Posts Tagged ‘advertising’

Co-Creation from A to Z

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009


Here’s a starter list of company-centric buzzwords and their co-creation alternatives.  Read on and let me know if you have other terms to add to the list.  I’ve started at the top of the alphabet, and I’ll look forward to sharing the latter letters with you in the coming weeks.

Advertising campaign: hammering customers with one-way messages aimed at numbing them into passive acceptance of an intellectualized view of the company’s value developed by top executives, and then creatively interpreted by an advertising agency guided by its desire to win a prize at the Advertising Awards ceremony.

The co-created alternative: in the development of an ad campaign, replace some of the agency’s pony-tailed types with some imaginative, equally pony-tailed customers, who’ll work with you to develop material based on their actual experience of your product and will do it in the hope of becoming half-famous.

Alignment: cracking employee heads until they agree with the top-down message and accept that they’ll be assigned metrics they don’t in any way influence. Use “metric” rather than the now passé “measure.” Definitely stay away from “KPI” (key performance indicator), reserved for veterans of failed quality campaigns of the ’70s and reengineering drives of the ’80s.

The co-created alternative: let the experience of rank-and-file employees co-shape the strategy map and its measures, on the silly argument that since they’re the ones doing the work, they’re more likely to align themselves effectively if they’ve participated in the drawing of the line in the first place (with some top-down guidance by the chiefs).

Branding: apply a burning-hot iron on customers’ foreheads to encourage their identification with the company’s products and image. Tattoos on intimate body parts are second-best. T-shirts are for wusses.

The co-created alternative: allow the brand to “bubble up” as the collective experience of all customers, employees, and stakeholders, on the Woodstock-like belief that if they rock with each other in the mud for a while, some good music will ensue and you’ll sell lots of records, particularly to people who wish they’d been there.

CRM (customer relationship management): guessing at what customers like by bombarding them with mailings, calls and visits until they buy something, therefore revealing a “profile” that entitles the company to send them more stuff they don’t want at increased frequency and at lower cost.

The co-created alternative: let customers co-design the relationship they want to build with you, i.e., move away from using hackneyed pick-up lines in the singles bar, sign-up on eHarmony, and find the type of love your potential partners are looking for.

Cross-selling: getting customers to drink more from the fire hose, on the argument that since the hose is already there, it costs the company less to market that way than if the company had to find you in the first place.

The co-created alternative: everybody hates being sold. It makes people cross (this is the little-known etymology of the term cross-selling). But people will buy experiences. The best experiences are co-created. Customers don’t mind a hose if they get to design the hose experience (or the hose itself).

Data-mining: the art of gathering FBI-like data on you and reducing your bubbly personality to the sum of transactions the system can identify about you. Blame data-mining if your last unpaid credit card bill at Wal-Mart and your back-stage-at-Led Zeppelin possession conviction disqualify you for a discount at Jiffy Lube.

The co-created alternative: news flash! Customers know more about themselves than you do. Rather than poking at the ceiling to try to figure out what the woman in the apartment upstairs is about, get up there, knock at the door, and see if she’s willing to share some part of her life with you. This can be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Animating the Disney experience

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

Disney is a bit like root beer or green jello. You have to be born on American soil to like it.

The most annoying thing about Disney people is how revered they are for the “experience” they provide in their theme parks.  But the Disney experience is entirely staged by them. Not an ounce of customer co-creation there. If I’m a customer puppet whose strings are drawn by Disney designers, am I much more than Pinocchio longing to become human?

If you ever attend a class from the Disney Institute – yes, they have an Institute – they’ll teach you all about their view of experience. I’ve now been there three times, invited by companies who think the Disney Institute will teach the basics of experience in the morning and I’ll show them the future of experience as co-creation in the afternoon.  And then my agony starts. A Hollywood executive once described the role of the producer on a movie project as watching a director make love to the girl of your dreams and having to pretend you like it. This is the way I feel listening to Disney teach about experience.

The class itself is offered by a teacher who only asks questions with ‘right” or wrong” answers. When you answer “right”, he gives you a small Disney character to take home. The last time in Orlando, my neighbor collected four of them. He reminded me of the dolphin being fed after every trick I had seen the day before at Seaworld. You’ll learn everything at Disney has been studied for you. The sidewalks of the theme park are red because they look good on pictures. The alley veering to the right is one or two feet larger than the one veering to the left because more people naturally go right than go left. Responding to a question during a tour of the underground premises, our guide volunteered that the characters don’t talk because “Disney would lose the ability to control the quality of the customer experience in an improvised dialogue”. Imagine the risk of it all, if Mickey could respond to the little girl in pink with her balloon (by the way, Mickey is a teamster, and his union contract may not include talking).

The intensity with which Disney focuses on experience – the manufactured kind – creates the very obstacle that prevents the company from moving to co-creation of that experience. Having been anointed as experience experts by pundits, why would Disney exhibit the humility to let customers design their own experience? By and large, this phenomenon extends to the entire fast-moving consumer goods industry, where companies such as Procter & Gamble and L’Oreal have blazed the experience trail, but have become laggards on the co-creation of the consumer experience.

Well, before I write Disney’s co-creative abilities off completely, let me point to two developments that show Disney may be coming off the experience ice age after all. Last Wednesday, the Epcot Center at Walt Disney’s Disney World opened a new attraction called Sum of All Thrills which lets kids design on a computer their own roller-coaster, bobsled track or plane ride, then actually experience that ride through virtual reality. Two other attractions in other theme parks – Toy Story Mania and Cyberspace Mountain – also exhibit personalization features of the same type.

