1000 Heads

Helping brands’ stories travel further and faster
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Posts Tagged ‘marketing’

100 years of 1000heads

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

This week, I claimed that companies like ours are the agencies of the future but somebody put me in my place by pointing out that 1000heads is a child of the last century. Day to day work normally gets in the way of reflection, but this made me pause for thought and consider the journey we’ve been on and the journey that lies ahead.

It was indeed in 1999 that plans to launch 1000heads were first laid. To put this into perspective, there was no Facebook (can a $100billion business really grow that quickly?), no Twitter, no YouTube, no MySpace, and social media meant no more than sharing a newspaper in the park.

We may not have partied like it was 1999 ever since but it’s been an action-packed, white-knuckle ride from our early days in a (thankfully converted) cowshed in rural Oxfordshire. We now have around 75 talented and inspiring people working out of our offices in Soho, we have a dozen more in New York under the leadership of North American CEO Mike Davison, plus growing teams in Australia and Germany.

As the grizzled veterans of social media, we have seen a global industry grow up with us, and around us, and we are proud to be a part of it.

In addition to clients such as Nokia, whom we have had the pleasure of working with for the last seven years, we are delighted that Mars Petcare, Skype, Toyota, Rebel Sports and Gala Bingo, to name but a few, have recently joined the 1000heads family.

Social media is in our DNA but today brands want so much more. We talk a lot about social communications, helping brands’ stories to travel further and faster. People talk and share information wherever they are, whatever they are doing, and whoever they are with.

Meeting that challenge is sometimes scary but always exhilarating and I’m delighted that we are able to welcome some fantastic new ‘Heads’ to the fold, as well as promotions for existing Heads, who together will be part of the leadership team taking 1000heads forward.

Joanne Jacobs takes up a position as Chief Operating Officer in our Sydney office from March 1st. Joanne describes herself as a ‘geekgirl’ and has a passion for all things social. A former lecturer in the MBA program at the Brisbane Graduate School of Business at Queensland University of Technology, Joanne is returning to Australia after a four year stint in London during which time she was Client Director for Xenial and more recently Chief Operating Officer for Hibrow, an online arts offering from British-based film-maker Don Boyd.

It’s a real coup to have Joanne join us and I know she will build on the great success we are already starting to see in the Australian market.

Here in London, Phil Borge has been appointed to the newly created role of Strategic Planning Director.  He joins us from PR agency Eulogy! after 10 years of service, where he was most recently Senior Account Director and strategic lead within its marketing services division.

In short Phil is a guy who gets things done and he will be responsible for developing the agency’s approach to client strategy, working with the insights, project management and creative teams across multiple projects and campaigns.  He will also spearhead the addition of PR activation within client campaigns.

He will be working alongside Frank Grindrod, previously Group Account Director, who has been promoted to Client Services Director. Frank has been with 1000heads for six years and while ‘social media guru’ is a term he would shrink from, we call him it anyway.

Simon Adamson, another long-serving ‘Head’, has been promoted to Group Account Director and will continue to keep calm while all around him ‘chaordic’ enthusiasm reigns.

We also shortly hope to be announcing the appointment of our first Community Director, another key hire for the business. The Community Director will be responsible for our 20-strong Community team, running social presences, advocacy programmes, and community events.

Our journey may have started in the last century, and it may feel like we have been travelling 100 years at times, but the reality is that we have only just left the station and the tracks are infinite. We are delighted to welcome our new travelling companions on board.

Is this the end of the road for QR codes?

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

These days it can be hard to pass a poster or pick up a jar without finding a QR code promising exciting extras and exclusives staring you in the face. But are those ubiquitous monochrome squares more loved by marketers than anyone else?

Recently, bieMEDIA, an online marketing and media company, predicted the end of the QR code based on the fact that very few consumers actually use them.

We’ve blogged before about the good, the bad and the pointless ways brands are using QR.

But as they move into maturity what are the main arguments for and against these matrix barcodes, and just how valuable are they in driving word of mouth?


QR codes are so popular on posters, flyers and other marketing material because companies can use them to convey specific information about their brands to a target audience. Because the majority of people who use and recognise QR codes fall into the 18-34 age bracket, it means campaigns can be specifically developed for this demographic.

