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Janne Björge: We’re on our way to a multilogue

Janne Björge, Founder of «Nine Yards» (Gotheborg, Sweden), Board member of The Swedish Association of Communication Agencies, Gothenburg Marketing Association and YRGO Event Marketing School, has worked with leading brands like Carlsberg, Volkswagen, Audi, Nike, The Swedish Armed Forces, TEDx Göteborg etc. And he knows better than most of us what brand communication really looks like.


- Many brands really do feel the need for "right" communication with customers but they still don't see the measurable merits and economic results of great communication campaigns. Can you mention some benefits that can objectively convince businessmen about the importance of a live communication strategy?

Well, I first have to say that I work a lot with live communication when strong brands are being built from within which means that I mostly communicate inside the company, within the organization. When that gets really strong we can leak that communication out to the closest people in our relationships with the brand so I’m not really going into consumer relationships but the most important members of the team and also the most important customers. One big thing is that you need to make it accountable, make it possible to show the profitability of it. But to be honest I need to flip the whole discussion and look at what the costs are. So, when we ask the question what kind of customer experience do you deliver, 86% of the companies answer that they deliver excellence in customer experience. 86% of companies say “we deliver excellence”. When you ask the customers only 8% define their customer experience as excellent. So, it’s a big, big, big gap between what the company thinks they deliver and what the customers receive. And that gap is costly and really crazy right now. So, I don’t really think we…I think we have to flip the whole question: how long can we keep on costing this much money? And I would promise you that communication is a big part of the solution. So, if you believe that everybody thinks you are excellent you’re gonna have a different tone towards customers. If they don’t feel that you are excellent that tone is gonna make them feel even angrier. So, I really think we need to flip the whole question.

Let me give you another answer of that. We have found out the last couple of years that we need to find a three-step process to really be good and solve problems in a really good way. The first step is find the gap. The second step is create engagement. And the third step is activate people. Very often the briefs that we get from customers are based on activating people. Can you activate those 800 managers? Can you activate those 400 customers? And then we have to back ourselves into the process. Well, the last couple of years we had really struggled to complete the process correctly, so the only time we succeeded is when we found the gap first. The gap that is real. And when the customer really gives us the clearance that this is the gap we need to solve then it’s very easy to be successful. But if you start with the gap, engage employees or positive customers or really nice products, if the gap is defined it’s very easy to go into the next step that is to “create engagement” towards that gap. And then at last you activate people. So, if you do that process we’re always gonna have success. For example, we have one customer who said they have very good customer relationships. All of the time, they said, we have the best customer relationships. When we measured that – we measured it with a net promoter score which is really interesting, if you are a partner you get 70 points; if you have a good relationship between a customer and the brand you get 50. This company had 17. Which means that they had a very bad relationship. If you think that you have a good relationship you’re gonna have a different tone than if you think you’re meeting people that don’t like you. So, start by measuring. Define the gap. When the defined gap is something you know that you can solve then you go into the creativity and the concept. And then you activate people. So, that’s my clue. The only way you can succeed is to know what problem you’re solving. And the problem is very seldom the area we’re supposed to be in, the stage, design, it’s never the artist, it’s never the kind of food we’re eating, it’s never the large amount of lamps we’re putting up on stage. It’s always another gap and when you know the gap you’re gonna be successful. But it takes a lot of questioning and it takes a lot of responsibility and it also takes a lot of courage from you as an agency as well.


- Usually when we speak about communication we mean interaction between people. Where is the place for a Person and for the Personal in brand communication?

- If we look at brand communication as part of the brand experience then we’ll flip the whole question as well. The experience of the brand is the whole marketing campaign. Because my experience is the brand. Which means that at every touch point where you get a possibility to talk to your employee or your customer you need to create that platform and communication in order to really send the message about what experience you want to change. From one level to another level. So, if you are talking about us giving you a really good customer experience we need to show that because my experience of that is actually the whole content of the brand. So, where’s the place for an individual in personal brand communication? At every touch point. That means commercials, the in-store experience, the digital experience, the product experience, the salesman experience, the staff experience. Every time we touch it’s a brand communication platform.


- Does a leader of a huge brand need to participate in events and campaigns? Or is the staff sufficient?

