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Beyond Digital


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Haufe-Lexware GmbH & Co. KG, Freiburg


Hello and welcome! I'm glad that you are taking the time to read my book – either as a traditional paperback or digitally.

Digitization has fundamentally changed marketing. Brands today primarily have to establish a relevant connection to the people out there. And that works in a totally different way to what we have grown accustomed to in marketing so far.

The content for this book comes from compiling all of my prior stages in life – jobs, customers, colleagues, lectures, keynotes and teaching engagements – that have brought me to the above conviction. I support and also pass on this conviction as a management consultant and teacher.[2]

This has turned this book into a personal report of sorts that aims to focus on the development of markets and lives that we need to learn to understand – in addition to all of the digital trends that we need to discuss every day. This also explains the writing style of this book. It is a form of “written speech” – compiled from my seminars and courses and written down just the way I would say it. This lets me be certain that everything is understood, both by marketing professionals who know the game, and students and interested people who might not yet be so familiar with the topic.

The book also includes the background and genesis of the Relevance Methodology. This is a method that companies can use to find out which role they want to play in the lives of the people that they aim to reach and how they can achieve this in concrete terms.

Why the Relevance Methodology?

To enhance your existing marketing world with a relevance strategy and a hands-on code of conduct.

The book discusses many cases and I will provide instructions on how to get to know and try out this method for yourself. The cases have been included in the text in those instances where they support or further explain a point that has been made. The appendix of this book offers you an overview of all the cases cited in the book. There are also various templates and corresponding explanations for you to get to know and try out the method.[3]

Since I'm a proponent of using media without barriers, I have added a lot of links to the text – I wasn't able to write anything without constantly googling things, looking up Wikipedia definitions or watching TED talks from authors that I quote. In the cases where it is worthwhile to take another look at a movie in full or to read up on a definition that is more detailed than in this book, you will find a link in the text.

I have also added a glossary at the end of the book after some of my friends and acquaintances read the book as a test. When you live in the marketing bubble, unfortunately you sometimes no longer notice that you are speaking marketing speak. And I also refer to a fair amount of books by other authors – not because I want to leech off of their fame, but because many things that are important have now already been said but have never been put together in one central location to take a look at the bigger picture. And this book intends to be just that place.

Anyway, enough of the intro and administrative stuff – enjoy reading this book!

1   A new world

1.1   Introduction

Let's jump back to the year 2006 for a minute or two. I had just starting working at Neue Digitale (we just called it “ND”), where I specifically went because of their client adidas. I was really interested in the global digital marketing of a sports brand. After many years at large network agencies, I finally wanted to work at an owner-managed agency again. And then the inevitable thing that always happens happened: A week after I started there, ND was bought by Razorfish. And then Razorfish was bought by Microsoft. And then Microsoft sold Razorfish to Publicis. Why should it be any different in advertising than anywhere else?[4]


Fig. 1: The web agency takeover race

But I ultimately wanted to start off with this story: Long before Razorfish was bought by Microsoft, we at ND had fallen in love with a movie clip created by Microsoft. I used the clip in my first keynote at our first big customer day and I still like it very much, because it perfectly describes the situation we were in at the time:

On one side of the table at a restaurant somewhere in the U.S. sits a guy that has Advertiser written on his T-shirt and who is apparently on a date with a beautiful blonde. Her T-shirt says Consumer. Both seem to know each other already and they have apparently seen each other before, but this date is not going well. He believes that because he kind of knows her age (“between 25 and 30”), can list two or three of her interests, offers her a few coupons and reminds her of his larger-than-life profession of love on a billboard, that he completely has her in his pocket. She, on the other hand, tells him that they haven't had the same interests for some time now, don't really talk, don't hang out in the same places and that his arrogant and loud behavior majorly gets on her nerves anyway.

This movie clip clearly wanted to show that the marketing-driven industry had been neglecting to adjust to the changed customers for quite some time and that those customers were about to quit paying attention to the industry’s advertising altogether. In other words, the efficiency of the tried-and-true system was being put into question. And what can I say: The movie is still relevant today – which is shocking. Of course many companies have changed or are in the process of changing. But that so little has changed in ten years shows how entrenched and rigid the advertising machine has become and that it really has not always been oriented towards what the people out there really want – no matter how much people profess to be “consumer-centric.”[5]

And who's to blame for this mess? The Digital Revolution of course. But more on that later.

