Monthly Archives: July 2012
Today’s guest post is by Andrew Ure, Managing Director of OgilvyEarth.
In 1962, mixed-up confusion was killing Bob Dylan. His head was full of questions, and his temperature rising fast. Fifty years later, amid other rising temperatures, mixed-up confusion is confounding Australia’s efforts to respond to climate change.
One the one hand, the case for action seems straightforward. The debate over whether or not anthropogenic climate change is real is over, at least in the scientific community. Treasury modeling of the potential impacts of climate change makes it clear that taking action on climate change is in Australia’s national interest. Much of corporate Australia agrees with this. And all major political parties advocate taking action on climate change.
So why, according to figures just released in the Climate Institute’s annual survey of Australian attitudes towards climate change, Climate of the Nation, do 65 per cent of Australians believe that there are too many conflicting opinions for the public to be sure about the claims made about climate change? Where does all this confusion come from?
When huge-in-Melbourne STW Group company DT Digital expanded to Sydney late last year, Phil was lured from the UK to become its GM. Since then, he’s bolstered his team and DTD Sydney’s offering, forged close links with other STW Group companies, and had his theory confirmed that taking an integrated strategic approach with digital has never been more important. He clarified his thesis eloquently for his winning Nextness Prize post, concluding:
…the advent of the internet has heralded a new era of brand transparency, with much more to come. And in this emerging landscape, customer experience will become more and more important to the point where it’s far and away the most important aspect of running a business.
The lucidity of his argument and quality of his writing was enough to put Phil in the shortlist of seven finalists; it was the strength of his networks and his ability to create buzz that delivered him victory.
Three finalists traded the lead during an intense week-long battle for unique views: Phil, Deborah Frenkel (@deborahfrenkel) from JWT with her piece Monks on Instagram: some historical thoughts on the future, and OgilvyOne Sydney’s Simon Bloomfield (@dekkard42) with The future of 1dent!ty.
In the end, Phil won – just a nail-biting 175 unique views ahead of second place. (Can you tell that we spent the week refreshing Google Analytics? Well, we did!)
Phil’s prize is a week in the bustling south-east Asian business hub of his choice, and Nextness as a platform for his observations. We can’t wait to hear them.
Phil Whitehouse, DT Digital Sydney GM and winner of the 2012 Nextness Prize, can be followed on Twitter at @casablanca. His blog is PhilWhitehouse.co.uk. DT Digital’s twitter feed @dtigital and their blog are a great source of opinion and insight.
Congratulations Phil, and congratulations to all our finalists:
- As time goes by: the search for connection. Ally Neill, OgilvyOne.
- The future of 1dent!ty. Simon Bloomfield, OgilvyOne.
- Monks on Instagram: some historical thoughts on the future. Deborah Frenkel, JWT.
- Sometimes what’s next really is what’s next. Gareth Brearley, Enigma.
- Salesman and storytellers. Sean Mates, DTDigital.
- We were promised jet packs. Patrick Looram, Edge Marketing.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to live in the future. As a teenager I gave serious consideration to imaginary offers to travel with aliens, like Arthur Dent in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy; or time travel from some nutty professor. Would I stay in safety with family and friends, or risk it all and see the wonders of the future? The lure of space travel, moon-bases, computers that knew everything, Star Trek communicators, universal translators and, of course, Jet Packs, always won out. I would go as soon as the call came!
The call never came. But the future has crept up on me without the help of time travel or alien intervention. I have to pinch myself sometimes to realize how much of the future has arrived in the last 30 years.
Universal translators? I’ve got one in my pocket, courtesy of Samsung, Google and a few others. I used it not long ago to have a conversation of sorts with an Uzbek speaking restaurateur in the middle of Siberia. Captain Kirk’s “communicator” looks like a cheap Motorola from a decade ago. My daughter’s tablet works better than video phones imagined by Ridley Scott in Blade Runner (and that’s not even the tablet’s primary function). Apple’s Siri seems to surpass H.A.L. in intellect and utility. At least she has a sense of humor.
