Last Tuesday I attended my very first APG Noisy Thinking event, hosted at the Google HQ here in London. As the world moves in an increasingly fast pace, the event was all around sustainable brand building, and to share some thoughts around that the APG invited Mark Given (Head of Brand at Sainsbury’s), Alex Dunsdon (Investment Director at Saatchi Invest and founder of The Bakery) and David Wilding (Head of Planning at Twitter UK).
More than reaching any written-in-stone conclusions, I think all three speakers did a fine job in inviting us to ask some important questions. One of them was particularly repeated: what business are you in?
And, curiously enough, the APG didn’t hesitate to lead by example: in their own words, they’re in the business of inspiring bold exchanges. So I thought I’d share the top five bold exchanges I came away with from the event.
1. A brand lives of repeated actions. Mark Given knew how to win planners when he decided to quote Aristotle: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” His argument: the same goes for brands. A brand is not just a logo, an ad or a slogan, it’s the combination of thousands of consistent interactions over time. Consistent brand building, then, depends on consistent brand habits.
2. Software is eating the world, but stories make it a more interesting place. Alex Dunsdon was arguably the contrarian of the evening, with thought-provoking ideas around the future of brand building in a world being eaten by software. His conclusion however was enlightening: yes, software is eating the world and more brand building tasks are being done by computers, but it’s the human insight that enriches data-informed decisions. So we need both software and stories, and it’s the planner’s role to make sure that the latter empower the former.
3. Start with purpose and stretch it across the experience. Being a combination of thousands of consistent interactions, a brand only delivers a good experience if guided by a powerful purpose. Brands are the result of impactful and effective communications, but also of quality products, trustworthy services, a coherent brand experience. The best way to figure out what business you’re in by figuring out the business’s purpose, and then stretching it across all the brand interactions.
4. Think like a technologist. David Wilding peaked my interest with a reference to the motivations of technologists: in his words, they care about either usefulness, education, entertainment or connectivity. The same applies to sustainable brand building: if brands aren’t fulfilling any of these across the experience, it doesn’t matter if everything else is perfect. People won’t care.
5. Tinker the context. The same Mr. Wilding consistently referred a book by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel around the age of context, governed by mobile, social, data, location and sensors. The interesting part was when he stretched the idea to brand building: in his words, we should resist the urge to tinker the brand, and should focus on tinkering the context. It comes back to the brand purpose: if that’s figured out, all else should adapt to it and get impacted by it.
All three speakers ended up complementing each others’ arguments, and one main takeaway is clear: long-term brand building depends on a solid but flexible foundation that fosters consistency across thousands of daily interactions, but also flexibility when adapting to new contexts today, and most importantly tomorrow.
Our last post caused an interesting reaction, specifically around the use of music on product videos.
But haven’t we all seen a video or ad and gone “Holy s**t, that song’s awesome!”?
Back in 2010 J&B released the following ad in South Africa. I remember watching it for the first time and being completely absorbed by the entire thing. Goosebumps on my arms as the ad came to an end and the reference to Phi making it all the more mysterious. “I’ve got to have that song!” I said to my gold fish Bison. A few minutes later Google informed me that the song was “Smoke & Mirrors” by RJD2, a DJ I never considered would feel at home in my music library between Rise Against and Rob Zombie.
Another great example, as pointed out by Eric Whelan, is the Internet Explorer ad featuring Alex Clare’s “Too Close”. Eric might not like it, but the song became an overnight sensation, reaching #20 on the iTunes Top 100 Songs and the top 10 of the iTunes Pop Chart, selling over 100k downloads in merely three weeks.
So, as a little Friday inspiration I’ve left my five of my favourite ads and the songs that made them awesome below.
1. Nike “Chosen” Extended remix
Band: Hanni El-Khatib’s
Song: I got a thing
2. Gears of war 3 “Ashes to ashes”
Band: Sun Kil Moon
Song: Heron blue
3. Ford “2011 Mustang”
Band: Band of skulls
Song: Light of the morning
4. Heineken “The entrance”
Band: The asteroids galaxy tour
Song: Golden age
5. Dante’s Inferno “Go to hell”
Band: Bill Withers
Song: Aint no sunshine
What’s especially great is the opportunity small, underground bands have to reach wider audiences, as part of big budget campaigns they would never be able to fund themselves.