Their versatility also means they can be tailored to all sorts of needs as long as the creativity is there. Just look at this case study from India:

It looks pretty impressive from a community engagement and WOM perspective. But despite the initial positive response, how lasting do those conversations prove to be?


As a QR-virgin myself (someone who has never actually scanned a QR code despite being surrounded by them every day), I am sceptical as to how these codes can be incorporated into a meaningful and lasting campaign. And the data is on my side.

According to an October 2011 survey from strategic marketing firm Russell Herder, although 72% of consumers say they have seen a QR code, nearly 30% of them don’t really know what they are.

More worryingly, 57% of consumers who have scanned a QR code say they did nothing with the information. This means that brands and marketing companies are spending time, effort and money on campaigns that don’t really seem to have an effect on consumers.

Couple this with the fact that other technologies such as NFC and mobile visual search are now on the rise, the trend seems to be towards QR codes becoming nothing more than distant relics of a past era: the marketing equivalent of the MiniDisc.

As with all tools, QR codes are only as good as the strategy or creative execution behind how they are used – and not very many brands are doing that well.

There are shinier alternatives creeping up too. NFC provides the potential for commercial services as well as marketing opportunities. Aurasma, an augmented reality app, acts as a much more tangible ‘bridge’ between the real and virtual worlds we inhabit, providing users with an interactive way of enhancing everyday life, such as this example of a polar bear on the River Thames:

So what do you think? What are your best and worst case studies of QR codes being used by brands? And how often do you use them yourself?

You Me Bum Bum Train and the Art of Exclusivity

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

Scarcity, secrecy, exclusivity. Three words that don’t exactly reflect the transparency and freedom of information that brands are supposedly striving for in a social age. But that’s also the reason that they can be so powerful in triggering emotional impact and peer-to-peer conversation when they are used well.

Last week, a friend of mine invited me to volunteer for something called YMBBT. Armed with no more information than an address in the West End and a time for that evening, I was slightly nervous that I had signed myself up for some dubious Soho debauchery. When a quick Google search revealed nothing except for the fact that YMBBT stood for ‘You Me Bum Bum Train’, my anticipation – and anxiety – understandably increased.

For those of you who haven’t heard about YMBBT, well – the first rule of YMBBT is that you don’t talk about YMBBT. All I need to tell you is that it’s a highly sought-after interactive theatre experience run almost entirely by volunteers who, like me, don’t really know what they are volunteering for. And when I say highly sought-after, I mean sought-after.  80,000 applied for just 1,000 tickets during its last run, all without a clue what they were signing up for.

The absolute secrecy of the whole enterprise is key to its success. Counter-intuitively, explicitly asking people to restrict the nature of their word of mouth drives word of mouth like wildfire.

YMBBT is just one of several examples of brands that know the value of cloak and dagger.  We’ve talked before about how pop-up shops harness people’s desire to uncover unconventional retail gems before anyone else.

Secret Cinema is another fantastic example. Paying over the odds to see a film you may or may not like in a location that may or may not be anywhere near you sounds bizarre in a world of hyper-personalisation, convenience and tribal passion groups. But it sells out every time precisely because it subverts those trends. Sometimes, not being pandered to makes you respect a brand or experience very much indeed.

Of course, exclusivity taps into very basic human drives.  We’re herd animals – we enjoy inclusion and being privy to something special, and those emotions can quickly be converted into loyalty and advocacy.  We want people around us to know we’re part of this magical experience, both to bond with our fellow participants and to badge our selves with a sort of ‘in the know’ cool.

Of course, not every brand lends itself to this kind of ‘popularity through secrecy’ approach, especially those that can’t rely on the impact of the live experience.  Practical, non-experiential and non-luxury items such as say, household cleaner, rely on candidness, transparency and cold hard facts to make their product stand out in a sea of competitors.

But Apple is proof that you don’t need lots of stunts to make consumers feel special.  Its carefully – some might say anally – controlled flow of information is absolutely key to the cult.  The ultimate Generation Y brand, Apple doesn’t have a blog, Twitter account or Facebook page.


