I'm taking a well-deserved break for a couple of weeks but normal service will be resumed before you know it. Have a great couple of weeks. Back soon.
Last week I participated in a lively discussion over on the Forrester blog about digital content. Mark Mulligan had a post up about product innovation in the music industry and made the point that many of the fundamental challenges and solutions they were looking at applied far beyond the music business to all kinds of content producers. There was something that Mark said in response to one of my comments which was interesting:
I'm reminded about something David Hepworth (founder of The Word) wrote once about how on-demand, the i-player and changing music consumption meant that content distributors could no longer dictate the pace at which the market moved:
"There's something vaguely pathetic about the average pre-release PR announcement nowadays, as if the person who typed it still lived in the world where everything seemed to stop on the day that their particular product 'dropped'. This doesn't happen anymore. Products slip noiselessly into an ever-swelling stream rather than dropping like a pebble in a serenely still lake."
I think there's an interesting parallel with advertising here. Conventional campaigning wisdom attempts to create just such speed bumps. Messaging is deployed at sufficient weight to guarantee reach to a large number of people in a short space of time (for TV, often at weights that mean that heavy TV viewers are likely to see the ad up to ten times - I'm not having a go at TV here, any medium deployed at that weight would be the same). Awareness decays until another burst kicks in. Speed bumps.
Yet as I've pointed out before, building relationships is not about speed bumps. Committing, as opposed to campaigning, doesn't have a beginning, middle and an end. You can't walk away from a conversation. It's not part time. The pace is not entirely yours. The schedule is not predictable. As Mike Arauz says:
"If you've put in the time and effort to show your fans that your listening, don't make the mistake of letting it all go to waste by going dark for 3 months while you get ready for your next big ad campaign."
The advertising process is still largely set up around discontinuous cycles. Yet your customers don't want interaction with your brand at your convenience, they want it at theirs. As advertising, in common with all forms of content, becomes increasingly socialised, it needs to work to a different set of rules. So isn't it time that the advertising process got a whole lot more agile?
Subbu left a comment on my previous post pointing at new research that suggests that an evolutionary adaptation to subtly imitate promotes the formation of social groups and so reduces conflict, aids co-operation and ultimately, survival.
The author of the study Annika Paukner, a comparative behaviorist at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, makes an interesting point:
Interesting parallel to be had with communications, in considering the focus often placed on the individual recipient rather than the group dynamic of how ideas spread.
"We spend almost all our time attempting to change behaviour through overt persuasion - while paying no attention to influencing the other, barely conscious ways in which people behave." Rory Sutherland
Of all the marcomms (and vaguely related) books I've read over the past few years there have been a few that have really stuck in my mind (Convergence Culture perhaps, Purple Cow, Here Comes Everybody), but I think the one that has probably stood out the most for me is HERD, from Mark Earls. I think because it speaks of a fundamental truth that the ad industry rarely acknowledges - that people do what they do because of other people.
Early on in Herd, Mark talks about how primates are first and foremost social creatures and how this is our core evolutionary strategy. New Scientist recently linked to this fascinating essay by anthropologist Brian Hare and his wife, journalist Vanessa Woods, (also included in the 'What's Next? Dispatches On The Future of Science' book) which suggests that rather than it being intelligence that led to social behaviour, it was social behaviour that paved the way for the evolution of human intelligence.
Hare and Wood talk about what's called the theory of mind - the ability to think about what others are thinking about. Under the age of four, children can't model what others think - they think everyone knows what they know (example: give a four year old a packet of gum and ask her what's inside it she'll say 'gum'. Open it up and show her that inside is a pencil rather than gum. Ask her what her mother, who's waiting outside, will think is inside and she'll say 'gum' because she knows her mother hasn't seen the pencil. But children under the age of four will generally say their mother thinks there's a pencil inside because they cannot escape the pull of the real world)
A theory of mind allows for complex social behaviours (such as the formation of institutions, strategies, government). Experiments conducted by Hare with chimpanzees shows that in some contexts chimps possess the ability to think about what others are thinking, like in the ability to be deceptive in order to get food. But in other contexts they lack such an awareness and lack the ability to interpret simple human non-verbal communicative gestures, like pointing, which suggests that use of gestural communication of this type was something that humans developed after their lineage split from our common evolutionary ancestor.
The curious thing though is that some animals, like dogs, are very good at interpreting such gestural communication (think about how good a dog is at watching your body language when you're throwing a ball for them). Yet experiments done by Hare on wolves showed that they were no better than chimpanzees at acting on human behaviour. But puppies who'd had very little human contact were still able to. This suggests that since they split from their wolf ancestor and became domesticated over time, dogs have evolved to act on human social cues.
In the 50's and 60's, Russian scientist Dmitri Belyaev conducted a series of genetics experiments on silver foxes, putting one group under severe selection pressure - culling those that showed aggression towards experimenters, allowing those that approached them to live - and allowing another control group to breed randomly in regard to how they interacted with humans. Within only 40 generations the selected foxes had begun to show evolutionary change: behaviourally becoming friendly towards humans, wagging their tails, licking people's faces, and even physically changing as their ears became floppier, tails more curly, coats lost their camouflage, skulls became smaller - in short, looks and behaviour more akin to a domesticated dog. And the test foxes could read human body language just like a dog. The point being, that the foxes were not bred to be smarter, merely more friendly, but through that had developed skills by replacing a fear of humans with a desire to interact with them.
So Hare and Wood suggest that something similar could have happened in human evolution:
If co-operation is a 'cornerstone of human acheivement', it is human's uniquely high level of social tolerance that has likely created it. New Scientist quotes Harvard University neuroscientist Jason Mitchell:
It is our unique level of spontaneous collaboration and co-operation that make us human. Ideas which capitalise on this are uniquely powerful. After all, people aren't so different, no matter where you are.
HT to Adland Suit for the video link
I've been thinking a bit about authenticity recently through a small project I'm involved with via the IPA. Paul recently made a great point about how the nexus of advertising and social media will increasingly be about finding the center of what makes companies interesting and different - their culture, their soul and the humanizing elements that makes them what they are: "It’s that soul that can help us find the motivating message, that focused positioning that moves people to get beyond just liking us and get to liking to buy from us."
Richard built on this, creating the visual above, and talking about the idea that "the new sense of value that consumers have created since the beginning of the recession requires brands to be of value not just good value for money."
It is a model that at times can be counter-intuitive:
But it is now the only way.