How advertising distorts brand marketing

“Only when television managed to emancipate itself from the economic construct of advertising was there a real emancipation of story.”

So said David Simon, creator of the greatest piece of art that has ever aired on television, The Wire – speaking at the Edinburgh TV festival last month (about in an interview with Charlie Brooker.

Similarly, brands – companies, organisations, whatever – need to free themselves from advertising as the core of how they communicate, how they practise marketing.

So do agencies (in fact many of them are already).

Advertising, to most people, *is* marketing. Since the 1950s at least, the TV ad has been the hub, the centrepiece of how marketing gets done. It’s where the money is, where a lot of talent goes.

Anyway, I was thinking about this last week prepping for a presentation at NMALive called “Influencing the Influencers”.

The title set me of on three trains of thought:

  • 1. How advertising as an “economic construct” distorts marketing and therefore business more widely.
  • 2. We need for models of communication that target both traditional influencers (media, celebrities, experts) and “accidental influencers“.
  • 3. Networks are inherently unpredictable (because they complex adaptive systems) – we need to avoid illusions of being able to predict and control behaviours and focus on “How to be lucky” as brands.

Here’s the presentation…

How to Be Lucky (Influencing the Influencers presentation from NMALive Sep 09)

Back to advertising vs. marketing. Advertising, TV advertising, distorts marketing in the digital age in lots of ways. The business models and the economic imperative still pulls in disproportionate amounts of budget, talent and attention from brand owners and marketers generally.

Just as The Wire was the result of TV being set free as a medium from advertising-only business models, organisations will benefit from being set free from the distorting influence of the advertising only model.

Meta-ROI and social media engagement for brands

I want to believe.

Granted, I’m finding it less of a credulity-stretching exercise than taking UFO-ologists seriously,

Charlene Li’s post for the Altimeter Group about their study of how engaged major brands were with social media – called ENGAGEMENTdb – says that there is a link between how deeply an organisation engages with its customers in social media and its performance:

…we also looked at the financial performance of the brands, grouping the companies with the greatest depth and breadth into a group called “Social Media Mavens”. These Mavens on average grew 18% in revenues over the last 12 months, compared to the least engaged companies who on average saw a decline of 6% in revenue during the same period. The same holds true for two other financial metrics, gross margin and net profit.

Note that we are not claiming a causal relationship — but there is clearly a correlation and connection. For example, a company mindset that allows a company to be broadly engage with customers on the whole probably performs better because the the company is more focused on companies than the competition.

I *believe* that this is right. It will be a tough one to defend in the court of cyncicism though, or even against healthy scepticism.

Kathryn Corrick (@kcorrick) Twittered last night that “It’s one of those things that looks mightily convenient. To really know you’d have to see the data and understand other activity.”

Absolutely, an I hope Altimeter and the rest of the network apply some rigour to testing this fascinating hypothesis. Once I’m back to work I will be taking a closer look myself…

One reason it rings true for me is that it gives a path to explaining the value of social media engagement to organisations hat doesn’t get trapped in the cul-de-sac of direct ROI, that is “dollar in, dollar fifty out” marketing as they say.

It makes sense that the value delivered by social media engagement would be delivered at an organisational level, that it would be meta-value rather than transactional value, trackable only to point where individual interacts with brand. It’s meta-ROI, then?

Social media is not about just marketing, it touches the whole organisatioin. Engagement as we are beginning to understand it. Because the principles and processes that are required to engage in social media leads organisations to a philosophical, ethical, strategic position where they need to start being useful in their networks.

…that means creating thick value, as Umair Haque calls it, as opposed to thin value, which is about squeezing the last drops of value of out of markets, systems at any cost.

…as brands develop social web literacy, the pull toward creating thick value becomes ever more compelling. It’s hard to resist, once you begin to understand the power and potential of networks.

…that’s why Andy Lark, VP of global marketing at Dell, starts off talking about social media being the most important thing that Dell (which scores very high in the Altimeter report)

…that’s why Dachis Group, founded by marketers is a “social business design(TM)” company, not a marketing company.

… that’s why if you design an engagement approach (as we do with the social spaces framework at iCrossing) you cannot limit what you do to the group of people known as the marketing department.