- Well, I would say that the leader of a big brand really needs to interact at all touch points with his audience. And I would recommend every leader to start with the touch points and the audience that are closest to him or her. And take it bit for bit like eating an elephant. You really need to be part of every event and campaign that is built when building a strong brand from within. So, you start with the management team, you work with the organization and the biggest fans, your customers. I really think the participation of a magnetic leader is definitely vital for modern brand engagement.


- What are some new instruments to make people feel the live communication with a brand without a real person in front of you? What makes these interactions interesting?

- We have been very technical for many, many years and we have just realized that most of the meetings that we take part in and get some digital solutions really works for the small things. But when it comes to the big items, the things that really matter to people and matters to the company and the brand, the live communication meeting is still and will be the best way of making changes. Sweden is very digital and has been for many, many years and business is still growing; the business of the live communication meeting is still growing. So, I think when we try to blend those two things, the live meeting and digital communication, it’s fun but it doesn’t really improve work. So I haven’t really found any systems or apps or products or things that have really worked. On the other hand, we can have interactivity in the meeting so that we have a dialogue instead of a monologue. And I think that we’re now on our way to a multilogue where we connect different countries and different branches and different people and stuff like that. We can have input even from the people outside of the live meeting. So the digital side is really exploding right now. We can ask questions; we can get feedback; we can have fun; and we can get a lot of immediate response. And as we are on stage it’s a totally different setting of course but the power in that is huge.

But what we can do now which I think could be a really good thing for both the companies and ourselves, since we know so much, is that if we are putting on an event for the top management team use that as some kind of TV set. Send that information out to the middle management team so they can then send that out to the workforce and even the customers. If we work like that we won’t have to spend so much time and effort and money on travelling; we won’t need to bring the 400 highest managers from Microsoft to Sweden for our meeting. We could just let them work at home. And we could also help the companies create really good formats of Monday meetings wherever they are. But we need to work with the content of the meeting and we also need to work with the attitude of the meeting and teach a lot of skills for the presenters so we all get the same feeling while in the same room. As well we should take our skills really seriously and recommend people not to travel that much but instead stay at home and we can set up a stage that would really be much better in terms of content. And the content will always be the most interesting.


- Where do you think the event market is going now? What are the trends and predictions? How do you see events and communication campaigns in the future?

- Well, I think first I have to tell you an old story. When I met Kevin Jackson from Jo & P Johnson for the first time he told me that if you’re working with event marketing and events you should really close down your company, take your money and run. Because everybody is talking about the brand experience nowadays. The event marketing channel or the event channel or the live communication channel is of course really interesting but the problem that we are solving today in Europe is based on the brand experience. Because the experience of the brand is the marketing. So, I like to think that event marketing is the best channel ever to really get people to change something. And since we are in a recommendation society right now the experience that you get during the live event is so strong and so much stronger than every other communication channel that people actually change things and share things and recommend things.

So, event marketing is getting better and better and the trend for that is to make it closer and closer to people’s nervous system, closer to their heart and closer to their brain. But in that order you need to really go with the nervous system, the heart and then up to the mind. The brand experience is more like a religion. And I would like to think that every person working in event marketing should be looking at the religion of brand experience. And look for the experience that people get from brands at every single touch point. Because the knowledge that we bring to the communication table is amazing and so strong that we can put it on stage. We can send it live and really wake people up. That kind of knowledge and thise kinds of serious communication skills that we bring are the most interesting skills I think.

The trend within is that the really smart people in our industry can handle the content, the nervous system, the dramaturgy, the stenography, the techniques and the artistry. Those people are gonna be very easy to find in the future. All the people that are working within the channel should be looking at the religion and as soon as we start working we’re gonna be even more interesting for everybody. Also the trend right now is that we see the advertising industry is kind of broken. This means that we now have the possibility to change the effects of communication which have been decreasing within the advertising industry and also use that kind of money to launch our events and get more powerful results from them. But also Kevin Jackson, my old friend says: You need to stop looking at this as an event because an event is a very short happening in time and you should always look at the communication problem that you are trying to solve as a campaign where the event is one part of the campaign, which will let  you deliver so much more power to the problems being solved and also add value to customers. So, stop thinking of it as an event; move to campaigns; use event marketing but look at the problem as a brand experience and you will have much more success.


