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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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Google Firestarters 8: The Agency Innovation Conundrum

The latest in the series of Firestarters events hosted by Google and curated by Neil Perkin was all about Agency innovation. With 8 speakers each having a 10 minute slot, a great deal of ground was covered. I’ve synthesised my main thoughts and recollections below, but I’d recommend clicking through the links at the bottom of this post in order to get the full goodness of the speakers – particularly since I haven’t attributed specific points to individuals.

Innovation by scriberia

The speakers all had a slightly different perspectives, but there were several common threads running across the talks – notably muppets, memes and motherfather fruity language.

One major question was why we should be innovating at all. Lots of great stuff already exists, so why try and change things just for the sake of it? Well, on one hand, customers are constantly evolving their behaviours so innovation is required just to keep up with them. But also, and quite self-servingly, agencies are employed to be the smartest people in the room and so there is an implicit requirement to innovate in order to justify their hiring.

This can understandably be a problem, because if you are an agency specialising in x, then the answer to the business question will obviously be x, irrespective of what the question is. There can also be a tension between “innovation snobbery” and appreciation of the target audience: people in Cannes and Campaign magazine might appreciate the shiny new idea, but the general public may not.

For innovation to be effective, it needs to be beyond an idea. It should be about ends and not means. Innovations should affect our audience’s behaviours, and to do this we need to influence their motivations and opportunities.

To reflect that, innovation shouldn’t be limited to processes or environments, but to entire business models. It shouldn’t be about answering the how, but the what. And even beyond the what, the why: Why are we in this business? What are we trying to achieve? This requires investment, to fully appraise and understand the situation, and to experiment. Because innovation requires bets – strategic risks that may or may not pay off. But before that can happen, the role of innovation needs to be properly defined.

And coming up with a specific definition can be problematic. Innovation is such a wide and fuzzy topic that the disparity between theory and practice can be wide. Which is apt, as it facilitates creative experimentation to close the gap.

The talks were:

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Image credit: Neil Perkin

Google Firestarters #4

The fourth Firestarters event,  hosted by Google and curated by Neil Perkin, was themed around entrepreneurship and maker culture. The invite had the following quote attached:

“Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled.” Howard Stevenson, Harvard Business School

This rather optimistic and aspirational definition was perfectly embodied by the three speakers. Each came from a slightly different angle, but their passion was evident. While I went into the event thinking that it was probably the least “relevant to my interests”, I came out it more inspired than I have been at the three previous events (which itself is a high benchmark). You don’t have to run your own company to apply the principles they were espousing.

Some of the most resonant quotes and thoughts I jotted down include:

David Hieatt (Howies, Hiut Jeans and the Do Lectures)

  • “Artists and perfectionists want to sign their work” – such as Steve Jobs asking the Apple engineers to sign the motherboard of the Apple Macinstosh
  • “Why is the wind in your sail” – it is the motivation for doing something
  • “Quality is doing well in the recession” – buy less, buy better
  • “Recognise luck and act upon it” – he wasn’t unlucky that he sold Howies to wrong people, but he was lucky that he lives in a town with a heritage of jeans expertise
  • “You’ve got to love your product, and love your customer”
  • “Hand-me downs have memories” – which is why his jeans have a history tag on jeans, which can store uploaded photos among other things

Toby Barnes (Mudlark and Playful)

  • The internet has changed hobbies – they now have an audience
  • We are not only sharing hobbies, but sharing the process via photos and blogs – this could be dangerous if we start to base things on what we think the general audience wants
  • Instead, we should make something good for an audience of one and then scale that out – if one person likes something, it is likely that someone else will
  • William Morris said that being a craftsman is all about hope – hoping the outcome will be good, or better than last time, or that someone will like it

Adil Abrar (Sidekick Studios)

  • “Do something you love with the people you love”
  • Head for the ditch – making a bad product is a good way to get honest feedback and improve a product (he thinks it is far better than a focus group – though Peter Kim would disagree on the notion of failure)
  • Bring the crazy to the world – don’t stay on the fringes
  • Vision changes, values do not – ideas can change, but your fundamental motivations stay the same (a semantic quibble, but I think execution would be a more apt word than vision)
  • Solve problems that really matter – such as helping people who are dealing with mental health issues, as the excellent Buddy App does

Unfortunately I couldn’t stay for the unconference or the wrap-up, but the above gave many things to ponder about. Particularly around the question of why – which is the most powerful and most fundamental question, and also an extremely (and deceptively) difficult question to answer. These three entrepreneurs have discovered their reason why; we need to find ours.

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Notes from MRG Conference 2011

A couple of weeks ago I took part in a short session at the 2011 Media Research Group Conference, which took place in London. I took some notes during the day (mainly with the earlier speakers). They are below and in chronological order, though firstly a quick exec summary:

The four papers I enjoyed most were

Synthesising these talks, my key take-aways were:

  • Run lots of prototypes and versions
  • Ask audiences what they think, rather than just infer from behaviour
  • Set up the tests in such a way to drive people towards the behaviours/answers you desire
  • Be aware of contextual reasons that might provide counter-intuitive answers

And now for the detail…

 

Tim Harford – Problem Solving In a Complex World

Tim Harford, author of books such as The Undercover Economist) , initially walked through examples of problem solving such as

  • Archie Cochrane – a Prisoner of War who conducted experiments to find out what was making people ill in the camp
  • Thomas Thwaites – a student who took 9 months and spent over £1,000 to try and make a toaster from scratch and even when cheating largely failed
  • Cesar Hildago – who has mapped 5,000 product categories. But Wal-Mart has 100,000 types of product in a store, and in New York there are probably 10bn

His point was around the God Complex – the conviction that no matter how complex something is or how little data is available, you know the answer. It is dangerous and yet you see it everywhere.

We need to step away from the god complex as we can’t solve things in one step. Instead, we gradually learn over time through trial and error.

