Archives For thinkers

No matter how commercial or  ‘mainstream’ people say SXSW has gotten, you can always rely on Bruce Sterling to keep it weird. He used his closing address to quietly scare everyone to death with his prediction for the future (ageing + urbanization + climate change = big problems), before announcing that he was giving up being a ‘science fiction writer’ to become a ‘science fiction maker’.

 

Sterling, SXSW, climate change

 

Along the way, he gave us an insightful, eclectic and rather foreboding list of people he believes should be at SXSW in the very near future:

Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet: this French politician is educated, feminist, ambitious, environmental, vocal and extremely adept at turning social media visibility into public influence. Sadly, Sterling thinks these are also the reasons she has ‘almost no chance’ of winning the Parisian Mayoral Race.

Gianroberto Casaleggio: Italian web master for the ‘5 star Movement’ (M5S or MoVimento Cinque Stelle). An entrepreneur turned political activist, Sterling sees here an early prototype of what will happen “when smart, connected people with almost no political experience get into power – it’s not going to end well.”

Bruce Sterling, SXSW, climate change

Bruce Sterling has seen the future. It’s not pretty.

Barrett Brown: political writer and satirist, sometimes referred to as the unofficial spokesperson of hacktivist group ‘Anonymous’ and is currently facing 100 years in prison for sharing a link to document relating to the Stratfor email leak. “At the very least, send the guy some books.”

Cody Wilson: a right-wing and free-market anarchist who created Defense Distributed, an organization that created The Liberator, a fully-functioning 3D printable handgun, which has been downloaded 100,000 times. “Thanks to this guy, Austin now has gun stores that accept bitcoins.” 

Ross William Ulbricht: also known as “Dread Pirate Roberts”, the founder of Silk Road: the world’s largest online drugs market, operating on the deep web. “The dark side of all your 2.0 optimism.”

Texas Cryptologic Center: a wing of the NSA that doctors hardware for surveillance and “Answers, really, to no-one.”

Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG): a British government intelligence group that Sterling describes as secret police, agent provocateurs and disruptors of political discourse. “You may well be offered a job by these guys. Don’t accept it. You will not sleep well after this.”

Californians: in huge numbers, due to irrevocable water shortages caused by climate change. “They’ll be incredibly wealthy and they’ll need somewhere to run their tech businesses from. They’ll just move to established cities that have water and buy everything”. If that sounds far-fetched, Sterling reminded us of how California got started in the first place.

 

I travelled to Austin, Texas to cover SXSW 2014 for Ogilvydo, the digital magazine of thought leadership from Ogilvy & Mather.

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About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+

About the images: main photograph used with the permission of Martin Ollman Photography. Contact Martin directly for rights and commissions.

 

 

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Some people call them brainstorms. Some call them ‘Ideation sessions’. Still others call them “a complete waste of time”. Whatever you call it, the act of getting two or more people together in a room to think on the outside of their heads is almost certainly going to happen to you.

So you might as well set it up for success by following these 5 simple rules I was lucky enough to learn from the SXSW panel “Turning a blank page into a great idea”:

1. Get the numbers right.

You often can’t control how many people are going to be in a session, but if you can, keep it around the dozen mark – then plus or minus one. Odd numbers create a more natural sense of dynamism, which is crucial if you want progress. Dealing with large numbers? Break the room up into ‘cafe groups’. Y’know, a natural number of people you might see around one table in a cafe.

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brainstorm, creativity, ides

Brainstorms are often an exercise in random creativity. they shouldn’t be

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2. Get your timing right.

Below two hours is rarely enough time to establish group dynamics, wade through all the obvious ‘first idea’ responses and start generating fresh thinking – maybe even with some consensus. Beyond three hours, people get bored and, even worse, distracted by FOMO*.

3. Do your homework.

Group idea sessions don’t (generally) occur for  no reason. There should be research, background material, competitive analysis** and, if you’re really lucky, a brief. Read them all. Understand them. Then, summarise everything you’ve learned (plus some of your own research) to a series of sketches (not slides) and have them on the wall before you start.

4. Start as you mean to continue.

Don’t wander through introductions or meander through the brief, kick the session off with a short, impactful and creative intro. It could be as simple as a clip from YouTube or a quick game or quiz – but make sure it is at least tangentially related to the topic at hand. Put some thought and effort into your opener and you’ll communicate your expectations: thought and effort from your participants.

