James Trezona

James Trezona

Managing Director

Mason Zimbler

James Trezona is Managing Director of Mason Zimbler, the European integrated marketing agency that works with technology clients worldwide. With a background in planning and strategy, James now heads up a team of 50 people across two sites in the UK, working closely with other Harte-Hanks business units globally. James lives in Somerset and - whenever he gets the chance to go ‘unplugged’ - he loves the countryside, the arts and sport.

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Creative isn’t an option

Posted by James Trezona on Wed, 25 Jul 2012

There are plenty of articles that will tell you how important creative is; that if you fail to engage, you fail to communicate anything. As Dave Trott frequently points out, it’s rather simple: you must gain attention; then communicate; then persuade. Similarly, Gestalt theory – which states we make sense of things by organising them into groups – says that if you start with a communication that is pretty much like everything else in the category, then you fail at the first hurdle.

But while I certainly agree it’s important to stand out, I prefer to think about advertising as a series of communications that build a relationship with an audience. Which means standing out isn’t always the be all and end all. In fact, I think creativity has a far more valuable role to play in our business. In a consistent theme from my last blog, which focussed on CRM, things start to feel different if you transpose your thinking about advertising relationships to human relationships. So here too, it would be technically valid to think in terms of friendship, love and family.

If we look at all marketing through this lens, we can develop some interesting parallels. One is that brand communications are akin to gifts; an expression of our courting, gratitude or appreciation. So you should ask yourself whether you are giving your audience the brand version of a bland birthday card with money in the envelope or a surprising, truly heartfelt present.

They know you’ve spent a lot on that TV ad, that sponsorship or that clever automated email series. But if it shows no understanding of them, no appreciation of them, and no imagination, you become the distant uncle, name unremembered, who tries to cling on to relevance during your changing life through bigger but not better bribes for attention.

It is generally true that communications will go through brand control, who measure the comms against a clear list of what does and does not make up the brand’s personality. I vehemently agree that this is a good idea. But we should be putting all brand communications through creative control as well. Does this communication inspire, interest, excite? Or is it just content to remind our audience that we exist? Doing the former involves risk, but I believe taking no risks is itself a route to crisis.

Only 4% of advertising is remembered positively. That’s a pretty alarming statistic. With around £18 billion spent on advertising a year, that’s around £17 billion of wasted money. Creating communications that are actually creative is all too often considered optional, and frequently to be avoided. But spending billions on communications that are not remembered, let alone appreciated, is a failure that our industry highlights all to infrequently. But this is failure, and it should be vilified.

We’ve all bought loved ones gifts that missed the mark and the intelligent reaction to this is to use it as a springboard to find out why. In my experience there is generally a sense of gratitude that you tried, and invested your time and imagination to go past the voucher rack in WHSmith.

Our audiences are intelligent. They know you can’t know them inside out. They also know being creative isn’t easy, and they not only respect but admire and sometimes love brands that both try and succeed. With the Olympics coming up, it feels appropriate to make a sporting point to finish. In the field of creativity, as in the field of sport, there is a sin far greater than losing, and that is not to try at all.

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Just managing?

Posted by James Trezona on Fri, 01 Jun 2012

CRM is making a comeback, perhaps driven by companies realising that customers are more than numbers on a business or marketing plan, but really rather demanding and unpredictable characters. Until recently many businesses and marketers could blithely ignore this, confident that cheap credit and good times meant that even without a defined proposition, differentiation nor customer understanding, businesses could grow. No longer.

So there is some rather rapid catching up to do.

Behavioural economics has already shown us how people do not behave like rational ‘econs’ in a given situation, and given us some useful levers and ways to avoid classic mistakes of misunderstanding psychology.

But is there a broader lesson here? One that should guide our overall approach to managing customer relationships?

For me, the question itself demands challenging. The concept of “Managing a relationship” intrinsically feels doomed to fail. Imagine, if you will, arriving home one evening to your husband suggesting he would like to manage your relationship more. This would not be a good sign.