For instance, Unilever wanted to create a new nozzle through for their detergent production. They hired a mathematician who failed to sufficiently improve it. Instead, they created ten random computer generated models and picked the best. They then created ten variations of this. They repeated this process twenty times. Ultimately the nozzle was much improved, although they don’t know why.

Business successes are random processes – there is no silver bullet for the perfect CEO or strategy. However, instilling a start-up culture allows experimentation to see what is best. Google has a target failure rate of 80%, but this failure has to be quick, rather than being too big to fail. In order to do this, we have to overcome loss aversion.

In the BBC documentary about Fermat’s last theorem,  Goro Shimura said in reference to his colleague Yutaka Taniyama :

Taniyama was not a very careful person as a mathematician. He made a lot of mistakes, but he made mistakes in a good direction so eventually he got the right answers. I tried to imitate him but I found out that it is very difficult to make good mistakes.

Tim fielded a couple of questions relating to popular business books

  • Tom Peters’ In Search of Excellence profiled many companies to see what made them successful, but three years after the book was published around one third of them were in trouble (e.g. Wang, Atari). Were they actually excellent, or is excellence fleeting?
  • James Surowiecki’s Wisdom of Crowds is often misunderstood as he himself said that it only works in specific situations – when expert judgement is no help and where the crowd can be polled independently (Duncan Watts has shown how randomness becomes important when things are dependent

Claire McAlpine – Mediacom – How are you integrating behavioural economic thinking into your work?

Inspired by thinkers such as Steven Johnson (Where Good Ideas Come From) and Chip & Dan Heath in addition to Thaler & Sunstein etc.

Hunches are where we collide ideas – these could be our ideas over time, or our ideas with other people’s. For instance, the Gutenberg printing press was inspired by the wine press.

We need to overcome cognitive biases (such as picking the second cheapest wine on the list) and recognise things such as information deficit and availability bias. We are more Homer Simpson than Spock – we are not rational agents. We may have good intentions but these can quickly be forgotten if we are in a “hot state”.

There are three stages to integrating behavioural economics

  • Identifying the behavioural context
  • Identifying the behavioural journey
  • Identifying choice context and ultimately creating choice architecture

Claire gave the example of Special Constable recruitment. By identifying two choice contexts – career and inspiration – Mediacom were able to frame their media strategy (both in terms of creative and placement) for two separate audiences

By understanding how behaviours differ, we can seek out how to encourage the desirable ones to be replicated. The ultimate goal is to be able to switch the default behaviour, which we often resort to as a mental shortcut.

 

Mark Barber (RAB) and Jamie Allsopp (Sparkler) – Media & the Mood of the Nation

Mark and Jamie went through the research findings of this research which covered 3,500 smartphone survey responses from 1,000 people, qualitative depth interviews and diaries and EEG brain scan experiments.

The research came about from the general move in advertising from systematic (logical) to heuristic (emotional) processing, and observations that advertising works better in mood-enhancing environments.

The findings were framed using James Russell’s Circumplex Model of Affect, which places results on two -5 to +5 scales of arousal (energy) and valence (happiness).

Radio was compared to both TV and online. While all displayed rises in happiness and energy, radio showed the highest average increases in total and across the most dayparts. While this may be caused by other activities people are doing while they listen to the radio, it nevertheless means that people are in a more receptive frame of mind when it comes to processing advertising messages.

 

Becky McQuade (Sky) and Anne Mollen (Cranfield School of Management) – Online Engagment: We might be getting there

Anne said that there are two schools of thought with engagement

  • It is bankrupt as it is not a metric since it is too abstract and not credible (unlike retention and acquisition)
  • It is viable (she is in this camp)

The academic studies in this area have been focused on perceived interactivity and telepresence (her paper is here), but it hasn’t as yet properly been joined up to commercial requirements.

Her definition of engagement is “cognitive and affective commitment to an active relationship” and requires

  • Utility/relevance
  • Pleasure/enjoyment
  • Dynamic and sustained cognitive process

Using Survey Interactive, they ran an online pop-up survey with 60 engagement statements (reduced from an original list of 150) on 12 point scales across 14 Sky websites (and on a NetMums panel), resulting in over 12,000 responses. This found four drivers of correlation. From the largest to smallest, these are:

  • Cognitive processing e.g. enjoyment
  • Temporal needs e.g. hedonic and utilitarian value (what we need and want)
  • Self-congruence (identity with the brand)
  • Social identity (context, environment, peer to peer communication)

Conversely, engagement isn’t

  • A measure of human behaviour – there was low correlation between engagement and time spent, frequency and recency
  • Behavioural footprints (actions such as subscriptions or likes) – there was only a small positive correlation among a subset of those engaged
  • Activism (such as loyalty) – engagement is context dependent and not a behavioural type

The study was specific to advertising, and found those engaged had higher ad recall, improved core message delivery, more favourable opinions towards the brand and a higher likelihood to purchase (but not higher purchase intent).

Becky and Anne closed by saying for engagement to be viable it has to have a close relation to ROI and KPIs. Their NetMums study showed engagement has an impact on trust, satisfaction, loyalty and add responsiveness and has a high positive correlation with the Net Promoter Score.

Anne isn’t linked exclusively to Sky and will talk to others on a confidential basis around her engagement scale, but given academic competition to publish there is only a limited amount she can say publicly.

 

Stuart McDonald (News International) and Euan Mackay (Kantar Media) – Show Me the Money: Proving the value of tablets

Given that the results of the research are being used to inform News International’s commercial strategy, they didn’t really go into how value was proved. The research was conducted among News International’s subscriber base, and tested interactive advertising on a beta app (The Times app doesn’t yet have advertising) against a premium engagement index, comprising of perceptions of an ad being

  • Memorable
  • Relevant
  • Engaging
  • Trustworthy
  • Premium

 

Richard Curling (Google) – YouTube Skippable Pre-Rolls: Measuring the power of choice

Given “Hurry sickness” – the malaise where people feel short of time so perform tasks faster and get flustered by any delays – we’re increasingly looking for shortcuts.

