Marketing Thoughts




I recently attended a talk given by Professor Andrew Blake, Laboratory Director at Microsoft’s Cambridge University AI research facility.  He described the many benefits that will be derived as we continue to develop the usage and capability of Artificial Intelligence, but he also pointed out that the full promise of AI often always seems a decade away, whatever year you are standing in. Partly because it remains so damned hard to create machines and software with truly powerful AI, that can crucially learn at a high pace and mirror the complexities of human understanding and response.

What came through is that while marketing is still some years away from truly enjoying the benefits of AI, now is the time to be gearing up for them, and starting to collect and filter the Big Data that AI can find meaningful patterns in at millisecond speed, to help grow markets and speed customers through to purchase.  As  Mark van Rijmenam (Author of Think Bigger) points out  “The market for AI-based tools and applications is growing rapidly and according to EU, the global market for AI is set to grow from € 700 million in 2013 to € 27 billion in 2015”.

Here is a look at 3 Ways AI will attempt to improve marketing this decade:

1. Virtual concierge

‘Virtual Concierges’ will work for brands, utilising artificial intelligence to thoroughly analyse customer profiles, previous transactions and social footprint in an instant. This means the Virtual Concierge can answer complex questions from customers relating to their purchases and future concerns.  These avatars will extend into the real-world in ‘robot’ form as concierges in the hospitality industry, reception staff, personal trainers, multi-lingual teachers or as companions for the elderly. Unlike an FAQ, or search engine, the Concierge through automated psychological profiling will recognise how savvy the person they are interacting with is on any given topic and then respond to them at an appropriate level, all the time continuing to learn from the person they are engaging with.

2. Search curation

Online concierges, will pop-up during potential customers searches to help them find the most relevant information; and while they are at it, to give direct offers to customers, or to pass them to a contact centre or make other “little black book” style connections for them.  The speed at which AI can works means the most useful data will be presented to the human in a matters of seconds, rather than the minutes it would take the human to find that info without AI support.

3. Patterns in data to create market intelligence

Artificial intelligence engines will patrol the web evaluating and alerting humans to ideas as it discovers them in the big data, as well as voicing current and predicted shifts in audience behaviour.  Most relevant to marketeers creating moment by moment media-buying recommendations to improve marketing ROI in across all digital and social channels.

The concern for marketeers must be that those that control the robots, also control the future of marketing –  and all the major tech companies are already very much on the case: Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter.  AI will come at a price, and if you don’t have the Publicis / WPP style financial firepower to do big deals with these tech beasts, will your brand or agency become a have-not in the age of the robot?  The amount of AI startups right now, may suggest the contrary, with AI acting as a leveller.  But how many AI start-ups will quickly be bought up by the big boys? I would suggest the vast majority.



TripAdvisor for the NHS?

quotes dr house lupus hugh laurie house md 1440x900 wallpaper_www.wallpaperfo.com_65A ‘TripAdvisor′ style ratings site for English hospitals has recently been released – claiming to reveal the number of people who would ‘recommend′ A&E and in-patient units to their friends and family.

The government says it is the first time the NHS has reported a single measure of patient satisfaction for every hospital. It claims it is “the boldest move yet to promote real openness in the NHS and to concentrate our focus on improvement in care.”

But is that really enough?

As the son of someone with Lupus, who was able to have the best treatment through being on friendly terms with top specialists in the field, I am keenly aware that there is a need for patients in the UK to be able to be more proactive in sourcing their treatment and physicians, in order to get best results.

This country lacks any service that effectively joins the dots for patients between NHS and private healthcare services. Patients are generally guided only to do as they are told; and if they have no money, they have no choices.

The quality of your healthcare is based on a mixture of luck, being in the know or being friends with a surgeon of doctor who can link you in with right people. There is very little web assistance to guide patients across private & NHS healthcare provision options side by side – helping them with important questions (as the Mid Staffs scandal has proven), like which hospital is the best place for their treatment? Which physician is the expert in their field? Should they go NHS or private?

This is exactly where the capabilities that online provides can change the whole British healthcare landscape and help patients understand their choices fully.

What British healthcare requires is an easy-to-use website or app that allows users to input treatments or conditions and compare rated services and specialists in the both the NHS and private heathcare field. This should really be a government initiative, but if funded by private investors, it could provide a profitable model by treating hospitals as customers and licensing websites ratings logos and trademarks to use in their marketing promotions. Another profit stream could be generated by providing ad space on site – for hospitals, medical services and suppliers.