Yet by revealing so little Apple all but guarantees that every announcement it makes is met with fevered global excitement and advocacy.

So how might you be able to drive demand with a bit of social scarcity? What assets, information or experiences might you be able to withhold, tease or stagger to generate that sense of privileged camaraderie? Don’t forget: silence can be one of your most powerful tools in harnessing word of mouth.

Very Bad Trip…

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

A couple of weekends ago, I went to Paris. It was sunny, it was stylish, and I had a lovely croque madame.

But that’s not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about this poster:

The eagle eyed among you may have noted that this is the poster for The Hangover 2.

Except it isn’t called that.

It’s called Very Bad Trip 2. Which is brilliant if you’ve just popped over from the UK for the day.

Now three things struck me when I saw this:

Firstly, the obvious. Why don’t the French have a word for hangover? (In reality this is probably to do with the fact that alcohol advertising is banned in France, but given the context, it still struck me as intriguing).

Secondly, possibly more obvious: why have they re-translated the name into another English phrase?

But thirdly, and of far more interest, I was struck with an overwhelming desire to see the film.

Sure, I’d enjoyed The Hangover (sorry, Very Bad Trip) on its first outing, but I was only mildly taken by the thought of seeing the sequel. And then I saw this poster. And I’ll be there munching on my popcorn with the rest of the world.

Now sure, I’ve been seduced by a comical foreign title of a film I may already see, but what stands out as fascinating here is something far deeper:

How much content exists around a product, service or brand that is out there already, that exists, that is waiting to be shared… but never is?

In this case it’s what the French choose to call the film.

That’s engaging, and amusing and bizarre (and funnily enough, those are also things that chime with the film’s target audience).

So what might there be that’s amazing about the employee welcome pack they get at ABC Corp?

What might we learn about the data on the local intranet of our favourite retailers?

What brilliance may be lurking in the applications form interns submit to work in a local charity?

There’s a huge wealth of exciting content in the world already, sometimes surfacing it in the right place could just make an impact…


Pick your moments…

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

If you asked me to outline the perfect football match to go to as a spectator, then it would probably be Scotland playing Brazil 15 minutes walk from my house. So it’s funny that that’s exactly what happened on Sunday. Admittedly, in fantasy land Charlie Adam curls a free kick into the top left corner to seal a tight 3-2 victory in the 93rd minute but hey, 2-0 wasn’t exactly a disaster.

That all aside, holding a Scotland match in London is interesting. It’s interesting because it presents a whole new set of opportunities.

Me, in the Brazil end, looking at 35,000 Scotland fans…

By all accounts 35,000 tickets were sold by the Scottish Football Association for the game, with a whole kilt load more (myself included) picking up tickets locally. That’s a lot of Scots in one place at one time. A fact not missed by the News of The World who had shipped editions of the Scottish News of the World to N5 for the occasion. Complete with free Irn Bru.

But what else could have happened? A good chunk of the supporters I spoke to before, during and after the match were Scots born and bred, but a lot now lived down South. And a moment like this, for a weegie 10 years out of Glasgow stirs real emotion. At that moment I am a sitting duck for anything that cements that feeling.

Am I a big Dougie MacLean fan? Not really, but you could have quite easily persuaded me to buy a copy of Caledonia.

Do I have any need for additional financial products and services? Not really, but Scottish Widows could certainly have enticed me to consider what they have to offer based on name alone.

And of course, once I’m hooked, then I’m yearning to call home, to reconnect with my Caledonian brethren and to share my experience…

Emotion is such a key part of decision making that seeking out the pockets where emotions run high could well be the key to something clever, disruptive and even spectacular.

We’re all exposed to marketing messages in countless ways each day. But how many hit us at the right time? It’s feeling Scottish again, or feeling 18 again, or feeling in the first throes of love again; and it matters.

Pick your moments.

Relationship Marketing

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

There’s a great piece that’s been percolating around the Enterprise/Social space right now, based around ‘Why Every Company Needs a Robert Scoble‘ –

With free sexy infographic!

