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Obey Your Data

For various reasons I have been reading quite a bit about big data lately. Based on everything I read and the experience, I have come to three conclusions:

  1. It does not matter anymore why something happens. It matters that it happens.
  2. In life there is no such thing as certainty; therefore you should just aim for high probability.
  3. Correlation trumps causality.

“In many cases, the deeper search for causality will take place after big data has done its work, when we specifically want to investigate the why, not just appreciate that”
Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, Kenneth Cukier (Big Data)

I would say that in our industry knowing why is more of a philosophical question. Examples show that when you just work on what you have (data) and act on that, the results are better. If data shows that it works, you don´t really need to know why it works. It might be interesting from academic point-of-view, but should not matter when doing marketing for the people.

There is still aversion against data in our industry. Maybe it is because logically thinking people generally don´t gravitate towards advertising (and why our business models are so antiquated). For lack of better data, we have tolerated egomaniacs (disguised as gurus) in our industry for too long.

Advertising is not a rocket science; it is just a data science. Just like everything else in this world.

We have self-inflated view of how difficult our work is, but eventually we will be replaced by algorithm. Gut feeling is not necessarily bad if it is based on experience. I.e. if you have done thousand display campaigns you know anecdotally that call-to-action button should be red. Too often, someone just wants it green because it is his favorite color. And person with no experience could say the right thing just based on the right data.

Experience will trump stupidity.

Data will trump experience.

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Sex is The Killer App

Pornography was the unacknowledged “killer app” of the World Wide Web, not to mention the printing press, photography, and video before it.

The vibrator was the first handheld electrical device, predating the cellphone by century. Scooters took off in postwar Europe, particularly Italy, because they let young couples get away from their families.

Facilitating dating was surely one of the “killer apps” of fire when Homo Erectus discovered it a million years ago; and equally surely, a key driver of increasing realism in humanlike robots will be the sexbot industry.

Sex just seems to be the end, rather than the means, of technological evolution”

Pedro Domingos (Master Algorithm)

Sometimes the most basic needs are driving the consumer behavior. Many marketers fail taking into account those animal urges that still largely are driving us. As marketers try to stay politically correct, they will come up with lukewarm insights that are not really rooted in true human behavior. Tinder is growing in conservative countries like Indonesia & India, although it has not been that widely acknowledged. Humans are always humans, no matter where you are from.

People are driven by lust, hunger, jealousy and greed. Your brand might not be about those things, but if you fail to understand the real motivations you will not be able to make the connection with your audience.

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Can You Really Have A Relationship With A Brand?

77% percent of consumers don’t have a relationship with a brand.
People in US & Europe would not care if 92% of the brands would disappear.

So if you want to “converse” or “engage” with your potential audience you have to be among the 8% of all the brands in the world. Then you are fighting for only 23% of all the potential audience.
That is quite a small pie. Reflected to that it is not that surprising that you don´t get comments on your brand´s Facebook wall.
Although you should never use yourself as the target audience, I wanted to map out with how many brands I have relationship.

Below is the list and the results were quite shocking as I should be brand enthusiast by trade:

Hobby-related: Driven by passion
Nike (Basketball, running, tennis)
Reebok (Crossfit, although I am likely switching to Nike because the passion runs deeper)
Technics (Mostly one product, the epic turntable SL-1200, which has already been discontinued. I own four though, so I should be covered.)

Appearance: Driven by vanity
I generally only buy brand clothes, but I would not cry a river if I some of those brands disappeared.
Watch: Omega (although I would not mind upgrading to Rolex and later to Patek Phillippe, if I ever had the money)

Technology: Driven by convenience
iPhone, iPad, MacBook: Originally using Apple product was driven by the quality, but I have to honestly say I don´t even know have the competitors reached their level. Maybe they have, but I am already locked in Apple ecosystem and I am too lazy to reach out.

Personal care: Driven by price
For deodorant I naturally use Rexona, because it is our client.
For the rest of the personal care I mostly buy the cheapest or what happens to be easily available.

Food: Driven by quality & ideology
I try to eat healthy food and things, which are not filled with sugar and artificial coloring. Generally the rule of thumb is then to stay away from the big brands as they are mostly filled with all the above-mentioned crap.

Indulge: Driven by the quest
For coffee beans, I want to get the best quality but it is not really correlated to brand loyalty. I want to test out different beans from all over the world, from different roasteries and made with different coffee machines.
The same goes with my weekend tipple. I am sucker for expensive gins (example of how advertising and branding works), but again I would not want to drink Plymouth for the rest of my life. So although I am passionate about my coffee and cocktails, the passion translates to constant exploration between different alternatives instead of loyalty.

Working in advertising, I am probably way more brand-driven than average Joe. I generally select brands and appreciate brands. What was surprising for me to notice was that how little brand loyalty I had across the board. Although consuming good definitely shapes my identity, the brands seem to play lesser role I had thought. Only non-exchangeable category was the passion (and only part of it: sports, music) and to some extends technology (I am just too lazy to change my whole digital device ecosystem).