: : Bonus link: On the purchase funnel and engagement side of things -which we shouldn’t gloss over at all – @kcorrick recommended listening to this McKinsey podcast “The consumer decision journey”s…

My top ten pieces of advice for looking after your web shadow

A while ago I did a video for the Insititute of Chartered Accountants called “12 Golden Rules for Online Personal Reputation Management“.

I really enjoyed it, and played with the idea for a bit, then decided to write a book about the subject. It’s called Web Shadows and will be finished any day now * ahem *. The paper (yes, paper) version will be out in March 2010

It’s a book for my friends who aren’t totally obsessed with the web and social media, but do have a creeping awareness that what is said about them online matters and that they maybe need to look after their personal reputation a little.

Headlines like Office worker sacked for branding work boring on Facebook in the Telegraph and surveys that say 45% of employers vet job candidates on social networks make them think that even more.

If you take my iCrossing e-book Brands in Networks, I guess Web Shadows will be People in Networks. But that would spell PIN, and anyway I get told off for talking about networks too much, so Web Shadows it almost certainly is.

Anyway, here’s my top ten pieces of advice as they stand today. If you let me know what you think I’d be very grateful:

1 Don’t think of online as another world: The web’s more like a layer over the world we live in, not a “cyberspace” that only geeks live in. It’s part of our lives. The more we think of it as part of the world we live in, the better we will be at using it and looking after ourselves in relation to our online presence.

2 Check your Google shadow (and keep checking it): make sure you can see what others see when they look for you online, wether that’s Google, Facebook, LinkedIn or whatever. (Jeff Jarvis’s Google shadow phrase is what got me to “web shadows” as a title for the book.)

3 Be the world’s leading source of information about yourself: Ideally you want people to find your website, or cluster of social network profiles before they find anything else.

4 Understand networks (and which networks are important to you): Explore the online world around you. Which spaces matter to people that matter to you: employers, colleagues, friends, etc. It doesn’t hurt to start to understand network theory 101. Principles like “every node that joins the network doubles its value” help you to feel less like a supplicant and more like a network citizen. A part of it, not a passive. An owner among owners of a shared space, with rights – and responsibilities to the network.

5 Learn “crap detection” skills: One of Howard Rheingold’s four digital literacies, “crap detection” (the phrase comes from Hemingway) is about being a critical user of the web. Spotting the scams, attention tricks, the bahaviours that means that someone you have met online isn’t a person, or is one you need to stay away from. It’s part experience and part knowing how to use the network technically to understand – sometimes literally – where someone is coming from.

6 Be useful to your networks: You don’t need to turn into a pain-in-the-whatever professional networking douche to be successful in looking after your web shadow. Be yourself. Make the most of the things that you do – put your presentations and articles from the newsletter on SlideShare, bookmark interesting things you find on Delicious, maybe try out blogging even. once

7 Think about private and public: The web is a public place. You’re going to need to think about the dividing lines between your professional self online and your private self – where are they going to be? Get to know the privacy settings on Facebook for starters… And don’t forget to tell your family about them too.

8 Remember: you’re always on the (permanent) record online: “You’re never off the record,” we used to tell clients when I worked in PR. It’s true all the time when we’re online now. Don’t say anything you might regret later. If you are angry: calm down. Been drinking? Sober up or shut the web connection down. And the record may be permanent, like a digital tattoo.

9 Get a thicker skin: So you’re always on the record – so what? Everyone else is too. You’re going to make mistakes, get into arguments, look a bit foolish sometimes. The alternative is being a digital hermit, which… well… if you want to, I suppose.

10 Make it work for you: So we have had email addiction, SMS addiction and now, if you want to, you can become a social web addict. Or you can learn how the social web works and use it to enhance your life. Articles and posts like this one are good while you’re learning the tools’ basics – then you need to make your own mind up about how it should work for you.


Image: More New Engalnd Quarter graffiti from Brighton
Image: More New Engalnd Quarter graffiti from Brighton

Al Robertson has been tinkering / remixing Andy Gibson’s thinking on what makes successful social projects, called “45 Social by Social Propositions“, partly inspired by Clay Shirky’s thinking in Here Comes Everybody. This is the intellectual equivalent of a Long Island Ice Tea made with preimum triple filtered spirits.

It’ll knock your socks off.

The outcome is a sort of social media thought poem, with verses like:

You can’t force people to volunteer
Build it and they may well not come
The world is a noisy place

I recommend reading the whole thing.