While we are just asking customers to buy our stuff, not swear “till death do us part”, nevertheless we should not underestimate the emotional connection that great brands -b2b and b2c – should be aiming to forge with their buyers and prospects. If you just aim for a rational commodity transaction, that’s where you’ll end up.

There is a need to think in four dimensions, not just considering campaigns in a moment in time, but over time, how do we remain consistent yet surprise and delight to keep relationships alive? Add to this the already complex concept of multi-channel engagements, technologies that can create instant offers and promotions based on implicit and explicit data, and you have a layer cake of complexity.

But before we throw up our hands in despair, it’s important to realise the answer is not itself complex. In fact it is simple, and goes back to long before Lincoln ever invented Facebook. It is about telling powerful stories, ones with depth and authentic characters you can believe in, who develop, are multi-faceted, compelling and distinct. If this sounds like brand speak, it is meant to.

There has been a swing from the ‘what’ to the ‘how’. What is the brand’s promise? What will make the consumer care? The emphasis on channels has come at the detriment of the story itself. The medium eclipsing the message, and sadly obscuring its lack. The rush to social media is still a case in point.

So, we see CRM as an idea that should be more than the sum of its parts. It’s not just the technology, the segmentation potential, the multiplicity of channels, and the wealth of data; it is the intangible brilliance of being able to use all those things, but see beyond them into the heart of the customer need, and the stories that will inspire.

It is said of managers that some are just managers, and some leaders. It is worth looking at all your relationships through that lens. Here, we weave stories that move, motivate and excite people to action. Want an example?  Here’s one that we’re hoping is about to be a winner of the prestigious NMA ‘best use of video’ award.

Microsoft Live Messenger; Bring Your World to Life

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Necessity is the mother of invention – or so the saying goes

Posted by James Trezona on Fri, 17 Feb 2012

In the modern western world, it’s considered axiomatic that struggle and adversity stimulate innovation. As a concept it sits side by side with ‘creative destruction’ at the heart of capitalism. So right now, with the global economy in a period of adversity that seems to be lasting for a very long time, we should be witnessing an explosion of innovation.

Is this in fact the case?

First of all, let’s look at why it should be. The longest economic boom in history has come to a somewhat cataclysmic conclusion. During the boom, it’s safe to say that innovation flourished. Since 2002, the digital economy has taken a firm hold. Companies like Facebook, Google and LinkedIn have appeared as if from nowhere and found the holy grail of monetising the Internet through innovation in technology, business and marketing models. Apple has innovated its way back from the brink of disaster to become the biggest company in the world. These are the marquee brands of the tech boom innovation fairytale. There are thousands of others.

Beyond the tech sector, innovation has been hard at work in many other areas of the economy. In fact, it is innovation in the financial sector that is widely blamed for the abrupt and drastic end to the good times, which leads us to ask whether or not innovation is always a good thing. But let’s leave that for another day.

So now that the party’s over, are we seeing firms compete for a shrinking pool of business by accelerating the innovation?

Sadly, one would have to say no – although a lot of firms are talking more than ever about it, their investments tell a different story.

As behavioural economics shows us, people are inherently inclined to loss aversion: we overestimate risk – more so in times of uncertainty. And innovation is inherently risky. In moments of crisis, risk is not widely or enthusiastically embraced. Most firms – like most individuals – react to danger by curling up into a ball – trying to return or cling to security.

So is it simply that when times are tough, innovative thinking stands out from the crowd? Or is it that good ideas, and the trajectory on which they can place a business, are more noticeable when the market is unforgiving of mediocrity?

Or is it that rather than creating new ideas – or inspiring people to develop them – crisis creates a broken landscape, where new ideas are more likely to flourish. New shoots cannot thrive in dense environments; they need space – and turmoil in the earth – to survive. Perhaps the scorched earth of crop burning takes the analogy too far, but the current crisis does have its parallels.

After all, although the Apples and the Googles rose to prominence during the greatest economic boom in history, the innovative thinking at their heart -  the groundwork for their ultimate success – preceded the boom; was, in fact, perhaps a response to the turmoil of a previous crisis.

