Wednesday, August 8, 2007

AAAAftermath I: Promiscuous Positioning at the 07 Planning Conference

The chief complaint at this year’s conference, at least on Wednesday morning, was that the bars close too early in San Diego. The streets (and Hyatt corridors) seemed filled with fast-talking crowds of planners powering through their East Coast jet lag by searching for sponsored and spontaneous after-parties. (Though we all need to continue raising glasses to Andrew Delbridge of McKinney and Jonah of Red Scout for keeping us talking and drinking as late as the law allowed on Monday and Tuesday night).

Everyone I spoke to picked different highlights: Perennial favorite Adam Morgan or Adrian Ho (representing his new venture Zeus Jones with Rob White) controversial and refreshing remark that (I’m paraphrasing here) “Creative departments are the most hidebound and conservative departments in the agency” or Gareth Kay and Mark Lewis’ list of planning’s Seven Deadly Sins. Or Eric Ryan, former planner and founder of method, demonstrating just how well all this planning stuff really works when you get a chance to execute it. Or as he put it, “It’s amazing what you can do when you get rid of the client and just become the client.” Or Mark Earls characteristically sharp critique of overly clever planning structures and strategies that don’t reflect real behavior in or out of the agency (a point compounded and complicated by his own clever delivery).

I was particularly fond of Brandon Geary’s (of Razorfish) “Gathering Insights in a 2.0 World” breakout, a disarmingly modest and useful account of some ways we can all use photo-sharing, site analytics and social media sites as a source of free and pre-illustrated consumer research (building consumer profiles, inspiring media strategies.)

Whatever your favorites, though, some clear themes emerged, restated in various ways in a half-dozen mainstage and break-out presentations. (Full disclosure for whatever it’s worth: I was on the AAAA subcommittee that helped select the break-out speakers)

First and foremost was the near universal critique of “positioning” as it’s traditionally defined: none of us seem to believe that consistently standing for one thing is the foundation of brand growth. This case was made directly by Stephen Walker of Headmint in his “Case Against Positioning” breakout, but emerged in almost many of the presentations I witnessed.

Penry Price of Google mapped out an evolution of the traditional brand-development process (e.g., move from “interrogate” to “follow and anticipate”), and demonstrated several examples of how partners have used multiple campaigns to speak to multiple constituencies. As he succinctly summarized it: “Multiple personalities of brands are now leverageable” And in her break-out on her very successful shift from Planning to New business at Martin, Kristin Cavallo described how her agency first sold in the revolutionary multiple-campaign strategy to GEICO.

Gareth Kay and Mark Lewis, focusing more on the process of strategic and creative development, urged us all to see “brand energy” (with the attendant qualities of dynamism, change and innovation) as key signs of brand strength. They urged us to “Embrace uncertainty and complexity,” “Be uncomplete” and “Continually co-create,” principles, which all demand a more collaborative, flexible and open relation to a strategic development compared to the more traditional emphasis on focus and commitment. As Gareth suggested, a brief could be less about a “message” and more about an intention like: “Make brand X more like Y”

Even Eric Ryan of method, described his company’s culture as “episodic,” trying to produce two revolutions a year.

Though most of us who are involved in trying to impact consumer behavior these days agree that consistency is no longer the golden ticket, legitimate challenges to this doctrine of multiple-personality branding were raised: most notably by one questioner who wondered how to account for success of brands who continually grow precisely because of their commitment to consistency—a question I’m sure we’ll debate well into the next year and the next round of free cocktails.

1 comment:

One-Way-Ticket Planner said...

Here a stuff i wrote on the plane coming back form the conference and that relates to your very first observation: Bars closed too early. enjoy. I will post it in my blog when i will have one:

Whispering through the crowd
- How a crowd of planners behaved at Ivy Party in San Diego -

So the highlight of the “off the record” planning conference was without doubt the improvised party on Tuesday night at the Ivy.

Here are Four insights about the crowd, directly inspired from “the night I would remember to forget”. First, crowds and passiveness. As we were all gathering and having fun at the bar downstairs, the bartenders abruptly stopped serving alcohol on the sole signal of the light being switched on. Everybody was shocked and asked for more. Not even a last round. Not even a small shot. Not even a discrete drop under the counter. Not even a smile. Arrogant bartenders almost ruined the night without a last call and what did we do? The Crowd protested but didn’t fight. No pugilistic attitude, no putsch, no coup to take over ownership of the bar. Revolution is not a modern idea.

Fortunately, generosity happens and there we were in the elevator to the promised land of free booze and cool music and …bare fun. “Room 641” first sounded like a secret. But in less than a minute, everybody knew about the “Room 641” clandestine after-party. Guys and girls would exchange understated glances with a naïve excitement about what was to follow. Crowds are indeed viral - rumors spread incredibly fast at that time of the night.

I don’t know if you read the book “The Wisdom of Crowds” but surprisingly the wisdom theory doesn’t apply to a crowd of drunk strategic planners. Guess what a crowd of likeminded ego-centric people which rate themselves “8 out of 10” on creativity and intelligence do at 2am in a chic hotel room?? They scream at each other of course! Making it inevitable for the security to come and stop everything. Making it inevitable for the party to not last longer than a video on YouTube. Short-format is our new cultural standard (and possibly the sad future of love-making, but that’s a side-note). At the least those of us from the Paleolithic Compact Disc Generation still like to do things in an hour-long format. But those hot YouTube-fed baby planners have no desire to concentrate longer than what it takes to heat a bun in a microwave. Unless they have strong leaders, crowds, like sport fans and Wall Street, have very little sense of long-term vision.

Talking about love-making, I had a fabulously erotic experience with S., which would constitute my fourth and last observation about planner crowd behavior. So here we are, 100 people shoulder to shoulder in a luxurious hotel suite loaded with vodka and other bonding lubricants, all more or less “high” and smiling, content about ourselves as planners usually are. The host, J., trying to instill some wisdom, smartly suggested to “stop screaming and start whispering”. My occasional “google:hot+blond+sexy” friend, S., must have gotten the message right, because that’s precisely what she did. She slowly approached her mouth to my ear, breathing strongly enough to give me goose pumps in the neck and somewhere inside my cerebral cortex. I believe that’s the effect she was looking for. In a nice crescendo of sensuality, she added a more physical dimension to this arousing strategy, in form of a lubricous, expertly gentle hand traveling from my neck to my back to my “insert:blank”. While dopamine infused my neurotic network, she went on, following the MC’s instructions, calmly whispering dirty words to let me reach what we could call a “platonic orgasm”. Pure generosity with no further expectations of a give-back, which is even more appreciable. So just by whispering to each other in the middle of the mass, we suddenly felt alone. Nothing mattered anymore: Russell Davies could have stopped blogging, Apple could have been bought by Microsoft, the world could have collapsed. She was feeding pieces of heaven through my ear and the world looked very simple, everything suddenly made sense, in a perfect universal harmony. The crowd didn’t notice, the crowd didn’t care, the crowd didn’t matter anymore. So that’s my last observation: we like to be in a crowd because it brings us closer to ourselves. Intimacy within the crowd is indeed a fantastic feeling, a mix of intrinsic power and sheer humanity – that’s maybe a reason why we like to go the theater or to concerts.

So that’s what I would propose until the next planning conference: We should whisper more often.

One-Way-Ticket Planner