Monday, 30 November 2009

Nothing to do with planning but...

...I love this little document:

It's something that a friend found in the pocket of their grandad's suit. It was written by his mum and given to him as a boy and, apparently, he always had it with him until the day that he died (meaning that it had survived ninety-odd years of jacket/trouser pockets and wallets!).

It's a bit hard to decipher from the scan so here's what it says:

Six things for a boy to know

  1. That a quiet voice, courtesy and kind are essential characteristics of a gentleman.
  2. That roughness, blustering, and even foolhardiness is not manliness. The most firm men have usually been the most gentle.
  3. That muscular strength is not heart.
  4. That a brain crammed only with facts is not necessarily a wise one.
  5. That the labour impossible to the boy of fourteen will be easy to the man of twenty.
  6. That the best capital for a boy is not money, but a love of work, simple tasks, and a heart loyal to his friends and to his God.

Whether you agree with the sentiments or not I think it's a lovely little bit of history.

I'd like to think my Mum gave me a similar manifesto. She told me that I could be whatever I wanted, she wouldn't even blink if I turned out to be gay or wanted a sex-change, just don't become a vicar and never play for Everton. Thankfully religion always seemed too much like hard work and I'm crap at footy. A sex-change however...

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Adding a bit of digi to events...

Bit of a rushed one this time as I’m off to Tobago in 7 hours, but this last couple of weeks I’ve been doing a lot of stuff on combining digital media with experiential. It’s an obvious topic to cover and as offline and online worlds continue to merge it’s inevitable that the two media will align more closely but an interesting one nonetheless. Just think of the ways people were interacting with this year’s Bestival – live Tweets, Facebook groups, radio channel, Flickr updates, forums, T4 uploads on YouTube and so on.

So far, I’ve been tailoring my thinking around 3 main areas:

Sweating Content
Events create content that can be ‘sweated’ online. This content can be used during the event to either take it to a wider audience (eg allowing consumers not physically present to engage online – think live streams and updating Tweets) or extend an experience further (eg photos from the event uploaded onto a Facebook page).

It’s also worth bearing in mind that consumers will create plenty of content on their own as they capture and share their experience online. Brands should consider how to encourage, facilitate, even manage this process to help spread their message. Just think of the MJ moonwalk tribute.

Customer Journey
Digital can help an event form part of the ‘Bigger Picture’. An event on its own is only one touchpoint but digital can help provide a frame bringing it into the customer journey and maximising its effectiveness. From an invite to a customer database to a targeted banner campaign digital can help promote an event, and from a push to a website or a simple data-capture for an eCRM programme digital can help extend the experience afterwards.

Events Don’t Have To Be Online
There is an increasing trend for the whole event to take place in the digital realm. Solely online events are uncommon so far and usually exist in unbranded, at best brand facilitated, form. But these are something to look out for as brands continue to grasp the merits of social media channels. Twitter’s ‘Twestival’ and Spotify’s ‘Invisible Festival’ may be a sign of more to come.

Given the conversations about the supposed death of digital agencies I can’t help but think that soon we’ll stop talking about adding ‘digital’ to other more traditional media. I’m not sure how you reach this point but we need to as consumers are there already.

I’ll post the final piece on the topic if I remember, but let me know if you’ve got any thoughts on the topic.

Monday, 31 August 2009

8 Out of 10 Cats

I’ve been reading Chris Anderson’s latest book “Free” the last couple of weeks and it reminded me of an article I once read singling out the words ‘New’ and ‘Free’ as the two most effective words in marketing. Not too surprising but interesting nonetheless.

Alongside ‘New’ and ‘Free’ there’s another well known device that I do find surprising in its affect – the power of popularity. I’m talking about the pulling power of the ‘Nation’s favourites’, the ‘9 out of 10 prefers’ and the ‘People’s favourites’. Amidst current fascinations with herd behaviour I still struggle to believe that, in today’s individuality fuelled world, being the same as everybody else is so attractive. Whatever happened to the likes of Nike iD and so on?

