London, Part 2

South of the ThamesThis is the second installment of my irregular Minority Report. Part one was “Expatriates and the Patriots” and the full series contains dispatches from Seoul as well.

I’ve lived in Central London for almost two years. During this time, I’ve experienced plenty of situations to dispel many of the preconceived notions I had about life in the UK. It’s not as if I’d never been here before; I spent a few months studying at a university in the mid-1990’s and have visited on dozens of business trips since then. But it’s one thing to visit — it’s another matter to live somewhere with no intention to leave, which changes your mindset and what matters on a daily basis.

    • Here’s a tip: tipping may not be expected, but it’s quite common.

When paying by cash in black cabs, the round up to the nearest £1 still applies. But who pays with cash anymore? Card readers are installed in almost all cabs and although I’ve encountered the rare cabbie who claims that his reader is broken, it’s the fastest way to pay. I haven’t seen any studies on whether riders are leaving more tips by using plastic, but it’s been proven in the US.

12.5% Service ChargeIn restaurants, tipping has taken a more passive-aggressive approach. Many restaurants add an “optional 12.5% discretionary service charge” to the bill without asking. But does that actually go to the staff? Maybe, maybe not. So if you really want to do the right thing, ask for the optional charge to be removed and leave cash instead.

    • It seems that many of the service workers in Britain aren’t British.

A visitor might stop into a pub — perhaps a Red Lion, Black Horse, or Green Man — and seek to refresh oneself with a proper pint of basement-temperature cask ale. Sure, you’ll find a stout wooden bar and old musty carpet, but the drinks on offer? Most likely a lineup of AB InBev brands. The person serving you? Probably not British either.

The bar at Dishoom Kings CrossAccording to Ben Judah’s 2016 book This Is London, “at least 55 per cent of people are not ethnically white British, nearly 40 per cent were born abroad, and 5 percent are living illegally in the shadows.” A related book that dives deep into the world of low wage Britain is James Bloodworth’s Hired, which illuminates much of the tension that exists in pro-Brexit UK.

    • Not-so-special deliveries.

Inside this box is the biggest LEGO set ever produced — the UCS Millenium Falcon. But why is it wet and ripped? Because the the delivery person opened the outer and inner boxes, removing all of the valuable eBay-able minifigures!

Package deliveryIn another lower stakes example, I ordered some socks and they were promised with free two-day delivery. When they weren’t delivered on the expected day, I called the delivery company. They said they I should request a refund from the brand and they’d file a claim against the driver. File a claim? Yes, because the driver was technically a contractor to the delivery company. Speaking of tension in low wage Britain, this issue represents one story of many that reflect the global capital vs. talent crisis that’s well underway.

    • Has brick-and-mortar retail been impacted? You bet.

Globalisation has made its mark here and any American would be hard pressed to feel homesick in London, with retail therapy available to soothe any sadness of what was left behind. Take a walk down Oxford Street and you’ll find Niketown, Disney, and The Gap, in between Selfridges, John Lewis, and Debenhams.

Credit: BBC News http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22934305In smaller towns, you won’t find a Starbucks on every corner but you won’t find a pub on every corner either. Every high street seems to have estate agents, newsagents, a cafe or two, maybe a Tesco Express, some hair salons, and always betting shops. It’s Las Vegas in convenience-store format and the lure is addictive.

    • Sorry, some things haven’t changed, thank you.

One element of stereotypical British culture is its politeness and a recent study claims Britons say thank you more than anyone in the world. After spending a week driving 2,394 miles through nine different European countries, I absolutely noticed the difference in interactions when returning across the channel.

How to be BritishHowever, it’s important to not judge other cultures too quickly as “rude” or “inconsiderate” — rather, it’s more instructive to reflect on one’s personal inclinations and how that perspective shapes expectations of others.

Quick take on what’s hot in digital right now

There’s a lot of noise in the marketing world, with industry players from all angles talking about what’s now and what’s next. What that in mind, I have some thoughts on the hottest topics that will be big bets for the near future:

    • AI

Once the stuff of science fiction, now part of the real world. Lots of commercial potential here, but how can this be best unlocked for consumers (and brands)? Current pathways to market are through tech companies, e.g. Amazon Alexa skills like Duplo stories or a Facebook chatbot. The real fun begins when digital is baked inside — which is a tough decision for companies to make, jumping off of a profitable s-curve into an unknown future. Tesla’s autopilot and Nest’s connected home give us hints, but for now we’ll just need to be satisfied with the A.I. we see in Westworld and hope that’s not what the world will become.

