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Cultural Latency – Easy Come, Easy Go

A 2009 study has found that the fall of an item’s popularity mirrors its rise to popularity, so that items that become popular faster also die out faster, which is demonstrated by name trends. Image caption: Berger and Le Mens. ©2009 PNAS

It seems like everything is becoming more disposable these days. As we become more connected and have always on access to content that we can engage with and distribute in real time, what effect does this have on the life cycle of content?

Previously creating content was the domain of specialists and distributing it was restricted to those with money and corporate backing through well established networks. Mail was delivered in days rather than seconds and news content was printed and delivered to your door. Even music took time to distribute through retail outlets on vinyl or CD. Now just about anyone with a PC and an internet connection can create and rapidly share their ideas and content. I was reading over Faris Yakob’s post in which he raised an interesting point about what he termed Cultural Latency, in that there is a correlation between

“the amount of time it takes to distribute something, and the amount of time it takes for that thing to have an effect, and consequently the amount of time that thing stays relevant and interesting.”

Essentially research has found evidence to back up the saying, easy come, easy go. A 2009 study found that a fall of an item’s popularity seems to mirror that of it’s rise (see graph above). They discovered this in studying the popularity of names in France & US over the last 100 years. They hypothesize that whilst there is no mathematical reason behind this phenomenon, it is driven by people’s beliefs creating the reality, probably stemming from the fact that it gets to a point where people don’t like to be thought to follow the mainstream. It is an example of the interrelationship of how psychological processes can shape culture and that culture can shape thought processes.

Now that digital technology is reducing the friction points within any given distribution system, it is making them more efficient and is causing this effect to become quite evident in the life span of content. Content can spread and become popular faster then ever before, I guess we’d call this “going viral”. This has the effect of creating much faster feedback loops, information is delivered and consumed faster, which triggers more effects in quick succession. This rapid rise has the flow on effect of potentially leading to much faster cultural decay. Just take music for example, you can see bands come from nowhere with a manufactured hit then just as quickly disappear off the radar.

So what does this all mean? It certainly raises the case for slow and steady organic growth. Perhaps it’s not always better to go after a meteoric rise to fame but to consider the option of growing at a slower pace. Obviously this would depend on the content or objectives behind the strategy of the campaign but an interesting point to consider when considering a brand or content strategy.



Big Data & In Memory Computing

BT Tower - London - A Monument To The Broadcast Era

Big Data is a term coined to describe the data deluge we are currently experiencing. It’s no secret that we are living in a technology driven society that generates an ever increasing amount of data as we go about our daily lives. “Always on” is a term that is often heard and more often then not, when we are “on” we are creating data about ourselves, our likes and our dislikes, our network of friends both professional and social, and even our travel habits. At the same time, businesses must also retain more and more information to manage themselves more efficiently across the board. In tough economic times there is an ever increasing recognition that organisations must use every single resource at their disposal to get ahead. This results in information and data that once might have been given little attention is now seen as worth its weight in gold if any perceived value can be derived from it.

Looking at the sources of this data, to start with there is of course the sales, operational and customer data that the business collects. On top of this there’s social media data from the likes of Facebook and Twitter including information around friend groups, likes/dislikes and sentiment analysis. There’s web search data, with transactional information or online customer reviews. There’s also data generated by location-based services and data from sensors, moniters and GPS embedded in a growing array of products from vehicles to appliances. I believe if we as advertisors can offer solutions to our clients of how we can process and utilise the growing amount of data available to help inform creative business solutions we could offer real value. To quote a recent Financial Times article

“The challenges are two-fold: First, to recognize the value of big data in mining customer needs and desires, and second, to devise a data management strategy that integrates big data into the front end of the innovation pipeline.” 

So how do businesses harness all the data that is being created and use it to inform their strategy and decision making? The challenge here is being able to process large amounts of data at speeds that make it useful. It’s very difficult to really make use of data in business decisions on an ongoing basis when it takes weeks to gather and process. Large software powerhouses such as SAP & Oracle have been bringing new tools to market for businesses to help solve this problem. In memory computing software is designed so organisations can analyse vast quantities of data in near real time across many sources. Essentially in-memory computing takes advantage of a better understanding of how data is formed and housed and the ever decreasing price of memory (discussed in my Technology vs Advertising post). Instead of housing data on a hard drive, data is stored in a computers memory. Therefore, when it needs to be analysed it is available in near real time. This increased power and speed also means that the computers can handle more unstructured data, important when data can come from so many different sources. On the back of this there would need to be a process for managing and delivering the data in an efficient manner and most importantly, in a way that is easy to understand and glean insights from.

Whilst I think caution must be taken not to let our ability to measure granular details bog down the creative process, at the end of the day, the more you know about your customers and can integrate those insights into your business strategies the more likely they are to improve revenue, margins and market share. Who wouldn’t want that leg up over the competition?


A Consideration of Charm

Depot Eatery by Al Brown - Auckland, New Zealand

Today I was reading an essay in the February edition of Monocle magazine on charm and it got me thinking about that elusive quality, that is so hard to quantify, yet can make all the difference to someones opinion of a place or service. As they pointed out, you will never hear someone say “I was I were less charming”. It’s a quality that can’t be easily replicated (bad news for competitors) and I believe really helps to give your business a special place in peoples minds. Take Depot Eatery pictured above, as soon as you arrive you feel the place has a character which is replicated in the unpretentious yet delicious food.

How can we as advertisers help to create content and instore experiences that help to cultivate this elusive trait? I believe it has to start at the ground level instore, where the customer is interacting with your business and you really have the opportunity to control a branded experience. Create a service experience that is friendly and warm, where the customer feels a personal touch. In a larger retail advertising sense this comes down to utilising CRM and Instore channels. Using CRM databases to customise content delivered to customers, you could send out personalised mailers to letterboxes, exclusive deals to mobile phones or deliver on screen prompts to sales staff of the customers favourite products when the customer is at the point of sale. Also consider the design space and fit out of the store carefully. No longer is it simply enough to erect some shelving and place products on it, expecting them to sell. When instore, this is a retail or service businesses big opporunity to sell the brand in an age when people roundly ignore a large portion of the advertising messages out there. Think on brand, engaging and personal, of course all the while remembering we are in the business of selling!

In terms of bringing the message above the line, as a brand you must be true and honest. This is nothing new in terms of branding strategy but I think now more then ever it is important for your busiess to have a clear value proposition. Be proud of the qualities of your business that can’t be faked or replicated. Are your products wholly sourced from quality producers or do you have the widest curated range of fashion available for convenient purchase? It is no longer simply enough to just decide what your product or service is about through mass market channels, people see through this. Brands must now constantly live their values, throughout all touch points with the consumer to truely deliver a memorable experience.

So next time when someone wanders in with a Powerpoint describing in detail the customer journey, take a minute to think about at what point you will be charming the pants off them!


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