5. Pass the mic (or the marker).

Ask your participants to describe their idea, or problem or example (or whatever they are trying to express) as a sketch, without words. You’ll force them to think clearly about what they are trying to express, because they’ll want to boil it down to a simple a picture as possible. It’s also a good leveler: seniority and politics get replaced by drawing skill.

 

These 5 tips were distilled from the SXSW Panel: “Turning a blank page into a great idea”, presented by Edelman Strategist and Ideator JB Hopkins along with New Yorker cartoonist Matt Diffee, who also revealed his 5 simple ways to improve an idea.

 

* Fear Of Missing Out. It’s why you check your mobile phone Every. Thirty. Goddamn. Seconds.

** I was once handed a folder marked “Competitive Anal”. It might have been an abbreviation, but I didn’t want to risk it, so I left it unopened.

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About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+

About the images: all photographs used with the permission of Martin Ollman Photography. Contact Martin directly for rights and commissions.

 

Late last year, an American researcher used anonymised, aggregated data from multiple public sources to answer a question that had previously been only guessed at by traditional in-person or phone surveys: How many American men are gay?

For marketers what’s fascinating about this research is not that we finally know how many American men are gay (about 5%, it seems), but that the answer was made possible by marketing’s buzzingest new buzzword: Big Data.

Predictably, most of the media reaction to the research focused on the political implications of the findings (Here’s the headline: US states that are less tolerant of same-sex relationships don’t have fewer gay men, they just keep more of their gay men in the closet). However, the researcher Seth Stephens-Davidowitz revealed in a podcast interview with Dan Savage (warning NSFW) that he personally has little interest in the topic itself.

Multiple sources is the secret sauce.

In his role as a data scientist with Google and a NY Times columnist, Stephens-Davidowitz has been shining the ‘big data’ flashlight on some fairly provocative topics, but his interest is not in being provocative, per se. His work focuses on the potential of data analytics, fueled by the almost unlimited information generated by our use of the internet, to accurately answer questions we could previously only resolve with expensive surveys of limited scope and questionable accuracy.

Big Data, closet, gay, insight, truth, research, customer survey

Big Data can now measure closets accurately.

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Rather than relying on a single source of direct-survey information, Stephens-Davidowitz combined aggregate data from Facebook (relationship status), porn keyword searches (obvious enough), Craigslist (casual encounters listings), popular dating sites (profile and seeking data) and Google searches (including prevalence of the query “Is my husband gay?”). He then overlayed these sets with more traditional sources such as the US census and Gallup polls and found very strong correlations: a classic case study of combining multiple-source, multiple format data from unlikely vendors to learn something new and, perhaps, previously unknowable.

Let me tell you what I think you want to hear.

Survey data is notoriously unreliable, for a whole host of reasons. I’ve had B2B publishers confide that readers who claim they are responsible for major purchasing budgets, for example, rarely are. Junior staff talk up their roles to feel important, while more senior execs talk theirs down, knowing that publishers and advertisers are fishing for prospects and they can do without the spam. You can ask any advertising creative who has witnessed a ‘focus group’ in action to supply further examples of what people will say to earn a free sandwich and a turn on the microphone.

While prompted surveys are good for measuring intention, big data is increasingly being used to measure un-provoked behaviour. Which is otherwise known as ‘the truth’. As anyone who’s ever signed up for a gym membership can tell you, intention and behaviour are two entirely different animals.

9 out of 10 Marketers plan to use Big Data in their next campaign.*

It seems that while a lot of the marketing industry talk around “big data” is reveling in the technical wizardry of the tools and offering generic business double-speak about competitive advantages, the real story here is that big data, ultimately, knows the truth.

Big Data, marketing, research

Put your hand up if you like the idea of Big Data.

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It will, however, require creative minds to find and combine previously un-related data sets that reveal the truth about our preferences, purchases and behaviours. And this truth, in turn, will set creative marketers free – free to develop counter-intuitive strategies, pursue previously-dismissed niche markets and deliver provocative messages that resonate profoundly with an audience who knows, deep inside, that there is a brand who truly understands them.

* This statistic** is entirely made up, but can you imagine what would prompt a marketer to publicly admit they have no intention of using the latest marketing technology?

** 37% of all statistics are made up.

This post originally appeared on the Firebrand Talent blog.

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About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+

About the images: all photographs used with the permission of Martin Ollman Photography. Contact Martin directly for rights and commissions.

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Most of the interesting work I’ve been pursuing for brands over the last couple of years was directly influenced by the things I learned at South By Southwest, where nerds are celebrities and everyone is trying to launch the next Twitter.