There are a variety of obstacles, some significant, that stand in the way. The most important obstacle is the difficulty in gaining support from reputable bodies such as the British Medical Association, hospitals and physicians. The hostility from the NHS to private hospitals can appear insurmountable at times, and is certainly detectable to patients who request transfers from NHS hospitals to private wards (despite the value in freeing up beds). But it is the job of government to coerce service providers into playing nicely together to enable visionary project that will help the public; and sometimes the job of deep-pocketed investors to entice them to.

There is also the matter of accessing and distilling the necessary data in order to provide ratable hospital services, which would be a Herculean task in itself, as red tape and privacy requirements go hand-in-hand with the world of medical treatment.

So how to create a website that gives betterhealthcare choices for the UK? A site that could be used by those preparing themselves for minor surgery, major surgery, an appointment with a consultant, or who want a second opinion, or people are new to their area and want to explore the medical services in their community?

The first step is to examine models in the USA (albeit these don’t have to worry about the issues of NHS vs private healthcare). For example, includes ratings of hospitals services, doctors and dentists. It is widely used in the USA, but is not easy to understand and rather inflexible. The UK’s own NHS Choices website is a basic route map of choices, but with no depth of data provided. Then there is the Drfosters site, which provides a very superficial and clunky route into nhs and private hospitals offerings patient research.

The question is: exactly how could a website really improve the UK’s healthcare choices?

It could do this by showing both patient and independent assessor starred ratings of every hospital across both NHS and private trusts, with ratings for cleanliness, an opportunity for former patients to comment on the care provided by the doctors and nurses who treated them, the facilities, the length of the waiting times, and many other key considerations.

It would show national rankings for each hospital, as well as the ranking of each hospital’s departments and the specialists within that department. For example, it might show that The Manor Hospital in Oxford came first in the country for pediatrics cancer treatment, but fifth for pediatrics gastrentorology.

It would display all the physicians in the hospital by department, alongside patient ratings. Each physician’s image would be clickable, taking the patient through to an infographic of their career biography, and letting patients know were and when they are currently consulting, both privately and with the NHS. The physician’s rating section might read, for instance, that “As of July 2013, all of this department’s 12 senior consultant practitioners weretop-rated professionals”. There would also be a moderated patient review message board. Hospitals could choose to display their site-rating badge on their own websites.

The only way this could possibly work is if physicians whole-heartedly embraced this level of clarity and transparency, from professors, to surgeons, nurses, to hospital counsellors, to chairpeople of the British Medical Association.

It would require working hand-in-glove with BUPA and other private healthcare providers on a level-playing field with NHS hospitals, regardless of the natural advantages of each sphere. All the medical stakeholders would have to be determined to help cut through red tape and usher in an age of true healthcare transparency.It would need to complement the present (rather slim) NHS Choices offering and be user-friendly through and through. Will it be done? Well, there are a lot of vested interests in patients not being able to easily compare different healthcare choices and physicians side-by-side.

Can it be done? Hell yes.

Jono Marcus is a partner and digital director at creative marketing agency Inkling



My clients think about online privacy, but the kids couldn’t care less

(First published on The Drum)Image

As concerns over online security grow amid recent revelations around the NSA and its worldwide PRISM project, seemingly tapping the phones of the general public at large, people should be more worried about who is intercepting their online communications. Not so the youth of today, however says partner and digital director at Inkling, Jono Marcus.

Reading the response from teenagers in various online forums about Ed Snowden and the NSAs pursuit of him shows a demographic who think privacy is for wimps, or at least not for them. One poster on Virtual Teen Forum summed up the prevailing mood when he wrote:

“The point here is: the government is too large to worry about what any single person is up to. It has soooo many priorities that it is useless to feel like you are being spied on when there are millions of others whose privacy has been “violated”.

Most of my clients belong to the type of big global organisations and brands that young audiences would be expected to rebel against or at least avoid buying in to. These monoliths offer data hungry enticements popping-up on youngsters computers screens because good data makes them money. These brands passivley fight against the general clamour for teens to guard privacy. But in a world that increasingly puts a price tag on what can be gained for free, and rewards scarcity with only obscurity, is it any wonder youngsters take a similar view about their own personal data: “Why not share it, when you share you win”. That attitude is that what they keep private can’t work for them, whereas what they share might just benefit them.