Written by Mark Fidelman, Social Business Strategist over on SeekOmega, he talks about brand evangelists and how awesome they are at –

‘…creating exceptional buzz around their brands that was once the domain of the world’s largest media powerhouses’.

He’s not wrong.

But, like everything else in the fast-moving world of digital and social, this too shall pass. Scoble is a purple cow in this area, a unique being amongst others who’s clout klout alone can help make or break a business. At least, you’d hope so. One only has to look at his immense activity on new web darling ‘Quora‘ to see the kind of dedication he puts into something he likes. One would imagine that he also quite likes his employer, Rackspace.

And it’s here that we find the rub.

This morning things got even more interesting when renowned analyst and commenter Dennis Howlett weighed in with his well thought out analysis over on ZDNet. CFO and investor commentary aside, Dennis’ experience in this area is second to none and he provides some excellent counter-points to Fidelman’s post.

However, when talking about Rackspace and their rather fantastic reputation in the Enterprise space, this quote in particular stood out for me:

“Whenever I have discussions with customers about their IT landscape and data center thoughts, Rackspace’s name is never very far from the conversation. Why? The company has established a solid reputation that customers are happy to talk about. As we have all known in this industry for a very long time, relationships drive enterprise sales harder than anything else. Get customers talking to one another and you’re off to the races. Tick them off and you are in deep trouble.”

I’ve bolded the bit I’m really focusing on here. Howlett has been writing about enterprise software for the best part of 20 years and provides some great extra analysis on top of Mark’s initial conjectural piece around the value of a true, brand evangelist. Seriously, go read it.

The point he makes above is neither new thinking or any kind of rocket science, but what it is is exactly what we, as word of mouth practitioners believe in through and through; if you have a kick-ass service and can deliver on your promises – then get your customers talking. It’s that simple.

The brand evangelist can help facilitate those conversations but, as Dennis quite rightly points out, that is only one piece of a much larger marketing pie*.

Scoble himself is naturally self-depreciating (and completely on point) –

Shouting about a product is easy. Creating meaningful relationships over a sustained period of time which consistently deliver against fundamental key business critical metrics? Well, that’s something else entirely.

Relationships. Matter.

It’s that simple.

How not to approach a WOM campaign

Monday, March 29th, 2010

A new member of the ‘Heads team speaks! We’d like to introduce you to Tom, recently appointed Community Exec and all round good (easter) egg, who has a provocative post to share…

Hi all – I’m Tom and the newest member of the 1000heads team. I join from 6Consulting where I worked to provide the Radian6 social media monitoring solution to Marketing, PR and Customer Service teams at corporate clients across the UK.

In the process of finding my new role I met with a number of agencies from across the spectrum of social media, marketing and PR.

To be honest, in that time I’ve encountered some problems with the way a lot of agencies (from across all disciplines) approach social media campaigns for clients. Most of these problems are born from the way agencies pitch for business and from not putting insight and understanding at the heart of their business. Without wanting to go on a rant, I think it’s really important to show some of the common approaches out there that are giving WOM a bad name.

This seems to be a pretty typical scenario for brands wanting to ‘get social’:

  1. Brand has some money left in the 1/4 budget (maybe £10k)
  2. Brand marketing team decides “well, social media is something I hear about a lot at the moment, so let’s do something with that”
  3. Agency called in to give some ideas of “what social media we can do for £10k”
  4. Agency account team is not that clued up and their soc med guy is overstretched, however they have some pretty creds and a basic idea of what is possible from some conference they went to 9 months ago. They also talk a lot about how Dell made all that money on Twitter!
  5. Agency account guys all want the fee, so they take down client requirements, tell the client they have done this stuff before and it’s all very possible, and then get the project signed off ASAP (so they get their fee)
  6. Account team celebrates, then they get back to the office and realise “uh-oh, we actually have to deliver this stuff”
  7. Agency hurriedly starts looking at how they are going to deliver the work, they suddenly realise that the tools cost more than they thought and the resource required is a lot higher and a lot more expensive.
  8. Because the team doesn’t really understand the space they cannot find all these promised “advocates” and “communities” they have told the client they are going to map and engage with, they just keep finding Splogs and spammy tweets – maybe they should have done some research before closing the sale!?
  9. They don’t know how to measure success even if they have it!
  10. The client is underwhelmed by the delivery and so decides to abandon the social media initiative as it seems like a waste of money.

