Attention is becoming a scarce resource

There was an interesting article in The New York Times about ‘The Cost of Paying Attention‘. And why that is a problem. Not so much for those in need of attention, but for the people paying attention, that it consumes the very necessary time need to think and be creative:

“Attention is a resource; a person has only so much of it. And yet we’ve auctioned off more and more of our public space to private commercial interests, with their constant demands on us to look at the products on display or simply absorb some bit of corporate messaging. Lately, our self-appointed disrupters have opened up a new frontier of capitalism, complete with its own frontier ethic: to boldly dig up and monetize every bit of private head space by appropriating our collective attention. In the process, we’ve sacrificed silence — the condition of not being addressed. And just as clean air makes it possible to breathe, silence makes it possible to think.”

Make sure you make you mike the time needed for silence. There’s a nice little book published by TED called “The Art of Stillness” that I bought recently that taps into the same issue. Think about making time for silence, time to be bored, you will benefit from it.

Bonus link – In case you forget how much time you’re actually asked to pay attention, watch this 8 year old video ‘Kapitaal‘ made as an art project by Studio Smack.

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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.

Share rate. The best way to measure how content spread

There’s a lot of talk about shareable content and what it means to go viral. This post is in no means a guide to make sure content does go viral, with this post I hope to help people understand why content spreads and if that is really what has happened in the first place. The reason I think this matters is because marketers are judging other brand’s content to understand what worked and what didn’t hoping to replicate, but they aren’t necessarily always looking at the right data. And since I get into conversations related to this topic constantly, I figured it would be well worth sharing this idea of share rate here as well.

Enough for the introduction, I will use online video (ads) as an example, but the theory works for all kinds of online content, although the data sources will be different of course. There are two key numbers that people tend to look at when judging the succes of online video: views/impressions and shares, although I presume that’s already a distant second measure.

Youtube for instance has its own way to rate popularity of video ads, that is explained by themselves rated based on “an algorythm that factors in paid views, organic views and audience retention” – the Youtube Leaderboard. It’s unclear what the weight of each element is, but it’s clear that it’s mostly based around views. It is also the only number mentioned in the rating. As an outsider it’s difficult to judge only on that number what made each video succesful, was it the idea or was it the mediaspent? Knowing what Youtube’s business is about, there’s no need to explain why this rating makes sense for them.

YoutubeLeaderboard

So it’s important to look further. If you as a marketer (or agency creative) want to figure out why something worked views aren’t the best number to look at on its own. Unruly Media created another way to measure video by looking at the amount of time something was shared on social media. The ads chart is sponsored by Mashable, but you can also look at popularity of other video content. If you want to understand why content was spread amongst people it’s probably a good idea to check if it actually spread in the first place.

Here’s where it becomes interesting. The ranking based on shares looks pretty different than the one based on views, if you look at Youtube’s n2 for August for instance, you will see it’s almost impossible to find in the Unruly ranking. So it’s clear, you wonder how content spread? Look at the shares. But that’s not all.

ViralVideoChart

Let’s look at a classic video we all know for instance: Evian Babies. With over 3 million shares that puts it at number 7 in the Unruly Viral Ads Chart of all time. Very succesful, but does that proof it was spread across social and hence a big succes? Not quite. Paid views will also generate shares – paid and organic. So we need to look beyond that. Here’s where the share rate comes in. The best way to judge whether a video was viewed because people shared it across the web is to look at the ration between views and shares. There’s a few ways to look at it, we use [shares/views] as the ratio, some use percentages, the idea remains the same.

Snapshot of internal tool (c) Duval Guillaume
Snapshot of internal tool (Duval Guillaume)

Truly viral content such as ‘Dumb Ways to Die‘ or our own ‘Push to add drama‘ will have a share rate in between 1/20 and 1/10 or even higher (meaning 1/9 or 1/8 but you won’t see those number appear much). Evian Babies – to come back to that same reference – has a ratio of 1/40 and the other example I mentioned (Foot Locker – Youtube’s August n2) has a ratio of 1/200. I would reckon that everything below 1/15 (probably) or 1/20 (definitely) received some kind of ad push. The lower the number the more views were generated through advertising (versus organic) obviously.

