Big Data #1

Big Data 3Data has suddenly gotten sexy.

Data used to be considered boring. It was the domain of engineers (think protractors), organic chemists, accountants, actuarial scientists. Now, thanks to massive server farms, clever algorithms and machine learning, data has become the lifeblood of Silicon Valley and the foundation of huge personal fortunes.

To understand these changes read a recent article in the Harvard Business Review which chronicles the emergence of big data as “the sexiest job of the 21st century.” Even more telling, check out the recent TED talk below by Jameson Toole of MIT’s Human Mobility & Network Lab. The gleam in his eye speaks volumes about the irresistible allure of big data to scientists, entrepreneurs and speculators of our time.

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Empathetic By Design

Full disclosure – I’m a brand research executive and skilled in what is sometimes called “empathetic listening.” This means I’m an inveterate people watcher, instinctively put myself in others’ shoes and strive to figure out what makes people tick.

I’ve been reading up on trends in UX and brand design recently and find that an empathetic approach is highly prized at agencies as various as IDEO, frog design, Landor, and BBDO. Empathy is considered an essential component in up-front evaluation of user needs and, as well, is often leveraged in creative strategy and execution. Consider P&G’s amazing new campaign for the 2012 Olympic sponsorship, “road to glory”,  that recognizes the role played by moms in supporting their young athletes. In this work:

  • Empathetic listening drives insights that fuel creative/design strategy
  • Empathetic messaging is at the center of the executional elements celebrating the games’ unsung heroes…moms

To check out the campaign click here. And look below to see another amazing example of empathetic listening driving empathetic creative – part of a pro-bono campaign by BBDO for the Ad Council.

Moral of the story – empathy opens doors to human understanding and is an irresistible force that breaks down barriers and brings people together.

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Filed under Brand Voice, Sense of community, Thirst for knowledge

Thirst For Knowledge

God is in the details.

The existence of Higgs boson, a sub-atomic particle dubbed “the God Particle” because it explains the dynamics of mass, was confirmed on July 4th at the CERN labs outside Geneva.  Peter Higgs first proposed it in 1965, but it took an additional 47 yeas, lots of math, and a $10 billion supercollider to prove it was real. Check these links for a deeper dive:

Amazing, really. Years of struggle to confirm a scientific principle that appears to have no practical value. The Economist put it this way, “The importance of Higgs belongs to the realm of understanding rather than utility. It adds to the sum of human knowledge – but it may never change lives as DNA or relativity have.”

The moral of the story – the thirst for knowledge is a strong, motivating force in human affairs.

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Humanizing B2B

Here’s a surprising fact. At some point between the 1970s and the 1990s, the venerable AT&T brand reputation transitioned among certain audiences from “Ma Bell”… to “the death star.” Something similar transpired for Microsoft, which became widely known as “the evil empire“.

I’m not a corporate historian, but I know it has not been uncommon in recent years for large, public companies to find themselves similarly demonized. Think Enron collapse, Nike sweatshops, BP oil spill. Why?… generally it ties back to perceptions of company greed, thoughtlessness or incompetence. Regardless of ultimate culpability, our impressions are tightly linked to judgments about human motives underlying company behavior.

Enter the science of corporate reputation management and brand/messaging strategies designed to signal that company motives are pure, particularly B2B companies which are one step removed from public view. Here’s a sampling of recent B2B advertising in which employee voice-overs are used to create a softer, gentler company feel:

  • IBM – “Let’s build a smarter planet.”
  • Siemens – “No question is too tough for us to answer.”
  • FedEx – “Solutions that matter.”
  • Dow – “Together, the elements of science and the human element can solve anything.”

Heightened expectations for corporate social responsibility, combined with increased public transparency (internet, social media, 24/7 news cycles) have accelerated the race to put a human face on large B2B enterprises. But working to humanize the company in the eyes of stakeholder audiences has value beyond simply defending reputation. It signals the existence of a higher business purpose, one that can guide employees to do the right thing, help partners to engage in a spirit of true collaboration, and inspire customers/prospects to trust not only the product itself, but the intentions behind it. And trust is the glue in great long-term customer relationships.

Moral of the story here – if you are engaged in B2B business communications … be human, build trust, inspire custom.

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Liquid Content

The folks at Coca Cola have been busy reinventing their model for brand communications.

If you watched Superbowl XLVI you probably saw the newest round of Polar Bear ads. What you may not have seen was the live-streamed “Polar Bowl” which viewers could visit during the game on their “second screen” (read iPad). The response was stunning – 9 million people tuned into this parallel, virtual world to watch animated polar bears reacting real-time to the game.

This is not a one-off deal. Coca Cola actually has a master plan to create a new model for brand building. It is grounded in the concept of “liquid content” – ideas that are so captivating, so provocative, so contagious they cannot be controlled. Ultimately, Coke aims to evolve their approach from “one-way storytelling” to a “dynamic storytelling model” where the brand narrative is so compelling, it flows into the popular narrative and earns cultural capital.

Moral of the story – harness the power of liquid content for your brand!

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Shock & Awe

Guerrilla marketing is not new. But it remains an incredibly effective way to captivate consumers.

Check out the dance riot created for T-Mobile in Liverpool station in 2009 (click here). Or look below at the guerrilla campaign for TNT Network in Belgium. In both cases, marketers inserted gripping theatrical drama (brand content) into the humdrum venues of daily living. Then all hell breaks loose.

The result – hundreds of people stop in their tracks, establish an indelible memory of the brand/concept and then share it with all their friends. Eventually it goes viral thanks to Facebook and YouTube sharing.

Moral of the story – in this age of viral media, well executed guerrilla marketing can engage consumers and drive brand registration like never before.

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Filed under Brand Voice, Morbid curiosity, Risk Management