The pivotal role of creativity in brand building: Q&A with Howard Belk

This article originally appeared on The Brandberries

Brands of today need to group their efforts on delivering the best ‘return on creativity’ to fuel their performance. It’s impossible for a brand to rise above the noise without creative strategies to help them shine. The current renaissance of technology has created huge challenges for brands, but they have also created a playground for creativity. In a Middle East-first, the berries interviewed Howard Belk, Co-CEO and Chief Creative Officer at Siegel+Gale, to discuss his thoughts on the current state of global creativity and how can brands leverage it.

BB: Siegel+Gale has been nurturing global brands with creativity for more than 45 years now. In your opinion, what defines “Creativity”?

HB: Actually, 2018 is the 50th year that Siegel+Gale has been helping brands leverage creativity, and the power of simplicity, to grow their businesses. It’s been a remarkable span because the entire world of brands, and business for that matter, have changed profoundly over those years. What has remained constant is the value of thinking differently about how to exploit opportunities. And that’s what creativity looks like to me. I recognize it when some young designer or strategist challenges a brief by saying “Hey. If we look at this problem from a completely different vantage point, we’ll see an enormous opportunity for our client to disrupt the status quo and win interest and earn loyalty from their own customers.”

BB: In the era we live in, everything is moving with the speed of light, brands are constantly in a battle to find and unlock creative potential. How should brands view “creativity”? When can creativity be a real brand differentiator?’

HB: Great question! The need for speed is one of the big changes that has rocked the brand building world. The speed at which we have developed and implemented comprehensive new branding programs for enormous enterprises is shocking.  We worked with our clients at Hewlett Packard to stand up a new $50+bn enterprise with well over a hundred thousand employees in a matter of months. Same for our clients at CVS Health. It’s incumbent on our firm now to work in lockstep with our clients. And guess what – they move fast.

Unlocking creativity for our clients means doing a great job of enabling their own people to innovate. Many companies struggle with this, and the main culprit is overly complex bureaucracies. Our Global Brand Simplicity Index proved that the simplest organizations are most effective at innovating and bringing game-changing new products and services to market fast. That leads to meaningful differentiation.

BB: Pairing creativity with data will lead to unique and unforgettable brand experiences. In the information age we are living in, how can brands connect the dots between data and creativity?

HB: You’re talking about finding the Holy Grail now. Identifying, finding and organizing the right data is the first challenge. That has to be behavioral data. What are your consumers actually doing when exposed to specific choices, options, messaging and experiences? How can the brand play a valuable role in those moments? Where and when do they happen? Answers to these questions and others become the parameters of the new creative brief.

BB: Does creativity, alone, sell? Do you believe in the correlation between outstanding creative success and commercial success?

HB: Creativity must be paired with innovation in order to achieve commercial success at scale. The surprising inspiration goes nowhere without executional ingenuity. Stunning ingenuity applied to a me-too idea yields a me-too product or brand. However, when paired together, those two ingredients have explosive results.

BB: The rise of the digital age has revamped how brands are leveraging creativity to drive brand growth, making the audience more intrigued. How can brands use such trends to drive sales?

HB: This new age isn’t changing how creativity is leveraged but rather where it’s pointed. And that of course, is right in the palm of our hands. In about two years, in 2020 mobile phones will be in nearly 3 billion pairs of hands, almost doubling since 2014. At Siegel+Gale we begin virtually every assignment now by asking how this mobile tsunami will impact this brand, its consumers and their lives. And equally importantly, what new moments are there for the brand to play a valuable, or entertaining, supportive role in the brand’s consumers’ lives?

BB: Creativity is a way of thinking not a department and every endeavor can be improved by creative thinking. Consequently, believing that creativity resides in the creative department of ad agencies and that media people, data people or CRM people can’t be creative, is questionable. Please comment

HB: There is no ‘I’ in ‘Team’. Deep collaboration is an absolute must in order to conceive, test, prototype, measure and implement the new brand experiences we create for our clients. And every discipline that’s contributing to these endeavors is bringing creativity to the party. There is no time to waste on retreading old ideas.

BB: How do you see creativity in the Middle East?

