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Beyond a beautiful tension: brand ideas and cultural conflict

1 Jul

An old JWT planning manual channeling the wisdom of Stephen King read once, “we believe that all insights spring from tension between or within ‘human truths’ (i.e. Maslovian needs that transcend cultural or geographic boundaries) and ‘cultural truths’ (i.e. motivations that differentiate).”

Tensions have always been at the heart of great communication and creativity whether that’s in a well crafted proposition like “Dirt is Good” or the tensions inherent in dialogic literature where “a plurality of independent and unmerged voices and consciousness, a genuine polyphony of fully valid voices” are not subject to the authoritative control of the author.

A tension is the grit around which you can build a great brand idea.

But now brand ideas are being challenge to do more. They must go beyond messaging and through the layers of the business and really count. Their impact on the world is expected to be more purposeful and meaningful, they are challenged to be, ultimately, cultural.

In a world of adblocking, ad-blindness, privacy fears and noise exhaustion being “part of culture” is an excellent choice that offers the potential for brands to be distinctive by giving people something of value they actually want to experience as well as helping them achieve the “Job to be done”.

The challenge is that “Culture”, like the other C-word “content”, has become a buzzword. It seems that for the last few years every brand and agency is talking about “creating culture” and how

“The best [ideas] make a poignant cultural point. Not a business problem, but cultural tension that you find. This one is a little meta and about advertising. If it’s great work, you can see exactly how it affects the culture,” Jason Marks, executive creative director of Partners + Napier in New York.

Diageo have even hired a “Head of Culture”.

Unfortunately everyone seems to have a different definition of culture.

An official OED definition of culture is “the ideas, customs & social behaviour of a particular people or society“. This sets a far more ambitious objective for any work. It means more than creating opportunities for associations, sponsorships or product placement, more than working with famous designers and artists to create fashionable packaging or a temporary PR-driven Pop-up or even hoping that an ad catchphrase will “Simples” it’s way into common parlance.

A desire to have culturally relevance and impact gives brands at first two choices: to co-opt or to co-create? Do you seek to “borrow”, support and nurture external cultural creators – be an advocate of them so that they and the people they inspire are advocates of you? Or do you take the harder road of identifying unmet cultural needs and working with communities to tackle them head on?

This difficult later approach may mean building and judging brand ideas and creative work not by traditional proposition, messaging or tracking KPIs but the “6 elements of news”.

Beyond tension to conflict

Perhaps if anyone can lay claim to operating at the fast coalface of culture it is journalists. At journalism school students learn to ask the four Ws (What, Where, When, Why) alongside finding sources but also develop the inherent ability to interrogate a story for its strength relative to the 6 elements of news: Timeliness, Proximity, Prominence, Consequence, Human Interest, and Conflict.

The last element, Conflict, brings us back to the tension at the heart of a great brand idea but also pushes us on to a new territory appropriate for a new post-digital world.

Traditionally brands love anyone and anything. A conservative, mainstream brand wouldn’t dream of picking a fight. A mass market brand is for everyone. But as the aphorism goes, if you design for everyone, you design for no one.

Ryanair famously built to maximum saliency in the budget airline space on conflict and customer masochism. Protein World’s 2015 tube poster campaign sparked 40,000 people who would never buy their product to sign a petition but in 4 days it also helped acquire 5,000 new customers and online notoriety that barely scrapped through to its Instagram-fitness-model heartlands.

These are obviously extreme examples but brand ideas like Dove, Sunlight or even Yorkie with its old “Not For Girls” ads, show that brands can be culturally relevant by standing against something – and it doesn’t have to be something obvious.

If you compare these brand ideas against the 6 elements of news they achieve a high score on at least 3 or more of the heuristics as well as being created with distribution baked in.

This inspired me to make a canvas and test it out to see if there might be a way to build “Cultural Value Propositions” or Brand Ideas. Lovingly “informed” by the Business Model Canvas, this framework challenges us to ask how we make brands count and to ask,

  • What value do we deliver to the individual or the community?
  • How do we add value not noise?
  • Which cultural needs are we satisfying?

