Monthly Archives: November 2009

Great quote from @Amelia_Torode – gets to the nub…

I heard a great quote today. Actually, I didn't hear it, I saw it retweeted. By more than one person too, so it obviously grabbed them as it did me. Amelia (who's on Twitter here and blog here) was speaking at the Battle of Big Thinking event and said:

"We need more social ideas, not social media ideas."

Isn't that great? Doesn't it get right to the nub of things?

It's not about the socialness of the medium, it's about the socialness of the idea. Don't think about the application, the platform, the tool; think about an idea which is going to encourage people to get involved, to chat, to share, to start a conversation.

It's lovely. I'm going to use it.

Button winning the PR battle…

…and he's said nothing.

A couple of days ago I blogged about how I thought F1 world champion Jenson Button should move to McLaren. And he has. His old team, Brawn GP, don't seem to have taken the move very well at all, especially this fella, Nick Fry, the team's CEO.

Someone – maybe Ross Brawn himself (who, typically, seems to be keeeping a dignified silence) or Fry's new bosses at Mercedes, should tell Fry to rein in his ire and concentrate on getting the team ready for 2010. At the moment, Fry's obvious bitterness at losing Button is also, in my view, likely to lose the team a huge amount of the goodwill and support that it attracted over the past year.

Fry's been quoted extensively in a number of places. Most of the quotes seem to have been lifted from this Autosport Q&A.

A lot of people assumed that Button was moving to guarantee a bigger pay packet. He denied this, and Fry confirmed it: "We understand that our offer to Jenson may well have been in excess of what he might be getting with McLaren." Fry also couldn't resist a dig: "I think Jenson is going to have to up his game if he's going to beat Lewis on home territory."

So Fry managed to misread the motivation of a sporting champion; a greater sporting challenge, not money. I'm delighted to hear that Button moved because he wants to take on the biggest possible challenge he can – facing Lewis Hamilton in the same car. That's brilliant. He may get blown into the weeds by Hamilton (I don't actually think that'll happen) but if he is then at least he'll have measured his own talent against the best and will know. He's also signed a multi-year deal, so even if he is shocking at McLaren then he's secured a very significant financial future (to add to the one he'd already built).

A rather childish bitterness drips from Fry's Q&A: "…we did make what we thought was a very generous offer for a new contract which was significantly in excess of frankly spurious figures that were put out to the press over the past week or so…we were a little distressed to read in the press that there were questions over whether the other driver would get favoured treatment which we did think was somewhat insulting…I respect his decision. It's not one that I would have made and maybe he has been poorly advised…loyalty would be nice but in this day and age you don't expect too much of that…"

Fry is also quoted in The Guardian in a story detailing how Brawn are holding Button to the letter of his contract: "Jenson will not be doing anything at all for McLaren until the end of this calendar year. And if he does, we will be looking on it very dimly."

I'm sure Button can manage to occupy himself for, umm, the next six weeks or so…

My final Fry quote is this: "We don't understand the logic of the decision."

I think the logic of the decision is this: Button isn't primarily motivated by money, he's motivated by the greatest sporting challenge. For him Lewis Hamilton in the same car represents that. McLaren is a team with a history of success, masses of experience and the resources to produce a race-winning car (which was proven during the latter half of the 2009 season, when Brawn's performance was going backwards).

Seems fairly logical to me.

Fry's in a hole. He should stop digging. He shouldn't have engaged in press interviews when the emotions were still clearly so raw. By saying nothing, Jenson's looking pretty damn good right now.

Product storytelling and fish finger sandwiches

I’m a big fan of storytelling. I think it’s essential these days that companies and brands dig out the really interesting stories about their business, products and services. Most companies have interesting stories about how they were created, where inspiration for the products came from, the background of the founders…all of which can and should be used in communications. But in the nitty-gritty of product marketing, companies too often fall back on product attributes and their perceived benefits, which can equally often fail to establish any emotional connection with consumers.

Moving from attribute to emotion isn’t always easy, but it’s easier than you might think. A handy technique is ‘laddering’: a product being placed at the bottom of the ladder and each rung moving from an attribute of that product towards basic human emotional needs.

An example: if you were a mug manufacturer, you could easily market the product based simply on the fact that it was a nicely designed mug, which is something people need. However, through laddering, you could think about a key attribute of a mug as a handy holder of hot liquids. For a British audience, that liquid might be tea. Tea’s more than a drink to the British. It’s about comfort, home, family, security, keeping calm in a crisis. So really, mugs play a really central part in something that’s incredibly important emotionally to the British. When you start thinking about mugs in that context, your marketing can become much more interesting.

I cooked fish fingers for my kids last night. I do it quite often, because they love them. I love them too, but I hardly ever eat them. I’m not exactly sure why…some combination of a perception of them being kids’ food, not a proper meal, a bit processed and therefore slightly unhealthy…who knows? But I figured that if I made fish fingers, I’d want to get more adults eating them more often.

The attributes of a fish finger are pretty straightforward. There’s fish, and there are breadcrumbs. But, like tea, fish fingers attach themselves to some fundamental stuff: children, family, home, childhood memories, comfort. So I actually think there are plenty of ways that you could market fish fingers to adults. But then it also struck me that the fish finger story is much more compelling when told in combination with other complimentary products, like white bread, butter and tomato ketchup. So why don’t the producers of these products come together and tell the most compelling story possible? The advantages in terms of marketing effectiveness could be significant but it could also be much more cost-effective for each of the companies involved.