    • Voice

The evolution of human-computer interaction continues, from punch cards to keyboards, from mouse to touchscreen, and now from tactile to audio. The flip side of voice is that the microphones are always on, creating privacy concerns…but will consumers sell out their rights for convenience? Regardless of the outcome, it’s up to brands to do the right thing as this space evolves. Next step? Brain-to-computer connections. Yes, just like The Matrix.

    • Video

Moore’s law may not hold true like it used to and feature sets within mobile devices certainly seem to be plateauing. However, wireless bandwidth still has plenty of room for improvement (as does last mile connectivity), so video will continue to increase in importance as infrastructure improves. What’s critically important now is content and editorial — with unyielding watch-time algorithms, brands must capture attention as quickly as possible and hold attention like an eight second championship bull ride.

    • Personal data

GDPR is a huge current issue for brands and consumers are taking notice of the privacy policy updates they’re receiving from companies they forgot about years ago. In contrast example, the Cambridge Analytica situation highlights what can be done with personal data. Meanwhile, many marketers still struggle to attribute their efforts to sales. If a data-wielding company can influence the course of history, why can’t big budget brands figure it out?

    • Types of Reality

Virtual, augmented, and mixed reality are all taking shape as affordable hardware finds its way to market. Most content focuses on education and entertainment; once connectivity use cases become more prevalent, we will find ourselves increasingly living and working in a virtual world. Ready player one?

Our operating environment is constantly changing; however, the pace of change seems to be slowing down — at least that’s my perspective from returning to the client-side and seeing opportunities from this side of the table over the past couple of years. Most initiatives that were recently considered innovative, particularly social media marketing, have moved into the mainstream. Today, the foundations are being established for a new wave of enterprise-shifting digital trends that require significant assets to create and capture value.

The GDS Group CMO Digital Insight Summit sales pitch is a lie

Are you planning to attend a GDS Group CMO Digital Insight Summit in North America or Europe this March?

Are you planning to attend a GDS Group CMO Digital Insight Summit in North America or Europe this March? If so, you won’t see me there. However, GDS sales people are informing prospective sponsors and attendees that I will be attending and looking to network and hire service partners. Multiple people have asked me about this and it’s just not true.

GDS CMO Digital Insight Summit
Supposed GDS CMO Digital Insight Summit attendees, North America 5 – 7 March 2018

GDS, stop with the fake news. I have contacted your sales people about this blatant misrepresentation and they refuse to acknowledge the situation.

If you are considering sponsoring or attending this event, it might be worth your time and budget. But if you expect to connect with a specific attendee, it’s worth the effort to check references before committing. A simple search and inquiry on LinkedIn will give you plenty of information.

For anyone who’s been lied to by GDS and wants to hear about my digital agenda for 2018, here are some initiatives my team is working on:

If you’re visiting Austin this March, enjoy. If it’s your first visit, here are some things you might want to know.

I wear the same thing to work every day

And I’ve been doing it for the past three years.

For twenty years, I wore the same mix of what most white-collar workers wear to work: “business casual” on most days and a suit once in a while, depending on the day’s meetings. Maybe even “casual casual” when going into the office on a weekend, when few people would be around and the air conditioning turned off.

In 2014, I moved to Korea and started working for Samsung Group, which has a rigid corporate culture (by Western standards) and dress code to match. I started off wearing grey, navy, and black suits five days a week in the middle of monsoon season, the kind of weather that leaves you dripping sweat down the insides of your suit sleeves and dress slacks. Most people would look forward the office air conditioning at this point, but Samsung adheres to government energy guidelines and its office buildings will not be cooled lower than 26c (79f).  Moreover, every day feels like I’m getting dressed for a wedding or a funeral, which is a weird mindset to carry into work. I’m not Big Shaq. Man was hot.

The weather got to me, along with my dry cleaning bill. When the seasons turned, I had to plan ahead for the next round of summer sauna. Well, Steve Jobs was famous for wearing the same outfit every day. I read about Obama and Zuckerberg doing the same. So I decided to simplify things and when I returned to the U.S. for the holidays, I bought five white shirts, five blue shirts, and five pairs of jeans. Two colors of shirt? They look the same to my dogs, good enough for me.

Starting in January 2015, I started wearing the same thing to work (and work functions) every day. Pictures or it didn’t happen?

