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Today’s a sad day.

Not only has Pharrell Williams been speaking at Cannes Lions as if he is a philosopher.

But Ogilvy & Mather’s Twitter account diligently shared it with the part of the world lucky enough not to be there.

To provide some context. Ogily & Mather is the agency that was born out of David Ogilvy’s passion for clear and creative communication.

Ogilvy is heralded as one of the greatest copywriters in the history of copywriting.

His books are part of the staple diet for writers, advertisers, salespeople, business people etc…

Ogily & Mather also employs Rory Sutherland.

Sutherland is a very clever and interesting man.

If you need proof, watch one of his TED talks or read his book.

Regardless of all of this pedigree, it doesn’t stop their Twitter account from doing this:

Ogilvy & Mather tweet about Pharrell Williams

In the tweet, Williams is quoted saying:

Multitasking allows you to keep things different and creative

That sounds lovely.

I love being creative.

And who wants to be the same? Different is so much better.

In that case I’d better get multitasking.

But wait, I’ve just remembered I read a book about this by someone who knows what they are talking about.

Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes is a book by Maria Konnikova.

The book is about mindfulness and how, if he were real, Sherlock Holmes would have thought and acted.

Quite early on in the book, Konnikova addresses the theme of multitasking.

Here is a quotation from the book saying such:

We also know, more definitively than we ever have, that our brains are not built for multitasking — something that precludes mindfulness altogether. When we are forced to do multiple things at once, not only do we perform worse on all of them but our memory decreases and our general wellbeing suffers a palpable hit.

To put this back in context, Maria Konnikova is a writer who specialises in psychology.

Pharrell Williams makes pop songs for films with tiny yellow people.

Both are very good at what they do.

But I wouldn’t expect Ogilvy & Mather to tweet about Konnikova’s new song.

It would probably sound like crap.

Go binary

I have recently been working with a creative team and dealing directly with the clients who appoint the creative team.

This has introduced me to the project brief that the team has been using.

The problem with the project brief the team has been using is that it is sporadic. It has lots of good ideas and I am told by the team that it makes the project much more simple for everyone.

I disagree.

They say it is simple because in a long ‘kick-off’ meeting with the client, the project brief is completed (typed up) with all of the client information and good ideas that jump out of the meeting. That’s it. Finished. Simple.

The problem is that it doesn’t make a compelling read.

Instead it is a badly written transcript of an unstructured conversation. Not simple.

This is why simplicity is harder than complexity and therefore more valuable. If the project brief was really simple, someone would have had to spend some real time and effort making it really easy for anyone to read and understand.

I am a believer in the necessity of process. If something you do at work cannot be made into a process it is useless.

Without process you can never confidently say that you have done a good job.

Chances are that you wing it and do a good job, because you are a maverick, but open yourself to scrutiny and without a process you can’t stand up and explain your work in simple terms.

Simple ideas make work repeatable and valuable.

So back to the brief, if it is just a semi-structured transcript how can it follow a process?

It can’t, the brief doesn’t require the team to make any decisions about the project at all and therefore provides no value as a project brief.

A good brief should simply set out what the aim of the project is so that the project leader (me) can assess the effectiveness of the project when it is completed.

Whilst pondering how to improve the project brief I was also absorbing all information that I could find coming out of Dave Trott.

Trott has presented an idea about using a “binary brief“.

Binary is about yes or no, on or off, 0 or 1.

Market growth or Brand share?

Current users or Trialists?

Brand or Product?

Binary makes the project brief easy to read and forces it to answer tricky questions head on.

It is all about taking the hard decision early, not leaving it to the creative team to decide. Otherwise decisions get passed on from one person to the next until they are forgotten.

It doesn’t have to use Trott’s 6 things, it can be your own, but it is taking complicated things and making them simple.

I learned this when Chris Horrie taught me Journalism. Teachers at school teach us to write long essays. Horrie taught me that the best writing is concise.

Complexity is the hiding place of a bad idea

Occam’s razor says an idea that makes the fewest assumptions is probably the best one to go with.

This means that if you have a simple explanation and a complicated one you are much better off going with the simple one.

Never is this more noticeable than when looking at the use of language.

Dave Trott said that “people disguise bad thinking with long words”.

George Orwell wrote an essay on the subject; Politics and the English Language.

“Words like phenomenon, element, individual (as noun), objective, categorical, effective, virtual, basic, primary, promote, constitute, exhibit, exploit, utilize, eliminate, liquidate, are used to dress up a simple statement”

The process of dressing up a simple statement makes it complex and yet in my experience people take pride in the effort of dressing up a simple statement.

It is something I am forced to contend with in my job every day.

Clients and colleagues don’t always want the simple answer because it doesn’t sound like enough work has gone into it.

Instead they want the answer to be dressed up and short words replaced by long ones.

