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.