The share rate on its own doesn’t say much either of course, a high rate with little views isn’t much of a succes. But if you really want to know why a video was seen by so many people then this is the measure you need to look at. Does that mean those other videos weren’t successful? Of course not. Is it wrong the push videos online with media? Ofcourse not. But want to understand where success came from with the little data you can access? Find the video on the Unruly chart (they show both views and shares – makes it easy) and calculate the share rate.

For the record, Youtube also has a kind of share ratio they use in their presentations but it’s not meaning the same thing. They will look at the ratio between paid views and organic views. Again, thinking of their business selling video ads, I makes for them to correlate paid versus organic views, rather than views versus shares as I suggested.

As mentioned in the beginning I used video to explain but this idea of share ratio counts for all types of content and thus should help you analyze success (or not) of others in good way.

(Please note that I only use examples to illustrate a point, it’s no judgement at all about the videos themselves).

What responsive design should really look like

I found this video from the interactive prototype Room-E on the 72U project blog. It’s a prototype showing what will be possible in the near future when you think about a more responsive environment.

“The future of the computer is to essentially make it disappear—a disconnected interface, so the house or the office or the building or the city is the computer.”Mark Rolston, Chief Creative Officer, frog

Check out the video below.

The cure for boredom is curiosity

The first question our strategy interns will ask when they start here will almost always be: “what makes a good strategist?”. There are many answers to give to this question but I will only give one: be curious. I am convinced that this is the first and most important quality a good strategist must have, that’s where it starts.

Mel Exon (BBH Labs) once wrote a post comparing a good journalist with a strategist, pointing out the 3 characteristics both should have:

  1. A relish or hunger to find out new intelligence
  2. The intellectual ability to see patterns in that data; see the big picture and understand the facts
  3. An ability to write beautifully

I like the way Mel defined curiosity. An so did Ian Fitzpatrick, who built further on the importance of it:

“What I’d impart to you is the significance of the second trait: a relish or hunger to find out new intelligence. To achieve this trait — and I think it’s something you have to work at (or at least I do) — you will necessarily adopt an interested posture. We can, and must, build practices of curiosity.

To practice curiosity is to, necessarily, seek out the messy (and occasionally amorphous) perspectives of others. To be great at planning, or I’d posit at any pursuit charged with shaping things for people, requires both that we embrace and develop a profound respect for people who are not like us.

Please don’t forget that people are messy. It’s what makes us (including you) interesting, and what makes it incredibly difficult to design one-size-fits-all solutions (or communications).”

So go out and be curious. Seek out the messy. Find new grounds to explore. Always keep asking questions. Every answer should lead to a new question. That’s what makes it all interesting, that’s how you get to new and fresh ideas.

Or as Dorothy Parker said:

“The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.”

The strategy is delivery: it’s not complicated, it’s just hard

Neil Perkin does many interesting things. One of those things is organizing the so called “Google Firestarters” which he curates for Google UK. Last Monday he had invited Russell Davies, planning legend and now creative director at GDS, to come and talk about his learnings and insights working on GOV.uk. Fascinating talk, well worth crossing the channel for.

For those who, like me, don’t know what GDS stands for: Government Digital Service. They lead the digital transformation of government.

Back to the talk. Russell talked about GDS and how they started working on GOV.uk, what their design principles were, how they made decisions about what to do and maybe more importantly what not to do. And every single thing they do is shared publicly, which is as you can see on the the principles, something they thoroughly believe in.

  1. Start with needs
  2. Do less
  3. Design with data
  4. Do the hard work to make it simple
  5. Iterate. Then iterate again.
  6. Build for inclusion
  7. Understand context
  8. Build digital services, not websites
  9. Be consistent, not uniform
  10. Make things open: it makes things better

Read all about it on the GDS design principles right here. The second part of his talk was about why all of the GDS’ learnings building GOV.uk are interesting for anyone in marketing & advertising. In the past it used to be difficult to make a brilliant product, but marketing was easy. The craft and machinery needed to make something brilliant was not accessible for many, the few media channels with immense reach to advertise to people was pretty easy to use. Today that has changed said Russell. Today making a brilliant product has become far more easy than it ever was, but marketing it has become very complex. And thus marketers today are focusing fully on trying to digitize the marketing part of things, whereas we should think about complete digital transformation of the business we’re in.

