Friday, 25 February 2011

The new class system: the "knows and know-nots"

I am starting to think that our relationships with technology may well begin to re-draw class boundaries and put in place a "politics of technology".

Smart users of smart devices are accessing all kinds of valuable services that those not on smart devices cannot access or do not want. The irony is that it might be those who cannot afford an iPhone who would most value a 2 for 1 pizza deal on a week night, a free cinema ticket or 10% off high street brands.

If there aren't the right levels of education across the customer base then we could see a class system not of ‘haves and have-nots’ but of ‘knows and know-nots’….which inevitably does lead to a separation between the 'haves and have-nots'

And that makes for friction rather than harmony within society. Not only do those who aren’t ‘smart’ with technology not get the best value; they don’t get a vote. As social media grows and participation in the political and social debates gets more voluble, there could develop a class of technologically-inequipped people who have no voice – or certainly can only whisper when it comes to having their say.

Services that help educate customers in technology are incredibly important in order to share skills and knowledge more widely. One reason why they shouldn’t become a paid for service. The most generous gesture a brand can offer in the emerging world is to offer learning, share knowledge and help transfer skills between people. Otherwise we will be creating a class of people who might be referred to as the informed and therefore 'Influential Elite".

More to come on this I hope, as I think it will be a defining feature of the next few years; whether in mobile; cloud computing, or TV, there will be those who 'know-how' and those who 'know-not' - two classes of people enjoying different levels of access, value and rewards in the post-digital age.

Tweets are news

On twitter, I'm starting to think of it much less as a social medium and much more as a real-time news channel.

When the quake hit NZ I found out on twitter a full hour before the BBC News channel announced 'breaking news'... Moreover, the best way brands have found to use it to date is through time-sensitive promotions, and news about offers.

Equally, consumers seem to be using it for communicating news back to brands about their experiences with their product or service, good or bad.

Of course mostly it's used as self promotion so it feels like twitter is turning into just a set of 'news headlines' - 'a bulletin board for brands' - (whether a corporate brand or your own personal brand) rather than a truly space for groups of people to discuss. In other words a two way news channel which inevitably becomes a sales channel. Interesting.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

The Value of Aesthetics

One of the trends we're seeing is the move from believing that creativity exists solely or mostly in the idea, rather than the craft. In recent times, we've been rather seduced by the idea of the Big Idea. We have come to believe that the creative spark comes in the form of 'innovation', rather than 'aesthetics'.

There is a lovely talk here from Paul Feldwick which points to the counter view, and encourages us to rebalance and rethink where creativity lies.

I think this point about 'aesthetic value' is key in developing a 21st Century Brand. And is becoming an increasingly important component of the overall value exchange.

Brands that really work in the new spaces, in useable ways, and delight and entertain us, temd to be those with a heavily thought out 'design' narrative. Whether a technology-driven product like an Apple iPhone, or a human-centric service like First Direct 24 hour banking, there's an aesthetic quality 'designed in' to the brand, the service, the product...the experience. This is 'creativity-inside' and it is about beauty, attractiveness and, above all, sheer magnetism. As Paul quotes Bernbach...'the difference is Artisty' - we may these days call it design (sound design, visualisation, or even 'touch'...) but however we choose to tell the story of a brand it's the aesthetic that tells that story most creatively, and therefore should be designed-in to the very heart of the brand, not just its communications. In fact, it is the communication.

Monday, 21 February 2011

In praise of UNLIKE

I'm feeling increasingly uneasy about the fact that there is so much talk of 'likeminded-ness' at the moment. I know there is a healthy appetite for community, collaboration co-creation, but this 'sense of similarity' is bothering me, somehow. Whilst it is obviously true that groups of people with shared values can become a powerful force for good (or evil) in that they can create great influence and momentum in their endeavours, I wonder whether that idea of like-mindedness in itself is always 'good'.

