14th November 13
Posted in strategy
Authors: Jim Carroll, Chairman & Nick Fell, Strategy Director, BBH London
The Marketing World is in awe of tech brands.
It has visited the Valley, gathered at the Googleplex. It has listened to their leadership and consumed their case studies. It has invited them in for partnerships, hangouts and huddles. It has adopted their products, processes, principles and patter. It has acquired their interior design, appropriated their casual clobber.
But has the Marketing World learned how to talk like a tech brand? Is there an underlying assumption that tech brands can teach us how to behave, but not how to communicate? An ongoing suspicion that the engineer-led cultures of tech brands don’t quite ‘get’ communication?
We suspect the Marketing World has a long held, deep rooted belief that tech brands obsess too much about their own product and experiences; that they’re introverted.
Tech brands may make cool products, but they’re not so hot on insights and benefits, emotions and humanity. They don’t understand empathy. And whilst tech brands revel in the complex, coded and arcane, they’re not schooled in single-mindedness and sacrifice. They don’t know how to drill down or ladder up. They may get big data, but they don’t get big ideas.
So for all their many virtues, there’s not much the Tech World can teach the Marketing World about communication. Or so the conventional wisdom goes.
But conventional wisdom may actually be an albatross around our necks. This same wisdom tends to create a convergent mush of mood board marketing, a farrago of facile insights and shallow lifestyle posturing. Modern brands from all sectors would do well to look properly, not just at how tech brands behave, but at how they communicate.
Let’s consider a few themes.
1. Pride in product
Tech brands spend the vast majority of their time and energy in the pursuit of innovation; creating astounding products is their main obsession. There is always something new to say, whether it’s a big breakthrough or a modest upgrade. Which is why their communications are so firmly rooted in product truth.
This might be considered old-fashioned in a world of purpose-led brand building. But it provides a refreshing break from the pseudo-insights, hyperbole and overly-elaborate ideas which fill much of today’s communications landscape.
2. UX meets advertising
User experience has been defined as “the totality of an end-users’ perceptions as they interact with a product or service” (Kuniavsky, 2010).
Tech brands employ user experience design to create products which we love to use, but the influence of UX is also clear to see in how tech brands talk.
Thinking in terms of “end-users”, not audiences, means the usability of the communication is given primary importance. The result is often a visual language which is clean, precise and with plenty of white space (more on the rise of “flat design” in Adam’s post here). Tech brands also use as few words as possible to meaningfully make the point. This type of communication is disruptive precisely because it respects our desire for space and time.
3. Narrative through product
Tech brands cannot rely exclusively on the elegant delivery of product truth to succeed.
As in all other categories, communications which evoke an emotional response help brands to create affinity and preference. However, tech brands do not treat emotional and rational approaches to communications as mutually-exclusive, like oil and water. Instead they intimately combine the two; using the product as a medium to weave rich and emotionally-engaging narratives.
For example, telling the story of a teenager building a media empire through interactions on a web browser in BBH’s Google Chrome campaign or showing a dramatic rescue through a GoPro camera attached to a fireman’s helmet.
4. Cultural collaboration
Conventionally, brands employ celebrities as a means to gain attention and credibility. These are often one-dimensional, transactional relationships.
Tech brands, on the other hand, enter into genuine partnerships with individual and institutional players in culture with the aim of creating something fresh and interesting for the world to explore. Google and Arcade Fire, Samsung and David Bailey and Intel and Vice are all examples of this.
In these relationships, both parties have a part to play; the cultural collaborator is the “cool kid” to the tech brand’s “geek” persona, bringing creativity and humanity to code and hardware.
When the most innovative tech brands work with the foremost tastemakers, the result can be an irresistible combination of science and art, left brain and right brain, intelligence and magic.
5. Built-in marketing
With the previous themes, we have considered the unique way in which tech brands talk in their marketing communications.
But tech brands are also highly skilled at building marketing directly into their products. When we use Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and SnapChat, we also promote them. For example, to access my friend’s pictures on WhatsApp, I have to download the app. This built-in network effect means that WhatsApp has grown to over 350m unique monthly users, with 400m photos being shared every day. All of this without any significant marketing investment.
So, let’s not just admire the Tech World’s innovative culture, agile processes and beautiful products. Let’s embrace their very particular perspective on communication. It’s a perspective that could perhaps lead us out of some of the cul de sacs of contemporary marketing. Whatever business we’re working with, in whatever sector, shouldn’t we all consider talking like a tech brand?
