Proposition and Positioning

Positioning (= mental response) is the effect of making a proposition (= brand stimulus). That's it.

Strategy Quotations (4) - Asking Questions in Research

In his book Ogilvy on Advertising, David Ogilvy relates an experience from his days as a researcher for the Gallup Organization, when Gone with the Wind was a bestseller. Ogilvy’s assignment was to find out how many people had actually read the book. After too many positive answers to the direct question, "Have you read Gone with the Wind?", Ogilvy made the subtle but brilliant change to, "Do you plan to read Gone With the Wind?". Having provided respondents a way to admit not having read the book and still save face, false positive answers dropped dramatically.

Ads are for retention (?)

In a Book called "Habit" which deals with habit as main behavior driver of consumers the author makes the following point:

Since 95% of behavior is gouverned by habit ads are and should be designed to reinforce habitual behaviors. In other words: you don't do ads to alter attitudes or improve "images" but to implement or more often rather to reinforce brand related habits. If a brand doesn't "own" such habitual behaviors - too bad. A brand should own them he says.

Now, we rather assume that ads are for news and CRM is for retention. This guy says ads are rather for retention (since habits as such are for retention)

It's an interesting point,don't you think?

Strategy Quotations (3)

"Corporate strategy thus implies an attempt to alter a company's strength relative to that of  its competitors in the most efficient way. Of course, the condition of the business itself can be improved by reference to absolute criteria. For example, a company may seek to reduce the costs of its products by using value engineering  or seek  to improve its cash flow by shortening  the collection periods of receivables. (...)
These "operational" improvements can be regarded as a part of business strategy.
I believe, however, that it will make for clearer thinking if we reserve the term 'strategy' for actions aimed directly at altering  the strength of the enterprise relative to that of the competitors."
                                                        - from The Mind of the Strategist - by Kenichi Ohmae

Strategy Quotations (2) - B2B CRM

"When we look at loyalty programs and we’ve done them as well, it is our operating theory that the thing that drives loyalty as strong as or stronger than anything else is the ability for us to help our customers make money. Where there are many schemes for measuring loyalty, we rather think the most powerful way to engage our customers in this kind of conversation is better served by talking to them about their ability to make money." 
                                                  — Bob Harlan, Director of Business Insights, Owens Corning 

Strategy Quotations (1)

"There is always a leading competitor in any area. The classic segmentation forces that specific competitor to choose between parts of the segment. If he chooses either alternative, he must abandon the rest or serve it at a loss."
                                                                   - Segmentation and Strategy, Seymour Tilles, 1974

Resonance vs Relevance

Resonance vs Relevance. Two Concepts for Planners.

It's mysterious how words used to describe what we aim for in planning can change planning itself. Normally we think that there's "reality" which we deal with but very often there are just terms and concepts. Like e.g. "relevance" and "resonance". Let's dig deeper into that.

Resonance is a concept widely accepted in the Anglo-Saxon advertising community. Less so e.g. in Germany. The word "relevance" here in Germany is used all the time. "Resonance" hardly ever. This is quite revealing, but the cross-cultural thing isn't the main point.

What's the difference between those two terms? They both point towards the impact power of a communication that "presses the right buttons". But what's the difference between them?

Let's take a look at the syntax that goes with them. We say "relevant to" or "relevant for" - but we say "it resonates with". So it's "for" vs "with". Basically, that's it. That's the difference. Let me explain why.

Relevance is instrumental. No, not the opposite of acapella:) Instrumental in the sense of usefulness for some sort of action or goal. There is no relevance per se. There's only relevance in relation to something a specific person in a specific intentional state aiming for. E.g. good tyre grip is relevant for safety and sportivity, less so for self expression of the driver. Which driver? Right, for car enthusiasts good grip - on the contrary - might be relevant for self-expression when meeting other enthusiasts for a chat about cars. (This is why all those questioannaires asking all sorts of people about "how relevant is this or that for you?" - IN GENERAL - don't make much sense.)
So, relevance is instrumentality related to something on a higher level. Something is important because it's connected to something bigger that is important. Basically, when something is relevant you could ask "what for"?

It's different with resonance. We say "resonate with something". There's no direct expression of beeing "good for...". Resonance is much broader than that. Relevance could be one sort of resonance - a utalitarian one - but there could be other ones. Resonance with cultural preferences, with matters of style, with shared beliefs, with shared dislikes, with memories etc. Resonance as a communication outcome could be even simply about liking. Resonance is more about brands as communicators and less about products as relevant offerings. A product can have relevant features but you would hardly say that the feature resonates with the audience.

Resonance is a musical term. It's also about physics, but specifically physics of waves, e.g. soundwaves. The phenomenon of wave resonance in music is about causing a wave movement in an object by eliciting the right wave frequency with an other object. It leaves you swinging in its wave. Relevance doesn't do that.

What's interesting in practical terms for planners is that you need to find the right frequency, the right chord. I think there are two sorts of such frequencies or wavelenghts. The ones most people resonate with when it comes to a certain field in life. Those are the values and meanings that are widely used and seen as a must have chord to be played. "It's all about you", "wholesome food", "naturalness", "self-expression" all that canonical things considered "right and good" in a given era. And then there are frequencies that cause new, more striking resonances. They do so because they don't re-resonate the "safe" wavelengths that are already swinging in the audience but hope to have found one that is not in their repertoire, yet. OK, that's nothing new - this seems to be about differentiation. But it's more helpful than just that: it shows us where to look for a differentiating frequency to resonate to. Watch out for slight dissonances and tensions between resonances, look into margnal (subcultural) resonances on their way to become dominant ones, resonances in other cultures, and also changes in wavelenghts over time, and most of all into your own brand and it's own "wavelength"!

Let me explain the dissonance thing. Dissonances appear when there are negative "vibes" when you strike a chord. They might come from negative connotations or from conflicts (interferences) between different "waves". An example is Saturn's "Geiz ist geil". Another example? If you look into what's resonating in the airline industry it's clearly the chords of "personal, caring service", "ease & comfort", "big, global network" and "simple and affordable". And it works actually. The problem is: it works for every brand. Let's look into a certain brand and the dissonances caused by it's origin and heritage. The brand i talk about is Lufthansa. It delivers all of the stuff above and it talks about it - just like everybody else. But the dissonance with Lufthansa is that they are German - i.e. cold, unemotional, pricise but like a machine. Here you go: you've found something. It strikes a dissonant chord. It resonates - dissonantly. Now the job is to arrange this wavelength in a way that people resonate more positively with it. Not by striking the common safe chords, but to find Lufthansa's own, resonating wavelength based in thier Germanness. Is Germanness relevant in the market? Doesn't matter here: it's more about resonance, not relevance for a brand.

