The Effectiveness of Digital Branding

Chris Schaumann has put together this excellent presentation on digital branding, with a particular focus on the Asia region. There are some great statistics peppered throughout, including the fact that there is only an average 5% spend on Internet advertising in Asia Pacific (Australia maxing out at 12.2%). But when you consider that 65% of all marketing spend in 2007 had NO effect on consumers and that 86% of consumers don’t believe what brands say about THEMSELVES, then it starts to make sense.

Clearly, brands can no longer EFFECTIVELY represent themselves. And with 78% of consumers believing what "other consumers" say about brands, the rise of consumer generated content/comment/analysis will have an impact on the Future of Your Brand. I particularly like the way that Chris breaks down the "new marketing model" into:

  • Transactional marketing
  • Relationship marketing
  • Experiential marketing

But I would add a fourth element — conversational marketing. This is the marketing that is done ON YOUR BEHALF by consumers to other consumers. And while it is much less controllable, it is certainly "authentic". Will it bring the love back? Only time will tell.

Tip of the hat to Geert Desager.

YouTube and the Context of “Being Social”

When it comes to understanding the impact of digital media on the way we live our lives, there are few who dig as deeply as Michael Wesch. This is a recording of his speech at the US Library of Congress in June. And while the presentation starts off with some impressive statistics about the number of videos uploaded to YouTube (9,232 hours per day — 88% of which is original), the fascinating aspect of this presentation is the focus on story. In his own words:

… that is the story of the numbers and this is really a story about new forms of expression and new forms of community and new forms of identity emerging.

For the following 45 minutes or so, Michael Wesch leads us through a discussion on the way in which digital media is celebrating and connecting people in entirely new forms of shared experience. He starts with Numa Numa and his famous The Machine is Us/ing Us. Interestingly, the latter was initially launched the Wednesday before Superbowl Sunday — and as he had quickly reached an audience of over 200 people he sent a screen shot to the head of school for his permanent record. By Saturday the audience had grown to over 1100 viewings and the video had been posted on Digg. As you probably know, this video has at current count, around 5 million views.

As an anthropologist, Michael Wesch is providing a fascinating analysis of the shifts in society and culture that are already underway. In this video he shows how user generated content + user generated filtering + user generated distribution is reinventing the way in which we create, find and share branded and unbranded material via the web. This potent mix is ignited with a final piece, which Michael calls "user generated commentary" — ie blogs — however, I feel this is better represented as user generated CONTEXT. When blog authors share content with their readers, they create a context into which the content becomes more accessible and digestible for their particular audience. It is this final piece which is an essential part of any digital strategy. I fully recommend setting aside an hour to watch this presentation through, however, if you have limited time, I have written my thoughts below.

About 12 minutes into the presentation, Michael turns his attention to the media. Here he talks about the media not as technology but as a system through which human relations are mediated. This is given more context by showcasing the way that remixing and remastering videos allows others to participate in a video meme (eg Charlie Bit My Finger and its 100+ responses). Clearly this is not just about claiming 15 seconds of fame. This type of participation goes to the very heart of the P-L-A-Y (P-ower, L-earning, A-dventure, Y-elp of surprise), delivering an experience that crosses the chasm that is imposed upon us by culture, geography, suburbia and even the isolating experience of TV viewing.

But the experience of this is dislocating. At 23 minutes, Michael explains "context collapse" which is what happens when we first begin to "participate". For example, think back to the first time that you wrote a blog post, think about your first comment on another’s blog. By participating in this way, you release your thoughts into an environment in which you have no context. You don’t know how it will be read or understood, nor where or when. You don’t even necessarily "know" your reader. Now, apply this same thinking to video. You are "speaking" or "presenting" to a small webcam, not a person. Well, not yet anyway. The human interaction is delayed, mediated, spread across time and space. It takes time for "participants" to become used to this new mode of delayed being. It is, perhaps, why the easiest way to understand blogging is to participate.