A case of brands supporting the arts without even trying.
Have you spotted any examples of fantastic songs, artists and bands you’ve discovered because of a brand’s involvement?
In my final piece on the Brand Jam conference I’m looking specifically at Nico MacDonald’s talk on brand ownership and management.
Nico believes in brands
Nico started his talk with a contentious view – that modern society has lost faith in almost every institution – the media, government, religion… even belief itself. The last bastion of belief in his eyes is the brand. As long as society requires material goods, a belief in brands and their products and services will endure.
I think he has a point; consumers need brands just as much as brands need consumers. But I find it hard to agree with the view that ‘modern society’ (looking at it from a Western perspective) has lost its faith in everything but consumerism. You don’t need to look much further than the Arab Spring to understand that people have faith – even if it’s born from disillusionment with a government or establishment – faith enough to unify a people, mobilise an unprecedented wave of protest, and create fundamental change.
The idea that we’ve grown tired of believing (or have become too lethargic to believe in anything of substance, beyond brands) I don’t believe is true. But what is evident is that when belief is waning, change is an inevitable consequence.
Nico summed up by saying that online audiences are cynical, with marketing by its very nature invoking a conation to be cynical, born from things like bad product and service experiences or simply because of a lack of a personal connection with the brand. I agree, and herein is the opportunity. Brands need to dig deeper into audience cynicism to identify trends and opportunities that can be shared across business units, whether it be marketing or product design, that can restore faith in a brand through change.
The question really is how stubborn is your brand and how much are you willing to take on board criticism to ‘keep the faith’?
Thanks to all of the organisers of Brand Jam – we certainly enjoyed the talks and workshops and look forward to attending again next year!
We’re also going to be at Made In Brunel on Thursday evening and Friday – we suggest you check it out too.
When my son was in reception, he made a Mother’s Day card for me at school. On the front was a teapot. Outside the teapot was a tag belonging to a teabag, which was hanging inside the card accompanied by a little rhyme encouraging me to put my feet up (yes, I still have it…),
The teabag was Tetley’s Drawstring. I was impressed. How clever of them to engage with schools and provide the materials for this, I thought. Imagine the emotional resonance as mothers all over the country open their Mothers Day card to find a Tetley teabag swinging sentimentally within their child’s heartfelt message.
The following week I asked the teacher if Tetley’s did this every year. Her response surprised me, ‘if only! I go to Asda to buy a box of teabags and spend the night before cutting out 30 teapots!’
The activity is on Tetley’s US Facebook page, so I know they are aware of it – so what is stopping them from working with schools in this way? It seems they’re not alone. In spite of Michael Gove’s encouragement and agencies dedicated to producing some great work in schools, there is still reluctance from some brands to a) get involved with schools or b) admit to it.
Do they fear press accusations that they are cynically exploiting schools that should be commercial-free environments? Has the Bailey Review stretched its net too wide in corporate consciousness?
I have spoken to several teacher friends who would welcome more brand-sponsored materials in class. As long as junk food brands are kept away, there is no overt advertising message and the content is shaped to deliver a lesson, they see no problem. Although there are no regulations in place about the level of commercialism allowed, they said these were unnecessary, as they would reject anything that they felt pushed the boundaries.
Neither is there an issue with parents. A quick ad hoc assessment of my own peers’ opinions supports research in 2004 by Edcoms which shows that parents also view this kind of corporate help positively, viewing it not as an abuse of commercial power, but at best ‘giving back’ and at worse an acceptable ‘long-term brand building exercise’.
In the light of this, it’s very frustrating that a minority voice seems to be forcing brands to shy away from this much appreciated form of CSR. With reduced funding and squeezed time in schools, surely well produced materials carefully developed to link with the curriculum (and only subtly branded) can perform a valuable job.
