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”.

sk

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

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Recommended reading – 30th April 2010

This week, I am mostly recommending:

Will Humphrey on the differences between PR and advertising, having now worked in planning departments for both sides

Bud Caddell presents a very thorough overview of the Theory of Planned Behaviour. Not a bad basis for questionnaire design in certain instances.

Sam Page has an excellent analysis of Jeff Francouer’s swing which shows how powerful statistical evidence and observational evidence can be when properly combined. I promise I’m not planning to post a Baseball link every week, but this is a really strong piece of work, and should be readable for all irrespective of sporting preferences.

Tom Slee’s eloquent rebuttal to Clay Shirky’s Collapse of Complex Business Models. I like Shirky as a writer, and I don’t mind the occasional extrapolation of anecdotes if they prompt further discourse and discussion, but some excellent points are raised.

Ken Auletta has a long, thought-provoking piece in the New Yorker on how Amazon versus Apple are lining up in the battle of the book business.

sk

Criteria for agency selection

According to my CIM coursebook, the following criteria should be used to shortlist agencies

  1. Area of expertise
  2. Quality of existing clients
  3. Reputation of principals and experience of staff
  4. Agency fees and methods of charging/payment
  5. In-house resources
  6. Geographical cover

While the selection of the agency should be based upon

  1. Credentials – track record and feedback
  2. Creative techniques – evidence of creativity and innovation
  3. Staff – number, tenure and experience
  4. The agency – resources, objectives, service level agreements
  5. Specialism – focus
  6. Price – clear and reasonable structure
  7. Legal – methods to ensure compliance with regulations
  8. Pitch – whether it met the requirements of the brief

The list isn’t fully comprehensive, but it acts as a reasonable guide – assuming you want to ignore slightly shadier aspects like favouritism

It can act as a useful checklist when pitching for new business. Of course, this only considers absolute performance/measures. When in a competitive pitch, the relative strengths become most important as pitching agencies are traded off against one another.

With open pitch processes, comparative advantage can be identified and relative strengths can be focused upon. With closed/opaque bids, this isn’t possible. So an agency will need to estimate where its relative and absolute strengths lie.

A good agency will have the relevant market intelligence to make a decent stab at this. A bad agency won’t. (Though of course industry fragmentation and lack of market definiton makes the potential competition so broad that it may not be possible/efficient to undertake)

Incidentally, the book also lists five key roles for an account planner (derived from Yeshin).

  1. Defining the task and bringing together the key information
  2. Preparing the creative brief
  3. Creative development, including being the “custodian” of brand values
  4. Presenting to the clients to convey concepts and defent rationale
  5. Tracking performance

The focus of this can be adjusted so that it is also applicable to researchers – on the assumption that planners/researchers play a central role throughout the project or campaign. Some people might disagree about that.

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mistersnappy/2282846520/

Increasing visibility

John recently wrote an interesting post about (good) planners being invisible.

It is a similar story for researchers. After all, aren’t planners glorified researchers? (Well, to some extent, it depends on the type of research but, generally, no.)

John suspects this inherent invisibility, coupled with a desire for recognition, is the motivation behind the many blogs and conferences. It does seem to be a particularly vibrant environment, and from it I’m even able to know the picture I’ve chosen for this post is doubly relevant.

Sadly, this is where the similarities with research end. There are notable exceptions (and I REALLY need to update my blogroll to reflect this), but vibrancy is not a word I would associate with the researchersphere, if such a thing existed. Which it doesn’t.

So why are so few researchers blogging, and even fewer researchers engaging in stimulating discussions? And why is it that research conferences are almost without fail dull and repetitive?

I suspect it may be due to the following reasons:

  • Both planning and research are a combination of ideas and execution. In planning, the former tends to be the most important but in research it is usually the latter. Ideas are harder to replicate (and get away with) than processes, so planners are more willing to share, while researchers are more protective
  • Planning will at worst cover a campaign, and at best the entire product/service direction. Research tends to be project based. It has a definite start, middle and end. There is little chance for serendipity or reaction, and less opportunity to note and act upon interesting opportunities
  • The fruits of a planner’s labour are visible for all to see. Most research is initially designed for an internal audience, who then cherrypick the story they want to tell for an external audience. This inherent, proprietary, knowledge gets locked up and never seen nor spoken of
  • There are far fewer planners than researchers (I assume, I actually have no idea on numbers), and it is a harder profession to get into. Therefore average ability and motivation is higher, fostering a vibrant environment

There are probably many more reasons, but those are just from the top of my head.

