Wolff Olins: A Model For Social Value

A Wolff Olins post today by the Head of New Thinking, Robert Jones, touched on something I’m thinking a lot about lately, actually in preparation for the AdMap Prize Essay Contest. This year’s topic is: Can brands maximize profits and be a force for social good? Jones lays some solid ground work:

We all know brands create huge commercial value – which places like Interbrand try to put a dollar value on. And we can imagine the chain of cause and effect that creates the value.

But can we do the same for social value?

If commercial value is a product of short-term (profit) and long-term (growth prospects), can we think about social value in the same kind of way? As the product of short-term happiness and long-term sustainability?

Jones does a great job of illustrating the rationale behind commercial and social growth:

Wolff Olins blog, A Model For Social Value,  Dec. 7, 2012

Wolff Olins blog, A Model For Social Value, Dec. 7, 2012

However, the area that we really need to be looking at is the potential relationships between the two. In other words, how does one feed the other and vice versa?

More to come. Enjoy your weekend.


Facebook’s Paul Adams on Social Technology

Paul Adams is a Global Brand Experience and Product Development guy at Facebook and he consistently does an amazing job of looking at our interactions with technology from a human-centric perspective.  Why is this so valuable?  Because tech is changing faster and faster, but human behavior is not.  We need to, first, deeply understand human behavior, and then use that knowledge to look at how technology can meet people’s needs and desires.

To satisfy the above, Paul outlines three social trends which brands must keep at the forefront of their digital and social strategies :

  1. The web is being rebuilt around people.  A web that is designed around you, your friends and your interests is the cornerstone of designing better experiences.
  2. The amount of information we can access is increasing exponentially, while our capacity for memory and information processing remains the same.  This is a central challenge for brands and marketers.
  3. Information will be available everywhere.  Mobile technology allows us to bring our friends, our interests and our friends’ interests everywhere we go.  All of this means that we’ll continue to turn to our friends for information and advice about how to act, what to buy, what to read, etc., because it’s what we’ve been doing since the beginning of civilization.

Marketers need to always, always, always be thinking about brand interaction from this human-centric framework.  Watch the talk and take notes.

[via Simply Zesty]

The Rise of the Personal Assistant

Entrepreneur, CEO and computer scientist Andy Hickl wrote a great piece for Tech Crunch yesterday about the rise of this notion of personal assistants as a means for helping us to make the most out of our lives.  I love the piece because Andy blows the doors off of our conventional understanding of what duties a digital personal assistant might perform.

One school of thought says that assistants should be all about delegation. I pass tasks downstream, and in doing so, I reclaim my time and energy. I think that several companies will achieve big things doing just that.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. What about an assistant that doesn’t take things off my plate — but rather, wants to put things on it? What about an assistant that guides me down paths less traveled? What about an assistant that aspires to help me be a better version of myself? What about having a colleague instead of a secretary? A mentor instead of a student?

What would it mean to have a rewarding, mutual relationship with a computer — not in a GTD sense, per se — but rather in my private life? A relationship that was based on mutual admiration, a high level of trust, and a secret handshake? We need a corollary to the notion of an assistant. I like having an assistant. But I want a companion too.

With a companion, you’ll have to give more to get more, too. It’s more of a partnership, and a true love. A companion is an emotionally evolved species. Better put, a companion actually aspires to help me be a better human, and lead a better human life. A companion is about more than just finding me an ATM, conducting a web search, or deleting a calendar entry. It’s about achieving goals, and revealing truths.

Andy says we’re seeing the convergence of three major trends that are making this technologically possible and socially desirable.

The Transparent Self

First, these apps will require a lot of data about us to become effective and useful in our lives.  We need to let them in and then be convinced that continuing to share personal information with them is providing us with tangible value.  Andy points out that location-based apps may have the best headstart in this area, as they ask for a type of data that we’re freely willing to give up, and that can be used to make a ton of accurate predictions about who we are, what we do, and (ultimately) what we’ll want/need.