For us in the ideas business, it’s useful  to realise that while new ideas are our stock in trade, there’s a rhythm to the speed and willingness with which the rest of the world will adopt, develop and promote them. Moreover, the answer is not always ‘new’. Often it is about looking with new eyes. And rather than focusing all our energy on novelty, we should be striving to see past the complexity and simply solve the problem.

When the pressure is off the individual to ‘imagine’ a way out of crisis, then the group can combine its energies, existing thinking and new ways of understanding to overcome fresh challenges. And this is where there is opportunity in crisis – to build closer, more positive and healthy communities, with flourishing ideas on broken ground.

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Avoiding the data headache

Posted by James Trezona on Tue, 03 Jan 2012

“The Big Data Boom Is the Innovation Story of Our Time” trumpeted a recent article by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, co-authors of the book Race Against the Machine. The authors remind us of the innovation potential that arises when businesses are able to measure their activities and customer behaviour with unprecedented precision, particularly in the digital economy where clickstream data provides targeted and real-time insights into consumer activity.

But first businesses require a mindset change; more than just capturing and analysing data, every part of the organisation must first be able to access and understand it. The challenge for organisations now awash with data is how to leverage it.

The fact is the sheer weight of data can be daunting. Many businesses are still not mining their transactional and contact data, so the idea of then layering on behavioural, implicit, semantic angles is daunting. This hurdle risks creating more frustration in marketing’s ability to turn promise into reality.

Conceptually the opportunity posed by data is exciting, but unless systems become a lot more intuitive, scalable and inexpensive, it is just a big headache. At Mason Zimbler we talk about the blending of Art and Science in our own skills and processes within the agency. Here we have a need for data manipulation and presentation to exhibit the same dual characteristics: science to interpret the data, art to present and understand it. As ever, leveraging data is about making the complicated simple: to make it accessible, understandable and usable. Admittedly a system is only as good as its operator, yet some solutions inspire more ideas, questions and engagements than others. Industry experts like Trillium are developing solutions for the complete life-cycle of data discovery and data quality, implementing a methodology of ‘discover, develop, deploy and manage’ to enable data stewards to visualise and validate data more easily.

That visualisation is a crucial ingredient in communicating data trends and getting organisational buy-in. If you’re looking for an example of effective visualisations of data, look no further than the humble infographic. The infographic has the ability to turn a bunch of daunting numbers on a spreadsheet into a ‘pretty picture’ where the value of bar charts and Venn diagrams really is worth a thousand words (Joe Chernov, VP of Content Marketing at automation specialists Eloqua has created a great little Slideshare on Infographics). Create an infographic in the right way and you can really see the power of data to change hearts and minds.

So in order to make the most of the opportunity posed by the data revolution, first acknowledge the task ahead. Change your organisational mindset. Do not leave it in your R&D department but get the whole organisation fired up by how it can be used as a game-changer for your business. To do that, you need to translate the data into a user-friendly language, to use the right systems and technology to make it accessible and understandable. So don’t drown in data; if you need help, talk to the experts to make sure you can use it as an effective tool.

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Keep moving: how to keep pace with the tech world

Posted by James Trezona on Mon, 10 Oct 2011

Of course, uncertainty is the only certainty in business today. Most of us are dealing with change on an unprecedented level, whether it’s the fallout from Wall Street or keeping pace with technological developments and the new platforms and devices that are emerging every month.

For an agency like Mason Zimbler, our requirement to deal with change is amplified, because we live and breathe technology. Not only are our clients in that rapidly changing industry, but the hardware and software being developed by the industry is also changing how we connect with audiences to communicate their products and services.

2011 has seen a bunch of tech industry mergers and acquisitions; overnight, the tables turned as companies were acquired by rivals.  Who could have predicted Google’s acquisition of Motorola? Or Hewlett-Packard snapping up UK software company Autonomy?

So how do we create an organisation that is agile enough to thrive in such a climate? It’s about developing a culture that isn’t destabilised by sudden change; one that sees the requirement to revisit a strategy as an opportunity not a problem; where our planners are hungry to look at ideas that arise out of these seismic shifts in the industry. It also requires a mindset where people are willing to try new ways of doing things; keen to learn, to soak up knowledge in a changing market landscape.