Sure, there are plenty of examples of people following suit once a precedent has been set (a brilliant example is Matthew Salganik’s experiment involving the selection of music from lists with and without knowledge of previous participants’ choices. He found that as social influence increased – when participants could see what others had chosen – the popularity of songs became dependant more on previous choices than on quality. The full article is here) but I’m still surprised that such a simple statement can have such an effect. Especially when readers/listeners cannot tangibly see how the stat has been formed.

Is it a confidence thing? A safe bet? It’s well attested that we live in a loss averse society (eg we put a higher price on losing something than we do in gaining) so does it work because we’re scared to challenge the masses? A lot of purchase behaviour is confidence-based after all. From brand trust all the way through to Zappos offering free postage on online returns to alleviate the fear of ordering the wrong size clothes and getting stung for sending them back.

Or is it more about indecision and tipping points? Drowning in a plethora of choice following suit is an easy option. It gives a reason to get off the fence. If it’s good enough for everybody else then it must be fine for me. On a shelf full of over-scienced fluoride cleaning, whitening and enamel hardening a popular choice brings clarity to choosing actoothpaste. Conversely, we never know how much is appropriate to give to charity. The ability to see previous donations by friends on JustGiving makes it a lot easier.

Or is it just laziness? As the economist Nick Szabo points out even purchasing an item worth a penny carries a ‘mental transaction cost’, the value placed on the “is it worth it/isn’t it worth it” thought. There’s less thought needed if you tap into your herd instincts and follow suit. If there’s an option to take the least path of resistance then we’ll take it. We’ve got plenty of other stuff to think about, just follow suit and brain power’s saved.

Whatever the reason it’s obviously effective, from BA’s “The Nation’s Favourite” to Benjamin Babbitt’s “get on the bandwagon” used way back in the mid-19th century (he also gave “for all nations” a go as well). I guess we all want to be different enough to stand out but need to feel average enough to be normal.

Whatever the reasoning, 1 out of 1 Simons can’t help but feel a little disappointed in the lack of free thinking on this one.

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

"News, news, news - that is what we want. You can't beat news in a newspaper."

The one thing I always fear with every new brilliant digi gizmo/application/network/invention/etc is that, 9 times out of 10, it provides yet another means for my obsessive need to stay up to date with news, no matter how irrelevant, to take control. The side that screams “check what’s going on out there – just in case”. The side that keeps clicking refresh even though you know nothing has changed in the last 22 seconds.

From my BBC homepage to Google News Alerts; to RSS feeds and journalist blogs; to Digg stories and iPlayer; and, of course, the BlackBerry for that 10 minute walk back from the tube. And then comes Twitter, a constant source of updating news fuelled by community and conversation. News by the second!

Yet, for some reason, I still try and read The Times in its full archaic (alas non-broadsheet) paper glory on the way into the office.

At a basic level a newspaper is “a publication containing new, information and advertising” all of which I can now get more quickly and more of online than I can in physical form. (Admittedly I can’t get online on the tube but there’s always a cheeky podcast.) So what’s it giving me that I’m lacking online?

Extra content and insight? All those opinion pieces, reviews, even obituaries amongst the daily news was my first thought.

Much as I enjoy the non-news elements of a good broadsheet I can certainly get more of them online. In fact, traditional newspapers are starting to get pretty good at providing this on their own online destinations. I can get more football info from thetimesonline than I can in their Monday supplement.

Even more worryingly, some recent stats from Moody’s Investor Services suggest that only 14% of a paper’s operating costs are spent on content with some 70% going towards making it a physical item (printing, distribution, etc).

So if it’s not its contents, what is it?

For me, I think it’s a trust thing. The authority a newspaper brings.

Back in ancient Rome Acta Diurna, or Daily Acts, were carved onto stone and placed in the forum by the local government for all to see. Daily news was tangible, permanent and from an authoritative source. Does a piece of paper with that familiar well-fonted title play the same role for me?