At around the thirty minute point, Michael walks us through the topic of cultural inversion. This describes the tension that we (in a cultural sense) experience as participants. On the one hand we express individualism, independence and a keen commercialism while desiring community and relationships within an authentic context. YouTube, and to a certain extent, other social media, allow us to experience this tension as a deep connection with others without the responsibility that comes with close, personal relations. It strikes me that by adding a third party into this equation, for example, a "good cause" like a charity, you are able to move quickly from this state of mediated connection to "community actualisation" (thinkng a community version of maslow’s hierarchy of needs).

But what happens when this is "gamed"? Michael explores YouTube’s authenticity crisis about 36 minutes in, using EmoKid21Ohio and LonelyGirl15 as examples. Ten minutes later the topic of copyright is broached (any remixing is basically illegal). Using a clip from Lawrence Lessig’s TED talk, the challenge is contextualised — the culture has moved on and the law is struggling to recontextualise its own relevance:

You can’t kill the instant the technology produces, we can only criminalize it. We can’t stop our kids from using it, we can only drive it underground. We can’t make our kids passive again, we can only make them "pirates" … and is that good?

We live in … an age of prohibitions where many areas of our life, we live life constantly against the law, ordinary people live life against the law … and that realization is extraordinarily corrosive, extraordinarily corrupting, and in a democracy we ought to be able to do better.

The presentation is wrapped up by video quoting bnessel1973:

Some people say that the videos we create on YouTube should be created in hopes to change the world. I have made mine to help me live in it.

Why We All Like a Bit of Rough


Often the most effective communications are a little rough around the edges. It is the half-dashed email. It it the off-hand tweet. It is the scribbled note left on your colleague’s desk.

Think about it, what do you prefer to get from your lover — an email, an e-card or a hand written note? What gets your attention most?

Seth Godin calls this "keeping it human".

When it comes to communication, marketing or what ever you want to call it, sometimes the slick, polished piece of collateral, corporate video or TVC is not what you should be aiming for. And while it does depend on who your audience is, remember that we all like to feel that we are being spoken to by a person, not a machine. After all, no matter how many times you repeat a message, nothing appears to be quite so authentic as something written, given and created by hand.

Who Is Your Best Friend, Girls?

When I saw this ad the other night I laughed out loud. Audacious. Daring even. It apparently even caused outrage and complaint in the community which is a good sign of effectiveness. But would it make you buy the product? Penny Warneford, who is helping Kolotex with the campaign (or perhaps managing the crisis it has created) said, "The advertising is the result of extensive research which is right on target". It seems to me that she is right. And we have come a long way since the ads with the blue dye.

Sometimes Advertising Does Good

Every medium has a frame. This can be physical like the hard edges of a TV screen or a computer monitor (or even the edges of a piece of paper), or it can be a "construct" — a series of written and unwritten rules which we all follow in order to create meaning. Sometimes playing with or adjusting this frame can create surprise — jolting us out of the passive stupor which surrounds our media consumption. I remember Moonlighting used direct to camera conversation as a way to "break the frame", but there are many other approaches and techniques that can be applied to film, video, TV, print, outdoor and even digital. Whichever media you are working in, there are rules to use and rules to abuse — and plenty of creative space in-between.

But for me, the best creative work reaches THROUGH the frame in which it is created and connects us with a story. A powerful narrative has a force and impact which cannot be easily ignored. For digital work, this often involves interaction or an immersive approach to storytelling, while TV needs to capture our fleeting attention (ie stop us from walking away) and draw us into a story that DEMANDS to be told.

This TVC for the Victorian Traffic Accidents Commission is a great example. There are not single stories here, but a quiet cacophany of stories.

The plain, everyday footage and locales, the emptiness of the scenes conveys the tragic absence of life. The still-grieving (ever grieving) parents with photos is reminiscent of Chile’s mothers of the disappeared, and the haunting music (Angie Hart’s cover of The Cure’s Pictures of You) all combine to remind us of the consequences of our actions as well as our need TO act.

Oh, and as Jayne points out, these people are not actors. They are the real people who have lost loved ones in accidents. Hope you have a box of tissues.