HB: I see it everywhere. S+G has been serving clients in the Mideast since the ‘90s and a red thread throughout our time here has been the value executives in this region place on creativity. That’s why you see so many stunningly new and massive concepts coming to fruition here. People think big. The opportunity today is to honor the values, traditions, beliefs and prevailing social mores, while creating new experiences on the devices, platforms and communities so many people gravitate to.

Howard Belk is Co-CEO and Chief Creative Officer at Siegel+Gale. Follow him on Twitter: @Howardbelk

The post The pivotal role of creativity in brand building: Q&A with Howard Belk appeared first on Siegel+Gale: Brand Consulting, Experience, Strategy, and Design.

Let Yelp’s robots tell you where to eat

Recommended for You will recommend restaurants based on your past eating habits

Mexican-Indian fusion? Farm-to-table falafel? Sustainable vegan Chinese? Paleo Cuban? It can be overwhelming trying to figure out what to eat and where to eat it. To give hungry users a helping hand, Yelp is tapping into the power of artificial intelligence. The review site has introduced a new collection, bluntly named “Recommended For You,” which uses machine learning to study your past dining experiences and offer fresh recommendations each week. The more you use Yelp, the more material the machine has to work with to provide better and more personalized these recommendations.

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Preparing for GDPR using Google Tag Manager

As your increasingly crowded inbox will attest, the GDPR deadline is fast approaching, and businesses have to make sure they are compliant with the new EU regulations – even those businesses not based in the EU. One aspect of this that marketers have to be aware of is the implication for analytics. Historic Google Analytics data is going to be restricted past 26 months by default, as of the 25th May 2018 (the day the GDPR regulations kick in).

What Happens If You Send Personally Identifiable Information to Google Analytics

Regardless of GDPR however, Google Analytics has for some time prohibited the sending of personally identifiable information (PII) to GA. The potential risks of this are high: if your GA account is found to be in breach of this policy, the guidelines specify:

“Your Analytics account could be terminated and your data destroyed if you use any of this information.”

The Google Analytics documentation specifies the types of data that it counts as PII. This includes:

  • email addresses
  • mailing addresses
  • phone numbers
  • full names or usernames

Importantly, this applies to data that has been collected in the past. This means that if you’ve ever accidentally (or intentionally) collected email addresses, full names or phone numbers in your GA account, the whole account and all of your historical data is at risk of being deleted. This is more common than you might think – it’s definitely worth checking all of your GA accounts. This is why it is also important to back up any historical data in your GA account, if you think you’re at risk of falling foul of the terms of service.

This also applies to data filtered out at the view level. This means that if you’re sending PII such as email addresses in Google Analytics hits, but filtering it out using filters set up within the GA interface, you are still in breach of the GA terms of service.

Find out whether you’re collecting PII in GA

If you’re sending PII to GA, you’re probably sending the same information to Adwords, Doubleclick, Bing, Facebook, Optimizely, Hotjar, etc., etc., etc. – any analytics, tracking or remarketing tools that are implemented on your site are potential PII holes.

One silver lining of this cloud is that the AdWords team tend to be more proactively communicative with advertisers than GA – the AdWords team may spot what you’re doing and warn you about it. The Adwords terms of service, as well as DoubleClick, have similar rules to Google Analytics on PII, and the consequences of breaching those terms are to remove access to Adwords features such as remarketing. The fix I’m outlining later in this post will stop PII from being sent to Adwords and DoubleClick, as well as any other marketing tags, as long as they’re being fired through Google Tag Manager.

This may be waiting for you in your inbox if you don’t fix any PII collection vulnerabilities on your site.

This notification from Adwords is rare, compared to the frequency of PII such as email address being inadvertently sent to Google Analytics. The most common way this happens is through URL parameters containing email address, phone numbers or usernames.

In order to find if/where this is happening on your site, you should pull up the Behaviour > Site Content > All Pages report, and use a custom filter for the “@” symbol (over as wide a time period as possible). This will unearth any URLs that have been visited on your site that contain that symbol.

An example of a GA account with email addresses captured in URL parameters.

