On Your Path of Desire

Thinking about the places and ways in which people’s lives intersect with various brands, products and services can get rather messy. We are, after all, subject to serendipity – which often borders on chaos. Think about your most prized possession, and then think about how it came to you. Now, tell me, was it planned or was there an accident involved? Was it an unexpected gift?

My bet, is that for many of you, the item that you most love has come to you thanks to a series of apparently random events.

100_7750 The thing is, however, that we often mistake chaos for randomness. It isn’t. Underlying random events is Desire as an organising principle. What this means is that we seek out, attract and are attracted to things that gratify our desires. And in the process we unconsciously order our world and make decisions and choices that obey the laws of desire – not the laws of logic. It’s why we buy things like Alfa Romeo cars and Ducati motorbikes – not because we are smart, but because we feel compelled to.

When we step onto the web, this is amplified in sometimes surprising ways.

Mike Arauz has put together a great deck that shows how this can play out. Called Desire Paths, Mike talks about the way that brands need to be begin connecting with their audiences in ways that align with an individual’s passion. He points out that these paths are OUR paths – and that they cannot be made by institutions – and therefore that brands can be invited on our journey along these paths on the condition that they are useful to the person travelling this path.

Desire paths tie-in nicely to social judgement. Certainly there is a great incentive for brands to tap into the collective power of a desire path; after all, we do not walk these desire paths alone – and technology is making it ever easier for us to find like-minded travellers all around the world. As Apple has found, good design is not just appreciated by “me” but also by “people like me” – or perhaps as Mike would term it, “people who walk with me”.

After a desire path and a brand collide in this way, the outcome is transformative – for everyone involved. For the paths that we take, and the choices we make either unconsciously or deliberately, also mark us as belonging to this tribe, or that – and this is perhaps, the heart of social judgement, and why understanding its mechanisms remains elusive.

Your Voice is Your Business

Tim Noonan and Katie Chatfield When you start to prepare for a pitch or a presentation, what do you do first? If you are like most people, you will turn to your computer, fire up Powerpoint and knock out a quick outline. And while that can work for some, this approach often means that you overlook the nuances and potential of a good story.

But even if you DO have a good story … what happens next? Tim Noonan suggests that we need to pay more attention to our most powerful and persuasive tool – our voice.

In his excellent Your Voice PDF, he outlines the seven strategies you can use to achieve vocal brilliance:

  1. Record Every Speech You Give
  2. Review With Eyes Closed!
  3. Build Trust and Understanding through Sincere Delivery
  4. Speak WITH, not TO, the Audience
  5. Warm Up Your Voice
  6. Smile as you Speak!
  7. Play your Instrument and Express your Passion!

These are not mere words or suggestions – as a blind man, Tim is acutely aware of the power of your voice – and has been known to do “readings” where he is able to tell a lot about your personality simply by asking a few questions and listening to the response. It makes me think that there is great opportunity for these skills when it comes to online conversation. I have always believed that we give away more than we know in all this text/writing. Perhaps only those who are truly attuned to the rhythms of our voices can really tell.

Drawing a Line in the Brand

As the line between our personal and professional lives continues to blur, we are increasingly seeing both brands and individuals struggle with responsibility, ownership and commitment. This is being exacerbated by the accelerated uptake of social networking tools such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter – where our personal and professional lives sometimes meet in unexpected ways.

Boo Hoo! - FGRIn an attempt to help delineate the personal/professional or public/private debate, many have adopted the idea of personal branding. Dan Schawbel has built an enviable profile and is recognised as a leading proponent in the personal branding space, but others such as Beth Harte simply don’t believe in personal brands. As Geoff Livingston points out, there is a real difference between a personal brand and an individual’s reputation:

Reputation is built upon past experiences — good or bad, a real track record. Personal branding is often an ego-based image based on communications. A personal brand can demonstrate a person is there, but it’s often shallow and can be contrived. It’s just like a sport stripe on a car, nice but no engine, no guts, no substance.

But what happens when a fake personal brand emerges that has internal consistencies? What happens when the stories that emerge around this “identity” build and sustain momentum? What happens when this identity gains a following?

42-16245198When Dan Lyons began writing as Fake Steve Jobs, the online world was intrigued. But the thing that impressed me was the capacity for FSJ to inventively take on the Steve Jobs persona, accentuate some of his characteristics and entertain a growing number of readers. I particularly loved his ability to incorporate news and current events into the commentary, such as this post – Enough is enough! I just fired that idiot Jerry Yang:

But you know what really put me over the top? It was this ridiculous letter to shareholders that Yahoo put out yesterday. Thirteen hundred words long and it felt like thirteen thousand words and in the end what did it say? Blah blah blah friggin blah. Me good, Icahn bad. Jesus, Jerry. That's what you were doing when you were supposed to be blogging? You were writing some lame-ass alibi trying to make up some excuses for your lousy performance? I'm sorry, but you're done. You suck. You're toast. Maybe the Yahoo board can't manage to assemble a pair of balls big enough to fire you, but you know what? I was born with balls that big. In fact I actually like firing people. I get off on it. It gives me wood. You get it? I'm rock hard right now. I'm lifting my desk off the floor. You're done, Jerry.