However, the issue goes deeper than that. There are also brands that I suspect are using the ‘hot potato’ excuse and not engaging with schools when they morally should.
I’ve touched on this before when asking why technology companies don’t take some responsibility and produce school delivered programs which tackle the actual health and social issues raised by their products. I do not believe there is one parent who wouldn’t welcome a corporate message warning of the dangers of addiction to Playstation, Facebook etc. The positive PR received on the back of it would surely drown out the dissenters.
So let’s accept that our kids are exposed to brands everyday, and at least show them that they can be positive forces for good. At the vey least it can stimulate a lively and honest discussion around the practice of marketing, perhaps giving the kids tools to – shock horror – make their own minds up….
Where do you think the boundaries lie with schools and brands?
More and more brands are investing in fun, and not the clown suit/Pina Colada kind. I’m talking about the fist pumping, sunglass wearing kind of fun, where people get excited because they’re “doing” something awesome!
As a kid what would you have preferred, a Ninja Turtle toy or a Ninja Turtle costume? Personally, I would have round-house kicked my way to the grave wearing a Donatello face mask and karate stick if I had the chance. The costume allowed me to use my imagination and immerse myself in the Ninja Turtle story rather than simply look at it from above….I mean, would anyone have taken me seriously if I walked into a sewer holding a 6” figurine?
The point I’m trying to make is that brands have realised that simply broadcasting a message isn’t really enough these days, which is why some have turned to entertainment. They’ve turned to doing something people have to experience and be a part of rather than look at.
I believe that a brand needs to do the following three things in order to get my attention, and ultimately consider their product:
1. Do something awesome – make me do/see something unexpected and entertaining
2. Make it relevant – make damn sure that the ‘something awesome’ is relevant to your brand
3. Encourage me to talk about it – make me tell my friends, my family and even that nice guy at the costume store
In order to back these up, I’ve chosen five examples of fun marketing campaigns that happened in May. Although I think all five are brilliant in some way or another, I can’t help but feel as though some of these guys have clearly missed an opportunity or two.
Which ones do you think I’m referring to, and how could they have done things differently?
1. Evoc Indestructible Billboard
A small premium brand for outdoor sports goods, and to showcase their latest durable backpack and installation was set up by a bus stop which had people punding their fists and even their heads against a bag! I thought the photo upload functionality of this was genius.
2. Lynx Invisible Ad
Really clever use of technology in this one. Just the kind of thing that gets you thinking…”What else could I do with that?”
3. Nissan World Without Petrol
I really liked this one, mainly because they used one object to do so many cool things. The other reason is that the ‘objects’ they used, had some relevance to the message they were trying to get across.
4. Prometheus Subway
To promote the upcoming film Prometheus, an abandoned train stop on the Paris’ Metro line 9 was converted into something far more exciting. Commuters had quite a surprise when they went from brick wall, brick wall, brick wall, GIANT PROMETHUS HEAD! brick wall and finally…two people making out on a bench blatantly trying to promote a website.
5. Metro Mini Newspaper Box
In all the examples above, I think this one shows the most relevance to not only the brand, but also the platform where people consume that brands products.
I’m new to 1000heads, and have often been asked by family and friends what it is we do. Here’s just one example.
We recently supported the Nokia US launch of the Nokia Lumia 900. The brand and international rap superstar Nicki Minaj teamed up to host a launch of epic proportions, live from Times Square. Local New Yorkers and tourists from around the world witnessed an exclusive visual and musical takeover, using nine immense CGI screens, crowned by a show-stopping performance from Minaj.
She performed a medley of songs from her brand-new album and then introduced the exclusive Nokia remix of her latest single ‘Starships’, featuring London-based DJ Doorly. Lucky fans in the audience were also filmed to appear in the official video for the Nokia ‘Starships’ remix.
And what was our role in all of this?
Prior to the takeover we invited bloggers from the worlds of music and technology to join us for the event. The bloggers, as well as New Yorkers in and around Times Square, had no idea what was planned. Aside from a few hints, everything about the event was secret. The only real clue was a giant blue box that had been planted in the middle of Times Square the day before the launch. The box was unbranded but for a distinctive clock that was counting down.
