Investing in relationships

This week I read a brilliant blog post by Sasha Ditcher reminding us that we need to invest in the relationships that matter to us (in both out business and personal lives). Plenty has been written about how the rise in communication technology has made us worse at communicating. You might even make the link with the recent figures showing the number of people disconnecting from Facebook as reflecting this.

But once it’s been opened you can’t close Pandora’s Box; like it or not mobile phones, email and social media in one form or another are here to stay. So if this stuff is bad for the relationships we value how do we find a balance between using them and increasing the amount of personal interaction through chats on the phone and seeing someone in person? Keith Ferrazzisuggests identifying the most important relationships you need to invest in and concentrating on these.

Perhaps it’s a judgement every time you have something important to say when you are reaching for that old familiar email maybe you need to stop and mentally double check. Would it make a difference if I call them on this occasion? Would they appreciate discussing this face to face? Will personal interaction be better than an email this time?

Investing in relationships that matter is not about abandoning technology (completely impractical), working longer hours (you can always change priorities to find time for things that are important) or attempting to call everyone about everything (likely to become extremely annoying). Rather it’s a case of rethinking our habits, clever prioritizing and giving that little bit extra to the relationships that matter.


Real time marketing – problem or opportunity?

We’ve all heard people talk about how the Internet has made everything move faster. When something dramatic happens (whether it’s a crisis or a cause for celebration) it travels quickly around personal networks, industries and even the world.

Marketers often see this as dangerous. The watchmen guarding your brand must be vigilant and ready to react the minute they hear the slightest whisperings of a problem. Those that don’t notice, fail to act quickly or react badly are punished heavily by customers.

But the Internet as a real time gauge of feeling can be positive, amazing and ultimately useful for marketers. When Christian Hernandez from Facebook spoke at The Economist Big Rethink event earlier this month, he described seeing Facebook behaviour during the World Cup. When they tracked the word ‘goal’ in status updates they could literally see millions of people around the world shouting goal through social media. This is a nice image, taking the traditional goal celebration shared between football fans and the people in their living room or a bar and connecting it to an even bigger network.

Another example of the benefit of realtime was shown by Håkan Thyr from Bazaarvoice when he spoke at eCircle Connect Europe conference (see Myles Davidson from I-kos blog here for more on this event). He showed how Dell uses reviews as a crucial component in product management and R&D. At a time when Dell was being criticized heavily, the company decided to set a goal that all their products should be getting a rating of at least 4.5 out of 5. When the project started they were getting 3.7 average.

Developers trawled the reviews for insight and changed their products accordingly. In order to maintain the high standard, new products are given a set time on the market and if they are rated as 3.5 upwards reviews are used to adjust the product. Lower scoring products are simply dropped altogether. This whole process has sped up the process of product development, customer feedback and product assessment compared to traditional evaluations through focus groups. By doing this Dell has moved away from the ‘Dell hell’ tag and re-built its reputation for quality products.

Today, as the UK budget is announced, whilst journalists are interviewing experts for newspaper articles and TV slots, the coalition government will be able to see a much more instant reaction through twitter, forums and social media. They may not be able to react instantly or even do anything with that information in the next few months, but they still have the ability to listen in on the instant reaction which offers new opportunities and possibilities.

Is marketing a dirty word?

Last night I listened to a naked scientists’ podcast about the psychology of supermarket shopping. As the presenter and a psychologist walked through the shop they discussed different in store marketing devices and essentially argued consumers are tricked into buying more than they want and things they don’t want.

It got me thinking about whether marketing is always going to be seen as a dirty word.  

So why do some forms of marketing have such a bad name? Are consumers really powerless tricked into buying things? There is plenty of discussion in books like Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink on whether we have free will and just how much this can be influenced. But with lots of conflicting points of view (just check out this in depth discussion on Brain Blogger) it’s not always easy to draw simple conclusions.

There is certainly not space to debate the issues of free will in detail here, so assuming we are in control, but can be influenced; does marketing deserve its bad reputation and if not how can it be shaken off?

Turns out I’m not the only one who has been thinking about this problem. In an academic paper from last year that Frédéric Dalsace et al. penned, they suggest marketing needs to evolve in a number of ways. For example marketing is seen as an acceptable form of communication when it allows consumers to find out the information they want about a product they are interested in. But can a line be drawn that defines the difference between persuasion and unfair influence or even manipulation?