Cultural_idea_canvas_poster.pdfCultural Ideas that count

It is open source so please have a go yourself and let me know if it works for you. While the canvas places all the heuristics on the same level I do think that ability to encompass Conflict could help a brand be truly distinctive in our brave new post-digital world.

If we are to create ideas and experiences that “create culture” then we should learn from outside our industry and one source is news and entertainment with their inherent feel for what creates human interest and culture.

In this way it is perhaps no surprise that the only work in the last few years that has truly effected culture, “the ideas, customs & social behaviour of a particular people or society“, is Channel 4’s Superhumans for the Paralympics…done by 4Creative, a creative agency within a broadcaster.

35164_124898_PARA_48sheet

But maybe that’s an argument for another day.

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What can public sector IT learn from start-ups?

7 Jan
Public sector IT has been a notorious feature on the pages of Private Eye for many years with projects seemingly assigned to those large consultancies and outsourcers capable of completing the labyrinthine RFP documents rather than those capable of doing the work. The old joke was that projects were awarded based on the “thud test” where proposals were printed out and dropped from waist height with whoever’s made the loudest thud winning the lucrative business.
Martha Lane-Fox’s report about the future of UK digital government plus the repercussions of the very public collapse of the Obama sponsored healthcare exchange website in the U.S. showed policy makers the need for a fundamental change. Both of these events led to the race to bring a start-up mentality and faster, leaner ways of working into the public sector. They also opened procurement to the people capable of doing the work differently.
In the UK this resulted in the creation of GDS and its approach to Government as a platform. While there are different opinions about the financial impact of GDS it has been very influential culturally.
GDS has shown that the ways of working associated with start-ups can work within the monolithic structures of the public sector. This is not due to Agile or Lean or any other now almost dogmatic code of working or project management omertà. It is because, for the first time, the person at the “receiving end” of public services was recognised. Instead of “organisation-out” ways of developing endless requirements, GDS rooted their work in a “people-in” method of customer discovery.
This is the true lesson that public sector IT can learn from start ups: it is not about “user as victim” of bloated, unyielding systems but people with “Jobs to Be Done”. Public sector IT must respect people with needs who are part of an “Expectation Economy” and will judge experiences by comparing them to the latest mobile apps or social platform not the terrible previous iteration of a local government form.
The true start-up mentality respects the “end-user“(shudder) as a real person with functional, social and emotional jobs. It is based on judging success with small, quick experiments using analytic proof rather than big crash and burn launches with wash-up blame sessions. This mentality means introducing flexibility and the ability of systems to evolve as technology and people’s expectations change – often rapidly. Ultimately it is about putting people at the heart of IT, whether they are a mum looking to update her Tax disc or a doctor trying to update your medical records.

Technological Innovation as a Knowledge Creation Process

12 Jun

technological_progress_knowledge

What if innovation is really just a knowledge creation process? A thought inspired by the SECI model of knowledge creation by Ikujiro Nonaka (1995).

To see if it could work I ran it backwards, now to run it forwards. Or if you’d like to do it for me you can have the PDF below. Let me know…

technological_progress_knowledge.pdf

Brand Building in a Digital World

17 Oct

It was the JWT Grads open day today with lots of young, enthusiastic people running around the building and getting to sample the hospitality of the Comm. It’s all part of the 2013 JWT Grad Programme and entry is still open until 1st November. You can apply here.

Personally I’d have loved the opportunity to experience it all. This year’s Grads have also had the pleasure of training at Hyper Island and Google. They have also had the good or bad fortune to have a bald guy in a bad shirt talking to them about “Brand Building in a Digital World” as an Intro to digital planning and UX, an edited version of which is below.

It’s a quick run through of some ideas about digital, channels and experience but most of all it’s about what I’d like to say is the the nature of Brand building in a digital world: Manifesting the behaviour inherent in a brand idea to deliver a measurable, business building, marketing goal.

Not digital for digital’s sake or clicking around or wacky engagement for engagement’s sake.

This last word “Engagement” is a overused word. Everyone seems to have a different definition which makes it a difficult and debased term but if I was to define it I’d say…

Engagement is about “creating windows of enhanced attention to influence behaviour & motivations” in order to increase Brand Salience.