The Aspirational Self

The next step is about creating enough value to garner continued use.  A lot of this begins with the idea of The Quantified Self, the act of being able to measure habits and behaviors as a means of self-improvement and discovery.  The Feltron Report, Jambone Up and Nike’s recently launched Fuel Band are all great examples.  But, Andy points out that they rely (to varying degrees) on game mechanics.  Whereas, when you receive a recommendation from a trusted source, you don’t have to be “gamed” because there’s a sense of established trust and mutual understanding.  It’s what we have with our significant others and close friends.  And this is where the opportunity lies: in creating trusted “companions” that make our limited time on earth richer.

The Clued-In Self

Staying with this idea of the companion, the difference they have from assistants is that companions (or think of them as good friends) say “Hey.  I saw this awesome new thing.  You gotta go try it with me now!”.  Whereas assistants (think: Siri) are reactive.  They do what you tell them to do, but operate exclusively within the purview of your own awareness and knowledge.  The second piece to this goes back to the always-on mentality.  The idea that our desires, interests and needs are always changing, requires a companion that is always listening, re-evaluating and adapting.

Overall, an awesome series of trends and an even better framework for thinking about the future of brands as utilities…and eventually companions. Rock on, Andy.


A Look Into Wolff Olins’ “Game Changers Report”

Wolff Olins recently published what they’re calling the Game Changers report, an examination of the defining characteristics of today’s high-growth businesses.  When the work was done, the firm pinpointed (5) behaviors or traits embodied by these revolutionary brands. I’m in strong agreement with everything outlined in the report and wanted to take some time to summarize and build (as I often do) on the thinking of others.

Leading With Purpose

High growth businesses are not just commercially, but socially-focused as well.  They understand that to be successful in this transparent world, you must be enmeshed in the lifestyle and culture of your customers.  Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives are not enough, and actually undermine this point all together.  It’s about establishing a strong sense of purpose that ties back to why your business exists in the first place.

To build on this, Nike’s might sound like, “If you have a body, you’re an athlete and Nike exists to build happier, healthier, more fully-supported human beings, through the development of products and communities that put people and planet in balance.”  The company’s GreenXchange, N7 Fund, and Nike Foundation are all examples of this purpose being put into action.

This ties closely to what Umair Haque discusses in his recent ebook, Betterness, specifically, the evolution from Visions to Ambitions as a means of transcending merely striving to increase returns for shareholders.

Thinking of Customers As Users

The fragmentation of communication channels has created an opportunity for brands to move beyond broadcasting to their customers and instead begin engaging in a dialogue with them.  This has powerful implications in that it enables brands to create products and services that are more useful in the lives of customers.

A great example of this, shared in the study, comes from the branchless banking service, M-Pesa, which noticed that people in developing countries lacked traditional banking systems and were trading cell phone minutes as a means of fostering transactions.  The brand decided to create a mobile phone-based banking system that allows users to pay bills, transfer money, and buy products all via the system.  Simply put, the brand is building their business model around creating a useful service, rather than a revenue stream.

The question we must always be asking as brand strategists is how can we add greater value to the lives of our users.  This extends past what they’re buying from us, and instead starts to look at what they’re capable of achieving as a result.

Being In A State Of Perpetual Beta

At a time when innovation is happening at more and more rapid rates, it’s crucial to look at R&D in new ways.  Google was one of the first with their now infamous 20% rule; by enacting this, they created a corporate culture that was less constrained and free from the need to roll out products that were already ‘perfect’.

In fact, the accelerating rate of innovation means none of us really know what ‘perfect’ looks like in our respective industries at all.  We need consumers and real-life use to help us figure that out, and Google has always been comfortable with this fact.

What’s key is for businesses to create cultures with the right conditions for experimentation.  This means encouraging employees to take risks and supporting them to continue doing so even as they fail…again, and again.  It’s also important to keep in mind that this doesn’t just apply to R&D in the traditional sense, but to the processes, habits and ways of doing things that departments solidify as ‘the way’ after a period of time.

Experimentation needs to be a constant practice, and it must be led by the values established in section 1, Leading With Purpose.  Companies who take this to heart will find that their employees attain the intrinsic fulfillment that traditional bonuses and incentives can never truly deliver.

Live Without Walls

In the old world, it was all about establishing and maintaining a competitive advantage.  Innovation and intellectual property were heavily guarded.  However, the fragmentation of the marketplace and its available communication channels as well as the pace of technological innovation have taken what was a closed system and completely opened it up.