YouTube “true view” means that users get to choose their adverts – if they don’t like an advert, they can skip it. Advertisers only pay for adverts that are viewed all the way through. Google interpret a high view rate as a high quality score, and this will factor in alongside price when bidding in an auction for advertising space. Thus, high quality ads are rewarded (though arguably very low quality advertising can benefit from a lot of free, interrupted views).

Using Ipsos MediaCT, Google tested the effectiveness of these ads using biometrics (heart rate, respiratory rate, skin conductance, motion- via Innerscope), depth interviews and eye-tracking. These found that both skipped and “true view” ads scores higher on their engagement metrics, though the true view ads scored highest. However, this wasn’t as clear-cut as you might expect – people opting in might have higher expectations and so could be harder to please. Conversely, the engagement of people forced to watch an ad might pick up towards the end as they get ready for their content to start

Richard’s recommendations for advertisers were to

  • Entertain the user, since you are the content
  • Be clear, and support user choice
  • Embrace “natural” targeting

 

Afternoon sessions

I was paying less attention to these, since I was mentally rehearsing my speech

  • Ross Williams and Becky from Ipsos MediaCT presented their “Big Brother Research – Who’s Watching Who?”, which combined social media monitoring of Big Brother properties. with Facebook polls. While Big Brother wasn’t as big as other properties, it had a 80-20 proportion of comments to likes on Facebook (indicating an engaged audiences), while alternative programmes had the opposite ratio
  • Steve Cox of JC Decaux presented “Airport Live” – following a small number of passengers at both their departure and arrival airports to see what they were noticing
  • Matthew Dodds of Nielsen and Nick Metcalfe of the Telegraph presented “Telegraph Print + Net Online Multiplier study” which took 5 groups of people (Telegraph print readers, Telegraph online readers, readers of both, non-print readers with matched demographics, non online readers with matched demographics) from UKOM to test uplift in advertising measures
  • The Good The Bad & The Ugly of Media Research was hosted by Max Willey and featured myself, Dave Brennan, David Fletcher, John Fryer, Stef Hrycyszyn and Loraine Cordery talking about whatever we wanted to for three minutes. David Fletcher won the prize, for his tale of why people think they want online dashboards but don’t

 

Industry Updates

  • BARB is looking into a non-linear database that would report on archive programmes on demand, and catch-up from longer than seven days after transmission. They will also evaluate, and possibly publish topline results of, the TV+online data
  • POSTAR – now have tube and bus data, and are looking at GPS devices to see how people move around. This is being validated and they hope to get it into a reporting system soon
  • NRS – concentrating on fusion with UKOM data, but hope to get more granular data and move online in future
  • RAJAR – moving the diary online, and continuing to explore the viability of passive meters
  • IPA – bedding down touchpoints. Touchpoints 3 included word of mouth, mobile internet, social media, gaming and on-demand. Touchpoints 4 will bring in tablets and apps, and change from a device-first structure to a content-first structure. It now has 60 subscribers (including each of the top 20 agencies) and has launched in the US. They are also piloting an app to go alongside the diaries
  • UKOM – the past year has been about stabilisation after some data issues. The contract is currently out to tender and whomever is successful (they would take over in January 2013) would look to measure all devices and locations (ie beyond home/work fixed internet to include mobile and video)

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Nassim Nicholas Taleb and Antifragility

At the Royal Society on Thursday I saw Nassim Nicholas Taleb (Distinguished Professor of Risk Engineering at Polytechnic Institute of New York University) in conversation with Rohan Silva (Senior Policy Advisor to the Prime Minister) and Matthew Taylor (Chief Executive of the RSA).

The subject was Taleb’s latest book – Antifragility – which he hopes isn’t as simplified as his previous book (he seemed to dislike the fact that The Black Swan was bought and read in airports by people who subsequently misinterpreted it). I think he has succeeded, as at times I struggled to grasp his arguments.

Nevertheless, I’ll have a go at summarising it. The images below are taken from his slides, available alongside the audio of the event, at the RSA website.

I believe Antifragility draws on Prospect Theory (incidentally, Michael Lewis has recently written about Daniel Kahneman – one of the main proponents of the theory – in Vanity Fair). The thesis is that organic entities are fragile, and that potential harm is non-linear to the size of the event (see below). In fragile systems, potential losses outweigh gains.

Antifragility is the opposite of fragility – where gains outweigh losses (robust is something different). The parallel Taleb drew was:

  • Fragile – Sword of Damocles (risk of fall)
  • Anti-fragile – Heidegger Hydra (cut one head off and get two back)
  • Robust – Phoenix (stays stable)

To give an example, it is more harmful to jump once from 100m than 100 times from 1m.

Taleb-nonlinearharm

This means that the unpredictability of Black Swan effects costs more when the size of the event is large.

Black Swan event

This means (I think) that risk is concave, and there is more pain than gain in an event. For instance, traffic is concave – it is fine to the point of over-leverage, when the cost of travel will suddenly massively increase.

Antifragile events are convex. Taleb believes that bottom-up structures are convex, while top-down dictated structures are concave. We cannot effectively design systems as we cannot fully understand them, and so there will always be more harm than good.

The result of this theory is that large events, large organisations and large governments should be avoided. “Too big to fail” is catastrophic, and Taleb is firmly in favour of smaller organisations – on a moral level (it smaller societies you are close to the result of your decisions and so may feel shame) and an economic level (the cost of liquidating one large bank is far more than the cost of liquidating ten banks one tenth of the size of the large bank).

Uncertainty makes mistakes costly, and thus both businesses and governments should remain small. Taleb suggested that if Tesco suddenly ran into difficulties then the government would have to bail out a supermarket. He feels the government should only intervene in things that can’t organise organically, and is thus advising the government on how to make its institutions smaller (such as splitting the NHS into localised, autonomous units).

Taleb also talked a bit about risk management, and said that the models were flawed as they don’t combine risk and growth –  to get rich you must survive. He feels slow and steady growth is preferable to high growth that cuts corners, since that will ultimately crash. He pointed out that perfect growth is Madoff, and that Greenspan and Brown’s attempts to end boom and bust have led to where we are now (he claimed that Brown was more dangerous than Blair as Brown thought he understood the world).