Meanwhile, Andy is working on a new version…

Learning to read Twitter


Twitter. It’s all about learning to see it.

Out of utter respect for Howard Rheingold (and a weariness of Twitter neologisms) I’m going to stick with calling it Twitter literacy. If you have been reading about Twitter for a while I bet you five quid a revolting part of your brain is doing back flips right now,  trying to twist “Twitter” and either “literacy” or “neologism” together.

It’s OK – the noise does that to you. Drives you mad.

The noise may quieten down soon (maybe, possibly, please) as Twitter “down the backlash slope of the hype cycle”, as Howard puts it.

He’s summing up intelligently, in the context of social web literacy, what a good many Twitter advocates have been saying in the wake of Nielsen’s data about Twitter abandonnment by new users: “it took me a while to get it”.

To me, this represents a perfect example of a media literacy issue: Twitter is one of a growing breed of part-technological, part-social communication media that require some skills to use productively. Sure, Twitter is banal and trivial, full of self-promotion and outright spam. So is the Internet.

He continues…

The difference between seeing Twitter as a waste of time or as a powerful new community amplifier depends entirely on how you look at it – on knowing how to look at it.

There you go. A lot of very web literate souls took a year or more to learn to read Twitter, to speak Twitter, to become literate in it and weave it into their lives. Granted, there are more people who have the knack now, who can pass the skills along. But still the sign up – try it – becomes part of your media life process is seen by analysts and commentators as the only path that will lead to success.

I’m sure there is a data viz tool out there somewhere that if applied to my Twitter stream from three years ago would show a sputtering start, some pauses, a falter and then a stream of use. I’m sure I never even started doing really literate things like “re-tweeting” until about two years after I began.

Anyway, read Howard’s post, not least because he has compiled an elegant and compelling list of reasons that

Bring on the backlash, and an end to the hub-bub that distracts from people learning to read Twitter.

: : Bonus video. You could do a lot worse than watching this video of Laura Fitton talking to Google about Twitter. Smart stuff…

Bild’s Vado publishing eco-system and the promise of user generated advertising

Image: The Vado from Creative
Image: The Vado from Creative

This was an amazing week, that passed at a few hundred miles an hour, so sorry for the silence.

First thing that has grabbed me this morning as I peruse my feeds is this story from Jeff Jarvis about how the German magazine Bild, took the concept of the Flip‘s small, simple video camera, made it its own and sold 21,000 to readers in five weeks for just 69 EUROs each.

Result: thousands of “reader reporter” videos being submitted. Soon, the magazine says it will be using this growing installed based of video camera’d readers to launch a concept called “user geenrated advertising” in four weeks.


Here’s Jeff talking to Kai Dieckmann, editor of Bild about the story of the Vado so far…

The magazine worked with electronics company Creative to make the camera which sells cheaper than the already reasonable Flip. Even at the poor Sterling / Euro rate we’re looking at a Flip-like camera for about £50.

The uploading of video via USB to your computer defaults to Bild’s website… which encourages people to post their videos there, naturally.

The model reminds me of iPod+iTunes, only in reverse – it’s about creating content rather than just comnsuming it. In this case it is camera+platform+media company to go and promote that platform…

Really looking forward to seeing what this highly innovative media company does with “user generated advertising”. I’ll be asking my colleagues at iCrossing Germany to keep a close eye on how this thing evolves…

Reminder: you’re always (potentially) on the record online

Image: The NUJ's website - inadvertently blowing the whistle on itself?
Image: The NUJ's website - inadvertently blowing the whistle on itself?

It pays to be a little paranoid about emails, IMs and the likes sometimes – about not saying things in them you wouldn’t like repeated elsewhere. Especially when it comes to matters professional and commercial…

When Adam Tinworth voiced his anger at the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) and its attitude to social media in a post on his blog, I’m sure he expected officials there to read it. I’m sure he even expected the lively discussion that followed in the comments section of his blog.

Analysis of the links that were sending traffic to this post gave an insight into the NUJ‘s reaction to the piece in a rather unexpected way. One link in particular he decoded as being from an email at the NUJ that must have been headlined “Effing Blogs”.

No problems with attitudes to social media there. Sounds very open minded.

Despite years of leaks, gaffes and slip-ups involving emails, voice mails, Tweets and IMs, people don’t seem to get it. So, once more, for the record:

You’re always (maybe) on the record online.

