The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]


Be Interested In What Others Are Interested In …

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been invited to speak at a couple of conferences – in Hamburg, for the APG, and at ‘Closeness’ in London.

In both cases, I was asked to talk about the importance about empathy – something I’ve been banging on about for centuries.

And in both cases, I felt the best way to do it was to talk through the lens my Mum had taught me … which is the title of this post.

For an industry that is supposed to understand people, I’m surprised how few seem to really understand what that means.

Rather than understand hopes, dreams, fears, ambitions and contradictions … it seems we prefer to focus on the bits that are relevant to our business needs, without seemingly realizing the important role context plays in shaping how we live.

If you don’t get context, you don’t get people … and you don’t get context without investing time.

Not focus groups.

Not ethnographic studies.

But an on-going commitment to going down the rabbit hole of people’s lives to understand how they live and the nuances that separate each and every one of us.

You can’t do this if you want to ‘fast forward’ to the bits you have pre-determined will be useful to you.

You can’t do this if you want convenient answers to ‘sell your campaign’.

You can’t do this if you want answers rather than understanding.

This last point is especially important.

Frankly, understanding is becoming a lost art.

Understanding is built on emotional connection, not intellectual.

Where you leave your prejudices, barriers, filters, expectations and hopes at the door and focus. Asking questions to understand more about what someone is saying than to get the answers you want to your specific challenge.

It’s hard.

It takes real practice.

Because while you may appreciate every person has a story … it can only truly be revealed if you let them do it in their own way, in their own time, in their own words. Which means you might end up hearing things that makes no sense to you, even though it makes perfect sense to them … and while that might not initially seem valuable, you’ll soon realise it’s immense.

But all this takes time.

And takes a real commitment.

However it lets you go back with knowledge that enables you to make work that feels like it was born from inside the culture rather than from a bunch of observers.

Work that is filled with the nuances that makes the audience take notice.

Care.

React to.

Feel respect towards because it shows respect to them.

Or said another way …

Work that is resonant to culture rather than just relevant.

And it all starts by being interested in what others are interested in.

Not for commercial gain, but because you are interested in who people are.

It’s why my Mum is still teaching me how to live, 4 years after she has gone.

And now she is teaching others too.

Thank you Mum.

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The Difference Between Design And Creativity …

As I’ve written many times, I am a huge, huge fan of design.

Frankly, I have seen more great things come from the design community in the past few years than advertising.

Of course there has been some great advertising, but in terms of solving problems in magical ways, the design industry seems to be more progressive than a lot of adland.

Part of that is that is because a lot of adland believes their job is to make ads to solve problems rather than embracing the possibilities of creativity … however I recently saw something that reminded me the difference between great design and great creativity.

Good isn’t it?

Captures the pain, sadness and horror of the terrorist attack in New Zealand in such a gentle, tender, authentic way.

You see what this work tells me is that while great design communicates a single thought with great clarity, great creativity communicates a 1000 feelings with great emotion.

As much as we need more great design, we also need more great creativity in our lives too.

That’s down to us.

What we do. What we fight for. What we protect.



What If We’re Wrong …

One of the things that bothers me is how data [in marketing] has become law.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of data – or should I say, real data that has been amassed properly, read properly and used properly – but a lot of the stuff today is nothing more than small bits of information packaged to be big bits of information.

Worse, a lot of it has no texture whatsoever … designed to reinforce a position someone wants rather than to inform and enlighten on things you don’t know but would like to find out.

But even then, data is not infallible.

There, I said it.

Data is as good as the people who created it.

And yet day after day, I read about companies who treat their data like its god … even though you can see the flaws in their approach from 10,000 miles away.

From what they’re trying to discover.

To how they’re trying to discover it.

To what they want to do with it once they’ve got it.

No surprise then that so many then go on to report ‘lower than expected’ revenues.

I’m lucky that I work at a place with a progressive view of data, especially with the way we use our Ventures program.

But in addition to that, I work with an amazing data specialist.

She’s cheeky sod who is a bloody legend.

Not just for what she does but for what she pushes.

A believer in the role of culture not just habits.

But another part of her skill is that she knows what data does and what data doesn’t.

Data guides.

It heavily suggests.

It shines a light on important and essential behaviours.

It forces discussions about how best to approach situations.

But it rarely is undisputed, unquestionable, always certain, fact.

To be honest, I believe most people in the marketing field of data knows this but – as is the case with most things in marketing – we go around talking in certainties in an attempt to raise our professional standing when all it does is the opposite.

Hey, I get it, we see it being done in so many fields – from government to finance – but that still doesn’t mean it makes people believe what we’re saying, it just makes us complicit.

