Posts Tagged ‘social media’


October 16th, 2012

They tried to make me go to (media) rehab, I said NO! NO! NO!

I have just returned home after a 3 week sojourn in a Turkish haven of tranquility, where I have spent time recovering from an addiction I never knew I had. Three whole weeks with scarcely a media touch point in sight (nor sound). It was tough, but once the withdrawal symptoms wore off, I was able to approach the real world with a renewed sense of engagement and a clearer perspective. Cold turkey in Turkey, in fact.

I should explain. My family and I stayed near a small fishing village, which has never seen an English language newspaper or magazine. The internet connection in our small resort complex was as unreliable as the local transport and the nearest bar to offer wi-fi was a 40 minute boat ride away. 3G connections were similarly unreliable, as well as ridiculously expensive. We had satellite TV in our apartment but apart from the news channels, it was exclusively foreign language programming. (Incidentally, why are specialist news channels the only English language services in international hotels and resorts, when the Italian, French and  German speakers can usually get their entertainment channels, such as  RAI, TF1, RTL and ZDF?)

Pretty much the whole resort gathered around the bar’s TV screen for Mo Farah’s 5,000 metre race, but it was interrupted on Turkish TV for the bronze medal tussle in the Greco-Roman wrestling – or, as my wife described it, two very large kittens fighting in a cat basket! – but otherwise the TV screen stayed reassuringly blank.

So, like my fellow media addicts, I spent the first week fretting about the dried-up supply chain (apparently, if you arose at 6.30 am and waved your laptop in the right direction, it was occasionally possible to get 20 minutes’ worth of Facebook) and talking wistfully of times past. We would laugh as the new arrivals to our therapy group would turn ashen-faced as they realised their laptops and ipads would remain unconnected and they would have to make the Weekend Guardian they bought on the way out last them the whole fortnight. And slowly, very slowly, we flushed away the need for constant updates and wall-to-wall entertainment media and found our true selves again. Real-life conversations, interactive fun (i.e. diving off the boat jetty) and savouring the simple things of life took over. The Sky EPG, Times leader column and Twitter trending became a dim and distant memory.

However, despite the eventual success of my enforced media rehab programme, it was obvious that the cycle of addiction was not completely broken; I would still find myself watching the BBC World news cycle several times over, wave my ipad in futile attempts to get a signal and re-read the Weekend Guardian’s travel section article on singles holidays in the Ukraine.

As always, it was harder on the little ones. When we asked our son;s teenage friend Jack if he was looking forward to going home later that day, he replied “well, yes and no”. When pressed, he admitted he would miss “all of this”, gesturing vaguely at the sun-soaked holiday paradise around him, but he then qualified his remark by saying he couldn’t wait to get back to his satellite TV and wi-fi connections. Plus ca change…



October 16th, 2012

I read the recent coverage of Google founder Sergey Brin’s plea for internet freedom with great interest – there must be seismic shifts happening to persuade the enigmatic Googlista to take such a public stand.  It covers everything from anti-piracy measures to creating an open (yet simultaneously private) channel through which democracy may flourish. Oh, and don’t forget the need for everything to be searchable. Overall, it confirmed a long-held view of mine, that there are digital and analogue businesses, and Google’s is fundamentally digital.

I explore this whole analogue-digital divide in my new book (shameless plug[1]), from the perspective of television’s resilience to a deluge of ‘disruptive’ digital technologies that have become mainstream within the past 5 years, focussing on the analogue strengths of TV such as storytelling, engagement, sharing and trust, but I think the paradigm applies to media in general. There are digital companies – Google, Microsoft, Facebook – and there are analogue ones, which rely on digital technology but are analogue in nature, within which I’d include Apple, BSkyB and Amazon.

I’m interested in this analogue-digital paradigm, not from a technological perspective but from a communications one. The celebrated communications theorist, Paul Watzlawick, as far back as the 1960s identified digital communication as the words themselves, syntax and semantics. Analogue communication was based on what he termed meta-communication, the complex and multi-layered meanings we take from the briefest nod of the head or change in vocal pitch. (Incidentally, this is why audio-visual is such a powerful communications tool).

