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Over the last few weeks, I’ve been helping UK dance curator, Sadlers Wells with a conference on the power of digital video.

Pretty simple approach, really.  I pulled together 3 experts from industry and they grabbed 3 experts from dance and the performing arts.

My section was to lay out the key trends and get the speakers to cover content creation, distribution on multiple platforms and driving consumer visibility.  I asked Tom Laidlaw, CEO of Videojug: Richard Cohen, CEO of LoveLive and Patrick Johnston, Director at EMR Digital to do their stuff.

Tom knows how to create brilliant, practical and effective short-form digital video.  Richard used his McFly example to show how LoveLive get different type of content on to various platforms that include streaming, apps and TV.  He is also able to show how to monetise the content.  Patrick talked through how youtube is really a search engine, the UK’s third biggest website and how Google loves video.  EMR Digital is great at getting your digital content seen on places like Youtube.

We evolved the presentations into good Q&A discussing practical aspects of video creation, costs, process and the viability of the stuff presented for smaller organisations.

The following session had the experts from the arts.  They included video producers from the Tate and the National Theatre.  Through to an editor from the Telegraph and a film-maker.  This got into the detail of content creation.  It had less charts and graphs than the more commercially orientated first session  but perhaps a richer insight into the film.  I enjoyed the insight into when low-fi works and how with modern technology, hi-fi films needn’t cost the earth.

What was fascinating was how to groups of presenters have a different view of the same topic?

What we need to do more of (and we did a little of this in the pub after the sessions) was to explore the overlap and see what two different groups can learn from each other.  What it reminded me was that commercial marketers (me included) who are fixated with briefs, insights, big ideas and numbers must never lose respect for the artists, whose desire for craftsmanship and flawless execution is the reason why consumers respond positively to the communication.

This is true, whether the film is shaky docufilm, ‘fly-on-the-wall’ from rehearsals or whether its a polished piece of content.  There are some things that one group is clearly better at than the other.  We had a great debate on UGC where the commercial folk were generally cynical whilst the performing arts team gave lots of examples of success.  (Obviously, I would like to have seen more on the numbers.)

All this made me realise that there is real value in getting groups together who’s lives don’t really overlap and looking for sparks, fusion and quite possibly, some collaboration.

Caught up with a former Unilever colleague who is a marketing director for a big bank. In amongst chit chatting about cycling and swimming techniques, we chewed cud on brand and digital integration.

So he believes (or he did) that its not about digital but about the big insight and the big idea.

You know what, he’s right but here’s the issue. That works if the starting context is right, ie, make sure the lead agency or agencies get the media context surrounding the consumer. Most lead agencies (especially the one called or formerly called advertising agencies) are still motivated (culturally and commercially) by 30s scripts and TV storyboards.

If an idea is really that good and that powerful then present the idea as a musical or an event. (I’m in NYC waiting for cheap broadway tickets whilst the Revlon walk for women takes place.)

The issue is that big agencies often struggle to do this because:
1. Its not their skill set
2. Its not where their passion lies
3. It’s tougher to show ROI or impact

The facts are that we have to acknowledge the consumer media landscape. Surely, if you are planning a big consumer campaign in the UK you need to think about social media up front as half of the audience will be using it. This will also help you ensure that the facebook expression isn’t just an add on in the way URL used to be.

The other issue is that social media changes all the rules that traditional marketers and creatives are taught in. Engagement and Conversation are fundamental prerequisites to modern campaigns.

These should be added to any briefs.

So yes, it is still important but media context is equally as important. Its still about the big idea but digital knowledge up front is key.

So its not statistically robust but i’ve now spoken to 10 agencies about driving the digital agenda within.

They cover 100+ people agencies and they cover advertising, comms, PR, training and others. They are all in different place and have different approaches.

The best things I have seen are folk responsible for driving the agenda

There’s a real impact when the CEO/MD takes a person they trust and say something along the lines of: ‘this digital thing looks important. Figure out what’s relevant and go make it happen’

That’s great. Its from the top and there is permission to make change.

The proof however is in the pudding. Big agencies, unlike big clients don’t tend to carve out an innovation pot of cash.

They say that digital innovation needs to ‘wash its face’. So i’ve seen agency folk managing editing suites or looking at how digital can help same the company money.

