Please listen to Kristina Halvorson’s presentation at SXSW

FireShot Screen Capture #103 - 'Go Home Marketing, You Are Drunk' - www_slideshare_net_khalvorson_go-home-marketing-you-are-drunkI don’t get to go to SXSW because I have to pay for my own airfare.  I can only go to the conferences that pay the airfare for me to come and speak.  Such is the life of an independent consultant.  However, I am fortunate enough to know some people who work for an organisation sufficiently large and enlightened to pay for some of its people to go to SXSW and since these people know what I am interested in – they can point me to the bits of it they think I might be interested in.  And they pointed me to a presentation by Kristina @Halvorson.

Please take the time to look at this (and / or listen to the accompanying words on SoundCloud) because it’s observations are spot-on.

It starts with an expose of the famous Oreo “dunk in the dark” Superbowl tweet which sent the marketing industry into such paroxysms of ecstasy.  The basis for her criticism was essentially the fact that while this tweet rocked the marketing world, it didn’t rock the world of the consumer for whom it was intended, basically because the actual numbers it reached were miniscule (in comparison say with the total numbers who tweeted about the event or watched it on television, or who might be considered Oreo’s target audience).  Music to my ears – so much so that I am going to use this example in a presentation at a conference in Hamburg in two days time.  (This is a conference which is paying for me to attend: In-Cosmetics 2014 if you are interested).

As Kristina says, just look at the numbers.  Check out the numbers on engagement with corporate Facebook pages for example and you will see that Facebook is a good way of reaching around 0.12 per cent of your audience, if you are lucky (as explained in paragraph 12 of this post).  In fact there are no audiences in social media, because it is a medium of connection not a medium of distribution. Social media is a high engagement, low reach medium, whereas traditional media/marketing is a high reach, low engagement media.  You can’t make traditional marketing more engaging simply by dumping it in social media or expect that social media will distribute your shit for you.  It won’t – mostly because it isn’t an ‘it’ which you can buy, it is a ‘them’ (which won’t be bought).

She then gets stuck into the Coca Cola Content 2020 video and how it transformed content strategy (for the worse).  Oh yes!  How many times have I used this video in presentations as an example of the wrong approach to content (and social in general).  This arrogant belief that the task is to ‘provoke’ the conversations a brand wants to have with consumers (how is provocation social?) rather than listening and responding to the conversations consumers want to have with a brand.  (Kristina, for info, the cute British voice-over guy is not just the voice-over guy: he is the main man, Jonathan Mildenhall, Coca Cola chief creative guru.  I even got into a bit of a Twitter conversation with him and he asked me for my thoughts on a better direction.  Here they are. I don’t think he really liked them).

Kristina’s talk is also littered with some great one-liners such as: question from the marketing director “why are we not on Pinterest?”  Answer “Er – because you are a washing detergent.”

She wraps up with the assessment that the main reason most marketing people don’t really want to talk to their consumers is that this would mean confronting the fact that most consumers really don’t care about what brands have to say, they just want them to “fix their shit”.  Amen to that.  The real shame is that if a brand could actually figure out a way of establishing for itself a reputation as a brand that is genuinely connected to its consumers (in the way in which consumers want to be connected to it), the opportunity here is huge.  And it is not difficult to do this, albeit it means reconfiguring what your definition of marketing actually is – which is the real reason ‘marketing people’ don’t want to do it.

I perhaps do differ a little from Kristina in the assessment of what to do about all this.  Her view is to slow down and do the things you started doing better, rather than rush onto the new things.  This stuff is seen as getting better content on your website.  This is fair enough, but websites are creatures of the world of the audience and the new, social, space is the world of the individual.  No matter how good your website is, it is not going to really help you in this new space, where information (and Google) rather than content, is king.  In this world a content strategy is defined as a process, much more than by a set of outputs.  No TV news editor can tell you what content will be in the bulletin next Wednesday – but they will be able to tell you what process you need to have in place to ensure that next Wednesday the bulletin will have the right content in it.  So it is with brands and content strategies – or as I like to call them: information management strategies.