With over 800 scheduled sessions, there is a hell of a lot you can learn in 5 days, but for the sake of brevity, I boiled the findings from my last trip down to a seminar called 10 Things Agencies Can Learn From SXSW.

For me, the most valuable thing I took away was a framework of authenticity, content, relevance and utility as guiding principles for creative and strategic development.

2014: we’re back, baby.

SXSW, texas, Austin, BBQ, Salt Lick

The Salt Lick: the other reason Austin is famous.

Thanks to my friends over at Ogilvydo (the agency’s online magazine for thought-leadership), I am fortunate enough to be heading to Austin again, as part of a larger Ogilvy team bringing you trends and insights for brands, marketers and innovators. My particular focus will be on storytelling: how stories are originated, structured, produced, managed and distributed for brands and their audiences.

There are well over two dozen individual sessions, including a handful of long-form workshops dedicated just to this area and I’ll be doing my best to learn from them all. I’m also looking at startups and innovation culture, growth hacking and future publishing. Here’s my schedule of sessions I’m planning/hoping to attend – if you’ve got recommendations or suggestion I’d love to hear from you.

South By South East Asia: Is America’s biggest tech festival broadening its outlook?

SXSW tara talk

Living in an Asian Megacity is the mother of this particular invention

I spent yesterday afternoon interviewing regional analyst and trendwatcher Tara Hirebet, who is based here in Singapore and operates out of the local chapter of The HUB, a global network of co-working spaces for entrepreneurs, technologists and creatives.

If you’re looking for evidence that startup culture is alive and kicking in Asia, I recommend you start here: it was virtually standing room only on a Tuesday afternoon. Tara was selected to present at this year’s SXSW and I got a sneak preview of her session,  ‘How Overcrowded Asian Cities Inspire Innovation’, which is one of several this year with a distinctly Asian focus.

Another is ‘Co-Creation by Design: Asia, Women & Innovation’ from Singapore-based entrepreneurs Grace Clapham and Bernice Ang. Look for the interviews and previews on Ogilvydo in the next couple of weeks.

You look taller than your avatar

One of the real joys of these conferences is the chance to meet IRL the people that you’ve been reading, following, retweeting and upvoting. If you’re reading this and you’re heading to SXSW, give me a shout @BarrieSeppings

There will be no shortage of SXSW advice articles in the next few weeks (and they all say: stay hydrated, wear comfortable shoes and A.B.C.*), so I won’t add to the pile except to point to the web services I’m relying on to get me there and get me through it:

– hitting up Airbnb for accommodation (which always scarce)

– grooving to these Spotify playlists

– getting some “I met you at” cards from moo.com

– pre-registering for a bunch of events with rsvpster

– keeping Uber up my phone sleeve (taxis are also scarce)

– finding a few local spots via ATXThrillist, if the lanyard crowd gets all too much

Despite all the planning and preparation, I like to think that the random talks – and people – are often the best. It’s always good to have a plan, as long as you remember to stay open to possibilities.

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* Always Be Charging

SXSW Interactive runs from March 7 to 11.

Tara Hirebet is an Asian Trend & Innovation Consultant & Ex-Head of Asia Pacific, trendwatching.com. She will be delivering “How Overcrowded Asian Cities Inspire Innovation” on Monday March 10 at SXSW, Austin, Texas.

Ogilvydo will be covering SXSW Interactive 2014, focusing on trends and insights for brands, marketers and innovators.

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About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+

Startup Accelerator 'Boomtown' Launches in Boulder with Alex Bogusky's Help  

You Don’t Need To Learn To Code + Other Truths About the Future of Careers

A couple of years ago, agencies went bananas* for Creative Technologists. Everybody started hiring them (except W+K, apparently) and so lots of people started adding that title to their LinkedIn profiles.

More recently, agencies have been creating Customer Experience roles. These are often based on more traditional UX skillsets, blown out to encompass more of the real-world touchpoints where customers meet and experience the brand, including call centres, retail environments, live chat, user groups, social networks and so on. Again, lots of people with related skills are recasting themselves with this title.

Here’s a prediction: Agencies will spend 2014 hiring ‘Growth Hackers’

This job title is emerging with warp velocity from start-up land, where it was originally coined by Sean Ellis in a post on his Startup Marketing blog. Growth Hacking originally described the low-to-no budget art and science of attracting new users to a brand new web-based start-up. Ellis describes a Growth Hacker as “someone whose true north is growth. Everything they do is scrutinized by its potential impact on scalable growth.”
Now the term is stretching and morphing to describe the pursuit of customer growth, to the exclusion of all other business-related pursuits.