But did this do any harm to Apple? Did it harm Steve Jobs? The very fact that someone with talent invested the time and creative effort to bring FSJ so vividly to life says much about the passions that are aroused around Apple. And I would argue that the parallel world that was created added dynamism and energy to our perceptions of both Apple and Steve Jobs. In the end, Dan Lyons drew a line in the sand, stepped across it and became Real Dan Lyons.

But what happens when a fake personal brand is a little closer to home?

So now you tell me this internet filter thing isn't going to work huh?Over the past few months, many of the Australians who use Twitter have been treated to the hilarious and sometimes provocative conversations of (fake)Stephen Conroy. As Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy in the Australian Government, the real Stephen Conroy drew the ire of many participants in the online and related industries over the proposal for an internet filter/censorship regime, and FSC proved to be a wonderfully satirical take on the events and discussion as they unfolded around this controversial topic.

The characterisation of FSC veered from scheming politician to Internet Geek. Sometimes FSC would mock the participants in the “Twitter echo chamber”, while at other times he would turn his attention to politicians. He even gave an interview to the press earlier this year where, when asked, what activities he pursues after hours, he replied:

I used to be an avid kitten fisherman (purely recreational; catch-and-release), but there just aren't enough hours in the day anymore to find kittens, let alone stuff them into a sack and toss them into a river.

However, as with Fake Steve Jobs, a line has been drawn in the sand for FSC. Over the last few weeks, pressure has been mounting on the person/s behind the caricature to reveal themselves. And today, Telstra employee, Leslie Nassar removed the FSC mask and announced to the world “OK, so here it is; Fake Stephen Conroy = Leslie Nassar”. And this is where it gets interesting.

Telstra is Australia’s largest company and as such is always involved in many large scale projects with the federal government. So the revelation that it was a Telstra employee who had been satirising the government minister responsible for broadband was bound to send Telstra’s PR and corporate communications team into overdrive. Thus far, however, there has been no press release – just this blog post from Mike Hickinbotham which starts:

First off, let's review the facts.
  • Lesile is not going to lose his job as a result of announcing he is the Fake Stephen Conroy
  • Telstra did not shut down Leslie's Twitter account. Fake Stephen Conroy (twitter.com)
  • Telstra did not out Leslie as the Fake Stephen Conroy
  • Telstra's policy is that only selected spokepeople deal with the media

However, Bronwen Clune questions whether this response really is as open and transparent as claimed.

This is certainly a thorny issue for Telstra, and one which many brands will be watching carefully. Particular attention will be paid not just to what Telstra SAYS but what it DOES. As Seth Godin wrote recently on the subject of authenticity:

If it acts like a duck (all the time), it's a duck. Doesn't matter if the duck thinks it's a dog, it's still a duck as far as the rest of us are concerned.

Authenticity, for me, is doing what you promise, not "being who you are".

That's because 'being' is too amorphous and we are notoriously bad at judging that. Internal vision is always blurry. Doing, on the other hand, is an act that can be seen by all.

It strikes me that while many brands seek to reach out and engage their customers in an authentic way, there is still a lot of talking and not enough doing. By Mike Hickinbotham’s own admission, Leslie “understands the whimsical nature of social media and in particular Twitter”. Leslie has been able to build a following and keep a suspicious and cynical audience in hand.

From a branding point of view, this seems to be a great opportunity for Telstra to take advantage of a mini-crisis. I can imagine whole campaigns built around Fake Stephen Conroy or perhaps a more anonymous “Minister for the Internets”. I can see the hundreds if not thousands of tweets, blog posts and articles proclaiming Leslie as Australia’s own @Scobleizer and Telstra the undisputed leader in Australian social media strategy (I’m sure there is the possibility for some post-facto rationalisation by a planner somewhere).

Or, of course, Leslie may find himself out of a job.

A line in the sand has been drawn. Now it is just a question of which way Telstra will jump.

UPDATE: Stephen Collins turns the spotlight around and asks whether we all aren't partly responsible; and "SocioTeque" suggests that today, if any, is the day to join the conversation. Stilgherrian provides another angle over at New Matilda; and Mike Hickinbotham provides an update from the Telstra side of the scrum (apparently Leslie is NOT out of a job).