Analogue – based on the principle of the whole being much greater than the sum of the parts – provides the richness, depth, emotion, complexity and narrative of communications. It creates a much more holistic perspective, and I believe it extends to the mindset of media and technology companies. The divide between the two mindsets was perfectly illustrated in Eric Schmidt’s recent admission during his McTaggart lecture that Google could never be a content creator because it is too focussed on engineering. It is digital to its very core.

It’s interesting how all of this applies to the equivalent technologies. Digital is binary, efficient, data-driven, and technology-led, whereas analogue is holistic, creative, insight-driven and consumer-led. It’s true that digital provides a fantastic distribution and promotional vehicle for analogue-driven experiences, but the analogue mindset creates the value in the content. Storytelling, for example, a fundamental building block in human learning and behaviour, is analogue by its very nature. In my book, I talk about digital leading to replacement theory mindset, where new and more efficient technologies simply replace what has gone before. Analogue thinking, in my view, is based more on eco-system theory; with new technologies enhancing the existing landscape and the whole becoming greater than the sum of the parts (e.g. more viewing, greater engagement or deeper interactivity). That is why I dislike the term ‘disruption’ so much – after all, consumers are fundamentally opposed to disruption on principle.

But digital is more efficient, seen as a superior technology and therefore analogue is perceived as fundamentally inferior. I want to stand up for analogue because I think it’s had a bad rep. Until digital companies recognise its importance, they will struggle to realise the web’s true value (a couple of examples could be the failures of semantic search and Google TV). I’ll illustrate this with two rhetorical questions;

  1. How many insight people are employed by the digital brand leaders compared to the big media companies? Or other major ‘analogue’ companies, for that matter? Because, take my word for it, data in itself does not create insight and can often lead down some very rocky paths.
  2. How has the value of what the digital-based companies provide improved in the past 5 years? Is search significantly better? Social networking more fun? Hotmail less frustrating? The customer experience more engaging?

Now consider the analogue-mindset companies. Has the value of the Apple experience improved? Does Amazon manage your customer servicing better? Is the Sky pay TV offering improved on that of 5 years ago?

It could be argued that, to the average consumer, the former are faceless providers of utility services while the latter provide a human element across the brand experience, from design to marketing to customer servicing. That’s why I’d always back analogue businesses to win out in the long term; because the world may be turning digital but people are fundamentally analogue in nature.

Think about this from the perspective of your ‘digital footprint’! How much of the whole person, the real you, does your digital trail really represent? It provides lots of data, which can be mined in increasingly efficient ways, but I don’t think it even scratches the surface of what makes people so complex, so unpredictable, so…analogue.

But I digress. The Google entreaty for digital freedom contained three component parts. It lamented the increasing state censorship and surveillance, rights management from content owners restricting open access and the explosion of apps limiting what is available via open search (apparently Google’s web crawlers cannot pick up in-app activity).

Taking them one by one, I have always been cynical about the digerati’s ambitions for a completely free, democratic and open (yet somehow private) worldwide web. I don’t disagree with the sentiment, but I have always doubted that governments like China’s would simply hold their hands up and accept the new democratic transparency.  Google’s tortuous relationship with the Chinese government has demonstrated the scale of the problem. I also think there are splits within the digital industry itself in terms of where the line between openness and privacy should be drawn (as demonstrated by Facebook’s recent statement that online users should adhere to a single, accessible, identifiable online identity). Another example; Google’s pronouncements this week that parents should take more responsibility for filtering online porn show an alarmingly out-of-touch relationship with its user base (but, then again, 57% of online video viewing is to pornography, so there is a lot to lose).

The opposition to rights management has been expressed for many years, but I still remain to be convinced by the arguments. I remember a late night debate with a very good friend of mine, where he argued that unemployed people should have the right to shoplift without any criminal sanction, on the basis they needed the support and retailers were profitable enough as it is. I didn’t agree with that, and I don’t agree that content owners should simply give up on the commercial rights to their content, just because the internet makes it readily available.