The Mechanisms behind Emotional Propositions in Advertising

There's a strong tendency - esp. in the Anglo-Saxon world of advertising - to favour extrinsic, emotive propositions over intrinsic, product driven ones.

To clarify what I mean, here's one first example: BMW is all about "Joy ( life)" as an extrinsic, emotive proposition, Mercedes claim "The best or nothing" which is far more intrinsic and product/usage driven. While such wide umbrella brands tend to overarch their diverse products with very broad - thus most of the times emotive - concepts, the difference between emotive vs product/usage driven is more striking on product level or for very lean brand portfolios. Gatorade could be about enhanced performance in sports or about the spirit of perseverance in sports. The latter would be an emotional proposition. Coke Zero in Europe dramatises "Life as it should be" rather than the product related "Real Taste, Zero Sugar - (as it should be)".

Now, we all learned for decades that since products don't differ on product level any longer they must become differentiated on an extrinsic, emotional level. This is the sensible widely accepted thinking and - honestly - there would be little to do for (classical) planning if there was no quest for the emotive lever. Yes, it's true that there's often no alternative to that - e.g. because there's no other differentiator or because you are looking for an overarching idea for a whole portfolio of products. But still, sometimes I just don't fully understand how this actually is supposed to WORK - I mean how this influences purchase behaviour.

People would hardly really believe that Coke Zero delivers on their promise of a perfect life as it should be. I would also assume that they don't really seek for "perfect life in a bottle". The usual answer to that is: "well, people are not that rational, things work beyond ratio". Absolutely - but how does this actually work? "Beyond ratio" is not an explanation, nor is it a sufficient description.

Here are some scenarios how emotive propositions, or say brand ideologies might work:

A) they deliver a noteworthy and legitimate "Reason-to-talk to consumers" - you could pick any plausible and entertaining "story" to be heard and seen
B) they imply certain purchase relevant attributes on product level
C) they just increase the likability of or the respect for the brand - it's cool that the brand tells such a "story"
D) they deliver an emotional post-justification for a purchase - a good feeling IN ADDITION and maybe AFTER having chosen something
F) they become real reasons-to-buy - people buy the product in order to gain the promised emotional benefits (= often unlikely)

Most clients - and agencies - seem to assume it's F) that is at work. And it is in lots of cases. E.g. Smokers do buy cigarettes in order to "inhale" a certain lifestyle. But the problem is that promising all sorts of life- and self- improvements is often an extreme overpromise - causing even reactances. This is often apologised by saying "that's advertising. It's about exaggeration". Well, it depends...
Let's take a look at Coke Zero again: it does not really have to differentiate itself emotionally from equal competitors. There's only one Coke Taste with zero sugar. So why sell it as an enabler of a perfect life? Were emotive propositions not just a way out of the factual parity on product level - as e.g. In the cigarettes market?

It seems to me that we tend to believe that emotional propositions are per se "stronger" than product-level ones. They are considered the standard procedure of "proper" brand leadership. But this simply can't be always true! Product related cognitions are stronger at the shelf than vague emotional tendencies for most of the advertised categories.

This is why I would think that for product advertising scenario B) is the most likely and practicable one. The emotive proposition here would be the nice, enhancing packaging for clear and purchase relevant product or usage attributes. On the other hand sometimes ads explain too much of the emotional benefits of features; people could feel patronised by the brands "instructions" how tu enjoy and value those features. E.g. Insurance companies constantly "explain", how financial safety contributes to life quality when you are old. But really, they don't have to explain that - it's banal.

So there's a thin line between strong, relevant emotional propositions on the one hand and blunt overpromising on the other. It's defintely not true that "emotionalising" a brand is the best way to improve clout. If done without a real insight it's a good way to diminish brand appeal. Sometimes the results of such "emotionalising" attempts are typical ad bullshit and consumers feel that.
And there's a not quite thin line to be crossed between emotive claims and consumer's actual purchase and usage behaviour. Maybe the effect of emotional propositions on purchase behavior is an indirect one. This would change the way we discuss them in client meetings.

Market vs Culture

Basically, the real key difference between the "Old School" & "New School" planning & advertising is the following core belief:

"Old School"            >>>         "New School"

Believes that              >>>          Believes that
brands operate in markets         brands operate in culture

Now, you're probably used to planning blogs glorifying "the new way" as the substitute of "the old way". That's not what I'm trying to say here. Kant doesn't substitute Plato.
Practically, if you work in the UK for British clients, which I don't , you should embrace "the new school" every now and then. If you work somewhere else - e.g. in Germany -  it's healthier for your bottom line & new business to think of brands as operating in markets and being a means to sell products:-)
Same difference could be drawn between different businesses you work for. Etc. 

Of course the two views overlap all the time. Markets are embedded in culture and all that. You could also mix the two views. But then my headline loses "vs". And I like "vs".

Learning from Planning Cases

 Planning & communications are often seen as art rather than science. And it's absolutely true. (Though this implies a slightly wrong picture of science as unimaginative and repetitive in its methods.)

Taking on from here I have been thinking about how "art" is tought. Not "art hostory" but art itself. As far as I can see, it's tought through letting people make art and then criticizing it, and secondly through making people look at art - no, rather see art. For some art forms there naver has been any other form of learning than through looking. For instance in hip hop spraying when it took off. You simply looked at what others did and went on from there.

The first method is exactly what we do in an agency all the time: we let people simply "do strategy" and then criticize it - if we get money for this, we call it "workshop" or "bootcamp". The second method would be to let them read case studies. It's hard to find authentic cases studies with little retrospective rationalising. But it actually doesn't matter if they have been polished or claimed by planners though it was a creative's idea, etc. It's like with fine art - very often we actually do not know how and who painted those pictures (There are around 12 versions of my favourite painting ba El Greco.Most of them not made by El Greco but by his pupils. Mozart's Requiem might be not composed by Mozart himself but by a "Junior in his team"- seriously, he was too sick at that time. This doesn't matter much, his apprentice must have studies Mozart's "case studies" pretty well.) We also don't know how messy the process has been in reality. (Lots of paintings have 3 layers of paint - hiding different versions and the artists insecurity.) Doesn't matter, it's the brillance of the result that will influence us.

