Too much plumbing. Too little poetry.

We live in a world driven by data and although we probably don’t even understand half of it or don’t even bother to look into it as we should, decisions aren’t taken unless they can be fully rationalized. As Rishad Tobaccowala mentioned in a recent post:

“In marketing we worship the algorithm and its superiority to human decision making.”

He makes a good point. He continues with:

“In the world of media we are so fixated on the plumbing of finding the right person at the right place at the right time that we forget that the interaction we deliver will have to be absolutely right and brilliant not to piss of this superbly well located person at the exact right time. The better the “targeting”, the more important the tone, content and quality of the interaction. Lets think about the poetry versus just the plumbing.”

This reminded me of the conversation between Bill and Melinda Gates during this year’s TED event in Vancouver. Somewhere in this conversation – hosted by Chris Anderson – it’s clear that part of the magic between these 2 people in spending billions of dollars to charity is the mathematical approach of Bill Gates combined with the more tangible, human experience of Melinda with the people involved in the decision. Something they obviously recognize as a necessity in their decision making.

Anyway, Rashid makes a few strong points why we should rethink how we deal with data. Read the full post here.

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Dare to say ‘focus on the consumer’ one more time

[Rant alert] Seriously. I’ve had it with this gratuitous expression. I get it, we all get it by now don’t we? There’s no reason for every presentation to feature a slide with this so called knowledge and then someone in the audience will tweet it and it’ll definitely generate a few retweets. And every time I can’t help thinking: why?

It’s not like I don’t agree, but isn’t that just the most obvious thing to say? That’s hardly rocket science is it. I find it even obnoxious if you are running a business or in charge of marketing that wouldn’t be the case by default. How do you believe you are ever going to win in business if you’re decisions are all based on everything but the consumer. And how do you deal with your marketing when the consumer is not present in how you build out your plans? Seriously. The fact that there are still so many people that ‘see the light’ when someone tells them they should focus on the consumer is beyond anything I can understand.

And – like I’ve written before – I don’t see how it changes how companies operate. Credit where credit is due, you see some companies transform, but since we can all maybe name just only a few I guess that proves they are still exceptions to the rule. Companies don’t all of a sudden focus on the consumer, they couldn’t even if they wanted to. In many cases they have little to no view on who those consumers really are. And then I don’t mean 18-55 year old women or millenials because those descriptions do more to prove my point than than anything else. Even in the age of ‘big data’ most brands don’t have too much of an idea about their consumer base, let’s just be honest about it. And how can you focus on someone if you don’t even know who that someone is?

So stop saying, start acting.
Please.

Creative Academy @ Golden Drum: Social Currency fuels Braveness & Creativity

Last week I was in Portorož (Slovenia) to give a presentation at 20th edition of the Golden Drum Awards. To this creative audience I wanted to show that the necessity of building social currency for brands calls for bravery and creativity and as such is a great opportunity for the business that we are in.

We know that we have a lot less control of what is being told about a brand today. In the world where we control messaging we need great storytelling, but that alone isn’t enough anymore. We also need to make sure we try to influence the part where we have no control: “giving people a story to tell to each other”. We believe it’s key for brands to do both.

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But too often today when you talk about influencing the uncontrolled part we end up quite immediately into social media content. When business discovered social media in 2005-2006 with blogging, it proved an interesting way to share opinion or backstages stories around a brand. In the better examples CEO’s would openly talk about their business once a week in a lengthy blogpost that would allow people to reply to. When LinkedIn but especially Facebook came along, more content (but smaller pieces) was needed for updates several times per week. And with Twitter brands are urged to posts several times a day. At the same time content became more visual, we all know (I hope) the importance of the visual web. This trend however has brands talk to us as we are all ignorant kids and to be honest, most ‘branded content’ is actually worse than the 30″ commercial that so many hate.

Managing the conversation is not the same as provoking the conversation. And we should have the tactical rules of social rule our decisions in developing content to provoke. We no only think you should provoke a conversation, it should result in a conversation worth remembering. As an example I give the campaign we created for ‘Stop The Traffik’. This campaign is approximately 2 years old and yet 1 month ago 2 million views were added to the video when Upworthy discovered it (again). And since the the conversation that came out of it is still as valid for the brand is it was at launch.

