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.


01 April 2013

NYT haiku

Times Haiku

Headlines in a handy haiku format.

Were the recently acquired Summly to summarise articles in this format I would think they were on to something. Instead I am completely puzzled as to why so much money has been spent on something that apparently does not work very well and is based on a technology licensed from someone else. I have however witnessed and been confounded by similar deals, especially on the subject of ‘big data’ so cannot say I’m surprised.

This article is good to think about: What’s Actually Wrong with Yahoo’s Purchase of Summly. The ratio of glue vs. thought is interesting to consider in regards any project.

Thing is, I generally find the title of an article to be a more than adequate summary and use RSS to stay on top of multiple sources of content. I just do not see what problem Summly is solving.

A haiku generator however… that I would pay for handsomely.

Update: I was surprised to find that the haikus keep on coming; not sure they really entirely fit the form however.

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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

It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.

— Mark Higginson (@markhgn) April 19, 2009

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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