Are we seeing the beginning of the rise of the machines? I recently went to a talk on big data that looked at Uber as a case study example of applying big data to business and this was the first thought that sprang to mind. Essentially Uber is valued so highly not because it provides cool taxis but because it is a big data company that applies big data to automate and optimise the Taxi business. We as agencies can learn alot from Uber in terms of being creative with data, however caution must be taken to avoid big data blindness and ensure proper human analysis is applied to it.
As a core insight, the guys at Uber worked out that the number one predictor of satisfaction with taxi companies wasn’t necessarily how long it actually takes the car to arrive but how long it takes perceptually based on the customers situation. For example you may expect a car to take 5 minutes to get to you in the middle of the day in the city, however 15 minutes if you were out in the suburbs – you adjust your expectations based on your situation. With this in mind they were then able to be creative with data in terms of optimising supply and demand for this key metric with factors such as the car type and quantity, the drivers, weather, traffic lights or sense of time varying depending on location (city vs country). They don’t neccessarily send the geographically closest car but the car that can get their the fastest perceptually to optimise their supply chain. All this happens in the background and creates a seamless experience for the customer, essentially Uber removes the need for a human on the phone as a dispatcher with a more efficient automated system. This is why many taxi drivers are up in arms about Uber as it really takes the human element out of their jobs, dispatchers are no longer required and they are given a predetermined route to drive which essentially turns them into slaves to the computer and can impact on their income.
Data and automation are certainly not a replacement for humans in all situations though, it can help guide us but it still requires a human to make sense of it and apply it. The reason proposed for this is that ultimately big data is human so it requires a human to combine, interpret and apply it in a meaningful way. Just as we would expect with any form of research, simply because there is lots of it it doesn’t mean that it is statistically accurate without analysis. Take Google Flu Trends as an example, launched in 2008, Google attempted to make accurate predictions about flu activity based on aggregating search queries. Initially the model seemed to predict with accuracy however the cracks started to show when the estimate for the 2011-12 flu season was more than 50 percent higher than the cases reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The danger that this highlights, is that it’s easy to fall into the trap of big data blindness where simply because there is lots of it we assume its statistically accurate and make poor assumptions without applying proper analysis of the results. For example, people making flu-related Google searches may not know much about how to tell if they actually have it or not, increasing false positive search queries. This is not to say big data isn’t useful, it just needs to have the same rigour applied to it as any other form of data.
With all this in mind, for us as agencies big data is great as it can help us do away with putting all our emphasis on the typical “Focus Group” as we can interpret other factors of behaviour. It can also help feed our understanding of our market and discovering peoples “secret self” – their unconscious motivations that drive their behaviour in situations which can be difficult to draw out in typical research as people tend to act differently when they are being watched. Much like Uber, we need to be creative with how we approach problems and data as data can help us serve customers better by optimising and automating their experience. Data can also help us understand our customers better then ever before and help us to create messaging that resonates with their unconscious motivations, helping to remove barriers to consumption. The machines still need us, for now at least!
Author: Alex Leece
I was recently reading an article on Inside Retail about a report on “Gen Z” by Fitch which really crystallized for me a tangible indication of how the face of retail is changing and an insight into how we need to change our communication strategies to suit – in particular around the concept of Participation Branding and creating ideas that make the most of our bought, owned & earned media channels.
Gen Z, classed as those born after 1995 are hard wired to be cautious of standard marketing ploys and particularly happy to browse before making an informed purchase. A key finding from the report for me was that they demonstrated a “real gap between seeing & buying” enabled mostly by digital platforms such as social media, search or price comparison sites. Essentially the Gen Z shopper can go through a long period of what they termed “Aspirational Browsing” where they may set their sights on products far in advance of actually making a purchase. As agencies this means we need to change the way we communicate as the typical broadcast campaign based methodology is simply not going to be as effective in generating immediate sales with this audience and we need to be present across the omni-channel environment to take advantage of the long tail of our bought, owned and earned media online to ensure we get infront of them at the right time during this extended purchase funnel.
As they said in the report, “It’s all about keeping the brand and potential purchase front of mind during this extended aspirational browse period”. See the below diagram for a visual representation of this process, essentially digital platforms and connectivity enable the consumer to more easily discover, browse, buy and share then ever before.