And then we come to the explosion in apps and the difficulties that poses for open search. Again, I am not convinced by Google’s argument that apps are a fundamentally bad thing; not to their users, they’re not! Although it may reduce the efficiency of open search, why would those who have already downloaded an app care? They have got what they want out of the deal, and the explosion in app-based access to the internet indicates it fulfils some basic human needs, meaning this is likely to become a bigger problem to Google in future. In fact, the success of apps suggests to me that Google’s “what do you want?” approach to online access is becoming increasingly anachronistic in a choice-saturated world. As Barry Schwarz – author of ‘The Paradox of Choice’ – stated, “choice is cherished, but choosing is a chore”.

I think we need to keep this analogue-digital paradigm in mind when we explore  issues such as Google’s ode to digital freedom, and we should understand how analogue characteristics create layers of depth, engagement and involvement which cannot be replicated via a purely digital mindset. Whether it is within the context of technology, communication or the business mindset, analogue is important and until companies such as Google, Microsoft and Facebook understand that fact, we will hear many more such complaints from Mr. Brin and his peers!

‘CONNECTED TV – How TV’s Analogue Strengths Have Created a Digital Supermedium’ – email me at david@medianative for more information


October 16th, 2012

I conducted a piece of brand research a couple of years ago, which dared to raise a question few people in marketing ever ask; “are there any brands out there that you would refuse to buy, at any price?”

The answer, at the time, was an unqualified ‘yes’! It was remarkable how many markets and brands were deemed toxic by consumers, many of them in the services sector. These were spontaneous outpourings of rage – we just gave them time to get it out of their system. There were many numerous examples of poor, almost non-existent customer service, especially at those times when customers are most in need; when the technology goes wrong.

There are several brands already banished from the Brennan household, mainly due to the above complaint, but my recent Escher-esque dealings with Microsoft have resulted in an addition to the toxic brand gang. I won’t bore you with the details, but it consists of many failed attempts to re-access a closed Hotmail account (bloody hackers!) leading to a constant loop around the message boards for a solution. At least I knew I was not alone; endless exhortations to the God of Inaccessible Alternate Email Accounts came from around the globe, with not a single answer to pacify them. It has been more trouble than it has been worth, so I’ve just opened a Google account instead.

But it’s refocused my attention on the problem of toxic brands because, sure as eggs is eggs, if I asked that same question today, there would be even more candidates across even more markets . In fact, I would bet good money that the number of brands spontaneously placed in the toxic category would outweigh those in the ‘buy at any price’ equivalent.

Which is odd, really, because the industry spends so much money on the latter. One of the myths of social marketing is that brand advocates will lead the way, spreading the good word in a way that paid-for media could never achieve. But one thing I’ve learned over the years is that people with a grievance outshout the satisfied every time. Try it the next time you’re at a dinner party and the conversation has dried up. Ask the question “are there any brands out there that you would refuse to buy, at any price?” and listen to the grievances pour out. There will be no more awkward silences, I can promise you.

So why isn’t more invested into the opposite-of-advocates (see, they haven’t even got a recognised name)?  I believe their existence is a failure of marketing and a challenge for media planning – after all, why try to reach them? But it is largely due to the increasingly digital mindset of technology-led services. I explore this whole issue of digital vs. analogue mindsets in my new book (shameless plug), focussing on the enduring ‘analogue’ strengths of TV, but the digital vs. analogue paradigm extends across the marketing spectrum.

For many digital-mindset brands, it is virtually impossible to speak to or even email a real human being representing the company. As a consumer, your key interaction with the brand – when you most need them – will all too often result in an online infinity loop or, at best, a highly scripted, often surreal interaction with what may or may not be a real human voice. There is little room in either ‘brand experience’ for analogue qualities such as ‘common sense’, empathy or lateral thinking. As such, the services industry often struggles to match branding promises against the reality of faceless, commissioned, unresponsive CRM based on algorithms, efficiency and ‘hands-off’ customer servicing.