Co-marketing isn’t a new thing. But how often do brands manage to create a better story together, rather than try to tell their own story alongside other companies telling theirs?

The other thing that happens when you create a story which captures people’s imagination is that they want to get involved. My half-arsed fish finger sandwich, umm, ‘treatment’ above could easily spark consumer involvement through sharing of guilty secrets or favourite comfort foods (not quite This Is Why You’re Fat but you get the picture…in fact, while thinking about this, I found the Kingsmill Confessions site, which is quite neat).

So, when thinking about the stories you could tell about your own products, why not think about the better stories you might be able to tell alongside other people’s?

Stephen Fry: celebs no longer need the press

I'm not at the #140conf taking place in London today, so I didn't hear this firsthand, but it's been tweeted enough by people that are there that I think we can take it as fact.

UK Twitter poster child, Stephen Fry, just said something like: "Celebrities can cut out the press from their PR. We no longer need them. Why speak to a publication with a circulation of hundreds of thousands when I can speak to millions through my keyboard?"

I imagine it's a quote that'll get replayed a fair bit. In fact, I expect a PR Week poll at any moment: "Do celebrities need the press anymore?"

With the following Fry has he can announce anything he likes through Twitter rather than take it to the media. And he's obviously such a nice, genuine bloke that we all trust him to be telling the truth (though apparently another speaker at the conference has asked, "…but what if Stephen Fry turns out to be evil?" I believe said speaker has been stoned to death for talking in such derogatory terms about a national institution.)

Not all celebrities have the following that Fry has on Twitter, but with the network effect then if the news is big enough it'll find it's way round fast enough. "But not everyone's on Twitter" I hear the naysayers cry. No, that's true. But we all love to be first to the latest news, so as well as all the retweets there'll be texts and emails and millions of chats in the hairdresser's, down the pub and over the dinner table before the knackered old wheels of the UK press start turning.

Tomorrow's news is today's chip paper.

Paying bloggers – right or wrong?

The results of the PR Week online poll will no doubt cause much hand-wringing in the industry and, particularly, amongst the social media chattering classes.

In answer to the question, "Should brands/PROs be able to pay bloggers for coverage?" 63% of people said "yes".

It's the right answer. Of course they should be allowed to. In the same way that brands and PROs are able to pay traditional media for coverage. We call them advertorials. The crucial point is that advertorials are always marked as such and, therefore, their impartiality, influence and trustworthiness is diminished. The same should be the case for bloggers. Where they've been paid to write something, they should say so. We can all then take what they write with an enormous pinch of salt.

Perhaps it's a lesson in writing a useful survey question?

Button, Brawn and business

I'm a bit of a petrol head, it's true. It's something I've clearly passed on to my five year old son as he's obsessed by cars. He spent a large part of the wekend studying the picture in the latest issue of Octane magazine. There's little hope for him now.

I've followed Formula One since I was a kid myself. James Hunt won his world championship when I was six years old but it was my teenage years and the battles of Senna, Prost, Mansell and Piquet that really grabbed my attention. My interest has since ebbed and flowed depending on the personalities and quality of the racing. The last few years have been hit and miss in that respect. The racing hasn't been great, let's be honest, but we've had some British interest to keep us tuning in. I was delighted for Button this year. I've always been a fan of his driving: very smooth and clearly bags of natural talent, just never really having the right car to show it off which is obviously all-important. He certainly did in the first half of this season though and took full advantage.

I've also always been impressed with the way he's conducted himself. He's never been anything other than completely honest – in good times and bad – and seems to appreciate the privileged position he's in. I get the impression he's well liked throughout the sport – the sort of guy you'd be happy to have a beer with. Ross Brawn is cut from the same cloth, which is one of the reasons that their success this year has been so compelling and enjoyable to see.

A lot of the chatter now, of course, is whether Button will stay with Brawn or move on. I think he'll move, and I think he should. Here's why.

Button's world champion, and he has every right to (a) look for the drive that he thinks will deliver the best chance of repeating the feat next year and (b) earning the money that a world champion deserves to earn (and I think the two priorities come in that order in his mind).

Brawn will struggle on both counts next season (in my very humble opinion). Through technical genius and insight, Brawn found a loophole in the 2009 regulations ( the double diffuser) of which they and Button took massive advantage in the early part of the season. I'm not sure that they'll do the same again next season, and with Brawn's relatively limited resources surely having been focused on making sure both championships were won this year, they might also be a bit behind in the development of the 2010 car. It was clear that both McLaren and Red Bull had better cars than Brawn during the second half of 2009.

It's been well documented that Button took a huge pay cut to drive for Brawn in 2009. Let's be honest though, this wasn't exactly an act of altruism on Button's part. Had he not done so, it's unlikely he'd have been driving in Formula One at all. But that notwithstanding, as world champion he can and should be asking for a world champion's salary. Brawn can't really afford that, and it certainly shouldn't put itself in financial jeopardy by trying to. After just one – albeit stellar – season, Ross Brawn's eye is no doubt on the long-term future of his team (certainly if there's truth in this story it is). Button's a great driver – and he took advantage of a great car – but would he really be worth that many more millions than a Heidfeld or a Rosberg? I doubt it. And the number one will still be stuck on the nose of a Brawn car, wherever Button ends up.

I'd love to see Button at McLaren in 2010, and I think he's more likely to have a competitive car under him if he does go there. And the two best British drivers, both world champions, driving the same car? Fireworks for sure. Mind you, they'll also be nicking points off each other all season which will allow Vettel to take the world championship. And Germany will beat England in the World Cup.