Authority’s an interesting area for news. Personally, I’ll ignore the likes of The Sun when reading football transfer news and take a large chunk of tweets from people I’d never even heard of with a pinch of salt. But if The Times says it, I’ll listen. Eric Schmidt’s infamous quote rings true: “The internet is fast becoming a cesspool where false information thrives”.

Jefferson once stated that “whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government”. I guess this poses the question of who do you trust to keep you ‘well-informed’? The words ‘The Times’ or ‘Guardian’ give me that trust, reliability and authority and are best manifested, like with the Romans, in their full paper form.

You could argue that newspapers could simply take their name online and, indeed, some of them are. But they’re still playing catch up. Murdoch was spot on when he said “Big will not beat small anymore. It will be the fast beating the slow”.

There has been a fundamental shift in the transmission of news. The likes of Twitter have democratised journalism and rendered communities quicker and more agile at providing the news that newspapers once served to them. Until papers find a way to harness this and, in my opinion, harbour it with their own authority they will always be chasing the pack.

(NB I think the BBC is a good example of using UGC alongside their authority with submitted pictures etc, but they haven’t had to hurdle a transition from newsstand to browser.)

This needn’t be a threat to journalism either. Many digital streams actually promote the individual more than the group (I’m more likely to follow Iain Tait on Twitter than I am Poke for example).

This debate will keep rattling around I’m sure. Chat about monetising news online, advertising models, death of journalism, etc, etc. One thing I am sure of though, you might be able to take away The Funday Times, but you can’t take away the place on my dining-table for the papers on a Sunday.

PS As an aside, it’s interesting to see the likes of the New York Times accommodating online behaviour offline by devoting their second and third pages to abstracts of the paper's content.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Milk Brands? Who are they? Exactly.

Random thought of the day, well week actually – I want to work on a milk brand.

The most basic of commodities in the UK are already awash with brands: bread, water (for some reason we now like water from volcanoes), toilet roll, even baked beans. Whilst, in agency land, we’re always after an automotive, finance or booze client. But one of the most natural commodities around, milk, goes largely unnoticed.

Think about this for a stat: in the UK we consume 99l of beer per capita per year but 111.2l of liquid milk. That’s around 82l per person per year!

So why isn’t much happening on the branding front? Other than Cravendale it’s hard to name a milk brand (excluding products that use milk like Nesquik), certainly nothing to match the likes of Volvic, Hovis and Heinz. Yet when milk is given a chance it gives the impression of being a great brief to work on:

  1. It’s celeb-tastic, from Linford Christie in the ‘Wake up to milk’ ads to George Best and Rolf Harris in the ‘White Stuff - Are you made of it campaign

  2. Wacky ads are actively encouraged, from slurping morris dancers for Cravendale (a personal favourite) to the zany ‘Gotta Lotta Bottle’ ads.

  3. It affords some fun digi work such as settling many an office argument.

  4. Creative works globally.

The now legendary ‘Got Milk?’ campaign from the early-90s sums it up for me. Heralded as one of the best ideas still going (with around 90% awareness in the US) it’s used icons from Billy Ray Cyrus to Superman, has gone global (check out Toma Leche? In Mexico), has an addictive, if not strange, website and if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then it wins there too.

Maybe I’m just charmed by the Accrington Stanley scouse moment (which I’ve skilfully sidestepped), but for now “Int Milk Brilliant”?

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Masses of Influence

I’m reading ‘Nudge’ at the moment and it’s full of great thinking on how people make choices and how a variety of factors impact their decision making process. One particularly interesting point is the role of Social Influence – how following what others and the larger crowd think and do affects our own decisions.

I mentioned an experiment by social psychologist Solomon Asch a while ago demonstrating such an effect (here). In this case participants changed their answers to a simple question after finding out others had answered differently (“Which is the longest line”).

A more extreme (and grave) example can be found in Guyana. Facing tax evasion charges in San Francisco in 1978 the founder of the People’s Temple, Reverend Jim Jones, moved one thousand of his followers to a small village in Guyana which he named ‘Jonestown’ (unimaginative really). As the law caught up with him and facing more serious crimes of child abuse Jones prepared vats of poison and decreed that his followers should poison themselves and follow him in committing suicide. Despite some resistance his followers relented and poisoned themselves and their children amidst social pressures opposed on each other. All but two were found dead.