Brand Salience is building a brand’s propensity to be noticed or come to mind in buying situations by increasing the quantity & quality of memory structures buyers hold about brands and associated attributes.

Brand Salience is key to driving buyer choice & behaviour which is ultimately the real reason we should consider engagement as a tactic to increase the effectiveness of digital work.

Anyway if you can put up with that (it only lasts an hour) please give our Grad programme a go.

Fancy dress street rugby for HSBC HK7s

20 Mar

Here’s a nice bit of smashing, crashing and general rugby mayhem played out across the streets of Hong Kong. By men dressed as toy soldiers, cowboys, disco kids, centurions, vikings etc etc. It also features Jason Robinson and George Gregan. And it’s for HSBC! HSBC 7s Fancy dress street rugby…

Trends for 2012 (and 2011)

13 Jan

JWT Intelligence in New York have put together their Annual Trend presentation – JWT: 100 Things to Watch in 2012

 

There’s lots of nice examples and from my own perspective I believe 2012 is all about the multi-screen strategy – with multi-screen UX & content strategies optimised by data analytics directly linked to business metrics.

This increasing focus on analytics and earned/owned media will mean that the capability of analysing large data sets will become a key basis of competition, underpinning new waves of productivity growth, innovation, and consumer surplus.

But then what do I know? Anyway, while clearing out my folders I found the note below which was my list of predictions for 2011. Hopefully I’ll be able to follow some of them up with examples over the next few weeks. The future ones for the next 5 years are a bit miserable though…

5 Questions related to the digital consumer experience for 2011

  1. “How can we move beyond reacting quickly and actually anticipate people’s needs in advance?”
  2. “What happens when mobile is someone’s only experience of the web?”
  3. “What happens when language is no longer a barrier and influences are global?”
  4. 
“How can we grab people’s attention when there is so much out there vying for it?”
  5. 
“How will people respond as more and more of their information and actions are public?”


Technology Themes for 2011

  • Real-time tracking, business transparency and flexibility
  • 
LTE, Streaming Home networks & personalised, on-demand content
  • Voice recognition, privacy groups and collaboration
  • Sensors & Internet of Things
Personalisation and predictive assistance
  • 
Multi-touch, portability and work/personal blending
  • 
Cloud-based entertainment subscriptions
  • 
Virtual Telepresence
  • Tangible User Interface
  • Geolocation, Game-mechanics, Digital to real social
  • Gaming and SocialTV intersection
  • Personal relationships, Cloud-computing and Single customer view
  • 
Automatic multi-tasking and background activity


Possible wider cultural trends & influences for the next 5 years

  • The admission (and panic) that we hit peak oil in mid-00’s
  • 
4th wave of global financial crisis (2nd wave 2011/12, 3rd 2016)
  • 
Power and food prices rocket (200% increase in consumer electricity and gas costs by 2015)
  • 
A marked increase in societal polarisation in western economies as the middle-class dissipates and states fragment.
  • China secures (financially & militarily) its ownership of natural and economic resources abroad
  • 
First wave of massive Malthusian positive checks

15 years of digital, business and product strategy

23 Nov

The annual round-up of trends, predictions and great work has already begun, hopefully I’ll get a chance to contribute something but I’m a little busy with the new job.

In the meantime here’s a nice one from Helge Tennø rounding up 15 years worth of ideas that are good enough to share (or steal).

Lovely idea – UNIQLO Lucky Switch

11 Jun

UNIQLO LUCKY SWITCH from HN on Vimeo.

A great twist on the awesome Kittenify or Cornify plus a real idea that’s “good enough to share.”

Real-time customer service? Haven’t we been here before?

22 Mar


PDF versions and more diagrams and ideas can be downloaded from 2010 Digital Trends, Ideas and Technologies (Part 1)

e-mail Fail

30 Nov

This little screenshot has pride of place in my e-mail creative and strategy deck. You’d think that if you’re advertising a conference about “Attention-Grabbing E-mails” you may wish to follow some of the basic rules…