Shaken & Stirred - Influential Brand Profiling and Positioning

Catherine Becker, CEO of VCCP Media – 2016 – what an interesting year. how not all things progressed, indeed some went backwards

2016 – what an interesting year.
A year of political shocks, industry innovation and opportunity.

But the most interesting thing was how not all things progressed, indeed some went backwards.  It has long been my view that not all progress is linear, or indeed forward.

The key 2016 highlights to back this up include:

Vinyl sales (volume rather than value) higher than downloads in 2016.  This is a flight back to quality and nostalgia.  There is also a value in scarcity and having something tangible to collect and share

  2. Printed book sales rise for first time in four years as ebooks suffer decline
  1. Listening to classic music is increasing vs pop/modern music – Global’s Gold radio (not even on FM) rose 162,000 in Q2 2016 vs Q3 2015 (16%) versus Kiss (main and fresh stations only, not Kisstory) which although with 5 times higher listenership, declined 7% in the same period.
  2. Newspaper readership is still strong with circulations in UK of The Sun leading at 1.579m, Metro at 1.481m, Mail at 1.383m and Evening Standard at 0.9m in latest November 2016 ABCs
  3. The return to natural fabrics and natural foods as opposed to synthetic, machine generated ones.

In media, we always think things will progress, if not in a straight line, at least in a forward way.  But they don’t.  We sometimes go backwards, sideways or round in circles.  As do people.  It’s wrong to assume traditional media will all disappear and all new things will naturally grow and thrive.  Yes this happens in many cases, but not all.

Events in the Middle East this year show how things can go back centuries in terms of development as they did in the bleak dark ages after the demise of the very advanced (in medicine and roads rather than human rights) era of the Roman Empire.

So Bill Gate’s apparent prediction that all our jobs will be taken by robots by 2040 is in my view not going to happen.

The example I always use to prove this is Google.  When they started adwords a few years back, you uploaded your credit card into the system (no credit terms available) and if you had any problems there was no-one to speak to, it was completely automated.  Then they got a few people in Dublin and have now grown to a sales force of nearly 10,000 in London.  They’ve realised the face-to-face people contact and entertainment allows them to cross-sell and up-sell to the benefit of their profitability.

Yes we have gone through the industrial revolution with the loss of manufacturing jobs and with the advent of machine learning and AI will undoubtedly lead to a partial automation of the service industry.  But time and people resilience has shown us adept at creating new industries in which we can serve and thrive.

Peter Thiel, co-founder of Paypal and first outside investor of Facebook, rightly demonstrated in his book Zero to One that all the most successful businesses are a combination of people power and computer power.  Companies that only have one or the other do not succeed.

Yes we need automation to process the huge amount of (especially first party) data now available, but we still need people to stand back and make a call on what it really means.  And importantly rather than give all clients the same solution; zag when everyone else is zigging.  Yes, ultimately AI will develop some of these skills too, but it is the people that are programming the computers and will always be one step ahead.

The other big caveat to the computerisation snowball is are we actually getting the computers to analyse the right data?  I was discussing with a colleague about an ad they had seen six months ago and really enjoyed but hadn’t bought the product.  They had recommended it to friends (in person, so impossible to cookie or record this interaction and impact) and would likely by it in the next year or two.

That’s up to a two and a half year purchase cycle, way longer than any attribution model allows for.  But genuine never the less.  So again, it is that human understanding and input into the computerised model that counts.

Computerisation and progress has been fast and on the whole really exciting and useful for our industry.  Apple pay has genuinely changed my life for the better and Gmail telling me to attach a file because I typed “please find attached” without attaching anything is machine learning at it’s most useful.

But I think it is dangerous and inaccurate to assume that everything is progressing forward to automation, digitalisation and blandness.

As Monty Python’s Life of Brian quoted “You’re all individuals” to which one person in the crowd answered “I’m not…”.

We should relish and appreciate our differences and choices to go organic, retro and in the directions we choose, rather than those set by computer algorithms.

Have a festive and individually as well as shared enjoyable holiday break.

Catherine Becker, CEO of VCCP Media