1.2   Happyhappyjoyjoy

The Digital Revolution has already been described at length. There are many company bosses (CEOs) and Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) and other COs who have purchased and read a plethora of books on this topic and distributed them among their employees with complete conviction. But the big change has never happened. Why?

In my opinion, there is a huge misunderstanding. Everyone suddenly started to deal with the Internet phenomenon, from their homepage to Google to their company's Facebook page and most recently a Snapchat channel as well. But only few companies have dealt with what has changed the most: human beings.

The Digital Revolution is in fact not a revolution of the advertising industry, but a societal one! People out there act, think, and share differently today than they used to and that's why you also have to treat them differently if you want to sell them something. And it really doesn't matter whether or not it has anything to do with the Internet. All of those faces that are suddenly smiling at you from ads everywhere you look don't seem to help the matter. They seem to be trying to tell you something like: “Trust me, it's ok, don't worry too much, everything's like it used to be, la la la la ...” – just like Kaa in The Jungle Book. This is exactly why I named my keynote The Age Of Happyhappyjoyjoy1[6]

1.3   Don't be scared – a few rules

The participants in the countless seminars on the Digital Revolution (the names of the seminars differ, the content not so much) are very scared. They are afraid of no longer being able to do their job right. They are also afraid that their bosses will from now on expect something entirely different from them that they haven't learned and that their bosses really don't know how to do either. They are afraid of their jobs no longer existing the way they were and that the new tasks maybe aren't any fun. They're afraid that technology will suddenly push out good old advertising. Yes, technology. The notion that the new world is too technical and that it's all about understanding new technology prevails. But technology is only the means of living relationships differently. In no way does technology replace the relationship itself.[7]

That's why I like to make a few rules right at the start of my seminars:

Ignorance is normal

In our professional lives so far, we have always aspired to know everything that concerns our area of expertise. To do so, we went to college, did internships, read a lot and gathered professional experience. Of course it's a little surprising at first when something changes in your own professional field. There are the people who see this as an opportunity and the people for whom this presents a threat and sets the alarm bells ringing. I think the time has come to finally dismiss the notion of “having to know everything.” And this will be easier for the former type of person and harder for the latter.

Your buddies will constantly drop by to show you a YouTube video that is “totally in” right now and that the whole world has seen with its 10 million views. Except ..., yes, except me. Or you. It's impossible to have seen and to know everything. Let's let our buddy savor his superior position for now. This, however, doesn't make us feel less cool. Instead, we let him enlighten us with his story and then go onto the Web to watch the video ourselves. We then pull the same stupid stunt with someone else that evening. This applies to videos, but also to apps, links, articles, images, GIFs and whatever else is out there. It's not possible to know everything and nobody should be ashamed of admitting to not (yet) knowing what the person you are talking to is bragging about. This is the new normal.[8]

Curiosity is key

Curiosity is one of the best attributes to have at such a time. When that's the case, a story like this does not rattle you but encourages you to find out more about the topic. Curiosity is the drive to keep learning things and to extend this minuscule advantage over the others and to be able to shine at the next customer/agency appointment. We are not talking about the theory of relativity here. Most of the time, it's about cases from another brand or another country or a new Facebook functionality or a new app that may revolutionize the entire world. None of these topics require a degree in physics, but just this quantum of curiosity to dig a little deeper, to read up, to let yourself drift across a couple of links or maybe add one or two bookmarks or to ping some contacts. That's it.