So how can we overcome or capture the interest of these people during this period of delayed gratification? We have to make sure that our messaging is spread across our digital brand ecosystem through our bought, owned & earned channels so that whilst we will have a big spike in activity across our campaign period, the content lives on so it will be there when and where our Gen Z consumer is browsing or ready to purchase. I recently attended a talk in which the idea of “Participation Branding” was presented, which reflects how we can change our communication strategies to suit this extended period of digital browsing. Participation branding was defined as the below:
“How a brand engages and behaves with consumers across channels and over time to earn their attention and participation through motivating stories and experiences.”
By weaving digital experiences into our campaigns we create an element of interactivity for our ideas which encourages participation by these digitally enabled shoppers. This means that we can actually harness this new shopping behaviour as a positive for our brands and use it spread our message across our brand ecosystem by engaging them through this period of aspirational browsing. In terms of our approach it’s simply just adding another set of tools to our arsenal on top of brand marketing & direct response in the form of social influence marketing:
Direct Response Marketing
Social Influence Marketing
By ensuring we use media neutral ideas that propogate digital content and experiences across our bought, owned & earned channels, we start to rally participation and engagement in the brand which builds a digital trail of content or “brand ecosystem” over time. This allows us to take advantage of the long tail of this content by having it live on after the campaigns which means it will be there in the consideration set when the Gen Z shopper is browsing or comparing to make sure we are top of mind – whether it’s during the campaign period or months after when they are looking to purchase. See below a chart from the same presentation which shows how the spikes of campaigns help to build our overall ecosystem over time.
It’s an exciting time to be in both the retail and communications businesses, the way people consume media and even the way they browse and shop is changing as fast as technology allows. However as long as we continue to create engaging ideas that get infront of the right people at the right time, we will continue to see results – some things never change!
Author: Alex Leece
The digital content disruption continues. Whilst print media have been grappling with this for some time and the music industry has also been coming to terms with new forms of content distribution such as Spotify, it appears the next frontier of curation could be news & information content. Whilst this has typically been the domain of public radio, with a combination of location services and curated content from around the world we have started to see a new wave of applications which empower the user to curate their own news rather than rely on local radio to do it for them.
Early examples of this are Agogo and Swell. Recently launched, they pose a new challenge to traditional media outlets by creating new listening experiences for consumers of talk and news. They bring together segments of audio from news sites around the world into customizable and curated streams based around themes such as Business & Finance or Sports. Whilst they can also provide limited local information such as traffic reports based on location services, public radio still has the upper hand in terms of local content creation with the power of their own local journalists and talent. This is something that still gives public radio the upper hand for the moment – somebody needs to create the content in the first place.
However continuing the overarching trend of media money moving into digital, these types of platforms will no doubt over time see more of our traditional media money moved into digital and mobile whether they are independent apps or locally owned by networks, watch this space!
Vehicles are a high value purchase and as such the research phase of the purchase is quite drawn out, with people consulting many different sources. Online platforms are becoming a large part of this, whether it’s Google, manufacturers websites or various auction sites, people do their research before stepping onto the dealers lot. These platforms are great as they allow us to serve up a depth of information on the cars in a visual and engaging way and deliver experiences that can’t be had anywhere else.
Now there is no doubt that people are adapting to living in a more connected and mobile world and changing their behaviours as such. The old context of someone leaning forward in front of a computer is changing as the new context sees mobile connectivity and a wide variety of devices allowing people to delve in and out of content when and where they want. This is especially prevelant in the automotive industry, as our brands are omnipresent. People are constantly exposed to vehicles driving by, billboards and our above the line advertising, so for people with a keen interest such as influencers and early adopters, any brand exposure could cause them to want to search for information. The mobile is the only device that will always be with them when this occurs. In short, it’s that theory of always on retail – we want people to have a positive experience of the brand when & where they want it.
