Having been kicking around customer publishing for a couple of years, I’ve come into contact with a lot of agencies. Web agencies, DM agencies, marketing agencies. PR agencies, consultancies, and viral specialists. You name it – there’s an agency for it.
One of the characteristics of almost all of the agencies that I’ve come across is a desperate desire to not give the client any kind of bad news. That doesn’t just mean telling them that a project is late – although being honest about deadlines and what’s achievable in a given time frame is also far too rare – but telling them, up front, that some core aspect of their business is a hindrance, not a help, and is ultimately costing them money.
Take, for example, the thorny question of data. Data always sounds technical and complicated, but what it means fundamentally is simply this: having enough information about your customer to be able to talk to them in a way which is relevant, and not waste their time on stuff which doesn’t matter to them.
The best companies know how important this is: Google, for example, is creaming it because it understands that important of knowing what’s interesting to someone.
Yet I’ve come across many examples of agencies who are simply not prepared to tell the client straight that their data is not good enough to support what they want to do. Few agencies seem to be prepared to tell clients that they are pissing money away by sending excellent material to the wrong people, or people who don’t exist, or via print to people who really want email.
Worse yet, every time you send someone something that’s inappropriate for them, you run the risk of just irritating them and damaging the brand. And, as customers get used to seeing ads which are more interesting to them, because they’re contextual, material which is inappropriate will start to stick out like a sore thumb.
And yet, few agencies appear to want to tell this to clients. Few agencies appear to want to go through the process of pointing out to the client that an upfront data acquisition campaign will be more valuable to them in the long term than a tactical piece which goes out to the wrong people.
Within a few years, there will be a single question about data which every company should be able to answer: do you know more about your customers than Google does? If you don’t, you need to rethink your data strategy, quickly.
Why? Because if Google knows more than you about your customers, then so do your competitors. Although Google isn’t going to be selling that information to them, it will be selling them ads which will appear next to content, and those ads will be better targeted than your marketing. Think Google ads couldn’t do brand-building campaigns? Think it’s only going to be about products? Think again. A Google ad can just as easily link on to other content which provides a brand-awareness experience. If they understand your customers better than you do, then you’re in trouble.
But surely, you might be saying, Google’s data isn’t that good. And in part, you’d be right – but it’s important to ad a single word to the end of your sentence, which is “yet”. Google’s modeling of customer behaviour improves every time someone does a search, and clicks on the link. How many times is your data being improved? Not as often as Google’s.
So if you have data, take an honest look at it. And, importantly, if you’re an agency and your client has bad data, start telling them the truth – because if you’re not, and you’re not helping them get better data, then you’re not doing a good job for them.
Most clients (75%) are buying solutions to their business problems – most agencies think the client is looking for advertising, or PR, or design or whatever other silo fits their model. Agencies should present a solution, not a discipline.
Here’s a prediction for you. Within ten years, the disciplines of advertising, PR, marketing and customer publishing will have blurred to the extent that few people will think of themselves being solely within a single one of them.
Scott Karp has a lesson for online publishers – and it’s a good one:
So what’s the lesson for newspapers and other traditional media companies trying to transform themselves into online publishers?
Stop selling space.
The interesting thing though is that I think he underestimates the intelligence of publishers. In the magazine world, selling intention in this way has long been a staple. Niche magazines, selling only 20,000 copies or less, could be madly profitable if they offered to a bunch of readers in a specific market intending by buy products.
The problem, of course, is that Google offers all this but better.
David Berlind writes the best summation I’ve seen of the problem with Windows Vista:
Today, I’m a user of both Windows XP and Windows Vista and while I remain convinced that Vista is a better OS than XP, my usage of XP serves as a constant reminder that when it comes to getting my work done, I’m not getting it done any faster or better in Vista. In fact, because of the way several things have been moved around in Vista, and because of the way Internet Explorer 7, in an effort to protect us from ourselves, locks up the Web in a chastity belt, I often find myself being slowed down by Vista. It may only be a matter of time before I get used to it (and figure out how to reconfigure IE7 with the necessary wiggle room). But the bottom line is that (a) I’m definitely not more productive and (b) if I finally get to a point where I am more productive, it won’t be by much.
