Considering the collective opinion

Life is not logical. The whole is different to the sum of its parts.

Yet the majority of quantitative research is not structured to reflect this.

It assumes that survey respondents are considered and rational individuals, able to make an informed choice when asked to consider a series of options, or able to adequately communicate their thoughts, opinions or attitudes.

Yet, in most instances this isn’t true

  • The school of behavioural science, currently championed by Rory Sutherland at the IPA, portrays humans as mannequins to be manipulated by an invisible hand, or nudged to predictably irrational conclusions
  • Those who believe Google makes us stupid talk about the rise of distributed memory. We are now more wired to remember a wide range of data superficially, rather than a depth of informed knowledge
  • Our hectic lives preclude a degree of considered choice on non-special occasions, so we blink, “thin-slice” and make gut reactions
  • The paradox of choice and analysis paralysis mean we prefer to make choices on a more limited number of options than are perhaps available – this screening process is by no means optimal
  • The individual is not an island, but part of a community

This latter point in particular has been on my mind recently.

There have been attempts to engineer research by identifying influentials or mavens (link is a pdf) but I’m not aware of any technique that satisfactorily conveys the intertwining impact that our personal relationships and media exposure have on our thoughts and actions.

We might follow Herd behaviour. So, if the media constantly mentions Facebook, it leads people to try it. And if Academy Members hear that the Hurt Locker is the favourite to win best film, then they will vote for it.

But then there doesn’t appear to be a guarantee that this prophecy is self-fulfilling. A Labour victory at the 1992 election was seen as a foregone conclusion, yet people stayed at home or kept their Conservative biases hidden until the day of polling. And the hype surrounding Second Life didn’t convert us all to living vicariously through an online avatar.

So why not? Duncan Watts has worked extensively on this. He argues in favour of randomness, where an initial option gains some traction that is in turn exacerbated as people validate it. This makes some intuitive sense – if I am searching on Amazon, I might initially limit my search to the highest rated items, even though those rating them might have highly different needs for the product to my own.

Is it possible to predict which ideas or concepts will eventually succeed? I know Brainjuicer have had some success with their predictive markets, but it appears to be an area open for innovation.

Would we need to run full simulations (either controlled experiments, or computer models) to judge which environmental factors will have the largest influence?

Or would it be possible to infer a “herd multiplier” to frame a concept in the likelihood of it being adopted by a community or the media?

Or could we go back and question people on their expected behaviour in the context of what their actual behaviour was, in order to get them to post-rationalise the differences?

Or, will this always be a problem with quantitative research, and instead we should look to smaller sample groups of people to test how ideas and preferences disseminate and iterate through a group of likeminded people?

I don’t know the answer. But it is certainly something worth thinking about.

sk

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Recommended Reading – 26th March 2010

These five posts got me thinking over the past week:

Justin McMurray from Made By Many has laid out a manifesto for agile strategy. I particularly like the idea of simplicity of purpose over the reliance on a mystical “insight” (which may well rest on top of a house of cards)

Gareth Kay points out the flaws in Millward Brown’s latest “viral” research. I don’t want to get into the semantics of viral versus spreadable, but there is an interesting debate in the comments where both Gareth and Duncan Southgate from MB defend their different viewpoints on the nature of “viral”.

Jeff Jarvis has an interesting take on blog commenting. He believes that they are an inferior form of discourse to other social media commentary, but also that the host has a responsibility to maintain a certain level of quality – such as fully framing an argument for feedback rather than relying on the crowd to spot the flaws for you

This HBR piece on the cost of being omniscient looks at how the feedback from passive data collection can influence our behaviour (think eco:DRIVE or Nike+)

And finally, this Marketing Week feature looks at online research, specifically “real-time” research and neuroscience. I find “co-creation” techniques can be useful in certain circumstances, but I am still yet to be convinced by the benefits of neuroscience techniques.

sk

The persistence of channels

Channels and stations have existed for almost as long as the platforms that host them. Andrew Jerina, writing in this post, believes that channels are a waste of money, given the nature of our on-demand world. The post was in relation to BBC 6Music, and he makes some valid points, but I wholeheartedly disagree that channels are redundant.