Other things they found out during the whole process. Things that we all need to think about and see how we can learn from it are:

Attention. It’s one thing to win people’s attention, it’s a whole different thing to make sure you respect the attention you were granted. There’s generally too much focus on getting people to notice what you’re doing and too little focus about making sure you do something with that attention. To quote Russell:

“If you made something brilliant and it doesn’t explain itself you haven’t made something brilliant”

Reputation. A brand is a promise, reputation is delivery. You can’t build a brand based on what you’re going to do.

Culture. When you want to transform your whole business like you should, everyone should be on board for this. You need to work on the culture of the company that digital thinking becomes the default mindset.

The product is the service is the marketing. Ask yourself: what would Amazon do? They would get it wrong for a while, then have more data than any traditional business ever will and they’ll win. Because of their digital thinking habit, not because they’re smarter.

Thanks for a great event Neil. Thanks for a great talk Russell.

Bonus link – From April 2014, digital services from the UK government must meet the new Digital by Default Service Standard. For that GDS developed the Government Service Design Manual, and yes also that is publicly available for all of us.

Image creditScriberia made the visualization of the talk.

The Ironic Effect. Why you might fail because of your best effort.

Why you sometimes make the problem worse by trying too hard to fix it. Interesting article from Oliver Burkeman over on The Guardian: From weight loss to fundraising, ‘ironic effects’ can sabotage our best-laid plans.

The great Harvard psychologist Dan Wegner, who died earlier this year , wrote a famous article entitled ‘How To Think, Say, or Do Precisely the Worst Thing for Any Occasion’. It concerned a very specific kind of mistake, which he labelled the “precisely counterintuitive error” – the kind of screw-up so obviously calamitous that you think about it in advance and decide you definitely won’t let it happen:

“We see a rut coming up in the road ahead and proceed to steer our bike right into it. We make a mental note not to mention a sore point in conversation and then cringe in horror as we blurt out exactly that thing. We carefully cradle the glass of red wine as we cross the room, all the while thinking ‘don’t spill,’ and then juggle it onto the carpet under the gaze of our host.”

This is an example of what psychologists call an “ironic effect”: it’s not just that we fail in our best efforts, but that we fail because of our best efforts. If you hadn’t given much thought to the wine, you’d probably not have disgraced yourself.

Stigmatising obesity makes overweight people eat more, not less. Supporting a good cause on Facebook makes people less likely to give money or time. Interesting thought and something we might have to keep in mind the next time we’re trying to convince people not to do something, we might actually get the opposite result.

In short: if you’re trying to change behaviour or beliefs – your own, or other people’s – don’t assume that the most direct, vigorous or effortful route is necessarily the most effective one. The human mind is much, much more perverse and annoying than that.

Photocredit: Cure.org

The age of the micro multinational

“If the late 20th Century was the age of the multinational company, the early 21st will be the age of the micro multinational: small companies that operate globally”

I found this great quote on Neil Perkin’s ‘Only Dead Fish’. It’s a statement from Hal Varian, Google Chief Economist and I can only like what I see here. It supports our own opinion (at Duval Guillaume) that you don’t need to be huge or have offices around the whole world to be able to service clients globally. 

A recent Policy Brief from the Lisbon Council states:

“Traditionally, these small, self-starting, service-driven companies would have been described as small- and medium- sized enterprises, or SMEs, but thanks to the Internet, the emergence of new business platforms and the increased openness of the global economy, these companies can enter markets with a minimum of bureaucracy and overhead. Add to that their unparalleled ability to respond promptly to changing market developments, a collaborative DNA that often translates into superior innovation performance and the lack of the institutional inertia and legacy relationships plaguing larger organizations, and one begins to see the transformative and paradigm-changing potential.”

According the brief the big paradigm shifts that are taking place making all this happen are:

  • Most jobs are created by young companies and start-ups
  • Today technology makes it possible for small companies to gain the reach and traction of big companies at very low cost
  • New platforms and online business services are making it easier for small companies to focus on areas where they add value
  • Internationalization – the key to success for almost all contemporary businesses, large and small – is easier to achieve via the Internet
  • Today’s workforce has changing priorities
  • Experienced and highly skilled individuals are setting out in record numbers to work for themselves

Yet another reason why the future looks bright.