We've all observed 'group-think' in focus groups, as we see 7 people willingly be led by the one other person and their strong (often inaccurate or ill-informed) opinion. And we've all sat in workshops or brainstorms in which the like-minded-ness of the group has jettisoned any kind of breakthrough thinking right out the window before even a single croissant has been passed around.

The problem, I would suggest, is that the best ideas come out of argument, debate and opposition. I know it all makes us feel better if we can agree that Apple is the most impressive brand; or that Daily Mail readers are all dimwits - but the reality is that we don't assert those things because they are true; rather because they make us feel we 'belong'.

Dear old Facebook has exacerbated the situation by audaciously branding the whole concept of 'like-minded-ness'. In the race to build, organise, manage and secure communities (a race in which Facebook is clearly first over the line) they have coveted not only the word, but the 'action' of like-minded-ness by inviting people to show the things they like to other people who might also like that same thing.

But it's further widespread than social media sites. When we talk about the evolution of organisational structures of companies and the re-engineering of teams, we are very prone to leap to the conclusion that a team of 'like-minded individuals' will be the answer. I'd suggest that actually, often, it won't.

In the previous post, I referred to Gilbert & George who had declared that "we are weird and normal at the same time". Now no-one can deny that they aren't breakthrough artists. And i wonder if their peculiar kind of innovation and success is due to the very fact that they have between them a sense of 'opposition that can co-exist'.

I think i remember reading somewhere that diverse teams or partnerships take more time to coalesce, but that they are in the end more effective than homogenous teams when it comes to innovation. In valuing differences, teams tend to hold fewer preconceived ideas as to where the solution might lie, and through a process of debate and dialectic, come to a more informed point of view. The way to think of it is that diverse teams are engaged in more learning, than teams who are already like-minded could possibly be.

Last year, I sat for two weeks on a Jury, sitting on an extremely serious and complex case. When it came to the process of deliberation, tempers flared, logic and emotion clashed, and diverse opinions were debated until it turned dark. The jury system works because it has diversity build into the very heart of it. Because it is nigh on impossible to ever get to the truth of anything, the only way to get close to that is to debate, disclose and discover...and that can only come via diversity.

And finally, the future of brands is going to be extremely dependent upon their ability to offer access to knowledge they don't themselves hold. This will be through partnerships, or agreements and will therefore require companies to not only establish an '...& friends' model but an '... & frenemies' model. The value is in the strength through compensation as much as through collaboration.

So, as a counter to the craze for all things 'community' I would like to praise all things and behaviours based on 'unlike'.

Those who UNLIKE:
  • know that they will learn less from their friends than their enemies
  • value originality over and above acceptability
  • aim to debate the strength of an idea rather than just vote for it
  • view likeminded-ness merely as a difference rather than a preference
  • know beyond doubt that the answer cannot be the thing to which everyone agrees
...and don't mind that their blogger peers will not agree

Saturday, 19 February 2011

The Future of Advertising is a Mystery

Problems reside in things; mysteries surround people

Earlier this month, on This Week, Gilbert and George explained to Andrew Neil when asked whether they were conventional or eccentric, that they do not see themselves as either. They said: “we are weird and normal at the same time. We don’t believe in conventional or eccentric”. How refreshing! The idea that complete opposites can live in harmony despite the differences, makes for a much more interesting world. And it makes for a much more interesting ‘team’. And, I would argue, makes for a much more interesting environment, in which one solves more interesting problems in more interesting ways. This should be the future of advertising.

I think we should stop seeing our job as ‘manufacturing’ messages and arguably, stop seeing our jobs as solving problems. Why don’t we start seeing our role as solving mysteries. Problems require ‘solutions’ and solutions tend to be thought of as ‘final’. But what we do, isn’t imbued with that kind of finality, or certainty , or rationality – not in the information age.

Usually, brand problems exist in various guises, they hide amongst things, then reveal themselves, and just when we think they are extinguished pop up again elsewhere as something altogether different. Brand problems move around, they’re social – and in this digital world we live in, they don’t disappear. So I see what we do as much more akin to solving mysteries than solving problems.

