Do ad agencies need Growth Hackers to work for their clients?

Why should growth hacking be limited to start-ups and entrepreneurs? If the purpose of ad agencies is to increase sales, grow the business and deliver ROI for their clients' brands, isn't it time they hired a couple of growth hackers? 

Before I scare off the agency CEOs with the term 'hackers' let's look at what hacking really means. A hack is a short cut. It is an innovative and inventive way of getting something done. A hacker is more concerned about the end than the means, and the term has has a bad rap because sometimes a hacker has been caught using 'innovative' to include unethical. In lay terms, a hacker is someone who is known to find a way to get unauthorized access to a computer system – usually via code. The real meaning of a growth hacker today is someone who can exponentially help increase growth by unusual, clever, outside-the-box means. Which means we need a couple at every ad agency. Really.

Growth is a marketing function. Actually it is the very essence of marketing – to create channels of advertising, communicating and convincing a would-be customer to buy a product or service – therefore resulting in growth for the business. Every brand relentlessly pursues this. But what if, growth could be achieved with inventiveness? What if growth could be achieved without marketing – developing must-have products, incredible service standards, viral-ready ideas? That is the possibility of growth hacking. A growth hacker can work across multiple departments and agendas to produce results – results that are beyond the realms of marketing. Simple example: Like using social media for customer service – isn't that a rather simple, basic hack?

Today, in some form or another every agency needs a growth hacker. Someone with an unique set of skills and a mentality, a way of thinking, trying, testing, leading that sits outside the typical client service / planner / creative box. Someone who is instinctively tuned into the brand and the consumer – and who to connect them to increase sales, awareness, ROI.

I've been told that the ideal growth hacker is a 'creative technologist' – someone who uses both creativity and technology to achieve results. I beg to differ, because an ad agency growth hacker is not tied down to online only. Innovation can happen anywhere, anytime, and not just in the digital space. Growing a business is not about code. It is about new ways of thinking. In today's digital centric world, knowing how to use data, how to code, how to harness technology is a must-have. So, in that sense, it does involve code. So, we are talking about a great marketing mind with a binary heart. 

Growth hacking in the ad agency world would be about the short cut. The cut-to-the-chase. Except that it involves scale – increasingly perpetuating scale. Growth hackers live the 80 / 20 rule. They get 80% done by managing to input 20%. Growth hackers optimize. They look every one else look good, or stupid sometimes – depending on from where you are looking. Growth hackers at ad agencies can be the alchemists – ones who combine traditional advertising with social, online with PR, mobile with outdoor and at the end of that experiment, without fear of failure, deliver unprecedented results.

So we are talking about big ideas, ideas that can ripple, ideas that can snow ball, ideas that can reach the ends of the world. To infinity and beyond. But isn't that the very reason ad agencies exist? Bring on the growth hacker then. Embrace him, hire him, promote her. 

Smart Homes, smart cities, smart people. The Internet of Things.

The fridge calls your mobile and alerts you that you are out of milk. Doors open and close automatically as you go in and out. The alarm clock starts your coffee machine. Car engines start as you get ready for work. City wide wifi allows instant access anytime, anywhere. It's a brave new world with IOT – the Internet of Things. 

In this new era of machine-to-machine conversations, how are humans going to be smart? Is the automation of every day tasks going to make us dumber or smarter? And how is big data going to play in this new field – gathering and translating machine interactions to human solutions? In this super connected world, it's real value, real use that is going to make the difference. We'll need some really smart humans to figure out how to best use these smart machines, live in smart homes, built in smart cities.

Combine IOT with Wearable and we have an ocean of possibilities. Because wearable is wherever-able and whenever-able, and the Internet of Things allowing machines to interface with it at any time, we'll have a whole new way of living smart. But what does that mean in the long term? Rapid adoption of wearable technology will help towards this move towards all-things-smart, and when the data or information coming out of wearable and things combine and collaborate that we will have real benefit.

It is really all about data. And data - to be made relevant and useful is all about converting numbers and facts into insight. Insight about people. Businesses and brands will need to really focus on how to use data to speak to, rather communicate, with people. The end game is the human. Machines talking to each other for human benefit, to create value. Otherwise it's just rocket science without lift-off.

