The Warc Blog

Learn from products

Posted by: Gareth Kay, Co-founder, Chapter

Blog author

I'm writing this article as my company, Chapter, celebrates its second anniversary. We may be 0.0001% complete on our mission, but it feels a big milestone, as around one in two businesses fail during this time period.

Now, undoubtedly a big reason for us achieving this is a combination of serendipity and luck, but I'm increasingly convinced that a big factor in our early resilience has been our relentless pursuit of breaking down the walls that exist between the worlds of product and marketing. We're firm believers that the best products bake marketing directly into the experience. Lots has been written about this. But we're also firm believers that marketing - and to be more precise, marketing communications - has a lot to learn from the world of product. What follows are the three things we've learned from the world of product over the past couple of years that have probably influenced us the most.

27 February 2017, 00:00
A trust re-building exercise

Posted by: Gareth Kay, Co-founder, Chapter

Blog author

The year 2016 is likely to be remembered for two political events that sent shockwaves around the world: Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as president. These events yet again brought into question the reliability of polls (from how they drew their sample to the return of the 'shy voter' first seen when John Major was elected as prime minister), but more importantly highlighted again the erosion of trust in the institutions that previously were the bedrock of society. For example, the latest Gallup data from September 2016 showed that only one in three Americans had a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media.

When I started in the industry two decades ago, the first thinking was being developed to define a bigger opportunity for brands in a world where we were seeing the first signs of erosion of trust in the political and cultural institutions that defined us. The belief was that there was an opportunity for brands to become the new institution of trust in people's lives. It spawned thinking like Chiat/Day's 'Total Role in Life' and in many ways informed the rise of purpose-driven branding. This thinking in its purest sense had the opportunity to create a much more honest relationship between companies and people. But unfortunately, this has not played out. As the data from the Havas Meaningful Brands study shows, most people around the world wouldn't care if three out of four brands disappeared tomorrow. So, perhaps it's time to re-examine why brands not only failed to fill this trust void but are in long-term decline. After all, they are failing to fulfil their most fundamental purpose: to be a mark of trust.

26 January 2017, 12:00
Invent brand innovation

Posted by: Gareth Kay, Co-founder, Chapter

Blog author

Brands, their marketing and those who advise them tend to live at two polar extremes of the world and oscillate wildly between them. The first state is where we paint a grand vision of the future, steal a load of ideas from Minority Report, greatly overestimate the long-term impact of change and highly inflate the brand's role in the brave new world.

A far more dangerous state, however, is the world we spend most of our time in. A world of managing the day-to-day. Of mistaking tactics for strategy. And a world that is frightfully devoid of imagination. It's the world of brand management. Its very name denotes a cautious and incrementalist approach while its actions often trap brands in their present rather than give them the conviction and inspiration to shape their own brighter future. Our approach to managing brands comes with an inbuilt myopia and laziness that limits their very potential.

21 November 2016, 16:43
Point of view: Designing experience

Posted by: Gareth Kay, Co-founder, Chapter

Blog author

Niki Nakayama is the chef and owner of a Japanese restaurant called n/naka in LA. She's a technically brilliant chef and her food has been lauded as some of the best in America. But what makes n/naka stand out is not just its food but the experience around it.

The design of the experience starts with the concept of kaiseki, a Japanese tradition that harks back to the thirteenth century and is based on local ingredients. The power of this lies in its pacing, flow and sequence of composition, texture, temperature and colour. Its success is dependent on the design the chef brings to its arrangements and in many ways reminds me of how different people make more, or less, impressive structures with the same set of Lego bricks - are you going to build a rocket ship or dinosaur? But what makes n/naka truly distinctive is a decision made at the beginning: no guest will ever be served the same thing twice. Every trip you make will be totally different to the one before. (If you want to learn more about n/naka, watch the episode about Niki on the Netflix series Chef's Table.)

09 September 2016, 14:49
Point of view: Stop problem solving

Posted by: Gareth Kay, Co-founder, Chapter

Blog author

We take great pride as an industry in our ability to solve problems. It's how we tend to frame our capabilities to clients. It's how we describe what we do to our non-industry friends. It's how we award (and reward) ourselves across strategy and creative awards.

Yet, when you think about it, problem solving is a horrible way to think about what any of us do. It is reactive. It firmly places us in a pigeonhole as a contractor, with all the issues of commoditisation of which we are too well aware. It limits our influence and potential in the world and in our clients' organisations. It focuses on our superpower of distillation rather than our other, arguably more valuable, superpower: the commercial value we create through expansive, imaginative thinking that can lead not just to more effective solutions but to new opportunities for our clients. We need to stop taking briefs at face value. Far too often we accept the same old briefs - raise awareness, change perception, etc. - at face value. We solve the same problems - problems that far too often have far too little potential impact on the real commercial problem. The first job to be done on any assignment is to look for the best problem to solve. I'd argue that our value truly lies in being problem finders, not problem solvers. So, how do we get better at problem finding?