Time and again I have seen pieces of writing worked through, the editor carefully replacing simple words with longer, less-common words.

Even worse, whilst working in Guernsey a rival company launched itself into the market with an elaborate ‘manifesto’.

The ‘manifesto’ proceeded to break all of the rules set out by Orwell in his 1946 essay.

Not a problem in itself however the essay finished with a quotation:

“In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

The quotation comes from Orwell, who’s image is now emblazoned on the office wall of said company.

Complexity hiding a bad idea in action.

Dave Trott - CST

Beating Your Competitors

I was lucky enough to be able to attend Brighton SEO on Friday. If you are not familiar, Brighton SEO is a free SEO conference that is based in, you guessed it, Brighton. The conference is a one day affair and is jam packed with speakers from around the SEO world and related fields.

The first presentation of the day came from the impressive Dave Trott. I had not heard of Trott before but was so impressed with what he had to say that for me, he outshone all of the other presentations on the day, and there were some very good presentations let me tell you!

Trott’s message was simple, you don’t have to make the most successful advertising (or creative) project ever, every time you start working, you simply have to beat the competition. He explains how this is a simple truth and that if you beat your competition you win the customers. He started with an old story, one you may have heard before:

“Two men are walking through the jungle when they hear the approaching footsteps of a tiger. Realising they are in danger, one of the men whips out some running shoes and proceeds to lace them up. ‘You wont outrun a tiger’ proclaims the other man, with that, his sneaker sporting companion explains, ‘I don’t need to outrun the tiger, I just need to outrun you'”

If it was me, I wouldn’t even bother with the running shoes, I’d just run, but that’s not the point. The point here is that this clever jungle explorer realises that he doesn’t need to set the 200m record, he just has to beat his friend in a sprint for life. If his friend loses, the tiger eats and he wins.

With this in mind, Trott explains that in order to be successful in your creative ventures you simply need to beat your competition and in order to do this you need to turn a problem you can’t solve into one you can.

He went on to give an example of changing a problem you can’t solve into one you can. The example surrounded and advertising job he had to work on. The client was the fire service who were keen to stop people having problems with chip pan fires. Trott explained that year in, year out, advertising campaigns went out to explain the dangers of chip pan fires and how throwing water onto them can cause more problems. Trott explained how this type of advertising joined the majority 90% of advertising that is either missed or ignored and that people already knew the dangers.

The problem was this; Trott needed to reduce the number of chip pan fires. Trott explained how this was a problem he couldn’t solve and so in order to make a success of the campaign his team needed to solve a different problem. It was here that he identified the cause of the fire service’s issues; calls from chip pan fire sufferers. This gave them a new problem that they could solve; reduce the number of calls to the fire service because of chip pan fires. With this new problem in mind, Trott and his team were able to come up with an advertising campaign that told people how to safely put out the fire, thus reducing the number of calls people needed to make to the fire service. A new problem that could be solved.

All in all an inspirational talk and an introduction to a man who clearly can teach me a lot. I will be ordering his book, Creative Mischief and would certainly recommend you take any opportunity to hear him speak.


A Simple Way to Improve Your Keyword Research

Out of all of the SEO tasks that fill my to-do list on a regular basis, keyword research is the one that I most love to see. Keyword research, as I am sure you are aware, is an important part of running an SEO project. It is so important that if it hasn’t been done properly I insist that a project stops until it has been carried out in a comprehensive way.

Keyword research has a very simple aim: to find keywords that have a high amount of searches are relevant and have a low amount of competition. All too often the keyword research is stifled by a lack of time and budget forcing SEOs to carry out half-baked work that causes them to miss one or more of these requirements. I want to present a new process that I believe can be as quick as any other but yields vastly more reliable results that always take into account the fundamental aims of keyword research.

The current keyword research process goes a little like this; log into a keyword gathering tool, enter a search using some keyword ideas, export the resulting list into Excel. The list is then looked over and with nothing more than subjective opinion and local monthly search volume a shortlist is chosen. Sometimes this process works but when it does I would wager that it was pure luck rather than SEO expertise that brought success.

Simple Keyword Research Process

The new process I want to present is designed to take all of the guesswork out of keyword research. Let’s go back to our list of aims that keyword research should focus on. Number one is to find keywords that have a high search volume. Taking care of this part of the process should be very familiar and it does involve simply using the keyword tool of your choice. Use the tool to gather as many keywords as you can handle, search and re-search using different variations and by all means use more than one tool. Don’t get bogged down by duplicates cropping up when you export lists, this can be easily filtered out in Excel. The aim here is to gather as many potentially relevant keywords as you can, from as many sources as you can. The key thing to remember is that the list of keywords you have need to have a localised search volume associated with them. You should only limit this stage of the process by the amount of time you have to play with.