If I had stumbled upon time travel when I was 17 and travelled here to 2012, I would be astounded by the gadgetry, the wonder of this thing called the Internet and the wealth of information available at my fingertips. But I would be most impressed by the democratization of the technology in 2012: The fact that so many small groups of individuals brought so much of it into existence and the fact that it can be so universally available.
I would be most remarkably impressed with the way these incredible pieces of yesterday’s science fiction have changed the way we work, play, communicate and share our thoughts and lives with each other.
For you to really appreciate how much of the future has already arrived, I would have to remind you of what technology had done so far and where I had expected it to take us back in the day when I was hungering to become an alien abductee.
Some of it was phenomenal but almost all of it was consolidated in the hands of very few organizations or individuals. The atom had been split and then promptly used to annihilate a quarter million humans that were considered enemies at the time. On such dubious success, a planetary destroying arsenal of weapons suddenly appeared. Single red buttons of awesome power, too much for any one person, were put in the hands of very few individuals. I had to speculate about the mental health of people with names like Reagan, Thatcher or Gorbachev. I wondered “How did we get into this awkward position?” I studied the prevailing and celebrated geo-political theory of the time which was actually called M.A.D. Mutually Assured Destruction was considered a credible method to manage the world. Insane.
In the meantime, starvation was endemic in many parts of the world while agribusiness was convincing governments to be paid not to farm. Cities were crumbling and being overrun with lawlessness often perpetuated by the very people entrusted with keeping the peace. Planet-wide telephony was in place but it was meagerly doled out by huge corporations who had little need to innovate. Companies that controlled communication became so powerful they could compel governments to arrange the violent ouster of meddlesome politicians/1. Every technical advance from a corporation seemed to create an environmental problem greater than the solution it provided. Even when nuclear technology finally found a peaceful application, it blew up in our faces. No wonder the view of the future was so grim 30 years ago. Music, films, books and any other popular medium that dared to speculate about the future were distinctly dystopian in nature. An Orwellian future was a real possibility.
In the 2012 I am visiting today, the gadgets, the technology and the ways we use them have written an alternative future. It’s decidedly non-Orwellian. Small voices are banding together to deconstruct power bases, to keep corporations in check, to demand access to information, even to topple un-just governments. The way we work and talk to each other has changed so dramatically that even the most obscure, remote individual can contribute a world inspiring idea.
How else could a student in Hong Kong working alone late one night so artfully commemorate the passing of Steve Jobs, a global icon, and then have his artwork shared, viewed, appreciated and discussed with passion by people around the world in the space of 48 hours?
Ideas, inconsequential or not, banal or profound, good or evil, now spread like viruses and evolve or mutate faster than ever. As a result, power structures that have existed for decades are in the process of being de-constructed. And all of this is based on a simple but powerful idea: universal access to information and freedom to communicate.
Indications that a technology will be truly revolutionary begin with a realization that traditional power structures are beginning to devolve. Observable stages to this process exist. A loss of control of distribution is usually the first observable impact. Vested interests then react to this with attempts to use rules, regulations or social conventions to forcibly forbid the threatening technology or activity. A period of seeming chaos ensues. And then finally, and sometimes sadly, new power bases emerge from those that have figured out how to exploit the new technology.
Consider the printing press and its impact on religion in the western world. Messages at that time were distributed by the Church’s highly monopolistic and very well controlled distribution systems. The message could only be delivered and interpreted by a group of well-trained salesmen who were kept ‘on message’ through a very refined system of KPI monitoring, performance reviews, promises of advancement or wealth and punitive disciplinary measures for poor performers. Widespread availability of the written word completely disrupted that distribution system. Chaos ensued. The Church fought off this chaos with rules and heavy-handed methods that had worked well in the past but began to fail them: inquisitions, ex-communication, threats of eternal damnation…. Wars were fought for hundreds of years.
Eventually whole new power structures emerged. Adept users of the new technology triumphed. Winners included new religions, perhaps loosely based on the same content but with a revised and often decentralized distribution model. Others were new entities: constitutional monarchies, even the nation state.
