Attracting and serving fans has been a past time of brands for the past few years on Facebook. To the point where the accumulation itself became the objective. And while I keep looking for the cracks to appear in Facebook it seems to be able to continue to grow despite its huge size. Maybe the barriers to exit the service are too high for consumers to leave? Maybe the FOMO and connectedness matters too much? But one thing I am sure of is how I feel about it personally, and from a marketing perspective.
It made sense at first: After the 50 years of the top down TV industrial complex – a period when we got told and sold, it was novel to have a direct connection with the brands. To be able to talk to the big brands in town felt good. For once our opinion was more than a letter or ‘non caring’ customer service 1800 agent. I mean they had to care, it was all on display for everyone to see. A poor response from any brand would result in a digital lynch mob attack. Finally we had the respect we deserved as the supporters of the brands. It was the connection we always wanted. It seemed to make sense for both parties. So we all connected in every way we could – and filled our digital dance card.
Then we discovered we didn’t have much in common: Both us and the brands struggled with our new found direct connection, our co-operative digital love affair. We’d read each others stuff, try and be loyal to each other and support the give and take element in this new world. We even designed new products together, made advertisements for each other and really embraced the new tools we were afforded. But it got kinda boring. I mean how many conversations can we have about breakfast cereal, tomato sauce and canned tuna? So the brands took their lessons and got wise. They realised that they had to live a layer outside of what they sold in order to create value beyond what they actually sold. They realised they had become a resource and knowledge bank in related realms to thrive in a social world. So cereal became about diet and health. Frozen meals became about a life well lived and what’s on in the city and dish washing liquid became about tricks and tips around the house. The campaigns and related brand pages sprouted like mushrooms And all this worked out pretty well…..for a while.
Until it became a spam fest: At first, we got useful information and respected and rewarded brands in the process. So brands did what brands do. More of what works, and copied those who did it first and best. The great likenomics battle of 2010 and beyond…. Until everyone’s feed was so full of junk – it became like the letter box we have no joy in opening – A letter box just filled with flyers, bills and credit card offers. The dance floor wss too full, the music was too loud. In a social media marketing sense it is the equivalent of 3am and we all just want to get some sleep already. We are over it. I don’t think I am exaggerating here, it is probably how most of us feel right now. And I haven’t even touched on all the people we said ‘yes’ to on facebook, who we haven’t seen since grade school. Like I said, it was interesting and novel at the start, but it is very difficult to care for the babies of someone you have seen in decades.
So now I’m done: Yes, there are some brands I love. Some whose products and services really matter to me. But it is certain that none of these brands ever find their way into my shopping trolly, are my finance provider or power my home. Yes, non of them are boring products from the industrial era. The only brands I play with and want to converse with are those I spend my spare time with. That’s my current definition of where I draw the line on being ‘friends’ with a corporation. And I really think it’s over for most brands trying to make their way in the social sphere – even though the numbers and analysis on brand engagement on social forums probably don’t show it yet.
Yes, brands need social: It is foolish to think that brands shouldn’t be in social media, or use the tools. It is the first place we’ll go to find them – their facebook page, or find their twitter handle. And you can be certain we’ll want an answer within seconds. It is the new call centre and probably alot of other things as well. What it isn’t, and wont ever be, is part of peoples social life. I’m betting people will gravitate back to saving that for other humans.
It’s in our make up: There only so many relationships we can have in life. Whether they are people or personified brands, we are genetically programmed to only be able to manage so many interactions. Dunbars number is the simplest way to explain this phenomenon. It’s a basic safety mechanism that ensures stability and safety, and it’s what will drive us back to a limited number of social interactions (physical & virtual).
Brands need to know where they belong: The key element to all this is knowing where we belong in peoples lives. I’m far more likely to interact with a brand that I invest my spare time with. The brands that play in my passion space. The other brands I am happy to purchase, need to understand that they are associates, micro interactions, whom I do not have time for or want dealings with outside of what they thing they actually deliver.
It’s time everyone (brands & people) realised where they belong, and took a human approach to our connections. If everyone tries to maximise social connections simply because the gates have been opened, we’ll end up with closed doors and reduced potential for trust with the connections we actually want to have.
I happened upon this TED talk just yesterday from the ever clever Kevin Kelly. It is approximately 3 years old but it really blew me away. In fact, the thing that it does best is demystify technology. It reminds us that we are all technologist, that we all create different forms of technology as humans and that we all benefit from it.