He also mentioned that within small systems, stresses can be positive. For instance, we fast to kill cancer calls. In exercise, we should combine slow and steady exercise (such as walking) with the occasional intense burst (such as lifting weights at the gym). Up to a point, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Taleb doesn’t see big as permanent – Google could quite easily disappear tomorrow. To get around organisations growing in size, he recommends a contract saying that if a business wants to have the option to be bailed out then they can never pay out bonuses. Since people will want bonuses, they will intentionally keep their business small in size to not require bail-outs.

He closed by saying organic organisations are perishable and that each day they exist their life expectancy drops by a day. Whereas non-perishable entities – such as ideas – increase their life expectancy each day. For instance, if an idea has existed for 25 years then it will exist for 25 more.

Ultimately, the talk was very thought-provoking but I’m not sure whether I agree with it or not. On the one hand, I can see the diseconomies of scale of large organisations, but on the other hand businesses will have become large through success. That success might have been random and unwarranted, but they nevertheless survived and so must have done a few things correct. Taleb appears to advocate limiting them in order to protect against the possibility of them failing and causing problems for the economy. This risk aversion and diversification may be prudent, but I’m not sure how fragile this system really is (particularly if it made up of bottom-up organisations).

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My MRG Conference 2011 speech

At the MRG Conference 2011 (pdf link to programme here) I was given a three-minute slot to talk about anything I wanted under the banner “Six industry speakers share the good, the bad and the ugly from our industry”.

This is (roughly) what I said:

Good afternoon everyone. As Research Manager for Mobile, Social and Syndication at the BBC I’m understandably enthusiastic about these areas. So today I’m going to take the first area I mentioned – mobile – and explain how its characteristics make it appropriate as a research platform.

The first is universality – mobile has more coverage than any other research method. A big claim maybe, but Ofcom stats say that

  •  77% of households have PC-based internet
  • 85% of adults have a landline
  •  91% of adults have a mobile, and this rises to 98% among 16-54 year olds

More than 91% of the UK might have a home and can be reached by door to door, but realistically, once you factor in accessibility and interviewer safety, mobile will have the largest potential audience for research – though the key word there is potential; there is still the small hurdle of getting the audience’s contact details.
The second characteristic I want to mention is relating to proximity. More than any other platform, mobile is our go-to device. It is nearly always turned on, it is nearly always on our person and thus it is when we have some free time or are bored it is the first thing we turn – in fact I can see a few phones in the audience now. This captive audience on mobile has massive potential for research purposes, though we need to ensure what we ask them to do is both interesting and relevant. Easier said than done, perhaps.

But, this is predicated on the notion that we need our respondent to interact. We can do many great things on mobile – video diaries, photos, status updates etc and in real-time. But one of the real strengths of mobile is its latency. Why ask people what media they are consuming when mobile sensors can match sound to TV and radio; record web browsing, use GPS to plot outdoor reach and time spent; and soon use near field communication to record sales of newspapers and magazines. Admittedly, not all phones can do this just yet, and privacy is obviously an issue, but again, there is big potential.

The young will drive this, for mobile is a youthful medium – 16-24s say they would miss mobile the most if they had to give up media. These behaviours might not be mainstream yet, but a dozen years ago owning a mobile wasn’t mainstream, and look where we are now. But there is also a second aspect to this point around youth, and that is that the medium is nascent. We’re still learning all the time – no one can say they’ve cracked mobile in terms of capturing and utilising. This is a huge opportunity for research agencies both big and small to move into.

This is an opportunity because it doesn’t yet exist. There is plenty of innovation at the edges, but the market isn’t yet mature. So while I’ve identified several benefits to mobile research, they come with caveats and are more theoretical than practical. So as much as I want to say mobile is good, I can’t really. I’ve talked about the universality, the go-to nature, the latency and the youthfulness. That’s U.G.L.Y and it ain’t got no alibi, it’s ugly.

sk

Google Firestarters: The New Operating System For Agencies

Firestarters #3, hosted by Google and curated by Neil Perkin, featured three fascinating and provocative presentations from Mel ExonMartin Bailie  and James Caig on “The New Operating System For Agencies”

Each of the three talks had slightly different emphases:
• Mel posited that brands need to be useful, entertaining and epic, and so should its marketing. To the point that the marketing and product is indistinguishable – the marketing singularity
• Martin argued that agencies should decide whether they are interested in outputs or outcomes, and indeed whether they are serving the right master – should agencies be dealing with consumers rather than clients?
• James talked in favour of open ideas and innovation so that agencies can diversify their revenue streams. Experimentation and sharing in the short-term pays off in the long-term

However, what I found surprising was the level of agreement , both among the speakers and in the audience, with some of the more disruptive suggestions. While there are the odd exceptions – Zag, Victors and Spoils etc – most agencies still seem to represent fairly traditional models.

Why is this? A few suggestions
• Semantically, the agency of the future doesn’t exist yet
• The status quo is difficult to change, and progress tends to be slow, phased and invisible
John V. Willshire makes the excellent point of the Prisoner’s Dilemma here
• Particularly in a recession, it takes a brave company to emphasise long-term strategic development (and investment) over the short-term cash-flow required to keep the business running
• Start-up culture might accelerate innovation, but start-ups motivate its staff members to bear the long hours and high risk due to the potential of a vast reward. Agency contracts tend to stipulate that all ideas generated are agency property
• Marketing agencies are generally unknown at the company level and distrusted at the industry level so becoming consumer-facing is a big challenge
• With brands increasingly present across multiple sectors and disciplines, it might be hard for an agency’s own product to offer credible independence

These are all obstacles, but none are insurmountable. Things can and will change. Hence the excitement in the room.

