Archives For big data

Adland is drowning under a tidal surge of narrative-driven jargon. Everyone is now a storyteller. Every post is now part of a conversation. I’ve railed against this before but it has been to so little effect, I’m starting to believe I’m the marketing equivalent of the guy who washes his car just before every rainstorm.

 

Storytelling, narrative

We’ve opened the storytelling geyser.

 

The Five Types of Brand Narrative (from simple to  complex).

Seeing as we’re all getting into brand storytelling (at least until we decide we’re getting into the next thing, like, say, artisanal persuasion), we might as well see if we can’t create some sort of order from the chaos.

The First Type: An experience.

This type of marketing is striving to generate a feeling, an emotional reaction. This is really in the realm of branding (more specifically, brand association) and tries to hard-wire a correlation between the appearance or suggestion of a brand and a positive firing of neuro-somethings in your lateral sub reptilian cortex. (I’m sure someone like Rory Sutherland knows the exact medical terminology). This type of communication is subliminal and, over time, the customer response becomes Pavlovian. Think: Reef footwear and girls’ butts. Mercedes and their door-closing thud. Apple and their polished aluminum. A local example here in Singapore is Ion shopping mall and their carefully calibrated scent, continually pumped through the walkways to simultaneously relax and energise the consumer.

Constructing ‘experience’ marketing has traditionally been in the realm of sponsorships and activation, but within the digital world, the most adept practitioners now are probably UX and CX designers. If you are using mainly adverbs to describe your communication, your are probably building an experience.

message, broadcast, storytelling, brandsThe Second Type: A message.

This is a (usually) rational statement, expressed through language in a way that makes it easy for the audience to articulate back to you or, more encouragingly, to each other. That language can be textual (Think Nike and ‘Just do it’) or it can be visual (almost all car advertising; hotels, too). The message can be uplifting (Pedigree and their wonderful ‘We’re for dogs‘) or it can be really quite banal (Walmart’s Everyday low prices.) What’s important to note is that the reader has no role in this message, except to view it and understand it. We are not meant to construct our own meaning. In fact, quite the opposite. Traditionally, almost all advertising operated within this narrative type. Today, most of it still does. If you’re using mainly adjectives, you’re probably making a message.

 

The Third Type: A story.

This is a little more complex, a little messier. A story doesn’t have to necessarily be longer, but it should have some ups and downs. If not for the brand, then at least for the use-case of the product or, better still, for the audience. The ups-and-downs can be as simple as Vonnegut’s man in a hole, as formulaic as the classic 3 act structure or as sophisticated as Truby’s 22 steps, but it must have a range of action, both positive and negative. And this is why most brands can’t handle storytelling: they have no stomach for the negative, the ‘hole’ part of the Man In A Hole.

digital, technology, story, brands

Adding technology doesn’t always improve the story experience.

When you combine the Story format with digital media, all sorts of possibilities begin to emerge, but it’s important to remember that good stories are still linear, even when they are digital, or interactive (and these two things are not the same). If you want to dive into that distinction, the best explanation I’ve heard recently was from The Goggles, makers of Welcome To Pine Point, during their excellent session at SXSW.

Another realm in which technology is bringing new creative potential to traditional storytelling is the arena of Data Storytelling. Several interesting examples have emerged recently, although strictly speaking, these are stories told about data.

The key thing to remember about the Story format is that there is a range of action and emotion (including both positive and negative) and that the reader or audience is allowed some space to bring their own meaning or interpretation to the communication – another reason why some brands struggle to become true storytellers.

Even though stories may allow for some interaction (mainly in terms of navigation and pacing), they do not generally allow for user reaction and input. That belongs to…

The Fourth Type: A conversation.

The defining quality of a conversation is that it is two way. Back and forth. I say something, then you say something. Then I say something that is a reaction to that thing that you said.  Then you might have to abandon your script and think of something different to say that takes into account the thing that I just said.

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The question remains: why?

And this really freaks brands out. Social media is a good arena to pursue a conversation format, but it does not automatically follow that your communications will be a conversation just because it is deployed on social media.

The most common criticism levelled at brands every time they take to a new social platform is that they treat it as a broadcast medium. They talk but they don’t listen. Or they listen, but they don’t respond. Or they respond but show no evidence of having understood what they heard. Or, most egregiously, no interest in understanding what they heard. “Join the conversation” is the classic direct response CTA, only slightly updated for Twitter.

The other difficult thing about the conversation format is purely a practical matter: it doesn’t scale. Technology hasn’t really solved this issue (just made it slightly easier to manage), because it is not a technological problem – it’s an inherently human one. We know this from real life. A single conversation can hold about four or five active participants before it either breaks into smaller discussions (Think: dinner party) or comes under the control of an active manager (Think: office meeting).

We see this now with the increasing recognition of the importance of Community Managers in executing these types of communications programs, and the pursuit of chatbots or ‘Embodied Conversation Agents’ that trick users into believing they are talking with another person. We’ve had the low-tech version of this for some time now: call centre scripts. Airlines, hotels and telcos have recognised the real use-value of conversation formats and simply added social channels to their existing customer service infrastructure. And it appears to be working.

The Fifth Type: An education.