That brings us to social currency. You create that when you repeatedly created social objects. And as I’ve written before, with the social object, it’s not so much the object that is important as it is the conversations it triggered around it. My business card is a social object. Almost every time I hand it out people ask me what ‘Change Architect’ (my second role) means and by explaining that I already get a chance to explain why change is important for the agency and how that defines the work that we make.

So why then the necessity for bravery & creativity in building social currency? In my presentation I list 5 points:

  • Provocative insights
  • Surprise & entertain
  • Make it irreverent
  • Make it awesome
  • Let go

But remember, this is not a science so stay agile and adapt constantly while creating.

Photo credit Golden Drum

Create value & value creative

When Lee Clow speaks, you listen. The man renown for his work on Apple and Absolut at TBWA/Chiat/Day talked about his thoughts on agency compensation a few weeks ago in a video for an event organized by the 4A’s.

In the video he talks about how good creative ideas can be very valuable brand assets and that other than in most creative industries (media, artists, …) you don’t get paid for the value of what you create:

“Unfortunately, in our business, we get paid like we’re doing our clients’ laundry. We haven’t figured out that the ideas that we create can become a very powerful asset to the brands we work for. Many of the ideas — whether they be slogans or advertising forms and styles or a voice that we create for brands — could be listed on the balance sheet of our clients as an asset with millions and millions of dollars in value.”

I think he’s right to the point that the power of good creativity gets undervalued. Good creative and good results go hand in hand and therefore it’s important for businesses to realize that it’s not something you can commoditize, like Mr. Clow mentions in the video. We should – together with our clients – work out different ways of valuing ideas though:

“We’re supposed to be a creative business, but I think we have been probably the least creative industry in the history of the world in terms of figuring out how to get paid.”

With businesses under pressure due to the ongoing crisis there seems to be an always bigger focus on the end (marketing) product – what you see is what you get. The time or talent needed to make the best creative possible are often ‘invisible’ to clients which results in what Mr. Clow talks about in his video.

This also puts pressure on the client –  agency relationship, something which doesn’t lead to the best results either as shown by Frank Shuring at the ‘My message in your brain’ conference (NL). His neuroscience research showed that better client – agency relationships directly lead to much better results. Surprised? Not really. Sounds obvious, so now let’s make it happen. And let’s discuss what it is that both sides value most, so we can get out of this crisis together.

Social Media Forum: Social Currency

Yesterday I did a talk at the Social Media Forum 2011 in Brussels. It’s a topic that I’m interested in since 2006 or so, the time Hugh MacLeod started talking about “social objects”. You’ll find out why when you keep on reading.

I started the presentation with a quote from Mark Twain I had found only a day earlier:

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born, and the day you find out why” (Mark Twain)

The reason for that was mainly that as usual in social media related conferences (or actually on many of the stuff that is written about it online as well) is around tactics, hardly ever about the reason why. One of the other speakers asked a question about whether you need to be active on social media or building your own web presence, I think he used the reference ‘fish where the fish are’ to reference social media. To stay in that analogy that is like saying you should either ‘fish where the fish are’ versus ‘making sure your fridge is at the best possible temperature’. In that idea the tactics we’re all focusing in so much is just the same as thinking about tricks to get the fish to hop in the fridge themselves… that’s a silly idea isn’t it?

Enough about fish already. When I think about Social Currency, I can only think of it as the most interesting thing possible in social. What do other have to say about it though? That’s what you can see on the first few slides. A lot of explanation etc, and I can only think NOPE (thank you Chuck Testa). Why do I think it’s more than that? There are 2 cases I used to prove my point.

First one: The Blue Monster. You can read about that on my blog as I’ve written about it several times before, it is that what I believe made Hugh start to talk about ‘social objects’. Explaining what it meant for him. He called it the hard currency of the internet:

“The interesting thing about the Social Object is the not the object itself, but the conversations that happen around them. The Blue Monster is a good example of this. It’s not the cartoon that’s interesting, it’s the conversations that happen around it that’s interesting.”

It was the Blue Monster that gave me, Steve and many other Microsoft colleagues a way into the tech community to talk about Microsoft and how we (as employees) were convinced something was changing on the inside. Only because people didn’t understand why we used the cartoon ourselves. The question to explain that created that window of opportunity.