If accidents can be prevented, because your car knows that your brake pads are really unable to enforce a stop within a few meters that's useful. If flight delays can be averted, lost luggage auto-tracked, that's clever. If your coffee machine calls your mobile to say 'Coffee is ready' while you are in the shower – that's, kinda, dumb.

Cisco is one of the key players in this IOT game. About 50 billion machines and devices could be linked by 2020, according to Cisco Systems. IOT enabled devices are 'already being used, for example, to check soil moisture in vineyards, control the carbon emission of factories, alert drivers to traffic jams, and monitor patients’ blood pressure—all without human intervention'.

I understand this emphasis on 'without human intervention' – that is what makes machines or things smart, connected and useful. But the pot of gold at the end remains human use. And how will those of us in advertising and marketing use IOT? 

What if your Nespresso coffee machine recognized that it was a weekend and on weekends you prefer a Ristretto rather than a Roma and auto-popped the capsule in and had coffee ready not at a wee early hour but a lazier 11am perhaps? What if your fridge alert on 'Out-of-Milk' would only buzz when you were near a Carrefour hypermarket, say? These value adds would incentivize consumers to choose between one service (or product) and another dumb one. 

And what would be chilling is if the machines would make these decisions all by them selves, based either on data gathered on your habits or via pre-programmed marketing pushes. Now, that would be scary and smart all at the same time.

Is multitasking and multi-screen attention taking away from a brand's reach?

Multi-screen or multi device marketing is a big buzzword. Screen journeying is another. But is this new consumer habit taking away valuable focus and attention to a brand's message?

People today are performing sequential screening between devices. Starting on their smartphones, watching a bit of tv on the side and then moving on to a tablet or a laptop/desktop environment. Across these screens, it is becoming a difficult challenge for brands to find and hold attention to the messages they are putting out there – across these screens. Consumer journeys across screens, often in real time, are causing havoc for media planners – and savvy brand managers are beginning to question the effectiveness of their media spend. Or at least, they should be.

Add to that, when on their tablets or laptops (besides, of course having the tv on), they have multiple tabs open – moving rapidly from news to social to gaming and back to news and so on. Even within that journey, often they are multi tabbing between social platforms – having facebook, twitter, pinterest and other tabs open all at the same time. So, what does that do for their attention? Specially to a message from a brand that they really did not solicit?

Writing in an article on 'single tasking' in Fast Company, Kevan Lee suggests that for the aware consumer single tasking is the key – being a result of slow-web and minimalism in combination. Because multi tasking takes away from productivity, from attention, from focus. And what does that do for consumers paying attention to brands and messaging? Havoc, I suspect.

Researchers tested 300 Michigan State students on their ability to persevere through interruptions while taking a computer test. The interruptions came in the form of pop-ups that required the students to enter a code. In one case, the interruption lasted a little more than four seconds. In another, the interruption was 2.8 seconds.

With a 2.8-second interruption, the students made double the errors when they returned to the test. With the 4.4-second interruption, the error rate quadrupled.

Experiments like these confirm the mountain of scientific research that points to multitasking as being bad news for productivity, accuracy, and efficiency. Here are just a few more examples:

An Ohio State University study found that media multitasking--e.g., reading a book while watching TV--results in poor cognitive performance on both tasks; we keep doing both anyways because we get an emotional boost when we do.

A group of business psychologists from Harvard, UNC, and HEC Paris found that spending time reflecting on a task leads to better performance and recall on subsequent tasks.

University of Utah professor David Strayer confirmed that talking on the phone while driving a car (one of the most common forms of multitasking) is as dangerous as driving while intoxicated. Reaction and attention decrease such that drivers missed half the things they’d normally see, like billboards or pedestrians.

And yet, despite the evidence that doing more than one thing at a time just doesn’t work, we continue to fall victim to doing more and focusing less."

So, if single tasking is the new mantra for those who are really trying to be at their best, how does that work for media planners seeking attention for their messages? How does that work with the habit  of time-shifting and place-shifting – watching programs on their tablets or other devices – and not on tv on the slotted hour? 