We’re also rethinking some key roles in the agency as part of that reinvention. We’ve just appointed a Content Strategist to reflect the fact that clients need more than just good creative and strong copy – they need multi-platform content. That role sits at the intersection of copy-writing and planning. Another role we’ve developed is Creative Technologist, applying a deep understanding of technology to creative direction. There’s more on this from my colleague Shane over on the MZ blog. The benefits we’re seeing from mixing up these previously segmented disciplines range from greater inter-departmental collaboration to more innovative results. Of course these roles aren’t set in stone: as skills develop and client demand shifts they’ll probably change again.

Where the playing field is rapidly changing, you have to review where you place your team.

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It’s time to compete on what you’re thinking

Posted by James Trezona on Tue, 23 Aug 2011

Marketers have traditionally focused on selling the benefits of a product, detailing functionality and demonstrating strengths over the competition. But in a competitive and abundant market place, there’s an opportunity to compete on something more distinctive: not what you are selling, but who you are.

In B2B, it’s often a case of ‘you don’t sell, they buy’. If they – your customer – can’t understand who you are, then no matter what you are selling, you’ll struggle unless you have a truly disruptively superior product. They may defer to rational reasons for the reason they went to the competitor, but the truth is far more human than that – the customer is interested in what you’re thinking, your personality and your ethos.

Jeff Ernst of Forrester suggested in a recent post that your products are not as unique as you think: “Marketers have to realize that in the age of the customer, business buyers don’t ‘buy’ your product; they ‘buy into’ your approach to solving their problem”.

Behavioural economics tell us hugely powerful active emotional triggers revolve around trust and uncertainty – and when you are selling an experience, which is what most B2B sales are, you must use trust to overcome uncertainty. Not facts about what your product does, or an explanation of how it works, but trust about you as a brand. Using facts to try and overcome uncertainty is akin to persuading someone to like you by quoting your Facebook statistics. Would you do that?!

Communicating who you are might sound easy if you’re a small business but where do you start if you’re a big corporation? It starts with telling your story, tapping into your raison d’etre, your philosophy, your culture. It’s about developing a strategy for thought leadership storytelling that sets you apart by your vision and ideas.

Thought leadership is a grown-up way of describing this most powerful of persuasions – story telling – giving the listener value, entertainment, and a plot that’s relevant, insightful and memorable.

That is what makes your business unique. So don’t tell the marketplace how awesome your product is, instead put the spotlight on thought leadership and tell them what you’re thinking.

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Injecting a start-up spirit into advertising

Posted by James Trezona on Mon, 18 Jul 2011

There’s something about a start-up business that gets the pulse racing: that energy, that pressure, that collective spirit to pull together to turn an idea on a PowerPoint slide into a living and breathing business. Whether it’s a tech business starting out in another garage in Palo Alto or a creative one launching around the corner from our Bristol office, they share common challenges and opportunities. That journey to launch will rarely be easy but the sense of achievement in taking an idea to market should never be underestimated.

As an agency we’re big fans of the start-up spirit. Many of our clients may now be global technology corporations but many of them still have that passion for the product coupled with a pioneering attitude to launching new products or services. I think parts of the ad industry could benefit from an injection of start-up spirit to help us ensure our people are best-motivated, our ideas stay best of breed and that we don’t get stuck in old habits of doing things.

Here are five lessons we can learn from start-ups:

  1. Speed/ agility: often the success of a start-up is their speed in executing from idea to launch. Agencies that can compete on speed and break through organisational process to deliver, no matter what, may find themselves more recession proof.
  2. Teamwork: at the risk of romanticising what can be a very tough working environment, there’s something very important in a culture where everyone mucks in, whether it’s assembling your own IKEA desk or pulling an all nighter to stick brochures in envelopes. That collaboration where people come out of their silos to take collective responsibility is a great asset for any organisation.
  3. Goals: a start-up is the machine that takes a new idea to market and that’s exactly what agencies like Mason Zimbler do. We launch products and services for brands. When the clock is ticking and launch is 30 days away, that mix of pressure and focus makes sure people are focused on action and implementation. Having a clear and simple goal on execution, and doing whatever it takes to get there, is a great motivator.
  4. Customer-focus: start-ups are usually pretty close to the customer and therefore effective at making decisions looking through the customer lens. Sometimes the ad industry is guilty of devising ideas in isolation, neglecting the most important person in the equation: the end user.
  5. Passion: working 18 hour days, sleeping under your desk and living off take-away pizzas for long stretches might not sound like fun but that camaraderie of a team preparing to launch a site, product or piece of software is often driven by passion. The ad industry needs to fall back in love with our clients’ products and rediscover our own passions.