Can this be changed? In the widest research sense, probably not. But there are pockets of innovation, some truly excellent researchers and massive differences in the nature and scope of project work. So there is some hope.

On January 1st, I said I wanted to read less things, but better. I ended up switching to a more time-consuming job, so just ended up reading less. This blog also became noticeably quieter since I switched jobs, and my link updates stopped.

This coming year, I want to move more from passive to active. There may not be a researchersphere, but I want to do my part in fostering thought and debate among my readers (thank you for persevering with me) and those I read.

Jeremiah Owyang says he likes to pay himself first – he does that through his blog concentrating his thought processes and the recognition he receives for it. I’m not very good at getting up before 8am (or noon on weekends), so I’m going to try to end the week by paying myself.

That will involve more time spent not only reading but also thinking, writing and talking about things. Some things directly related to research (though these thoughts may go on the Essential blog, which currently features our 2009 Christmas awards), and other things related to media, technology and marketing. And I’m also going to try to resuscitate a truncated link update.

I wish you all a prosperous 2010

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/chaoticgood01/3786273684/

Research vs Planning

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/darkumber/

Preamble

I’ve learned a lot from reading and interacting with various blogs. But something has been bothering me for a while now.

What if it is all complete rubbish?

That’s blatantly trolling and patently not true – I read a lot of fascinating and thought-provoking posts. But the extent to which I should implicitly trust their veracity is something that is concerning me.

There are definitely zeitgeist ideas regularly repeated and regurgitated in the blogs I read. They sound sensible but what are they based upon? Thought? Fact? Data? Opinion?

As ideas are communicated, the content and context changes. This form of “peer review” is in many ways beneficial, but facts can be distorted through misreadings or assumptions.

As a quantitative researcher I deal with hard figures and base my findings upon these. Assumptions are should be anathema to what I do. However research methodologies are far from flawless and one of the more problematic attributes is that it represents behaviour or attitudes at a particular point in time.

This is only of partial benefit to strategists and planners, who need to be able to predict trends. This therefore requires a level of speculation and anticipation, but they need to be based on something. But what?

I read the blogs of many successful planners and strategists, and so they must be doing something right. But to what extent should the prevailing themes of the blogosphere be treated as gospel?

In fact, this is more of uncertainty over “social media experts” than strategists per se, but why spoil a good title…

The problem with speculation

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lolita8fotos/

This post/rant was prompted by Pew Research publishing their Future of the Internet study.

“Responding to an invitation to participate in an online survey, 578 leading internet activists, builders and commentators submitted their ideas about the impacts networked technologies may have on world societies by 2020, with an additional 618 stakeholders also participating, for a total of about 1,196 participants sharing their views”

In fairness, I haven’t read the study – it was the principle behind it that got me thinking. What were these predictions based on? As experts expressly invited, you’d imagine that their speculation would be based on some form of study and research, but to what extent should all evidence be footnoted to let us objectively assess their predictions?

Now while they are ultimately speculating, speculation from some people is better than that from others. As Mark Cahill said

“I see Social Media experts who are continually spouting the mantras of the lexicon, yet when you look at their “about me” pages (if they even have their own sites) you find they’ve never built anything.”

Despite some bloggers being well known outside of the internet, a blogger’s identity can be carefully constructed to emphasise certain areas and mask others.

On the Internet nobody knows you're a dog

The distortion effect

As ideas spread, there is the danger of turning peer review into an echo chamber. Mark Cahill also says:

“Are you really expanding the body of knowledge, or merely parroting the Internet A-listers who catch your fancy?”

What was a snappy soundbite can quickly become a buzzword and then a cliché. How many times has the word “conversation” been used in vain since The Cluetrain Manifesto was published ten years ago? How many times did we hear the word “tribes” before Seth Godin’s book came out, and how many times have we heard it since?

Social media “rockstars” aren’t all characterised by a limited vocabulary, but it is a noticeable trend.

Just because I repeat a quotation – and possibly append it to a pretty picture – does it make it correct? Is there meaning or truth behind it? What is the original context, and how does it stand up to intellectual scrutiny?

A quote can be found to back up any argument, no matter how tenuous. How do we know that the selected quote doesn’t contradict the prevailing wisdom? Chomsky does it all the time, so why can’t we?

While this exchange on the We Are Social blog takes quotes from fiction rather than from a thesis or paper, it is nevertheless a great illustration of what I am attempting to relate:

Media CzarTo quote Inigo Montoya, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Faris Yakob“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”

A house of cards

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gibbons/

Scientific knowledge extends through building theories on top of other theories. In astrophysics, very few of these can actually be proved. So if a new discovery is made that contradicts the prevailing wisdom, then the body of knowledge has to effectively regress to the point of proof.