So – thank you Kristina.  I sometimes feel like a voice in the wilderness on this one and have to deal with similar amounts of frustration when I see big companies who should know better spending huge amounts of money on agencies to commission so-called digital or content strategies that are simply a variant on the “be with your consumers where they are on (Facebook, Twitter, mobile, Pinterest, YadaYada etc.) and P.S. pay us lots of money to do this for you” as though these things were simply new forms of media or channels.  These things are not forms of media, they are forms of behaviour.  Social media is not a channel and message challenge, it is a behaviour identification and response challenge.  You only get value from it by harnessing its power as a medium of connection, not as a medium of distribution.

Anyway – for more stuff I have written on this check out:

We need to talk about content marketing

Why creating engagement content is a waste of time in social media

Gagging for it: why content marketing is a fantasy

 

 

The sword, the printing press and the algorithm. Three technologies that changed the world

It is always a good game to identify the game-changers: to reduce the complexities of history (and perhaps even the future) into simple cause and effect relationships.  No more is this so than with technology, given that we like to think we are living in a technological age and thus there is a certain vested interest in either talking-up, warning of, or dismissing the impact of technology on the course of our lives and our societies.

I am not a real fan of technological determinism.  Technology is (or should be seen as) a tool that helps us achieve certain objectives.  Focus on, or worship of, the tools can lead us into dangerous territory.  Nonetheless, I do think there have been certain technological breakthroughs which have played a fundamental role in shaping the way our world has evolved.  Interestingly, these technologies have been so fundamental, they have become invisible – insofar as we focus on the effect these technologies introduced often without fully appreciating the connection between a technological shift and subsequent events.  They are a bit like foundations – you see the building that sits on top (the effect) but the connection between a building and its foundation remains invisible.

The three technological shifts I would single out are the sword (specifically the iron sword), the printing press and the algorithm.  The interesting thing about these three is that they have all superseded each other to a large extent.  We have moved from the age of the sword, into the world of the printing press and are about to enter the age of the algorithm.  Here is what I mean.

The age of the sword

If I had to go back in time and live my life again, I think I would head-on back to the middle bronze age.  Life was pretty cool around 1500 BC (at least it was in the area now known as Great Britain).  A lot of the complications and hassles associated with the tricky business of agriculture had been sorted out by the geeks of the time, resources were in abundance, the weather was pretty good, religion was seen as a shared set of practices, beliefs and endeavours (such as dragging large stones around the country), rather than an instrument of power and everything was generally sweet.  But then some clever geek went and invented iron, and what did the powers that be then go and do with this?  They created swords.  Now swords had been around for some time, but they were more ceremonial than anything else.  You could cause a bit of damage by thrusting one of them into something, but in a full on clash of bronze against bronze they very soon lost their edge.  Iron swords, on the other hand (especially if the hand that held them was a fiery-tempered Celt), could give you serious power and influence.  Result: the quiet and gentle societies of the bronze age faded away into misty-eyed myth and the world became an altogether more brutal place.  I oversimplify, but I think the fundamental truth remains.

It wasn’t so much that possession of iron weaponry made us more violent, it just gave violence a greater competitive advantage.  For millennia groups of men had been clobbering each other using little more than sticks and stones.  Now sticks and stones can break your bones, but they don’t scale very easily.  If you had vast armies facing each other intent on annihilation, armed only with sticks and stones, they would have to go at it for quite a long time before they started to make serious inroads into the business of killing.  Battles would last longer than cricket matches and also have to have tea breaks.  In fact cricket is pretty much a sticks and stones sort of game, a relic perhaps of our stone age ancestry.  Sticks and stones were therefore used to solve relatively small scale, local disputes.  Or to look at it another way – larger scale disputes were simply not feasible.  You could not project power and influence over a large area using a sticks and stones army.  You could not build an empire based on sticks and stones.