Channels still play a valuable role in the navigation, identification and selection of content and I strongly believe that channels will persist.

This response is largely centred on television and radio stations, but several of the points are equally valid to other media – particularly print.

The rise of on demand and the “emancipation” of content won’t destroy the need for channels. Content is integral, but it is not the only constituent of a channel. A channel’s identity is the sum of its distribution, content, branding and audience. And channels maintain several advantages that cannot be as easily or effectively replicated through other means.

These include:

Incumbency – As I stated in my prior review of the books 2.0 event, I dispute the notion that friction is friction. Behaviour is highly entrenched and difficult to change. We are path dependent people and will rarely end up with what might be considered an optimal solution. Instead, we move to a better situation to our current one, if we move at all. We are comfortable with navigating by channel surfing, and it is unlikely to ever disappear

Belonging – As the outcry of 6Music shows, people relate to channels. Certain channels are seen as “for me” – whether E4, Scuzz or Radio 3. This isn’t necessarily a unique strength to channels, but a strong channel identity can facilitate a more coherent and longer-lasting relationship than a programme or platform brand can.

Signifier – Near-unlimited choice is an overwhelming prospect. The paradox of choice means we can be paralysed with uncertainty over making the wrong decision. This is also why Sky and Virgin offer channels in bundles – it simplifies the choice. Channels (either individual or groups) offer a simple filter to act as a starting point. Rather than search individual programmes or personalities, we search through channels. Even then, people aren’t going to surf through 600 odd channels. We have repertoires. A strong, coherent channel brand – whether Discovery, 1Xtra or Disney, projects a certain image that can be more impactful and relevant than a genre label such as “drama” or a single programme strand.

Destination – Following on from that, a channel in itself is a destination. Rather than queuing up a selection and making individual choices, we can just turn on a channel and remain there. Families may spend an entire evening watching ITV1 and a workplace may keep Magic FM on for the entire day.

Halo – A channel brand may be strengthened by its content, but equally the programmes can benefit from the channel identity. X Factor may be huge, but would it be as huge if it were on another channel? Even if it were on BBC One, I suspect not. A content brand is never as big as a channel brand. Hence Channel Five being unaffected by the loss of House to Sky One, or Channel 4 not seeing a significant decline in audience for other programmes during the Shilpa Shetty/Jade Goody incident. Richard & Judy succeeded in changing terrestrial channels, but couldn’t take an audience with them to digital.

“Goldilocks” size – the Goldilocks principle is where something is just right – neither too hot, nor too cold. A channel is about the right size to promote its programmes – and trailer are one of the primary ways we still find out about new shows and whether we think we will like them. Most production companies won’t have the scale to cross-promote its offerings, while the competition for space at the platform level would mean that space would be dominated by those that have the resources to pay for it

Open access – channels are additive (unless the spectrum capacity has been reached). Having access to Radio 2 won’t preclude access to Radio 4. However, this isn’t the case with platforms. With a couple of exceptions – notably Hong Kong, with its fragmented media landscape – we tend to have one platform and stick with it (e.g. Sky or Virgin). Either-Or. If platforms control content, they would be more likely to prevent it being on the other platform in order to increase their own sales (Sky Sports, for example). With channels competing across and within platforms, this isn’t the case.

This has been quite a one-sided post, and of course there are drawbacks to channels. But I strongly believe they will continue.

In future, could we create our own channels? Yes we could – our systems could be highly personalised with social or semantic programme recommendations. But, as with online consumption, this can create balkanisation (which I’ve previously written about here. It also requires an acceptance of rationality and logical choices, and an element of user input to define the parameters. Things not necessarily congruous with the lean-back medium of television or the audio wallpaper of radio.