Is our speculation in danger of being built on shaky foundations? While there is little danger of a paradigm shift that mirrors the current financial crisis, there are often missteps. Speculation frantically repeated becomes hype.

Is Twitter the new Facebook or the new Second Life? Who knows? What I do know is the amazing resilience of newspapers to continue to shape the cultural agenda. Internet society is still very much on the fringes. The various trend sites on the web point to interesting but ultimately isolated examples of new behaviour. How many times have they actually been prescient in predicting new behaviour crossing over to the mainstream? Nassim Nicholas Taleb is now regarded as a genius because he anticipated the financial crisis – should all the financial strategists and risk assessors that missed the problem retire in shame?

Snappy quotes and pretty pictures should support the evidence. They shouldn’t be the evidence.
Themes must be built on accumulation of evidence and observation. A quote or a picture may be a better way to convey the thought, but that doesn’t discount the use of appendices or footnotes to support an argument.

Speculative insight

Strategists produce (or, at least, should produce) insights. Or as Rory Sutherland more accurately puts it, ideas.

“What is the difference between an idea and an insight? My own first stab at a definition would be this. That an insight is a sudden and potentially valuable revelation concerning what is; an idea is a sudden and potentially valuable revelation concerning what might be.”

Ideas should be supported by insights, and insights should be supported by evidence. But are they?

Richard Huntingdon believes that insights come from four areas – within, “real people not respondents”, academics and “weird shit”. Academics and a surfeit of real people can produce documented evidence borne out by real behaviour, but the other two? No matter how well informed or intelligent the person might be (and my impression of Richard Huntingdon is that he is both), they still suggest speculation.

And as Nassim Nicholas Taleb has pointed out, we are pretty useless at predicting the future. Among the reasons listed in this fascinating blog post include

  • “Hindsight bias: Past events look more logical, causal and correlated than they really are… It was almost entirely good luck.
  • Vulnerability to “noise”: We are such pattern-seekers that we look for sense in the firehose of information, and find it when it isn’t there
  • The induction problem: The past always seems deterministic. We expect the future to be a continuation of the recent past… So we constantly overreact to the “latest” news (quarterly earnings reports).
  • The survivorship bias: We tend to see only the winners/survivors and lose track of the large numbers of losers.
  • The anchoring bias: Our perception of where we are is biased by where we have come from. If we have a million dollars after living our lives poor, we think we are rich. But if we once had two million, we feel poor, a failure.

Because of these biases, we are, he argues, very poor at assessing risks. I would say we are equally poor at assessing opportunities because of these same biases.”

Where’s the research?

Is research the answer? A mixture of quantitative analysis and qualitative ideas that can be extrapolated to predict the future?

If we believe in the Donnie Darko theory of time travel and path dependent lives then sure.

But I don’t.

Going back to what Rory Sutherland says

“Most conventional research, by coating everything in a patina of rationality, completely fails to uncover the baser (and hence deeper) motivations behind human behaviour.”

Crowdsourcing opinions of future behaviour won’t produce accurate results. We are good at understanding our current behaviour, but not so good at understanding our current motivations for that behaviour. So how on earth can we know what our future motivations will be?

The synthesis

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/panamaxel/

We therefore need to combine both strategic thoughts and research. For all the evidence we may accumulate, it still needs that eureka moment to anticipate how it relates to the future. These ideas are still not guaranteed success, but it may get us closer to the truth than pure guesswork or pure facts.

As Jeremy Bullmore wrote in his absolutely brilliant “Why is a Good Insight Like a Refrigerator?”

“Conventional market research, professionally conducted, can paint an invaluable picture of the immediate past; but companies also need help in forging their futures… To generate hypotheses you need to speculate: you need to progress from the known to the unknown. But you cannot paint the future in the colours of the past… The origins of an insight are usually to be found in numbers. That’s how we know an insight to be more than airy whim; that’s how we know it has substance; that it can be tested and replicated.”

We may not be able to make predictions with 100% accuracy, but we can evaluate our past predictions. An idea or insight needs to be both provable and measurable. To stand up to scrutiny, it needs to be able to be pulled apart and assessed. The alchemy of inspiration and perspiration.

Conclusion

Planning should be based in research. But equally research has plenty to learn from the strategy side. Data that is only accurate at a single point in time dates quickly – researchers can extend the life of their work by searching for these ideas that move our industries forward.