Iron swords, however, gave violence a scalable benefit.  Land ceased being something that had only localised value, with a value cap limited by your personal capability to exploit it.  With a group of men armed with swords, you could extract value from land at some distance because you didn’t have to exploit it yourself, you could force the people exploiting it to pass some of that value onto you.  Thus both empires and taxation were born at the same time.  Some bloke sat in Rome could expect another bloke in the north of Britain to hand over a portion of his cash because he knew that if he didn’t there was a system in place which would deliver a posse of blokes with swords to his doorstep in pretty short order.

Armies became a finite and precious resource and thus, like all finite and precious things they ended up in the hands of a small, elite group who then were able to call themselves kings and emperors.  Or rather, if you aspired to become a king or emperor, you first had to get yourself an army.

And so the age of empires and armies (facilitated by swords) continued.  I guess you could say that after a while guns took over from swords – but I don’t count these as a fundamental technological shift, because this didn’t really change the order of things.  Swords gave violence a scalable benefit and guns just simply extended this.  They didn’t change the rules of the game, just conferred upon those that had them the ability to play the game more effectively.

The age of the printing press

A printing press is somewhat different from a sword or an army.  Not that we should necessarily be surprised by this.  Revolutionary shifts are usually defined by the fact the new thing doesn’t look like the old thing it is replacing.

What the printing press did was shift the battle away from a clash of iron to become a clash of ideas.  Ideas ended up becoming more powerful than armies, albeit armies were sometimes employed in the service of ideas.  Ideas allowed you to control the actions of people on the other side of the world without having to put a gun to their head or a sword to their throat.  It is down to the question of scalable benefit again.  If Galileo hadn’t had access to a printing press, his ideas would have lived and died within Italy – largely because the dominant institution of the time (the Catholic Church) would have supressed them, by suppressing him, in order to ensure that it retained its monopoly on ideas.  Printing allowed Galileo’s ideas to escape beyond the reach of the church.  The church could suppress the man, as it did, but it couldn’t imprison his ideas.  Printing gives ideas a scalable benefit.  It allows them to become something that can challenge the established order without having to raise an army.

Printing, or rather the ability to give scale to the distribution of information, does a whole lot of other things as well.  It allows you to give scale to trust and reputation.  Money lenders can become banks because banks can build a reputation that encourages strangers to trust them with their money, even if those strangers have had no previous personal experience of transacting with them.  Pretty much every institution associated with the modern world, from science to modern democracy – can trace its lineage back to printing and the ability to give information a means of mass distribution.  In fact you could say that democracy represents the ultimate triumph of the idea over the sword in that it has allowed large numbers of nations to organise their internal and external affairs without resolving things on a battlefield.

But just as armies were finite and precious resource and thus the monopoly of kings and emperors, the ability to distribute information (publication) was likewise finite and expensive.  This meant that its power could only be wielded by institutions, or rather institutions evolved in order to wield its’ power – first amongst them, of course being the institution that we call the media.  This is why Rupert Murdoch is more powerful than prime ministers and also why Procter & Gamble is the world’s largest advertiser.

But then something happened which changed the rules of the game.  The ability to control the mass distribution of information was no longer limited to institutions.  This thing called social media gave this power to individuals.  The social media revolution is all about the separation of information from its means of distribution and the associated shift of trust and power from institutions into transparent processes.  I used to think that this shift was the next big game-changer: the end of the Gutenberg age and the dawn of something new.  But now I am not so sure, because something else has emerged that confers a new form of institutional (and thus elite) advantage on those who can have access to it – and this thing is the algorithm.

The age of the algorithm

Algorithms are nothing new, but what has changed is that the thing that they feed on has exploded.  This thing is data.  In the world of small, or restricted, data – algorithms had to remain likewise constrained.  Even in the area where algorithms have perhaps carved out the most important role, which is financial asset trading, they have still remained constrained by the limited availability of financial data and haven’t broken out into the world beyond the markets.

Again it is a question of scalable benefit.  Until recently there wasn’t really a scalable benefit available for algorithms outside of what we might call data rock-pools.  But now the tide of data is coming in allowing these to become connected and for the algorithm to become the master of the ocean rather than the rock-pool.