The above is a ten-step recipe for failure and for waste; it is also unsustainable for both the agency and the client.

I chose to join 1000heads because it is so obvious how differently they do things here. 1000heads place insight at the heart of everything they do. They don’t just listen to the conversation before engaging, they truly understand how word of mouth works, what commitments are required (both online and offline) and what media and tools are best used to engage different audiences.

That comes from experience but also from robust research which leads to real, actionable insight that feeds into everything else and that ultimately feeds into successful campaigns, happy clients, and happy employees.

I’m proud to be one of them and looking forward to working on our account with Nokia. Come and say hi if you’re ever near Great Windmill Street.

Social media and the paralysis of choice

Monday, October 12th, 2009

My October social media column for WARC’s new-thinking bible, Admap Magazine, looks at the psychological underbelly of the Long Tail. Have a read below and let me know what you think.

Travelling by plane has never felt as strange as it did this summer. Forget the carbon footprint; it was the old pasta/chicken conundrum that really had me stumped. Cramped in my one-size-fits-none seat, glared at by the graceless hostess, it took me a whole three panicky minutes to decide which to have. But what sort of pasta is it? What comes with the chicken? What if I see it and I don’t like it? Is there really no other choice?

The concept of free will underpins the human condition; our instincts tell us that choice is good. If, as Camus claimed, life is a sum of all our choices, then the social media generation should have the richest lives to date. We are the children of the drop-down menu, and our playgrounds are Amazon, iTunes and eBay. Technology has enables us to break products down into smaller and smaller constituent parts so we can customise every aspect of our consumer experience to suit our idiosyncratic needs. Books, music and TV are now tiny scraps of data waiting to be assembled on demand. And offline retailers have followed the trend, from Custom Nikes to Walkers’ consumer created crisps.

The explosion of our newly niche-driven economy, as described by Chris Anderson in his seminal work The Long Tail: How Endless Choice is Creating Unlimited Demand, is financial proof that vast choice drives successful commerce 2.0 – albeit only when accompanied by excellent aggregators which allow us to pick our wheat from someone else’s chaff. But on that same plane, despite the bad food, I started to wonder: is there an accompanying hunger for limitation that could have equally powerful consumer appeal?

The thing is, chewing my nasty chicken, I ironically found the airline’s tiny film library something of a relief. When I am used to the monthly dilemma of choosing my next LoveFilm from a stable of thousands, having this burden of responsibility lifted – not to mention the excuse to watch ‘Ghosts of Girlfriends Past’ – left me feeling unexpectedly satisfied with the slush I settled for. In a sense, I rediscovered the pleasure of browsing. I knew that I really could dig out the best on offer, rather than suspecting that, if I had ten more minutes, I’d find something better yet.

US psychologist Barry Schwarz agrees that this makes good emotional sense. His TEDTalks presentation on The Paradox of Choice emphasises that, even with excellent aggregators available, too much choice results in paralysis and dissatisfaction as both our expectations and perception of missed opportunities rise sky high. As Schwarz puts it: “Adding options to people’s lives can’t help but increase the expectations people have about how good those options will be. And what that’s going to produce is less satisfaction with results, even when they’re good results. Nobody in the world of marketing knows this. Because if they did, you wouldn’t all know what this was about.”

As he suggests, marketers are missing a trick. One of the deep joys of social media is the opportunities for discovery it provides. However, as we get more accustomed to the bounty on offer, we are developing a suspicion that we are simply surfing on the tide of the capricious attention of millions of other people. In other words, we are not really choosing, just capitulating to the most visible meme or product that has surfaced to the top.

This is reflected in our social media behaviour. We’re currently like kids in a sweetshop; the sheer novelty and ingenuity of the space has us buzzing on a permanent sugar high. As every new platform arises and every cool customisable product surfaces we want a piece of it, but many of us are making ourselves queasy with our customisable pick and mix wares. There’s already something of a backlash, as Twitter users get fed up with one-tweet followers, Facebook pages become crowded with frenemies, and brands get motion sickness jumping from hot new platform to hot new platform. Does a world built around crowd wisdom mean that ‘choosing’ has simply become ‘following the herd’?