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Growth Hack, agency, strategist,

Growth Hackers don’t wait for permission to launch.

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They’re part marketer, part coder, part strategist and all do-er. Growth hackers don’t learn to do, they learn by doing. They embrace that ‘fail fast, fail cheaply’ attitude to in-market experimentation. Instead of talking a lot about agile / scrum / lean / bootstrapping methodologies, Growth Hackers just fire up a browser, whip out the credit card and code together some existing services to create a new mini-machine for growth – one that can be switched off as soon as it stops firing.

Most importantly ‘Growth Hacking’ is the coolest newest skillset to emerge from startup land. Like most cool new things born of startup land, Ad Agencies will soon want some of that action.

Another prediction: Agencies will spend 2014 trying to figure out how to charge brands for ‘Hacking Growth’.

This will be the tricky bit. A lot of brands will probably sit in the Agency boardroom and listen to the Growth Hacker pitch, take a long, deliberate pause and then ask, in varying degrees of politeness: “Then what the fuck have I been paying for all this time?”

The other problem will be that true Growth Hacking is characterised by its lack of budget. Many claim that this lack of working dollars are precisely the precursor chemicals required for the bootstrapped, agile, bare knuckles marketing innovation (the ‘hacks’) that are the most valuable product of Growth hacking. Agencies are generally unfamiliar, if not downright uncomfortable, recommending their clients don’t give them wads of cash.

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marketing, funnel, growth hacking, agencies

Agencies and Growth Hackers already have this in common: funnel obsession.

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Hacking your growth to spite your agency model

Growth Hacking is lashed irrevocably to the mast of performance – everything is obsessively tracked and relentlessly analysed. When Growth Hacking starts emerging as a practice in large, established agencies, some parts of the business are going to be very familiar with this level of accountability (media, social) and some less so (creative, strategy). By contrast, newer, smaller agencies constructed of a small, senior team supported by an Agency Operating System will be, by definition, Growth Hacker agencies.

Another potential hiccup is individual agency, with a small ‘a’. Agency-side Growth Hackers will need authority to act and access to the tools that allow them to do so. Can they speak or act on behalf of the brand? Can they download a new app without needing IT to unlock their machine? Do they need Finance to pre-approve a subscription or software purchase? This procedural stuff is not trivial.

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Growth Hack, Agency, speed

Growth hackers don’t care whose ball it is.

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Speed is critical for Growth Hacking to be effective – under-exploited APIs have a limited lifespan as viable hacks. If you’ve got to make a pretty powerpoint and wade through rounds of meetings with the Vice President of No, the opportunity you want to hack might have already evaporated. By way of example, Airbnb famously ‘hacked’ Craigslist to get to build its own critical mass, now that hack has been shut down.

Prepare for the Growth Hack hype-o-thon

One of the clear indicators that Growth Hacking is not quite ready for big-brand prime time is the dearth of method and repeatability. This will be a fine line: too much process will kill the creativity at the heart of Growth Hacking but, like Social before it, some commonly accepted tools and best practices will have to emerge before it moves out of the garage.
Agencies are very familiar with creating processes and methodologies and frameworks, then packaging them to create perceived value. I have no doubt this will happen. I have no doubt it will also inspire the Growth Hacking backlash.

How agencies might get it right

Leaving cynical re-branding aside for a moment, I definitely see a place for Growth Hacking thinking, services, teams and talent, delivered within a traditional agency structure and applied to specific projects for established brands.

Think: new product launches; land-grab new market entries; activation campaigns; aggressive, short-term competitive plays.

Neil Patel is a leading educator in the Growth Hacking scene and he doesn’t see the role staying in startup-land for long, either:

“One more note on the future. For now growth hacking is relegated to startups, but eventually, growth hacking will be a part of fortune 500 companies. Startups generally lack resources, and the established relationships, that would allow them to be effective with the tactics of a traditional marketer, so they are somewhat forced to growth hack. However, there is nothing about growth hacking that cannot be applied to larger corporations. If growth hacking can work without resources, imagine what it can accomplish with resources.”

The part that makes me, on balance, optimistic about the rise of the role of ‘Growth Hacker’ is that it could offer a valid hybrid role for people who don’t fall into rigid definitions and job descriptions, yet still enjoy working alongside talented specialists on big brands to create things with genuine commercial impact. Agencies still have a chance at remaining one of the best places to do that from.