Brands need to get both their creative and media plans in order again. Because while singletasking may be a consideration, it is against the norm. What is single-tasking? Well, it’s all there in the name. Single-tasking means doing one activity at a time with as few distractions and interruptions as possible.

So, in today's world of ADD (Attention-Disruption-Disorder) combined with multi tasking a brand's message needs to effectively cut through the clutter, be relevant, add value, and be in context. Each and every time. And if it is content driven – which again is the new way – that content needs to be both entertaining and relevant. Content that is working these days is infotainment content – providing information on and around a brand's products and services in an entertaining, useful way.

So, yes, a brand's reach is being challenged. There is just so much going on in that living room space that cutting through and then ensuring that the intended message sticks, the intended action takes place is really something that needs to be focused on. yes, a consumer's journey map is important, understanding the various twists and turns is good, but what is vital is a brand's ability to put really well thought out signs along the way. So that in the path of that journey, the consumer may stop for a second and engage. And remember. And act. And buy.

Optimizing your brand's performance on Facebook

I may have lost my mind, but I've read somewhere that there are over 100,000 factors that help decide what a user sees on their News Feed, And for those who have been under a rock for the last one year, EdgeRank isn't one of them. That got killed by Mark.

The focus for Facebook is the consumer. The average Joe. The daily Facebook Jill. And for Joe and Jill, what matters is honest, transparency and reliability – round those up and you have value addition in every sense of the word. So, it's all about quality of content – and Facebook is going the Google way, asking for marketers to re-think content and social comments they they develop content for Google's search – meaning what is key now is timeliness, relevance, value addition and reliability. Wow. So, no value, no show, or even if it does show - no engagement. That does not sound like Harvard MBA to me, that sounds like a lot of common sense.

What is absolutely not going to work is content that begs for a Like or for some action rather than provide value. Facebook are now clear, you'll get negative results if you ask for Likes or for some form of action or engagement. No, you cannot, should not ask. You shall not receive. The gospel according to Mark.

True shares are different. If someone sees real value on their timeline, they will share it. So, people who sit there, working on social content need to be a lot more introspective when writing content for Facebook these days. Does it serve a sense and purpose of greater Facebook – meaning, does it create ripples in the community – ripples of unforced sharing, of altruistic giving to a brand, rather than a penny at a beggar? Is the content genuinely shareable - independent of the tone of voice (meaning, without asking)? Is it high quality, or is it something that raises a groan?

Facebook is also looking for variety in types of posts from brands. Brands that keep posting link posts don't get the fact that people out there want variety, and want visual difference, want value - even eye candy wise. Individual users form their own algorithm. And then there's the dreaded 'story bumping' where certain posts (called last actors) are bumped to the top – not chronologically, but based on interaction values. The posts that Facebook chooses for this are based on several factors, including the entity posting the update and the user’s relationship with that entity. So, this is about interest and community. And serving the end user – not the brand.

eMail marketing hasn't died. It has evolved and going strong. But...

eMail isn't quite dead as a marketing tool just yet. It is re-shaping itself, becoming more intelligent, getting mostly automated, and emerging as a nice little 'responsive' and 'creative' marketing tool for brands.

In a recent global survey done by Lionbridge we get some interesting stats and feedback from brands that use email.

Nearly 80% of those surveyed said they use an automated system to send out email campaigns. But surprisingly, nearly half of the audience polled said they had no clear calendar of mail send out strategy. Because only around 16% use email as a stand alone activity, this is not surprising at all. eMail today is usually a strategically used part of a larger mix – working closely with other online and social media marketing.

With such a large percentage of mails today being received and opened on mobile, it was quite a surprise to notice that most brands that use email, less than 50% were sending out "responsive" mails or had a device compatibility focus. This will need to change. Increasingly, emails that are hard to read on a handheld device are not going to be read, or even in case of drip feed mails, be opened the next time.

Global brands often rely on global content about their products or services for email campaigns. This means that there is very little 'regional focus' or 'localization'. This almost asks for failure as the regional or local context goes missing, and the relevance disappears.