As expected we have been seeing a marked increase in traffic to our website via mobile over the last 12 months and it’s important to deliver these people the key information they want in an easy to use way that is optimised for the device they are experiencing it on. Whilst mobile is still a fractured market both in terms of hardware and software, there are clearly two stars at this point in iOS and Android, followed by the rest. In terms of development this means you can narrow your focus for crucial platform support. It will be interesting to see how the market evolves and consolidates over time. Much like when the internet was in it’s infancy, once a few players gain scale it will be easier to manage delivering content.
So once we’d identified we needed to be in the mobile space, we began by looking at what were the most important functions for a potential vehicle buyer whilst on the go and identified:
-booking a test drive
-finding a dealer
We wanted to ensure we were delivering the most important features whilst maintaining a rich experience & depth of information in a mobile optimised format.
To help with conversion even further we can use them to connect people with Mazda and our dealer networks to drive enquiries and test drives.
The recession has caused an increased trend in price competitiveness through incentivised pricing, which has bred a new value conscious shopper who is careful to compare prices to make sure they are getting the best deal. This has meant that people are increasingly comparing prices at the pointing end of the path to purchase and the mobile is the most convenient and ever present device to do this with. This extends to instore comparisons at a dealer level, people may be checking out a car and want to compare another or simply find out further information on the car they are looking at.
Finally, it’s become clear that using digital and mobile platforms we can extend the content available to people across all our other media for qualified leads.
I recently read an article on the FT by Simon Kupor entitled The App Of Life, which discussed the interesting effect that technology has on urban living. It’s no secret that technology has always affected how we live and the town planning that surrounds it. The industrial revolution led to the creation of densely populated working areas and the mass production of vehicles created greater sprawl, enabling the typical suburbian lifestyle.
When the internet came about and people were able to connect and share information remotely, there was talk of the demise of cities. Why would you want to live in densely populated areas and work in large offices when you can do so from the comfort of your own home in the peaceful surroundings of the countryside? I feel that whilst this sounds good in theory, in practice there is always value in proximity. In a business sense, the internet is no replacement for being around people and bouncing ideas off them in person. For more on the virtue of proximity, see my post The Value Of Proximity. I don’t think that digital connectivity will see the demise of the city, quite the contrary, I agree with Simon Kupor in that I think it will enable them to be better places to live thereby helping them to grow.
This effect can be seen already, mobile technology and smart phones are a perfect example of this. I’m someone who (through no fault of their own) is severely navigationally impaired, paper bags pose a challenge. This problem has thankfully been completey resolved for me by being able to punch an address into my phone, then get GPS co-ordinates of where I am and where I need to go. This makes navigating the complex road network of any city a breeze, making it more pleasant and efficient to get around. Further to this, if I need to find any kind of service, all I need to do is look it up on my phone and it tells me all the options around me, allowing me to make the most of the cities retail and service offerings. Plugging this in to the social graph means I’m never alone as I can find out where my friends are at any given time.
The next step is people using technology and data to help run their cities. We’ve seen the social graph with Facebook, interest graph with Twitter what could happen if we had an entire city grid open to plug in to? With an open graph style system governments could assist us to manage water, transport, parking or power. Imagine being able to remotely check your water or power consumption from your phone and adjust accordingly. Even just being able to find out where parking spaces were available would be a huge step in efficiency! Interestingly the article points out that Dublin has opened data on everything from water use to transport in the hopes that developers will devise opportunities to use this to improve city design and living. To quote the article, “We’re starting to see almost an “open-source design” of cities, says Ratti.”
Whilst the lure of the country side and an internet connection still remains, I think digital technology will enable city life to be more efficient and enjoyable then ever before. This will naturally lead to the continuation of their draw for people and their growth. If you need any proof of this just take a look at the ever increasing rate that we are building Skyscrapers (and their burgeoning height). We seem to be building up rather than out, I’m relieved my phone will tell me which floor I’m on.
By Simon Kupor
What is real engagement with content? It’s a term often used these days and most often associated with digital media. Can it really be illustrated as simply as clicking to view a video or entering a competition, how do we know if people had a real connection with the content and your brand when doing so?
