Mark Higginson

The web is a social artifact.

This short manifesto covers what I hold to be self-evident about modern marketing practices, particularly related to online activity.

This piece about how people's attention flows on the web highlights the fundamental misunderstanding that causes almost all online marketing to be ineffective.

The blog that follows consists of a series of short posts that support my arguments.


30 March 2013

We didn’t see any statistically significant relationship between our buzz and our short-term sales.

Buzzkill: Coca-Cola Finds No Sales Lift from Online Chatter

The above is a quote from Eric Schimdt of Coca-Cola at a conference last week. From my own experience this is a completely correct assessment of the situation around how brands are mentioned on the web.

Unfortunately as Coca-Cola has by now no doubt spent significant sums on investing in ‘social media’ and is one of the ‘most popular’ brands on various social platforms this is tantamount to heresy. Hence Wendy Clark, also of Coca-Cola, playing the ‘social is part of an integrated approach’ card by claiming “we’ve been able to track closed-loop sales from site exposure to in-store purchase”.

This recalls the McKinsey consumer decision journey where apparently awareness, familiarity, consideration and purchase all lead to loyalty. Of course no data is given to support any of this.

What this shows is how large businesses still lack an understanding of how people talk about things on the web. In this context ‘buzz’ implies excited discussion that is relevant in some way to the brand. It is no such thing. ‘Buzz’ is simply a keyword-matched mention that could be anything and is most likely being used in a context of very little relevance to a brand’s marketing activity.

‘In one 2010 study where Coke pulled out more than 1,000 social-media messages randomly and had human raters compare them to automated sentiment analysis by one vendor, there were widespread differences. “When we say it’s positive, the machine about 21% of the time says it’s negative,” he said. “That can cause some problems in our understanding” of how buzz impacts sales.’

Expecting an algorithm to give you context is foolish. It does not work. Inaccurately counting mentions as positive or negative tells you nothing. ‘Buzz’ cannot be directly linked to sales. Take out the spam and what you have is a background hum. If you are one of the most heavily marketed brands on the planet then that amounts to a severe case of tinnitus.

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27 March 2013

Audiences don’t want to hear an advertisement. They want to be gripped by a compelling story.

The Art and Science of Great Brand Storytelling

This post was strangely not in itself a great story. It was yet another promotional post for content marketing, in this case for a self-described ‘post-advertising agency’. The author states:

“Audiences simply have no patience for branded messages that feel like advertising. Somehow, though, when audiences are exposed to content that is valuable, entertaining, emotive and simply enjoyable — even if it’s branded — they miraculously have as much as 30 minutes to watch. Instead of folding their arms and sitting back, audiences lean forward, open up and listen, often helping spread the message to their own audiences without prompting.”

No supporting evidence is supplied beyond links to a few big-budget campaigns, that require the kind of ‘deep pockets’ the author decries. As I said in a prior post, if you claim something that is apparently commonplace on the web:

“… you should be able to show a hundred examples of you doing this exact thing and a thousand more examples of other people doing the same, all with a measurable outcome.”

If you are going to claim something works universally then show it working, repeatedly, at scale.

I don’t doubt a story can be an advert — a really great advert is a compelling story.

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22 March 2013

Twitter has turned seven years old.

Here’s my very first tweet. I didn’t tweet again until 2010 and have been removing doubt ever since.

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27 February 2013

Culture is about power dynamics, unspoken priorities and beliefs, mythologies, conflicts, enforcement of social norms, creation of in/out groups and distribution of wealth and control inside companies. Culture is usually ugly. It is as much about the inevitable brokenness and dysfunction of teams as it is about their accomplishments. Culture is exceedingly difficult to talk about honestly.

What Your Culture Really Says

Wow. The above is a from a fantastic post that questions the underlying aspects of the so-called ‘company culture’, particular the type peculiar to modern internet / technology focused businesses. I’ve even heard the phrase “we need to be more like a start-up” bandied around former workplaces, the implicit assumption being that people know what this signifies.

My focus on this blog has been mainly related to the discipline in which I work and frequently how assumptions negatively affect people’s perception of what is actually going on. An off-shoot of this stuff is the idea that ‘we’ are building a new type of business ‘culture’. It is a curious form of groupthink that claims to present an alternative when in actual fact it is an evolution of existing power dynamics.

A good example of this is the ‘leaked’ Valve employee handbook that people got very excited about in April of last year. It promises a ‘flat’ management structure, self-selection of projects, etc. A couple of weeks back Valve disposed of some staff. As some wag commented presumably these people all fired themselves?

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07 February 2013

You just reviewed your own f***ing product. Absolutely ridiculous. How stupid do you think people are?

Nokia Reviews the Nokia Lumia 620 - They like it.

Here is the original post on Nokia’s own blog that is referenced on ‘Daring Fireball’.

The ‘Conversations by Nokia’ blog is typical of the kind of misguided corporate attempt to be a content destination. I am sure this site sees significantly higher traffic than most other such places due to its subject matter being the kind of thing that riles the denizens of the internet to action but it still has the hollow ring of inauthenticity about it. Other comments on the post I refer to include:

“Unfortunately, they can be pretty stupid. But yeah, this is high on the hilarity chart.”

“You do know what Nokia did for the Video recording demo of the 920 at rollout, right?”

“Woah! I also heard that Tim Cook thinks the iPhone 5 is the best smartphone yet!”

“Great idea! Eliminate the middle man entirely, this way you don’t need to send out demo phones to all the gadget sites. Ingenious.”

“Isn’t PureView that tech where you pretend to use your phone while actually using a DSLR on a steadycam in a van?”

“This is an advertisement. It should probably say clearly at the top that it’s an advertisement.”

“None. It’s idiotic to review your own product. Nobody else does it. It’s not a Nokia blog, it’s THE Nokia blog.”

“What will really take this to the next level is when they start quoting this review in their advertising.”

“Adam Fraser - curious, did you find any negatives of Lumia 620, in the extensive time you had spent ‘reviewing’ it?”

Nokia revised the title of the post subsequent to some of the reaction:

“Note: This article was first headlined as a ‘review’, obviously, it’s more of a hands-on account of Adam’s experiences and the headline has been changed to reflect that.”

What is interesting is how earlier appalling errors of judgement, such as the Lumia 920 launch video, are brought up whenever a commenter perceives a subsequent mistake to have been made. It starts to create a perception. Of course, there is a dilemma here. You are being ‘social’ be permitting comments therefore, to avoid an even worse backlash, have to permit criticism which becomes a near-permanent record of people’s reaction.

If you believe the ‘brand advocates’ rubbish being spun by marketing agencies then this is the road you end up going down. And the farther you go, the harder it gets to manage.

To be fair though the most insulting comment received 464 up-votes and only 18 down-votes so if it is pure participation you are after this counts as a win.

I did really like MeeGo though.

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