My point of view may not resonate with the online masses, who largely seem to be of the opinion that social-powered on-demand is the way of the future. I don’t think I’m a Luddite, a conservative, or a traditionalist. But for something to become not just mainstream behaviour but standard behaviour it needs to offer a clear improvement on something. And, personally, I think channels are just fine.

sk

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From hardbacks to Hot Bytes

Yesterday, thanks to a prompt from Neil Perkin, I attended Olswang and Rich Futures’ event on the future of books and publishing, entitled From Hardbacks to Hot Bytes.

NB: Original blog post has been updated with slides and AV from the event

Not having much (well, any) experience in books or publishing but having done some work on digital distribution with regards to TV and video, I attended more as an interested observer rather than an active stakeholder.

And I enjoyed it, for what it was. Given the above, Clive Rich’s talk on contractual and legal concerns with the Future of Publishing held little interest for me. But Dominic Pride of The Sound Horizon and, particularly, Gerd Leonhard had some stimulating observations and provocations.

Dominic’s talk was on the near future and so a lot of his material contained things I was already familiar with, though there were some useful nuggets. Gerd took a longer term view and, despite disagreeing with several of his contentions, his points were nevertheless well made and thought-provoking.

Gerd Leonhard’s talk

Gerd’s website contains a lot of his published work and presentations, and this was no exception. The Slideshare embed is:

He started his talk by saying we should beware of toxic assumptions (or mesofacts, to refer to an article I mentioned yesterday). For instance, paid downloads are now declining in number – suggesting they aren’t the future and that people are starting to reach the saturation point where they have “enough” music.

Gerd mentioned that his broad themes are in mobile, social, transparency, real-time and connectivity. But there were a couple of specific themes underlying this presentation

1. The decline of physical

He contended that in future digital copies will be first and physical copies second. He cited Texas Instruments as currently making a third of their income from iPhone apps, and games moving from hardware to software.

In my opinion, this is certainly a trend – though the games manufacturers’ current shift in focus to peripheries (such as Natal or Move) doesn’t rule out a return to hardware in future.

However, I do contend with the notion that “friction is fiction”. It is not certain that, in the long term, all obvious trends are fulfilled. For instance, Gerd suggested that the TV industry is lucky that people still watch TV – it is only because the content is currently good and that people don’t know about internet TV. I would argue – and have done – that the nature of TV means that it will always continue to exist and be paramount in people’s viewing experience. This is because the notion of TV is adaptable – whether satellite, interactive, via a hard disc, 3D or indeed internet-enabled.

People generally like to stick with what they know, and the desire for familiarity can persist. Why else do digital cameras have the superfluous shutter sound, other than to reassure those that the photo was indeed taken?

2. The value is in more than the product

Gerd cited Starbucks as an example of a brand that successful moved from commodity to product to service to experience. Experience and relevance are the keys to future value, not the content itself.

The key to monetizing is to be immersive. The price per unit of content may decrease but content is now a service and can be passed on to a much larger audience. In order to do this, organisations need to find the new generatives (or assets) that people will pay for.

The value of a book is now distributed across

  • Content
  • Context
  • Curation
  • Social
  • Interactive
  • Packaging/format

This means that the role of a publisher – which will still exist due to strengths in scale, access and logistical expertise – becomes one of

  • Curation
  • Collation
  • Culling
  • Contextualising
  • Connecting

Moving away from product to service feeds into the third theme

3. The importance of access

“Making it available is the key to growing your business”. Distribution was missing from the value chain above because it can be bypassed. Any person in the industry – such as Edgar J. Bronfman – who thinks that consumers can be “educated” in the best way to access material will be mistaken

A crucial requirement in this is to trust the users – they cannot be punished into purchasing something. Ubiquity must be assumed, and business models developed from there.

Ubiquity is within the cloud. Gerd made the interesting point that digital rights management is not needed in the cloud, since it effectively has in-built copy protection – we won’t share our mobile, password or profile information.