Oh, were there already a few words in this paragraph that you didn't understand? Then you have ten minutes right now to google everything; go “digging” yourself, let yourself drift across a couple of links, maybe add two or three bookmarks and then continue reading here ... I am also convinced that you can train curiosity. When you love your job and want to keep up with new developments, then you should be able to give yourself – or have someone else give you – a kick in the butt to keep your finger on the pulse. Nobody has to know everything, we just discussed that and not everyone has to (want to) swim along up at the front. We also need people who take care of other things, such as implementation. But if you want to give advice and develop strategies or concepts, you should know what's going on. Right? Ironically, seminar participants often tell me that they do all kinds of stuff online, are constantly on Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp and that a package from Amazon reaches their doorstep or Packstation every day in their personal lives. But in their jobs, they just have a quizzical expression on their faces when it comes to talking to people who are doing the same thing as they are.[9]

It's not about technology

I’ve already addressed this great fear people have of suddenly only having to deal with technology instead of brands, markets, and human beings: with programming languages, cell phone transfer speeds, content management systems (CMS), operating systems or remote controls for drones. But if I intend to continue to sell a product to people on a market, then nothing much really has changed. Except for the fact that I as a brand may have the opportunity thanks to certain technology to achieve certain things, such as getting in touch with people faster or at least in a more targeted manner. And the fact that many people are using this new technology and I therefore have to know a little about it. But this is far from saying that when a collection of recipes is to be published as an app – because the customers want and need that and we are doing them a huge favor (stupid, but an illustrative example) – I as a strategist or consultant or creative need to know which CMS is the best one to use and how the app is programmed. There are now quite a few specialists that you can ask very nicely and they will take care of that for you for this purpose. And if your agency does not yet have one of those people, then you may want to hire someone or find a partner that you can talk to in such a case. These cases do arise. Frequently.[10]

Technology is never the restricting criterion in the strategy phase. Of course there will sometimes be moments during the implementation when, technology-wise, you have to do something different than planned for technical reasons or because of budget constraints, but this absolutely must not be a restriction during the brainstorming phase. I have often heard: “I didn't want to suggest that because I don't know if that's technologically possible.” That's utter nonsense. Many great, unique, new ideas were developed in just this manner. Precisely because nobody knew how to implement these ideas. And that's exactly why this idea hadn’t yet existed. Nike+ or Dropbox or the iPhone: Those are all ideas for which technicians flung up their hands in horror at first since they had no idea how to meet the challenge.

The principle of “everything is possible” is valid for brainstorming. And when we have a good idea, we call the guys upstairs (or downstairs) again and tell them what we have come up with. Or we include one of those guys in the brainstorming process from the outset – a revolution! A non-creative type together with the creative department. At Neue Digitale, we always paired up the Flash specialist and the Art Director, which was great for both the process and the quality of the output. At MRM (an agency for customer relationship management, CRM) we had a crazy “creative technologist” who was based in Spain. He always took a look at the hottest shit, spun a few ideas and experimented a bit, then went on a tour of all the offices to inspire people with new technological possibilities. And again, technology was an enabler. Technology is never a hurdle! Well, rarely.[11]

(Almost) nobody has to program

Weird. When we still took pictures for ads, nobody ever said: “But I'm no good at taking pictures,” and when we produced commercials for TV, nobody ever said: “But I can't make movies.” But when the era of the websites started, all of a sudden everyone said: “I really have no clue about programming, sorry.” We had learned how to organize a photo shoot and how to film a movie, but producing a website or an app was indeed something entirely new. We have to learn that now. And there will probably soon be something new again that we have to learn. But it's really not about programming. Other than for the programmer. But this approach reveals two important factors for the shift at agencies and companies:

Firstly: We need more specialists!

People who implement ideas and who fit into today's new world have job titles like copywriter, information architect, technical project manager, scrum master, screen designer, analysis guys or SEO gals. All of these are terms that didn't even exist a few years ago. It has proven to be challenging to train existing staff in new media on top of their existing skills or to ask them to give up their old field of work, to take part in retraining and to only focus on new media from now on. Companies liked to do this with the traffic and production departments. But of course producing a catalog is different than an online shop and it's possible that individuals who love to produce catalogs are not the right ones for producing online shops.[12]

Two logical comments on this: When the business model is being reoriented towards new media, namely at the expense of the old print and TV models, it is of course appropriate to encourage people to undergo retraining. Or you really can't quite avoid replacing them because they are part of the old system and do not really care about the new stuff. If, however, you really just want to keep pace or you start to urgently submit to customer needs and therefore establish a department to cater to the new media, then you should also look for new people for it and the “old people” should focus on their “old” talents. While both of these things are called “production,” the one ultimately has nothing to do with the other. But be careful: While you need to separate digital and non-digital at the execution level, you must absolutely avoid this at the overarching, strategic level![13]

Secondly: The biggest change is taking place in the mentality!