The reality is society is far smarter than we give them credit for. The only reason they let so much of this rubbish pass is because they literally don’t care what we say. They have seen so many facts that turned into fiction that they view what we do as literally a game … which is why, while data and strategy still play an important part in making creativity that helps brands move forward, the most powerful differentiator between ideas that culture sees and culture give a shit about is how interesting, intriguing and exciting it is.



Service Without The Script …

I’ve written a lot about customer service over the years.

Or specifically, bad customer service.

And the ironic thing is the worst examples tend to be organisations who literally say they’re in the ‘service industry’.

I suppose that’s why I loved how Claridge’s hotel train customer service to their staff – especially their belief in moments of stubbornness – because while they set incredibly high standards and ways to deal with situations, they always leave room for their staff to act in ways they feel is in their guests best interests … even if their guests don’t realise it yet.

And for me, that’s where customer service becomes it’s most powerful.

Where it moves from service to care.

Not just in terms of the obvious things, but reading between the lines.

Where it goes beyond just anticipation, but true consideration for the other party.

In many ways, it’s the ultimate demonstration of loyalty …

Not expecting it from your audience and instead, providing it to them in return.

Proof that they matter.

Proof that they care.

Proof they need each other.

Recently I saw an amazing example of this.

Surprisingly it came from a Chief Executive Officer.

More surprisingly, it came from a Chief Executive Officer of a football club.

And even more surprising than that, it came from the the youngest Chief Executive Officer in the entire football league.

Now to be fair, it’s the CEO of Barnsley Football Club … a club that is known for how much it values its community and fans.

But even that doesn’t quite capture what Gauthier Ganaye – the Barnsley CEO – did.

Read the letter below … then next time you’re with a client who talks about customer service or social listening, show them it and ask them how they’re going to demonstrate how much they value their audience, rather than just saying it in their corporate mission statement.

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PS: For the record, he – nor Barnsley – promoted this, the receiver was the one who made sure this act of loyalty, compassion and service got to a bigger audience.



6 More Steps To Content Creation, Not Garbage Collection …

So following on from yesterday’s post about how to create content that people actually want to watch rather than run away from, here are the remaining 6 lessons.Remember, they’re not from me, but from a friend of a friend who started a YouTube channel [Kyra.TV] last year that has turned them into one of the most interesting and fastest-growing content creators in London.

Be grateful for that, because this is my version of good content.

Here.

Here.

And Here.

Exactly. Now settle down for the remaining 6 points.

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LESSON SEVEN: This audience loves ‘YouTubers’

When we first started making content for Youtube, I confess we used to turn our noses up at the “YouTubers”.

We learnt that made us idiots.

We couldn’t understand why young people loved them so much and just put it down to one of the mysteries of the internet.

Your Jake Pauls

Your PewdiPies

Your David Dobriks

Your Zoellas

We had watched some of their content, we thought we understood it and we made our minds up. We assumed their audiences came from getting to the platform first and I can’t tell you how wrong we were and how much respect I have for them and their teams now.

What we’ve come to understand over the past year is that some of these creators are nothing shy of complete genius. They are media powerhouses with intricate and refined strategies that are driving levels of engagement never seen before in our industry.

Take Logan Paul.

Say you what you want about the controversy, let’s look at the facts.

In December he generated 320 million video views.

He creates a 15 minute TV Show every single day.

Even his dog has 3.4m Instagram followers and generates 500,000 likes per post …

Let’s take another example.

KSI gained more subscribers than Complex, Vice, Buzzfeed and Vox COMBINED in the last 30 days.

These are some of the most innovative people in the media industry and unlike the past, they’re beginning to realise it as well and are now beginning to seriously monetise it. Every media house in the world right now should be paying attention to them, watching and learning from them every single day.

I know we are.

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LESSON EIGHT: This audience listens to and values people over brands

Leading on from that point …

Since the dawn of media, individuals and influencers have always been at the forefront of entertainment.

Think David Beckham, the Spice Girls, Gordon Ramsay …

Beforehand these figures needed media owners to reach their audiences but today that is definitely not the case.

The Kardashians … the Paul brothers… these are people and media giants rolled into one.

Just two months ago Will Smith started vlogging and has already amassed a huge audience of close to 1 million subscribers on his channel.

I’ve learnt that this generation expects to connect with influencers directly, and if you can facilitate that connection, you will win.

A lot of our business strategy at Kyra is centred around putting people at the forefront of our content proposition.

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LESSON NINE: Your audience is a manifestation of the content you produce

This one is glaringly obvious, but I find it pretty interesting.

If the content you publish is negative, you will breed an audience fuelled by negativity. Haters in the comments. Low sentiment ratios.

If your content is positive, uplifting, inspirational, aspirational, you’re likely to receive the same response from the audience.

If your audience is intelligent and thoughtful, you will see intelligent, thoughtful people gravitating towards it.

And so on, and so on…

It sounds obvious, but for me it was somewhat of a revelation.

