individuals – some have a huge amount of confidence and you don’t have to add much, you just have to put them in touch with the right people. Others resist the terms enterprise, entrepreneur, and don’t think of themselves as business people. It’s all about translating the terms, making them more palatable to the students.”

Dave also noted “Start-ups are essentially the whole of business in microcosm, so students can get used to the modelling tools like Business Model Canvas that they will use later – but they’re coming to us for future employability.”

Adam Powell (Bath Spa University) amplified this – they should start planning from the earliest opportunity. University is a safe place to try out ideas with business potential, and many students start up some commercial activity alongside their studies. It’s also the place where people hunt for talented peers, create good team working relationships, and can try things out – from playing a new sport to forming a band.

“A lot of students doing creative subjects don’t ever think they can become freelancers or run businesses, so there’s a behaviour change required to think about your creative practice in a commercial way – it’s not just about start-ups, it’s what employers are looking for in their graduates.”

Ben Trewhella (Opposable Games) stated that the key is to increase the porosity of the Universities – acknowledging the pace of change in the industry, getting students out to see working practices first-hand.

Although the seeds are planted at university, Dave Jarman (Bristol University) felt that “the companies actually develop when people are 24-35 years old, so there’s a challenge for Universities to maintain the relationship with late 20’s early 30’s alumni.”

Dave Jarman (Bristol University) identified that “there’s a problem with parents – they want their kids to get a job when they graduate – and also with the graduates in that they expect an idea could be the next Facebook. They have good ideas, but also a naivety that comes from a lack of first-hand experience within business.”

Adam Powell (Bath Spa University) pointed out that all regions lose graduates to London & the South East, but that the area has great graduate retention & employment – “over 90% of graduates are getting jobs, the biggest challenge is underemployment, where the jobs they get aren’t fully utilising their skills, because the opportunities don’t exist within local companies.”

What We Need To Do To Stimulate Growth In The UK Creative Sector (Part 1 of 3)

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The creative industry sector is one of the largest wealth generators for Bristol, Bath and the surrounding area, with both cities having been recognised by NESTA as having established networks, and being ranked 2 of the 9 top creative cities outside London.

Given the international success and reputation of some of the creative firms that reside in the south west of England, the SW LEP (Local Enterprise Partnership) and CBI (Confederation of British Industry) have placed growth in the creative sector at the heart of their economic development strategy.

In the first of four roundtable sessions commissioned by the SW LEP and organised in partnership with Bristol Media and Creative Bath, we seek to understand the business dynamics that exist within the UK’s creative sector, what spawns start-ups and the environment they need to thrive.

The UK and SW Creative Industry Landscape

Saman Mansourpour (The Agency) said that “within the UK’s creative industry there is clear separation between product and service offerings. Service businesses have always enjoyed a “low barrier to entry”, but whilst start-ups can get to proof-of-concept fast, they need management input, funding and infrastructure to get to the next level and deliver at scale.

Paul Cross (iPrinciples) noted that the US model for venture capital investment is far better than in the UK, having taken 8 companies from Bath to San Francisco, looking at incubators and meeting venture capitalists. “Investors here think mainly about revenue, but if you fail in the States the question is ‘what did you learn from that failure?’”

Richard Godfrey (iPrinciples) noted that there is a lack of understanding that start up projects will “fail” in purely monetary terms, but this is vital to innovation, experimentation and learning. Framing objectives and brokering relationships with funders is a key role.

The creative sector inhabits a dynamic landscape where technology, knowledge and the will to innovate combine to create great opportunities for small creative businesses. Companies should expect to expand and contract, regularly pause to review how things are, what’s missing, and what inputs they need. That’s the time to look for external interventions in the form of training courses, new staff, and non-executive directors. So in summary the creative sector requires one essential lifeline, and that’s regular access to a hotbed of talent.

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