All of this profound change originated in the garage of a guy a named Guttenburg, whose wife probably took one look at the thing he created and said “Kinda cool Johannes, but hardly going to change the world, is it? Now can you get back to your day job? Customers are waiting in the shop.”
More recently, the same process of distribution disruption, chaos, heavy handed reactive retaliation and the emergence of new power models has taken place in the music industry. Think of Napster, P2P file sharing, RIAA lawsuits against teenagers and welfare mothers and now the emerging power of business models along the lines of Live Nation. In the long term, this is a great development for consumers and artist alike. If it weren’t for these changes I might never have heard of the awesome little Scottish band that inspired the title to this post. I found “We Were Promised Jetpack” from some random chatter on the Internet. Not FM radio, not some huge record label, not some big box super retailer. It seems to me that there is more music in the world in 2012 than there was 30 years ago because of this disruption and re-organization. This must be a good thing. Even if the economic models aren’t yet fully settled.
So what’s next? Just as a country exports the most inconsequential of its culture first, this fundamental democratization of information flow has only had an impact on the least consequential information. Music, now video, celebrity gossip and the like have been disrupted, experienced the chaos and are re-grouping around new paradigms. But the process is only just now beginning to take place in the ‘public’ forums that constitute the news media. News, happenings and facts are not entertainment (although some of it can be pretty funny). They form the input of many important decisions we make as individuals and as groups.
It is long been understood that how news is delivered and who delivers it can have a very big impact on how a population reacts to it. “Funnel-ers” of information become king makers in this world. What’s not often talked about is the choice of what news to deliver in the first the place.
US presidential election coverage is a good example. News and discussion in the news seem to focus only on areas of often small or relatively inconsequential differences between candidates: gay marriage, abortion rights, women in the military. Rarely is there a discussion on how similar the views of the candidates are on more important issues like energy policy, job creation, and foreign wars. Alternative viewpoints on these issues often just aren’t heard. Without opposing views or counterpoints of information there simply is no debate. As a result, a great deal of basic news and information is often missing from the ‘public’ forums and we aren’t even asked to consider decisions on potentially more important issues.
I don’t believe in conspiracy theories. No secret club room, with heavy oak paneled walls, crystal laden conference tables and framed oil paintings of Rupert Murdoch in the background exists for a cabal of old men to decide what will go into the news. But there is a certain momentum from semi-coordinated vested interests that benefit from this narrow distribution system. There is also a certain laziness in the status quo of those who manage the distribution. It is the narrow nature of the distribution channels of news and information that has allowed this to evolve. And there is no doubt that many have had opportunity to take advantage of it.
The old distribution channel is being disrupted now. In 2012 I am receiving news from more channels than I can count, even if the content source of origin is largely the same. But I see new voices and new sources slowly entering the stream. Near to free production and distribution costs and few capital barriers to entry make this possible. The earliest adopters of opportunities are often on the fringes and are easy to discount as nut-cases, lunatics or worse. This will change. More will enter the discussions with credible things to say. And more people will want to hear what they have to say.
Confusion will reign because there will be too many voices. How can it be possible to assimilate the individual comments of 6 billion people on just one subject? The chaos is inevitable but what will emerge as the new power structure? I really don’t know the answer to this but I can’t wait to see what evolves. I am sure it will be more democratic, more inclusive and more useful to the individual. But I can tell you where to look for structural change.
Here are three Nextness things to watch in the evolving public forum space:
- Opinion aggregators: With no narrow distribution channel to force the filtering of information, and with so many voices and so much information coursing about, new ways to digest it are going to be needed. Data tools, listening tools and a host of other technologies are getting smarter and people are becoming more creative in how to use them. Watch carefully though, there is great potential for abuse here. As Benjamin Disraeli reportedly said: “There are three kinds of lies: Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics”. Writing algorithms will become a very powerful skill in the future. So it might be a good idea to tell your children to stop picking on the math geeks.