In a world where so much is reliant on the kind of audience you attract, this has been a key factor to our success with advertisers and has a huge impact on the kind of content we produce every day.

The proof is out there, go and have a look at video publishers and their comments, I think you’ll agree that their audiences are a direct mirror of what they put out into the world.

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LESSON TEN: Long term value comes from consistent and regular programming

When we first started, we were constantly hunting for a viral hit … the mythical unicorn of the internet that everyone strives for.

But after creating and publishing hundreds of pieces of content consistently for a year, the question I am still asking myself is “does it really build long term value?”

I’m unconvinced.

The conclusion I’ve come to is that what will ultimately win, is creating quality content CONSISTENTLY and incrementally building a passionate army of fans that are unwavering in their loyalty and affinity to your brand, channel or content.

I’d take 200 videos with positive, steady growth over one big Gangnam Style hit any day.

What I’ve basically learnt is: viral hits do not build community and that is essentially all that matters.

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LESSON ELEVEN: This audience has REAL spending power

So many Brand Managers ask me ‘but how much money do these young people really have?’

For PAQ, we set up a Pop Up shop in London and put out some posts online the day before inviting them to come down and check out the shop.

Now to put this in perspective… I had no fucking idea what was going to happen. Up until this point, everything … the followers, the comments, the engagements were just pixels on a screen, ones and zeros.

So I was 100% ready to turn up the next day and find a ghost town.

Well at 7am we had 100 people already queuing outside the shop.

At 9am when we opened it was up to around 500, lines of people queuing around the corner to meet the people they watch every week on our show.

People flew in from Germany, Sweden and even Malaysia just to come to the shop.

My learnings from this were so valuable:

This audience has access to money and they are very much REAL.

I learnt that digital audiences can transcend into real world purchases very easily.

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LESSON TWELVE: Length doesn’t matter to the audience, it matters to the advertiser

I remember when we started producing content, speaking to dozens of people to try and understand what length our videos should be.

So many people told me so many different things.

But here is what I’ve worked out myself over the past 6 months:

It doesn’t matter if your video is 30 seconds, 5 minutes or half an hour.

If the content is good, the audience will watch it.

We have the same view through rates across our content, no matter what the length.

However, the length of the content is very, very important when it comes to making effective branded or sponsored content.

The bottom line is this: The longer you can engage an audience, the more right you have to show them an advertiser’s message.

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Again, there may be stuff in here you knew and stuff you disagree with … but I personally found all this stuff interesting.

The key – as is the case for all successful communication – is know your audience.

Not in terms of just what they do, or where they do it … but why.

That little thing that seems to have fallen out of vogue and yet in the right hands, can still make the difference between good and great.

Of course, the ‘why’ – or the other name for it, insight – isn’t good enough on its own.

For it to really unleash its power you need creative people who are given the time and space to explore, experiment and just be creative … and yet it appears to me that the approach favored by most people in addend – and their clients – is to only make content they want their audience to like rather than what their audience actually wants to watch.

As I wrote ages ago, engagement is not about relevance, but resonance.

Of course, it always used to be that way.

It’s why kids loved Beavis and Butthead but adults hated it … to name one out of a thousand possible examples.

But somewhere along the line, the networks started to focus on scale – meaning they made shows designed to appeal to as many people as possible. Hence we got juggernauts like Friends – shows that were kind-of relevant to everyone without being specific to someone.

This was fine until the internet came.

Then choice was handed back to us.

No longer did we have to put up with the general interest, mainstream TV … suddenly we could choose the things that reflected us.

Our individual tastes, interests, viewpoints.

The content creators who are making things that are changing things get this.

They know their audience and they double down on it.

The content creators who are making rubbish like that Nescafe ‘thing’ that caused this whole stream of posts, don’t.

If adland and clients really want to have a position in culture, then the thing they need to get back to doing is knowing their audience … not in terms of a demographic or even a psychographic … but really know who they are, what they do, what they hate etc etc, because while ‘appealing to everyone’ may sound good to the board of directors, it doesn’t really work then that means you mean nothing to no one.



How To ‘Content Create’ Without It Being The Stuff Should Be ‘Dustbin Content’ …

A few months ago I wrote a post about the shit that passes for ‘branded content’ these days.

Well after reading it, my friend King Adz [global street art/fashion expert, author, film director] sent me something a friend of his had written about how to make good content.

His friend has a right to do this because he started a YouTube channel last year that has turned him into one of the most interesting and fastest-growing content creators in London.

They’ve done a streetwear show [PAQ] and a food show [Bad Canteen] all aimed and consumed by the youth and from these experiences, he has identified twelve pointers for creating credible and infectious youth content.

To make sure this post isn’t the longest post in the history of this blog, I’m, going to split it into 6 today and 6 tomorrow.