21 July 2016, 09:41
Opinions wanted

Posted by: Gareth Kay, Co-founder, Chapter

Blog author

About a decade ago, Copernicus Consulting did a research study in the US to look at how we saw brands. Its most startling finding to me was the lack of differentiation people saw between brands. Four out of five categories were seen to have increasingly homogeneous brands and only 7% of ads were seen as different. The lack of remarkability was in itself remarkable.

I have a nagging feeling that this has got worse. It is almost certainly a large driver behind the infamous statistic from the Havas Meaningful Brands survey that most people wouldn't mind if three out of four brands disappeared tomorrow. More often than not we point our fingers at a lack of ambition and bravery to explain this but I'm increasingly of the opinion that there is a more pernicious issue that needs to be addressed: the lack of opinion at the heart of most brands, marketing and marketers today.

11 May 2016, 15:24
The Age of Conversation

Posted by: Gareth Kay, Co-founder, Chapter

Blog author

About a dozen years ago, we began to talk about the age of conversation as the web evolved to enable us to spend more time on platforms that connected people together rather than the one-way questioning of information that characterised the nature of the early web. It was a dramatic shift in our relationship with the web and had a significant impact on marketing but this shift is likely to feel far smaller than the real age of conversation we are entering now - the era of the conversational interface.

The conversational interface puts dialogue at the centre of the interaction between technology and people. Its rise, technology difficulty apart, is unsurprising: human beings are inherently social in nature (as Mark Earls rightly reminds us) and conversation is the behaviour that enables social human interaction. It's not a surprise that, of the top ten apps, all are social in nature and six are primarily used for messaging. And despite all the apps and services available to us, more than half the time we spend on our phones is spent talking, texting or emailing.

05 April 2016, 10:24
In Praise of Small

Posted by: Gareth Kay, Co-founder, Chapter

Blog author

Just over three years ago I wrote a piece in this magazine arguing that it was time for us to stop thinking big and start acting small instead. My argument rested primarily on how acting small made it more likely that brands and their partners could experiment their way to success and also shifted the natural bias from one of thinking to one of doing. Three years later, it seems little has really changed. By and large we are still paralysed by the fallacy of the primacy of 'big' – the big idea, the big insight, the big launch – and this has probably only been heightened by fundamental misunderstandings about what disruption truly is and what technology really means. So, this month I wanted to return to the power of small and offer three new reasons why I believe it is a more fruitful path for brands to follow.

The first reason why small matters is a simple one: it allows us to break the paralysis of big. Not only are 'big' ideas by definition a rarer beast in the world, but the very baggage that comes with the descriptor is enough to bring any company to a grinding halt. Throughout my career, I've seen that the 'bigger' the mythology an idea takes on, the more unlikely it is to make it into the world. Not only are they more difficult to 'birth' (we all know the pains that come when given the brief for a 'transformational idea') but they raise disproportionate levels of attention inside an organisation. And with that comes more chances of ideas dying, or at least having their interesting edges smoothed off, by the misuse of research and the attentions (and ensuing pushback) from different groups inside the organisation. Big ideas are born more often than not with a target on their back.

15 March 2016, 17:21
What tech really means

Posted by: Gareth Kay, Co-founder, Chapter

Blog author

I'm writing this column during the annual marketing world decampment to CES. More headlines, as usual, about whether new technology X or Y will change the game for marketers; more nascent platforms trying their hardest to get a slice of the easy money they see brands offering. Every year, it reminds me of the fundamental misunderstanding we have of what technology actually means.

We have a habit of equating technology with the shiny new thing – the new platform, site or piece of code that becomes the talk of the town. A few years ago, it was the rise of social; this year, it seems to be the promise of VR. Undoubtedly, all relatively important things that might unlock new ways to tell stories and/or reach people. But this shiny stuff is like a fireworks display – it glows brightly enough for a short burst to turn heads but then tends to fade away into the night.

09 February 2016, 16:13
Point of View: Keep it small and simple

Posted by: Gareth Kay, Co-founder, Chapter

Blog author

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, I took my daughter to visit the Computer History Museum, just around the corner from the Googleplex in Mountain View. It's a terrific museum that gives real context to the massive change we've seen in technology and our everyday lives over the past 50 years.

One of the highlights of the museum is the ability to learn about some of the 'forgotten' heroes of the computer age. One of these was Seymour Cray, the inventor of the CRAY-1, which between 1976 and 1982 was the fastest supercomputer in the world. It looked like the future then and, in many ways, still does now. Seymour was the archetype of the 'wacky inventor' who had a passion, among other things, for building underground tunnels in his home and had some ingenious ideas inspired by the most unusual things for how to make computers work faster.

14 January 2016, 13:02
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