The next aim of keyword research is to find keywords that are relevant. Normally the only way to judge relevancy is to go down the list of keywords and use your opinion to say whether a keyword is relevant or not. This binary approach does not work because some keywords are more relevant than others. This means we need to quantify the process to give each keyword a fair chance. It is here that I like to use the following method: imagine we are doing SEO for a pet supplies website – take a keyword, for example ‘dog house’ and give it a relevancy score of 1.0 – now for every other thing that the keyword can describe remove 0.1. It may be that there is a local pub called ‘The Dog House’ so remove 0.1, then there is a film of the same name – remove another 0.1. So that leaves this keyword with a relevancy score of 0.8, make a note of this in a new column within your spreadsheet next the local monthly search volume.

The third and final fundamental aim of keyword research is to find keywords that have low levels of competition. To quantify the level of competition we need to use a search engine and a bit of basic maths. Carry out a search for the keyword you are analysing. Again you must start this process by giving your keyword a competition score of 1.0. Once the search results are returned you must remove 0.1 from the competition score for every result that has the keyword you are analysing in either the title or description of the results. In the case of ‘dog house’ there are two organic results in that have the keyword in their title and / or description. This means the competition score for ‘dog house’ is 0.8. Add this to another column within your spreadsheet.

The Final Keyword Research Formula

We now have in our spreadsheet a list of keywords, their local search volumes, a relevancy score and a competition score. The information is all numerical which allows us to combine all of the data to score each keyword fairly. To combine the data you must simply complete the following formula:

Local monthly search volume X relevancy X competition = keyword opportunity score

In the case of our keyword ‘dog house’ the formula might be as follows:

2500 X 0.8 X 0.8 = 1600

What is the advantage of this method? Let’s consider that you also have the keyword ‘cheap dog house’ in your list. This keyword may have a local search volume of 6000 and on the face of it seem like an excellent keyword choice. Then imagine that we carry out the research and find it to have a relevancy score of 1.0 but a competition score of 0.3. The formula would look like this:

6000 X 1.0 X 0.2 = 1200

When we take into account all factors we can immediately see that this keyword ends up with a lower final score and that optimising for ‘cheap dog house’ could be a bad move because the high levels of competition on this keyword are not made up for by the relevancy or search volume. This is invaluable information and can turn a mediocre SEO project into a winning one.

I would strongly recommend that all SEOs employ this keyword research method on future projects when time is tight, it certainly isn’t as advanced as keyword research gets, to see what else can be done I would point you in the direction of Richard Baxter, however it is certainly a robust and fair way to test all keywords and end up with a reliable list.

Screen Shot 2012-11-26 at 21.13.20

The Age of Endless Notifications

I have just returned from a three month trip around the ‘other side of the World’ which has meant that my laptop has also had a holiday of its own, in my cupboard at home. My iPad, due to often sketchy internet connections has also been on something of reduced hours.

The break from these tools of the modern age has been liberating at times, but it is the effect the break is having on my return that is most awakening. Upon firing up my laptop I was greeted with a barrage of notifications. Don’t get me wrong, I usually welcome notifications because they can signal some sort of electronic human contact which means that despite my fears, I am still a member of the social race.

These notifications however were of the other kind; they were notifications of updates. Apparently Apple has launched an updated OS – OK, that is an interesting one, but Adobe have also been up to something and so too have Apache and so too has almost every one of the makers of the apps that I use.

Now I am not complaining directly for these updates, heck it is a good thing that Apple and Adobe and everyone else with a degree in computer science is working so tirelessly to make my user experience so much better all of the time. The problem comes when you want to do something whacky, say such as use your computer to do some work.

I don’t like clutter or unresolved items and that is precisely what a notification is, it is a tiny message saying: “oi, you…you need to do something about me otherwise your computer probably wont be performing as well as it might do, and don’t forget how much cash you laid out for me, what a waste of money it would be for me to not be performing to the best of my ability”. Despite this I sometimes have to forgo the immediate update and continue with work.

This leaves me in a difficult position, because now my computer becomes a little like my mum, reminding me that I still need to clean my room or tell me that my car insurance is due – things that I know I should resolve but just can’t find the will to right now.

So, I am now left in the current situation – Adobe are telling me there is a new version of Flash and that I have to close both of my web browsers as well as my music app, not a good start. Then the Mac App Store is telling me three apps are ready for update, not the most distracting however I do keep mistaking the little red reminder as an email notification which is most distressing. Then there is my iPad which has a record thirty app update reminders which is at such a volume that it actually induces a true headache everytime I swipe the unlock button – just imagine the effect this is having on my spontaneous email checking.

I must admit that this is much more of a rant than a useful article because after some considerable thought I cannot really offer any real solution to the issue other than counselling on my part. Let’s face it, the computer wizards need to update things and I would rather them ask my permission than kick me out of Firefox at will to update something I need to use. I will get round to ushering in the next generation of software updates at some point this week, right after I have just done that thing that I turned the computer on to do…