The Perpetual Experience Engine

Brands built through experience will succeed better than those built through communications

Too often these days, our industry sees brands as the sole product of advertising and communications. This is understandable as communications are the core of what we do.

But we have to remind ourselves that the most successful brands are built around a purpose. The top fifty fastest growing businesses between 2000 and 2010 were built with defined ideals. Google’s is to “organize the world’s information”, Innocent Smoothies’ is to “make natural, delicious food and drink that helps people live well and die old”. This clear purpose results in brands that have a richness that, while defining their behavior in the real and virtual world, will leave behind a cultural legacy.

The tail has been wagging the dog since advertising became popular as a medium and we need to re-think about how we contribute to building brands. A standard advertising and communications led approach is a powerful way to immediately reach a mass audience with a brand’s world, inviting consumers to take part and engage. But it’s exhausting, relying heavily on continued media spend for what is, in essence, a one-way conversation.

The alternative is the experience led approach – a far more robust and sustainable way of building brands. This approach creates a Perpetual Experience Engine between product and service experience and cultural imprint a brand can leave in society – through language, occasionality and shared experiences. This virtuous circle grows sustainably on its own, driving sales as it does, and while this growth can be accelerated with advertising or communications, it does not rely on it.

A wide range of brands have been built with this approach. They are constructed around a specific purpose, have a differentiated product and engage consumers in a very direct way. They rarely use advertising and communications in the early stages, instead relying upon the growth in culture such a strategy brings to build its audience. They focus on experience through disciplines such as advocate group engagement, shopper, packaging, content, events and social activation, and through developing their internal cultures, all in the name of living the brand they are representing.

Encouraging such ground-up approach provides exciting opportunities for agencies and clients to embrace. Brands should be organised around a true purpose, engaging staff and delighting customers, driving success and sustainability. In the digitally connected world this Perpetual Experience Engine is perhaps the only way to create a truly transcendent brand.

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Smartphones fuel rise of ‘snackable shopping’

Consumer retail behaviour is fragmenting in ways never seen before. We call this ‘Snackable Shopping’. The notion of snacking on content is of course nothing new, but snacking behaviour is becoming more widespread; extending to how people engage in social interaction, with brands, and in how they buy, on and offline.

Many day-to-day activities no longer need to be planned and it is becoming more natural for people to find ways to fit things into the gaps. To wait ‘until they have a moment’ and do several things at once. This means that content and information needs to be delivered in bite-sized chunks – easy to understand and to act upon.

This is happening because shoppers are interacting far more frequently than before with devices, each interaction taking less time and the sum total getting closer to being truly ‘always on’. Smartphone users interact with their phones 150 times per day – that’s every six minutes.  The era of second-screening or multi-screening is upon us, in a survey of connected device owners, nearly half of smartphone owners (46%) and tablet owners (43%) said they use their devices as second screens while watching TV every day (Nielsen). Given that estimates put smartphone penetration at 73%, the context for this new behaviour is clearly established.

The rise of ‘Commuter Commerce’ is a perfect example of this phenomenon. No longer do we gaze out of the train window or aimlessly flick through a free newspaper. Geometry Global research has shown that 90% of us use commuter time to browse, shop and buy via smartphones and tablets. With technology so ubiquitous and assimilated into the lives of the shopper, even the journey to work becomes a moment to make purchases.

What does this mean for the chief marketing officer? The most critical lesson is that the consumer is in control. For brands to successfully ingratiate consumers and integrate into their worlds, they need to identify these commuter opportunities and connect the modern digital shopper in a meaningful way.

Brands and marketers need to rebuild how and where they attempt to engage consumers, and the systems and processes required to support this.  Not only do we now need to develop snackable content, but also entire experiences (ecommerce, brand engagement) which can be ‘consumed’ in bite-sized chunks, anywhere, at any time and on whatever device.

How FMCG brands can unlock the potential of digital: five top tips

Here are five powerful ways that the FMCG brands can unlock value through the opportunities that digital presents:

1. Have a direct, continuous, two-way dialogue with consumers
FMCG Brands are traditionally built using mass TV advertising to drive retail sales, supported by promotional marketing. Digital enables ongoing connection using a range of channels and platforms – via social and CRM, and useful services and utilities delivered on mobile. This enables personalised dialogue across multiple subject areas, bridging audience passion points with the business objectives.