That’s my opinion anyway. But what’s my opinion based on?

Conjecture. In this post I have made several arguments with carefully selected illustrations and quotes. Where is the data and the proof that my opinion is valid?

Is this just how blogs work? Are blogs just arenas to speculate and should I not read too much into the content? After all, would any client sign off a campaign idea based solely on what someone read in a blog?

Or perhaps I have just missed my calling? This blog is packed full of febrile speculation – what sort of researcher am I?

sk

Buying online advertising alongside TV

Over the last few months, I’ve visited a lot of media agencies (nearly all of the bigger ones) with my presentation on online video on demand.

The overwhelming theme that has emerged from the presentations is that there is very little information on VOD out in the market, and that agencies are desperate for knowledge on the format.

Today’s announcement doesn’t help matters.

With such a new format, uncertainty is inevitable. Even in agency structure, it is apparent that no consensus has yet emerged. In some companies, VOD is bought by TV people; in some it is bought by digital people; in others a new team has been created specifically for the format.

Different structures lead to different conversations and different outlooks.

My number one recommendation – no matter what the set up – is for digital, TV and VOD guys (they may be the same people; they may not be) to be in continual conversation with one another.

This is because TV and VOD complement one another.

In simplistic terms, online catch-up increases reach and additional made for broadband content increases frequency/immersion/engagement.

Online doesn’t work against TV; it isn’t independent. It is positively correlated.

Furthermore, as different platforms, the advertising is consumed differently. TV is about mutual viewing and simultaneous consumption and conversation. Online is about opt-in and a high level of involvement. Reach and attention.

Therefore, those that are booking TV well in advance should look to online as a means of adding to the campaign – either incrementally or through deeper engagement.

Whichever the aim, money shouldn’t be redirected from TV to online. Campaigns shouldn’t be spread thinner. Incremental spend is required to accumulate the benefit.

Buy catch-up to increase reach. Buy made for broadband content to increase frequency and tap into the most engaged advocates of a show.

Not all agencies have this overarching level of communication across their buying teams. They should.

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/davidclow/

PS I’m here this weekend, so there won’t be a link update.

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Links – 3rd August 2008

Since getting back from holiday, I’ve bookmarked a lot of stuff to read. Over the weekend, I finally caught up. At least until the next interruption to my finely honed grazing schedule.

Further link posts to appear over the coming days but today

Marketing and Media

Old media deathrace 5000 (Mashable) – very interesting analysis on the future of old media. My opinion is that TV will remain the central point of the media experience, but that it may be “web powered”

Should TV be margins or ratings? (Huffington Post)

Overview of the long tail debate between Chris Anderson and Anita Elberse (Slate)

Nielsen data shows people still prefer the TV set to the computer (Marketing Charts)

New IMMI survey data says that half of online TV viewers are using it as a replacement for traditional viewing (I’m yet to read the full report, but I assume it is an “ever” rather than “always” answer)

Tess Alps of Thinkbox responds to accusations of declining advertising audiences (Guardian) – a tough crowd but you can’t really find fault in her argument. Audiences are fragmenting, which is an issue, but total viewing does appear to be increasing

Bob Garfield predicts chaos for the TV industry (Advertising Age)

How the dip sits between the head and the long tail (Seth Godin)

Ever increasing levels of product placement (New York Times) – with Fox News taking it to the next level

Sega’s Game Gear adverts in Viz from the early 1990s (UK Resistance) – I like these; it shows the brand addressing the media it is advertising in

ANA Marketing Insights May 08 (Slideshare presentation) – a very useful resource

The power of FREE! (Neuroscience Marketing)

Notes on the 40 years of planning event (Brand Republic)

Dealing with analysts – funny Slideshare from RedMonk

A very engaging slideshare presentation on Content Marketing from Helge Tenno

Lucy Barrett on dying brands (Guardian) – I suppose this is the stage before they come back zombified

24 unforgettable advertisements (Toxel) – funny mix of outdoor and experiential

The six laws of customer experience e-book (Experience Matters)

Songs about brands (Guardian)

Some very high quality posts in there, but the three I would recommend most highly are Old media deathrace 5000Bob Garfield predicts chaos for the TV industry and A very engaging slideshare presentation on Content Marketing

The forthcoming link posts will be:

Monday – Internet and Business

Tuesday – Useful and Interesting (to me, at least)

Wednesday – Miscellaneous

Thursday/Friday – back to the regular schedule

I’ll even try and fit a “content post” into the mix

sk