Graham Bower

Jun 3, 2009 | Uncategorized

CEO Taglab, Author June 2009 By day, he’s chief executive of a funky London agency called Taglab. They’re famous for a decade of building websites and online campaigns for global brands. But away from the web, Graham has been developing ideas around a new business principle – Secondomics. Drawing on psychology, biology, economics and game […]

CEO Taglab, Author

June 2009

Graham BowerBy day, he’s chief executive of a funky London agency called Taglab. They’re famous for a decade of building websites and online campaigns for global brands. But away from the web, Graham has been developing ideas around a new business principle – Secondomics. Drawing on psychology, biology, economics and game theory, he’s uncovered why often the real winners in the race are not the people who burn all their energy in being first to blaze a new trail, but those guys who coast in second; following the model and using half the effort. There’s certainly nothing of a coaster in Graham, but when he shared an early draft of his next book, we spotted a new Digital Thought Leader. Here’s what he told us…

60 seconds with Graham Bower

Digital Thought Leader
What’s the coolest thing you’ve seen online recently?
I love this interactive pop video for Spanish band Labuat – it’s such a cool thing and I’ve been playing with it for ages. It’s easy to get jaded with Flash, and start to think that everything has been done, but then something like this comes along and you find the love for Flash all over again…
What most excites you about digital marketing?
I love to come up with things that are really sophisticated “under the hood”, but which seems so simple and obvious to the end user, because we’re doing all the heavy lifting for them. On Taglab’s home page, for example, we have a carousel of case studies. It dynamically loads content in the background so that hundreds of case studies can be presented from a single interface, it responds to input in 3D, and it combines video, JPGs and text. But to the end user it all seems entirely simple and intuitive. Solving that kind of problem is what gets me into work in the morning…
What was the ‘ah!’ moment for you – the moment where you suddenly realised the scale the web or digital marketing would play in your business…
I remember the first time I played with the Web, at the Cyberia internet cafe off Tottenham Court Road in 1995. The web pages looked so terrible back then, and I felt an overwhelming compulsion to sort that out. That’s when I knew.
What do you say to senior directors who just don’t get it, senior directors who treat digital channels as a minor add-on?
As a digital agency, we’re fortunate not to have that problem. It can be an issue for some of our clients though. I think the key is to make sure that people compare like with like when they evaluate KPIs for digital against offline media. Historically, the intrinsic measurability of online has resulted in us being judged by a far higher standard than is applied to old media.
What’s the difference in thinking managers need when their firms enter this space
Old media is pretty set in its ways. There are established ways of working, and they don’t change very rapidly. In digital, there’s something new to learn every week, which means we’re all learning all the time. So people entering the digital industry must be open to learning, but not daunted by the fact that they have a lot to learn – we’re all learning, all the time.
Most common mistake people make in digital media or marketing?
Thinking like a broadcaster.
If you could go back in time to a key ‘digital moment’, where and when would it be?
I think it would be the first time I downloaded Netscape – it was a really early version, and it took several hours to download from an FTP site over my 28k modem. I remember thinking “how are they going to make money from this, when they give it away for free.” It’s a question I’ve been asking ever since.
Where do you spend your time most online?
My RSS feed reader – I love the way it strips out all the extraneous formatting and ads, and lets me read stuff the way the writers intended.
Digital channels a step-change in communications or simply a natural progression in marketing?
Digital is about more than just marketing. Digital is the product. This is a mistake that many media owners made early on. Newspapers thought that their website existed to market their printed edition, when in fact it replaced it.
What are some of the key challenges brands need to overcome if they’re to use online media effectively?
I very much favor Seth Godin’s approach in his (now legendary) Permission Marketing – keep it “anticipated, relevant and personal”. We need to move away from this idea that there’s just display advertising and search advertising and start building smart online web applications that engage users with brands in interesting and relevant ways.
Are there any particular examples of what you like in online media that you’d want to draw people’s attention to?
I like ads that don’t assume you watch TV, and work as stand alone communications. I can’t stand campaigns like T-Mobile’s, jumping on the whole flash-mob thing. It seems so smug and self satisfied, and when I see the online creative, I hardly know what its about, because I don’t watch TV. Online shouldn’t play second fiddle to TV campaigns anymore. Media planners sometimes think of it like glorified outdoor – they miss the whole point.
How do you see social media changing marketing?
It’s about interacting rather than broadcasting and controlling. Brands that “get” social media will listen more, and learn from what their customers and critics are saying, rather than just hiring a PR hack to set up a bunch of Twitter accounts that are nothing more than glorified RSS feeds spewing safe and boring press releases. Marketeers will need to learn subtlety, tact and humility.
How does consumer generated content sit with traditionally authored and published content, what’s the relationship?
The line becomes blurred, especially as professional journalists become a rarer breed. The truth is that citizen journalism is important, and exciting, but it’s something that can only work in a complimentary way to professional journalism, not as an alternative. The reason is because amateurs just don’t have the time and budget to properly investigate stories. I hope that a model will be established over time that funds commercial news production – it’s got do be a return to paid for content. It can’t all be left to the BBC.
Who should own digital strategies in an organisation: brand/marketing, agency, technology team, other?
It’s strange the way that digital teams are treated as distinct from marketing and sales teams in many organizations. As a result, they’re often duplicating effort and pulling in different directions. Who should own the overall strategy is rather dependent on where the right skills lie, which varies from one business to another, but it’s key that someone is responsible. A coherent strategy and vision does not come about by accident.
Secondomics ( is Graham Bower’s first published book and explores the counter-intuitive notion that coming second can be a winning strategy. The previous recession was brought about by a hangover from the dotcom boom. Then, all the talk was of “first mover advantage”. In this new, 2.0 recession, Graham offers a new, new meme – “second mover advantage”. It’s about turning adversity into advantage, and in the current business climate, nothing seems more relevant. The best way to beat a recession is to think your way out of it, and Graham’s books aims to give your brain something to chew on.

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