Another Marketing Conference, part two – the afternoon

In my previous post, I’ve covered the morning sessions at AMC2012.

Here’s the rest of the write-up.

I’ve skipped Charles Nixon’s session which was a blend of funky futurism and professional development advice, but you can see his slides here. I’ve also skipped the Google presentation, as it was a little thin on insight.

6 – Brand ambassadors: Getting universal buy in across the organisation, Vanessa Northam

Slides are here

This was the strongest enforcement of the idea that brand and campaign values need to be delivered throughout the organization if they’re going to work.

Vanessa runs internal communications at e-on, and shared her experience of using internal comms to align an organization and thereby get the most out of a campaign. She views the purpose of internal comms as: “…to help leaders, to communicate the purpose and future of an organization, and support change.”

This (and culture) primes front line staff, which creates customer experience and spreads brand. You ensure a whole organization knows what’s going on with both internal and external comms. If everybody is aligned and informed, if everybody can clearly articulate your brand and campaign goals, then you can turn everybody into an advocate. Alignment is a powerful tool for delivering a consistent experience and message.

The pathological counter example is the one in which a marketing message goes out, which creates inbound customer contacts that front line contact staff haven’t been briefed to handle. The NatWest campaign was again mentioned in this context.

The good example was e-on’s cheaper tariff campaign. Building a groundswell of internal excitement, and even running an internal launch meant everyone could contribute to a good customer experience. They found that meter readers were excited – not a group they’d considered as obvious in providing customer experience. But they were a group that has a lot of face-to-face contact with customers, and often were asked questions they may not have been briefed to answer. Being able to communicate a simple new message made it easier for them, and also let them become a sales and marketing asset to the organization.

7 – Goodbye Internet, Hello Outernet: the rise and rise of augmented reality, Matt Mills

I wasn’t going to write this up, because it was essentially a sales demo for Aurasma.

But the technology does merit some discussion. Basically, it replaces QR codes with visual recognition, and provides a simple-looking back end for attaching content. It’s quite sexy.

But here’s my beef with it:

QR codes had a clear visual language – when you saw one you knew what it was and what to do with it. They were clunky, but they had the “getting started” problem solved out of the box once you knew what you were looking at.

However, they fail because QR code reading isn’t native to the platform. You needed an app, which meant you needed to know to download one.

Consequentially, you can’t use QR codes with and ubiquity, or depend on them. This means marketers, content providers, etc, never pushed them, and they remained and awkward oddity, a minority sport.

Aurasma half solves problem two, and re-introduces problem one, making it potentially half as useful as a QR code.

It’s free, and you can apparently build it into your own apps. Add to that the likelihood of it becoming native to the platform if it takes off, and it may have legs. I guess we’ll see.

8 – We all need to code, Helen Mayor

Great title – good point. If there was anybody in the room who didn’t at least know basic HTML, and if Helen’s presentation inspired them to learn, that’s fantastic.

However, this was a half hour sales pitch for a basic coding training course.

Beyond advocating coding skills it contained no useful content.

Marketers may also like to consider some of these resources if they’re looking to learn code:

11 – Understanding our inner creativity, Margaret Boden

This session was the most theoretical and probably least actionable of the day. It also held my attention utterly. Margaret spoke fluently, fascinatingly, without slides, on the subject of types of creativity and how they work. It was splendid.

Yes, it raised a wry smile whenever she spoke of “the content of advertisements” and gave an example from 1970s TV ads, but even without the attempt to meet the conference’s theme this would have been thoroughly engaging.

There are, Margaret suggested, three types of creativity:

Combinatorial creativity

The most common form, and consisting of synthesising ideas from existing and familiar concepts and tropes.

Exploratory creativity

Less common, this involves exploring the limits and quirks of a particular constraint or style.

Transformational creativity

This is uncommon, and arises from finding a way to do something that the existing rules would hold to be impossible. In essence, this involves breaking one of the constraints that exploratory creativity is composed from.

Combinatorial creativity, she suggested, is particularly important for attaching favourable ideas to existing things. As such is it probably worth developing for marketing.

Exploratory creativity may then come into play in something like developing and optimising an idea or campaign that now has momentum.

Transformational creativity exists at the edges of this exploration. She suggested that products may often be transformational, but that marketing seemed unlikely to in her experience. This made me wonder about Listerine.

Crucially, transformational creativity is characterised by there being some element of continuity with the strictures of previous thinking. Once it has happened, there may be move from a revolutionary instance into an explored style. Again, from a marketing perspective, this seems to chime well with the thinking in Youngme Moon’s book: Different

Talking about the birth of Modernism is visual art, Margaret pointed out that transformational creativity has historically risked a backlash, demanding what is essentially an education of the market. This is best accomplished by referring back to the continuities with the past in order to make the new familiar.


The afternoon is harder to sum up than the morning. It felt less concrete, and was troubled by a short run of poor presentations in the middle.

Mainly, I found myself wrestling with the internal comms issue. It’s one of those things that seems astonishingly obvious in hindsight, but any campaign – particularly any large one – is doomed if the people involved can’t believe in it. We’ve run things here that haven’t gone so well, of course we have; who hasn’t? I’m not going to air any laundry, but people not being informed (much less aligned) feels like a common factor.

It’s tough though. Managing and anticipating information needs across an organization of any size can’t be easy. Even the simple things like ensuring sales and support departments know what’s in a product release, and what messages go with it are easy to botch.

The thing I like about framing this as a brand and campaign advocacy problem is that it makes it likely to get addressed. Better is always sexier than less-worse. Any technical communicator who’s ever felt crowded out by a content strategist or marketing copywriter knows this – increasing revenue gets a seat at the table far more readily than reducing support costs, even if the financial impact is identical.

So that’s it from AMC. The big thought-provokers were social buying behaviour and eliciting behaviour change, and the value of internal communications in ensuring successful campaigns and continuity of customer experience.

I’ll be chewing over that for a while, and I’d definitely return next year.