Looking at the cost of production in most agencies, there is a lot of money to be saved. But is there the motivation amongst production teams and account managers?

Actually, its no bad thing as digital is being used in a product and process sense and not just as a comms tool.

Then there’s the approach of adding digital people into functional teams such as planning, buying, creative, strategy.

This avoids the apartheid like segregation often seen client side with digital marketing teams.

The challenge is that the ideal digital person still needs to be rooted in business and brand, as well as digital.

Part of the historical challenge was the invasion of the digital geeks who spoke (and wrote) a different language and struggled to talk to senior account folk in English (or your natural tongue).

This is clearly getting better but most good digital people can struggle to talk brand and talk business model.

The worst case seems to be digital acquisitions and then the subsequent bloodshed when it comes to integration. The big agency groups have been guilty of just buying the digital agency and relying on a forced osmosis.

When you look at the marketing ‘supply chain’, its still the lead agencies that are involved up front and typically the agencies a step or 3 down the food chain. How do the digital agencies become part of the first conversation and not the last?

Watch this space? Meanwhile let’s keep watching big agencies grappling with the challenge of digital change and a big hand to thos taking on the challenge.

Got to my local station this morning to find it closed and the place surrounded by police. A staff member tells me there’s been a fatality.

As with many people at the station, the first thought is the inconvenience.

I now have to get on a bus to another station. The lines are slow and the trains are packed.

I search twitter for #surbiton and find almost a 100 tweets describing the situation and the likely delays.

Fortunately, there are no photos but one chap is clearly in shock have witnessed someone jump in front of a train.

This shows perfectly how twitter comes into its own when time is of the essence. Folk were tweeting about specific delays and which trains were still running.

But, we all get used to being part of the news agenda do we want to see 140 character descriptions of gruesome incidents without the editing of a journalist?

With all new smartphones having 5MP cameras do we want to see associated pictures of accidents?

There’s no question that Twitter has a key role to play in our lives especially when timely incidents occur but we need the associated policy in place to help guide us to use it sensibly.

My train is still delayed. Time to tweet.

who cares for content?

Do you remember the days when the adage was ‘content is king.

Now we live in a world where that might not be the case, especially when that’s a digital world.

Was catching up with a former boss who’s very accomplished in .com.

Was helping a friend pitch a new idea for city guides (that give you a unique and compelling reason to visit every one of England’s 50 cities).

His content is brilliant. Its based on 2 years research, discussions with 49 tourist boards and books of desk research.

So here’s a piece of work that has a proposition for all 50 cities. Work that makes them all sound unique, relevant and really compelling. It even made me want to visit Coventry. Seriously!

Yet, my old boss made the point that digital suggests free content. The value comes from how content is packaged up and delivered.

Do we create matrices and tagging so you can pick criteria like ‘cars’, ‘love’ and ‘dragons’ and then get Coventry as your answer? Does this make the content more functional?

Does the content always need to deliver a sales lead? That’s what Google does most of the time.

Makes me wonder if publishing in physical print is one way of giving content some value.

Even though its on the decline and youth might not ever buy it!

I was on Apple’s website earlier as I need to update my OS software. I found myself reading the reviews for the latest Snow Leopard version.

What suprised me, was how the first 5 reviews were all broadly negative.

Now, it’s either a case of gross negligence or those responsible aren’t afraid of letting negative reviews take pole position for their own products.

Remember, its easy for Amazon or Trip Advisor as the ratings are not for their own products.

So for a company to be completely open to consumers bad-mouthing their own products on a key section of their own website is quite something.

From both a brand and customer journey perspective its quite smart albeit risky.

I suspect brand trust goes up and if you can convince a prospect that they don’t need to visit a review site, you make the purchase process shorter.

Clearly, the big opportunity is to show that you listen to the critique and that future software builds have the issues resolved.

Easy (ish) in this market and potentially a few others.

Just like in life, the same is true for brand and digital, honesty pays.

In the last 2 weeks, I’ve seen innovation from every angle.

The first was using history to innovate. A theatre group recreated a Jacobean Masque. What’s that? A typical night out for London aristocracy from 400 years ago.

Apparently, shakespeare was just finishing the tempest and johnson was doing his stuff.

So the night is a banquet type feast with dance and prowse in a blackadder-eque delivery.