Even more importantly, Disney is revamping its stores, coached by Steve Jobs who now sits on the Disney board through the Pixar relationship. The main idea behind the renovation is not particularly co-creative in that it involves making the stores into mini-theme parks providing kids with “an experience”, as opposed to the dolls warehouse that they are today. The co-creation comes in the process of developing the new store concept. As Apple did it in the development of its own store format, Jobs has talked the management of Disney Stores into opening a pilot store in a warehouse to figure out the right interactivity between customers, store personnel and the physical merchandise and store. He’s also coached them to consider community activities in the store, rather than focus on one-on-one sale.

The European cynic in me will probably never convince himself that going on a ride of It’s a Small World After All provides an authentic global experience, but Disney’s willingness to let customers participate in its value chain is encouraging. Slowly, Sleeping Beauty may be awakening after all.

Endangered species in IT and advertising

Friday, September 18th, 2009

Yesterday, I spent the morning with IT people at a large European multinational, and the afternoon with some advertising people at a Top 5 global advertising agency. Both groups were attempting to work with their clients – internal for the IT group, external for the advertising agency. Both were struggling. The IT group had set up a whole intermediate function to connect the nerds from IT with the suits from the business. Of course, this group had credibility with neither side, but was trying very hard to earn it by showing they could elicit specifications from users with exquisite precision. The word “specs” is a tip-off that co-creation will be an uphill battle.

With advertising folks, the agency had established not one, but two layers of intermediaries between the client who actually wanted to develop a campaign and the creative people who would eventually design it. One layer was the account manager, while the other was what agencies call “planners” – people meant to represent the client’s point of view inside the agency – as if the client couldn’t do that themselves more effectively. Both exist to help develop “the brief.” The word “brief” in advertising is a surefire signal that co-creation is not wanted there.
At both workshops, I asked why the producers of code and creative advertising material could not engage directly with business people. I learned how fragile both populations were, and why they had to be protected from predator clients who had the audacity to believe they might contribute directly to the process, if it were made transparent to them. “We had an application guy on-site once” an IT senior manager told me, “and he nearly resigned because the client kept wanting to change the specifications.” Recoiling the horror of it all, he added: “Apparently, the client loved it, though. And it was done very fast.”
The account manager in advertising was dishearteningly honest. “If the creative people spoke directly with the client, what would be my job?”, he asked. One could see he was trying very hard. “My job is to simplify the number of ideas, bring it down to one or two, and brief the designers.” He could see he was perceived as a bit defensive. “Well, my job is also to elicit the passion of our designers. They have to be highly enthusiastic about what they present.” I suggested the executives who were footing the bill might also be looking for a chance to express their passion during that process. Wouldn’t their sense of engagement be as important as the designers’? I even suggested maybe some graphic artists could draw live sketches or concepts as executives were devising possible elements of positioning. By now, my advertising account manager looked ready to cry.
Of course, I’ve had many chances to ask actual IT developers and creative advertising people whether they’d like being exposed directly to their clients. The vast majority of them would jump at the opportunity. The endangered species may not be the animals after all, but the zookeepers.

Of lizards and hairy men

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

If reincarnation exists, I want to come back as a Communications Manager. Enough of this intellectualization about strategy, marketing and innovation! Advertising is where it’s at. On all continents, executives light up when it comes to designing a TV spot. They bring early concepts to their spouses and children, and all agree that Mom has a really cool job. The best fate for my PowerPoint presentations on customer experience and co-creation has been to act as drawing paper for two-year olds. It seems people want lizards (er, geckos) and hairy cavemen (infamous thanks to the American insurance company Geico), not interaction maps and experience curves.

Perhaps as a rationalization for joining the cool dudes, I increasingly believe it’s O.K. for advertising to come before strategy. I know I’ll probably rot in marketing hell for saying so, but having to come up with a 30 second TV spot is a wonderful forcing function. Who needs strategy?

Many moons ago, the Rockport shoe company was looking for its positioning (the legendary Ted Levitt of Marketing Myopia fame roped me into this one). Rockport’s distinctive features were to offer the comfortable sole of a sneaker in the look of a casual shoe you could wear to work. “Let’s make it a walking shoe”, some barely post-puberty kid in the creative department of a Boston ad agency suggested. This became the strategy, complete with walking manifestoes and walking competitions. Twenty-five years ago, they’re still the walking shoe. In an instant, gone were the subtle segmentation schemes of the marketing department: the old vs. the women, the young vs. the restless, and Madonna vs. my mother-in-law. Suddenly, they were all walking.

I’ve heard similar stories about Danone and its health positioning (I wasn’t there, but hold it from good sources). “Heck, we sell mineral water and yoghurt: we’re about health,” an advertising type is rumored to have said, confronted with the need to launch a new corporate campaign. The only problem is they also made beer and cookies (which sounds like a wonderful snack right there?). The story has it that the CEO then decided that if they were a health company, they should sell the beer and cookies divisions, and lo and behold, he did just that. Once again, the campaign became the strategy.

I’m currently working on helping a large European bank define its positioning. We’ve made good progress, but it’s hard to get the highly de-centralized management team to agree on anything. Maybe it’s time to bring in the lizards and hairy cavemen.