Marketing

If you want to succeed in anything, you have to be able to communicate. In the early days of web marketing, it was all about technical trickery, but in 2014, it’s all about messages and ideas.

This is where I muse, assert and explain the trends and new phenomena in online marketing, from social through to search. If you want to talk to me about improving your message, just fire me a quick hello and I’ll get back to you within a day.

I am so bored of brand purpose

Arghhh. It’s total bullshit. I’m so, so bored of it. Somewhere out there in the ether, at the intersection where sustainability, irrelevance and populism collide, every brand under the sun decided it needed a lofty purpose to make it matter to everybody, everywhere, all of the time, forever.

I present Exhibit A: the new Cadbury Heroes ad. Off the back of a tenuous link about “the little things that bring us together”, we get a cloying, overblown, honestly insipid TWENTY-ONE MINUTE VIDEO from a fucking chocolate selection box brand, about the lengths that a few parents will go to in order to reconnect with their slightly distant kids. This is it: we have reached the zenith of doe-eyed brand values that look well-meaning but have this weirdly sinister edge to them, like one day Cadbury might run your local foodbank or some shit.

Okay, look, I’m swearing a lot. But I am so tired of every business deciding it has a high-reaching, emotive raison d’etre. “Families Reunited” sounds like a now-defunct crossover between a genealogy website and a 90s social media platform. This is not the right level for a box of chocolates to be playing at. Know your place, for god’s sake.

There is, to be clear, a world of difference between this campaign and the 2018 Cadbury “Mum’s Birthday” TVC, which was born from the same notion of generosity as the above monstrosity, but delivered it in a beautiful, emotional, satisfying minute of advertising. One is rooted in real life; the other is contrived. One is honestly moving; the other is eye-rollingly cheesy. One lasts sixty seconds; the other drags itself out for twenty-one minutes. Okay, fine, there are much shorter cuts in the media plan. But Cadbury Heroes do not deserve twenty-one minutes of my time unless I am eating them.

Why do you care so much, Adam? Well, aside from the fact I have to wade through mountains of this happy-clappy nonsense every week in my role at Finn, I care because this purpose-y trash is killing creativity and it has to stop right now before it’s too late. Can’t be bothered to develop a real idea that people will find genuinely interesting or exciting? Just save a kitten or something (and then dress it in a t-shirt with your logo on it, probably).

On one side of the marketing mix, you’ve got performance media, which everyone has agreed has crippled creativity by pulling the focus to algorithms and efficiency. We’re just about learning how to get over that.

But on the other side, you’ve now got this whole new dimension of excuses not to think about stuff. LGBT sandwiches for Pride. Pepsi x Kendall Jenner. Whatever this is. It all comes from the same dull place: a firm belief that brands should be saving the world, but no conviction behind it and consequently no grounding in reality.

None of this is to say that brands shouldn’t know what they stand for, or do good things in the world. I am genuinely all for it. This is about the pervasiveness of purpose as an ideal for all marketing to aspire to, the idea that if something (to the naked eye) has its “heart in the right place”, then it deserves adulation and attention. We’re past that, now. Way, way past it.

It’s an alternate universe where all content is created by brands, all causes are sponsored by NPD, and all our existing emotions are the product of advertising. If this example seems innocuous, that’s my whole point; purpose is the new wallpaper, and if you don’t have anything worth saying, then for heaven’s sake shut up.

How to build the right agency roster

Agencies have gotten very good at talking about how complicated the marketing mix is nowadays and, for the most part, it’s a defence mechanism that clients need to be confident in seeing through. Fine, fine; there are theoretically more channels than ever before. But that’s no excuse for rostering 8 different agencies and letting them do each other’s jobs. So here’s some thoughts I’ve had this year about what an effective (and not inefficient) agency blend looks like.

Don’t just expect everybody to play nice

Ah, I’m serious. Find agencies that aren’t dicks, obviously – and by all means impress upon them the need to collaborate. Cross-agency collaboration is, as we’ve all read so many times, the future.

But getting teams to work together in a way that’s both sustainable and progressive isn’t easy, so set boundaries, and be clear about the value you see in each agency partner.