One thing we are seeing an increasingly amount of is PR and digital interaction being used to make marketing more appealing. You only have to think of some of the best loved adverts at the moment; Alexander Meerkat for and Old Spice’s Isaiah Mustafa. Both have been embraced by consumer partly because they are brilliant ideas. But I would argue also through the power of supporting traditional advertising with high engagement tactics such as PR and social media.

When we worked on the Computertan campaign, highlighting dangers of sun beds, the amplification of the original idea through both blogs and traditional media is what made it truly potent. So come on marketers don’t just accept the criticism from Joe Blogs on the street – listen to him and evolve into something better.   

Women and tech…

An interesting piece of research by USA research agency Forrester has highlighted that technology firms such as Sony and Apple could be missing out on a massive opportunity by not marketing their products well to the fairer sex. This caught my eye because it suggests that marketers are assuming that male brains are hard wired to be more mechanically minded and would therefore enjoy the delights of a new phone/gadget/tech toy more.

But surely there is an argument that women equally have a reason to be passionate about tech too – if you read up on evolutionary psychology and sociology you’ll find reams of discussion about the need for women to be more social and natural communicators. There is some evidence that women are more left brain dominant and this has been particularly linked to creative and language functions.

Surely technology enables better communication?

You only need to look at the huge rise and influence of the so-called “mummy bloggers” to see that women actually have just as much influence online and so will probably also want, and need to be influential in the ways they access that online space.

In this blog by academic Alexandra Samuel there is a discussion about the pros and cons of the internet on our generation with reference to a recent experiment where the New York Times had asked a group of volunteers to give up using the internet for a period of time and relay their experiences.

Alexandra points out that the language used in these accounts is hugely telling – talk of purging, internet addiction and “time away from the madness”. I fully agree with the blogger’s point that actually it doesn’t make sense to slate our love of the online world in this way.

For example why would you ever go back to doing things in a low tech – more time consuming manner? Just think of looking up train times in a timetable; we have to scrabble around to find it, then it may be out of date, or we may find its wrong due to engineering works. How is this beneficial when the internet makes it so much easier?!

The internet has given everyone a huge opportunity to become writers, photographers, creators of all kinds of content, and a place to share that content. So returning to the original research – why are women who have always been traditional communicators not on a level with men in their purchase of technology? Is it just technology companies missing a trick and not appreciating women’s role in this space or is there a wider discrepancy in how men and women are interacting online?

One thing’s for sure, as the Forrester research showed there is a massive opportunity just waiting to be tapped. Those with the bright ideas and inspiration to tackle this will surely reap rich rewards.

Ideas and energy: Taking a different perspective

The marketing and advertising industry’s top brass have returned from a busy week of networking, events and for most, a bit of partying at Cannes. Joking aside, the event, which has been a contentious subject as agency belts are tightened, is still a brilliant opportunity to look at some of the best work created over the last year.

I was particularly pleased to see Sussex Safer Roads low budget road safety campaign ‘embrace life’, pick up a bronze lion. When D&AD blogged about this advert back in March, I loved it. It demonstrates that safety messages can be delivered in a positive emotive manner rather than always through scare tactics. I’m not the only one to feel this way either as the Facebook group ‘Embrace this’ has a growing fan base over 6,000 people and the Youtube video has almost 9.5 million views.

This week I also stumbled across VW’s brilliant fun theory project. The idea is based on the fact that there must be a more fun way to do things that are not always liked. So how do you get more people to take the stairs in the subway – you make it into a giant piano of course! Or what about how to get people to wipe their feet on the mat as they come in? Make it fun by turning it into a DJ deck with scratch noises.

Both the Sussex Safety advert and the Fun Theory project are successful and provoke a strong reaction because they disrupt what is expected. There is also an argument to be made that even the most negative people are drawn to positive representations of things. For example this week Gideon Spanier wrote his regular Evening Standard column on behavioural economics and referenced choice architecture which has essentially shown that presenting things in a different way can lead to real behaviour change.

It’s not just R&D for product development and advertising that can benefit from disruptive thinking. There is also a convincing argument that disruption in business models and strategy can also benefit your company. Just take a look at the buzz around Clay Shirky’s cognitive surplus book and the various columns that have looked at how this idea may change business (e.g. Julie Myers and this discussion on WSJ). So when you’re stuck puzzling over something this week see if you can turn the problem on its head and take a different perspective.