So, synthesising the views of the speakers (and casually ignoring the slight disagreements) with a couple of my own, the agency of the future will
• Be more strategic and focused on the long-term. This requires investment to slowly change the core but to quickly innovate around the edges.
• Meditate on strategic decisions before acting. Martin’s advocacy of real-time insights is one of the few things I (partially) disagree with – the filter challenges make it very easy for a small tail to wag a very large dog. (SIDENOTE: This isn’t a reaction to his jibe that “research agencies are shit” because they don’t do real-time, though that opinion is as reductive as me saying digital agencies are shit because they don’t create banner ads I want to click on)
• Focus relentlessly on the public as people rather than consumers of a particular product, brand or industry. True cultural understanding means engaging with people as peers, whether through traditional market research, observation or hiring spokespeople
• Prioritise the opinions of the target audience over the opinions of the client, since no client other than Apple can dictate what people want and can have
• Widen teams to encompass a variety of generalists and specialists required for the situation.

Taking these points to an extreme, one example of an agency of the future could be an incorporated joint venture between a brand and various specialists (client marketers, strategists, creatives, PRs, researchers, designers etc), where everyone is a partner with a financial stake in the long-term success of that brand. Even more extreme, agencies could engage in multiple JVs, acting as the pivotal node between brands in different industries, with complete autonomy in how ideas are distributed between brands or kept for themselves. In some ways, they become mini Unilevers – a holding company bringing together disparate, individual brands. This would enable
• Greater integration between the brand’s desires and the actions of the “agency”
• More potential reward for the team members
• Reduced dependence on account managers to mediate between the two (sorry, account managers)
• Greater agency synergies in creativity and ideas, in addition to the bargaining power from media buys
• Reduced duplication between different stakeholders e.g. social media can be concentrated with one person rather than spread across multiple agencies or client departments
• More control over which ideas are invested where – they could be kept for the JV themselves, or even shared across multiple brands

Of course, this proposal has a ton of holes in it (can holes have weight?) and is pretty impractical. Nevertheless, the first two bullet points should be critical for any future agency. There should be no cross-purposes – is the desire to generate profits or to make a great campaign? And there should be more reward for success. Steven Spielberg was paid $250m for Jurassic Park yet Universal Studios didn’t moan (loudly) because it was only a pre-agreed cut from enormous profits. It is better to work together for a big win, than to antagonise and penny pinch for the sake of “fairness” with others.

While failure can be random and out of the hands of the individual; shared reward should be a priority for the agencies of the future.

sk

NB: Slides and notes from the talks are available from James here, from Mel here and from Martin here

Google Firestarters #2 – Design Thinking

The second Firestarters event, hosted by Google and curated by Neil Perkin, was an excellent evening – probably even better than the first evening. There were lots of interesting people to speak to and debate with in the break-out session and afterwards, while the Google catering is unrivalled. I’m amazed the staff aren’t twice the size they are, given the volume of cupcakes around.

The primary reason for the quality of the event is the speakers. Both were very interesting.

Tom Hulme (IDEO)

Tom talked about design thinking as a set of beliefs. He advocated it as a form of divergent thinking. Strong companies that perform well tend to be good at optimising and being efficient in their areas of expertise. Creativity in opening up new avenues can bring in new aspects to a business, which they can subsequently optimise and renew the cycle. Traditionally these would be have been consecutive but with things moving so quickly they should now be concurrent.

Tom’s 8 steps for design thinking are

  1. Challenge the question
  2. Be user-centred (and do so in context. Focus groups are not the place to introduce ideas)
  3. Look to extremes
  4. Messages or experiences? The answer is both – they are coherent.
  5. Be holistic – the business model and marketing model are now indistinct from one another
  6. Value diversity
  7. Launch to learn – prototyping is now redundant as it is so cheap to launch and run A/B tests
  8. Stay in beta

Tom is a very charismatic speaker and came up with wonderful examples – from Sneakerpedia being an example of message and experience combining, to Steve Jobs’ calligraphy course as an example of diversity to his open document containing useful tips for start-ups.

He also ended with a great quote: “Looking at why people really hate stuff is wonderful inspiration to come up with new ideas”

John V Willshire (PHD)

John is well-known for his unique analogies, and he didn’t disappoint with a seamless weaving of Bad Religion and Adam Smith.

John was a counterpoint to Tom, in that he argued the case against process. Channelling Bruce Nussbaum, he said that companies are only comfortable with design theory when it is packaged as a process. And then they are principally purchasing the process, rather than the idea or outputs themselves. Real work, in other words.

Process might make bad things good, but it also makes great things good. It levels things out into mediocrity.

When Adam Smith discussed the division of labour, he noted that the benefits to industry would be in dexterity, time and technology. However, he noted that this process wasn’t applicable to agriculture due to its unpredictability and variety. As John noted with regard to marketing agencies, “The sell is industrial. The work is agricultural”.

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Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dunechaser/3339729380

Mediatel Media Playground 2011

My previous blog post covered my notes on Broadcast in a Multi-Platform World, which I felt was the best session of the day. Below are my notes from the other 3 sessions (I didn’t take any notes during the bonus Olympics session)

The data debate

Chaired by Torin Douglas, Media Correspondent for the BBC

Speakers:
Andrew Bradford, VP, Client Consulting, Media at Nielsen
Sam Mikkelsen, Business Development Manager at Adalyser

Panellists:
David Brennan, Research & Strategy Director at Thinkbox
Kurt Edwards, Digital Commercial Director at Future
Nick Suckley, Managing Director at Agenda21
Bjarne Thelin, Chief Executive at BARB

Some of the issues touched upon in this debate were interesting but I felt they were dealt with too superficially (but as a researcher, I guess it is inevitably I’d say that).

David Brennan thinks we need to take more control over data and how we apply it. There is a dumb acceptance that anything created by a machine must be true and we’ve lost the ability to interrogate the data

Nick Suckley thinks the main issue is the huge productivity problem with manual manipulation of data from different sources (Google has been joined by Facebook, Twitter and the mobile platforms), but this also represents a huge opportunity. He thinks the fight is not about who owns the data, but who puts it together

Torin Douglas posited whether our history of currencies meant that we weren’t so concerned with data accuracy, since everyone had access to the same information. Bjarne Thelin unsurprisingly disagreed with this, pointing out the large investment in BARB shows the need for a credible source.