A great little piece I took from it was my favourite invention from the last 50,000 years – Grand Parents. You’ll see what I mean once you watch it. Enjoy!
A part of life ‘on-line’ is that it requires a certain amount of administration. Stuff needs to be set up, logged in and authorised. It’s also a big part of getting people into a start up. So we most often ensure that the barriers to entry are reduced…. we let our new users do the admin later. Maybe, on their next visit. The only problem with this is that administration should always be undertaken when motivation is the highest, and that’s usually at the start of a process or project.
I had the good fortune this week to meet the inventor of the world wide web Sir Tim Berners Lee. He is currently touring Australia and after he gave a public lecture at Melbourne University, I was lucky enough to attend a private session thanks to the AUDA and meet him personally.
Firstly, I’d like to say he was a total gentleman, who is very humble for all that he has given us. Over drinks I asked him what seemed like the first non techie question he’d been asked all night, and his answer I found totally inspiring. The dialogue is below:
Me: “Tell me how it feels to have created something everyone loves and uses every day…. How do you cope with all the attention and adulation?“
Tim: “Well, I’m just Tim, a normal guy around campus. But, it is interesting you asked that, because I made a conscious decision to avoid the public sphere for the first 10 years after I created it. I didn’t do any interviews or make any public appearances. Mainly so it wouldn’t interfere with my family. About 10 years into the web I received a letter telling me that I was to receive the Millenium Prize in Finland. It turned out that the ceremony happened to be on my son’s birthday. So I wrote back to them saying that I couldn’t make it on that day as it was my son’s birthday. That I could come if they changed the date. They then wrote back to me saying something like… ‘You don’t understand Tim, this is like a really big thing, and the dates can’t be changed….’ And then I wrote back saying, ‘No, you don’t understand, nothing gets in the way of my family, I’m very honoured, but you’ll have to give it to someone else.’ Well – in the end they were determined that I come and suggested they fly our entire family over so that we could still celebrate his birthday as a family, and so that I could still get the prize, and that they would pay respect to my sons birthday at all the ceremony. So I asked my son Ben and he was ok with it. In fact, he really enjoyed his birthday as entire auditoriums sang him happy birthday and he had something like 5 birthday cakes while we were there.”
I thought this was cool and grounded. In fact, it’s a terrific thing when someone you respect greatly, gives you more reasons to respect them after you’ve actually met.
(A photo with Tim – He said ‘Send me a copy of the photo!‘ – but I’m sure he says that to every fan boy who asks for a picture.)
This video was a nice reminder of what motivates people in life. I dig the animation, but I did think that the examples were kind of naff. In the spirit of de-naffing – I thought I’d list out the 6 key motivators, and then give an example of how a startup can employ it in a cool way that makes sense.
According to the science these are the key drivers that persuade people to take action.
Reciprocity: Be the resource first. Give to an audience something valuable, without asking for anything in return. Advice, information, news, utility. When I think of this, I think about the freemium model. I think about Google serving data points and monetizing later. How can your startup help in the first instance?
Scarcity: One of my favourite marketing strategies is when brands who know they have something cool and limit the distribution of their thing. Invites to Google+ and Pinterest come to mind, as does the retail strategy of many premium goods. This also has an important impact on our ability to price more profitably.
Authority: People want to deal with experts. One thing smart startups can do these days is build credentials in related spheres to what they sell. Smart brands do thought pieces on their industry, share intimate knowledge they have learned, and even give away perceived trade secrets. This is a smart way to fast track reputation and gain authority. A company blog is a great start. Talking at relevant industry conferences, getting articles published and mini doco’s are also great ways of developing a brand as an authority. Another old school method is gaining borrowed interest via sponsorships.
Consistency: In a world of exponential change and category fragmentation, it would be easy to think we desire unique and changeable experiences. But the opposite is true. While our tastes are becoming more niche, every niche experience we have we want to be consistent with our expectations. In technology Apple does it extremely well with their interface. But the true master would have to be McDonalds. When it comes to homogeneity of experience, they are the true masters. A simple question we can ask ourselves is this: How will the system we are building facilitate a ritual? Humans are creatures of habit and certainty – brands that serve this, have a chance at generating loyalty.
Liking: While this doesn’t appear in many strategy documents, people do business with people they like. The science says we like people and companies that are similar to us, and co-operate with us. When it comes to startups, a fast track to doing this is to personify the brand. Have a set of values that people can relate to, to stand for something politically and environmentally. The days of corporate fence sitting and both party political donations are over. The best way to be likable is to take a stand and find the people who value what we do. The others are irrelevant.