So this is it: case studies, or rather "study cases!". It's hard to get them, I know. Here's just one link that could help. SOME CASES HERE. There are probably other sources out there. I wouldn't go for the Effie cases and prefer planning cases dealing with planners' insights and ideas.

By the way: can anyone help me out with the APG UK awarded cases/papers? I don't have any WARC access any longer:-(

The Birth Of A Grand Strategist By Waqar Riaz

Check out this SlideShare Presentation.
It contains rather "classic" planning frameworks - esp.the JWT planning model from 1974 -  starting from the middle of the presentation (after the "planning-is-like XYZ"-talk). Lots of interesting details in that one. Thank you, Waqar Riaz

Strategy as Distinction & Connectability

...or, a  megalomaniac attempt to be
a smaller version of Schopenhauer.

Inspired by:
The Work of Niklas Luhmann

Years and years of thinking brought Schopenhauer to the result, that the world - as experienced by man - consists of two factors: "Der Wille" & "Die Vorstellung". "Striving" & "Mental Representation". Forget the details, it's not about his work, it's more about the endeavor to factorize things "as high as can get". Everything is embodied in the two factors. So lots of information about reality "gets lost" in them.

The advantage of such a model of Strategy would be: it would be universally true - always! The disatvantage would be: because it's always true it does not help to solve any particular case in its singularity.

Nevertheless, there is a certain drive in man to look for the universally true - though this might be a false, misleading & impractical "strive". So let's try. It's fun.

Shopenhauer himself did not help me at all in finding the content of such a universal formula for planning. He gave me the form: two factors with no chance for a third one. The content came from Niklas Luhmann. A German systemic sociologist, or to be more precise, the only systemic socilogist - world wide... ever. (There is no systemic sociology, there's just Luhmann and people studying Luhman who call themselves systemic sociologists.)  They don't understand it, I don't understand it, probably noone really does for longer than a minute or so. But there are two basic, more or less understandable things about his thinking that could directly influence planning: a) a system is a system due to the one basic distinction it draws between what belongs to it and what doesn't, b) communications communicate with communications, not people; i.e. they work ONLY through being ignited by preceeding communications & through being connected to subsequent communications.
The first notion is actually quite well accepted in the form of Bateson's "An information is a differecne that makes a difference".
The second notion is particularly obscure, I know, we can loosen that up a bit and maybe say: communications work through connection to something before and after it. Also see my post on the "meaning in-between things"

Luhmann's two insights could be translated in a Schopenhauer-like formula of Account Planning: "Communication Strategy is about drawing a Distinction based on its Connectability". Strategy is Distinction & Connectability. "Unterschied & Anschluss". I really do prefer the German one in this case.

Now, it's quite important not to understand "Distinction" as the widely used "Differentiation" and "Connectability" not as "Connection Planning" or "Touchpoint Strategy" although these terms are interrelated to some extent.
In this blog I try to draw attention to things happening in the planner's mind. Differentiation and Connection Planning are not a mode of thinking or a technique that could be used by a planner - they are rather judgement criteria, tasks or deliverables. Whereas "Distinction" and "Connectability" could be seen as the two universal things the planner should be looking for, thus also being two modes of working.


The Planner shapes the strategy as a Dualism between A & B
(or several such dualisms)


The Planner can prove that The Distinction he has drawn between A & B is
  • seamlessly connectable to existing, salient representations, behavior & communications in the past
  • will elicit salient representations, behavior & especially communications in the future
I'm deeply in love with the notion of "Distintion" so let me explain a bit more. Once again, "Distinction" is not "Differentiation"! Here's a conversation showing why:
Junior Planner:
"The strongest differentiating feature of this mobile phone is the number of Megapixels of it's camera.."
Senior Planner:
"Yes, great, so what is The Distinction that YOU draw? Lots of Megapixels vs little of them? or good images vs bad images? or maybe close to reality vs far from reality? or for experiences worth good documentation vs experiences not worth it? or maybe real photocamera vs regular phone cam?"

Distinction is a really strong "mental tool". I have not encountered it being used explicitly. I also like the English verb "to draw" a distinction. Its really very much about drawing a separating line with a pen...

As for Connectability... next time:-) It's probably related to "Research" & "Objectives", I guess.
This is really way too long as a blog post. I will follow-up later.

Thanks for reading.

Why brand consultants are not into ideas

What is an account planner and what is a brand consultant?

In the job I have now I have to be both. And these two roles do differ. It goes roughly like this:

Brand consultant:
Likes schemes and models (circles, process charts, 4quadrants, even 6!).
Wants projects to last and likes project phases on slides.
Believes brands are complex and need more than 50 words in geometrical forms to be described.
Uses words like "trust", "partnership", "future", "innovation" in writing without being ashamed.
Thinks advertising is not very important.
Claims to be able to manage every aspect of the brand.
Believes research can "identify" "drivers" and "triggers" (through asking consumers) to which a brand should be aligned to... And calls all this "consumer insights" (plural!)
Earns fees starting from € 20.000,- per project

Account Planner:
Likes to have one idea based on one insight.
Prefers having an idea over idea generation processes.

The problem of planners is often the fact that their ideas have limited scope in 90% of the cases: they are not very realistic for the organizations to be implemented as a guideline for the whole brand experience and product development. But they do have ideas. Brand consultants don't. Ideas are not born in consensus - and consulting is about creating consent. Planning is about creating edge.

So here's a planners idea (project phase 0, working time: waiting for a beer):

Behavioral Insights / Behavioral Ideas (3)

One of the most obvious behavioral approaches in planning or brand management is when "occasion based" thinking is applied.