Stepping into the Spotlight

Plucking up the courage to start a blog or joining a conversation by commenting is not easy. For many of us, it means stepping out of our comfort zones – comments and blogs are, after all, easily found by the all seeing eye of Google; and you never know whether you might face a backlash or become embroiled in a heated discussion. But while it’s easy to sit in the shadows and read a blog – there really are great rewards for those who step into the spotlight.

spotlight_book Some time ago, Todd Andrlik suggested that I read Step into the Spotlight by Tsufit. The book appealed to me because of my background in theatre – so when Tsufit asked me to share a personal story about stepping into the spotlight, I couldn’t resist. In this guest post I share the trepidation I had when first commenting on Russell Davies’ blog.

I am sure you know what it’s like … “am I smart enough”, “is this witty”, “will I get flamed?” … all ran through my head. But in the end, it was the best thing I could have done.

A Personal Take on Ad:Tech Sydney

The dust has now settled a little on last week’s Ad:Tech conference here in Sydney and I have had a chance to catch up on some work, reading and even a little writing.

There have been some great summaries and wrap-ups of the event – which has been very useful – particularly as there were three concurrent streams running at any one time. So, despite missing out on two-thirds of the conference, I can still glean a little of the proceedings thanks to the blogs and Twitter streams of other attendees. (Neerav Bhatt has a great overview of the Twitter stream and Jenny Williams sums up the even on the Ad:Tech Brain blog.)

Both Ben Shepherd and Mark Jones provide great overviews of day one; and Carl Moggridge breaks down the sessions.

IMG00587 For my part, I thought that the keynotes could have gone deeper. Nick Brien from MediaBrands took the big picture approach and got the day rolling. He suggested that “Marketing 3.0” required adjusting to some new realities – but did not take the opportunity to delve into the agency world to suggest how these new realities may play out. I did think this was where the speech was going, but I was wrong. However, he did remind us all that “Promotional driven marketing opens conversations and broadens appeal of your brand” – something that is too easily forgotten in the rush to produce the next glossy TVC or shiny website.

IMG00603 On the second day, Kim Niblock, MD of BBC.com promised much but ended up delivering what was mostly a media kit for their new site. They had done some nice work on attitudinally profiling their audiences – but that really was to be expected from a quality outfit like the BBC. It will be interesting to see how robust this commercial foray will be for the BBC. I am sure the ABC will be watching closely too.

IMG00611 The social network panel with representatives of all the major platforms were interviewed by Jenny Williams. I don’t think I was alone in feeling that Facebook, MySpace, Friendster et al are all beginning to transform themselves into 1990s style portal publishers. Jye Smith suggested that social networks should pay more attention to the thing that made them successful in the first place – the people who use them. As the session closed, I asked whether we would see any differentiating innovation in terms of the platforms or whether they would continue copying each other’s features and functions. And in the last few days, as Facebook’s attempt to out-micro-blog Twitter rolls out around the world, this question seems more pressing than ever. I have a feeling that we will all tire of this cannibalistic behaviour sooner rather than later.

The panel discussions were opportunities for a little more depth. And while there were initial misgivings around the balancing of the conference agenda, it soon became clear that the social media stream was worth it’s weight in gold. Each of the sessions were packed out, often with standing room only.

The digital strategy session ended up being more about the execution than strategy; and the Johnson and Johnson case study while solid, ran in 2007 and felt out-of-date.

IMG00593Julian Cole and Fake Julian Cole stirred up the audience with some theatrics and audience-directed questioning in the session on “dark marketing”. Of course, the question was raised around the use of fake virals – and the recent work for Witchery by Naked. While the panel seemed to think this was not the way to go for brands, I tend to agree with Iain McDonald:

There are better, bigger, broader opportunities to engage consumers using social media that can still be authentic, mysterious, realistic. Yes it’s a creative challenge but if we can start to get this right there are big wins for consumers, clients and agencies alike.

IMG00596 Jye Smith, Laurel Papworth, Mike Hickinbotham and I spoke about the relevance of Twitter. It felt like it went well, but time flies when you are in front of a room of people … and it felt like we were out of time before we really got going. Jye facilitated the discussion well – diving into the audience to take questions and keep us all in order. Mike stepped us through some of the approaches and lessons they learned from launching the @BigpondTeam on Twitter – fingers crossed his presentation will be shared at some point.

IMG00624 Iain McDonald, Stephen Collins, Lesley White and Katie Chatfield created a powerful buzz when talking social media measurement. “Data is everywhere, but insight is rare”, suggested Katie, while Lesley explained that there should be a focus on the rants vs raves in any conversational analysis. There were some great points made by all the speakers and Katie shared this fantastic presentation on the tools and techniques that any digital strategist will love.