David Brennan said his 3 Es of data are exposure (buying), engagement (planning) and effectiveness (accountability)

Nick Suckley thinks people would be willing to give up information for clear benefits but most don’t realise what already is being collected on them

Kurt Edwards thinks social media is a game-changer from a planning point of view as it sends the power back to the client. There is real-time visibility, but the challenge is to not react to a few negative comments

David Brennan concurred and worried about the possibility of social media data conclusions not being supported by other channels. You need to go out of your way to augment social media data with other sources to get the fuller picture

Bjarne Thelin gave the example of BBC’s +7 viewing figures to show that not all companies are focusing purely on real-time. He also underlines the fact that inputs determine outputs and so you need to know what goes in

David Brennan concluded by saying that in the old days you knew what you were getting. Now it is overblown, with journalists confused as to what is newsworthy or significant

Social media and gaming

Chaired by Andrew Walmsley, ex i-Level

Speakers:
Adele Gritten, Head of Media Consulting at YouGov
Mark Lenel, Director and senior analyst at Gamesvison

Panellists:
Henry Arkell, Business Development Manager at Techlightenment
Pilar Barrio, Head of Social at MPG
Toby Beresford, Chair, DMA Social Media Council at DMA
Sam Stokes, Social Media Director at Punktilio

The two speakers gave a lot of statistics on gaming and social gaming, whereas the panel focused upon social media. This was a shame, as the panel could have used more variety. All panel members were extolling the benefits of social media, and so there was little to no debate.

There was discussion about the difficulty in determining the value of a fan, the privacy implications, Facebook’s domination across the web and the different ways in which social media can assist an organisation in marketing and other business functions.

Mobile advertising

Chaired by Simon Andrews, Founder of addictive!

Speaker:
Ross Williams, Associate Director at Ipsos MediaCT

Panellists:
Gary Cole, Commercial Director at O2
Tamsin Hussey, Group Account Director at Joule
Shaun Jordan, Sales Director at Blyk
Will King, Head of Product Development at Unanimis
Will Smyth, Head of Digital at OMD

Ross Williams gave an interesting case study on Ipsos’ mobi app, which tracked viewer opinion during the Oscars.

Simon Andrews’ approach to chairing the debate was in marked contrast to the previous sessions. He was less a bystander and more a provocateur – he clearly stated his opinions and asked the panel to follow-up. He was less tolerant of bland sales-speak than the previous chairs, but was also more biased in approaching the panel with the majority of panel time filled with Simon speaking to Will Smyth.

Will King things m-commerce will boost mobile like e-commerce did with digital. Near field communication will move mobile into the real world.

Gary Cole pointed out that mobile advertising is only a quarter of a percent of ad spend but that clients should think less about display advertising and of mobile as a distinct channel. Instead, mobile can amplify other platforms in a variety of ways.

Tamsin Hussey said that as there isn’t much money in mobile, there is no finance to develop a system for measuring clicks and effectiveness of all channels. Currently, it has to be done manually.

Will Smyth said the app store is the first meaningful internet experience on the mobile. The mobile is still young and there is a fundamental lack of expertise at the middle management level across the industry. Social is currently getting all the attention (“Chairman’s wife syndrome”) but mobile has plenty to offer.

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Broadcast in a multi-platform world

Last week I attended the Mediatel Media Playground 2011 – the first session of which was Broadcast in a multi-platform world. Below are my notes.

Notes for the other sessions will follow later in the week. However, I found this seminar the most enjoyable and thought-provoking due to the sector being highly competitive with players who would traditionally be in separate markets, and the willingness of the speakers to engage in debate on this.

Details

According to the website, the themes of the debate were:

Platforms, content owners, broadcasters, manufacturers and the confused consumer too – the new broadcast world.

  • How are consumer viewing and listening habits changing?
  • What is Connected TV? How will it best be sold to the consumer?
  • How will broadcasters and programme makers stand out in a world of TV clutter?
  • How should VOD be sold to agencies and advertisers?
  • The role of the EPG
  • Who needs who most? Are these uneasy alliances going to come crashing down?
  • Is YouView just too late now or the catalyst to Connected TV taking off?

The session was chaired by Torin Douglas, Media Correspondent for the BBC and the panel consisted of:

  • Dara Nasr, Head – YouTube & Display at Google
  • Oli Newton, Head of Emerging Platforms at Starcom Mediavest
  • Dan Saunders, Head of Content Services at Samsung
  • Jeff Siegel, Head of Advertising at Rovi
  • Nigel Walley, CEO of Decipher
Notes

My notes are chronological, so will broadly follow the themes above. All “quotes” were hastily scribbled down, and so are subject to error and misinterpretation.

Introduction

Nigel Walley opened by saying that in many ways new media isn’t that different to old. “Broadcast is the original recommendation engine” albeit editorially driven rather than through algorithms.

He also said that we are now in a “post VOD world” where new media is a support to broadcast and not an alternative. This is actually a boon to live TV as those time-shifting need to actively avoid mobile and laptop to keep away from spoilers.

Oli Newton said that consumers don’t realise what technology they already have and what it can do – he used games consoles as an example of this. He sees the children being the main educators in spreading these forms of behaviour.

Dan Saunders talked about the rise of connected TVs (Smart TVs, in Samsung parlance). Samsung sell 1 in 4 TVs in the UK, and 75% of these will be connected. He says that smart TV isn’t a separate category but a price point in the overall line-up between HD and 3D.

Jeff Siegel notes that worldwide 50% of connectable sets are now connected (though Mat Watson of ITV disputed this for the UK, saying it is much lower)

Dara Nasr believes that digital and broadcast empower one another and the online/offline divide has disappeared

Consumer understanding

Nigel Walley believes it is a confusing time for consumers as there are different technologies, different players and different acronyms (DTRs/PVRs/DVRs).