- Does the event market of Sweden differ from the European market in general? What are the peculiarities?

- I only know the Swedish, Norwegian, and some of the Danish and Finnish markets but what I can see is that the Swedish market is really based on a lot of communication, internal communication. I think that 57% of all communication agencies that work in the live com area are based on internal communication. So, I think that in Sweden we are more secularized than any other country in the world which means that we need to send more communication that gets the staff on board and after that we can start communicating with their most interesting customers. While in many European countries event marketing is very much on the consumer side of the business. I would like to think that the consumer side of the business is a smaller plate in Sweden than in other countries. And that is based on the fact that we are so secularized and also we are in such good economic shape that we need to work very much with the staff’s motivation and inspiration and stuff like that just to get the whole motor running. I think that is kind of a peculiar thing when you look at Europe as a whole. Maybe in Spain, France and Germany it’s easier to just point with the whole hand and the staff will move in that direction. While we in Sweden we really need to sit down around the campfire and talk about the why and how and what we’re supposed to do; and we have a very flat organizational structure which means that leaders in Sweden are very close to the employees, so our way of communicating is very different. And I will also say that since we’re so digital in the way we communicate it means that we even have more requests for campfire sittings between the leadership and management and staff. We also have more and more discussions and more and more work that is based on communicating the leaderships’ ambitions and translating that into actions from the workers. That is a big plate to work with and I also have a feeling there is a big gap now between the leadership we have and the leadership that the workers expect. This means that we will have them communicate that gap and also move that gap towards a better position. Because people scream for leadership but they get more management and how can we solve that? That is a communication problem and I think the live communication channel is the absolute best for that.


- You've started Second Opinion Sweden with other event industry leaders in your country. Why do you think that it is necessary for event profs to cooperate?

- Well, the second opinion is actually not event profs; it’s a customer, it’s the leader of one of the largest banks; it’s one of the most important change-makers in the advertising industry; it’s a genius PR professional. It’s a hand picked group of people with very significant differences in the way they look at the world. So, if somebody has another idea or a vision or a strategy or a product that they want to present, they present that to us first and we give them the second opinion on that strategy. Which means that we need to bring at least five or six different perspectives to the problem. And instead of making that problem bigger as the agencies normally do we make it better which is quicker and much more effective. And some ideas are really plain stupid and we tell them that and some are really great and we let them run with that. So, what the second opinion is actually selling is a second opinion for very good ideas that people have really thought about.

When it comes to working together in the event industry I think it’s necessary because the whole industry is quite young and very…I would say we don’t have that strength in history; we don’t have strength in togetherness; we don’t have that strength in ourselves to be profitable. Which means that the game is different if you are in the advertising industry or if you’re in the event marketing industry. In advertising, they go out and pitch and work together with their customers for a couple of years while we in the event industry go out and pitch together with 600 other agencies and only one wins. We do that event by event. That is a big difference…I mean we are a child while the advertising industry is like retired people. So, somehow we need to grow up; the only way we can do that is by making a frame of the work that we are supposed to do in our industry. And I would say in Sweden we are maybe 20-25 years old as an industry and it’s always the same nine large companies that bring that framing to what we are delivering and then we have 285 people and agencies that need to be very quick in their feedback. So, what the nine largest companies can do is bring that framework to the small companies too because we really need to have a grown-up attitude when we’re meeting our customers and right now we aren’t really there. I think we need to sit down and talk about what is actually the role of a project manager; what is really the role of the web designer; what is the payment that is normal for a project manager; when do you become a project manager; and what expectations can you have of them. Also the pitch roles, if we work together with the larger organizations and associations we can find rules of pitching which are better for the industry as a whole. Because of course we can’t spend six hundred hours pitching an idea that the company wants to pay a hundred hours for. It’s a big question but we really need to cooperate and talk together as grown-ups and we really want all of our competitors to win and the only way we can do that is by framing what we are delivering. So, I think cooperation is necessary.


And here you can watch Janne Björge's view on ROI in events ("I think that as soon as we came into our customers' mindset we lost all the brave breathe and to be honest I understand that we need to get return on investment, but it's kind of boring because we're loosing creativity and forget the impact of wow and of whatching outside the box") and the need of encouraging each other at events for event-profs such as BFEF.


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