Teens today have a potential shortcut to fame and money, through creating sharable content or a contagious personality in social media. They see success stories created from the act of being far from private in social media. Being private and relying on being “discovered” is pretty hard to monetize these days, and young people understand that innately through the hours put in on social networks. Teens are effectively untrained social network economists who see a real value in not worrying too much about privacy. Is it any wonder they don’t take seriously authorities preaching to them about maintaining their privacy, when there seems to be so much to be gained by sharing. Especially, given the fact brands, governments, school (all adults in general) are very clearly trying to monitor, to pry, punish or sometimes monetize for themselves every move teenagers make. In fact, every click.

I think trying to get youngsters to be more judicious in what they share and sign-up to is fighting the tide, as they simply couldn’t care less. The most talented teens should simply make the data they share work harder for them than it will for the brands and organisations that seek to use it. In return, brands must offer more to get more.



“When you see humans interacting with other people, or with animals, there is very little feedback.  It’s too infrequent and when it happens it is bad… it’s nasty…. especially in the work place… especially from boss to employee.

It’s as if there is some schedenfreude there.  As if we actually take delight in people getting things wrong, so that we can then moan and groan and bitch at them.

This I would say is the biggest human foible that we have: we take the good for granted and we moan and groan at the bad”.

Full video below:

Marketing Thoughts

What the hell is Inkling?

Well this was the underlying question in my interview with We Are Source.  And if you are interested here is my take on what Inkling is…

And a sense of what it is like to work at Inkling

Pop Culture

Millions of Indians will now exist

Since Inkling won a big Indian client that is based in Dehli I have been more than a little fascinated by the workings of that most fascinating of countries, becoming an avid reader of the Times of India online.  So I found this image tweeted from the BBC today of Indians queueing for a new identity rather arresting.


Most below the poverty line Indians currently have no way to prove they exist, and in towns and villages across the country millions of them are queueing to receive unique biometric ID numbers, based among other things on iris scan & finger prints. These IDs will acknowledge them on paper for the first time ever as living and breathing human beings.

Critics fear it will create a big brother surveillance of the whole country & that it costs billions of pounds and can easily be used corruptly. While those queueing for it, are hoping that having an identity will give them access to government support and medical treatment that they can’t currently cannot benefit from; and things as simple as the opportunity to use ID to gain a mobile phone number or the right to vote, in a world where ID is mandatory.

However, either way in India, from what I have experienced a querulous, optimistic, striving, growing land, which is fast becoming a technology hub for the world what is taking place is quite simply the biggest national computerized database project in history. Whether the end result is fit for purpose remains to be seen, but it is quite a feat.


A double bill: Ads & Social; Comms & Future


As posted on the blog of my old pal Chris Norton, a ramble from me about advertising and social media:

“Is it just me, or does it feel like almost every ad or piece of branded content you see these days is a brand patting itself on the back for having helped some unwitting participant enjoy a richer, better, more thrilling life experience?

Nowadays, when brands aren’t using integrated comms campaigns to make us over, revamp our houses, or pimp-up our cars, they are pulling Derren Brown-style stunts on us that will make our lives more momentarily fun, or gift us our dream job.  It takes me back to a simpler time, when all brands did was tell us how great they were and what their products did.  To find out if their claims were true, we had to trial the product; but the memory of those quainter ads is getting fainter and fainter.

Now that my 7-year-old can work pretty much every product in the house, including the latest apps and social technologies, then maybe brands have done all the explaining and promoting possible, and now must use interactive marketing campaigns to actively enter into and improve our lives.  (It is certainly a lot more fun to watch videos of Dell’s “Piano Stairs…Enjoy the piano tunes as you climb up the stairs” than it is hear about their super-cheap super-reliable laptops).

What this high-profile form of participatory advertising has led to, is the necessity for real people’s responses to generate part of the creative end-result itself. What I mean is that the brand advertisement is not complete until people actually interact with it and show their surprise and gratitude.

Economist Umair Haque says brands must now expect that people will not ask is this product better than competitor’s offerings, or the last version; but instead: did it make me fitter, or wiser, or have more fun or improve my own or my community’s well-being?  And also, was it an exciting and entertaining experience to engage with and to watch other people engaging with?