To add even more intrigue and mystery, on launch day we gave each blogger a scaled-down version of the blue box; inside was a pair of Monster headphones and a miniature countdown timer, synced with the main box.
To support the activity online we created a Facebook tab on the Nokia US page called ‘Lumia 900 Live’. The tab mirrored all activity leading up to the event on the ground, still giving nothing away. Then, post-launch, we ran a Facebook competition giving fans the opportunity to win a Lumia 900 signed by Minaj herself. The tab was also the home for the official video for the Nokia ‘Starships’ remix.
The trip was a blast for lots of reasons, the main one being getting to meet our bloggers face to face, and giving them an experience they’d never forget.
Pinterest is the current darling of the social media world (even Obama is on it). With the records for fastest adoption (the time it took to hit 10 million monthly visitors), highest referral traffic (beating Twitter in February) and an average user time of 98 minutes per month, ‘pinning’ seems a hot contender for that most coveted and elusive grail: being ‘the next Facebook’.
A cross between Tumblr and delicious, Pinterest has nailed online scrapbooking to become the place where virtual mood boards come to life online.
So just why is it so powerful for brand Word of Mouth? Well, it’s basically a public display of show and tell, allowing us to build aspirational identities and lives from others’ raw materials. With boards such as ‘Products I Love’ and ‘My Style’ encouraging us to share the images and items from across the web that most resonate with our tastes and lifestyles – it’s an instant, visual way to announce who we are to friends and strangers alike.
Pinners are a bonafide online WOM army, showing off what they have, want, love and dream about, using any impactful content they can get their hands on. And savvy brands are filling those hands with their own imagery and ideas.
Publishing and lifestyle brands with numerous high-quality images already at their disposal like Martha Stewart Living and The Knot are having the easiest time, while companies that don’t translate well visually will most likely find that Pinterest isn’t for them.
From a retail perspective, Pinterest can be a dream come true. Users can pin items directly from a brand’s site, creating their own virtual shopping lists – perfect for birthdays or gift registries. These pins, embedded with links to the brand’s own page, are already driving more referral traffic than Twitter. And brands can see what people are pinning about them either through search or the source functionality (pinterest.com/source/yourURLhere), so tracking and analytics are easy.
Yet the best brand boards don’t purely focus on themselves. Instead, they curate boards that represent their point of view. A great example is fashion designer Tory Burch, who mixes boards of her collections with collections like ‘Orange’ featuring inspirations in her signature color. From artwork and colour swatches to Boo, her favorite celebrity dog, she seamlessly blends her collection with other items in a fun way, which also gives love back to other creative content and brands. On the ‘Tory Entertains’ board, she shares ideas for throwing parties and some of her favorite recipes. Those personal touches give users a look into the world beyond clothes through Tory’s lens.
At 1000heads, we’re using Pinterest with our client Veria, the health and wellness TV channel. In the past month we’ve curated over 41 boards and helped grow their combined following from 220 to over 3,117 in just under three weeks. The Veria boards are filled with a mix of the brand’s own recipes, workout videos and health tips as well as re-pins from health and wellness bloggers.
Each of the pins and boards are curated through Veria’s lens of pop-wellness. They are all about health and wellness with a playful approach that doesn’t take itself too seriously (hence the board for cute pets and cats doing yoga). This reflects the motivations for why Veria’s audience (and target audience) is using Pinterest in the first place – education, identification and fun.
Already the opportunities for those brands wanting to take an active role on Pinterest are as numerous as the subject matter of the new boards appearing every day. But there’s also something else to consider – how Pinterest generates organic Word of Mouth between peers. Pinning something brand-related onto my board of ‘things I love’ creates immediate advocacy, and for those brands I’m really passionate about, I can dedicate an entire space to pay homage, visually displaying that passion.