- Reputation models for source providers: Much fretting and handwringing can be heard from editors and owners of news organizations. Their chief concern: who will actually go to the source? Who will conduct honest investigative journalism? (It’s telling that this challenge often comes from editors and owners and not so often from the journalists themselves). The need and demand for reliable source data will not go away. In fact, I believe it will be a growth industry. It’s true that too much of what we see in these new channels is simple, unverified, re-hashing of what others have already said. But the same is certainly true of mainstream media today. Growth in recycled news will continue to the point where source information becomes more highly prized. What will change are the standards that ‘verify’ a provider as being credible. In the past, journalistic accreditation or being employed by a self-regulating publisher sufficed. In the future it will be some sort of crowd –wide reputation monitoring. The very transparent nature of this the new information model will help to make this a reality. It has already exposed some spectacular frauds who were ‘verified providers’ under the old system.2
- Curators: The most influential people in the future may very well be a new class of Curators. People who can consistently point you to the aggregated information from reputable sources that informs and resonates with you. They will probably shape your opinions whether you realize it or not. They will eventually wield power akin to those that control media through distribution today. They may be some of the same organizations from the current model. But they will have to work harder to maintain my interest, my loyalty and my respect. I won’t be as beholden to them as I was to the media organizations of 30 years ago. I hope you won’t be either.
In this future of 2012 you are free, if you chose, to talk back, contribute and shape the content or tone of the messages we all receive. Or you can passively observe and let others shape the world around you. The choice now, perhaps for the first time in history, is truly yours. Welcome to the future. It’s 2012.
Notes and Benjamin Disraeli acknowledgements.
/1 See ITTs alleged role in removing Salvador Allende from power in Chile.
- Jet pack photo borrowed from the blog of a guy named Todd.
- Steve Jobs apple commemoration was created by Jonathan Mak.
- We Were Promised Jetpacks (the musical artists) on Fat Cat Records.
This post by Edge Marketing’s Patrick Looram is one of seven finalists for STW Group’s Nextness Prize, 2012. If you like it, please share it.
By Sean Mates, DT Digital.
“What’s next?”….is quite a formidable question to consider. In particular, within the digital landscape where do we begin to place our predictions?
I find it curious though. For all the advances we continue to make, for all the foresights and trends that continue to appear and disappear (those in the blink of an eye or those which may be lucky to endure), I find myself feeling like the largest ideas yet to make their mark are those that could be reasoned to be a return back to basics.
One aspect of the industry we work in that often gives people a sense of uncertainty is the fact that like door-to-door salesman we are in the business of selling (I will confess it isn’t the way I like to describe what I do for a living).
Close to a decade ago I read a small and seemingly insignificant book by an author named Paul Arden*. At the time I made the assumption he was simply another new age motivational writer. Containing a writing structure that was casual and conversational in tone, its insights were plentiful, but subtle – those that made you feel warm and fuzzy inside, and made you feel you could change the world.
Being a humble student then, I didn’t appreciate his heritage and stature, in particular within an industry I would eventually become an integral part of. A few years later when I finally found myself on the doorstep of my first advertising agency the book serendipitously resurfaced.
One quote in particular has remained with me ever since.
When I mention that I am in advertising, people’s instinctive reaction is that you are trying to sell people things they don’t want…
Yes, of course, I am selling. But so are all of you. You are hustling and selling or trying to make people buy something. Your services or your point of view…
We are all in advertising. It is part of life.
There is a fundamental difference how I have grown to relate to this statement. Being young, and impressionable, upon first glance I saw it as a limiting. It wasn’t how I viewed the advertising landscape that initially surrounded me – groups of individuals relentlessly selling.
A few years later and the reality is I don’t see myself primarily as a salesman. I believe Mr Arden was hinting at another natural function of our everyday lives, and for that matter one that is hidden beneath the surface in the work we perform on a daily basis. Not only did my responsibility lay in selling, but I discovered it also equally rest in telling stories.