Once algorithms can be fed with large, multi-layered and multi-dimensional data sets, they acquire an almost magical ability.  They can predict the world and at the same time have the power to make the world conform to their predictions.  They can predict the behaviour of consumers, or citizens and thus shape the response of the brand or the government.  In relatively short order, algorithms will define the identities of almost every person on the planet.  You will not be able to walk into a shop without an algorithm determining your desirability as a potential consumer and devising a pricing structure accordingly.  It won’t be long before goods will not have price labels, algorithms will estimate your desire for a product and your ability to pay and pitch you an appropriate price.  Goods may even be discounted according to their ability to harvest data from you – and thus ‘improve’ the ability of algorithms manage your relationship with the supplier of the product you have just bought.  Indeed – in the future we won’t own products anymore, because their primary allegiance will always be to their data masters.  But buying and selling goods will just be the start – algorithms will determine access to all resources, both those of the state and those of the market.   They will determine the insurance premiums you pay, the interest rates you are charged, your ability to benefit from access to healthcare and thus the healthcare you receive.

It is almost impossible to conceive of an aspect of life which algorithms cannot control, for wherever there is data, so will there be algorithms.  Forget quaint notions like artificial intelligence.  Algorithms are not in the business of allowing machines to become as smart as humans, or act in a human way – they are about predicting the actions of humans so that they (we?) can do things that transcend human capability or even comprehension.  Algorithms tell you what the world is like, or will be, without the essentially human need to understand why it is like that.

And here is the thing.  Algorithms are tricky things to make.  Anyone can write a blog post, or write a review, but not anyone can write an algorithm.  Like swords and printing presses algorithms confer an advantage upon an elite.

And that is why I think algorithms will be the third great technological game-changer.  We will have moved from a world of Alexander the Great, to Rupert the Great to … what?  Who can really wield the algorithm or will we have reached that dystopian point at where we become the tools and technology becomes the master?

Gagging for it: why content marketing is a fantasy

I have been a little off-the-pace in January, which is why I missed a couple of pieces on content marketing which gained a lot of attention.  Fortunately, I was having a coffee last week with Stan Magniant, the Head of Digital and Social, EMEA for the MSL Group and he brought me up-to-date.  The first is Content Shock produced by @markwschaefer and the second is the Slideshare presentation Crap. The Content Deluge by Doug Kessler at Velocity Partners.  Both are sceptical of content marketing and both are totally wrong in my opinion.

In brief Content Shock is wrong because it is applying an old-fashioned channel, content, consumption thinking in a space where such thinking is redundant and The Content Deluge proposes that the answer is simply to make better content, without recognising that the game is no longer about content, it is about real-time information.

But I thought, rather than just do another blog post, why not build on the spirit of The Content Deluge and ‘Do a Slideshare Number’ – so here it is.  Warning: the start of the presentation is deliberately designed to be uncomfortable, but hopefully not inappropriate.  Feel free to comment if you feel that it is.

 

Why the tag (and tagging) will replace emails (and emailing)

MZtagProbably the biggest change to management practice in recent years has been the rise of email.  Almost all forms of management, from review of information to actual decision making, take place within email.  Even decisions that may take place in face-to-face meetings (real or online) frequently require the validation of a confirming email.  This is all going to change.  Rather than spend time dealing with email, managers in the future are going to spend time dealing with tags.

This is why.  Email is basically a form of distribution, it doesn’t really have any function outside of this.  A tag, on the other hand, is a form of connection.  It is a mechanism that allows the right people to be connected with the right information.  We are just starting to realise that value within this new social digital space is only created when we harness its power as a medium of connection, rather than a medium of distribution.  The things that exist within the social digital space (like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn) are actually best understood as infrastructures, not as media platforms.  Media is all about distribution, whereas infrastructures are all about connection.

Connection is something that best takes place within communities and there is huge value that can be generated by creating communities of connection.  These can be communities of connection with, or between, your customers or consumers – or communities of connection within your business.   Take a senior executive, show them how they could create and use a community within their business and I can guarantee you that the first thing they will do is breathe a huge sigh of relief and say, “phew, this will allow me to get rid of email”.