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About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+

About the images: all photographs used with the permission of Martin Ollman Photography. Contact Martin directly for rights and commissions.

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* I really dislike bananas, by the way.

 

Then this happened:

A few days after I wrote the the post, Sean Ellis (quoted earlier in the post as the ‘coiner’ of the term) was kind enough to tweet this:

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Sean Ellis, Growth Hacking, twitter

 

 

The discussion has since moved over to Sean’s excellent new community at GrowthHackers.com where several people are saying they’ve already been approached by ad agencies for consulting gigs and roles in the last month or so. Which is a bummer for me, as it kind of screws with my prediction.

If only those agencies had waited till January 😉

 

We’ve been in the business of anthropomorphising Brands for a while now. We talk about expressing the ‘Brand personality’. We ensure our Brand has values. We get very serious about this stuff, we call them ‘core values’. We spend a lot of time asking people to engage with our Brand. We help facilitate relationships with our Brand. But then we get jealous and appoint ourselves Brand Guardians. In short, we’ve been treating Brands as people and making their wellbeing our professional responsibility,

Shouldn’t we stop for a moment and ask our Brands if they’re happy?

I got to thinking about the mental health of Brands while attending a talk by UK psychologist Oliver James, who appeared at the Singapore Writers Festival* earlier this week.

James used his ‘meet the author’ talk to discuss what it might take (assuming it’s remotely possible in the first place) for an individual, family or even a society to be genuinely happy. By way of background, James coined the phrase Affluenza, wrote the parenting guide “How Not to F*** Them Up”, and is now advocating ‘Lovebombing’ – giving your child complete control (and emotional support) for 48 hours as a way of re-setting their emotional thermostat. As a speaker, he’s an acquired taste, but his insights were eminently applicable and grounded in fairly deep science.

brands, mental health, happiness

Not happy.

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While discussing childhood, parenting, materialism and the impending collapse of the economic system, he also offered some insight into the ‘dark triad’ of CEOs and other business leaders. Reassuringly, your boss is composed of equal parts psychopathy, narcissism and machiavellianism (and I imagine a lot of heads are nodding out there while reading along).

After dissecting all the things that make everyone so miserable (parents, work, materialism, Tony Blair), James summed up by offering a really useful and interesting checklist of the traits of mentally healthy people.

Here’s Oliver James’ recipe for happiness:

1. Living in the present

2.  Two-way communication (knowing when to listen and when to assert your voice)

3. Insight (understanding how your childhood affects your adulthood) and empathy (understanding how you are perceived by and affect others)

4. Playfulness (child-like wonder and enthusiasm)

5. Vivacity and vitality (these are not the same as hyperactivity)

6. Authenticity (which, importantly, is not the same as sincerity)

So if we roll with the metaphor of Brand-as-personality for a moment, we could probably take this recipe and use it help us nurture ‘mentally healthy’ or happy Brands. That is, Brands that people want to engage with and form a relationship with.

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brands, people, personality

We demand that almost everything has to have personality.

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The 6 things happy, mentally healthy Brands do:

(with apologies to Oliver James)

1. They live in the here and now: forget globally-centralised, 3-year brand strategies, happy brands live where you do and react to the same environment and times that you and I are living in.

In practice: agencies that are run more like newsrooms, global strategy with local input and real-time marketing.

2. They listen as often as they speak: set and forget broadcast models show brands have a ‘tin ear’. Listening for insights, alert for trends and reactive to change, Happy Brands also know when to assert their voice and have the self-confidence to make their opinions and presence felt.

In practice: social listening, empowered staff and a well-defined scope of expertise that your Brand can offer as a ‘gift of knowledge’.

3. They understand their heritage and their sphere of influence: Nike and athletics, Volvo and safety, IBM and technology. Happy Brands don’t deny they were shaped by their childhood, and they use that to their advantage. Constant, fashion-driven re-invention displays a lack of maturity. In practical terms: operating within a Brand’s wheelhouse and realising when a scenario is not appropriate for them to be present (Kenneth Cole, we’re looking at you). These narcissistic brands believe they are  always the main character in their own story.

In practice: take the time to understand your Brand’s original raison d’être and then update that for the here and now.

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skywhale, playful, happiness.

When playful things happen on a grand scale.

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4. They embrace play as a valid form of expression: Healthy, happy brands have a lot in common with human kids – they regard creative play as their ‘work’. Google’s ever-changing, often playful homepage is a perfect example. Taking yourself too seriously demonstrates a lack of self-awareness in humans and Brands, limiting themselves to only themselves as atopic, often behave the same way.

