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    This is the personal blog of Simon Kendrick and covers my interests in media, technology and popular culture. All opinions expressed are my own and may not be representative of past or present employers
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My avatar is my digital face

Throughout my digital career (in both amateur and professional status), I’ve used a multitude of personalised avatars.

I’ve pasted ten of the more prominent (in my mind, if not in digital footprint) examples below.

Evolution of avatars

There is a noticeable continuity, as my projected self as evolved. I’d never really wanted my face to be over the internet so after the first iteration and a couple of poor attempts at humour I settled (largely) on popular culture icons. I started with random “cult” characters before progressing to avatars that reflected either my mood, look (when I had bigger hair, there was a resemblance with Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine) or personality.

And so Columbo is where I am now. Although choices can be frivolous, the icons or avatars that we are use are pretty important. It creates a first impression, and will be the image others associate with you, often even after they’ve met you in person.

I’m fairly consistent in my use of Columbo now – the only place I actively and publicly use that doesn’t have Columbo as my avatar is Linked In, due to their insistence that the avatar has to be of you (so I have the default shaded outline). It could be argued that different sites should have different avatars, since they represent separate parts of a distributed digital personality. But while I don’t side with Mark Zuckerberg in thinking that people that have more than one identity are fraudulent, I do prefer the consistency of recognition across sites and platforms.

The beginning

The reason I’m posting about this is that I’m changing my policy on having my face on the internet. This is partly down to my bylines on Mediatel and Research having a picture, but it also reflects the number of contacts I’ve made over the past few years through blogging and through the research industry (and would like to continue making).

When I started this blog, I was wilfully anonymous. That was partly because I wasn’t sure what my employer at the time (ITV) would think of me writing about video content and marketing in a public forum, but also because of my relatively lowly status. When I set this blog up, I was a 24-year-old fairly junior market researcher. The blogs I enjoyed reading and commenting on were written by far more intelligent and experienced people who were mainly in the marketing and comms industries. I felt (rightly or wrongly, you decide) that being anonymous would allow my thoughts and ideas to stand up for what they were, rather than be coloured by perceptions of my relative inexperience.

Anyway, I eventually started writing under my full name and I put a small bio (I hate bios) up. But going under an avatar means that when I go to public events, people who I interact with online won’t recognise me and so it is my prerogative to seek out them. unfortunately, I’m not the most observant person so I’ve missed several opportunities to meet and greet.

The present and future

So, I’m rectifying this by putting a picture of myself on the blog’s about page.

As you can see, it is not a “corporate” picture. I still think corporate pictures are grotesque – either in their “sexy execs” style cringeworthiness or their overly conscious attempt at kookiness cringeworthiness. Fortunately, I’ve managed to avoid this at Essential (for the time being) by having a Wii Mii avatar. I’m not particularly photogenic but the picture nicely captures two of my interests (music and beer), and so could be considered “authentic”. At least, it is more authentic than me sitting on a stool at a 45 degree angle forcing a smile to guy with a huge flash on his camera)

I’m not planning to use my real face as my avatar, even though I’ve read many blogs and articles saying that this is a barrier to properly “connecting” (I suspect this is slightly more of an issue on the other side of the Atlantic), particularly due to the aging process. The blurry avatar that I use was taken when I was 21, yet I still use it in some places. In the four years I’ve used Twitter (I had my anniversary on Tuesday), I’ve seen some people retain the same image of their face. Surely over four years they’ve changed their hairstyle, or gained a few character lines on their face.

While there may be many benefits to using your real face as an avatar, the main drawback is vanity. 70s era Columbo will live forever, and I will continue to use him as long as his personality is consistent with what I want to project.


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Avoiding insights

I really don’t like using the word “insight”.

As I wrote here, the word is hideously overused. Rather than being reserved for hidden or complex knowledge, it is used to describe any observation, analysis or piece of intelligence.

And so I’ve avoided using it as much as possible. In an earlier tweet, I referred to the Mobile Insights Conference that I’ve booked to attend as the MRS Mobile thing. And I even apologised for my colleague (well, technically, employer) littering our Brandheld mobile internet presentation with the word.

But this is irrational. I shouldn’t avoid it, if it is the correct word to use. After all, substituting it for words like understanding, knowledge or evidence might be correct in some instances, but not all.

Does it really matter? After all, isn’t a word just a word? As someone once said, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet“.

But he’s talking complete rubbish. Because words do matter. They cloud our perceptions. It is why brands, and brand names, are so important. And why blind taste tests give different results to those that are open.

In fact, this emotional bond we have with words has undoubtedly contributed to my disdain. And this should stop. So I vow to start reusing the word insight, when it is appropriate.