For instance, an average household could have an IPTV for the Olympics, Virgin for their TV and broadband, a PS3 for the kids and a DVD player for Mum. All of these can play iPlayer but the BBC has done no strategic development to say which one is better. Nigel thinks Virgin should be the priority as it the best platform to correlate VOD viewing to the broadcast audience.

Unsurprisingly, Dan Saunders disagreed. He thinks a TV tuner with an internet connection allows viewers to augment broadcast to something meaningful – thus Samsung comes to the fore in Freeview homes.

Dara Nasr said that Youtube follow the user. To be a TV company they need to be on TV, though at the moment it is mobile that is growing their audience.

Nigel Walley questioned his strategy as on the same device there can be multiple versions of Youtube. Dara countered by saying this was because their API is open to external developers. They “want to be accessible everywhere, and see what wins”.

Oli Newton said it was not about names but what gives the best viewing experience. “It is being of the web, not on the web”.

Jeff Siegel agreed in that we should focus on features and not on definitions. On TV, the quality of the video is the main thing – scores and additional information can be mobile if necessary.

Nigel Walley feels the quality of the interface has been the main problem in the past but this is improving. In future, he sees Sky and Virgin could be the dominant app on a TV rather than a separate device, “but there is a technology race to go through first”. This might change how they are used – for instance Youtube is used differently on a TV to how it is on a PC

Nigel noted that another problem to date has been a lack of promotion of connected TVs. For instance, stores don’t have internet connections to enable them to demo it.

Oli Newton said that consumer understanding is the most important thing – they need to be able to ask the right questions in store. Apple’s “ad-ucation” has been good at this – even non-users know how to work an iPhone.

Impact

Nigel Walley sees the film industry as being most under threat as connected TVs can deliver a better experience. It will be hard to break through the system of broadcast promotions, trailers and TV guide features that build up a linear broadcast schedule.

Dan Saunders argued that connected TVs can only have a positive impact for companies like ITV – people are buying TVs to watch TV after all.

Nigel Walley then accused TV companies of not understanding the difference between customers and consumers. Sky and Virgin have customers with transactional records while BBC and ITV are trusted brands to consumers – thus they should treat BSkyB as a business partner rather than a competitor.

Role of EPG

Nigel Walley argued that platforms aren’t doing enough to promote channels. The EPG is dull and boring and wastes all the promotion that goes into a channel launch

Dan Saunders questioned the role of the EPG. It isn’t being used effectively for advertising and there is currently too much on the front page

Jeff Siegel feels it has to be consumer friendly before you can even consider advertising

Oli Newton feels that if you have a smart TV, you don’t care about the channels but the content – that’s where the power of the EPG is. The EPG is the best place to advertise “but has been woefully let down”

Nigel Walley concluded that “the EPG is still software, it is not yet a media”

Competing platforms

Oli Newton noted that there “content sinkholes” e.g. the Channel 4 programmes available on Youtube are different to those on 4oD and again different to those on TV VOD services.

Oli also feels that Youview “is a bit pointless” – other serices, that already had a head start on the interface and simplicity, are now occupying this space.

Nigel Walley said that the original Youview scope was great, but that was in 2007. Stores are already discounting things that are better than Youview.

Nigel finished by saying that with devices and manufacturers battling it out, broadcasters are now further down the value chain. However, they have the valuable content that lets them punch through.

Ten things I learned from the New MR Virtual Festival

My previous post included all of the notes I took while listening into the New MR Virtual Festival. This post contains the key things I took away from the day, and have subsequently been mulling over in the 2 months (!) since.

New MR Virtual Festival header

NB: All slides shown below are taken entirely without permission. If a creator objects to its use, please contact me and I’ll remove it.

1. The boundaries between participation and observation can (and, in some circumstances, should) be blurred

Although Ray Poynter touched on the range of methods in which research can overtly or covertly be conducted online, Netnography (cf. Robert Kozinets) is – to me – one of the more interesting. To be effective, it needs to have the research both participate and observe the environment of interest.

Erica Ruyle argues that observation (or lurking) is fine in the initial stage, since the norms and cultures need to be understood and respected. But active participation is vital in order to get than “insider” knowledge and to be able to read between the lines of the interactions.

This is a difficult proposition to promote commercially as a) the time investment (and thus cost) required will be huge and b) the researcher will need to have a personal as well as professional interest in the topic in order to both be accepted by the community and accept the community. For instance, how many researchers would turn their nose up at being asked to take part in World of Warcraft for 6 months?

Nevertheless, in the right circumstances it could prove to be a fascinating and rewarding exercise.

2. Convenience samples can still be worthwhile

It is true that all non-census research incorporates a convenience sample to some extent. But some methods require more convenience (and thus are less representative) than others.

Annelies Verhaeghe highlighted some of the issues to be aware of when conducting social media research – particularly that we should resolve ourselves to not always know who we are speaking to or monitoring.

Furthermore, something I had not considered but makes sense is that even though companies trumpet the volume of data they scrape and collect, only a sub-sample of that will be analysed due to the diminishing returns of going deeper into a very large data set.

If we’re able to augment social media research with other techniques or data sources – Annie Pettit mentioned some of the benefits of combining social media research with surveys – then it can be a very valuable and insightful method of getting real-world information on past actions and thoughts.

3. Respondents shouldn’t necessarily be viewed equally

Both Rijn Vogelaar and Mark Earls talked about premises realised more thoroughly in their books – The SuperPromoter and Herd respectively.

Segmenting the audience isn’t a new phenomenon – we often restrict our universes to who we are interested in – but within these universes perhaps we should pay more attention to some individuals more than others – particularly given the complex social interactions that cause ideas and opinions to spread. I’m not clever enough to be able to incorporate full network theories into any of my research – in the manner of Duncan Watts, for instance – but perhaps there is an argument for applying simple weights to some projects, to account for some opinions becoming more important than others. Or perhaps it is too contentious to implement without proper academic grounding and proof.