Is there a good way to deliver bad news?

This week saw the start of serious cuts from the UK government and this country is not alone in choosing to act now in order to start cutting deficits, with many other European and global governments planning similar schemes. Likewise the rest of the news carries the heavy weight of shaky markets, conflicts and uncertain speculation.  

This made me think about whether there is a good way to deliver bad news. Dr Robert Buckman suggests from his experience telling people with terminal cancer bad news; “Begin by listening, and end it by summarizing: review the ground you’ve covered, identify a plan, agree on a ‘contract’ for the next contact.”.

Essentially he suggests if you begin by listening then you can work out whether there is a mismatch between the perception and reality of your audience. This may be a good approach in one-to-one situation such as a doctor telling a patient the results of a test or an employer tackling a difficult review meeting, but can massive organisation like a big corporation or government ever listen meaningfully to their huge and varied audience?

Other advice suggests the key to delivering bad news is to keep it short and sweet. As this Guardian blog discusses earlier this year Jonathan Schwatz, the Chief Exec of Sun Microsystems announced his resignation via a Haiku on twitter. It’s almost like taking a plaster off- do it quickly and the pain is shorter.

Kevin Daley on Harvard Business Review commented that “Delivering bad news is one of the biggest challenges managers face”. He suggests there are four key pointers to doing it well:

1)      Do it as soon as possible

2)      Speak Candidly

3)      Give them the big picture

4)      Plan for difficult questions

Considering the big sums the UK government is planning to cut – the reaction from the public (so far) has been quite muted. The perception that MPs have been dishonest with the public recently may mean that actually people welcome bad news if they perceive it as a sign of MPs being honest and transparent. Likewise Christina Bielaskza–DuVernay, highlights that receiving bad news as a business can be a good thing as it allows you to act, adapt and ultimately survive.

Does the inner kid hold value?

Last weekend I finally got around to going to the excellent Digital Decode exhibition at the V&A museum which explores data, interactivity and networks. Some commentators have suggested that it’s an interesting show due to the way it deals with reflections, or the very transient nature of the exhibition, which is constantly changing and evolving according to visitors’ input.

Whilst I agree both of these things are interesting aspects, what really struck me was the magical way digital interactivity created enthusiasm and child-like behaviour in many of the visitors. As one person remarked to me as we were gesturing wildly to manipulate a digital canvas with an array of colours, in any other context people would think we look pretty crazy.

The idea of unlocking the inner child was also brought up in this week’s episode of Heston Blumenthal’s Feasts, in which he created a giant edible gingerbread house – specifically designed to elicit child-like behaviour. We’ve seen many campaigns over the last year trying to create nostalgic feelings such as Wispa’s relaunch. This all begs the question is there any value for brands and businesses, in encouraging consumers to take a step beyond nostalgia and actually encouraging them to feel like a real kid again?

If you watch young children interacting with the world, they often have extreme reactions to anything new in their environment. Whether something makes them laugh, smile or cry, it seems to be a much stronger reaction than when you present something new to an adult.

With many people dealing with stressful jobs and busy home lives, being able to escape from your day to day environment is understandably compelling. Many brands would love for adults to show strong child-like reactions as the participants on Heston’s TV show did and visitors to Digital Decode did. So what can brands learn from this and how can they harness this perspective?

One of the reasons young children have such strong reactions is because everything is so new and different, as opposed to adults who may feel they have experienced it all before. So part of making the most of the adult’s inner child (and their enthusiasm) must be being more innovative and surprising in order to warrant people’s attention.

I saw two very nice examples of using surprise on the Cream blog this week. The first was a campaign to tackle drink driving, a notoriously hard subject. Where the agency involved took a very different approach, by adding the cost of drink driving accidents to the bottom of bar tabs. The other was a deceptively simple idea (also picked up on a number of other excellent blogs  including the digital buzz blog and design you trust); IBM set up an interactive billboard which changed colour according to what the person stood in front of it was wearing.

Clearly to get this kind of cut through may be easier said than done. But the idea of approaching a problem from a new perspective and trying to elicit a different response by appealing to the inner child is certainly an interesting approach.