To me it is more about people being moved on an emotional level, getting into their brains and giving them an association to hang your brand on. It is more about the extent to which someone retained and enjoyed what they experienced of your brand rather than simply how many times it was done. Unfortunately for us, this qualitative nature is a lot harder to deliver measurables on than quantitative. It’s this immeasurable element that can make good advertising so special. I think it’s also important to note up front that when discussing content, this could be anything from a printed ad in a newspaper to an Adshel in a bus shelter or a video on Youtube.
In an attempt to try and measurably quantify what engagement really is and how engaged people actually were, Nielsen asks to what extent the subject agrees with the content across three pillars: Funny, Emotionally Touching, Informative. Broadly speaking any piece of content would fit into one of those three categories in terms of what it is trying to achieve in terms of enagement, if it ranks on this then it’s doing it’s job. Looking at it through the lens of these three axis helps us to begin to examine how engaged people really were with the content and in what capacity. If someone can associate after the fact, a degree of connection across one of these pillars with a piece of content, I believe that shows that they were engaged by it. To try and manage this at a strategic level up front, you could for example map “Engagement Profiles” of the content based on to what extent you think they should rank across these pillars in the consumers mind. Is the content designed to be humorous and a little informative? Or simply about creating an emotional brand connection?
The content above is something that whilst rating quite strongly across all axis, is predominantly geared towards being funny whilst capturing an emotional connection with the brand, to a lesser extent delivering a product message. The consumer behaviour you’d hope to see from content such as this is people enjoying it, sharing their experience of it with their friends and hopefully as a by product driving brand awareness and revenue. On this note, as Clay Shirky says, “behaviour is motivation filtered through opportunity” and technology has changed the opportunity space in many ways. Now that technology has made it so easy to measure peoples immediate behaviour with online content (like, share, tweet etc), as advertisers it is all too easy to focus on measuring this as successful engagement rather than a longer term qualitative behaviour change. Not only does this ignore all other media channels it also can’t measure that emotional side of true engagement. To quote Faris Yakob,” If a piece of branded anything falls in the woods and no one Tweets about it – did it have any effect?”.
The concept that “good work works” hasn’t changed and will never do so, it will always be that the interesting content will deliver greater than usual engagement. What has changed is how people consume it and what they do with it. We must be careful not to solely focus on using these easy to access short term metrics as barometers of this and keep in mind the immeasurable emotional connections which people have with brands built over time from true engagement across all media. To end, an open letter to all advertising that has been floating around the internet for a while but I think it sums it up quite nicely.
When Frank Gehry was designing the Disney Concert Hall, he considered how the building would interact with the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion adjacent and adjusted the design accordingly. I recently came across a comment in the Financial Times in an article by Ron Adner that cemented the sentiment behind this in my mind. It’s not enough to simply manage your innovation, you must manage your ‘innovation ecosystem’ also. Essentially it’s all to easy to focus on the outcome of what you are trying to produce and forget to consider how it interacts with people and the world around it.
In his book, Ron Adner examines this phenomenon that causes many companies to fail “because they focus too intensely on their own innovations, and then neglect the innovation ecosystems on which their success depends.” This single minded execution focus is inward looking, involving the standard processes of linking strategy and operations, bringing teams together, looking at competitors and their value propositions. It is seen as good business practice, which it is, however it can create a blind spot that hides key dependencies that are equally important in determining success or failure. As technology causes our world to become increasingly connected and interdependent, this problem becomes exacerbated. For example with much of the marketing content we produce we now need to consider, how will people be viewing the content, where will they be, how will they share it, who will they share it with and most importantly how will they know it is there.
Obviously completing the project is still the core focus however Ron Adner suggests two other areas to consider to help take a broader view of the innovation ecosystem. Firstly, consider who else may need to innovate to activate your product. This has two sides, one the business side, in terms of production and delivery of the product and two, the consumer side in terms of using the product. For example with mobile advertising, to truly make the most of what you are creating you may require significant smart phone penetration or upgrades in mobile phone handsets. Secondly look at who else needs to adopt the product to deliver it to the end user, who do you need to sell it in to and who needs to support it to deliver it to market. This naturally has more of a business focus, however with many digital innovations these days, there is an element of connectivity and sharing, which may mean you require a critical mass of a few key influencers adopting the product before its value is fully realised.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of execution focus, especially when we are faced with tight deadlines. However I think the take out here is that, taking a moment to consider a broader view and looking at the entire ecosystem rather than simply what needs to be done to complete the project may change how you approach things. It may change how you choose to bring it to market or what you prioritise in terms of the product features. It may even help you to identify new opportunities or threats and adjust how you measure the success of the project. This isn’t a new idea, but it’s one that’s important to remind ourselves of.