Activity within a community is created by the act of tagging.  We already know how you can use tagging to identify spaces, create conversations or ‘file’ information.  But tags can also be used to allocate action.  They can be used not just to identify what something is, but what needs to happen to it and also to identify when the appropriate action has been completed.  Here is a very basic example of this process in action.  Suppose as part of your monitoring of the relevant digital spaces, the monitoring team pick up on an important customer issue that they are unable to deal with.  But rather then having to go through a laborious process of identifying the person who could take action, alerting them and giving them the relevant information – this issue could simply be pitched into the appropriate action space by attaching a tag to it (according to a system of tags already designed).  The relevant people would be watching this tag space – and therefore see when they need to pay attention to something and once the relevant action is completed, they could then pitch the issue into ‘job done’ space, again by putting another tag on it.  You don’t ‘flag’ information, you ‘tag’ information.  The tag space becomes the equivalent of an intray – and your workload (indeed your whole job function) becomes defined by which tag spaces you have to track.  Hence why people will find themselves checking their tags, rather than checking their emails.

This is a whole new way of doing business and it is not just limited to tagging.  Communities tend to dissolve the artificial boundaries that exist around hierarchies – mostly because these boundaries are defined by restricting access to information.  However when you have a community, the value of the individuals within it is not determined by where they sit in a hierarchy, but via the value of their contribution.  Good ideas don’t have to be passed up a chain in order to register with a ‘decision maker’: the idea and the decision maker can be instantly connected.  Indeed the concept of needing a single decision maker starts to melt – decisions can start to be taken, or at least very significantly influenced, by the community.

Most organisations, of course, are still doggedly trying to extract value from social media as a medium of distribution.  It is why we are so obsessed with numbers, reach, engagement, content etc.  However, I think we are approaching a moment when this obsession is starting to loose its grip.  It is interesting to see the extent to which community platforms such as Jive and Yammer are really ramping up their marketing efforts as they position themselves to take advantage of what they hope will be a much bigger pipeline of interest.  I have also recently been deluged by information from Get Satisfaction.  I have long been a fan of Get Satisfaction: they have been one of the tools I have been waiting for to ‘take off’ – although I now notice that their response to the opportunity seems to have been to wildly increase their price.  For a service that started off as being free (indeed started off as being a tool to allow customers to build their own communities about organisations- a bit like Trip Advisor, but for brands) it now seems that the entry level cost is $1,200 per month.  But of course you don’t really attach that sort of a price tag to yourself unless you are pretty confident you can create a lot of value and that there will be a significant demand for your service.

 

 

Tom Fishburne on The Internet of Things

Another great cartoon from Tom Fishburne – this one on the Internet of Things – my hot tip for the Big Thing of 2014.

Of course, this sort of scenario, prompted by the sale of Nest to Google, is really just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the implications for what happens when objects – especially objects with sensors in them – become connected to the internet.

My other prediction on this one is that the embedded SIM will become the front-line soldier in the spread of the Internet of Things / Big Data.  They are going to start spreading everywhere and we often won’t even know they are there.  Interestingly this will mean that we, as consumers, will never actually own products that have this facility embedded into them, because their primary alliegance will always be to their data-controller, rather than their consumer.

Connection: the most important C word in social media

As I have previously observed, there are a lot of Cs in social media (content, collaboration, community, conversation, consultant etc. etc.).  However, I now think we are in a position to decide which of all these words is the most important – and I hope that that 2014 will be the year we come to recognise the all-conquering importance of the Connection word.

A couple of weeks ago I was at the #SocialAtScale event organised by Sprinklr – an enterprise platform that, perhaps more than many others out there, is all about connecting disparate streams of social media activity (Jeremy, correct me if I am wrong).  This event was essentially a discussion about where a number companies are ‘at’ when it comes to managing social media.  The stand-out example for me was Microsoft (a Sprinklr client, who were also co-hosting the event).  Microsoft, of course, has a long history of involvement in social media and has probably been the bravest in de-centralising their approach: basically just telling people to get out there and get on with it.  I rather liked this bravery.  But it now appears that Microsoft is looking to tame the chaos somewhat and re-assert some element of control, one of the reasons it has turned to Sprinklr.