16th September 13
Posted in Creativityforgood
Author: Nicolas Jayr, Team Manager, BBH London
Could your career do with a one-on-one mentoring session from Sir Nigel Bogle?
Or do you have a speech (or resignation letter!) that needs copywrangling by multiple award winning copy legend David Kolbusz?
Or maybe your profile could benefit from an audit from BBH’s top social media strategists?
These are just three of the dozens of unique experiences that will be auctioned or offered as lottery prizes as part of the CITYofGOOD project. Other items available include a wine tasting session with BBH founder (and vineyard owner) Sir John Hegarty, a racing top signed by Usain Bolt and a portfolio review from BBH Executive Creative Director Nick Gill.
All money raised goes to support Brazil NGO Grupo Ruas e Pracas and is part of The International Exchange initiative which brings together communication professionals and NGOs working in developing countries.
You’ve got until 10 October to decide which fantastic experience you want to bid for and make your offer. Follow @bbhcityofgood for updates and good luck!
Nicolas is heading to Recife (North-East Brazil) in November as part of the TIE initiative to work with NGO Grupo Ruas e Pracas, whose mission is to empower children and adolescents living on the streets through an educational process based on street education.
9th August 13
We live for our holidays, and yet sorting them out has become a self-service chore. So it didn’t feel right to just tell people that British Airways *do* holidays, we wanted to deliver on their brand promise to serve, by creating an experience that actually helps people to plan their perfect break.
We talked about how holiday planning begins with a picture in your head, and it’s these images that resonate emotionally – when people pick up a guide book they go straight for the photos pages. This made us think – wouldn’t it be good to make a tool that stimulates the senses and imagination, helping you plan your holidays with just your eyes?
Coming up with the idea of choosing your holiday through pictures was relatively quick, but the biggest challenge was executing it in a simple, functional and pleasing way. We explored a few options with different levels of interactivity. One involved asking people a series of visual questions, another was a sort of ‘paint by numbers’ – but both these seemed to add an unnecessary layer onto a very simple idea. This exploration made us realise that we should use as few words as possible and make the most intuitive experience we possibly could.
The tool simply needed to read image choices, then suggest bespoke holiday options to match. This felt like a new way to inspire and buy a holiday in itself. And that’s where the name came from: ‘Picture Your Holiday”.
The soul of the experience was always going to be in the animation and interaction – no amount of beautifully designed stills could bring it to life – so in order to ‘see’ this we had to prototype the build. Moving quickly to prototype gave us a number of advantages – it helped focus the team, which unearthed the key interaction challenges very early on. This proved to be cost effective and allowed us more time to really think hard about solutions.
We were able to explore the tool across mobile and tablet simultaneously, adapting the development branch so that each was optimal but largely from the same code base. Which in turn meant the interactive six sheets at Westfield are essentially running the same version of the tool that works in your browser. Added effort early on made for a much more effective roll-out towards the end of the project.
There was also a great sense of excitement at the point where we shared it with the client, they could see for themselves the simplicity and delight in the idea. We were then able to do real world guerrilla user testing with the prototype to get feedback and roll it into the iterative dev cycle. Several recurring key findings changed our approach, one of those being the labelling of buttons.
As the prototype evolved into what would become the final tool, parallel activity to develop ‘campaign ideas’ were set aside. We realised that the product WAS the campaign and the concertina of beautiful images would become the key visual for all communications platforms.
Behind the elegant interface is a data driven system for all device types. We created a spreadsheet of attributes for each destination and then assigned a value to each. It was then exported as a JSON file, means that the whole thing can still be updated easily, should BA wish to add new holiday destinations, by simply deploying a new file to the cloud.
The end result is something which feels elegant, inspiring and fun to use.
21st June 13
I must have been around five or six when I at least subconsciously realised that my dad worked for ‘a brand’.
Taxiing through Schipol yesterday I saw the iconic KLM logo everywhere and it was for the Dutch airline, with its consistently modern, clean, emblematic branding, that my dad worked.
As children my sister and I saw plenty of that logo. On company Christmas cards and letterheads that lay around our home. On the multilayered paper tickets (always standby, always a nervy adventure) that took us away to places I now realise were exotic destinations in the 70s. And everywhere in the office at Heathrow, where we sometimes spent the day with Dad at work, in the dog days of the summer holidays.
And so yesterday it struck me that my taste in design might hark back to those days, to that logo. The simple morse-like arrangement of cross, over four dots over long dash. The discreetly powerful, squatly confident KLM in Noa Light. An imprinting of intelligent, stylised, corporate identity leading to a fondness for deliberate, thoughtfully bland urbanity. An interest in unplaces. The appreciation of the aesthetics of the shipping container and transport logistics hubs. Digitally rendered fictional suburbia. Street view art.