Innovation. A term often bandied around and something that all forward thinking companies strive to deliver in spades. The question is, how can companies take advantage of this elusive trait, is it something a person is born with or is it something that a company can cultivate as a product of the cultural environment? If the environment does indeed play a part, then increasingly how might the use of digital technology to connect ourselves and our ideas effects this process?
When you first consider the term innovation, you may be forgiven for thinking that it concerns a moment of great insight, which happens with people who are inherently “innovative”. It’s a term that has alot of myths attached to it. I came across the below table from an HBR Article which addresses these quite nicely.
|Innovation is random||Innovation is a discipline — it can be measured and managed. Consider how Procter & Gamble’s structured approach to innovation allowed it to triple its innovation success rate and double the size of a typical initiative.|
|Only creative geniuses can innovate||Innovation is distinct from creativity. While creativity can help, people who aren’t intrinsically creative can create high-impact innovation if they follow the right process.|
|You’re either an innovator or you’re not||Research recounted in The Innovator’s DNA described how innovation is about 30 percent nature and 70 percent nurture.|
|Innovation happens in the R&D lab||Innovation — something different that has impact — can happen anywhere in an organization. Everyone should be looking for new ways to solve old problems.|
|We will win with superior technology||Most market disruptions rest on innovative business models — new ways to create, capture, or deliver value|
|Innovation is all about improved performance||Sometimes innovation is about improving performance along traditional dimensions, but some of the most powerful disruptive innovations sacrifice raw performance in the name of accessibility or affordability.*|
|Our customers will be a critical source of innovation insight||Your customers might tell you how to make your current offering better, but they won’t point the way to disruptive growth; you have to explore new markets in new ways to identify new growth businesses.|
|Game changing innovation is done only by entrepreneurs||Many of the most exciting disruptions in recent years — such as GE’s low cost imaging solution and Cisco’s TelePresence solution — have come from big companies|
|We will win by targeting the biggest markets||Markets that don’t exist are difficult to precisely measure or analyze; the most powerful innovations create new markets.|
|Innovation requires big bets||As our friend Peter Sims writes in Little Bets, if you want to win big, you should start small.|
The couple of points that really stood out for me here is that there is an aspect of nuture involved in innovation and that it is something that can occur throughout the company, not just in the R&D lab. This suggests that it is certainly something a company can cultivate and can be driven by anyone across the business at any time. How can businesses use this to their advantage? There has been a recent proliferation of new titles in our industry involving innovation, Chief Innovation Officer, Director of Innovation and the list goes on. Whilst these may seem like invented positions to try to convey a sense that the company is innovative, I believe that companies need people on the fringe who push forward new thinking. This often means they isolate themselves from others resistant to change, being at the forefront can be a lonely place to be. People like this can really help to drive new thinking over time by stirring the pot and provoking discussion. More then this though, ensuring companies support people to pursue new ideas and realising that they can come from anyone at any time is crucial.
Further to this, from an environmental point of view, in an age of increasing connectivity within the company through digital technology, could this have a positive effect on innovation? This seems to be the case. I recently watch an interesting video by Stephen Johnson on Where Good Ideas Com From:
In it, he puts forward the concept of the “slow hunch”. This hypothesizes that most great ideas don’t come from a moment of great insight, but a slow building hunch that when combined with other peoples hunches creates a new concept or innovation. This suggests that digital technology allowing us to interact in real time with people quickly and easily to share ideas may have a positive effect on innovation. Twitter is a good example of this idea sharing in action, people all around the world collaborate around topics and share their ideas. Essentially being constantly connected creates faster feedback loops between people allowing ideas to bounce off each other at a faster rate.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out in future as much like Moore’s, Kryder’s & Gilder’s laws see an increasing rate of change in technology, so to may this apply to the new ideas that spring from it.
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 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?