You don't cater to digitization by making art directors and copywriters who produce great print ads or TV spots now come up with websites and apps, or by making a catalog producer now also take care of the technical implementation of these websites and apps internally or externally. The change starts at the top. In your head. Not for those who execute and produce, but for those who think, plan, and sell. Strategists or account managers who want to provide good advice to brands in the new era need a new mentality, a new approach, a new set of recommendations, a new vocabulary, new PowerPoint slides (if need be) and a new briefing for the creative department. It's not possible to describe a good idea of the new world in a 30-second TV ad, yet this is still the case at many (large and small) agencies. This is the case since neither the people who give their input to the creative department have changed nor has the creative department understood that it has missed the boat. The answer to briefings such as “How can brand A succeed in person B receiving a long-term and sustainable solution to their problem C?” all too often still starts with: “Well, we first see a woman alone on the street. Something like New York. Super fancy and fast. Then: Cut ...”

No comment. So yesterday really is a different world. Thank God I still got to experience it, or else I'd really be in a bind in these kinds of situations. I have gotten into the habit of always adding the following for the briefings: “Please don't present any TV ads or print ads. Only ideas!” – and then we get to discuss at length what an “idea” really is. But you should hopefully have a better understanding of this by the end of this book.[14]

Step 1:

At many companies, adjusting to the new realities is more wishful thinking than reality today. We first need to understand that the change is not technological, but societal, and then we need the necessary dose of curiosity to manage the ongoing learning process.

But now I've gotten way ahead of myself. Let's briefly go right back to the beginning.

1More on this at: https://4Y.platschke.de. The title of this book was originally supposed to be The Book of Happyhappyjoyjoy., which was a little sarcastic, I admit.

2   What actually happened?

It is difficult in such a chapter to not just repeat what others have already discussed a thousand times in other books and essays. Yes, I should mention terms like Web 2.0 and Nike+, but I will hopefully no longer have to explain them. And if anything should be unclear to anyone, it's super easy to look it up on Wikipedia these days – thanks to the Internet. You can read in the next few paragraphs what fascinates me about this.

This entire second chapter is dedicated to what happened in our world and what is now causing marketing jobs to no longer work the way they had in the past. My goal is to not play teacher and name all of the buzzwords from then and today, but mainly to highlight their impact on our reality today. And on this occasion it is of course always a shock to remember that all of this has not existed for a very long time.[15]

2.1   A look back

To put the entire development into a better perspective, it is sometimes good to recall the birth dates of the individual services that are omnipresent today. Or of the services that people had once considered to last forever. AOL has been around since 1985 – or better “had existed”. When you read the corresponding story on Wikipedia, you start to shudder. After AOL at some point was the address on the web, or you could even have said that “AOL is the web”, it's shocking to see the company's insignificance today.

When you type in www.aol.de today, you reach a confusing news portal with links to Amazon and eBay. AOL has been sold many times now. It appears that nobody wants anything more to do with it and that no one really has any creative ideas for what you could still do with it. The portal is very similar to MSN.com from Microsoft – a portal that taps into news sources and shows search engine-optimized content to generate clicks that in turn are meant to attract advertising clients. Too bad. I was never a big AOL fan and didn't even have AOL at my house. AOL used to be what Apple is today: an easy-to-understand, closed system. AOL was “Internet access made easy.” Just pay a membership fee and AOL will take care of the rest for me. Besides, people were not yet really on the Internet back then, but on AOL; (think back to the ad with Boris Becker (”Am I online yet?[16]“).

Apple uses the same mechanisms. People who don't want to deal with smartphones and cloud storage buy an iPhone and that's it (well, that's how it used to be). But I also have to say that I don't find Google's Android much more complicated than iOS – especially not since Android 5.0, 6.0 or 7.1 But I don't want to get too geeky on you ...