So for example a brand portfolio manager might think something like "Cannibalization between the 12 toothpaste flavours will be strong because they all compete for the same usage occasion." What happens here is that his frame of thinking switches from attitudes and propositions to "slots of behavior". Brushing teeth. Not "the need to brush teeth". Actually, there is no such need. But there is the brushing. And effects of brushing. So "need based" talk is actually misleading in this case.
So, the manager assumes that whether the products differ in their appeals to certain taste preferences, sensual expereinces or values is secondary to the fact that they serve the same occasion - say behavior.

So in order to create a behavioral positioning space a behaviorist would rather ask for different behaviors - or occasions - within brushing teeth. Brushing in the morning might be different from that in the evening. That's "occasion based" thinking. This might have been the starting point for Elmex & Aronal toothpastes in Germany. What they claim - or proclaim - is 100% behavioral: "Aronal in the morning. Elmex in the evening". It's just a behavioral program. Of course, there's some medical rationale behind that, but I guess it also could be RtB-retro-fitting to a simple behavioral insight: people brush teeth twice a day.
...some people do...

Ok, what about those who don't? How many don't? Is there a product that doesn't require twice-a-day? Or a product that encourages & rewards the second brushing? So, I guess, that's behavioral thinking about the problem. It's not necessarily the best way to go, maybe "teeth problems" is a better way to segment and position products: Prevention, Repair, Whitening, Pain Protection, Bad Breath etc. But that's what all brands do already, so...

Just from reading the above it seems to me that this sort of thinking works better for products & product development than for e.g. umbrella brand positioning. You wouldn't position a whole umbrella brand on just one occasion / behavior, would you? In the case of toothpaste you usually would go for "From Medical Professionals" or "Fun Experience" or something like that.

I will continue to write about this whole topic - behavioral, not teeth - because I have a strong feeling that there is much more interesting stuff to come. Thanks for reading, again.

Behavioral Insights / Behavioral Ideas (2)

Following up the issue of behaviorism in account planning I'll quote a rather randomly picked text on how behavior modification might work. It's just as good as any other source to get a first idea. The text has been quoted from .

There are interesting and quite obvious parallels to altering behaviour (=purchase or usage behaviors) through communications. Obviously, the methods move away from BIG BRAND IDEAS towards small steps and schemes of reinforcement. It's also interesting to notice the importance of defining CONCRETE behaviors to be altered and of researching CONCRETE behavior triggers and reinforcers instead of e.g. vague "positioning spaces" or other abstract constructs. Have a read:

The theories and research of the Behaviorist Approach gave rise to therapies designed to change behavior by using learning principles. Many of these therapies have been remarkably successful for several people who have specific behaviours or habits that they want to alter. Research has found that once you understand the principles of learning, you may even be able to modify your own behavior. Here's how it's done:


The first step in habit change is to identify a behavior that you wish to alter. Decide on the one most important problem which you would like to change. Now check to see that your problem is specific. If you are having trouble stating your problem in this form, you might try making a list of concrete examples. So, rather than saying, "I procrastinate", try rephrasing it as "I put off studying for a test until the day before". Rather than saying, "I'm physically out of shape", try restating the problem as "I avoid going to the gym" or "I drive my car instead of walking two blocks." If the problem you selected is too general, look for a more concrete form to describe it.


Now that you have identified a specific problem which you would like to address, the next step is to state the goal. Like the problem, the target behavior should also be specific. Decide on what behaviours you would have to change in order for you to attain your goal. For example, if your goal is to lose 10 pounds, the behaviours you may need to employ to reach this goal are exercising more and eating less or different foods. In addition to being specific, the target behavior should also be realistic. Thus, if you haven't exercised much and your goal is to do 100 sit-ups per day, it is probably unrealistic (and unhealthy!) to set a goal of being able to do that many sit-ups by the third week of the program. If your goal is to stop procrastinating and study more consistently, you may be tempted to aim immediately for 8 hours of studying, 7 days a week. But this schedule may be such a drastic change from your present behavior that you may risk burning yourself out within a few days, and then dropping the whole program because you feel that you have "failed". It's important to ensure that you do not set yourself up for a failure by making the goal too strenuous at the beginning of the program. So check to make sure that your target behavior and the time-frame to achieve it are realistic. If they are not, try breaking your goal into smaller steps– the steps can never be too small, but they can be too big .


Often, although we have identified a problem behavior, we aren't really aware of how often we do it or if it is more likely to occur in some circumstances than others. This type of information is called baseline data. For example, if your problem behavior is smoking, are you aware of how many cigarettes you smoke each day or if you smoke more at certain times or places or with certain people? In order to effectively change behavior, we need to be cognizant of what we are doing now. For a week or two before you begin a behavior change plan, keep track of the occurrence, the antecedents and the consequences of your behavior. For example, "Monday afternoon, felt anxious about a test, smoked two cigarettes, felt more relaxed. Monday evening, had a drink with a friend, smoked three cigarettes, felt relaxed", etc. In this example, we might conclude that feeling tense and drinking with a friend are stimuli that cue smoking behavior (i.e. discriminative stimuli), and the behavior is reinforced by a feeling of relaxation. In some cases, we alter our behavior simply by being aware of it. Thus, you may stop your nail biting habit while collecting baseline data just because you have become conscious of this habit. If you achieve your change in this way, keep collecting the data to make sure that you don't revert to the old behavior.


When you have collected sufficient baseline data to identify the discriminative and consequent stimuli, the next step is to plan your program. To be maximally effective, your program should do the following:

1. Control discriminative stimuli. This might be accomplished by eliminating, avoiding, or reducing the incidence of these stimuli. For example, if you bite your nails every time you watch television, you might want to avoid watching television for a while.
2. Develop small, realistic steps for accomplishing your goal. You should already have done this in Step Two.
3. Provide a schedule of frequent reinforcement. Your program should emphasize positive reinforcement and minimize punishment. A structured way to do this is to create a contract in which you specify what reinforcer(s) you will receive for particular accomplishments. So for the first week of a smoking reduction program, the contract may read "For each day I smoke 25 or fewer cigarettes, I will allow myself 60 minutes of TV watching. If I smoke 26-30 cigarettes, I will allow myself 30 minutes of TV. If I smoke more than 30 cigarettes, I will not watch any TV but will spend the evening studying. Further, if at the end of the week I have smoked 25 or fewer cigarettes on at least 5 days, I will have dinner at a restaurant of my choice." Notice that the contract includes both short-term and long-term rewards,


Now that you have collected baseline data and all the planning has been accomplished, it is time to execute your program. As you carry out your program, you may find that you have to make some adjustments. You may have identified new discriminative stimuli, found that the steps you have outlined are unrealistic, or realized that the reinforcers you have selected are not sufficient or are not delivered with enough frequency to change the undesirable behavior. However, give your program some time to work- at least a week or two. The behavior you wish to change has probably been around for some time; don't expect it to disappear overnight.