March 2015, the seventh year in a row and last time I spoke at SXSW in Austin

May 2015, work dinner in Dubai

June 2015, on stage at Cannes Lions

June 2015, at the Samsung seeing eye dog school outside of Seoul

September 2015, Global Network Team photo at Cheil

March 2016, SXSW

October 2016, at LEGO in London

May 2017, spark.me in Montenegro

June 2017,  internal digital conference in Billund, using Google Tilt Brush

Any lessons learned?

  • Like other people who’ve done this, I can tell you that it keeps everything simple. Fewer decisions to make; it’s easier to get out the door in the morning or pack for business trips.
  • The same clothes don’t fit so well if you put on weight — I don’t need a scale to tell me that I should eat fewer bagels.
  • I do try to wear a different pair of shoes every day. I once met a podiatrist who told me that shoes need a day to regain their cushioning. So I’ve rotated every day ever since.
  • If people care about what I wear to work, no one’s saying anything about it. I haven’t heard a word about this for three years and counting!

Expatriates and the Patriots

Expat living in London is easy. But of course, not everything in the UK is the same as the US, beyond the typically cited differences.

Expat living in London is easy. Almost everyone speaks English, you can watch Westworld on Sky Atlantic, and Ocado brings groceries right to your front door. However, this isn’t enough for some people. In which case Starbucks inhabits every other corner of the city and NFL GamePass allows you to watch “American” football teams like the New England Patriots, live every Sunday evening. The incessant spread of capitalism has created a commercial monoculture in which an expat can find the comforts of home, until realising that the sameness is terribly boring.

Of course, not everything in the UK is the same as the US, beyond the typically cited differences: driving on the left instead of right side of the road, replacing many z’s with s’s, Boris Johnson’s hair vs. Donald Trump’s hair, et al. If you haven’t lived in the UK, you might not know that:

  • You often pay for consumer service calls.

"calls charged at 7 pence per minute"

I needed to change the mailing address on my British Airways Executive Club membership from New York to London. This wasn’t possible online due to technical difficulties on BA’s side. After exhausting all free options, I called the service center. About £15 later, my account address was finally changed. “Business rate numbers” can cost you 6p to 51p.

  • You can usually withdraw money from any ATM without a fee.

On a more consumer-friendly note, when you have a UK bank account you can withdraw money from almost any UK ATM without paying additional bank fees. This is unlike the US where you might go to a bank’s ATM advertising “free” withdrawals, only to have your own bank charge you a $1 or $2 service charge. I was surprised to find that even the ATMs at Heathrow Airport — which seems like a place ripe for price-gouging — were indeed free of service fees.

  • The tax year starts on 6 April.

The current tax year runs from 6 April 2016 to 5 April 2017. Not the calendar year. It’s been this way since 1800.

  • You need an annual £145.50 ($180) TV license.

You can check whether you need one, but basically if you intend on watching a moving picture on any screen, you need to pay £145.50 every year to the government. While this may seem odd to Americans who are used to watching PBS for free (and taking this for granted), the visibility of this fee seems to make many UK residents defensive and proud of the diverse programming the BBC offers.

  • Mobile phone pricing is competitive.

I pay £60 ($75) per month for a wireless data/text/minutes plan for four iPhones that cost $160 from AT&T for similar service levels. The UK and US have roughly the same number of large carriers, but regulation seems to have reduced prices more in the UK consumer’s favor.

  • Transferwise is the best option for normal people to transfer money across borders.

Despite the number of Britons who live and work abroad, banks still charge hefty fees on foreign currency transfers. Some of these are transparent (e.g. “wire fee”), but there are absolutely hidden costs buried in unfavorable exchange rates. I’ve found that Transferwise is the best option for getting rates close to public quotes, wth clearly outlined fees.

  • Contactless payments are a thing.

In the U.S., it appears that chip-based credit card transactions have finally caught on. However, some retailers I visited over the holidays had handmade signs over their chip readers indicating that cards could only be swiped. But just when the US seems to be catching up, the UK is already far ahead as chip-and-PIN payments are ubiquitous and contactless is accepted almost everywhere you’d need it — the Underground and fast food outlets, in particular.

Life as an expat is full of looking for similarities and appreciating differences; for Americans, life in the UK can lull one into a false sense of familiarity, which is when frustration or something a pleasant surprise usually finds you in situations like these.

Minority Report: Chapter 3

tower_bridge_2

In mid-2014, I left Austin to work and live as an expat in Seoul. In late 2015, I repatriated to New York. Now, it’s time to start a new chapter of the minority report, this time across the Atlantic Ocean in London.

I’m taking on a new role at LEGO, leading digital consumer engagement. I grew up with LEGO and everyone I meet has positive impressions of the brand. Starting today, I’ll be leading our global team to help connect with individuals and build the brand across digital channels.