But when is it appropriate? I’ve already said that an insight is hidden and complex, but then so is Thomas Pynchon and he is not an insight.

In the book Creating Market Insight by Drs Brian Smith and Paul Raspin, an insight is described as a form of knowledge. Knowledge itself is distinct from information and data

  • Data is something that has no meaning
  • Information is data with meaning and description, and gives data its context
  • Knowledge is organised and structured, and draws upon multiple pieces of information

In some respects it is similar to the DIKW model that Neil Perkin recently talked about, with insight replacing wisdom.

However, in this model – which was created in reference to marketing strategy – an insight is a form of knowledge that conforms to the VRIO framework.

  • Valuable – it informs or  enables actions that are valued. It is in relation to change rather than maintenance
  • Rare – it is not shared, or cannot be used, by competitors
  • Inimitable – where knowledge cannot be copied profitably within one planning cycle
  • Organisationally aligned – it can be acted upon within a reasonable amount of change

This form of knowledge operates across three dimensions. It can be

  • Narrow or broad
  • Continuous or discontinuous
  • Transient or lasting

How often do these factors apply to supposed insights? Are these amazing discoveries really rare and inimitable, and can they really create value with minimal need for change? Perhaps, but often not.

And Insight departments are either amazingly talented at uncovering these unique pieces of wisdom, or they are overselling their function somewhat.

When I’m analysing a piece of privately commissioned work, a finding could be considered rare and possibly inimitable (though it could be easily discovered independently, since we don’t use black box “magic formula” methodologies). But while it is hopefully interesting, it won’t always be valuable and actionable.

But if it is, I shall call it an insight.


Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sea-turtle/2556613938/

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My name is my name

Marlo Stanfield from the WireSo says Marlo Stanfield. And he has a point.

Reputation means a lot. But reputation is about perception, and there are multiple perspectives in which it can be viewed.

Broadly, reputation can be thought of in four inter-related spheres

  • Yourself – your personal brand
  • Your organisation (this itself can have several facets, if your organisation is part of a larger conglomerate or affiliation)
  • Your industry
  • The wider public

Marlo is concerned with his personal reputation among people in the industry – “the game”. He isn’t so worried about the other facets.

With the prominence of polling in the upcoming general election, the research industry is contemplating its reputation among the wider public.

I don’t think it really matters.

This election is more partisan and contentious than any I recall (most likely driven by the likelihood of change, rising prominence of online media giving a voice to more people, and the novelty of the leadership debates). Pot-shots, such as those against YouGov, are inevitable. This article from Research Live shows how YouGov aren’t doing themselves any favours in their need for speed (and this is leaving aside their associations with The Sun/Murdoch/Conservative Party).

I don’t think it matters because the research industry is rarely public facing – the only publicity it really receives is through political polls and PR research.

I’ve written about the problems with PR research in the past, but there is evidently a market for it and so the method prospers. It might damage the reputation of the industry to the wider public but outside of recruitment  (of staff and respondents/participants) it isn’t really relevant.

As Marlo noted, it is industry reputation – for yourself and your organisation – that really matters.

It is similar to the advertising industry. Successful companies have a lot of brand equity through the quality and associations of their work – Wieden & Kennedy and Nike, Fallon and Cadbury, HHCL and Tango, and Crispin Porter & Bogusky and Burger King, to give but four examples.

But what proportion of the general public has heard of these companies, let alone recognises and appreciates their work? Not many. Is it a damning indictment of the strength of the marketing industry that it fails in promoting the most basic thing – itself? Not really. Companies attract talent and business through their successes and image – public perception doesn’t factor.

Ray Poynter is rightly concerned with the the ethics of market research but for me, the importance of this is in maintaining business links. There is no adequate means of policing the research industry – anyone can knock on a door and say they are doing a survey – so it is not a battle worth fighting.

Companies stand and fall by the quality of their work – or at least the perception of it within the industry. Sub-standard work that is openly criticised will only harm long-term prosperity.

Self-regulation and recognition, whether through a recognised body like the Market Research Society, or at a more ad hoc level, can achieve this through highlighting good and bad practice.The research industry needs to be more vocal in showcasing good work, and castigating poor work.

This in turn will filter to the individual level, where the talented and ambitious will compete to work for the top companies. This in turn strengthens the work, and thus the industry. It could even permeate to the public.

There is no quick fix to improve the standing of an industry, and in some cases it isn’t necessarily desirable. Rather than look to the big picture, we should focus on the more immediate challenges.

If we all concentrate on undertaking the best possible work, then a strong reputation – for ourselves, our organisation and our industry – will follow.