Whilst selling generates revenue, reaches sales targets and takes us closer to achieving ever-growing KPI’s, stories move, inspire and create revolutions. While I won’t be idealist in my thinking to say we should dismiss the traditional measures of growth and success in selling, I feel like we need to head back to the classroom for instruction in another valuable metric – reconnecting with making a brand’s story personal, and learning how to construct a narrative that is valuable and relevant.
Storytelling as an agent of change and influence.
If anyone second guesses the power of an effective story I would present the example of a global social phenomenon and call to arms that followed in the wake of KONY 2012*. If you happened to miss the hysteria and interest, the campaign centred on a Ugandan warlord who according to the documentary was still rampant in child trafficking, murder and similar heinous crimes in Africa. The movement was seen as a success on many levels although it has recently invited controversy around the honesty and authenticity around the non-profit organisation and messaging that was communicated. At the very least it is a lesson in the change and influence an appropriate story and narrative can affect.
After all what is it that makes us gravitate to a particular title in our local or seconds bookshop? Some get lost and follow their imaginations on adventures of travel, others romance and courtship, while some are content being able to adorn a detectives hat and play games of murder and mystery in their minds.
A story in the modern has now become a personal companion which shares those qualities a close friend or significant other contribute to our lives. We give it our time, and focused attention, surrendering our imaginations. It influences us and becomes a confidant.
The function of a story serves us with an invaluable contribution of meaning and purpose in our lives. They make us relate on a level deeper than the superficial, and they become something we retell and relate to strangers, friends and family – those closest to us.
Ultimately story telling is an art form. As the narratives we tell act as threads that serve to create a stronger tie and connection with one another, the brands we work with should be encouraged to explore this idea with greater enthusiasm and curiosity. While I predominately work within the digital domain, I recently came across an inspiring reminder that this idea penetrates all mediums – traditional and modern alike.
Kinfolk is a print publication (with a digital equivalent) whose manifesto reads as a friendly reminder of how the simple things can be the most treasured.
Kinfolk is a growing community of artists with a shared interest in small gatherings. We recognize that there is something about a table shared by friends, not just a wedding or once-a-year holiday extravaganza, that anchors our relationships and energizes us. We have come together to create Kinfolk as our collaborative way of advocating the natural approach to entertaining that we love.
They achieve this goal by exploring the simple and perhaps (perceived) mundane ritual of gatherings of friends and food. What makes this platform so intriguing is the way they have captured the personal inside its pages. It’s authors and contributors are artists from all walks of life – mums, newly weds and those at stages later in life. With a simple appreciation for the creative, in their own words they describe an ideal setting to share company. This results in a compelling insight into the power of being personal with your audience.
The tools of story telling.
If we turn our attention to briefly consider three of the most influential platforms to manifest in the last decade (Facebook, Twitter and YouTube), there becomes something immediately apparent and intrinsic across all three. They are social platforms which extend themselves to creating a universal dialog and sharing. While these are potent mediums to communicate a message, I raise the question we need to make sure we are using them intelligently for an appropriate function – not simply to sell but to tell compelling narratives.
If we deem selling as our measure of success then a thirty second generic ad to encourage click throughs seems fit to achieve its purpose. However, in a landscape where everyone is doing the same thing I would argue this idea is playing it safe. With the potential that is available to those bold enough to accept the challenge, we need to bridge the gap between the impersonal and the personal. While we communicate campaign results by the level of ‘hits’, facebook likes, and tweets alone; something fundamental appears to remain missing in this equation.
A potent example lies in an unpredicted course of events within a promotional spot for a low-cost digital camera targeting thrill seekers, adventurers and all round consumers – the Go-Pro HD. Without creating a spoiler of events I encourage you to take a few minutes of your time to be mesmerised by a climatic ending contributing to an unrivalled message that screams “I wish that was me!”. (The result of this spot has not only been a viral view count, but a product reputation that has encouraged a genuine consumer habit of people capturing their own adventures to share.)
Whether aboard a plane, sharing a coffee or being huddled up at a set of traffic lights, the role of the personal story in our surrounding spaces intertwines and has never been more relevant.