There’s almost nothing that I can do with Vista as an operating system that I can’t do with Mac OS X or even GNU/Linux. In fact, with both those operating systems I can actually do quite a bit more with the operating system itself.
Where Vista scores points is in its interface, which I’ve grown to prefer to the Mac, and in its application support. If you want support the largest pool of application, then Windows is the way to go – as it’s always been. That’s not to say that OS X and GNU/Linux don’t have star applications – they have many – but the broadest selection is on Windows.
What did it take for this to happen? Try this one on for size: in the past three months (April, May, and June 2007) Apple sold more Macs than it has ever sold in a single financial quarter. Ever.
I remember the days not that long ago when Apple was bumbling along selling 750,000 Macs per quarter… and that was a good quarter. I really must dig out the spreadsheet that I put together showing Mac sales and revenues going back to 1994 some time.
The big win, as Jason rightly points out, is laptops:
In early 2005 Apple was selling less than a half a million Mac laptops per quarter. But in this last three-month period, the company sold 1.1 million MacBooks, the most laptops Apple has ever sold in a single quarter. In the past year 61 percent of all Macs sold have been laptops (back in early 2005, the numbers were reversed — 60 percent of Macs sold in the first quarter of 2005 were desktops).
That’s a pretty astounding number, and one that Apple is to be congratulated on.
Joe Wilcox includes some astonishing facts in "Why ‘Seven’ and Not SP1?":
But there are a whole bunch of other businesses that haven’t renewed their licensing contracts. In a recent Forrester Research survey, 86 percent of IT procurement professionals from companies with 3,000 or more employees said that their Software Assurance contracts would expire in 2007. Fifty-seven percent either won’t renew their contracts or are uncertain about renewing. For these hold outs, the "when" of Windows 7 could affect whether or not they renew and for how long.
Fifty-seven percent? That’s an astounding number of "uncertains" for what’s one of Microsoft’s cash cows. The interesting question – and one which I’m sure Microsoft is researching the heck out of – is why they’re holding out. Is it uncertainty over the future of Windows? Or is it simply that there’s no compelling reason to upgrade from XP, now or within the next few years?
It’s increasingly difficult to see what Microsoft can add to its system to tempt corporate customers to upgrade, without falling foul of anti-trust. Vista is probably about as secure as you can get Windows without throwing out compatibility with older applications entirely, and no one really wants more features from their OS – they just want it to be more reliable and secure.
At last! Andy finally confesses…
“I’m not Fake Steve.”
Now this is novel:
However, the bit that caught my eye was an extra service called NewsAds – ie using Google AdWords to advertise and drive traffic to the original release. You can see why clients might like this idea – for example you choose to set a specific budget to try and drive particular levels of traffic – or indeed set a cap in case you have an unexpected “hit” on your hands (or at least be in control of how much you want to spend on a particular news release campaign).
Using PR to support advertising campaigns is as old as the hills – but using advertising to drive attention for a press release is a novel inversion of tradition. However, you do have to wonder how credible target consumers will find these ads – or indeed the news release itself if they’ve been led their by an ad.
A great result from ORG:
Back in May, we reported on the House of Commons Culture Committee’s misguided decision to recommend that the term of copyright in sound recordings be extended. The recommendation come despite compelling evidence that as well as harming consumers and follow on innovators, such a move would bring no benefit to the majority of UK recording artists and would result in a net loss to the UK economy. It also came couched in language that betrayed a basic misunderstanding of copyright law on behalf of the Committee.
Today the Department of Culture, Media and Sport have responded to the Culture Committee, and the good news is they’ve rejected the recommendation to extend term.