Consensus: With humans being social animals, we look for decision validation within our reference group. This doesn’t mean that the wisdom of crowds is right. In fact, it might mean the wisdom of a closed group of people we trust. My best current example is that the popularity of Facebook and its ever growing user base assures me that it isn’t right for me.
While it is hard to do all of these, it’s a nice reminder of the type of activity we need to undertake to inspire people to take action.
What are some of the methods that you’ve used?
The screen culture era that we have entered is clearly here to stay – but it does represent some interesting nuance in human perception. Given that we are in the middle of a technological upheaval there is a default belief that everything newer is better. And often it is, the real challenge is for us to train ourselves to stop and compare the new option with the existing method. Once we start to do this, we might surprise ourselves to find we adopt a lot of new technology for reasons that defy relative utility.
This short doco I was watching on the future of connections got me thinking about it more deeply. Our current obsession with the screen as the default to every solution to every business flow problem. The idea that UX is seen as a screen issue, that we use digital to replicate analog, and the fact that we even make ebooks look as though they are turning paper pages, says that our we are distorting the true utility of the tools we are using.
So let’s imagine for a minute that the digital screen was invented before paper was. That paper, and printing upon it had just arrived today. I have no doubt that the same level of excitement would bubble around this as a technology. We’d all be very quick to point out the benefits of the printed word and visual over the screen:
- It doesn’t need electricity
- You can drop it without breaking it
- It’s super light
- It can be incredibly thin…. “paper thin?”
- It can have a superior resolution
- It’s flexible and can be shoved in a bag, folded, rolled etc
- It can be compiled into multiple sheets or bound together
- It doesn’t take memory to scroll through, or load up, you just turn directly to a particular page
- It can be written on with almost any writing device (which probably wouldn’t have been invented yet!)
- It’s very low cost to produce single or multiple copies
- Data can be generated on it and stored with or without computing power
- It can be sent without risk (although mail probably wouldn’t exist – but it would be a ‘hot’ startup vertical!)
- You can tear out a page or square and give it to someone
You get the picture…. and I’m sure you can make an equally compelling list in reverse which is ‘pro digital screen’. And the irony is not lost on me that the current battle in screen technology is for one that can can flex without breaking.
So why does this matter? Because it is time we started again to focus on utility, not newness for the sake of it. It is time we appreciated the variety of tools at our disposal and used them interchangeably or together based on suitability. But most of all it’s time we started to remember why technology matters, which we can do by reminding ourselves of the definition according the Oxford Dictionary:
Technology: The application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes.
Or put another way, the thing ought serve the purpose, the purpose is not the thing – unless of course it’s the thing we sell.
As far as startups and entrepreneurs are concerned, there’s a clue in all this. The only way we’ll ever get adoption of our technology, will be if it ‘practically’ supersedes the alternative.
I was thinking about someone doing a project where they give themselves to others for a year via twitter.
Each day or week they are available to help someone (person, SME, startup) for free to do anything so long as it is legal. The only price will be that it is able to be documented.
Or maybe this: sell their labour a week at a time on eBay and see what the starting price is (early on in the year) and what it becomes towards the end of the year based on the value they add, or social followers they acquire during the process. But again, it would be documented.
If someone wants to do this, be this person – then hit me up. Would make a cool documentary or something…
I’m not joking.
Yesterday I was cleaning the remnants of 2012 from my desk when I found an old note pad. I was flicking through and found some thoughts and ideas I had written down during meetings, while listening to some talks and just reading articles. While many of them are ‘oldies’ I still think some are worth sharing and creating a digital foot print for.
- Being busy is not the same as being effective.
- We should begin every project as if there is no budget.
- 1 billion dollars laid flat in $100 bills would fill a 1 meter deep 1300 meter square space. (Swimming pool?)
- To get a good answer, we need to ask a great question.
- The average Australian has 1 testicle (be careful with averages).
- Get T-Shaped people to work in your business. A broad set of experiences. Arms that reach wide into the world. People that can go left or right. people who are centered and balanced.
- It’s worth asking “why” 5 times if we want to get to the real reason of something.
- There are only 7 major plot lines to a story: Overcome the monster, Rags to riches, The quest, Voyage and return, Farce, Tragedy, Re-birth. Even our startup needs to choose one of these.