These mediums also remind us of another fact – our audiences are now inherently global, and exchanging stories knows no borders. We care about the individual stories of those around us whether local or abroad. As we cast our sights to landscapes abroad the potential for capturing the imaginations of our audiences has never been more exciting. Let’s just remember to stop and reflect to choose an appropriate story to express.
Old advice for the future.
Recently I joined the large digital family that reside at DTDigital. Whilst writing this post I looked at the expansive family tree that surrounds us (STW – our parent company). Within the twists and turns there sat a man by the name of David Ogilvy* who has held considerable influence. As a legend of the advertising industry I happened across another serendipitous quote:
I have a theory that the best ads come from personal experience. Some of the good ones I have done have really come out of the real experience of my life, and somehow this has come over as true and valid and persuasive.
The inspiration for the title of this article ‘Salesman and storytellers’ came about wanting to undertake an exercise in changing the perception of how we see the work we perform. I would like to propose a call to arms of a different type. The responsibility to construct compelling narratives for our brands is one that resides with all of us agency and organisation wide – from the associate producer to the creative director. Let us be inspired to not only sell our brand’s ideas but change our mindset to honour their individual stories.
Conclusion: a personal story.
While a prediction can be only that – at best a quantified guess, in closing I would like to end this piece of writing with something of a personal experiment. If I were to end without representing to the best of my efforts the very trend that I have predicted it would be a wasted effort. When it comes to sharing our own experiences, story telling becomes somewhat of a personal branding exercise. So here is my best effort:
Last year I was fortunate to undertake a goodwill trip to the country of Uganda. As illustrated earlier this is perceived as an unforgiving environment that holds a very dark past. Before embarking on the trip of a lifetime I coined my own personal brief to make the most of my experience –to capture a story in pictures or video that instilled emotion but gave awareness and hope for another’s plight.
Travelling by myself and armed with modest possessions of a single backpack and camera, upon arrival the curious eyes and smiles of the many strangers that welcomed me showed me a different side to the country. In the end I spent considerable time at a children’s orphanage in a small village called Iganga and in doing so discovered the narrative I wanted to express. The final product can be seen here.
My final thought: Initially I wanted to place my prediction exclusively within the digital domain. However, as has been demonstrated, the story and its potential to transform the landscape around us in new ways doesn’t sit within a single silo. It is universal in its application.
Happy story telling everyone.
- The book in question was It’s not how good you are, it’s how good you want to be. Paul Arden is former Creative Director at Saatchi and Saatchi in London.
- KONY 2012 was made by a non-profit group in the United States called Invisible Children. The video can be viewed here.
- More information can be found about Kinfolk here.
- Go Pro HD.
- David Ogilvy quote taken from the book King of Madison Avenue
- My own personal story can be seen here.
This post by DT Digital’s Sean Mates is one of seven finalists for STW Group’s Nextness Prize, 2012. If you like it, please share it.
By Enigma’s Gareth Brearley.
Sometimes what’s next REALLY IS what’s next, but more often than not it’s something that never will, nor ever could, exist in the real world. So here’s something that’s actually about to explode into the mainstream, into every high street, every home and every office, and hardly anyone is aware of it.
This is 3D printing. The technology works, the price is right and it’s limbering up to take the leap from trade shows and expos to a desk near you. And when this next becomes now, the products of your imagination will emerge from a new box next to your PC at the click of a mouse, as unique objects of desire or as multiple copies; solid, real and ready to impress.
Here’s a look at what 3D printing can do.
But the real thing to think about, is what will YOU do with 3D printing? First, you’ll make thingys and what-nots as novelty toys and gifts. Probably some tools too, and maybe some new frames for your glasses, and why not some new heels to fix those favourite shoes. Next, the serious stuff starts, stuff that will add a new dimension (literally, of course) to what you do at work.
Marketing brochure? Web page? Would you like a scale model with that? Dear customer, don’t just look at a photo of x, y or z – we’ll send you a perfect miniature to help seal the deal. Considering a cruise? Here’s a model of our ship, this is your cabin right here! Buying a bike? Please accept this bell as our token of good will, look it’s even got your name on it, and it actually works, how cool will this be to have on your handlebars!