The new Microsoft approach to social was outlined by Georgina Lewis, who talked about rationalising the numbers of channels and platforms and the mantra “hashtags not handles” (incidentally, this is a mantra which I heartily endorse, not just from the control perspective, but because a hashtag is a space, and a handle is a place – and social media is much more about spaces than places).  However, I couldn’t escape the feeling that this was an approach that was primarily about controlling the output, based on the assumption that uncontrolled output was likely to involve inefficiencies or confusion.  So I asked Georgina about how listening (input) factored into the process Continue reading

We need to talk about content marketing

talkaboutkevinFINALContent marketing.  Now here is a trending thing.  Of course, from the earliest of days, content has been one of the primary areas of focus within the social media space, but it feels as though this thing ‘content marketing’ is now reaching some sort of critical attention mass.

A few years back everyone needed something which could be called a social media strategy – mostly just so they could say they had one.  You didn’t really need to understand it, you didn’t really even need to implement it, far less measure the value it created – still don’t one might say – you just needed to have one (preferably with a Twitter account and Facebook page tacked onto it) for when you got asked the question.  So it is now with a content marketing strategy.  I suspect that few marketing folk will be able to make it through 2014 with their credibility intact, if they are unable to hold aloft a content marketing strategy.

But here is the thing.  What exactly is content marketing and what is a content marketing strategy?  Also – how does it map against this thing called native advertising (or is native advertising just an ad person’s attempt to try and appropriate a trend which is currently playing more to the strengths of PR and journalistic, rather than advertising, types?)  Actually, I think we can answer that last question easily.  Native advertising is just an ad person’s attempt to appropriate a trend which naturally plays more to the strengths of PR and journalism, rather than advertising. End of story (and hopefully end of talk of native advertising).

Content: what content?

Of late, I have become a skeptic of the term content, especially this thing called ‘engaging content’.  It wasn’t always so.  In some of the first presentations I gave on social media some six or seven years ago I can remember my mantra was “get it a link, get it out there and get it working for you” – albeit the intent here was to try and get organisations to understand that content shouldn’t be highly produced and live on websites – it should be very low cost, produced in volume, launched from content hubs and live ‘out there’ in social (Google) space.  Conversation, Content and Community were what I preached as being the Holy Trinity of social media.  Continue reading

Yet more evidence for why 2014 will be the year of the Internet of Things

Check out this post from Digital MR.  Yet more evidence for why the Internet of Things will be the next big thing on the internet and why the privacy debate will extend to our cars, electrical appliances and clothing – not just our identity on Facebook.

No data is inconsequential anymore and the algorithm is the most powerful instrument for social control invented since the sword

You had either better learn how to use data and algorithms, (or find you some people that do).

 

Social media and the big scale question

Scale is a very important concept in social media and I think there are three reasons for this.

  1. We are all inclined to define the value of scale in terms of reach and frequency, because this is how we defined value in traditional media.  However, social media doesn’t deliver reach or frequency very effectively.
  2. There is the question of scale as a unit of measurement of this thing we call engagement.  The problem is that almost any form of traditional, marketing activity can never register at the social end of the engagement scale.
  3. The social media revolution leaches scale from the business models of every industry it touches and completely changes the scale dynamics (in essence, big stops being beautiful – certainly in a marketing or product design context) – and this is the main long-term challenge all businesses need to address.

Scale is not achieved through reach and frequency

Measurement and metrics in traditional marketing were all about reach and frequency.  This was because marketing was defined as a channel and message challenge and the channels were expensive – thus requiring that they ‘reach’ a large number of people to make them cost-effective to use.  Thus media came with an audience already built into it, and that is effectively what we were buying when we bought, or gained access to, media – we were acquiring scale.  A great deal of time and effort was spent devising creative messages (content) and campaigns and we gave these scale by putting them into media channels.

Social media doesn’t have scale built into it: it doesn’t come with an audience attached.  Continue reading