Top 5 Pinterest take outs for brands:
1. Make sure you have lots of sexy and creative visuals on your own brand website and social presences – but also focus on ways to spread those visuals across others’ social presences, where pinners are more likely to stumble across them – independent blogs, social networks, forums. Pinterest shareability is hugely boosted by social visibility elsewhere
2. Create your own boards to give people a feel for the wider world and influences of the brand. Understand why people want to be associated with you
3. Pin others’ images, not just your own, for authenticity, eclecticism and a bit of community love
4. Monitor, thank and reward people spreading your own brand imagery
5. Take time to observe how passions, brands and trends spread on Pinterest. Understanding the psychology and motivations behind those pinners is the best place to start when working to generate your own Word of Mouth
Influencers are the ultimate fans. They understand products often better than company representatives, and they accrue audiences based on the legitimacy and quality of the their advice, understanding and willingness to engage with like minds. And precisely because they are product users – rather than salesmen – they know the weaknesses, strengths and opportunities for product development.
In real terms, influencers are experts. They dedicate unpaid hours to research and sharing of news around a product or abrand, and they often have ideas about how to improve the experience of products – from manufacturing and delivery, to interaction design.
All these characteristics of influencers make them superb sources for learning about how to do business more effectively. More effective than traditional market research, influencer engagement represents the most cost effective means of accessing external research on products and brands.
Of course, thinking of influencers as mere research sources is also dangerous. Once a social strategy involving an influencer is established it’s essential to foster the relationship so that the influencer maintains his/her expertise, independence and authority. And they need to be valued for what they contribute to the firm.
So how do you go about facilitating learning from influencers?
The first stage in influencer engagement should be an exploration of how the influencer can share their expertise. While aninfluencer may be prolific in social media, they may not be as concise nor as comfortable communicating in alternative formats – say, for instance, on video or in live presentations. Or even if they claim to be comfortable, influencers may not have the natural skills in presenting either to the world or to business representatives in a credible manner. So it becomes the social facilitator’s role to establish the mechanisms that best suit influencers’ communication of expertise.
Once the range of communication styles has been established, social facilitators need to collate the knowledge of influencers, and distribute in a manner that suits the operational structure of a brand. A social facilitator needs to ensure that influencer expertiseabout vertical integration needs to go to manufacturing, logistics and/or distribution, while expertise about product experiences should go to product development and interaction design. They need to act as an arbiter, amediator who articulates and converts the value of influencer advice and understanding to the firm.
Sometimes this information and expertise needs structure, and sometimes it needs to break existing structures. Social facilitators should be prepared to break as much as they curate when it comes to influencer expertise. Only when processes and practices are challenged will any learning truly happen.
And finally, when learning from influencers is facilitated, it needs to be tested. It isn’t enough just to measure activity, either. Ideas that come from influencers should be able to be adapted beyond the scope of their advice. Testing such applied learning is best measured by changes in philosophy, and further influencer engagement. It’s a matter of making a business truly social, rather than separating business practice from audience interaction.
Influencers are not just another channel for selling ideas, campaigns and widgets. They are a catalyst for transforming business. And as the real impact of influencers begins to be freely acknowledged, it’s the social facilitators’ challenge to ensure that such transformation is for the better, and not merely decorative.
Choice is great, right? And in a long tail economy, consumers have more of it than ever. But do we sometimes forget that we have the right to create, and not just make choices, when it comes to what we buy?
My partner and I recently decided to go out for dinner at one of Manly’s most renowned seafood restaurants. As foodies we were both very excited at the prospect of an amazing meal, especially because it was ‘free’ – we went armed with a gift voucher worth $250, more than enough to cover the cost of a meal for two.
The evening got off to a fine start, with swift service, a breath-taking view and a well-picked bottle of crisp white, topped off when the manager himself appeared to take our order. After detailed descriptions and his personal recommendations, we made our culinary choices, and settled in to what promised to be an evening to remember.
Jump ahead a couple of hours and we both had full bellies and big grins; the food was exceptional, the service unrivalled, and the evening near on perfect. Our earlier choice – to go out to eat – had paid off.
The bill arrived and to our delight had come to only $150, meaning we’ve have a full $100 left from our voucher, to spend on a return date. Seemingly the night couldn’t get any better.