Intelligent brands have a firm understanding of what they do well, but aren’t afraid to partner with others to achieve larger goals, creating entirely new markets supported by more comprehensive services.  The collaboration between Nike and Apple on Nike+ is still one of the most groundbreaking examples out there.  But, brands like (RED) built a philanthropic business model solely based on the notion of collaboration and partnership.  Today they’ve helped raise millions together with brands like Starbucks, Gap, Dell, Apple and more.

Perhaps the best line in Wolff Olin’s report is this: “…the brands that will have the greatest impact on all our lives are those that see themselves not as citadels that need defending, but as causes that need joining.”

Game Changing brands will develop an always growing ecosystem of collaborators that allow them to create value in new ways.  Again, we’re moving from closed systems to open ones, simply because achieving our maximum potential depends on it.

Change The Game

In the past, organizations succeeded by pursing a single business strategy with unwavering confidence.  But, today a new type of growth potential is taking shape.  Game Changing companies are exploring new sectors, revenue streams, and markets with an admirable conviction.  To reinforce this, a PWC Global CEO Survey found that over half of U.S. CEO’s strongly agree that creating new business models is now a priority for their company’s innovation portfolios.

LEGO is perhaps the most startling example presented in the study.  In 2003, the brand was a beloved, but dated toy block manufacturer.  Ten years later, they’re posting nearly a billion dollars in pre-tax profits, made possible through expansion into sectors like video gaming, theme parks, retail stores, clothing and even business consultancy.  And if that wasn’t enough, they’re harnessing the power of co-creation with consumers through sites like CUUSOO and DesignByMe.

All of this underscores the importance of creativity in the workplace, as well as being open to experimentation (discussed earlier).  Most important, again, is that the value-creative behavior that Wolff Olins identifies must ladder up to a brand’s purpose (section 1) – why it exists in the marketplace.  This is the cornerstone of developing new competencies.

Brands should make it their goal to develop one new revenue stream each year based on the over-arching brand purpose and values.

Overall, a great study that defines, supports and provides examples for five of the most crucial trends affecting innovation among brands.  If, somehow, this wasn’t enough detail, head on over to Wolff Olins for the full download.

[Image via Thomas Hawk]

How Brands Can Tell Great Stories

So, I just watched a keynote presentation from Greg Owsley, former marketing chief for the fabled New Belgium Brewery. The talk he gave was at The Statewide Sustainability Roundtable in Colorado Springs last November, and focuses on what he calls the “6 R’s of Storied Social Change Marketing.”

Essentially, they represent a set of guidelines that will help marketers tell more compelling stories through their campaigns. I’ve embedded the videos from his talk, but have written this post as a succinct summary that adds a few thoughts of my own on the subject of storytelling as brand marketing, specifically because I think it supports my stance that marketers need to be building more human brands.



Greg’s first point, which is one of his best, is that brands (especially big ones) get tied to the idea of selling these big ideals, like “Freedom” or “Empowerment.” But, in reality, these are often ineffective because they’re extremely conceptual making them difficult for people grasp and relate to their own lives. Furthermore, we all have different definitions and associations for words like “Freedom” and “Empowerment.” What brands must do, instead, is tell specific and compelling stories, containing the following elements:

  • Roots: must have a foundation built on key “truths”
  • Relevancy: must express the facts in a compelling manner – one that grips the intended audience
  • Reverb: must latch the relevancy to a greater social tension or cultural myth
  • Remarkable: the message and its imagery must stand out, by being remarkable, memorable, provocative and disruptive
  • Rally Cry: there must be a call to action that gives the subject an objective
  • Ripple: must integrate marketing streams to create a supportive or additive framework for the campaign or story

I love everything Greg is saying here and think that he uses great case studies to illustrate his point. However, there’s some elements that, perhaps lie a little bit deeper, that brands can gain tremendous benefit from understanding how to incorporate into their storytelling and identity formation.

First, because brands focus on crafting these highly polished stories and identities for themselves, they don’t connect with people because they don’t feel human or real. This goes back to my notion of building more human brands.  Humans are incredibly multidimensional, experiencing varying states and levels of emotion on a minute-by-minute basis of every day. This state of constant emotional flux defines our lives, yet brands avoid it like the plague, instead, trying to tell stories that are overly-polished, fit and clean. Except the problem is that these don’t connect with consumers, because our wiring tells us, very clearly, that they’re manufactured.