Building Trust Through Participation


I have been ruminating on the linkage between trust and participation over the last couple of days … particularly in light of Mario’s post on the Fifth P of Marketing — participation … and trying to piece together a sense of where this is all heading. As you have all probably experienced, there is a converging of technologies and processes — the distinctions between work/life, professional/private, author/collaborate are collapsing before our very eyes. Meanwhile, the institutions that we have, in the past, trusted (from banks to governments) are coming under fire and are heaving under the stresses of our cynical consumerist glare. Even the darlings of our new connected universe, Google, are feeling this strain.

Where once we turned to Google to sort through the dross of the ever-expanding Internet, we now turn to our personal networks. The difference now, however, is that our personal networks are dispersed across geographies, timezones and languages. We use tools and sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and even Twitter to mine specific answers to our global and local needs. Robert Scoble calls this "social graphing" — take a look at the second video here.

One of the ideas that interested me most in this concept was the linkage between how social networking activates and validates inter- and intra-community trust. Basically, this means that I am more likely to make a decision based on feedback or information garnered from my network of trusted advisors. For example, I am more likely to try Facebook if all my friends are using it — even the stalwart David Armano has finally capitulated 😉

From a brand and marketing point of view, these networks are strategically important … but as Robert Scoble points out, they are, thus far, impervious to search engine optimisation. This means that ONLY those brands that are ACTIVE in social media will have any chance of reaching and activating these networks. In short — brands need to participate … for only through participation can they DEMONSTRATE the qualities that will lead to trust. So if you are asked "should my company be blogging"? The answer should be clear.

With thanks to Spell with Flickr.

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The Voice of Poetry

As I get older I find myself smiling at the changes in my life. There was a time, for example, when I would look scornfully at those people wandering around golf courses hitting balls into the distance. Now, I enjoy a round or two. This morning, as I was listening to AM radio (another thing I swore I would never do), I found myself grinning away at the apparent inconsistencies of my life. 

For here, on the national broadcaster’s breakfast show where debate, politics and insight are the order of the day (when did I become interested in this stuff?), during the regular segment called "Album of the Week" … was Suzanne Vega and her new album, Beauty and Crime. My immediate reaction was to change the station … but then I stopped. I waited. And then her voice came through the static.

There is something absolutely distinctive about Suzanne’s voice that taps deep into my soul. It is to do, I think, with the way that story and style become inseparable. Having heard some VERY bad covers of her songs, I believe that only a great storyteller can successfully perform her songs. Watching this video is a great example … there is the interview, the ambient noise … and at the end, the glorious connection and warmth of her music.

In selecting Suzanne’s new album for "album of the week", Tim Ritchie suggests there are strong links between another of my favourite musicians … Lou Reed (and on that topic, don’t forget to check out this post over at Lewis Green’s blog). There is the storytelling centring on New York, the ability to bring poetry to life in a gritty, urban context and there is a sort of dirty love affair with the city itself. And even just writing this makes me want to listen to the new tracks … is it nostalgia, or a desire for a new experiential adventure? Time will tell.

Blogger’s Hierarchy of Growth

Blogneeds I have been pondering the idea of authenticity and its link with writing, with branding and strategy and with the private self for some time. In fact, some of my earliest posts were on what it means to be authentic. For some reason it keeps coming back to a sense of writing voice or writing style … and this post from Lewis Green got me thinking on this topic some more — for it seems that we blogging folks go through a kind of metamorphosis the longer we write, engage, listen, discuss and collaborate with our readers and the wider online community. And it is this process of personal change that I find intriguing.

There have been many recent examples of these changes … and sometimes this change occurs through a conscious decision while at other times it is a change enforced by a series of events. My buddy, Sean Howard, has been doing some digging around this area for a while and seems to be making some progress. As you may know, the charming CK had these changes forced upon her as did I some time ago. And currently unfolding over at Marcus Brown’s blog is an amazing and searing, slow-cooked story of personal challenge and change.