So we Brenter in the midst of Brexit, trading pennies for pence, AT&T for BT, Chelsea for Chelsea, and so on. Let Chapter 3 commence.

Life’s rich pageant

Smile moreI took over as CEO of Barbarian Group in December 2015, tasked with turning an agency around that was in worse shape than anyone (i.e. executives, employees, clients, media, auditors, holding company) realized.

Despite the beating that the agency has taken in the media, the actions we’ve taken over the past three quarters have allowed the agency to continue producing great work for global brands and left the financials cleaner and more transparent than they’ve been for many years.

With this phase of transformation complete, I made the decision to separate from The Barbarian Group and Cheil Worldwide. Businesses require different management styles depending on the challenges they face — one size fits all doesn’t work. Now TBG needs a new leader to take its cleaned-up slate and write a new future into reality. Will it be awesome? For all of the Barbarians still on board, I hope so.

One more thing: don’t believe everything you read in the trades. Many articles are tipped by people with personal agendas and written for today’s Gawker-engendered media environment, designed to maximize clicks, shares, and gossip. The truth is out there, but only half of it will ever make Agency Spy.

And now my watch at TBG has ended. Time to begin the begin.

Beat the algorithm

It’s election season and impossible to escape round-the-clock coverage of everything the candidates do. If you’ve already decided on your choice for November, you might prefer to consume your content from a partisan source. Most online platforms claim neutrality and an unbiased presentation of content…except for the fact that your own actions (e.g. likes, shares, click-throughs, time spent) signal what you prefer, which results in a more relevant – and biased – feed. To see just how stark of a difference this can become, visit Blue Feed, Red Feed.

A few years ago while doing research for a client, I found some strangely dissonant reviews on TripAdvisor, like this:

TripAdvisor review

The reviewer had great things to say about the hotel and rated all six elements as “excellent,” yet the overall rating is one circle, which means “terrible.” If you look at the other one circle ratings, you can see language that’s more expected: “disappointing,” “ridiculously bad service,” “horrible experience.” If you want to understand the worst about this property, you’re going to see this review and maybe write it off, but maybe think twice about the others.

When individuals share content on social media, Facebook in particular, it’s filtered for relevance. When people share the latest political update in support of their candidate or in rejection of the other, the posts are always going to be “preaching to the choir.” Campaigns woke up to the power of digital and social media during the 2004 election and have refined strategies since then to fundraise and get out the vote.

So after 12 years, why are we still seeing what’s expected, rather than operatives who can game the system effectively? Where are the tactics like that one circle review that shows up where you’d least expect it – and where it’s not supposed to be? Maybe Facebook would simply filter out dissonant content as clickbait and does already. I try to follow a wide sample of sources, but can see that filters still limit discourse. Maybe there is no way to beat the algorithm. We helped create it and now it’s in control.

Predictions: from trash to treasure

Trash

Usually, year end “what’s next in marketing” predictions are a bunch of BS. Last November, I was asked to contribute thoughts to a roundup of The best ads of 2015. Here’s what I wrote:

“My favorite advertisement of 2015 was the New York Times declaring that it’s not dead yet. Its promotion with Google Cardboard, MINI, and GE to launch the NYT virtual reality application was a pioneering step forward for a brand built in a different era. Enough with emoji, femvertising, and consumer generated everything. NYT VR is an idea that moves people forward in a medium built for now.

http://www.nytimes.com/newsgraphics/2015/nytvr/
or
http://www.theguardian.com/media/2015/oct/20/new-york-times-google-nyt-vr-cardboard-virtual-reality

Unfortunately, my thoughts didn’t make it past the cutting room floor, perhaps because I didn’t choose a 30-second spot. However, The New York Times just won a Cannes Lions Grand Prix award in the Mobile category for its VR efforts. The entire marketing world should’ve seen this coming.

Marketers and their agencies need to start thinking differently about a lot of issues — including diversity, renumeration, and what’s “best” — before the answers become too obvious to miss. There’s always next year, right?

Cannes Lions 2015: The Next Ten Years of Social Media

With Cannes Lions just around the corner, I revisited my presentation from last summer. So I guess it’s now “the next nine years of social media.”

The ten trends for the next decade:

  1. Gone
  2. Shoppable
  3. Snackable
  4. Automated
  5. Connective
  6. Filtered
  7. Integrated
  8. Chinese
  9. Subcutaneous
  10. Empowering

For a summary of coverage and media takeaways from the speech, click here.