If you disparage one agency’s work in front of another, it’ll only lead to opportunism and a breakdown in trust between the people who should be focused on doing great work. If you see issues, raise them and act accordingly. But keep all-agencies constructive. Anything else will cause more pain than it’s worth.

Find a lead agency that will focus on the big picture

Someone needs to lead the conversation when you’re not in the room, and whoever that is needs to know they’re being judged on the overall plan that gets delivered, not just their specialist segment of it.

Do not expect this selection to happen naturally; all you’ll get is a bunch of egos butting heads and rolling their eyes as soon as you leave the room.

Some agencies are good at playing the lead; others, though hugely talented in their specialism, are useless at it. Their role should be a strategic one that covers the overarching approach. They don’t need to be your creative partner – although having the two under the same roof can be hugely effective.

Get as much execution out of that lead agency as you feel comfortable with

If you feel there are channels that your lead agency can execute from farm to table, I highly recommend making use of that. Don’t approach it as a cost-cutting exercise, even if you might be tempted. You might save a bit on account management costs, but the real value is in the quality of the work you’ll get, and the time it will (won’t) take to get there.

If they can’t take something from concept to delivery, though, don’t ask them to do half of the job. Get the lead agency to brief off channel-agnostic strategic & creative thinking to someone who can adapt and deliver it, and make sure to listen to their opinion on how well the channel response meets the brief.

Set overall budgets in collaboration with your lead agency

As your objectives shift, your budget breakdown should do the same. But agencies are pre-disposed to pitch for as much budget as is available. They also have a tendency to think everything looks like a nail, just because they’re holding a hammer.

Work out the role and importance of channels before you brief executing agencies. This might mean you have to start a little earlier, but it’s worth it; going to your PR agency with a £50k budget and asking them to respond to a sub-brief (drive trust on a regional level, say) is much more effective – and efficient – than throwing everyone the same document and “working out the details” further down the line.

By all means, remain flexible; if someone comes back to you with a golden idea within their specialism, but it’s £15k out of budget, there will be a decision to make as to where that budget can be found. But don’t get wowed by stretch budgets as a rule; stick to the principles you’ve laid down.

Build for the long-term

One of the biggest issues with building sustainable agency rosters is that every piece of that puzzle is continually trying to grow what it can do for you. Sometimes that’s a land-grab on other agencies’ territory; other times it’s a new direction altogether.

This behaviour is deep-seated, and it causes problems because: what if the next 12 months don’t call for any experiential? What if the website isn’t the priority this year? Your agency partner will try to convince you that their discipline is still super-relevant to the mix, and you have to be savvy enough to see through the bullshit.

But one useful way to counteract this can be to find trusted partners and set expectations at the outset of the relationship. Agencies have a tendency to panic when budgets get cut; make sure they know it’s not because you don’t see the value in what they do, but just that you need a different kind of value this time out. Be open to being proven wrong, but base your decisions on evidence.

You Get To Grieve And You Get To Love

You get to grieve, and you get to love. That’s all.

Your hate has no place; your anger has no place. I’m no Jedi, but if I were (and I am) I would say those things are for the dark side.

The timeline bends thus:

1 minute after impact, the world is awful and evil exists, for one of those rare moments. Fear is natural and fear is human and fear is okay.

10 minutes after impact, the world is beautiful. Look for the helpers. Nothing unites like a threat to divide. The tragedy persists; the pain persists. But through it, the story is one of community, of resilience, of togetherness.

10 days after impact, the love wears off, and the cowards start talking.

Stop it. Stop them.

You get to grieve, and you get to love. That’s all.

If these people had a mission statement (and they do) it would say “to divide”.

Update your definition of “courageous” to stretch beyond that of “bold”, to be conscientious and level-headed.

You get to blame the specific, disgusting humans that did it and facilitated it. But beyond that, you get to grieve, and you get to love.

Steel

Suddenly, I felt it:
steel, still,
a shard of ice thought melted,
in eyes
that had always found a way
to glitter when
my calm cried out for
friction, so
thanks, guess I forgot
what it was like to have a
nemesis, to be doubted, to clench my fists,
to feel that
fight foment;
and may well be that you
are not the threat,
but just the mascot of it,
not regret but some projection,
not iceberg, but apex of it –
either way,
we all tread water sometimes,
’til the waves form into sharp lines
and there’s teeth to swim away from
somewhere in the depths

So what I mean is thanks for baring teeth;
I hope it’s okay if I kick them in.