And taxiing through Schipol I thought about this. And this small thought, the memories, speak to the power of good design and branding and how a logo, assuredly deployed, can imprint itself on a person and shape them, years later, like a paternal hand from the past.
29th May 13
I spent a wonderfully stimulating day at Kill Screen Magazine’s Two5Six conference recently – a chance to listen to some smart thinkers and practitioners from the independent games scene talk about their ideas, their projects and the wider gaming & cultural landscape.
Game folk and advertising folk have much in common; their powerful interest in user/consumer motivation; the importance of design as a tool of differentiation; a shared vocabulary around community management, UX and behavioural economics; a belief that ‘problem solving’ lies at the heart of what they do.
But an exchange at two5six did force me to consider whether there were also some fundamental differences between us – maybe even a wholly different world-view.
I was telling the game designer next to me about my son who, aged nine, spends quite a bit of time designing and playing games on his computer. While the Labs Dad in me is keen to nurture this, I did twitch when I saw this post on his tumblr.
Two minutes after describing this common modern family issue, I saw a twitter @ message.
This struck me as a wonderfully elegant solution to ‘a problem’, and a solution that is most unlikely to have come from an advertising mind. Our instinct is to accentuate the positive and sell the benefit. We’d have looked for an emotional product demonstration, the product being a beautiful spring day. We might have tried inventing a new game that could only be played outdoors. We might have partnered with an ice-cream firm to exchange cones for game cartridges. But creating ‘more fail’ when the sun shines brightly? An idea that could only come from the delightfully twisted mind of a game developer.
There’s lots to learn from gamer types. They know UX, they know behavioural economics, they know problem solving. But most of all they understand failure in all its glory. Its power to motivate and drive behaviour. Its ability to throw into relief even the smallest triumphs. That overcoming a thousand tiny failures sometimes beats a single big win. That perhaps fail alone can get a young gamer out of the living room on a sunny day.
28th March 13
Posted in reads
(Massive Printer, film by Newspaper Club)
Yes, we snack, we graze, we nibble, we heartily partake of the morsels, the canapés of content offered our way on the trays of twitter, google reader (sob) and flipboard. But sometimes it’s nice to loosen our belts, turn off the stream and get stuck into a something a little more filling. So, here are some of the longer reads that have sated our appetites recently, instapapered for your mobile reading pleasure.
““I felt a disturbance in the Force, as if millions of geeks were shocked in an instant,” tweeted one ecstatic fan boy the day the news broke. It was a common refrain. The fans, too, had watched what happened when Disney bought Pixar and Marvel and many felt that the company could be trusted with R2-D2 and Princess Leia. “Their handling of the Marvel properties has given them a lot of geek cred,” says Swank, the RebelForce Radio co-host.”
“Cities, he [Geoffrey West] points out, are physical manifestations of human interactions. The data reveal those social dynamics, but do not necessarily shape them. From Lagos to Los Angeles to Mumbai, the physical world is experiencing a great rushing tide of urbanization, which creates huge environmental problems and at the same time concentrates the creativity needed to solve them. In the Sims’ world, though, the masses migrate and settle, then file passively through their lives. SimCity’s engineers have repeated the same mistake made by countless potentates, forgetting that cities are forged both by master builders and the people who hack their grand plans.”
“At the beginning of a sunny Monday morning earlier this month, I had never cracked a password. By the end of the day, I had cracked 8,000. Even though I knew password cracking was easy, I didn’t know it was ridiculously easy—well, ridiculously easy once I overcame the urge to bash my laptop with a sledgehammer and finally figured out what I was doing.”
“The diamond invention is far more than a monopoly for fixing diamond prices; it is a mechanism for converting tiny crystals of carbon into universally recognized tokens of wealth, power, and romance. To achieve this goal, De Beers had to control demand as well as supply. Both women and men had to be made to perceive diamonds not as marketable precious stones but as an inseparable part of courtship and married life. To stabilize the market, De Beers had to endow these stones with a sentiment that would inhibit the public from ever reselling them. The illusion had to be created that diamonds were forever — “forever” in the sense that they should never be resold.“
“Google Glass is a snazzy set of specs that will part the Red Sea if you tap it from the right angle. It aims to fuse smartphones and computers into a hands-free user experience more pleasurable than sex, religion, and world domination combined.“
And finally, a transcript of a story conference between Lawrence Kadsan, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, on Raiders of the Lost Ark!