Which meant that it could only get worse. The manager explained that we would have to spend the entire voucher or forfeit the difference, as the restaurant’s policy meant no cash or additional vouchers could be issued as change.
He gave us three choices – to eat more, drink more, or take a bottle of wine home. But the thought of eating or drinking anything else wasn’t something we were comfortable with.
"A wafer thin mint, sir?"
Luckily I had my beautiful and intelligent partner with me, who immediately responded to the choices presented. “Nope, none of those options work for me”.
I had to hold myself back from laughing, as the manager was obviously taken aback with this response. But then an idea popped into my head, and I realised how both parties could actually win from this situation.
I explained to the manager that it was in fact him who would be making a choice, and presented him with two options.
Make us spend the rest of the voucher now, leaving without our money but with a bad taste in our months, a taste that would certainly result in us talking negatively about our experience. We would almost certainly never return.
Give us a new voucher for the difference. We would then walk away very happy, actively recommending the restaurant because of the amazing evening we’d had, and because of the manager’s willingness to be flexible and understanding of our predicament.
And to help him further with his choice, I reminded the manager that armed with a new voucher we would have to return to the restaurant, meaning there was a very real chance we would spend more money and more importantly create a new experience from which more positive recommendation and Word of Mouth would be generated.
Marketing is often about consumer choice. Brands provide us with options that ultimately encourage us to choose them. Yet increasingly brands are being face with choices when it comes to how they respond to people, within a social landscape where positive and negative experiences are instantly shared.
Needless to say Garfish is now reaping the benefits of great free Word of Mouth from myself, my partner and everyone else we’ve chosen to tell this story to. Including you.
Next time you’re given a choice by a brand, why not turn the tables? Could you give them a choice instead – determined by your agenda, not theirs?
Here at 1000heads we often extol the virtues of using human analysts to derive meaningful insights and recommendations from WOM listening. We also talk about how brands need to be more human when interacting with people in social media (and beyond). For a large organisation to achieve this, and to deal with any customer service issues that arise, there must clearly be some sort of process involved.
But what happens when that process actually makes the humans seem like robots?
Watching the recent Tesco employment story evolve, we saw a well-run and personalised customer service Twitter stream begin repeating the same message to multiple people for hours on end. But regardless of your views on the issue itself something went very wrong with the way Twitter was used to respond to people’s concerns. What’s more, I’ve no doubt that it was a human in charge of the Twitter feed. So what went wrong?
I imagine what we saw here was that Tesco has a prescriptive set of KPIs telling operators how many people they should reply to and a flowchart telling them how to respond in a crisis. These two processes perhaps worked together to make Tesco suddenly appear less human and more like a robotic call centre. Like other Twitter outbursts such as the GAP logo change, this may not have a lasting effect on Tesco’s reputation in the short term. But all brands should remember that human operators are more than capable of appearing machinelike in certain situations. A coordinated, sincere, human response to a situation like this is really hard to pull off, but a modern social business has to aspire to it.
How do you encourage the people running your social presence to come up with a better solution? For me it has to start with measuring the right things. For example, if you measure the % of tweets you are responding to as a success metric, your team is left with no incentive to demand a change to the script when it’s really needed. They’ll just keep on tweeting to hit their quota. It’s the same reason why direct marketing can become labelled as junk mail. The need to hit volumes outweighs the ambition to be targeted and relevant, and brands only entrench themselves deeper when social interactions go wrong.
This problem of blind process getting in the way of delivery has been solved elsewhere. In his excellent book “How to Measure Anything” Douglas Hubbard describes the early days of agile software development, where people measured the speed of work simply because it is an easy thing to quantify and optimise. But when these developers produced a large amount of features that no-one wanted to use, the realisation struck that a gauge closer to a consumer-facing outcome was needed.
So if our supposition is correct the first thing Tesco needs is a shift from speed-of-work based reporting to measurement based on outcomes. In doing so its Twitter team would be empowered with the flexibility to identify an issue and elevate it internally (with the benefit of a linear organisation structure to provide the speed and level of authority needed), which would ultimately allow the brand to respond in a human and empathetic way.