Martin, G. L., & Pear, J. (2002). Behavior Modification: What It Is and How to Do It, 7th ed. New York: Prentice-Hall.

Strategy - Going upstream with your questions

Dave Trott on the Art of Persuasion Part 1 from accountplanninggroup on Vimeo.

Dave Trott on the Art of Persuasion Part 2 from accountplanninggroup on Vimeo.

Dave Trott on the Art of Persuasion Part 3 from accountplanninggroup on Vimeo.

Dave Trott on the Art of Persuasion Part 4 from accountplanninggroup on Vimeo.

Dave Trott on the Art of Persuasion Part 5 from accountplanninggroup on Vimeo.

Dave Trott on the Art of Persuasion Part 6 from accountplanninggroup on Vimeo.

Dave Trott on the Art of Persuasion Part 8 from accountplanninggroup on Vimeo.

Dave Trott on the Art of Persuasion Part 9 from accountplanninggroup on Vimeo.

Dave Trott on the Art of Persuasion Part 10 from accountplanninggroup on Vimeo.

Behavioral Insights / Behavioral Ideas

Just a quick note before the thought gets lost. And it's a question so far, rather.

What is meant when some people talk about a new "behavioral" perspective in research and strategy? (BBDO for example)

As far as I understand it, behavioral is the natural opposite of attitudonal in classical psych. Everybody who checked in literature about attitudes remembers the shockingly low correlations between attitudes and behavior. Nevertheless, attitudes are the main object of research and insight in comm strategy.(Behaviorism beeing considered sort of a fascist misconception from the 50ies). But today, there are some voices adding a new flavour to this classic discussion.

Now, two first examples that come to my mind when approaching this whole issue are the following:

a) BBDO's rituals study/white paper
b) a case from Martini in the UK (as I heard about it - probably it's a bit hindsight biased)

a) BBDO claimed that products should relate not to values or benefit perceptions but to ritualised sequences of everyday behavior. Like getting up in the morning and preparing for the day "out there".

b) Martini had launched a campaign called "put Martini in the fridge". The insight behind it was that most people kept Martini where the other spirits were - not in the fridge - which made it a seldomly consumed beverage whereas those in the fridge - like white wine - have been consumed and repurchased much faster. Thus, Martini have raised purchased frequency without any attitudonal or image-related claims. (Most alcoholic beverages rather go for image.)

Both examples give us a first idea of what "behavioral" is or might be. But is there more to it? How can we transform this into a more complete and systematic tool for planning?

Personal Style in Planning

Just a quote from the PSFK-videos on planners' skills:

"A great planner is someone who would tackle a problem differently from they way I would"

Katie Harrison
BBH, Head of Strategy

Media-Neutrality vs Pre-Testability

Three things revolve in my head today:

a) how pre-testing practice helps discrediting AtL advertising as a whole

b) how helpful it is to present trans-media or digital-centered communications - not for the usual reasons, but because they are NOT TESTABLE

c) that b)-sort of ideas are actually rather wishful thinking for most real-life jobs I'm involved in.

a) Pre-testing's role in ineffectiveness
Now, this is certainly not a hard fact and certainly not the main thing about the "crisis of AtL advertising". But it's interesting to see how there's no decrease of income for market research firms testing AtL while AtL itself seems to be in a crisis. To put it more harsh: testing went up and ad effectiveness seems to go down! Ooops.

Certainly, the common explanation why AtL ads got weaker says that "the channels" (TV and Print) lose reach and involvmenet power while the internet gains both. The target groups' media habits changed - and all that. That's true to some extent. It's true for me, personally. I hardly watch the telly or read as well. But I want to stress something different. And it's about those times when I do watch the telly or read a magazine.

If you watch German TV and see WHAT KIND OF spots they run you start wondering if this is really just a "channel problem". I mean, most ads are awful. Crappier than the usual German stuff. Strategic, creative, cultural garbage. But I'm sure it passed the pre-tests.

I don't want to complain about the testing methods again. Well, I do want, but I won't. All of that has been said already. And certainly, I'm not the one to think that work in Cannes represents advertising as it should be. Some of it, maybe, most of it not at all.

I just experience how people start writing for the test and not for people or brands. I know that people who can't write advertising themselves have more to say when it comes to deciding how to advertise because they know "how advertising works". (e.g. "The product needs to play an exact, non-interchangeable role in the plot, otherways branding can not be ensured.") And that is exactly what I recognize in the advertising on TV. It's advertising that "passed". It's advertising that is ruled by conventions of quant testing.

b) Non-classical ideas = Bypass the test

There are no Millward Brown benchmarks for interactive or trans-media ideas.

I guess I can leave this one uncommented since it is a very powerfull insight in itself and everybody will see its value for an agency:-)

c) Non-AtL campaign ideas not truly wanted
Why don't agencies present more non-classical formats? Mostly you hear that it's because agencies haven't learned how to do it, yet. This is just one possible explanation for it.
The other one is: I believe most clients don't want true "un-AtL" sort of thinking. And lots of them don't need it as well.

Now, this is a strange one since the only thing you read about in publications is that clients want integrated cases, non-classical ideas, media-neutral ideas, etc. But in my experience behind closed doors the conversation might go like this:

......"Yes we will apply all sorts of non-classical channels, internet and ... , but first we want to see
the idea. It's the idea that counts! We are in an idea business. Agencies have to learn to
understand this. It's not about a 30seconder any more. etc. etc."
...... Question: "Is it going to be tested?"
...... Answer: "Yes, most probably"
....... "Quant as well?"
....... "Yes, if there's enough time left"

BANG! There you go: they want a TV animatic as the representation of the idea. Or an outdoor motif. All the specialst desciplines (promo, digital...) probably will hesitate to start working untill there's agreement on the TV - everybody will wait for the film being tested, etc. And maybe this is even still the right way to do it - I'm not per se against it. I'm just saying, that most companies demand for AtL ads first - it's not a genuine agency problem! They don't say it loud, but that's what they demand for implicitly. They demand for it because managers can show and explain ads to their bosses and their bosses' bosses; but most of all because ads are testable, thus seemingly predictable.