Already we’re seeing how some more progressive thinkers in the industry are turning entrepreneurial. Some agencies fed up with clients turning down killer ideas have turned the tables by setting up their own businesses to exploit their intellectual properties – if the client doesn’t like it, we’ll do it ourselves. Other agencies are partnering to create VC funds to create and exploit IP;  they’re becoming start-ups themselves.

At Mason Zimbler, we’re going to stick to what we know best so you won’t see us launching our own venture capital fund or setting up our own online store quite yet. But I’ll certainly stay open minded about how injecting start-up thinking might alter our routemap. And in the meantime we look forward to welcoming the next generation of Silicon Valley garage start-ups as clients.

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Why brands should care about marketing automation

Posted by James Trezona on Thu, 23 Jun 2011

When you hear the words ‘Marketing Automation’ you might think about that email Amazon sent you recommending Seth Godin’s latest book. Whilst that might remain the common perception of a much misunderstood tool, there’s so much more to marketing automation.

So what is ‘marketing automation’ in a nutshell? According to automation specialists Eloqua, it’s “the art and science of automatically managing the targeting, timing, and content of your outbound marketing messages in response to prospects’ inbound actions and online behaviours”.

At Mason Zimbler we’re passionate about the power of marketing automation in integrated campaigns. Used correctly, it can be leveraged for demand and lead generation, to qualify and distribute leads more efficiently and is ideal for nurturing – moving leads through the customer journey, across multiple channels.

But there’s a knowledge gap within some marketing departments where brands still only use automation for campaign implementation, not that critical nurturing.

Where a customer journey is neither simple nor linear, marketing automation is great at handling complexity. For example, where brands introduce automation to help tailor messages, typically they’re going from one campaign with no segmentation to tens of different messages across different markets and languages. Some make the mistake of taking existing content or messaging and just laying it into the automation tool without thinking about its role in the acquisition funnel, and how it needs to change to personalise. There are a lot of new dynamics to consider.

At Mason Zimbler we navigate clients through these considerations, handling segmentation, strategy and execution. We typically act as an extension of the client’s team, helping them define the processes and the road map going forward. We form a bridge between the client’s marketing, IT and sales disciplines to make automation more effective.

Working with Toshiba across Europe, we helped them move towards centralised demand-generation to better measure success by country, and even in the partner channel. Automation linked with other channels – like telemarketing – allowed us to deliver highly targeted and segmented campaigns with a much better ROI. Toshiba were visionary enough to recognise this is not an out-of-the-box tool, it’s about integrating behavioural data with all communications. They ‘got it’.

My advice for a CMO or brand starting out in marketing automation would be to evaluate your team and look at what skill sets you need to deliver your vision. Ensure you get buy-in across sales, marketing and IT remembering that it may require organisational or cultural change to deliver.

Utilise automation correctly and your marketing department can be liberated to focus more on strategy. You can be more creative, innovative and regionalised; deploying in-region and in-language customisation to understand cultural nuances, and ultimately to deliver better value across the customer journey.

And if you’re still scratching your head, check out the Eloqua guide, or if you want to know how we can help get in touch via hello@mzl.com or telephone me personally on +44 (0)117 311 2000.

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Making the complicated simple – and the simple speak volumes

Posted by James Trezona on Thu, 02 Jun 2011

Some products are easier to sell than others. Communicating the attributes of an FMCG product in an ad, on the back of a cereal box, or in a 140 character tweet can be straightforward. At Mason Zimbler we specialise in marketing complex products and services for tech brands.