In practice: loosen up on the ROI metric-a-thon and provide a way for your fans to use your Brand to express something they enjoy. If you are accused of ‘just playing around’ – you may well be doin’ it right.

5. They show vivacity and vitality: Being unafraid to display bursts of unbridled enthusiasm (red bull let a guy fall from space) and also passion is a very appealing trait. When this passion is a passion shared with the audience, the Brand starts to feel like it is part of a tribe – it believes in the same things as we do. Instead, many Brands see themselves as the tribe, which we can only join via purchase.

In practice: create brand experiences and service that contribute in a useful, meaningful and helpful way. Re-consider the hyperactive ‘content factory’ approach that is merely evidence of industry.

6. They value (and practice) authenticity: When Oliver James explained that this was not the same as sincerity he illustrated his point with the example of Tony Blair, who was sincere in his admission that he knew Iraq did not have WMDs when he authorised military action. James believes Blair used his sincerity (“I sincerely believed it was the right thing to do”) as way of apologising for his lack of authenticity (“I knew I didn’t have the proof I needed, so I made it up”).

The practical corollary for bands here is in the field of PR and crisis management, where authenticity is going to be seen as more forgivable for a Brand than manufactured or self-serving sincerity.

The challenge now is for agencies to adapt their structure and their Operating Systems to be more ‘parental’ and less managerial. A happy brand is one that people want to hang out with and that has to be agencies’ number one objective, right kids?

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About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+

About the images: all photographs used with the permission of Martin Ollman Photography. Contact Martin directly for rights and commissions.

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* I really have to take a moment to declare that I found the Singapore Writer’s Festival, on the whole, to be a pretty frustrating experience. It’s not a brand I’m ready to have a relationship with.

Whoever designs the software defines the world.

Radical urban planner Mitchell Sipus questions the universal appeal of “smart cities”

One of the things I really love to do (apart from this sort of stuff) is say “I told you so”. I know, its petty and vindictive but by god it is satisfying. I don’t get to do that very often, so I’ve lowered the bar to: “See, some smart people have done quite a bit of hard work and they’ve produced some research that confirms a hunch that I’ve kinda had for a year or two.”

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B2B, buying, purchase, decision

Playing for the same team, but not necessarily on the same side.

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I got to say that earlier in the week when this article appeared in Forbes, shining a light on group dynamics in the B2B buying process. We all know that these kind of purchases are collegiate decisions (this is one of the key differences with B2C marketing), and the research was able to put the typical size of what we call the ‘buying cell’ at 5.4 people (based on North American companies). Patrick Spenner, who wrote the article, made the implication pretty clear:

“The punchline is, if your commercial approach

isn’t attuned to group dynamics, you’re in trouble.”

So far, so expected. But the new news here is not that there are several people who need to agree on a single B2B purchase, but that the lack of agreement starts very early in the ‘buyers journey’. By the time the buying is even a third of the way through the process (typically before your marketing has even shown up), they’re arguing. And they’re generally not even arguing about the price, or even which vendor, or even the solution. In a lot of cases, they can’t even agree on the problem.

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B2B, buying group, purchase

Show where the gaps are, and you can help the group structure a more productive argument.

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Yikes!

But also: “Yay!” – that’s pretty fertile territory for creative marketers to be working: defining problems, rallying groups, offering possible approaches to problem-solving. Notice how the product (arguably the least interesting bit of B2B marketing), doesn’t get much of a look-in?

What’s interesting here is how ill-equipped ‘funnel-oriented’ marketing automation tools and technologies are to respond to ‘buying cells’ in general, let alone one that might be in open conflict. The creative opportunities lie instead in the application of a little psychology and also through partnership with publishers.

Group dynamics, illuminated.

We’ve been exploring the idea of approaches that target the ‘buying cell’ in a particular company, where the offer (of distance education or networking or custom site visits) is made on the proviso that the entire cell takes part, as a cohesive unit. We’ve also had great success with publishers who track their users, not at the individual level, but at the company or even department level. When enough people from related roles in a single company start consuming a specific type of content (say, data centre migration), you can safely assume that a major data centre migration project is being kicked around.

The question then is, what can your brand offer that is genuinely useful (no, not another whitepaper) to this group, knowing that they are probably arguing mightily about whether they even need a data centre?

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About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+

About the images: all photographs used with the permission of Martin Ollman Photography. Contact Martin directly for rights and commissions.

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