This is a clear example of the mass influencing individual decision, albeit in a rather harrowing way.

A current, and less horrific, example of such behaviour is Susan Boyle from Britain’s Got Talent. In the space of 3 days clips of her crooning had racked up over 100 million views on YouTube (still rising) with various versions occupying 7 of the top 10 most viewed spots this month. And this wasn’t just a YouTube phenomenon – check out the surge in global search terms too.

In this case the 'Badger Lady' had the advantage of over 10million people (est.) seeing the clip first hand on TV instigating the conversation before any cyberspace fun began. The ball was rolling already.

This is the key. Get the ball rolling then let the masses take over. Why wouldn’t you want to watch something that everybody else is talking about? So how do you set the ball rolling without the luxury of a spontaneous story or a primed TV audience?

Fallon give a great example of how to do this with their rather random “Kittens Inspired by Kittens” YouTube clip (now with over 4million views). Whilst focusing on making content sharable, interesting and ‘imperfect’, their main trick for setting the ball rolling was to find and use key online influencers, often found in the most random corners of the web.

Amidst the current Social Media zeitgeist this type of ‘Influencer’ strategy is becoming increasingly relevant and useful. We’re catching on to the fact that simply plonking a video of a dog running into a wall and ‘hoping’ somebody latches onto it isn’t always enough (although there are, of course, exceptions!).

Don’t just think about how to tell your own story, think about who’s going to tell it for you, who they’re going to tell it to and where they’re going to tell it.

Then leave it to the masses.

But be careful if you’re planning on starting a religion.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Dividing and Twittering

Twitter here I come.

I've tried Twitter a couple of times before but was never quite sure how I'd use it so I've lost interest. But now I have a cunning plan. I usually manage to update this blog at least once a month (poor, I know) so for all the fun little things that pop up on email, on other peoples blogs, and so on that I never get a chance to do anything blog-worthy with, I'm going to use Twitter.

So if you fancy taking a peak just pop on over to

Right... I'm off for a Tweet.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Daddy, what's a planner? Part II

A while ago I wrote about my inability to describe what a planner is to my mum and concluded with this great little ditty on being an Explorer by Keri Smith:

In truth this sidestepped the question of what a planner was and instead gave a really nice description of what they should do but it seemed a far better approach. Nearly a year on and I came across this post from Leon Phang of Swedish agency of Jung von Matt. He’s managed to round up an assured collection of top-table planners from Russell Davies to Faris Yakob and asked them all one simple question (sounds dangerous already):

“What’s your best advice for the next-generation of young and ambitious planners?”

Predictably, answers were broad ranging with a whole host of words of wisdom from “solving the problem is more valuable than last week’s copy headline” (Spicer) to “planning is all about getting people to do stuff” (Davies). However, what was really interesting was that so many of the wisdom inspired words seemed to preach the same basic principles of being an ‘Explorer’. Be observant, build rapport, be instinctive, be intuitive, be interesting/interested, read!

When I was thinking about writing this post I was trying to think of a typically over-opinionated response to all of this advice from the so-called top dogs. What would my answer be? What would I pass on to the young in my future days of planning guru-ship? What have they missed? There must be something insightful I can throw into the mix?

But, I think I’ll stick with the Explorer for this one. Not just because it sounds quite cool and because it’s written in quite a twee way, but because it really hits the nail on the head for me.

Or maybe I’m inadvertently taking Yakob’s advice after all – “Steal everything – every trick and idea – and make them your own”.

No, it’s my blog and I’m sticking with the Explorer.

PS Interestingly Leon Phang actually links his job description to the Wikipedia entry for Account Planner. Wish I’d found this a year ago, would've been a lot easier.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Visualising the Geek Within

One of the things I enjoy most about the planning department at Weapon7 is the fact that all the planners sit together – account planners alongside data and social media planners. All with a wide mix of experience and working on a variety of accounts across the agency, sometimes independently and often together. But before I get too happy families it’s worth pointing out that there is one tiny drawback: it turns you into an absolute geek.