There are technology-based brands that get it, and these are often what I would call analogue-mindset businesses. Companies like Apple and Sky are far more customer-focussed, responsive and…well, just a bit more human in how they interact with their customers. All of the latest insights emerging from neuroscience, cognitive psychology and behavioural economics have opened our eyes to what those analogue qualities are worth in business terms, and I’m surprised that so many technology brands have failed to grasp that fact.

It’s interesting that I’ve just mentioned two brands with more than their fair share of brand advocates, but they are also two brands that rarely get mentioned when the ‘toxic brand’ question is asked. But then the question itself rarely gets asked in the rush for Facebook ‘likes’ and brand champions.

In the meantime, I’d suggest a bit more focus on the ‘opposite-of-advocates’ would yield a great deal more in the way of business performance. If you want to find out who they are, or how strongly they feel, just ask that question at your next dinner party. Then lean back and listen to the roar. You might not get invited back, but you’ll be much better informed.

CONNECTED TELEVISION – How TV’s Analogue Strengths Have Created a Digital Supermedium’

Social beats ‘The Long Tail’ by more than a short head

October 26th, 2011


I have it on good authority that Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Wired, recently prepared to present a ‘TV is Dead’ presentation at a major international conference, only to be given a last minute jolt when he was told that many of the assumptions he had made in his speech – such as a major decline in TV ratings and revenues – were completely at odds with the accepted data. From what I understand, he made the speech anyway!

Of course, Chris is well known for his book ‘The Long Tail’, which foresaw a major shift from the mass market towards more personalised, niche content, aided in large part by the distribution economics of the web. It was powerfully argued and, to an extent, true; it is much easier nowadays to access long tail content and I know of several friends d’un certain age who have re-discovered niche interests (music, fashion, hobbies) from their youth and have the internet to thank for their continued ability to indulge them.

Although a shift towards more niche content has been a feature of the past couple of decades, we need to be clear about two things;

1.    The long tail is not a new phenomenon; people have engaged with niche content or experiences for ever. My teenage obsessions included Northern Soul, obscure Subutteo team kits, the works of Charles Bukowski and learning to read Tarot cards; all very long tail and yet also easily accessible, if one was passionate enough.

2.    Although there has been a shift in the economics of manufacture and distribution of long tail product, it has not so far been the revolution that had been predicted. Long tail does not trump the hits in any of the major digital markets I can name, with the possible exception of music (which has always had a sturdy long tail anyways).

I think online has transformed access to the long tail, making it quicker, easier and cheaper, but we’re not necessarily using all of that saved time and money to widen our consumption of other long tail ‘stuff’. My theory is that we only have so much time and resource to indulge our niche interests and personal passions. In fact, our inner, personal lives appear to have only limited influence on the lives we live. This is why I believe sometimes the benefits of personalisation can be over-hyped (especially amongst the media and technology communities).

Meanwhile, there is a counter pressure coming from our outer, social selves which can be far more forceful in influencing our behaviours and use of time and money.

I’ve always been convinced about the power of social in our lives, and Web 2.0 has both turbo-charged it and made it more transparent. I read an excellent article by Mark Earls and Alex Bentley in ADMAP this month, entitled “I’ll have what she’s having”, in which they point out the numerous ways that our families, friends, peers and the people around us (in real life and on screen) shape our decisions, especially the 90-95% of decisions we make implicitly and/or sub-consciously. They point out that very few decisions are taken using cold, rational analysis whereas the people around us can influence us both directly (word of mouth) and indirectly (“I’ll have what she’s having”) in numerous ways.

And, guess what? These influences appear to be moving us back to the hits. We’ve seen it with television over and over; whether it be catch-up TV, Facebook chatter or Twitter trends, it is the big shows that seem to benefit most. We’ve seen it with cinema, where the blockbusters are more dominant than ever before and the room for the niche and independent movies appears to become ever smaller. We’re seeing it with gaming, with the top titles becoming more ‘must have’ when all your friends are playing it online together. Many of our more socially-based activities appear to be consolidating exactly around the big hits that were expected to whither on the vine.