Pop up shops. They seem to be happening all the time. You’re working on one right now? Well, let’s get the boys and girls in the studio to design and print out some signage for it. And some bespoke POS items. By 4pm? But of course!
Guerilla marketing campaign? We’ll have 50 luminous yellow and green branded bananas over there in an hour. A trophy for the winner – we’ll print out a few different designs, you can pick which one you like best.
Creatives: it used to be about getting skilled-up for the web; learning Flash and the like. Now you can add 3D modeling to the list.
Suits: You want it, you can afford it. 3D printing is going to be quick and cheap. Start building it into the budget.
Production: Stock up on cartridges. You’re going to need lots!
Here’s a lifesize 3D motorcycle. Today you can find it on the internet. Tomorrow, you can print your own…
This post by Enigma’s Gareth Brearley is one of seven finalists for STW Group’s Nextness Prize, 2012. If you like it, please share it.
We are living out our careers on shifting sands. But from here, in our offices and behind our desks, it’s easy to lose sight of just how big these changes are. ‘Shifting’ doesn’t quite capture it.
The seismic transfer of power and influence from large organisations to individuals is increasing at an extraordinary rate. Governments have literally fallen. Business models haven’t just been disrupted – they’ve been obliterated. Virtually every sector is undergoing reconstruction – education, sport, politics, commerce, finance, entertainment – the list goes on. And citizens have the power and tools to self-organise on a global scale.
It’s human nature to play down the extent of these changes, especially when our careers have been built on the status quo. Our brain is simultaneously tricking itself that it understands complex scenarios more than it actually does, and then prompting decisive action based on these assumptions. It’s a defence mechanism for trying to cope with such dramatic uncertainty. The reality is that the rate of change is, itself, increasing, further reducing our ability to predict the future – never mind understand the present.
Commentators occasionally draw parallels with the impact of movable type. There were plenty of naysayers – religious leaders, mostly – who did their best to resist the inevitable. In that case, it took several decades for the physical apparatus to spread through the cities of Europe before the impact was felt. We’re dealing with an entirely different phenomenon today, and given the proliferation of devices and technologies, and near-instant impact of innovation, we can expect to see a dizzying array of changing behaviours. The revolution is just getting started.
It’s clear that hoping things will calm down isn’t a strategy for success. So let’s face facts. Our customers have developed bullshit detectors, finely tuned to sniff out marketing messages that are style without any substance. They have (almost) complete control over the messages they receive, and can filter out unwanted distractions with ease.
But exhibiting style with substance through conventional marketing channels is fine, and helps to establish a brand identify synonymous with integrity, purpose and dependability. There are emerging tools and techniques for making sure your company still has the potential to get in front of customers and exhibit this substance. Where do you start?
The simple answer is that you start with the customer, and work backwards from there. And straight away you can see an important parallel with conventional marketing. But the key difference is where conventional marketing seeks to obfuscate the customer into easily digestible abstract chunks, ready for broadcast, the new approach cozies up to customers with all their foibles.
People are messy. They have a dizzying array of needs, wants, ambitions, drivers and motives. They have affairs, commit crimes, lie, and think they’re entitled to better customer service than everyone else. They’re also friendly, and charitable, sexy, and have lots of other great qualities too.
And if you’re not listening to them, and working with them, on their terms, then one of your competitors will do this for you.
The trick is in acknowledging that people are messy, and can interact with your brand in any multitude of ways. Not only that, they can bob and weave across literally dozens of potential touchpoints – TV adverts, word-of-mouth, twitter, facebook, web site, shop, phone, letter, eDM, banners, posters, morning TV shows, newspapers and many more.
The touchpoints which the customer trusts the most are those which you seemingly have little direct control over. If someone complains about your product on twitter, the potential reach is global and instantaneous.