My current ‘geekism’ is Data Visualisation (damn data planners).

It all started innocently with a light reading of Edward R Tufte’s “The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint: Pitching Out Corrupts Within” (OK, it does sound very plannery but any man who can quote Jas Elsner’s “Imperial Rome and Christian Triumph” in one sentence before summarising Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address in six slides deserves a look in my book). Then, before I knew it, I had blogs like ‘Analytics Arbitrage’ and ‘Extreme Presentation' infiltrating my iGoogle.

I just can’t help myself – I’m fascinated with cool ways of visualising data. Give a boy with a hint of OCD the chance to see the frequency and typology of “I need” phrases on twitter using a zoomable decision tree and, well, there goes the afternoon. I’m hooked. I’m like a kid with one of those ‘Magic Eye’ books from the 90s.

There is some (post-rationalised) method in the obsession though. Planners often muse that there’s insight in even seemingly meaningless bits of information - you've just got to find them.

These smart visualisations force you to look at data in new and engaging ways that allow these lovely info nuggets to shine. They bring the hidden to the fore, the ignored to the centre of attention and the meaningless to the front of mind. And, if you consider the amount of snippets of data left behind on digital media by people everyday and you've got yourself a galactic starscape of insight waiting to be found through a visualising click, zoom, drag, twist or twirl. Brilliant.

Here’s what I’m particularly hooked on at the moment:
BBC’s Britain from Above (especially the plane one),
Watching the Growth of Walmart across America from 1962 (if you zoom out too far the US looks pretty scary),
The Ebb and Flow of Movies – Box Office Receipts 1986-2008,
Great little video of the role of data day to day (and a good tune too),
A Visual Guide to Where Federal Tax Dollars Go.

Before I have to forcibly end this latest obsession I should probably have a stab myself. So here’s my final homage to data planning:

(Bollocks to the above, I’m old school at heart.)

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Blogging, Fear and Meerkats

So, one year into ‘The Blog’ and I’m still, just about, maintaining it. A year’s worth of integration, data, trends, recession, trust, social media, online brands, and a bit of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Cicero, singing kittens, pancakes, suicide and a new agency (Weapon7). Hmm.

This started out as a personal online library documenting interesting, but currently useless, things in the hope that they may be of use at a later date. If I’m honest, it’s actually become more of a mini project on the side supported by a constant little voice in the back of my head telling me to ‘do something good’. It’s debatable whether I’ve managed it or not but it has certainly got me thinking.

I definitely enjoy writing my blog, but I still don’t think I’m comfortable with it all yet. Clicking ‘Publish Post’ is still accompanied by that same millisecond of panic usually associated with the realisation that I’ve sent my ‘funny mail’ to the wrong Chris (why must Outlook insist on putting his name first anyway?). The difference with this is that the panic is constantly fuelled by the fear that somebody may actually read the splurge I inconsiderately fling across my own little piece of the World Wide Web. I know I’m being paranoid but Jesus, what if I’ve missed an apostrophe?!

With this in mind I’m not going to bother trying to sound smart or all wannabe plannery for this one. Instead, here’s something that made me chuckle. It’s a new campaign promoting using Meerkats.

I don’t know what it is about animals and banks that tickle me (like here) but this made me smile. Given the current economic climate I quite enjoyed watching Meerkats go spelunking in Pakistan and knitting in Nairobi whilst I was perusing the merits of variable mortgage rates vs fixed.

More importantly, it’s managed to get imprinted in my mind where I have actively resisted these types of sites before. I was quite impressed with the size of the Meerkat site. I’d seen the TV ad but presumed that it would simply be a homepage take over but no, there’s a whole host of Meerkat fun in there. (Although it does make you wonder what people were searching for to prompt such a campaign!)

Anyways, the fear’s starting to set in. Onwards into another year before the paranoia takes hold…