As mentioned above, if you have been sending PII to GA, you’re at risk of your GA account and data being deleted, in which case you’d be wise to back up your data. My colleague Dom Woodman has been developing a python package to download data from the API and upload it to Google BigQuery – this won’t be a full backup of every hit in GA, but will give you the ability to have a record of key metrics and dimensions just in case the worst happens. Follow Dom on Twitter to hear more about this when it’s ready.

Once you’ve stopped PII from being sent to GA, it’s also a good idea to create a second clean GA account (as opposed to a property or a view) to start collecting data with no risk of losing that data. Unfortunately, that will only be possible for data after this has been set up as there is no way to retrospectively load data into GA.

Preventing PII from being sent to GA

Note: this solution requires a bit of knowledge of Google Tag Manager (GTM) and javaScript. I highly recommend Simo Ahava’s blog for anyone learning how to use GTM – he’s written the best article on pretty much every GTM topic out there.

This solution works for anyone who is using Google Tag Manager to implement Google Analytics (and any other tracking tools) code on their site, either through custom HTML tags or the inbuilt Universal Analytics tag.

Other people (including Simo Ahava and Brian Clifton) have recommended a similar fix in the past: their approach is to overwrite the page path variable that is sent to GA. While this approach definitely works, and is a good way to prevent PII from reaching GA, it does rely on the variable being amended for every different tracking tag that you’re using in GTM, whereas the approach outlined here will, by default, apply to every tracking tag in your GTM container.

The way my method works is by the following steps:

  1. Rewrite URLs to remove any offending parameters and redact email addresses
  2. Change the URL in the browser using history.replaceState()
  3. Rewrite page titles to remove any email addresses
  4. Send a custom event to the DataLayer
  5. Trigger all tracking tags off of this custom event.

In GTM, the way this is done is by introducing a new tag, a new trigger and a new variable. I’ll outline each of these below.

The Tag

The new tag used in this fix is a custom HTML <script> tag, which should be triggered to load on all pages, at page view. This tag performs the first four actions above:

  1. Rewrite URLs to remove any offending parameters and redact email addresses
    1. Firstly, it extracts all URL parameters form the URL
    2. It then checks these parameters to see if they have been whitelisted (see below) – if a parameter is not on the whitelist, the parameter will be deleted.
    3. If a parameter is whitelisted, the value of the parameter is checked for email addresses using a regular expression (regex). If this regex finds an email address, it will be replaced with “EMAIL_REDACTED”
  2. Change the URL in the browser using history.replaceState()

    1. If changes have been made to URL parameters, the code uses the javaScript history API to update the URL in the browser. It is important that no tags have fired by this point, this is why triggers need to be changed for all tracking tags in GTM.
    2. This has the secondary benefit of making URLs cleaner and more shareable, and ensuring that links are more likely to be to the canonical version of URLs.
  3. Rewrite page titles to remove any email addresses

    1. The code also checks for email addresses in page <title> tags using the same regex as above.
    2. If email addresses are found, the email address is overwritten with “EMAIL_REDACTED”
  4. Send a custom event to the DataLayer
    1. Once the above operations are complete, a DataLayer event with the name “parametersRemoved” is sent, that can be used to trigger other tags.

How the Custom HTML tag should be set up.

Below is the code to copy and paste as the Custom HTML tag.


Once the above tag has run, the URL and title will have changed for the page if they contained PII, and all email addresses will have been removed. It is now safe to send tracking information to Google Analytics, and other tracking tools.

In order to do this, set up custom triggers for all of your tracking tags. These triggers should replace the standard pageview tag you would normally use for analytics tags, to ensure that the PII removal is in place before the tracking hits are sent. The trigger should fire on a Custom Event, with the name “parametersRemoved”.

You can create multiple triggers if certain tags are only to be fired on some pages. For example, you can add a hostname filter for a tag that is only to be fired on a certain subdomain.

How the trigger should be set up.

Whitelisted Parameters Variable

In order to not lose important tagging and tracking information, it is important to make a whitelist of parameters. This will consist of a javaScript array that includes all URL parameters that tracking tools such as GA need to see.