2. Drive engagement and sales in retail
Through innovation in point of sale systems, mobile and marketing platforms there are now opportunities to drive engagement and conversion in the shopper/retail environment. Working in partnership with retail partners, or via established payment or couponing platforms (such as the UK’s Paypoint), we can deliver discounts and offers in real time, direct to the consumer, for immediate one-time redemption through retailers. This also enables shopper centric utility delivering inspiration and information in the shopper journey.

3. Get data on consumer preferences and purchasing behaviour
Extend the conversation to be continuous and into the retail environment on digital platforms. This generates a huge amount of data about how consumers choose and buy products – insights previously at the fingertips of retailers and kept at a distance from brands. These are valuable for product development, the ongoing development of the consumer experience and in trading negotiations with retailers.

4. Feedback, R&D
A two-way conversation provides feedback on current products and services, enabling propositions to be adjusted and optimised on a continuous basis. It’s also possible to use the audience (or just the passionate) for R&D – crowdsourcing product and service ideas and trialing prototype product in discrete groups. Such groups also become powerful transmitters of social buzz.

5. Creating connected customer experiences
Consumers increasingly have limited mental capacity and time, so brands need to earn their right to have a role in peoples’ lives. Create propositions which are broader than the core product essence, and distributed through a range of touch points. A great example is ice cream brand PaddlePop, which drove significant consideration and share in India through a brand landscape consisting of a multi-part movie on Cartoon Network, experiential roadshows, online games and conventional media.

Is There a Terminal Velocity for Youth and Digital?

A canter through the research on the effect of ubiquitous digital technology on the young and some perspectives on what digital agencies can do to create enriching and rewarding digital experiences.

The seed for this idea was planted when I attended a talk about the effects of social media on the young, at my children’s Steiner school. A teacher remarked that he believed the onslaught of digital was creating a burnt-out generation. Working for a digital agency, I naturally objected, but later thought, what if the continuing increase of speed and intensity of modern life driven by technology was somehow hitting a physiological or psychological barrierA terminal velocity where they can go no faster, instead heating up and burning out? I decided to look into the published research…

Various studies have shown that medical students, mathematicians, jugglers, multilinguists and musicians all increase the volumes of specific parts of their brains as they practice their particular skills. A famous UCL (University College London) study also showed this is true for London taxi drivers, whose hippocampi, responsible for navigation, grow in proportion to the time they spend on “The Knowledge”.

Therefore, it appears that our brains are like a ‘muscle’ – the more we use a particular part of the brain, the more neural pathways we develop and the better we get at that particular skill. We can, therefore, rewire how our brains operate by practicing particular actions throughout our lives, but the effects are most profound before the age of 30.

MRI scans of the brain ranging from those aged 4 to 21 show clearly how the frontal lobes, responsible for reasoning and problem solving, are established. The process appears to follow the principle of “use it or lose it” – neural connections that get exercised are retained while those that don’t are lost. (National Institute of Mental Health and University of California Los Angeles)

Don Tapscott, author of Grown Up Digital, asserts that by their 20s, today’s youth will have spent more than 20,000 hours online or playing video games. This coincides with the period when their brains are developing most, and has the effect of changing mental reflexes, habits and the way they learn and absorb information. Playing action video games, for example, helps people process visual information more quickly (Nature, 2003). Internet users develop new skills in scanning content quickly – the ability to read in different directions and are more sensitive to visual information. This is  particularly profound, given Malcolm Gladwell’s hypothesis that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to be exceptional at something.

The powerful influence of digital is demonstrated by “The Google Effect” – documented by Betsy Sparrow at Columbia University – a shift away from retaining primary facts, towards a skill for knowing how to search for them. On the face of it, this is an example of our profound adaptability, outsourcing a skill we’re not brilliant at (remembering lots of facts). But are we in danger of creating a society of amnesiacs? And given that what we know forms our framework for thinking, could this have a negative impact on our ability to conceptualise?

Heavy use of digital communications also has a measurably negative impact on tweens’ social cognition: their ability to read subtle communication clues gained from face-to-face contact is diminished (DANA foundation). Also, Robin Dunbar (famous for having defined his number) has measured increased satisfaction from face-to-face communication over other forms – and interestingly Skype conversation beats telephone, which beat email, texting and social networking. The more human the communication is, the more it makes us feel good – with text-based communication scoring higher when emoticons are used. 

However, getting the right balance is key, as has been evidenced by a University of Lausanne study of teens, with heavy users of the internet (>2 hours/day) showing a considerable increase of incidence of depressive illnesses – perhaps due to lack breadth of real world experiences and deep friendships. The study also indicates that non-internet users show a similar increase – perhaps because of feelings of exclusion, as social conversation, content and experiences have increasingly moved online. Moderate internet use appears to correlate with better mental health.