4. More of an effort needs to be made to meet respondents on their terms

Betty Adamou joined the likes of Stowe Boyd in saying that email is on the decline among younger people. This is problematic for online surveys, given that online panels are predominantly administered via email. Given the trends, perhaps we should be looking to Facebook, Twitter, instant messenger etc for both initial recruitment of these audiences and then allow them to dictate how we can contact them to alert them with new surveys. I’m not sure whether a note on a Facebook group could be as effective as an email, but it is certainly worth exploring.

5. Survey structures can do more to take advantage of the online environment

Our media and communications channels have fragmented but the content providers retain a centralised hub of controlling activity. Why can’t the research industry do this? John Dick talked through Civic Science’s modular research methodology, whereby questions are asked in chunks of two or three at a time, but combined at the back-end to build up extensive profiles of respondents.

This approach makes intuitive sense. In face to face research, the main cost was in finding people to speak to. Thus, once they were located, it was efficient to collect as much information as possible. The web is abundant with people, who are time-poor. The cost isn’t in finding them, it is keeping them. People could easily answer three questions a day if there was the possibility of a prize draw. They would be less willing to spend 30 minutes going through laborious and repetitive questions.

There are clearly downsides to this method and plenty of issues to overcome regarding data quality assurances, but the notion of Facebook users answering a couple of questions a day sounds like a feasible way to collect information among people who might be unwilling to sign up to an online survey

6. Surveys don’t have to be boring or static…

Another aspect of the online world that should be explored further is the level of interactivity. Many online surveys are straight ports of face to face surveys – a shame when there are so many more things that a web survey can – in theory – be capable of.

Jon Puleston of GMI highlighted several of their experiments in this area. Interestingly, although interactive surveys take longer, respondents are more engaged, enjoy them more and give “better” answers. I particularly like the idea of timing respondents to give as many answers as possible within a given timeframe. This appeals to people’s competitive nature, and means they’d spend far longer on it than they normally would.

Jon Puleston of GMI at New MR Virtual Festival

The King of Shaves case study was very interesting. Rather than a 1 minute introduction for a 10 minute survey, this example reversed the process. People were given a detailed briefing on the role of a copywriter, and asked to come up with a creative slogan. In subsequent testing, seven “user-generated” ideas scored better than the advertising agency.

7. But we should be aware of the implications of survey design on data capture…

Jon’s examples showed how framing questions can improve data collection. But Bernie Malinoff warned us that even minor superficial changes to a survey can have a big impact on how people answer questions. For instance, the placement of the marker on a slider scale can heavily impact the distribution of answers.

Bernie Malinoff at the New MR Festival

Bernie also had some important lessons in survey usability – ranging from the wordiness of the questions (something I’ve been guilty of in the past) to the placement of error messages and how they can influence subsequent responses.

Surprisingly, his research found that survey enjoyment was comparable among people who did traditional “radio button” style surveys versus richer experiences, and that people were less willing to take part in future after having completed a flash-based survey.

It acts as a sobering counter-point to Jon’s presentation, but I inferred some caveats to this research (or perhaps I am only seeing what I want to see). I suspect some of the resistance to flash might be down to the “newness” of the survey design rather than a genuine preference for radio-button style surveys. Similarly, design iterations aren’t neutral – I wouldn’t mind different results so long as I felt they were “better” (and any methods to discourage survey cheaters are welcome). Nevertheless, it an important reminder that a better designed survey is only an improvement if it makes the survey more usable and easier to understand, and I completely agree with the final point that the industry should reinforce best practices for interface design.

8. …And whether they are suitable for the audience

Tom Ewing’s talk on gaming and research covered many interesting points, but the one that stuck with me is that it isn’t for everyone. As he points out, FourSquare holds little appeal to him (unless he wanted to be Mayor of his child’s nursery). Similarly, while the number of gamers is rising, it isn’t everyone and so we cannot assume that introducing interactive, exploratory or personalised experiences will automatically make respondents enjoy our surveys more.

Particularly since games design is pretty hard – Angry Birds and Farmville may look simple, but I wouldn’t expect any research agency to devise and incorporate something as addictive to their research methodologies. The latter in particular seems to purely encourage the completion of repetitive, monotonous tasks – not something that would benefit the quality of research outputs.

9. There is plenty of scope to improve beyond the debrief

John Clay talked about ways in which researchers can improve the way that debriefs are communicated. This is an area that many (too many) researchers need to improve upon, but an even more pressing area of improvement is what occurs after the debrief.  Spencer Murrell’s presentation on insight translation covered this.

Spencer Murrell at New MR Virtual Festival

Summary slides and executive summaries are important in debriefing research, but it is important to go beyond the report/presentation into a framework that can be referenced in future. Whether it is a model that can be stuck on a wall, or a cheat sheet that can be put on a post-it note, there are many creative ways in which the core findings of a project can be transformed into an ongoing reminder. Evidently, this could easily descend into a gimmicky farce, but it is important to remember that the debrief isn’t the end of the project. In many ways, it is only the end of the beginning. The next phase – actually using that information to improve the organisation – is the most important. Any ways in which researchers can add value to this stage can only improve their standing with their clients.

10. Online conferences can work

On the whole, I think the event can be viewed as a huge success. For an affordable fee ($50), I listened to many intelligent speakers on a variety of topics, as shown by both this post and the previous post.

There was also plenty of excellent discussion around the talks and the content on Twitter, using the #NewMR hashtag. I’m usually reticent to tweet during events, but given the lack of face-to-face contact and the fact I was facing my computer at the time, Twitter worked excellently as a forum to amplify the usefulness of the content presented.

An idea is one thing, but executing it is something very different. Aside from the odd technical hitch (inevitable given the volume of speakers from across the globe), the day ran impeccably. So Ray Poynter and his board deserve huge congratulations for not only the concept, but also the organisation and output of the event. I would wholeheartedly recommend people with an interest in research investigate the New MR site and list of upcoming events.

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