To sum up:
Whenever you can: try to give them the non-classical, trans-media stuff since you will have more freedom from the smart guys.... and girls.

"The In-Between" - Where meaning is created

There is no meaning in anything. There is only meaning in relations between - or in relating to - other things. And maybe we can use this for planning.

Yesterday I read in a book on semiotics how "meaning" is possible. The summary: meaning resides in the realtion of one mental concept to other mental concepts.

What really left me stunning was the following notion: "A thought by itself - which is basically just a feeling - has no intellectual content or value by itself". Now, read the middle part again: "A thought is basically just a feeling"! ?????? Now stop reading and try to literally observe the thought you have in mind. Not the flow of thoughts but the one single thought you have in your brain at a given moment. Now! ..................................................

Right, there is none! There is a feeling of "thinking" but no thought. I love all that Zen stuff I have to admit. First of all because it's true and real. But let's leave that aside.

Back to semiotics: What the semiotician was saying (and it was Peirce himself by the way) is that meaning is between the thoughts. That what you think in a given moment is meaningful through the thoughts preceding it and following it. Now this sounds somewhat reasonable. Really seeing it happen in your mind is stunning!
If you didn't have this effect in your mind, try again because it's by far more interesting than my writing about it and all what follows below.

How can we use this insight in planning? Just two quick guesses how this might help. Don't know, really, but maybe it makes sense...

a) A slight change of perspective in research? We tend to ask people about "things" and the meaning of "things" to them. We also tend to attribute the meining to things when we interpret what people tell us. Now, if that's not where meaning resides we should refocus - or rather unfocus. Let's try and not ask people about "things" but about relations between "things". A simple technique could be contrasting things with other things or situations with situations etc.
When listening to what people say we could listen less to why and how people perceive or do something but how what they perceive or do becomes meaningful through relations to other concepts or actions. For instance, when someone tells us how nice it is to come home and be welcomed by the dog, maybe now "home - dog" is the relation to explore, less the "nice feeling". I guess normally we would go for the feeling side of that revelation.

b) A simple thinking technique to use for ourselves? When we get stuck, start relating to something. Because being stuck is the nature of a thought (which is not there as you might have experienced in the "Thought Experiment" above). Meaning will arise when we relate things to other things, findings to other findings, etc. We could do this quite without obvious logic behind it. For instance, "How could I relate the fact that this gadget is too big for a mobile device to the fact that its launch will be in September?" ... "Would any other month have been different or better for us?" It's really stupid, I know. But it might tell us something about possible meaning of "big". Maybe not... You should never let anyone know that this is the way you work, though.

I will think about it a bit more and try to come up with better ideas. It's very crude so far.

Why Segmenting (Pt. 2)

My thinking about segmentations went on. I became less critical when seeing it from the brand portfolio perspective. Obviously "campaign idea type of planning" has not awfully much to do with portfolio strategy decisions (for which segmentations seem to be quite helpful:-)

Nevertheless, there are still serious issues with the generation of a concrete segmentation model and the data behind it!

Please check out these very interesting pdfs on the latter topic!

The Media Neutral Idea

The medium is the message.

I never understood this message, by the way.
Lately I had a discussion with another planner about the notion of media neutrality. And like almost every planner he advocated media neutrality - or channel neutrality. Media neutrality is a concept opposite to McLuhan's provocative statement and simply says that an idea is independent of the media in which it gets placed.
How else could planners go from market conditions and consumer sentiment to a communications idea? A good idea is media neutral, they say. That's what I think most of the time, too. Simply because we would go insane if we had to come up with different ideas for different channels.

But sometimes I wonder... how neutral can it be?

Let's remember how it is to come up with a creative planning idea. When evaluating that idea we start assessing if the idea works well in execution. Actually we can not even think of an idea without having its executional potential in mind. (At least if you're working in an agency that sells communication and not brand consulting or research.) So idea generation is influenced by our intuition of it's executional potential. And an exectution is by no means channel neutral, is it. So depending on which kind of execution channel you have at the background of your mind you will probably come up with different kinds of ideas. Can we really make our brain think media neutrally?

It's at least not easy. Even the basic principles of idea formulation that serve best print and TV ads don't apply well to e.g. building a user community or running a PR campaign. Communities revolve around designing interaction, PR around engaging opinion shapers in stories to be spread, ads revolve around single-minded MESSAGES. Single-mindednes makes not much sense in good dialogues, human relations & real story telling. What does that mean for the formulation of ideas?

I think that all over the world lots of planners started to technically think and write in a different way. Ideas become more broad and less about messages, thus aiming for inspiriation across channels. But still - is real media neutrality feasible? And is it always the very best solution? Could it be better to have one idea for some channels and for others to have another idea that is "not too far away"? (It will happen like this anyway, you know:-)

No idea works equally splendid in all channels. What we all do, we have an assumption about where an idea will "have to go" and if it seems to work well in those channels, we give it a go. That's fair enough. Noone needs all channels. Noone pays for all channels. Noone would simply drop a great idea just because it works less breathtakingly in - let's say - sponsoring or community buliding. You just invent something in addition (like e.g. apps are often on-offs, viral clips are almost always one-offs).

"It depends on the idea" is one of the most used sentences we hear when it comes to media. If it does depend on the idea, than the idea can't be that neutral. The media agency usually wants to know the idea before media planning! If ideas were truly neutral they would not have to know.

The other extreme position - equaly non-neutral and radically McLuhanist - is that of a channel planner. As far as I understand, they even think of an idea starting from what is, should and can be done in the mediascape. So no thinking without meida in mind.
= No media neutrality in thinking!

On the other hand, there are ideas that are very broad and really fit in almost all the channels. But they often are rather frameworks for idea genration still to come. Is this what they mean when saying "territory"? Do we rather need to develop two levels of ideas from now on?

To sum up: The holiness of media neutrality can at least be challenged. But it's of course a very helpful notion to challenge the way classical ad agencies think!