I know, I’m so kind.

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LESSON ONE: Be Transparent

The first thing we learnt when we tried to make money and integrate brands into our content was this audience doesn’t mind being advertised to. They are smart and they enjoy consuming content. They understand that the content doesn’t make itself and it isn’t cheap aden they understand the pay-off.

Because of this, don’t try and fool them. You will get called out.

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LESSON TWO: YouTube is a direct substitute for TV

In the same way I would come home when I was younger and switch on the TV and binge on Nickelodeon or MTV until I got called for dinner, this generation is doing exactly the same thing.

They finish school, college, work … they come home they open their smartphone or laptop and sit in front of it until they are either told to turn it off by their parents or it’s time for bed.

The behaviour is identical.

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LESSON THREE: But the content isn’t the same as TV

Yes, consumers’ behaviour may be the same as TV behaviours, but the content that they’re consuming is completely different.

Content on YouTube doesn’t need to look like TV content to be successful.

In fact, one thing we’ve learnt is that in some cases it’s quite the opposite. Some of the most successful channels are self shot.
Self shot, hand held and more vloggy style content has a feeling of intimacy and authenticity that TV never offered its viewers.

That’s not to say that high production can’t work, we just learnt not to overlook the intimacy that this generation desires from content.

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LESSON FOUR: This audience wants to be entertained

Dude Perfect, The Slo Mo Guys, Lele Pons…

What’s their commonality?

They are all centred around humour and entertainment.

Exactly like TV.

We have to realise, 90% of people are watching it to kill some time, wind down a bit and escape their day-to-day life.

If we are being honest with ourselves, YouTube audiences respond best to lighthearted entertainment. Making meaningful, purpose-led content is great but there’s nothing to be ashamed about in creating content that simply entertains.

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LESSON FIVE: This audience left Facebook ages ago

Look I don’t have anything concrete in terms of statistics to back this up.

And honestly it’s just my experience.

I work with hundreds of young people every single week and I can categorically tell you that I have not spoken to one in the past year that actually uses Facebook.

NOT ONE.

There’s lots of industry speculation right now around this subject and the potential decline. I just want to say from my real world experience, that for this audience Facebook is long gone.

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LESSON SIX: Instagram is LIFE

In the same vein as the last point, this is also my personal experience.

But Instagram is by far the most powerful social media network the world has ever seen.

Speaking to these young people, it is jaw dropping how much weight is put on Instagram by this generation.

The Instagram profile [hard posts] is the definition of a person’s identity.

Instagram stories are an ephemeral window into a person’s life, in a slightly less controlled, more organic way.

Followers and likes are a direct measure of how relevant, popular and important somebody is. And look, I’m not here to pass judgement on if this is good or bad, but I will say to everyone reading this: take note, Instagram is a really, really big deal and it’s so much deeper than just posting photos.

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So there’s the first six …

Some you may know, some you may question but some may give you food for thought.

Remember this is specifically around youth orientated content, but for all the expertise out there, it’s funny how the most popular social content has not come from anyone in our industry.

Maybe this 2011 video from PHD can shed some light on that …



Conversational Icebergs …

One of the things I am continually amazed at, is how few people know how to listen.

By that I don’t mean they’re not hearing the conversation, they’re just taking it all on face value.

The older I get, the more I have realised professional conversations are like icebergs.

What’s actually being said is often under the surface … clues, hints, admissions.

As someone once told me, people speak in words that are often designed to protect themselves rather than reveal themselves – and yet, if you listen really carefully – you can sense what is trying to be said … what they want you to really ask.

Police interrogators get this more than anyone.

Their ability to listen – and read visual cues – is what helps them solve their cases … whether that’s people who don’t want to be committed of a crime or people who are finding it hard to admit a crime has happened.

Subtext is everywhere.

It’s part of the reason I loved living and working in China, because everything had meaning.

To be quite honest, the easiest way to separate the people who appreciated Chinese culture and those who pretended to was to test their ability to read the invisible conversation that was going on during the conversation.

That or if they continually mentioned Confucius.

The ability to listen – and visually focus – is an incredible skill.

It lets you ask better questions.

It lets you discuss subject matters others may be finding hard to open up about.

It lets you judge situations through the context of the other parties body language.

It’s something rarely talked about in planning when – in many ways – it is the embodiment of planning, however it is also very easy to get trapped into.

Where you think nothing said is the truth.

Because if you think that way you’re doubley doomed – not just because there’s no way you can understand what someone is trying to communicate if you don’t listen to what they’re saying, but because the temptation would be to invent the subtext you want it to be and then you’re going to be in an even worse position than if you just took everything on face value.

As author Margaret Millar once said, “Don’t be one of those people who get so obsessed with what is being said between the lines that you don’t read the lines”.