A more recent example, the second one I used in my talk was the “Bikers” viral we made for Carlsberg 2-3 months ago. I haven’t talked about that video on my blog before, yet there’s a chance you have seen it – as did about 13 million people since launch. You have to see it first before I can further explain:


Apart from thinking it’s funny, what was the first idea on your mind? There’s a good chance it  was something in the lines of ‘would I have done that?’. Carlsberg launched their new baseline recently: That calls for a Carlsberg. And with that also a new proposition. It’s about a ‘reward for a daily act of courage’. And this was our (first) answer to that. Notice that you didn’t just talk about it, you probably discussed about it. It’s almost a social experiment.

That’s what Social Currency is about, a way to create value. That’s also why I think it’s a better word than object. And, it’s not just about talk value, but about discussion value. Make stuff worth discussing. If you keen on doing this, you build Social Capital. And that’s fundamentally much more interesting than learning about a few (ever changing) tactics first.

Hope you like that, feel free to comment. You can find the (small) presentation up on Slideshare:

Who are you?

Customer centric. Customer focus. I’ve heard it so many times, I’ve seen it written on dozens of business missions or as part of a brand’s values. Yet, I don’t believe it. Because quite frankly if you think about the business decision process within companies, which topics do you reckon come first on the list? Those about what the customer wants… or rather those about margin, reducing costs, maximizing revenue etc? And then you think maybe companies realize that as well, since we’re all buzzin’ about the consumer decision journey and stuff like that.

And let’s assume that companies really are customer centric. I wonder how they make it work, because simply put a lot of companies have no idea who their customers are. To illustrate this point I always show this little movie again: “The Break Up” (aka “Bring the love back”).

And I show it not so much for the reason it was created in 2007 but for this little bit where the advertiser replies to the consumer about not really knowing her:

“Know you? Sweetheart I know everything there is to know about you. You’re 28 … to 34, you’re online interests include music, movies and … laser hair removal. You have a modest but dependable disposable income. Am I the only one not getting the problem?”

That sounds about accurate. That sounds like how companies ‘know’ their customers indeed. So the point is, if you don’t really know who your customers are, how can you be customer centric? You can’t.

And that’s a huge issue of course. So it you really care about the full customer experience, you automatically care about who those customers really are. Thanks to research or just talking to them. Who are those people? What is keeping them up at night? What are their dreams? Etc. Companies do a lot of research to see how people feel about their brand, whereas they should research how people feel about themselves… and how they can affect that (dixit Lou Carbone).

Watch out Instagram?

I must admit, I’m a fan of Instagram since day 1. I love the simplicity, how it deals with cross-posting but most importantly I love the way it makes me feel I’m actually not half as bad as a photographer.

So when I read that Mobli one-upped Instragram (and Color) I’m all ears (and yes I know those headlines are kind of a trap). Downloaded Mobli right away. Created a profile, took a picture, posted it… and will never do it again.

The point that Business Insider seems to miss is that it’s not about community channels based around tags or location. Nor is it about improving search for content or richer interaction. What makes Instagram so cool is that it creates ‘an illusion of creativity’ as Edward Boches so rightfully wrote:

“It strikes me that the real reason Instagram has taken off is that it provides us with the illusion of creativity. The brilliance of Instagram is that it lets us snap a most ordinary photograph and instantly “art it up” with one of 15 filters. It gives us the sense that we are better photographers than we actually are. We don’t have to do anything other than point our iPhone at the most mundane of subjects. Early Bird, Hefe, Sutor, Toaster and their fellow filters do the rest. We think that we are creating, expressing, being clever. But as Douglas Rushkoff might remind us, we’re simply being programmed. Told by this app what constitutes an image.  Just as we’ve been told by Facebook what defines an online profile, a digital friend, or an endorsement. Just as we’ve been told by Tumblr the new format for a blog post.”

The fact that it’s easy to share cross-channel and that it’s doing all of this in the simplest way, focusing well on it’s core make it superb at what it does. But what made people love it in the first place was that it made you feel good about your photography, made you feel like your photography is also worth looking at, worth sharing. It makes me feel better about myself basically.  And that’s a whole different ballgame.

Is creativity a dirty word?

Posted in June of this year, the cartoon below is probably yet another one of Hugh’s classics. I don’t think ‘creativity’ is a dirty word for big companies, I actually believe it’s pretty popular. Still I agree with the point that Hugh is trying to make. I hear a lot of talks about ‘creativity’ at the start of a product/campaign, but once things start going it seems like creativity is the first out of the door.

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So get over to Hugh’s gallery and buy this print so you can hang it in your office ;)