A great night out in London Wilton’s Hall with the finest of dancing and singing. Real top quality stuff with dancers from the royal ballet and world class sopranos.

A literal replication of an event for the first time in 400 years.

That’s innovation. It did however throw up a marketing challenge. When you look to replicate do you do exactly that or do you tweak for the audience?

To this day, for example, very few curries in London restaurants replicate the real authentic dish. That’s because they’re adjusted to suit the British palate.

So in striving to replicate the event it is simply less entertaining than it could be.

My second example is daring innovation. A night of contemporary dance at Sadlers Well using a fusion of Japanese choreography and trained horses.

It was like nothing I’d seen before and in some ways quite hard to consume. It makes you realise that consuming innovation isn’t always easy to begin with. I guess any change from the norm requires patience and so does innovation.

Hats off to Sadlers to put on a show that feels quite niche. Being brave. Hope it pays back.

Then another trip to the school of communication arts which is another fusion innovation. It joins training in advertising communication with real business. It has the feel of an edgy art college with its own bulldog (really) but connects that firmly with the very commercial world of advertising.

A new product created by fusing two old ones.

Then I got see to David Aaker speak about brand relevance and got to present on how digital marketing is changing brand management. The fella is getting on but he hasn’t stopped thinking about how brands stay competitive.

He says it all about innovation. Lots of key principles. The most memorable is the goal of always trying to create a new category.

Finally, a company called Lovelive that work in the music digital content area. A space that is still changing so its hard to pin down. They are an innovative proposition because they do so much in the complex space they occupy.

My favourite idea from them is an app for bands that have sold out (so you know’s there’s a market) and you offer live streaming and exclusive content with the artist. And fans pay for the privilege.

There’s more but that’s enough innovation for now.

Posted by Vijay: still taking the brand medicine

You’d think that by definition our focus in digital is all about learning. Part of the passion has to be driven by the desire to understand the new and how it applies to our worlds.

Yet, in the workplace, we get caught in the trap of thinking we need to look smart. Now, don’t get me wrong. There is an ocassional need to know your stuff and look smart.

Though i think you look smarter by asking the right questions and that shows your knowledge and, more importantly, your thirst for more. It also means that you are more adaptable.

There’s a great piece of research on 2 groups of students: one asked to get the best grade they could in French and the other asked to be the best at communicating in French.

One group asked more questions and were the most adaptable in new situations.

Ultimately, one group were more effective when they were left in Paris for a day.

One group became better at French through the questions they asked. One group focussed on learning.

So we all know which?

Great quote: ‘with a learning goal, students don’t have to feel that they’re already good at something in order to hang in and keep trying. After all their goal is to learn and not to prove they’re smart.’

Posted by Vijay: still taking the brand medicine

We can get so easily caught up in the ad or the digital creative. We often forget to start with an analysis of touchpoints we already own.

Some of these are huge. Take the office, the staff, the on-air if you’re a radio station, the on-device if you’re a smartphone.

Any piece of brand work should include an analysis of the weight and impact of current touchpoints.

I saw my postman this morning with a new red branded Royal Mail Jacket.
There are lots of posties and most are seen as part of the community. When you see them most say hello and there’s a warmth in breeding familiarity.

Wonder the extent to which Royal Mail look at them as part of their branding armoury.

Guess its not always ano easy conversation with a unionised group whose roles may be under threat in some cases.

That said, he is the first line into the consumer. He can deliver messages as well as post. With digital technology, he can also collect data.

Lest we forget the power of the postie.
Lest we forget the power of the media we already own.

Posted by Vijay: still taking the brand medicine

Just heading home after an event at Sadlers Wells. All about a dance collaboration involving Han Christian Anderson, the Pet Shop Boys and a smart dance director.

They showed us clips from rehearsals. Secret web cams showing the creative process live.

So they have a score and a script and some dancers. The rest evolves on a weekly basis.

It’s the equivalent of seeing the Pet Shop Boys write and produce a new Álbum in the studio.

Shows how content creators can show how content is created. This becomes part of the marcomms. It allows early adoptors and fans to spread the word. Because spreading the word requires social ammunition.

Always more powerful if the digital content feels like you’re getting the inside track.

The next step in this world of crowd-sourced ideas will be allowing the contributing members of the public to shape and influence the creative process.

Watch this space and see the creative process evolve.

Posted by Vijay: still taking the brand medicine