NB: The clip of the scene with the quote is below (it is from Series 5, so beware of potential spoilers)

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Name ownership

Is being referred to by a single name the ultimate recognition of cultural primacy?

When I was at ITV, all the main bosses were simply referred to by their first names (though the sales floor had the problem of the “Three Garys” – not dissimilar to “The Four Marys“)

Reading several tech blogs where the head of Apple was just referred to as “Steve” prompted me to consider who else “owns” their name – not just internally in an organisation but in the wider world.

So I turned to Google.

And then, not wanting to be totally biased, I also turned to Bing.

Below are some of the results (NB: I signed out of Google, so the search results shouldn’t have been personalised. I don’t think I have a Microsoft account to sign into anymore)

It is as evidently hard to get a single name association, because there are a lot of people – many extremely talented – and not as many names. So, unless you are blessed with something as unique as D’Brickashaw you are going to struggle for that primacy.

There are options. Nicknames, for one. Neologisms or contractions (such as J-Lo) assist uniqueness.

But does a single name title actually matter? “Steve” might imply familiarity but this shouldn’t be assumed. Specificity is preferable. Context may imply which Ronaldo is being referred to, but implications are weak and thus not as memorable.

This is why I prefer multiple word names. They’re even better if they can juxtapose alternative meanings, or fuse something together for the first time. I chose Curiously Persistent for that reason. Similarly, many of my favourite blogs have unique, memorable names – borrowed or repurposed from other contexts. Only Dead Fish. Feeding the Puppy. Quaint Living. Six Pixels of Separation. And so on.

I’m not striving to be “Simon” – which would cause confusion with Simon and Simon on my blogroll, let alone the wider environment. Simon Kendrick (or Curiously Persistent) is just fine with me.


The power of successful rebranding

Rebranding can be a large scale venture. Rebranding can be a small scale venture. Some rebrands work. Some don’t.

Successful rebrands don’t have to be complete overhauls. They can be minor tweaks – a new campaign, or a new logo for instance.

Look at Dave. It was the same channel, and had minimal schedule change (I believe Whose Line is it Anyway was the only addition). But a new name (moving from the rather forgettable G2, which people would confuse with a +1 channel) and a new platform (moving to Freeview) resulted in a hugely successful relaunch.

Dave is now the 4th most popular multi-channel station, behind ITV2, ITV3 and E4 but ahead of G.O.L.D – its former parent station.

Small, targeted changes give impetus. And impetus matters – check out the ratings for King of the Hill. The announcement of its forthcoming cancellation reminded people that it was still on air – there is now an impetus to watch it while it lasts.

A change of figurehead can signal a new impetus. CEOs regularly come and go in order to appease stakeholders. To take one example, Steve Jobs’ return to Apple paid huge dividends – Jon Steel has a nice account of this in Perfect Pitch.

And to take another; America has just elected a new President. A President with fresh impetus running on a platform of hope and change.


I’m hopeful that there will be a successful change.


Lee McQueen and the value of common ground

reverse pterodactylThe best show on TV (copyright – the Guardian) has come to a close and despite his errors (lying on the CV, dodgy impressions), Lee McQueen has become surallun’s apprentice.

I had backed Claire to win, as had many others. But on reflection, Lee was the obvious candidate. Leaving aside accusations that Alan Sugar is not enamoured with strong women (though as Ruth Badger points out, what does that make Margaret Mountford?), what does this tell us?

To my eyes, it shows the value of common ground in relationships. There needs to be some form of mutual identification to make that initial bond, and to allow relationships to progress.

Surallun saw parts of himself in Lee. He didn’t grow up in a privileged background, he supports Spurs and he plays it down the middle. Those commonalities would have – subconsciously or consciously – certainly helped Lee in the decision-making process.

We also saw evidence of this recognition – or lack thereof – in other candidates. In Week 1, Nicholas de Lacy Brown was fired after he told the former Spurs owner that he didn’t like football. Michael Sophocles outstayed his welcome by several weeks because Alan Sugar saw a bit of himself in the “good Jewish boy”. And on firing Lucinda Ledgerwood in Week 11, he described her as being “too zany” for him.

So, common ground certainly helps. And this is why distinctive brands geared towards their target market succeed. Consumers are able to identify with the image portrayed, and this bond – again subconscious or conscious – helps forge a relationship.

I’m not advocating brands incorporate Spurs or reverse pterodactyls into their marketing. But they should be looking at their target market’s habits, lifestyles and aspirations and looking for factors that can ignite that recognition and attraction.


SIDENOTE: It shouldn’t work for a pre-recorded show, but it does and Anna Pickard’s liveblogs on the Guardian have been fantastically entertaining over the past 3 months

Ubiquity is not a strategy

Ubiquity is not a strategy.