Being a passion brand is hard and it takes time. For certain categories it might be totally impossible (do you feel passionate about your toothpaste?). It might be wiser for your brand to compete in other categories listed above. Or try to be like Apple, where your consumer is locked-in to your system and the cost and effort of getting out just feels too daunting.

No matter what you do, you have to be ready for aggressive competition. Brand loyalty is mostly myth and no brand is safe from consumer churn. Half of the people who described themselves as highly loyal to brand were no longer loyal a later. The reason for this is simple. Even though you think you are unique, there is always opportunity to upgrade (better quality, more features, and more bragging rights) or downgrade (cheaper).

To succeed in this competitive marketplace you must be realistic about how much (or actually how little) consumers care about your brand, constantly improve your products and attract new consumers. You will be losing your current ones eventually.

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Illusion of Engagement

There has been a sudden surge of briefs in recent years, where one of the goals has been to increase engagement. Usually said in those exact words.

Increase engagement.

I buy the basic idea of the engagement: The more customers talk about our brand and the more they spend time with our brand, the more likely they are to spend more money to the brand.
There is usually a correlation. I stress the word usually. Other thing I stress is that you have to engage your customers (and potential prospects). If you engage random people, you will get random results.

However with fluffy terms and catchphrases such as “engagement”, “joining the conversation” and “listening consumers”, we usually miss the bigger picture.

How does this engagement actually helps our business?

Like Martin Weigel highlighted in his brilliant presentation “How not Fail” (which also inspired this post heavily), the advertising is more about mass reaction than mass participation. Even with social media in the mix, advertising is still mostly about the struggle to get enough eyeballs. Engagement has not replaced reach.

What is the biggest problem with display advertising?

Some might say that really low click-rate is the main problem. But actually the biggest problem is that the small minority who is clicking the ads is not representing the whole online population. To put it bluntly, those who click ads are those we do not really want to target.

The same problem is there with Facebook Pages. We keep our fingers crossed that our “Fans” are really our customers. The brutal truth is that many times those “Fans” are people with no higher affinity to your brand but just higher tendency to like anything that is on Facebook. Especially when there is lottery involved. Also when talking about passion brands, the engagement level in Facebook is still relatively low (around 0.64 %). And majority of the brands are not passion brands.

So am I suggesting to get rid of term engagement totally?
Yes & no.
Engagement might make business sense and has its place in brief, but then you need to consider the following three things:

1. Engagement should be tied to business goals.
What is the value of the Facebook share for us? What is the value of the positive blog comment? What is the actual next step of engagement?
This requires some serious soul searching for both client and our agency people. If we do not measure the real effects of engagement, we are walking in the dark. We need to understand the role of engagement in different parts of the consumer journey and set appropriate KPI´s for them (with connection to actual business).

2. Engagement needs to be tightly defined.
What kind of reactions do we want to achieve? What kind of reactions can we anticipate? Do we want spark controversy like GoDaddy? Do we want to educate or entertain?
Every brand wants to remain positive in online, but the things which spark actually the most engagement are negative. Like Timothy Ferriss put it: best content is threat to either behavior, belief or belongings. How many of the brands are really willing to threat anything?
Engagement never trumps relevance.

3. Engagement should be made as easy as possible.
What is the most lightweight interaction we can have? How we made reacting as easy as possible?
The average web user is too busy to comment, but he just might have time to share your content forward or press like. Majority of the people want to be passive consumers, not active participants. They want entertainment, not engagement. That is also the reason why Superbowl Ads are so popular, they are great entertainment which you consume fast and easily and then move on.

Brands seldom can dictate what is discussed at the water cooler. However it can tap to existing discussion topics and add its own twist to it (pun intended). By acting like this, you can actually become a topic at the water cooler.

Great case example of good engaging program was Oreo Daily Twist for the following reasons:

1. It tapped into existing conversations.
2. Made it easy for people to participate with micro-interactions.
3. Instead of big bang, it had lots of small starts, which had the potential to go viral.
+ Was still able to have the product in the center.

This is good example of engagement done right. We need to do more campaigns like this.

Back in the day, the time before some lipstick salesman wandered in and bought the company and corporatized it, it was easy to make comics.

You had an idea, an editor said “Sounds cool. Why not?” and you did it.

Now there are pitches and proposals and committees and a character like Longshot would be so tangled in red tape from it all he´d end up consigned to the reject bing long before he´d ever be given a chance to jump up and stick to a wall.

Sigh.

-Ann Nocenti

Ann Nocenti is the creator of one of my favourite childhood comic heroes Longshot and a longtime contributor for Marvel Comics. She is most famous for her work for Daredevil & X-Men. Recently she has taken the task to reinvent Catwoman for DC Comics. Above quote is from the Longshot compilation.

Sounds cool. Why not?

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