Best to act that way.

Faris on the “natural selection of interesting”

Image: From The Origin of Species
Image: From The Origin of Species

After Mr Obama got sworn in some things threw me off kilter – sorry for the indecent silence…

Warming up with some things catching my eye, I’ll be building to an outpouring of pent up thoughts about social, strategy and the business of everything.

Hail Faris Yakob for weaving together two of my best-loved skeins of thought:

  1. Evolutionary theory and complexity (see Beinhocker)
  2. Competition for attention

He’s musing about why things win out in attention markets and rolls out a lovely phrase from his brother – it’s all about the “natural selection of interesting”…

Ants in colonies don’t require any conscious top down organisation – local rules exist and individual behaviours leave pheremone trails that get reinforced if the behaviour is imitated, which leads to directional changes of the whole.

We leave links and tags, tweets and posts, instead of pheremones – and these guide the allocation of attention.

Oh – that’s just beautiful. An elegant analogy for the social web if ever there was one…

Image: If it's interesting, we'll help each other find it
Image: If it's interesting, we'll help each other find it (Image: Budslife Busy)

He continues:

As Duncan Watts has pointed out, the structure of the network is as important as that which seeks attention, and the same thing that becomes an attention grabbing hit one day, may not the next.

This chimes with the story of Dogster and impact horizons that its founder Ted Rheingold talks about. This is how I tell it in the Brands in Networks e-book:

When Ted started Dogster he was developing new content and features with project times – from spotting a need to getting something out there – of about a month. As revenue began to come in from premium subscriptions and sponsorship deals he began to invest in more ambitious projects with longer lead times.

Suddenly, it seemed, the failure rate for projects began to increase. When a review of projects that were failing was conducted, a common factor was quickly spotted: almost all of the failing projects had taken six months or more from idea to public release. They were failing because the community had moved on; was interested in other things. Their needs had shifted.

Ted calls this effect: the impact horizon. Ever since, he has been working on bringing down the development time for new features to as close to a month as possible.

You start thinking about competing for attention in this environment and you get to thinking about the production process for your lovely useful/interesting ideas, bits of content, data, whatever that you’re going to send out into the big bad networks ecosystem. And suddenly building one thing starts to look like a very precarious approach.

Much better to build a process or platform for producing lots of things – because there’s a better chance of some of them working. When an idea takes, earns some good attention, ask why before the narrative bias kicks in and you’re tempted so it was always going to be that way.

Then ask how you would do it again.

Anyway – more of that later…

HP’s social media tales

Image: HP's Marketing Impressions blog
Image: HP's Marketing Impressions blog

Online Marketing Blog‘s interview with Tac Anderson, who combines heading up social media at HP with being “entrepreneur in residence” at a VC firm (an interesting job combination, if ever there was one), is well worth a read.

As m’learned colleague Alisa Hansen never tires of reminding the world, social media as a term has a limited shelf life. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just that the term is useful right now as we come to terms with the way that the web is evolving. As Alisa says, “the web is social”.

It’s nice to hear that perspective echoed by Tac:

I used to get a lot of people ask me about the difference between Web 2.0 and social media. I explain Web 2.0 as the technologies and tools that enable social media (RSS, JAVA, blogs, wiki’s etc) and social media is the trend in online content/media/whatever that enables people to communicate with each other directly. It’s media that you help shape and influence.

I don’t get the Web 2.0 question much anymore, I think that peaked in early 08 and I’m already seeing a lot fewer questions about social media. We’re really getting to the point, that we all knew we would, where all online content is social in some way. If it’s not now it will be in the next 2 years.

He also has a deft phrase to sum up why blogs are important for a big tech firm like HP – the “two Gs”:

If your customers are CXO’s (CEO, CIO, CFO, CMO) then the reason you have a blog is because the two most influential factors to a CXO’s decision making process are the Two G’s: Google and Gartner. Google is speaking to the importance of all search and Gartner is speaking to the importance that analysts play. Blogs are great for reaching both. There’s no lower bang for your buck tactic to reach the two G’s than having a high quality blog.

Even if Gartner‘s not that important to your business, it’s likely that there are other influential stakeholders it’s sensible to connect to via blogs.

Also worth taking a look at is the HP marketing blog – Marketing Impressions – which Tac mentions, which has accounts of HP’s various engagements and programmes in social media.