A great quote from a talk I saw earlier by Martin Thomas from Snapper Communications at an MRG/IPA event, the originator of whom I missed.

Brands like Crazy Frog, PC World and Cillit Bang may bludgeon us into submission with a massive, ongoing campaign, but something has got to give. Once the optimal point of investment has been surpassed, minimal increments in coverage and frequency of eyeballs are being exchanged for annoyance and dread among those that have been exposed to the same advert 30+ times.

This is why careful targeting works. Find a value, or a pursuit, or a space, or a time, and own it.

Some examples Martin gave:

  • Stella Artois focused purely on film for 13 years. Their move away from this strategy has coincided with Carlsberg overtaking it to be the largest selling beer brand
  • Absolut centred their creatives around art and fashion. From people laughing at a Swedish vodka to being sold for nearly $10bn in the space of a couple of decades
  • Lynx/Axe have the central theme of men being irresistible to (objectified) women worldwide, though the specific creatives are different in each territory

Ubiquity means nothing if there are no associations. Identification is what is needed.

Incidentally, he also mentioned that for all the technological advancements in toothbrushes, they are redundant as people are unwilling to decode all of this information and make their choices in simpler terms – the colour, or the price, for instance.

This got me thinking. If a dental hygiene company offered a web service where I could sign up, give my preferences and be sent a new toothbrush every 3 months, I would definitely sign up.

I don’t think I’ll be quitting the day job just yet though.


Los Campesinos! show they care

los campesinos!
Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/tomvu/

ATP vs Pitchfork was predictably awesome. One of my highlights of the weekend was the Los Campesinos! set on Saturday evening. The reasoning for this is a pertinent topic for this blog.

This set was the 5th or 6th time I’ve seen them, and it was easily the best. Their proficiency has improved dramatically, and their sets have become really tight. But what takes them to the next level is their overt enthusiasm. Showing how much they care makes us care.

As Gareth Campesinos! mentioned on stage, playing at ATP is their “Wembley stadium, Knebworth, Pyramid Stage…”. The entire band looked like they could combust with sheer excitement at any point during their set, and this only enhanced their performance.

Passion, pride, enthusiasm, enjoyment, gratitude. These are emotions that create bonds between the band and the audience (ignoring the fact that the band are massive fans of the festival anyway, and formed part of the audience for the remainder of the weekend). It makes them human, and enables a connection. We as the audience feel complicit in their success, and this makes us support them louder and longer than ever.

To use Saatchi & Saatchi’s terminology, Los Campesinos! are a lovemark. “Lovemarks are a relationship, not a mere transaction. You don’t just buy Lovemarks, you embrace them passionately”.

An example of a lovemark brand would be Innocent. They have shown the benefits of stripping away the corporate jargon, and being real. Conversational copy, grass-roots events, open AGMs and a very obvious passion in their smoothies. This can connect the consumers to the brand, and inspires them to become devotees.

Like Innocent, Los Campesinos! have a stellar product underpinning the emotional bond, and there is absolutely no reason why they cannot replicate Innocent’s success in their indiepop/tweecore sphere. They come with my highest recommendation.


Computer & Video Games is the latest zombie brand to reawaken

It has been announced that the Computer & Video Games brand is going to be relaunched, four years after it was closed down. Yet another case of a Zombie brand. But where Atari failed and where I expect Commodore to fail, I can see this revival working.

  • The brand has the USP of being the original video games magazine
  • While the magazine was put to rest, the website continued successfully
  • Limiting itself to specials can keep the nostalgia running for a longer period
  • Future Publishing seem to know what they are doing
  • And let’s face it, serious video gamers can be a geeky bunch and this is the sort of thing they will appreciate

However, I do retain one note of caution. I’m surprised that the publishers have chosen to go with the more modern/mainstream Grand Theft Auto with the launch issue. This obviously has the benefit of tying in with the forthcoming GTA IV, but the core audience will not necessarily be aware of the history of the publication. Personally, I would have gone with a Sim City or Doom – a title which reaches back to CVG’s heyday. The market may be smaller, but it would be more fanatical and there would be more appreciation for a high-quality retrospective. By going down this route, it appears that the nostalgic appeal of the print brand is secondary to the ongoing website cross-promotion. I’m sure Future have done their research, and they must have concluded that this was the more profitable direction.

Obviously, success or failure will not result purely from the masthead – there needs to be a decent magazine behind it. But Vanity Fair has shown that magazines with a strong heritage can be successful revived, and I don’t see why Computer & Video Games can’t follow a similar path.