Overall, this felt like a great conference. There was plenty of good discussion and the panels worked well (for the most part) – and the vibe was strong. There were a couple of talks that were borderline pitches, but they were in the minority. I would have liked to have seen more detailed cross-over discussions between traditional advertising and social media – it seems that there are two distinct points of view with a chasm of understanding separating the two. Perhaps then we will see the type of fireworks that we really do need to see to move the industry forward in a meaningful way.

For other perspectives, check out Matthew Ho, Charlie Robinson and Emma Kate Tyler. Oh, and don't miss out on Simon van Wyk's excellent rant on Mumbrella.

UPDATE: Siddarth also has a nice wrap-up of some of the Twitter stream and also shares the video from the Kodak presentation.

Palbasha Siddique and the MinneBangla Foundation

Palbasha Siddique is the girl with the beautiful voice from the soundtrack to the hugely successful Where the Hell is Matt 2008 – the video of Matt Harding dancing around the world (which I wrote about here).

The amazing thing about this music is that whenever I hear it I am filled with deep emotion – sometimes making me feel joyous, sometimes tearful. And while I do not understand the lyrics, it seems that there is a great deal of communication happening at a deeper level – sub-language. Part of this is to do with Palbasha’s spine-tingling performance; part is the way the music by Garry Schyman surges like a tide; but I always thought there must be something more. The lyrics for the song Praan are taken from the poem Stream of Life by Rabindranath Tagore (Asia’s first Nobel Laureate) – and as it turns out, the poem is about personal submission to the power of peace:

The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day
runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures.

It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth
in numberless blades of grass
and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers.

It is the same life that is rocked in the ocean-cradle of birth
and of death, in ebb and in flow.

I feel my limbs are made glorious by the touch of this world of life.
And my pride is from the life-throb of ages dancing in my blood this moment.

For her 18th birthday, Palbasha has decided to create a non-profit foundation – MinneBangla Foundation which is dedicated to raising funds for Bengali orphans. It sounds like it is very early stages, but you can contact Palbasha via email to join the foundation. In this video she speaks about her plans for the foundation and then sings Praan – and even though the sound is a little patchy, it still manages to send shivers up my spine.

Who Do You Love, Twitter?

As we move through the various stages of Twitter Commitment, we are eventually faced with the fact that we are now connected to people who we have never met. And as our personal Twitter network grows, we begin to rely on visual identity in order to exercise social judgement.

So, who do you love?

Using Twitter Mosaic I have created a picture of a number of the people with whom I chat with on Twitter. Interestingly, you can use this neat tool to also create coffee cups, T-shirts and even mouse mats – which is the perfect way to bring your online community into the offline world.

Get your twitter mosaic here.

Stop By and Say Hi

marketingmag March is a busy month. I have been writing up my thoughts on social judgement (with the plan to turn it into a book), working as usual on the upcoming launch of a project for my employer – SAP, participating in the ADMA digital technology working group, and talking up the practical side of social media in this month’s Marketing Magazine

But no matter how hectic things get, I am always on the lookout for opportunities to meet new people. Of course, there is always the Friday Coffee Mornings here in Sydney – but this week I will be in and out of Ad-Tech conference. I am even participating in a panel on the Relevance of Twitter. So, if you read this blog and want to meet-up – now you know where to find me! Oh, and I look like my photo!

Hamlet Was Right

Polonius. What do you read, my lord?
Hamlet. Words, words, words.

— Hamlet, Act II, scene ii

There is no place to hide … if you pick up a newspaper these days you are likely to see it. And if you go online, you will find it there too. Two words. “Social Media”. These two words sit uncomfortably together like ex-lovers.

Shakespeare...universalKevin Rothermel has an excellent rant on the growing focus and interest in this social media beast. He points out that there are plenty of people clogging up the various social media streams with noise and announcements:

Wading through this mess, day-in and day-out, it has become apparent that these folks think they have figured marketing out.  They will say things about how tools like Twitter will be “the only corporate communications vehicle in the future.”  Anything that doesn’t take place on social media is old school, and people that work in agencies don’t get it.  (which is only true some of the time)

But as Kevin suggests, the potential of social media is not about the unwritten rules, recipes for success or even the championing of one communications vehicle over another. It is about the fundamental human desire to connect – to share, be interesting, and be found interesting by others. And the more that advertising in any form works to take advantage of the Auchterlonie Effect – whether that be a movie, TVC or some conversation buzzing through the web – then the more interesting, inspiring and RELEVANT it will be to us all.

It’s not the dead words that inspire us to action. It’s the way they are spoken, owned and embodied.