Reviewing all the data, I conclude that we have indeed hit a terminal velocity for youth and digital. Historically, as technology has evolved, so too has the rate of human cognition. But we may now be at a point of inflexion where these human limitations can result in challenges for people, like a loss of connection with friends, with the real world and themselves. Brands can provide the solutions.

Some will try to wind back the clock and pull the young out of the digital torrent by limiting access – this is certainly the solution that the Steiner school teacher would recommend. I disagree, I think the data also gives us a few clues about how to productively move forwards:

  • Firstly, ‘normal’ behavior has moved online (remember that non-internet users have a higher rate of depressive illness)
  • Secondly, people desire human-style and social connection through any channel and which are nuanced and create deep ties with others – ideally offline.
  • Finally, people want real world utility – useful experiences embedded into the world around them.

Digital experiences, if appropriately engineered, can connect us to those things that matter, giving us enriching and rewarding connection.

In conclusion, the research indicates that technology has indeed outpaced the abilities of human physiology. However, as much as technology presents a challenge it also presents an opportunity. An opportunity for clever brands to use digital to help overcome the chasm between technological possibilities and human capabilities. Clever brands are starting to use digital to help people overcome these limitations through creating experiences that solve these emerging challenges at the increasingly complicated intersection between life and technology, and thereby creating real and enduring value.

We have already seen some brands begin to realise this new opportunity to reconnect with customer in meaningful ways. For example, in a world where there is less physical human contact, Unilever developed an interactive, smile activated vending machine, helping to bring back the personal and powerful touch of human body language and of the smile, to help make people happier. In a world where people get together less often, Sneakerpedia created a global community platform around people’s passions to drive connection and collaboration that is just not possible in the real world alone. In a world where there’s more bad news than good, Coca-Cola extended moments of jubilation around the 2010 World cup into a global party. And in a world most where people don’t connect with nature or venture off the beaten track, Mamut used online communities to create 150 teams and inspired them to scale 150 mountains, all over the world, sharing their experiences as they go. Finally, in a world where people just don’t connect with the mechanics of their bodies or understand how to achieve well-being through a the right balance of physical behaviour, NikeFuel builds feedback loops which gamify daily life, giving us more self-awareness in a fun way.

Idea engineered by Omaid Hiwaizi, Planning Director, with particular thanks to Harvind Bhatti, and Robert Oliver, Andrew Gregoris, Nathan Flowers, James Buchanan, Chris BakerPete (and Charlie) Trainor.

There’s no standard approach to Social RoI

There’s no standard ROI model that works across Social campaigns. Partly because objectives vary and partly because there’s usually more going on than just Social, and isolating the Social activity (and linking it to sales) isn’t easy.

When measurement is tied to sales… it’s best to use a promotion or something that makes the activity measureable in social channels. The RoI is based on money spent vs. promotional participation/purchases.

When RoI is tied to Media Value, we can compare reach numbers, which we get from the insights section of Facebook vs. standard media prices. In these cases we say… We got X amount of media for Y price, therefore saved Z.

When RoI is tied to awareness. We need to benchmark what the current level of awareness is. There are usually costs associated with benchmarking studies, which is one reason why we haven’t done awareness based RoI.

When RoI is tied to engagement. We look at clicks, likes, comments, posts reactions and anything else we can measure. Engagement is the easiest thing to measure in the Social space, but assigning it a value is where it gets tricky. We usually tell our clients how much engagement they got for a particular social communication and that is usually enough. Ideally, we should be assigning the engagement a value in order to input that value into an RoI model, but it’s difficult to predict engagement before launching a piece of comms without guessing.

The RoI question is the holy grail of Social. A question we can only ask if we’re sure of our objectives.

Will Facebook’s EdgeRank make people ration their brand interaction?

Here’s a really interesting blog post on how the Facebook Newsfeed works, and how the new EdgeRank algorithm is changing what content appears

In outline…

  • The ‘Top news’ wall view only shows content based on what FB thinks you’re interested in – based on past interaction – this is the EdgeRank algorithm
  • Most people never switch to the real time ‘Most recent’ view which shows everything.
  • This may cause people to be cautious about what they interact with, as they will learn that engaging in brand content will cause your Wall to fill up with stuff from that brand
  • If you don’t concentrate on producing the right content at the right frequency, it’s best not to invest anything in Facebook at all, as the content will be invisible.

This is all further strong argument for consumer Passion Points driving Content Threads – and the consistent delivery thereof. Of which, more soon…