Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Ode to Noticing

Lately I've been thinking about Fast Strategy and whether I really think Fast Strategy is Strategy at all. Well it might deliver strategy but does it deliver original, inventive, fundamentally differentiating strategy. Yes. Or, No...? If was a betting man (and I'm not, I'm a betting woman) I'd ultimately, and somewhat reluctantly, have to come down on the side that says 'no'.

A couple of recent meanderings through 'The Chief Culture Officer' by Grant McCracken and various chats with creative types has got me re-thinking fast strategy, and wanting to write the "Ode to Noticing'.

Grant talks about this in his book. In particular he mentions Morgan Friedman (yes, I know, disappointingly not Morgan Freeman) who runs round the city not only eavesdropping on people's conversations but stopping people and asking questions, investigating all that is going on around him - the sights, sounds, text and subtext of his environment. There's a great quote that brings this to life: 'Old people are waiting for you. they spend their days on stoops and cafes doing nothing but remembering. They're the ones at the edge between different worlds connecting them together. Ask them what has changed in their everyday life the most since their childhood. Press them for details: 'The ice-cream man use to bring us ice once a week' or 'My husband couldn't afford my dowry!'... It pays to be interested in the banal and unattractive, as he puts it.

This in turn reminded me of one of Ed Morris's talks on what drives his creativity, whilst at Lowe. The way he put it was to describe what he does as 'Thinking in Slow Motion'. That captures it brilliantly: I guess I would interpret that as not only seeing, but actually 'noticing'; not only hearing but actually 'listening'; and not only touching but also 'feeling'. That sense, that hynotherapists often talk about, of noticing you're noticing.

It's interesting that divergent thinkers tend to wander around their own minds looking for links whereas convergent thinkers look for the one correct answer. In the feature 'Can everyone be an Einstein' in the Sunday Times back in 2008, the author talks about "dissociated patterns'" in the brain, that seem a necessary first step in developing new and loose connections between ideas which may seem at first odd and quite implausible. Only later do some ideas collide and are eventually ordered into a creative product.

The article goes on to suggest that investigating lots of different areas of interest, perhaps choosing 30 minutes a day in order to develop an in depth knowledge of a hereunto unknown subject, or just practicing observing, noticing, describing things, or just imagining - is nothing short of training for eventual creativity in the brain. These things make your brain deal with the unfamiliar as opposed to getting locked into old familiar thought patterns.

So what has this to do with Fast Strategy? Well, convergent thinkers will tend to be the ones that get to the answer quicker, but may well get to the same answer as everyone else. Not what we needs to hear. And divergent thinkers who (either by accident or design) can notice more than others and can process, slowly, and accurately, all of those details, have more ammunition when it comes to searching for new connections and unfamiliar combinations. And therefore create original solutions even if it may take slightly longer for those connections to show themselves.

The author sums it up nicely when he goes onto to say 'The best advice I ever heard came from a Spanish neurologist, Damaso Crespo. he said I should do 100 yards a day, not sprinting but walking. But I had to walk with a friend and talk all the time. It's the walking, the talking and the friendship that feed the brain; the sprint just feeds dumb muscles"

The strategy sprint may well do just the same.

Brand Generosity

So watching the TV one night last week, I was treated to the latest iteration of the BMW’s big idea: Joy. I say treated with a sense of cynicism actually because what joy was in it for me? It didn’t make me feel joyful, I didn’t immediately want to share any joy, and I couldn’t even intellectually understand the concept BMW were presenting to me. Even the straycat that comes to visit now and then, seemed a bit non-plussed. Why? Because this communication lacked any sense of Joy.

The brand was so busy ‘telling’ me that it was about Joy, that there seemed none left over for me to feel. As every one knows, Joy is a response that comes as a result of some other stimulus. If you entertain me, I might feel happy; if you interest me I might feel amazed; if you provoke me, I might feel energised. And if you show me generosity, I may well feel Joy.

I believe that in Buddhist philosophy, generosity is the first thing one must learn, it is the first teaching, because everything else that follows depends upon inherently generous behaviour. There are three kinds of generosity: first, the kind of miserly giving where you give away what you no longer want – like recycling; secondly, kindly giving, in which we give away that which we would like to receive; and thirdly, the noblest of all, generous giving, in which we have the sort of sense of non-attachment that allows us to feel unencumbered, free and light, where we literally can’t enjoy something without the sense of sharing it with another.

And that is true Joy. When we have let go to the extent that we are not attempting to control an outcome, a consequence, or another person.The brands that truly are delivering Joy, are the ones that get this concept of generous giving. Apple made its i-Phone in a way that people could create and personalise with their own apps. So much sharing has taken place that hardly anyone with an i-Phone feels anything but Joy when they discover new and interesting utilities and entertainment. O2 understood that in the new world of downloadable music, it’s ‘live’ music that becomes the most enjoyable, shareable experience, so it tries to generously give as much of that to its customers via Priority and other initiatives.

So, when will BMW give up trying to control and direct Joy, and just bring about an environment of shared experiences – albeit facilitated by the brand – out of which we can feel a sense of Joy? Presumably when it decides to ‘let go’ and allow drivers, or aspiring drivers, to experience the generosity of the brand.

It's Advertising Jim, but not as we know it.

In 2006, Jeff Howe wrote about crowdsourcing in areas such as TV content, Amazon's web-based marketplace for computing tasks, and Corporate R&D, including the story of how outsourcing had solved a problem that had stumped the in-house researchers at Colgate-Palmolive. It showed the merit in connecting with brainpower outside the company capitalizing on, as sociologist Mark Granovetter describes it, "the strength of weak ties".

Sounds good. So why should Advertising Idea Creation be excluded from the practice of low cost outsourcing, tapping a broad range of information, knowledge and experience? I think two reasons:

  1. Agencies already crowdsource: most creative departments use numerous teams on a brief in the early stages. Planners use ethnography. Tracking studies question hundreds of people. And consumer group feedback often shapes creative development. Much of what clients are actually paying for is not just the creative 'idea' but the journey of discovery illuminating the right idea from many possible ideas, as well as the crafting that makes that idea utterly engaging to the right people at the right time.

  2. If your brand is service or retail, crowdsourcing for a creative idea will hardly push your brand-peanut forward. Intangible services require multifaceted messaging, that make sense at every touchpoint, and deliver coherent experiences. Crowdsourced advertising to date has been only for FMCG brands: Doritos, Heinz, Peperami etc, It's easier because they are for tangible products. More and more FMCG brands are getting closer to sponsored entertainment anyway to keep themselves top of mind but for service brands, the game is one of loyalty rather than impulse.

The point is that whilst one can outsource execution, one can't outsource strategy. And crowdsourcing for creative executions is easier to do for FMCG brands. FMCG brands have been running competitions for consumers to star in the next ad, or create a new flavour, for years and years. This isn't advertising. It's PR. It's the creation of an idea that will be talked about due to the novelty around its creation, rather than because it tells a story about the brand in a compelling, engaging way.

But why should we be surprised at that? Is it really any different to the way in which Simon Cowell uses X factor, as he crowdsources for singing talent, supplied by the masses for the masses. The proof, as always, is in the pudding, so it remains to be seen whether the next Peperami ad is the advertising equivalent of Jedward. Or worse, the one who won it before Leona. Who? Exactly.