I'm more confused than before writing this. But that's how those things are: mighty fuzzy and confusing. One sentence you write is just a sentence, and another one - almost the same one - suddenly is an idea. It's more than confusing, it's magic!

If we all were more honest in admitting that often enough we don't know for sure what those big words - "idea", "territory" etc. - technically mean and how they are "built"... if we all were more honest and would start talking about it in public - maybe then our whole guild would make a step further and become a true profession.

At least in that conversation I noticed that it's impossible to develop a better understanding if both try to appear as "planners". I.e. as persons who know it all - because they are so clever.

Let's stop being clever!

Be stupid!

(That's Diesel's latest idea. it's sort of media neutral isn't it? :-)

Why Segmenting

Everyone who ever started building a brand positioning using segmentation studies or profiles of consumers in different countries must have experienced this moment of despair when you wish you would not have started from that kind of data.

Well, what's the problem with knowing the differences between groups of people? It must be good. It's hard data, isn't it.

First of all we have to consider the statistics a research agency applies to get to consumer segments. In most cases it's about a cluster analysis that tries to explain variances in data. (This is incorrect terminology-wise but a very good metahpor for what they do.) So, even if later on segments get those simple names like e.g. "Traditionalists", we have to understand, that they get their names based on some variables that make them statsitically different from other clusters of people. In most cases it's the variables of minor "strength" that make them different since the universal dimensions rather tend to unite groups of people. But the statistics of cluster analysis favour the over-average-index and devaluate the absolute figures within a segment. Later on, clients look at "Traditionalists", as if this segment was really mainly and only driven by "Traditionlism", whereas it's just the statistical analysis that was driven by it. The thinking in index vs "real" percentage is always a logical problem for a planner and there is no easy way out. The index characterses a group quite well vs others but does not depict which traits and expectations PREDOMINANTLY drive perception and consumption of those people.

Secondly, we have to see that segments imply that positioning a brand is about making an offer to a specific, homogeneous group of people. That's almost the exact opposite of the task we most often get as planners: GROWTH, meaning finding new people who could want our brand for some kind of reason. So, when using segmentation studies as a basis for positioning, in most cases you start to look out for combinations of segments that could be united by a brand proposition despite the differences between them. So basically you start by finding differences to then look out for similarities. Why do that? Why don't start with similarities straight away?

Another big problem about most segmentations is that you will hardly ever be able to recruit exactly those segment members for a concept test or to target them precisely through media. Just because it's absolutely not practicable to use all those dimensions and differences in dimension scores to represent the segments in other quantitative tools. So, bascially you pretend to target specific needs of specific people but will never "meet them in person" again.

Am I too critical about the segmentation approach? Yes I am, probably. Segmentations are a good way to check positioning concepts if they are really really simple. And a very good way to make them simple - and usable - is to NOT cluster people but occasions! Once you accept the fact that people are just bodies carrying around potential behaviours, you instinctively start being interested more in those behaviours than in the carriers of those behaviours. I know the dominant ideology of marketing today is "individualism" and the believe that people make their own decisions and every one is special. But that is just an ideology, not a fact of nature.

There are major advantages of such an occasion-based segmentation approach. First of all: occasions as opposed to people are easily separable, whereas people are hard to separate into completely distinct groups. So a party drinking occasion is definitely different from a drinking-alone-at-the-bar-occasion; whereas a person who drinks often at the bar AND at parties would be a problematic case when grouping people as in meaningful consumption segments.
Secondly, you can always ladder up benefit-wise starting from occasions but you can never do that starting from people. Of course, laddering is not the only way to arrive at a brand's proposition, but it's one of the most powerful... still.

Same thinking applies partially to finding a global positioning starting from country differences. Though countries, of course, are more "real" than statistical segments. But nevertheless, we would automatically start looking for similarities after the differences had made us crazy and dizzy enough. And the problem with that is that similarities are common denominators between segments - say the most general notions you could think of. Well, actually this is not a real problem as such. We just could start there straight away and work out how to make the brand special - though in touch with universal drivers of behaviour, instead of thinking about how to make it "fit" into contries ...or segments ...or other boxes.
(Of course, if your title is "international planner" or sth. alike you should rather emphasise differences between countires to justify your job and travel cost:-)

Insight or simply "Seeing"

OK, that's definitly a big one.

When talking with clients we use the term "insight" all the time. Every brief does have this paragraph. Even the client's brief does have it in place. The one that's written in captions and starts with the word "I", thus imitating a consumer speaking.

When did you have your last insight that lead to an idea and then to a campaign? When did it start with the word "I" the last time?
I haven't had a big one since months and even before it never started with "I , the consumer...".

Let's forget what an insight is used for or why it is important to have one, let's think about what exactly it IS and how to get one.

What an insight is:

An insight is a psychic event in your mind. It is not something in the consumer's mind. You even get paid for having an insight. It happens within you!
And yes, an insight is an event, not a statement. It is the event of seeing and becoming able to express something you have not been able to see/express before.

Exactly like Buddha. He gained insight into Human Nature and the Nature of the Universe! Not too bad, is it. And his budget for market research was quite scarce at that time, too. Just like mine always is. No envy here, but he just had more time than we normally have for this Universe thingy. Especially given his personal concept of "time".

This is all banal? Yes. And not at all! Most people I know assume an insight is "information about the consumer and his motivation". My point is: it is NOT that! An insight is about the limitations of your acknowledgment being dissolved for a moment. Whatever the limitations are - insights are all about those limitations, not about consumers. Side note: That's the nice thing about Disruption (TBWA) - the change of perspective is considered to be more powerful than information about the consumer.
So if you need some kind of standardised beginning for an insight statement try this one: "We first thought that ..., but then we realised that ...". But better don't use any form at all.

Still don't know where to start? Me neither. Espceically the starting point is the one with the most panic involved. It's comforting to know that e.g. in the Hermeneutic Circle we are instructed to start "somewhere" to gain insight. In other words: just start. In my case: I just start talking. In your case it might be googling, or sth else.

What sometimes helps me with insight is a bunch of obscure techniques I have developed over time. Here are two of those contemplation techniques.

