Legacy effects

Earlier this week Seth Godin blogged about legacy issues. He stated that “The faster your industry moves, the more likely others are willing to live without the legacy stuff and create a solution that’s going to eclipse what you’ve got, legacies and all.”

That might be true, but legacy effects are just as prevalent on the consumer side as the production side, and they should be recognised and incorporated as far as possible.

For instance, early digital cameras didn’t contain a shutter sound. After all, it doesn’t need one – the noise was merely a byproduct of the analogue mechanism. Nevertheless, early users felt a disconnect – the noise had let them know when their photo had been taken. Hence digital cameras all now have the option for the shutter sound to be incorporated.

Legacy effects are also present in our naming conventions – records, films and so on. I suspect this may also soon apply to the device we carry around in our pockets and handbags.

Our contracts and pay as you go credits are currently with phone companies, and so the “mobile phone” name still makes sense, even when on smartphones the phone is “just another app” (and not a regularly used one at that). But with Google looking at unlocked handsets, and the introduction of cashless payments through NFC, the business models may soon be changing. I suspect that if Visa starts selling devices that allow you to make payments as well as contact people, they will initially call it a “mobile phone” rather than a “mobile wallet”.

Behaviours are also subject to legacy effects – our habitual purchases that we continue to make without consideration. Some companies (like AOL) benefit from it, while others can suffer. For instance, I have only recently purchased a Spotify subscription and am considering a Love Film trial. From a purely economic standpoint I should have done this a long time ago, but I’ve been wedded to the idea of needing to own something tangible. Digital distribution means this isn’t necessarily the best option anymore (I type this as I look at shelves full of DVDs that I will need to transport when moving flat).

Consumers on the business-to-business side aren’t immune from this either – witness the continued reliance on focus groups or a thirty-second spot. These are undoubtedly still effective in the right circumstances, but some budget holders can be extremely reticent to leave traditional tried and trusted methods even when faced with reliable evidence than an alternative could prove more effective.

So while some companies can benefit from removing their legacy attributes early, doing so too early may be counterproductive. The comfort of sticking with what one knows can be very powerful, no matter how irrational it can seem.


The dimensions of influence

I recently discovered that I had made the inaugural version of The Br200 – Brand Republic’s list of the web’s most influential bloggers. Leaving aside the fact that it is a) industry specific and b) English language, it is still an achievement I’m surprised at and proud of. As more blogs get submitted, I’ll inevitably slide down the list to somewhere approximating my Ad Age Power 150 position, and so I’ve taken a screen grab to prove I once reached the giddy heights of 113.

The Brand Republic top 200 influential bloggers

There are a couple of reasons for my surprise.

Firstly, I’ve never considered myself as influential. I’ve always been open with saying that I started this blog primarily to formalise my own thoughts. The feedback I’ve received and connections I’ve made as a result have been very gratifying, but this wasn’t what I set out to achieve.

The second – and more important element – is the nature of influence and what it actually means.

Wiktionary defines it as “the power to affect, control or manipulate something or someone”.

It may be me being semantically pedantic, but I don’t agree with this. Outside of mind control, it isn’t possible. David Armano has his six pillars of influence but these still require receptive agents. And ultimately, people are autonomous. They can choose to be influenced, but I can’t automatically influence them.

As such, influence has to be derived, rather than measured directly. If ten people have been influenced by me, that can be converted to saying that I have influenced ten people. But it cannot be initially assumed that I am an influencer of ten people.

This leads onto the major question within this blog post – what is influence?

It is a tricky area.

One company that has done a lot in this area is Klout. I’ve read various discussions (notably the Bieber furore) where they have been very open in saying it is still a work in progress. I agree. For instance, being labelled a “celebrity” while having a Klout score of 41 seems somewhat contradictory. But can the definitions ever get adequately resolved?

I consider there to be five distinct dimensions of influence, which can be combined to infer an overall influence level.

Of course, I haven’t magicked these up independently. In addition to Klout, my primary influences have been:

Furthermore, I’m positive there are many other sources that I’ve absorbed over the years. I’m also positive that I will continue to be influenced by the many writers far more intelligent than I am.

Obviously, these dimensions come with the caveat that they are working definitions and ripe to be amended, altered, ripped apart, iterated and improved upon.

The five dimensions of influence:

  • Direct reach – how many people have been influenced directly
  • Total reach – given follow-on word of mouth (through social media or otherwise), what is the total reach of your message (“true reach” according to Klout). You could reach ten people who do nothing with the message, or a single person that passes on the message to thousands
  • Identity of influenced – how powerful (and “influential”) are the people receiving your message – is it a chief executive who might tell five equally powerful and affluent people, or someone who might tell twenty people – none of whom find your message relevant
  • Direction of influence – influence is assumed to be positive. This is a fallacy. If a divisive entity endorses something, it could actively turn others away. An additional dimension that can be wrapped into dimension is how aligned the direction is – for instance if I make a recommendation in sector A but it is made in sector B.
  • Outcome – it could be an action (e.g. purchase, viewing), discussion (recommending, promoting, a factual statement) or a thought that is stored in the subconscious

These five dimensions can be combined to infer a level of influence. The big question is how – which factors are more important, and to what extent?

I’ve attempted to display these dimensions graphically to illustrate this difficulty.

Consider these two examples (click to expand):

Dimensions of influence

In the above Example 1, only one person is being influenced. However, that person has a wide reach, is influential themselves and has been strongly positively influenced to take an action, Compare this to example 2.

Dimensions of influence

Here, many more people have been influenced but the pattern is more mixed. Some people have been negatively influenced, while some of those that have been positively influenced haven’t been prompted into an action.

Which example is better? Honestly, I don’t know. And this partially illustrates why the concept of influence is fascinating and frustrating in equal measures.