Spoiler

Your death is a spoiler,
heard and forgotten,
gathering dust
at the back
of the clubs you frequent,
things you “actually meant”,
and left to
go rotten.

Your life is a Walter
White,
rattled by tension,
just out of sight,
glimmers of evening that reflect the night,
and too short to mention.

What lies in
between is a whisper,
early to bed,
still a good listener.

What lies at the end
is a die,
always a number,
roll for
how high.

Writers write

But to be a writer you must write,
you said,
you fucking fraud,
how dare you summon up
the arrogance to soak up that applause?
Amid the heavy,
freezing hurricane
of post-truth and alt-fact,
get disconnected,
get dejected,
get your old placebo back,
the one that kicked you in your fucking face
and you,
just,
bloody,
grinned,
as every retina you’d ever burned
got clattered into, chinned,
you used to dream in vivid colour,
don’t the vivid hues feel nice,
doesn’t it feel comprehensively okay to simply
write?

Election 2016 – LiveBlog

A Full List of Oldham Athletic Sponsors

Oldham Athletic are reported to be informing the club’s sponsors that they have agreed personal terms with convicted rapist Ched Evans.

For informational purposes, here is a list of Oldham Athletic’s sponsors, with contact information where it was readily available:

If you have additional sponsors not featured on this list, please get in touch and I’ll add them.

Revolution 96.2

http://www.therevolution962.com/

Office: 0161 621 6500

http://www.twitter.com/rev962

Zen Office – have announced they will cut ties if Evans signs

http://www.zenoffice.com/

enquiries@zenoffice.com

T: 0845 123 2980

Pentagon Vauxhall

0161 621 2720

http://www.pentagon-vauxhall.co.uk/

SportsDirect

http://www.sportsdirect.com/

Remedian IT Solutions

http://www.remedian.co.uk/

info@remedian.co.uk

Tel.: 0845 643 0147

Tel.: 0330 6600 281

Safeguard Group

http://www.safeguard.uk.com/

enquiries@safeguard.uk.com

0161 626 2202

Shut Up About Keywords

Forgive the rudeness, but I’m at my wit’s end.

Stop talking about keywords. They don’t matter.

Well, that’s not strictly true. They matter in some ways. They matter from a research perspective, still; if you’re growing your business abroad, for example, you might be able to gauge priorities from search volumes. You can still – for now, at least – find out what people are actually searching for, which is certainly a valuable asset (remember when we had to, like, ask people?!) But that’s about it. If you’re still clinging onto keywords as the crux of your SEO strategy, here’s why you need to stop:

Google Understands Language

Seriously. I work for a translation agency, so I know that Google Translate has a long way to go before it competes with real people, but I would argue that Google’s understanding of linguistics and word usage is probably the most sophisticated of any non-biological entity in the world. It certainly understands synonyms. But it also understands relevance, and intent, and pragmatics.

Quick, put the keyword on the page three times! Shoehorn it in! Stick it in a thesaurus and get two exact synonyms in there too!

No.

Write your page’s content for real people with a background knowledge of your keyword. Get it in there somewhere, if it sounds natural. If it doesn’t sound natural, change it a bit. It’d be cool if it goes in the title. Doesn’t go in the title? Get a word in there! Two, if you can! But treat it like a marketing exercise with a keyword consideration; not a keyword exercise with a marketing aspect.

See, you might just be able to cling onto this cliff right now, but it’s eroding. In a year’s time, you’re going to look an idiot when Google is way more intelligent about recognizing on-page over-optimization.

Anchor Text Is Dead

Or dying. Over-optimization penalties are becoming more and more prevalent. Does your link portfolio contain thousands of links with optimized anchor text? That looks strange. Naturally, it’s going to include a few click here s and more than a few instances of your URL. So every time you decide to build some links (you shouldn’t be building anyway, you should be earning) with really targeted anchor text, you’re hurting yourself now and you’re hurting yourself even more further down the line.