Instead brands need to be turning to elements of paradox, creative tension, conflict and even unknowing as a means to develop their identities and tell their stories, because it’s how people experience the world. Just think of how many times you feel ‘conflicted’ throughout the day? Yet brands rarely incorporate elements like this into their stories.

To use Apple as an example, which I hate doing, they have taken the notion of ‘unknowing’ and incorporated it brilliantly into their identity. On a practical level, no one ever knows anything about their products until the day they’re released. This unknowing creates tremendous enthusiasm and anticipation, just like a great writer does with the climax of their story. On a more subtle level, this secrecy and unknowing allows us to form our own beliefs about how the brand’s products will impact our lives. Suddenly, Apple becomes more things to more people – in many cases a gateway to connect with one’s own inner child by enabling creative pursuits.

In any case, these messier components of unique human experience – conflict, unknowing, tension, paradox, etc. are the meat for great stories, and brands would be wise to leverage them in this convoluted marketplace as a means of authentically connecting with their customers.

Big thanks to Steve Wilton for sending me these talks and engaging in a stimulating conversation about the ideas!

From Business to Betterness

Just finished reading Umair Haque’s new ebook, Betterness and I’m thoroughly inspired.  Anyone working in business whether it be small, independent shop or massive multi-national corporation, could benefit from hearing about the shift in thinking that Haque advocates.

The economist turned humanist argues that our current capitalist system is in need of a substantial overhaul, a paradigm shift as he puts it.  He argues that our economy is at a point of diminishing returns, specifically in regards to the value, jobs, income, net worth and overall fulfillment it returns to the people and communities that fuel it.

Instead, Haque believes that businesses have a greater potential to live up to, namely, one built on maximizing human potential through the generation of real Wealth.  Haque calls this evolution “Betterness.”

Where Business says, “I’ll offer you a product or service in exchange for your currency.”  Betterness says, “Through the act of exchange, I’ll ignite your human potential.  You will become better – fitter, smarter, closer, wiser, tougher, humbler, truer, wealthier in terms that add up to a life meaningfully well lived.”

[Read more…]

Key Tech Trends for 2012

frog design published a nice piece two days ago on their blog, compiling the thoughts of many of their top creatives, strategists and executives regarding key technology trends for the coming year.  Few firms have the credibility right now of frog, so I encourage you to head on over and read the post in it’s entirety.  A few of the trends they identified stand out as being particularly salient for businesses and agencies, across a variety of specialties, so I’ll summarize and build-on a few here.

Many theorists speculated that our sense of “Place” would diminish in significance with the rise of digital technologies, however, as many of the trends tip toe around, “Place” has never been more important. Cities are obviously in vogue (perhaps permanently) and our digital devices make unlocking their ultimate potential more accessible than ever. Innovations that expand the connection between our digital device and the physical space will continue to grow faster than we can imagine.

As Ficklin, Tuttle and Richardson attest, the computing experience will continue to become more personal or “human” as it were.  The obvious developments from 2011, as they identify were Apple’s Siri and Ford’s Microsoft Sync, both imperfect in many ways but no less, important steps in the development of a more sensitive interaction between human and computer.

One trend of particular interest, is Thomas Sutton’s identification of the Quantified Self.  Made possible by data aggregation platforms that will couple information from technologies like Nike+ and Jawbone’s Up band, providing users with a more integrated understanding of things like their overall health, in this case, further enabling insights and suggestions that are more and more specific, nuanced and in turn useful.

[Read more…]

A Word On Presenting Your Ideas

During a pitch yesterday to a prospective client, it dawned on me how crucial it is to present ideas or opinions in a) compelling, b) organized and c) digestible ways.  All too often we come up with great solutions, that fall flat when our enthusiasm prevents us from sharing them in a logical and emotionally-compelling fashion.

While, an entire book could be written on this topic (and many have, including the hugely popular Made To Stick, by the Heath Brothers, which I haven’t read) this is a blog and so I’ll share a quick series of questions that will help to organize how you present ideas in the future.  But, in reality, it’s not any more complicated than this.