This list will vary depending on the functionality of your site and its analytics set up, but should generally include:

  • utm_source
  • utm_medium
  • utm_campaign
  • utm_content
  • gclid
  • Site search parameters (e.g. “search” or “q”)
  • Affiliate tracking parameters

This list of parameters should be set as a Custom JS GTM variable, which returns an array. See below for an example:

For the tag to work, this variable must be named “parameterWhitelist”.

How the parameterWhitelist variable should be set up.

When this won’t work

It’s important to note that this fix only works under certain circumstances. It won’t strip PII from any tracking tags fired using on-page code (including gtag.js) rather than through GTM, and it won’t work for any GTM tags fired using pageview triggers.

The version of the code above also only checks for email addresses. Deleting non-whitelisted parameters will generally deal with most other forms of PII, but there’s a chance that things like phone numbers, names and postal addresses will still be tracked in GA. If this is the case, deeper action will need to be taken on your site to prevent this.

Summing Up

With GDPR coming into force, everyone in digital marketing needs to be more vigilant of the data they’re collecting and where it’s being stored. This is a specific, slightly hacky fix for PII in Google Analytics, but if these sorts of issues are likely that’s probably symptomatic of a website or company’s wider attitude to user data not being up to scratch.

Here’s what you’ll need to do if you want to make sure you’re not risking your GA data:

  • Identify whether you’re collecting PII by checking for email addresses in URLs and titles
  • Backup your GA data
  • Implement the GTM fix to stop sending PII to GA and other tracking tools
  • Create a clean GA account just in case the worst happens

Let me know in the comments what you think of this method, and whether you have any other tips for keeping your site and its analytics GDPR compliant.

Arizona crash report reveals troubling flaws in Uber’s self-driving cars

The news comes just a day after Uber confirmed that it’s winding down all self-driving operations in Arizona.

The National Transportation Safety Board has released a damning preliminary report regarding a fatal crash in March involving one of Uber’s self-driving cars in Tempe, Arizona. The report reveals a problematic reliance on human operators.

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Arizona crash report reveals troubling flaws in Uber’s self-driving cars

The news comes just a day after Uber confirmed it is winding down all self-driving operations in Arizona.

The National Transportation Safety Board has released a damning preliminary report regarding a fatal crash in March involving one of Uber’s self-driving cars in Tempe, Arizona. The report reveals a problematic reliance on human operators.

Read Full Story

Netflix is now worth more than Comcast

Screen Shot 2018-05-24 at 8.30.05 AMNetflix’s market value increased to about $150 billion today; it is now worth more than Comcast.

Comcast, the largest U.S. cable company, has been losing video subscribers as people cut the cord and move to streaming services … such as Netflix. Comcast had 22.3 million pay TV subscribers in the first quarter of 2018, down from 22.6 million a year earlier.

Meanwhile, Netflix has been gaining streaming users, adding more than seven million subscribers in the first quarter.

Of course, Comcast and Netflix have completely different businesses. Comcast owns a sizable broadband company in addition to cable. It also owns NBC and Dreamworks. It’s also planning on bidding on Fox’s movie and TV studios, cable networks and even a stake in Netflix competitor Hulu.

And most of Netflix’s growth is coming from its international expansion.

But the symbolism is hard to resist.

RIP StumbleUpon. You’ll be missed for the simpler internet you once represented

StumbleUpon just isn’t a good fit for the vastness of today’s internet.

Back when the internet seemed smaller, StumbleUpon was one of the best ways to waste time on it. When you pressed the “Stumble” button, the site would whisk you along to a random web page–perhaps a beautiful photo, a funny video, or a thought-provoking listicle. You could also improve StumbleUpon’s recommendations with thumbs up or thumbs down buttons, or stumble around within specific interests.

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Twitter chews up, spits out Lean Cuisine’s latest campaign

To many, having it all includes not feeling pressure from marketers to lose weight.

Yesterday Lean Cuisine launched a new social campaign to help “women explore what having means to them.” The brand teamed with an New York University social psychologist Emily Balcetis to test its theory that women are having a major impact on each other as they challenge the ideal that was never real but won’t seem to go away: Having it all.

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