Co-Citation

Google understands the Internet. I mean, duh. And it knows what it means to be mentioned around words, around other brand names, alongside links to authoritative sites. Read your keyword research. Understand what your audience is searching for. And then sit down with this knowledge and write. If you’re any good, the keywords will naturally find their way in somewhere. Don’t go and screw it up by placing an ugly, stuttering, out-of-place link on it.

Care About More Than Data

It makes me sound like a hippie every time I say this, but SEO is becoming much less of a numbers job than it used to be. Your key skill as an SEO now is communication, and you don’t need to jeopardize that for anybody.

Shut up about keywords. Shut up about link profiles. Bear these things in mind but focus your efforts on tailoring your systems to be best-practice ready. Instead of spending time making sure you’ve got a link profile where 30% of your anchor text is optimized, set up a system that naturally arrives at that number.

It’s kind of like the target culture of hospitals. If you want waiting times to be lower, what’s the best option? Set a target of lower waiting times, or improve efficiency and quality of care so that waiting times, y’know, get lower?

Exactly.

So shut up about keywords.

Your Attention, Please

Your opinions are no longer important. There’s a new type of cut-throat marketing mentality, one which exploits you regardless of your political stances or your emotional response. There’s no such thing as bad publicity, they used to say (and maybe they still do). But this is not just publicity, it’s identity. There’s a growing selection of websites, posturing – some more successfully than others – as news sites, with their eyes on just one prize. They want to polarize you to exploit the magnetic repulsion. They’re generating dirty energy just by making you angry.

Ad revenue is a numbers game, but this is not the telling element of a phenomenon which tilts the pinball machine that is the Internet. No, the real factor at play in crafting this new end-goal is search. Search relies heavily on one popularity factor – links to an article – and depends increasingly on another – social shares. The problem is that these metrics don’t, actually, measure popularity. For one, Twitter is a swirl of information where presentation trumps substance. More crucially, though, the amount an article is talked about does not correlate with the extent to which it is agreed with.

attention-38589_640

Hence, the rise of provocative journalism as a deliberate means of upsetting and causing fury. News and opinion are separate things. We can agree that neither should be dull, but the conflation of opinion and news has meant that we no longer treat blog rants with the disdain they deserve when posted on the website of a major news publication. On top of that, we have begun to rationalize that for news to be interesting, it must (or should) be controversial. These things play into the hands of those who play the pitchforks game.

They’d argue, of course, that they’re causing debate, in the same way that fringe political parties say or do something enormously offensive just to get people talking. It would be similarly demeaning if this were the case, but it’s not. Oftentimes, there’s no argument or dispute to be played out – just unmitigated, rightful fury at the content of an article. Usually, the writer will stray into some sort of bigotry to find this reaction; frequently, it’s homophobia or racism, but we’ve also seen it with a pathological hatred of prostitutes, disabled people and fat people.

Jan Moir's article on Stephen Gately's death in 2009 was - if not deliberately, then recklessly - offensive.

Jan Moir’s article on Stephen Gately’s death in 2009 was – if not deliberately, then recklessly – offensive.

We live in what is largely, theoretically, a free information market, where pertinent information floats to the top. But the reality is that nothing enters the public consciousness without one of a select handful of public figures or news outlets pushing the story. The rest – a category, incidentally, into which these provocative stories fall – is an undercurrent of gentle ripples, of which we absorb the themes and little else. We forget about the number of times we’ve read obvious lies; we just remember the faint insinuation that marginalized group X aren’t as nice as they might seem. And so on.

Calling people out on their ill-judged, reactionary and offensive rhetoric is part and parcel of free speech. But so is an awareness of the dynamics that govern our discourse. These sites have the right, certainly, to publish controversial opinion pieces. But in the absence of their diligence and, indeed, in the presence of their deliberate and conscious aggression and their willingness to offend, it falls to their target audience to find some sort of restraint in their readership. In short, if you see something wantonly offensive online, you should consider whether the best option is to rally against it, or just ignore it. Big companies don’t like being ignored.

The question is whether this strategy will last. Social signals as search ranking factors are at the very least in their youth. if not still in an incubator. If the web can develop an up-vote/down-vote intelligence, to understand the complexities of social sharing, we could begin to see unpopular articles penalized. That’s a whole new can of worms, man.