The first notion is called "Distinctions". No, not differentiation. Distinctions in a wider sense. It's all about drawing distinctions and comparisons between concepts, things, points in time, etc. Start thinking by finding the most promising distinctions & comparisons. Why were sales higher at point in time Y then now? How is Whisky different from Vodka? And is Whisky different from Whiskey? You get the point.
It's a very simple and broad notion but it can be powerful. So don't ask just "why do people buy X" but try "What is the difference between times when people buy X and those when they don't?". Even in consumer research: help respondents by letting them compare two or three things. You know this cat food insight: "Cats are loved because of their disobedient character"? That could have come from a comparison of cats to dogs.

The second one is the opposite of Unique Selling Points. It's about The Generic & Obvious. What is NOT the hidden but the most obvious, essential thing in the category? As you know in cosmetics it's - .... Yes, exactly, so if you start from "Beauty" you can arrive at "Real Beauty". In Vodka it's ... no, not clarity, more obvious ... getting drunk, maybe. Probe from there. Is getting drunk a no-go theme? Interesting!

There are several other approaches, of course. Maybe You'd like to share those You like best with us? Then write a comment below, please.



Mistrust Crosses

This is not going to be an anticlerical one although this a critique of an almost sacred and unquestioned positioning technique.

Here is a brief summary why positioning crosses are stupid.

First of all: what's good about them? Everybody understands them quite instantly if the axes make sense.
What's bad then? Same answer: Everybody "understands" because the axes make sense. So you try to make them make sense, don't you. Junior Planners keep coming and offer solutions and you go "no, give this one another name", "what about this brand here, it doesn't fit the logic", etc. So basically you do not think about reality any longer. You just try to make the axes fit the brand logos somehow. You make things up. That's alright if everyone is aware of its fictional character but noone ever is.

It's important to understand four things about such crosses.

1) The world is not two-dimensional; a powerpoint slide is.

2) It might very much be the case that the particular slice-of-world you are looking at is not dimensional at all! This means that positioning might not be about finding a space on a continuum or being "somewhere between A and B". Simply because there is no "space" with a coordinate system similar to the physical space we live in. An example might help here: Seeing your DYI market as a place with widest product range & best advice (OBI) is simply a different kind of thing than seeing it as a transformational offer for personal development (Hornbach). There simply IS NO continuum between them to slide along, and if you make one up it will not help much. Just like there is not much land to build your house on between Ireland and Iceland. (I hope this is geographically right.)

3) The axes are derived from the objects / brands analysed. So they vary depending on which brands you throw in. This is even more striking if you have crosses derived by quantitative methods (MDS, Factor Analysis etc.) They simply vary with every brand you add or take away. But what the picture of the cross suggests to the viewer is something different: it says "there is a space prior to the objects located in it". That's just the metaphor of "space" working in our brains: Space must be prior to and independent of objects. Well, that is exactly the way a positioning cross is not be read!

4) By using such a cross you just build a box you then try to think outside of.

So beware of positioning crosses when you see them! Be much more sceptical if market researches present them ... as valid representations of reality, of course.
We actually don't need a space between brands. Just care about the chunks/clusters more than about the dimensions inbetween. Al Ries just picked a wrong word. What he meant is "owning a concept in people's heads". By calling it "positioning" he evoked the space metaphor which does not help much.

If you enjoy reading about "The end of planning as we know it"... please read about it somewhere else!

Opening Confession and Mission Statement.

At the place I work... planning is still quite an unexplored territory and undefined undertaking - and now it's already declared dead. I don't even "know" planning - like most people around don't - and now what I don't know is already wrong... Confusing this is, indeed.

There are more or less thought through explanations why planning as we know it is dead. These are summarised briefly & slightly satirically below:
1) The mediascape has changed so the consumer has changed so we have to change. This is the most common and - as you will admit (in private)- most meaningless mantra we have to nod to all the time. Bascially, what is suggested here is "Audiences can not be reached through old channels (=TV). We have to master new touchpoints to stay relevant." Given the fact that account planning never has been about message placement but about the message itself, this is not very relevant, yet...
2) The search of a short positioning message (the Big Essential Idea) has been an adpatation to an ancient media landscape - some say wisely. We had to target an unscattered audience via expensive "airing" of a message. The simpler and more repetitive this was the cheaper and memorable it got. This is said not to be the case today. Some have proposed lots of small ideas instead of one Big Idea. & that sounds interesting, actually. The term "Long Tail" has been borrowed for that - and then forgotten ...mostly because of its phallic associations. The "Integration" discussion became less about uniformity but about complexity management & diversity.
3) The need to plan for Interactions instead of Messaging requires a different aproach to planning. Yes, obviously. Lots of Big Ideas like e.g. "Think Small" or "Keep Walking" are of limited use for the development of apps, social network activations, mobile promotions & "experience platforms".
4) There are more message senders and content providers out there than ever. Everybody is sending and recieving messsages! This is called the Conversation Age. So audiences either will stop being "audiences" at all or at least it will be difficult for brands to get heard because there's just so much private chatter going on.
5) Since budgets are being shifted away from "classical", "non-classical" thinking is the thing to be into. Well that's remarkably honest. We do have to adapt to that, don't we.

Scary shit if you really think about it! People who don't get scared at this point are either...
a) not really responsible for coming up with strategic ideas
b) or work in disciplines that benefit from the budget shifts (That's luck not virtue by the way)
c) or are wise enough to know that propaganda always sounds like this and tries to scare you (it's oversimplified, biased & in denial of the present day in favour of a new world to come)

Now, as we are a bit scared and have heard partially good arguments why planning as we know it must die ... soon at least. What shall we do? How shall we change our input and output now? Well, here we are left on our own by the prophets of the new world. There is hardly ANY advise on that out there despite the proclaimed spirit of "open source" and sharing. And let's be honest, why advise someone who's already dead? We simply don't need that old planning any more! It's time for something new. In most cases this rhetorically means "it's time for someONE new". Now you're scared, aren't you.

In this blog I will try to transcend the duality of "Old" and "New" planning without ignoring the changes of media landscape & agencies' output. I will not pretend to "know" planning - I don't. I will try to write for planners who need and want to do planning not those who dream of being somewhere else (with google & apple mostly). I will write for planners who have their permanent problems with performing the planning task - because it's a bloody tricky thing to do. ...& I will change my opinion & style whenever I want to or you convince me to change it.

Happy to have you here.