Again, I’m a little sceptical about this point as it comes back to friction. I agree that incumbents shouldn’t take their position for granted. But the key to distribution isn’t necessarily to be the best. It is to be the easiest. And that benefits the incumbent, since it has already standardised the behaviour – something that is incredibly hard to do.

This is why I think physical books will remain. I can see how all-you-can-eat subscription models with open access can work for TV/video and music/audio – diverse content is consumed in large volumes on a frequent basis. But books tend to be consumed one or two at a time, over a longer period. Indeed, many people will only read the latest bestseller on holiday over the entire year – something they can either borrow from a friend or buy from Tesco for £3.74. Why would they want to invest in digital hardware (such as an iPad) or an open-access subscription?

I suppose, to twist another of Gerd’s points, the answer is that the business model is “they pay”, rather than “I pay” of “we pay”. Books are too low frequency for paid for subscriptions, but services can be funded or subsidised by companies who gain marketing benefits. Though whether they gain enough brand equity or customer information from low-frequency readers is another matter.

Dominic Pride’s talk

What different companies seek to gain from publishing was something that Dominic touched upon

  • Digital retailers want volume and margin
  • Consumer electronic companies want a USP
  • Access partners want retention and ARPU
  • Agencies and brands want advertising inventory and audience engagement

In this, revenue isn’t always the primary return. It could be access or data, for instance.

These feed into Dominic’s ecosystem, in which he argued that the previous linear model is no longer valid due to the proliferation of competition across the distribution and retail aspects. This ecosystem also helps to break out of the notion that the customer is just an end user. Instead, they can add value by recommending, sharing or reviewing. These all feed back into a service model, where value is more long-term than for a mere product.

The crux of Dominic’s talk was that e-readers shouldn’t seek to recreate the book format, since digital is not a format substitution (such as moving from LP to CD). Digital is completely different environment and so companies should look for sustained innovations that improve technologies.

A 3 C framework was proposed, whereby content, context and community help lead onto service and experience. Two potential models for this are;

The Cloud Model – where success factors are

  • Accessibility
  • Value in service/access content
  • Optimisation for device
  • Abundance of content
  • Highly personalised
  • Social elements

The social model – where the characteristics of reading are capitalised upon

  • Personal experience – reading is formative and provides social capital
  • Social – We share and talk about what we read
  • Emotional – we want to share at the point of inspiration

The Slideshare for Dominic’s presentation is

There was a short panel session at the end of the morning where the speakers were asked to name the key challenges to overcome. I think they’re relevant to all industries, not just publishing

  • Discoverability
  • Recommendations
  • Personalisation
  • A quality experience

Audio and video of the event can be found on Gerd’s site here. Each of the talks lasted around 45 minutes, with around 25 minutes of questions at the end.

sk

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Recommended reading – March 19th 2010

As well as reading material, I also recommend viewing this 5 minute video on a near future social media storm, which is extremely well done:

Mob (a near-future science fiction story) by Tom Scott from hurryonhome on Vimeo.

In addition, I would recommend reading:

Neil Perkin has a fantastic overview of the case for agile planning, and why businesses need to be able to move quick in the current marketplace

Ben Kunz has pulled together the highlights of danah boyd’s recent SXSW talk on privacy in a highly readable manner

In a typically entertaining post, Rory Sutherland makes an oblique case for creativity, and on why the things that can be measured easily aren’t necessarily the best. He also gives props to the Midlands

I liked this Boston Globe piece on Mesofacts – things that change the same, albeit slowly. Things like populations or incidence rates. It is a useful reminder to question the basis for our assumptions

And, finally, Tom Ewing has a preview of his forthcoming MRS Conference paper, where he characterises the “networked web” experience. I liked the point on how the dynamism of the structure works alongside the dynamism of the content.

sk

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Recommended reading – 14th March 2010

Time to start taking the internet seriously” by David Gelertner. Sample thought: “No moment in technology history has ever been more exciting or dangerous than “now.” As we learn more about now, we know less about then”

The database of intentions is far larger than I thought” by John Battelle. Sample thought: “I’ve often said that Search should not be defined by web search, but rather, by what a search is in the abstract. To my mind, each tweet or status update is a search query of sorts, as is each check-in and even each connection in the social graph

Why the internet will still be a failure in 2025” by Some Random Nerd. Sample thought: “Pretty much all of the technical problems that were readily identifiable in 1995 have now been solved. But take a look past the issues of whether people will buy airline tickets or talk to their friends over the internet, and ask yourself about the social, human problems still exist, or whether they’ve been dealt with quite as easily.

