‘The problem with a metric is when it becomes the target’
After having worked for agency networks like Publicis Groupe and Havas Media, Tom Goodwin has floated All We Have Is Now, a consultancy for business transformation. Goodwin, over a conversation with Devina Joshi, discusses content marketing issues, the congested video streaming space, ways to transform companies digitally, and more.
At All We Have Is Now, how do you differentiate your service offerings from ad agency networks?
Mine’s not an advertising agency. I have no interest in advertising, nor any revenue to be earned from advertising. The company is a strategy consultancy. So I work with CEOs, CIOs, with Boards, and, perhaps, even with CMOs. It is utterly focussed on imaginative approaches towards solving business problems. In a way, it is championing ad agency ‘thinking’. Ad folk understand people and how they operate, and how to change their behaviour. At the moment, agency folk largely end up making ads. But what happens if that kind of thinking/methodology is used to help corporations figure out which companies to partner with, how to change distribution systems, what business models to follow? That’s what we do.
This reminds me of the Einstellung effect: when you have an output or a skill, you only ever see problems through that prism. That’s a fancy way of saying when all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. I’m trying to avoid that effect.
The world is changing and tech is the reason for many of those changes. The focus of the company is about the challenges and the opportunities that businesses face in the context of technology. Having said that, mine is not a technology-based agency; it doesn’t use technology per se.
You have been quite vocal about how the obsession with data and metrics is a problem area for branding…
Data is very useful. It helps to make arguments and cases these days with data behind them. But I think we have started to replace ideas, beliefs, vision and strategies with data. It is vital that we lead with ideas, imagination and empathy. I don’t actually think the data bubble will burst because so much of our industry is based around people who want to feel safe in their jobs or who are afraid to take risks. Vulnerability is really what drives most of the industry. Data is always going to be important. In short, data needs to stop being ‘it’, and be a partner that backs us up.
With multiple players in the OTT space, is consolidation inevitable?
We’re starting to see fatigue in people’s subscriptions. Five years ago, it was quite easy to be Netflix because you didn’t have to compete with someone. But now, with three or four such subscriptions, what the consumer is really doing is not becoming an incremental subscriber, but someone who has to replace an existing offering. If you’re in the US, and you’re a Peacock or a Disney+, you’re not competing for $7 a month, you’re dealing with the question, ‘is Hulu bad news or not’. So, it’s getting a lot harder.
Most people’s TV ‘diet’ could consist of some form of live programming — news and sports, whether linear or on-demand — some sort of broad entertainment like Netflix or Hulu, and maybe some niche content offering. In the future, niche companies have a better chance at commanding subscription.
About the consolidation bit: I think there may be some form of reduction in a few years. Some services may give up altogether, or partner with others. We have seen content bundling, and then unbundling, with content gatherers like NBC, Netflix or Hulu. Content will probably start to bundle again… this is effectively where we were seven years ago, too.
Would you agree that content marketing has been reduced to viral videos, ‘causevertising’ and memes?
The problem with any metric is when it starts becoming the target. In a world where people are incentivised with likes, views, retweets or shares, then every brand becomes a publisher of cute kids or cat videos. People think it’s successful because such videos perform well, but they forget it’s irrelevant to the brand.
Think of the sector you are in, think of content that is valuable for people, and whether you have credibility in that space. When you put these three together, you might realise there’s not actually that much for you to say. If you make mattresses, you may find that people aren’t actually that interested in the story of mattresses. But if you’re an airline, it means you get to produce TV shows on how wonderful Sao Paulo is. You need to ask yourself before delving into content marketing: does this really need to exist?
Which company really stands out when you think of digital transformation?
I think McDonald’s stands out for me as it has rethought its workflow processes. Also, Delta Airlines, which allows you the ability to self-serve, choose your flights quickly, and in case of delays, they are impressive. And it’s a bit of a classic, but even Netflix.
In terms of companies that are a disaster in this area, I would say the car rental company Hertz is one such. Their entire digital front-end is a complete mess. As a customer, you have to call up to do anything; it takes a long time to find a car that’s near you, and even if you book one, there’s no guarantee that it will show up.
Every few years, we get to hear TV/print is ‘dead’; in this age of digital obsession, is traditional advertising really declining?
I think it is much less interesting to think about the medium than it is to think about the value of content. Is the use of broadcast linear TV declining? Yes. Is the value of a great TV show lower than we think? No, it is greater than we think. It’s just that it may reach you over the internet or on the mobile phone.
The circulation of The New York Times has come down, yes, but is The New York Times making more money than it has ever made before? Yes. This is because they realise that there is a way to consume great print media that’s not on print. So, while ‘traditional media’ is declining, the value of what they create isn’t declining.