  1. What’s the insight, reality, or problem that your solution or idea is addressing? This will prepare the listener for what they’re about to hear, while providing the reasoning and background behind your thinking.
  2. What’s the idea? This should be a short, emotionally-charged summary that takes no more than a few sentences.  People’s attention spans are short, so this explanation should follow suit.
  3. How will it work? This is where you can dive a little deeper into not just the ‘how’ behind implementing or bringing the idea to life, but also expand on some of the details regarding what the idea or solution actually is.  It’s never a good idea to go into too much depth during your initial explanation, where the purpose is to generate excitement and create a sense of possibility.  Instead, if possible, address the nuances and finer details here.
  4. What will the result be? After expounding on the details, it’s always a good idea to bring your listener back to the end result or that sense of possibility.  In my case, at a marketing agency, it’s often about the potential that an idea holds for the brand on a larger scale.

The best pitches, regardless of how planned or even informal they may be, will simultaneously strive to appeal to the listener’s emotional and rational minds.  And, don’t be mistaken, this format doesn’t just apply to presenting ideas in the traditional corporate sense.  They can be used when asking for a raise at work, making a statement at a PTA meeting, or just trying to convince someone of your point of view.

LivePhish.com: A Case Study in Building Community

Most don’t know this, but Phish has one of the most active and passionate communities of fans, not just among bands, but also brands in the world.  How did it all begin? Jam bands, dating back to the Grateful Dead have always been defined by the constantly changing and unpredictable nature of their live performances.  Simply put, it wasn’t the records they periodically produced, it was going to see them live that made these bands and the genre what it is today.  A mainstay of this culture involved fans recording live shows and sharing them with friends, a practice that has been going on for decades.

In the 80s, these individuals became known as “Tapers.”  An entire subculture emerged of people who traveled to concerts to record them, share them and trade them with friends.  Naturally, this made a deeper analysis of each performance possible, while generating social groups that revolved around this discovery and learning process.  Eventually, this ability to more attentively listen to and discuss the music of these bands coupled with the always evolving nature of their performances, grew into a more rabid and loyal fan base.

So, after looking at this history, one that many brands would salivate at the prospect of having as their roots, musicians and bands in more mainstream genres still don’t seem to understand the power that experience holds in developing active online communities of fans. So, I chose the band Phish to show how these powerful sub-cultures harnessed by a sound digital strategy has been turned into not just a revenue source, but a means of constantly fueling support and loyalty for the music itself.

[Read more…]

A Thought on Brands and Culture

I read Grant McCracken’s latest Harvard Business Review article, called Cool and the Corporation.  Insightful and thought-provoking as always from Grant.

In a nutshell, Grant explains how brands are now in the business of making culture, by creating meaning and experiences among other things for their customers.  However, brands are often unable to create culture without pulling from existing ideas, aesthetics, music, sensibilities, trends, styles, etc.  In short, they have to borrow to build.  The new VW “punch buggy” ad from Deutsche/LA is an example of a brand paying homage to the culture from which it has borrowed from (read his post first hand for more on the details).  In short, creativity comes from others creativity and VW/Deutsche is, as Grant says, acknowledging their debt to those that came before them.  The progression then is from a “cool hunter” model where brands steal culture to the “rebroadcast” model which is more about borrowing and paying homage.

So, this article got me thinking, why is this change occurring?  Is it something about brands themselves or the progression of our culture that’s creating this seemingly conscientious transition?  The answer, I think, lies in the fact that brands must become more transparent about acknowledging their influences as a means to more effectively tell their story to consumers.  The VW ad is a very small example, akin to hitting a single into right field in my opinion.

So, what’s the home run look like?

My first thought (usually my best), went to the Reebok Classics Collective, also dubbed “We R Classic.”  It’s essentially a site dedicated to short interviews, documentaries and performances from musicians, artists and dancers regarding the process and untold stories behind their work.  More than that, it’s a fantastic example of a brand not only acknowledging the culture that its based upon, but also creating something that actively contributes, builds upon or gives back to that culture.  But, again, it’s really a means of drawing connections between themselves and consumers who share a passion for these same pieces of culture.

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