And this is what I mean when I say that Customer Experience is the new brand. Word of mouth has long been trusted by customers above advertising, but now the tools of the internet have amplified word of mouth to the point where it eclipses messaging in the paid media space. All with a flick of the wrist.
As this new world order takes shape, a few things become clear. First, the companies that will be the most successful are those who share the same values as the customers they seek. This can’t just be a veneer, the companies have to actually have and care about these values, and demonstrate this across the various touchpoints. The business of developing and communicating these values internally will increase greatly in the years to come – and the challenge for larger companies is articulating how these values should be applied across every touchpoint in a way that makes sense to employees.
These values are important enough that you shouldn’t hire people who don’t exhibit them. Even the HR department needs to be customer centric. And if you’re thinking that exposing your staff to your customers is risky, it’s worth remembering that people expect human behaviour in the social space. Mistakes will be forgiven so long as you’re quick to admit them. People don’t want you to be perfect – they want you to be useful. And honest. And reliable. What’s more, given the volume of activity across the social space, giving staff support to engage on behalf of the company is one way to make sure the adventure scales.
But the truly great thing about these company values is that, once you’ve defined them, they’ll become the lights that guide every execution across all those touchpoints. You can use these values to drive consistency everywhere.
Think about it this way. To succeed in the social space, you need to earn trust. As Doc Searls and his band of Cluetrainers have said for years, first you have a conversation, then you build a relationship, and only then can you pursue transactions. You need to exhibit human qualities to get there. Empathise. Show some humility. Recognise and demonstrate that you need the customer far more than they need you.
The customer experience across every digital touchpoint – whether owned or earned – should be akin to a good waiter in a top restaurant, or a concierge in a top hotel. The thought given to the customer should be evident by the ease with which they can meet their goals. They should be able to move seamlessly, joyfully through the system.
Pick your technology very, very carefully. Decide what you want the technology to do before you select it. Amazingly, the majority of companies still don’t do this. If you’ve already selected a platform before deciding what you want to do with it, you may have a big problem. Remember that an optimum customer experience is now the cost of operating in a competitive environment. Can you afford to use the wrong platform, if it delivers a sub-optimum experience? Probably not.
You might ask where advertising comes into this. David Ogilvy wrote, back in 1963, “Every advertisement should be thought of as a contribution to the complex symbol which is the brand image”. I would argue that this is just as true today as it’s ever been. The web has simply reasserted more transparency on the value of marketing alongside the value of a quality product or service – the former can no longer paper over the cracks of the latter (incidentally, the vast majority of Ogilvy’s advice stands true today. His books are well worth a read).
At first blush, this emerging landscape may seem rife with risks and threats. But once again you can fall back on one of your traditional marketing tools – the good old SWOT analysis. Many of these threats can be turned into opportunities. But it has to happen from the inside out.
Those readers who frequently attend conferences will be sick of the sight of comparisons with Apple. But, from a customer experience advocates’ view, they’re a godsend. Here we have a company which claimed 9% of the market share for smartphones, and 75% of the profit. 75%!! Proof positive that people are willing to pay big bucks for a premium customer experience.
But look at the other end of the market. At the time of writing, Nokia has just fired 10,000 people, and their stock fell 19%. Again, proof positive that there isn’t room in that specific market for someone not providing an amazing customer experience. Is there room in yours? If so, how long do you think that’ll last?
And if you can develop this awesome experience across every touch point, it has an all-important cumulative effect. And it turns out that you *can* influence word-of-mouth. As your great reputation gathers momentum, you’ll wonder why you ever failed to put the customer experience at the heart of your business.
Of course, there will be those among you who will say that nothing important has changed. Certain companies have always been synonymous with good service, and made a tidy profit as a result – well before the age of the internet. But my point still stands; the advent of the internet has heralded a new era of brand transparency, with much more to come. And in this emerging landscape, Customer experience will become more and more important to the point where it’s far and away the most important aspect of running a business.
This post by DT Digital Sydney’s Phil Whitehouse is one of seven finalists for STW Group’s Nextness Prize, 2012. If you like it, please share it.