Now it gets really interesting. And complex. This format works best when the brand has some information, some knowledge, that the audience may find useful. It really works when it becomes clear to the audience that this information is going to improve their life, or enjoyment of it, in some way.

education, brand, narrative, storytelling

Transmit knowledge and you’ll power up a deeper appreciation of your message.

The educational format does require some investment, attention, persistence and generosity (a ‘pay-it-forward’ attitude is a big help) on the part of the brand, but it doesn’t have to be a huge production. Digital is also consistently throwing up incredibly useful and user-friendly formats for education formats (Think: Lowe’s 6 second hardware tips on Vine). It is important to remember that you are placing a huge burden on the audience (Learning new things is hard work), so you need get the value exchange right. The audience has to believe the knowledge gained is worth more than the time and effort required to acquire it (Think: IBM’s NextGen CIO, an MBA-level shortcourse that helps IT Managers move from the server room to the boardroom).

Ironically, education formats can be as broadcast-y as you like, but take a tip from the people who do education for real: try to incorporate some sort of student feedback and scoring, to complete the transfer of learning.

Before I step off, I want to point out that none of these types of communication have been classified as content.

That’s because they are all content. This term was useful when we were emerging from the “advertising and PR” era, but social (in particular), has rendered the term meaningless, beyond a technical distinction between the delivery mechanism (the TV slot, the Facebook feed, the smartphone, the shopping mall aisle) and the thing that goes in those spaces (the ad, the post, the app, the scent). Beyond that, I think the term is now too broad to be truly useful.

Add a comment below if you’d like to join the conversation 😉

 

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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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These are confusing times for brands, and the people charged with growing them. On the one hand, we need to ensure the ROI of everything, while on the other we must pursue constant innovation. We need to be open to new technologies, platforms and networks, but we can’t spread our investments too thinly. We’ve got to stay on brand and on message, but we also need to go viral.

These competing ambitions make it very difficult for marketers and agencies to make intelligent choices for their brands – but it is largely our own fault. As an industry, marketing is particularly susceptible to ‘the shiny new object’ syndrome and, after attending SXSW interactive in Austin, Texas last month, I’m predicting that we’re about to start chasing after two diametrically-opposed aims yet again.

Plug in to everything.

Many of the presenters and panelists gave compelling testimonial that technology might not quite be everywhere, but it soon will be. More to the point, they believe it should be. Once we work out how the make wearable computing look more like clothes and less like, well, wearable computing, it appears inevitable that we’ll all be individually wired up, all the time. The ‘quantifiable self’ movement was also highly visible, arguing that the responsibility for monitoring health will soon shift to the individual – and the battery of sensors and transmitters embedded in our bodies.

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data, story

Expect data everywhere.

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Our homes, shops, offices, cars and skies will be literally buzzing with input/output devices, WiFied to the max and constantly shipping information to the grid. For marketers, this new tide of data will start to drive the automation of more decisions and more executions – we’re practically already there with automated media buying exchanges and personalised recommendation engines.

Easily half of the conference seemed to be welcoming our new Big Data overlords and the relentless efficiency it will bring to our lives, ready or not.

But stay, y’know, kinda human.

The other half, however, were preoccupied with that most human of endeavours – storytelling. There were panels and presentations and seminars and workshops on Product Storytelling, Immersive Storytelling, Content Storytelling, Transmedia Storytelling and on and on it went. The unified message from this side of the house seemed to be: use your marketing to tell human stories to human customers in a human voice, you’ll be able to make your brand appear more, well, human.

I’m being flippant here but some of the storytelling advice was pretty solid: stick to a linear format, don’t be afraid of offering complexity to your audience and don’t try and chase out all the imperfections, visual or otherwise. Implicit in all this advice was the belief that storytelling is an inherently good way to go about marketing.

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Is it possible to pull together the threads of story and data for an experience that is accurate and human

Is it possible to pull together the threads of story and data for an experience that is accurate and human?

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 Am I the only one who sees a problem here?

Maybe it’s just a re-imagining of the old above-the-line vs below-the-line marketing split for a fully digitized age, but I believe there’s a real schism developing here. The choice appears to be between a marketing philosophy based on ensuring the absolute accuracy of everything (marketing by algorithm, if you will), and one based on overtly accentuating the human element of communication (artisanal marketing, to borrow an adjective from the hipsters).

Perhaps the answer is ‘yes’.

Yes to being both data-informed and also to being story-driven, which is to say human. Just as we have seen the rise of ‘Data Artists’ in the visual arts world, ‘Data Visualisers’ in the statistics world and, more recently ‘Data Journalists’ in the publishing world, perhaps marketing is about to make room for ‘Data Storytellers’.

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Data Storytelling: patterns stay in the background, humans take the stage.

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This industry needs another made-up job title like a brainstorm needs a ninja evangelist – or like we need brainstorms, for that matter. Real creativity, however, often comes from combining two previously unrelated ideas to develop a new approach and I see real potential in combining these two ascendant disciplines.  A mashup of data analysis and storytelling could result in a new type of communication approach, one that is both accurate and human – and creative in a way we’ve not seen before.

 

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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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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Whoever designs the software defines the world.

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