Six degrees of social media monitoring” by Tom Webster. Sample thought: “Listening to the social web for brand mentions is really just the first “degree” of social media monitoring– a tactical tool for a tactical purpose. To really get the most out of your social media tools, you need to go a few levels deeper–and not all of it can be automated

sk

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Understanding your STP strategy

This isn’t supposed to be a post aping Copyblogger or Hipster Runoff, but it is something that occurred to me while reading up for an assignment. It is something we all have – consciously or unconsciously – in a professional sense.

What is your STP strategy?

In other words, who are you trying to impress and how are you doing it?

This could be in the job market – segmenting the available opportunities (e.g. by industry or function), targeting a preference and positioning skills and personal attributes for maximum (perceived) compatibility.

Or it could be with blogging.

This is a blog that covers professional interests more than personal, so it should follow that there is an STP strategy underlying it.

And to an extent there is. I’d just never thought about it before.

Segmentation is broadly based around one of the following characteristics:

  • Demographic
  • Geographic
  • Psychographic
  • Behavioural

Geographic can be immediately ruled out (pseudo psychological arguments about cognitive landscapes notwithstanding). And despite the occasional self-indulgent navel gazing posting such as this one, I tend not to focus upon particular behaviours – either in the traditional industrial segmentation purchasing sense or in general actions.

There are several blogs I enjoy reading that are based around a particular demographic (normally a particular industry) but I don’t think this is one of them. I may work in research but, frankly, I find a lot of the processes involved in it pretty tedious and I don’t have the inclination to write about them. And I don’t know enough about any other industry  write on it. In an informed way, anyway.

Similarly, the people who commission me/my company to do a project rarely care about the underlying mechanics either. Instead, they care about the outputs – data, conclusions and provocations – and their context.

As do I.

And I think it is in this psychographic element that this blog attempts to hone in on. Ideas – both my own and those of others.

The blogs I read are those that contain thoughts that interest me – they can have a direct bearing on me or be largely irrelevant. This reflects on what I write about. It was the various blogs I read that initially inspired me to have more than a half-hearted effort at blogging, and their influence on me continues.

Just because I target ideas doesn’t mean I achieve them. But I know at least one person learns something from my typing. Me.

Writing helps me connect vaguely disparate thoughts into something approaching coherent. Sometimes, these thoughts are quickly discarded and forgotten about. But occasionally, they spur me on to go and do something tangible.

The positioning of this blog is like most of the other blogs I read – it is my natural voice. It might be verbose and inconsistent, but it is authentic. I’m more of a sponge than an alchemist and so I probably fall between several stools rather than occupying a distinct proposition like some of these:

In fact, those four positions could almost form a matrix, where I’d be somewhere near the centre. It may not be as exciting as being on the edges, but it means I can soak things up from all directions.

This blog doesn’t have a particular point other than questioning whether, in professional circles, you’ve considered how you are positioning yourself.

In a slightly selfish way, the main audience for this blog is me. Or at least people like me. This rather opaque strategy means that topics and readers may fluctuate, and I may never be categorised as a specific “type” of blog.

But that is fine with me. Whether researchers, musicians, chemistry students or social media specialists, I’m read things from a disparate group of folk and I hope my blog offers a suitable reflection of this. Whether this is the first time you have read a post or mine or whether you’ve visited several times, thanks for popping by and thanks for inspiring me.

sk

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