No matter what the catalyst for this change is, the desire to share its story or to flee from it is powerful, and it takes great strength and courage to do both — for of course, one can never ESCAPE from one’s own story. The question is only one of TELLING.

In many ways, this process reminds me of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs — but with a twist. On the base level there are PHYSIOLOGICAL needs for blogging (or for any kind of writing). We need a computer or a pen and paper. On the next level rather than safety, there is a need for time to THINK, create and write. Up from there is COMMUNITY, a sense of belonging and of our place within a group. REPUTATION is the point at which the "higher needs" begin to be addressed — with a focus on leadership and an emerging sense of values. The pinnacle in this model is a form of actualisation based on ETHICS.

At every transition point, a change in VOICE occurs because there is a corresponding change in the writer. And at the higher levels of the pyramid, the separation between what we say and what we do in the world evaporates. Gradually, from behind the mask, the real person/writer appears in full view.

Of course, the interesting thing about this is … that the process never ends. No matter where you are there is always room for more growth.

Can you spot the difference?

PrincesacrumOn one side we have a marketing genius and on the other we have the master of disguise. On one side we have talent and on the other misplaced identity. On one side there is artistry and representation and on the other play, mimicry and reclusiveness.

Can you spot the difference?

In the online, as in the "real" world, identity can be a fluid construction. There are roles that we play at work, at home, in the bar or on our blogs … and sometimes these roles intersect or even, in some instances, cancel out the others. But each of these identity constructions are built around facets of our own personalities and the very way that they are performed for the world says something about US to the world in which we live. In fact, I believe that our "true" selves peak out around the freying edges of our identity constructions to wink at (and connect with) the rest of the world. This is why I love reading blogs and why writing one can, at times, be confronting.

When Marcus Brown announced that he was quitting blogging I felt an acute sense of loss. Here we were losing one of the most original voices in the blogosphere — someone who constantly experimented with the blogging as a tool to communicate and as a medium in which to practise communication. He would share stories, personal archives, branding and marketing theory, activation ideas, sing on YouTube, debate the merits of various meats and generally provoke conversation. If you did not get to know Marcus and his early blog work, then I feel that you really did miss out.

And yet, like any great artist, with any loss there is also a rebirth, of sorts. While I know that Marcus has closed down his blog sites, and I was actually Twittering and watching as he said goodbye and deleted his Twitter account the other day, this has not stopped me dropping by his old blog address each day or so. It is like a toss-up between visiting a cemetary and driving past a house that you shared as a student. A little weird (especially when you find that some squatter, Julian, has moved in). I hold in my heart a small hope that maybe "Julian" is a revamped Marcus, that soon another post will signal new life in an old blog. But no. At least not yet. But then, how does one account for this?   

Standing on the Outside

Growing up in the mid-north coast town of Forster was a lot of fun. I remember the beautiful beaches, the good friends and the music. Everyone in town loved music. It was something that struck me immediately upon arriving from Sydney — there was the School Captain, Paul Davis sitting on a bench strumming a guitar and singing to the other kids around him.

Of course, he wasn’t singing Kumbaya … he was singing The Clash. He was singing Sex Pistols or Siouxie and the Banshees — but importantly, he was singing. And in many ways, this single incident set the tenor of my engagement with my new town and its people — it was to be a deep and musical connection. Even now the songs from my late teens remind me of specific moments, people and places — these songs have created a soundtrack to my own life — and none moreso than the songs of the Australian band, Cold Chisel.

Imagine how excited I was then to discover a whole album of Cold Chisel songs reinterpreted by some of Australia’s finest contemporary musicians. Called Standing on the Outside, it brings together many of my favourite songs in a new context. Exciting!

But the reason I am most interested in this, is because it touches on a theme that has been occupying me for the last few weeks. It is about authenticity, truth and "fakes". I will be writing more on this over the coming week, but there is something about PERFORMING the fake that seems to me, to reveal a greater truth. Sometimes the cover version reveals more than the original. Think on Johnny Cash’s version of U2’s One. That is where I am starting my next post. Stay tuned.