We do need to focus on 'subject line' for email campaigns as that is the one sure key to a better open rate. The better rafted the subject line, the better the email has a chance of an open, and engagement and response. Crafting email copy is a tough job, but crafting that must open subject line is even more difficult.

Brands are using email for customer engagement, product announcements, sales, customer acquisitions, building brand and product awareness, and often for customer service. Used properly, email remains a highly customized, personalized vehicle of communication, that can be automated to a high degree and used well in a balanced marketing mix. It's in the crafting, formatting, designing of the email content that success or failure lies. And of course, in who is receiving it. The database of names and addresses with hyper targeting built into it is key. After that it's a simple message to the consumer... 'You've got mail'.

Using the Big Data advantage

Every one wants to talk about Big Data. Very few really know what to do with it. Big data is a means to an end – and that end is insight and a business advantage gained out of that insight. Information without result is worthless.

Most every one in marketing and advertising has seen the Tesco South Korea virtual stores in subway stations case study. Most translate the case study as an example of using technology in a new way. What they don't see is how Tesco used 'big data' coming out of that exercise to gather valuable information about their customers – their shopping habits, their preferred products, their buying frequencies, typical shopping basket content, order histories and more.

Tesco's subway virtual stores were electronic billboards which mimicked stocked supermarket shelves packed with products – each with an unique barcode. Customers who were on the platform used a phone based application to scan the codes and add products to their online basket. They could choose a delivery time and have their shopping delivered to their doorstep – often inside of an hour. It was a great boon for the hyper busy South Korean urban consumer. It was a greater boon for Tesco in terms of data. Big data. Converted to useful insight – a distinct business advantage.

Most businesses today are interested in big data. There are many case studies of successful use of so called big data, but not all of them are winners outright. Data and information is a deep dive game, and one needs patience to see the fruits of labor. A survey of more than 100 executives conducted by Insead reports that a majority of businesses are still in the planning phases of using big data or have not even started to consider the potential, with less than a third already executing some big data projects.

Big data is not necessarily just about digital and marketing strategies. Most businesses are looking at data for developing true cost advantages. There is a real value to this innovation of using deep data converted to  insight – because it supports sharp business decisions – ones that can have remarkable effects on productivity, product cycles, marketing calendars and consumer information driven business strategies. Marketing and sales are the early adopters in the game, but many other departments are beginning to see the potential. Businesses that are leveraging big data do understand their customers better and provide them with better tailored products or services in real time across multiple channels are the ones who are already seeing huge returns.

Big data is not just useful for customer oriented information. In the long haul it is helping business leaders decide on new markets, new lines, new products.

According to a recent study of executives in Asia-Pacific by the Economist Intelligence Unit, more than 40 per cent are not even sure their companies have any big data strategy, and only 6 per cent consider their companies as well advanced in adoption. However, well over 70 per cent do believe in the potential of big data to improve business performance.

The South China Morning Post in an article on big data says "The opportunities are endless. But the reality is that most companies have not even started their journey into the data world and executives are still not clear what the potential of big data for their organisation is. What are the key challenges and where to start from?

Big data often requires breaking through organizational silos and challenging owners of information. As always, effective adoption of new technologies is also about effective organizational change. Technical challenges are of course not absent: with data stored in legacy systems in non-standardised ways, with endless data quality issues, any data analytics project suffers from the barrier to first create high-quality, complete data before using it at all.

Finally, but not least, given the speed with which big data and analytics are adopted by organisations and the new necessary data science skills that are different from traditional information technology ones, a key bottleneck becomes the availability of talent for such initiatives.

The labour market of data scientists is nascent, making experienced experts highly sought out - and highly unavailable.

As always, there is no silver bullet for successful adoption of big data, but early evidence indicates that experimenting and then maturing the organizational capabilities in analytics has great benefits not only to improve business decisions, but also develop new businesses and sources of revenues."

Companies are beginning to monetize big data – and that's where this boom is headed. Most leaders want to see how they can get big ROI out of big data. Wee hope that this does not follow a boom-bust pattern like the early internet did. Because, this time it's way beyond just Silicon Valley. The big data advantage is out there for us all.