I see no contradiction between a rise in consumption of the long tail together with a corresponding move towards big, shared, socially-driven experiences. Some of the middle ground may suffer, but I think the power of social to shape our lives will help most existing media channels (TV, cinema, radio, magazines, and even newspapers) to survive and carve out their own destinies in the digital future. Their survival will not depend on them covering more and more niche, long tail content, but in providing coverage of the stuff that everybody is talking about. In other words, the hits.

Sometimes we are individuals, sometimes we are social animals (in one sense or another) and most of the time we are both.  It’s not that they are in conflict, but on the whole personal – social dimension within our lives, I would argue social has the most influence, even in our individualistic western societies. That is why it is not long tail vs. big hits; there is room for both, but the power of social is in consolidating our experiences around the big, mass market content that we simply know other people will want to talk about. In fact, as they used to say at Tamla Motown, the hits keep rolling on!


A Pepsi challenge: make ‘friends’, lose customers

September 12th, 2011

A Thinkbox blog by David Brennan for Brand Republic

April 5 2011


There have been some shenanigans across the Atlantic that have seen social media’s power to impact on the bottom line being put under a glaring spotlight.

Pepsi had been gearing up for a major social media push for quite some time, calling for ideas as far back as 2008. Its main activity in this area kicked off early last year: the Pepsi Refresh Project funds small public projects based on online votes. The Project was funded primarily – and very publically – with money taken from Pepsi’s TV budget. TV had been sacrificed for social media.

A couple of weeks ago, PepsiCo’s CEO reported on progress at TED. The site now attracts more unique users on a monthly basis than other sites with which the brand would previously have considered purchasing display advertising.  In addition to this, the sites accrued more than 7,500 applications in its first year, and 80 million votes. Meanwhile, the brand’s “likes” on Facebook have increased from 225,000 to well over 3 million in that period, and its Twitter following (600,000) and YouTube presence have also grown.

Big online numbers; they sound fantastic and Pepsi has certainly been praised for the social good that many of these activities create.

However, not everybody is happy – especially Pepsi’s shareholders. They have seen their main brand drop to an unprecedented third in cola sales, falling behind Diet Coke for the first time in history, and with an overall sales slump of over 5%, which is worth up to half a billion dollars. This has been commonly attributed to the lack of branding or even visibility in the market, allowing Coca Cola to steal market share at an unprecedented rate.

‘Whoops’ doesn’t quite cut it. Here is a genuine Pepsi challenge.

I think this is a great example of the binary thinking that still too often exists in the digital world. One thing HAS to replace another; the ‘social media is the new television’ kind of mantra that ‘herdistas’ continue to preach is just one example of this. It is cutting off the nose and spiting the face. Marketers need to concentrate on and, not or. (Thinkbox firmly believes in and – we welcomed Facebook’s David Parfect to speak at our youth event last week and he was very clear about this complementary relationship; he pointed out that it isn’t just the number of fans you get, it is the about the level of engagement you create and this is where TV works so well with social media).

Meanwhile, if we look at the winners in this carbonated spat, we can see what happens when binary thinking makes way for a more nuanced and integrationist approach.

It wasn’t as if Coca Cola merely responded by betting the kitchen sink on TV, indeed it has been rightly praised for its social media presence even whilst Pepsi was floundering. But, Coca Cola conducted social activity in line with its TV activity and worked hard to make the two work together. A good example is its ‘social zone’ in support of its sponsorship of the NCAA tournament. The result has been a highly visible presence, a well-understood brand position (The Happiness Factory) and a boost in market share.

Of course, this does not mean the end of ‘social media’ as a marketing channel – that would be a ridiculous conclusion; but it should hopefully hasten the end of the ridiculous binary approach. We need to think very seriously about what social media means and how it is best integrated with more established marketing channels, rather than seeing it as an alternative to them. It is well-documented that a significant amount of our social media conversation about brands is inspired and encouraged by their advertising and marketing content.

Conversations don’t happen in a vacuum but this kind of binary thinking may well create a vacuum in terms of brand visibility and emotional engagement.