If we ‘Re-Imagine’ what we’re doing as solving mysteries, we start asking different questions. We don’t expect to ‘extinguish’ something, we expect to ‘understand’ it’; we don’t expect the solution to reside in one simple action, but in a variety of spaces; and we don’t assume the answer lies only within analysis rather from a combination of analysis and imagination. Like Gilbert and George, a mystery has within it both ‘weird’ and ‘normal’ and therefore requires both weird-ness and normal-ness present together to tackle it.

In summary: We are no longer taking on a brief we are taking on a case!

Like Holmes, Morse, or Columbo, when we take on a case, we start with behaviour; that of the suspect, that of their associates, we look for patterns and anomalies. We assume that what we’re being told is not entirely the ‘truth’ and we search for fragments of gossip, information, and other types of stories that are given from various perspectives …and whilst we do, we tend to believe our eyes more so than our ears.

Imagine the implications for how we approach data. We should be investigating it for patterns and perspectives. Seen through the lens of ‘mystery’ we’re not simply seeing data as a way to ‘analyse’. We see it less as a stream of numbers, and more as a snapshot of behaviour and therefore ultimately, an insight into human nature.

We would look for the human stories within the numbers. Searching not for ‘answers’ but for patterns; approaching it from various perspectives and searching for links with other things we have observed in ‘real’ life. For what we should be doing with data, is exactly the same thing we do when we sit on a park bench or at a pavement café – we’re people-watching. If we’re in the business of mystery, our data analysts are merely people-watching, albeit from their desks.

The interesting thing about this is, whilst people sometimes don’t want to pay for ‘data’, because it’s just numbers isn’t it (!), and therefore in some sense a commodity; people do pay for stories. Over thousands and thousands of years, people have paid for access to plays, poetry and pantomimes. Because story-telling around the human condition has universal appeal – unlike problem-solving (your problem isn’t necessarily the same as mine) which is particular and seen as ‘specialist’.

Anyway, in the realms of data if we think we’re solving a problem we’ll look for similarities; if we think we’re solving a mystery we will look for similarities as well as differences – we’ll be looking not only for the normal (the things that seem ‘true’) - but also for the things we don’t understand - the weird. For example, often it appears to no longer be ‘normal’ to be a ‘normal’ weight. What do we now perceive as ‘normal weight? Perhaps a size 8 if you read Vogue, but size 16 if you shop in M&S. so, what is ‘normal’ for someone who reads Vogue and shops in M&S? Again this moves us from framing the task as one of ‘analysis’ to framing the task to one of ‘understanding’. Problems reside in ‘things’; mysteries surround ‘people’.

Which brings me to teams: I hope by now, it’s become clear as to why whilst a ‘collective’ might solve a problem, it will never solve a mystery. It’s for that reason that we might want to re-think not only ‘agency’, but ‘collective’ as the right format for describing the optimum team-dynamic. The team solving a mystery needs to be normal, and weird. Like Gilbert & George it should be a partnership. Which does not necessarily suggest similarity; in fact it could be made up of complete opposites; complete opposites that co-exist.

We are in an era of which I would like to term as ‘co-incidence culture’. Where people are doing lots of seemingly contradictory things at the same time. One in which people are at the same time exercising individual rational choice and being influenced by social norms; transmitting digital data whilst enjoying the physical reality; sharing whilst being completely alone; ‘liking ‘ the things they are at the same time moaning about it; and giving away one thing whilst buying another. In this crazy culture of co-occurrence, of co-existence and synchronicity, how can we isolate and identify things as ‘problems’ – as if something utterly ‘weird’ needs to be utterly ‘normalised’ by us.

To finish where we started, the entymology of ‘mystery’, in addition to meaning ‘truth via divine revelation’, is also explained as ‘handicraft, trade or art’. The sense of craft-skills, intuition, experience and humanity is all there, and a better way of describing what we do in the world of pluralism these days.

After all a leap requires both a ‘left’ and ‘right’ and could never come about without both.