A combination of ‘complexity’ and ‘tech’ rarely makes for an easy sell. So while our clients have great products with real benefits, they’re not always easily communicable in a tweet or on the back of a cereal box (we get there, but it takes time). Abstract products mean you can’t touch, see or taste them. Virtualisation software, for example, needs deep understanding before we try to sell it; the same with network storage or data recovery. So before we can even start presenting the benefits we have to do something basic: understand them.

That understanding doesn’t happen overnight. It involves using the product, using our experience, talking to our clients’ customers and researching the market. We then distil all that knowledge into a clear and simple proposition that identifies a meaningful product truth which can progress through the agency.

But of course, knowing what to say is only half the story – we also need to throw some emotion into the mix. We can never lose sight of the need to emotionally resonate with an audience; they’re not going to engage with a complex story, it has to be a simple one. So we don’t just sum up a proposition in words but also tonally, focusing on ‘how it makes you feel’.

It’s not the easiest of tasks, so I often look to the great speechmakers of our time for inspiration. From Churchill to Obama, all the great orators know how to look at a deeply complex situation and identify the thread which will connect the audience with the issue. But moreover, they know how to nail that proposition in an emotionally charged articulate piece of persuasion. It’s exactly the same in our business.

What does that process look like within the agency? Well it relies on collaboration: as projects advance from brief to execution, we strive for overlaps between teams and disciplines as the baton is passed. That extra interaction aids the emotional investment from all sides and ensures the proposition stays powerful, simple and crystal clear. If it doesn’t, it will fall apart in its journey to completion.

Of course, emotional investment like this involves the inevitable blood, sweat and tears. Yes it’s painful sometimes to drill down to ‘simple’. But like any journey, the sense of achievement when you reach your destination is worth it.

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Keeping it old school: five ways to boost action and productivity

Posted by James Trezona on Wed, 11 May 2011

At Mason Zimbler we’re proud to be a 21st century agency with a progressive outlook, a young but experienced team, and an understanding of the power of digital technology. Our clients are in tech, so we like to live and breathe it too.

So there’s an inevitably high gadget count in the agency together with a suite of digital tools to manage work flow, capture ideas and aid productivity. But sometimes organisations can get so wrapped up in digital tools and systems we kid ourselves we’re getting stuff done, when actually we’re not.

In our own drive for greater productivity and results, we’re looking at injecting some ’old school’ thinking into our company working practices. Here are five areas we’re looking at that also might work in your organisation:

  1. The To-Do List. When it comes to the to-do list, there are stacks of apps and tools out there to capture your daily action points. But analogue has the edge over digital here: there’s nothing better than a hard copy to-do list for crossing through tasks with satisfaction. What’s more it’s visible and doesn’t need booting up.
  2. Idea Capturing. The best idea-capturing device for meetings, trains and planes? The humble but trusty notepad and pen. Ultra portable and always turned on, they’re vital for those night-time ’can’t sleep moments’ where ideas are spinning round your head.  As David Allen (The Getting Things Done Guy) said, your mind is for having ideas not holding them, so scribble them down on a pad.
  3. Implementation. Sure, good planning is crucial and the MZ planning department lies at the heart of the agency for crafting campaigns and client activity. But when it comes to putting your ideas into action I advocate execution over excessive planning. After all, any organisation can plan and schedule their intentions all day long, but nothing’s more effective than just doing it!
  4. The Face To Face. While I agree an excessive meetings culture is never recommended, the good old fashioned face-to-face can be so much more effective for important or rapid communication. Every so often, rather than an email or a phone call, invest in some face time.
  5. Getting Unplugged. We all spend so much time in front of screens, it’s important to switch off to get creative and productive. So if you’re looking for killer ideas, take a step away from the work station. At our agency, the coffee shop and our local members’ club are extensions of our office environment, helping to incubate better ideas.

So if you’re looking to increase productivity and get your team focused on action, try going back to basics. Instead of kitting out everyone in your organisation with an iPad, buy them a notepad. After all, it’s cheaper, it doesn’t need Wifi and you can’t check Facebook on it…