If the new trend in advertising is to provide real-life “solutions, not propositions” (Faris Yakob), then the state-of-play for marketers is no longer about creating social media activations and creating ads, but about creating ads wholly based upon social media outcomes, like this example below where Oreo’s uses a TV spot to promote an Oreo Whisper Fight Instagram campaign.

Though ultimately all of us in the comms business must remember that however sophisticated our promotional tools and techniques become “the best ad is a good product” (Alan H. Meyer)”

As posted on The Drum, an opinion piece on the future of the communications industry:

Screen Shot 2013-03-01 at 22.27.28

“A panel session with some sixth formers discussing the communications industry leads Jono Marcus, digital partner at marketing communications agency Inkling to offer his views on the industry of the future and how the agencies will be formed to service it.

Recently, I was asked to take part in a question and answer session with some sixth formers who were looking to get into the communications industry. The questions they asked were often: “How many ideas would I be expected to come up with in a day?”, but were very rarely: “Should I go into PR or media-buying or advertising?” The students reflected an audience that has grown up in a converged media culture and cares about great ideas, rather than great ads, or great PR stunts. A generation that presumes everything will end up on YouTube at some point anyway, whatever format it started out on.

The digital-savvy teens reflect the future of the communications industry, reliant on a combination of creativity and technical intelligence (or at least technical sensitivity). A technologist’s thinking and a creative’s inspiration does not need to come from one person, as such people are rare; but, certainly these two talents need to come from people in increasingly close proximity in the future.

The PR and newer ad agency models of the early 2000s will soon be killed-off, because they were all about being able to say in one breath a) what the idea is and b) how it could be achieved in one neat package. This was their massive competitive advantage, up to now. However, in the communications industry of the future, the emphasis will once again full firmly on the creative side, with the quality of the idea being the most valuable currency, in a landscape where digital and new technologies are making almost any type of execution possible if enough care is applied. Thinking of the idea in the first place will be what matters most. It is however, crucial that those coming up with the big ideas do eventually have the staff, contacts or network (wherever in the world those maybe) with the highly sophisticated or cutting-edge technological know-how to activate “anything is possible” ideas. Faris Yakob even put out the provocation that the technological aspect will become so important that in the future clients may judge creative on the quality of the coding behind it, not the final creative and copy.

The communications industry of the future will still have the odd agency that sells itself on the format of the end output. For example it will only execute in one format, like only producing print and TV ads, but these will be exceptions to the rule, fighting to survive in a marketplace geared to give them lower and lower returns for that narrow vision or skill-set. This view was backed up by the sixth formers I met, who saw working in marketing as an art form, not a science of having specific know-how in either just PR, or advertising or media deals. Instead, a blend of all disciplines, with enough technical awareness to see how imaginative concepts could become a reality with the new possibilities of cutting-edge technologies. Seth Godin describes this phenomena of thinking like an artist before worrying about end results in his book on the future of successful business, The Icarus Deception, describing: “a lifetime spent noticing begins to turn into the ability to see what others can’t”.

These teens, who represent the future of the communications industry, are digital natives, their smartphones are my generation’s laptops. This means that there will simply be no place in the industry in the future for those that want to dodge acquiring a mixture of computing, digital and technological skills. At the very least they must demonstrate understanding how crucial digital is in their job and offer a perspective on that. However, the future communications agency won’t just be full of technologists.

The agency of the future will be chock full of people with psychology, anthropology and art degrees. This is because in the digital age, almost every piece of communications created lives or dies in the hands of dialogue with a very active and well-heard audience, whom can each act as micro broadcasters to thousands and millions within their own digital networks. The understanding of what makes people (and groups of people) tick: their wants and dreams, becomes more important than ever. So, ultimately who better for your future ad agency than an anthropologist-artist-coding-creative-planner?

Walk around inside the communications agency of the future and you will see people not only with very different backgrounds and skillsets to the majority today’s professionals, but doing different things too. Expect to see a couple of people huddled over a new communications invention with a soldering iron, shouting across to someone rewriting the computer coding that makes it work, next to the artist who is hosting a viewing of the process, which is being beamed to millions of followers over a live-stream. In short the communications industry of tomorrow we be primarily concerned with inventing new kinds of communication solutions, not as at present with simply exploiting the current formats”.