There’s an opportunity here to enhance product satisfaction by restoring the pleasure of limited choice. Focusing on fewer varieties with a bold assertion that ‘we know what you need’ takes serious faith in the quality of your product, but also inspires intrigue in the current it’s-up-to-you environment. Creating micro-aggregators for the best products in your field and encouraging an in-depth ‘battle it out’ mentality, where users rigorously test the best, can restore a sense that this really is the cream of the crop. Above all, brands need to find a way to reintroduce the experience of pleasant surprise for their customers. With such high expectations, we rarely now feel the buzz of ‘above and beyond’ delivery. So why not hold something back in the marketing? Don’t talk about a particularly great little feature or extra or freebie that consumers will discover when they buy. Let them do the discovering and the evangelising for you.

I’m not suggesting that brands go on a mission to lower expectations for consumers; more that they remember that quality over quantity, discrimination over diversity, can work for conversational products as for conversational marketing. Schwarz tells us that “everyone needs a fishbowl.” It may sound a little Eric Cantona, but maybe brands should look at building fishbowls, rather than just tossing fish out into the sea.

Playing the long game

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

A first post from me on this blog, so I thought I’d mark the occasion by gently tossing one of my daily (relevant!) thoughts into the ether…

On the train this morning I listened to my favourite track of the moment – Dog Days Are Over by Florence and The Machine. I love that track. Actually, that’s a lie. I love the first 1 minute 40 seconds.

They’re sublime. After 1 minute 40 however, my interest wanes. Sure, the track is still great, but the fragile brutality of the first chorus (and the deft build up to get us there) just isn’t matched.

And this isn’t a one off. For me, the supreme intro to Can’t Stop by The Red Hot Chili Peppers precedes a merely satisfactory 3 minutes, while the gorgeous electronica of The Pet Shop Boy’s Always On My Mind riff outdoes the rest of the track like Usain Bolt out-jogging a grounded narwhal.

Isn’t this so often true of the way brands approach consumers too? You get courted at the off with flashy promises that a brand will listen to their customers – and react accordingly – but before too long you suspect their heart isn’t really in it. Or a company sets out to integrate sincerely with social media, but loses their way. Sure, they start with good intentions: “@customer123 sorry to hear things haven’t gone so well, DM me your ref no. and I’ll see what we can do” but before long the slickly branded platforms read “Last updated by Noah and a couple of goats”.

And what is the value in that? A box ticking exercise it may be, but that isn’t helping people to connect.

One of the most common struggles I find with creative approaches to encouraging conversation is the consideration of ‘the long game’. Of course, it’s great to have a stunningly clever kick-off idea (let’s shave it onto a llama!!), but if you don’t then develop the relationships you build with customers and potential customers, the investment in the llama farm could all be in vain. They might take a bit of work, but long term relationships are a lot more meaningful than commercial one night stands.

Carrying a conversation over time is what turns me on. As denizen of the creative corner here at 1000heads, I’m constantly exploring ways to connect people over extended periods and while not an easy thing to do, it’s most satisfying when it works. When it comes to compiling my Desert Island Discs you see, I’ll be returning to my White Rabbits. Tracks that ooze quality from beginning to end, leaving you more than satisfied long after the needle has left the record…

'Questioning what it means to be a museum'

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

It’s been two weeks since Communicating the Museum brought institutions such as the Tate, Louvre, Prado, MET, Reykjavik Art Museum, V&A, Barbican and Finnish National Gallery to Malaga to discuss social networking in cultural organisations. Tertulia Andaluza has posted a great article in which I am interviewed along with Corinne Estrada from Agenda; Ignacio Herrera, director of the Real Maestranza in Ronda; Esther Martín from Malaga’s Art Natura; and Fabricio Chavarro from Industrias Creativas to get our take on the approach and impact of the conference, and the continuing role of social media and word of mouth in the arts.

Photos of the four-day event are now also up, so if you want to see more shots like this embarrassing little gem of me in full WOM Evanglist mode, check them out here.