In any case, there were those people at the time who logged onto the Internet using a modem and then tried to find their way, or those who had AOL. AOL offered the Internet in easily-digestible bite-size snacks. In my browser, on the other hand, everything was an incredible mess. There were no instructions for where to click or what to enter and it was in no way “pretty.” My father worked in a bank's IT department and we always had the newest computers at home early on. I remember, for example, that my mom wrote her shopping lists on punch cards from the bank's IT department for years since there was no longer any use for them. Or one of the first laptops that was still quite large, an actual suitcase. You could remove the front that then turned into the keyboard.

I also remember BTX – Bildschirmtext, which is German for screen text. Volkswagen employees already had a portal there back in 1991 where you could buy their vehicles. Cars via e-commerce, so-to-speak. And this is where I bought my first car together with my father: a blue VW Golf Pasadena. This was probably also the beginning of my love of carefree online shopping. (And my love of VW – which was to last until 2015’s Dieselgate.) And the whole transaction of course was a bit crazy when you consider that I had already purchased a car online using e-commerce back in 1991. This exact process has been a heavily discussed issue in the automotive industry since cars of course are not like books that you can pay for with your debit card and have shipped by mail. And it's also not like with shoes when you order two or three different pairs in at least two colors to your house and send back for free the ones you don't want. And still: I knew exactly what I wanted, found it in BTX, reserved it, and took the car to pick it up. (Well, someone drove me, to be honest, since I was just 17½ years old.)[17]

Next up is Yahoo!. Yahoo! has been around since 1994. Not much more of it is left than of AOL. Yes, Yahoo! is also no longer very visible, but it is still doing well with the portals of Flickr for images and Tumblr for blogs. Admittedly, this popularity arises much less from its original function as a search engine that it used to be known for. I think I used Yahoo! to run my first search. It is likely that www.yahoo.com was even the first URL that I ever entered into a computer when I was on the Internet for the very first time. Where else should I have gone? The Internet did not yet have very many destination sites.

The company that replaced Yahoo! as everybody’s favorite search engine was Google, of course. Google has been around since 1998. And this is just the first of five shocks. This is because the following services are all services that everyone today knows like the palm of their hand and that you would assume have been around for ages:[18]

  • Wikipedia since 2001

  • Myspace since 2003

  • Facebook since 2004

  • YouTube since 2005

Well, Myspace is not quite such a shock except for the fact that Myspace is only a year older than Facebook and had to die so much sooner. It's a tough world out there! But all of these services have together created what is commonly known as Web 2.0 – that is the network where people work together, create and consume content and where there is a strong focus on sharing.

2.2   Digital future

In 2006, I held a lecture at Pforzheim University of Applied Sciences on the phenomenon of upcoming digital media. The university was one of the first in Germany to offer the majors Advertising Business and Marketing Communication with courses like Psychology of Consumer Behavior, and Advertising Theory. The faculty tried to answer the question of whether all of the things that were happening out there in the real world were happening with the intention of sticking around and what impact these changes were having on the graduates' studies and job profiles. I tried my best to convince the listeners that what was happening was revolutionary.

The title of the keynote that was intended to demonstrate this was “The future belongs to digital media” and I explicitly chose the provocative subtitle “We are in the middle of the fight against the traditional mass media.” Today, I would most certainly not choose the same subtitle (and also not the main title, by the way), but it was understandable from my perspective at the time. I was still at ND (see section 1.1[19]), which was one of the world's most successful digital agencies at the time. We were exploding. We were overrun by customers and staff. We were growing at rates every year that the old agencies hadn't seen for a long time. We thought that we were revolutionizing the world and that everything would be different from then on. We were convinced that the future was ours and that all of the traditional agencies and media could pack up shop and go home very, very soon. (And I had only been at the company for a couple of years – this must have been much more intense for my colleagues who had experienced the early days and sometimes could not understand what was going on. It was like the gold rush.)

Today, I see the separation of digital/non-digital differently. After many years first at traditional agencies and then at digital agencies, I stopped creating camps and thinking in black and white and refocused on those poor people out there who everyone is trying to sell something to. But we had to drive the change forward back then. We needed to make it clear to the world that change was heading for marketing at full speed and that we finally had to open our eyes if we wanted to avoid disaster.

Would you like to know how the story ends?

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