“At some point in the movie he must use it [a bullwhip] to get a girl back who’s walking out of the room. Wrap her up and she twirls as he pulls her back. She spins into his arms. You have to use it for more things than just saving himself.“
Let us know in the comments if there are any other choice meals to add to the menu. Bon Appetit.
28th March 13
Author: Jim Carroll, Chairman, BBH London
Why assign your own name to a brand? What drives the founders of eponymous brands? What lies behind the success of the successful?
These are questions addressed by Branded Gentry, an engaging new book by Charles Vallance and David Hopper. The book comprises a series of interviews with people who ‘made their name by making their name into a brand’. The likes of Johnnie Boden, the founder of the casual clothing company, James Dyson of the innovative household appliance brand, Jonathan Warburton of the baking dynasty, and our own John Hegarty.
I found it a refreshing read. Conventional business books encourage us to think of commercial success in terms akin to scientific case studies. We isolate key learnings, critical success factors, best demonstrated practice. We are introduced to models, mantras and metaphors. We are given a picture of achievement which is ordered, constructed,
Branded Gentry invites us to consider the psychology of the founders of successful brands. Their relationship with their parents, the view from their childhood bedroom, the emotional milestones that mark out their career. Each chapter is a character study, an elegant pen portrait of often charismatic, compelling individuals. Consequently it paints a picture of success that is disordered, spontaneous,
instinctive. And of business that is personal, passionate, human.
The decision to give one’s own name to a brand is significant. If brands are fundamentally about trust, then a brand that carries a founder’s name has a particular sense of integrity. The tag-line of Warburton’s bread is: ‘We care because our name’s on it.’ And as Boden puts it, ‘If you don’t believe in your name, how can you expect other people to give you money?’
Inevitably perhaps, there is a consistent theme of ‘failing forwards’. Tripping up on the way to success, maybe being humbled by mistakes, but also seeing in them learning and experience. The eponymous brand owners come across as enthusiasts. They’re often breezily confident and positive about life. Many of them seem more emotional than you might expect, more active listeners.
But there’s also a dark undertow. A wariness of good fortune, a suspicion that bad times may be round the corner, a fear of debt (which many of them have experienced). The Branded Gentry are restless souls. Listen to James Dyson: ‘I’m not satisfied; I’m still not satisfied. The moment you’ve done something, then you’re onto the next thing, which is full of new problems you’ve got to solve …It’s a life of failure and dissatisfaction whatever your private wealth’. Or as the potter, Emma Bridgewater, puts it: ‘The trouble with being an entrepreneur is that you never think you’ve finished. You’re always thinking of things you haven’t done… I’ve got a lot of parallel lives unlived, but you suddenly realise it’s probably not going to happen. It’s the inherent sadness of ageing.’
I guess I had imagined that success came easily to the successful; that they had had a leg-up from life, a helping hand to get them started. In fact I was rather struck by the fact that, whilst some of these entrepreneurs were born into material wealth, most of them had rather tough childhoods.The broken home, the unsympathetic father, the parents that passed away before their time. Illness and ill fortune seem never too far away. (Dyson points out that over 80% of British Prime Ministers lost a parent before the age of 10, compared to only 1.5% of the general population.)
I grew up committed to a clear separation between work and life beyond it. Of course in the modern age it’s increasingly difficult to sustain the divide. For these Branded Gentry life is work and the eponymous business is fundamentally an expression of self. According to Dyson, ‘I had developed a latent desire to make things around me better and that desire was the very part of whom I was.’ The authors conclude that their subjects ‘didn’t go out into the world to fit in with it. One way or another, they set out to make the world fit them.’
Branded Gentry is very well written. There is a commendable amount of descriptive detail and direct speech. One often feels one is in the room with the interviewee, observing his or her furniture, inflections,
physiognomy. I welcome the book’s commitment that business is about people not just processes, passions not just practices. For Vallance and Hopper the personal is professional.
26th March 13
Author: Alex Matthews, Head of Creative Technology, BBH London
As a tech boy I am always less interested in marketing per se than I am in marketing through services – solving problems and creating something useful – and this is what I was hoping to find on my first visit to SXSW. Initially though I found myself in a Comedy in Technology talk where the little fella above did five minutes of standup – he’s been created as part of the drive to make robots more human, using comedy as a barometer for their humanness – pretty impressive, but still some work to do.
The Beyond Mobile talk was a great example of what I hope is a trend towards a “less is more” mentality, suggesting we need to stop making everything ‘smart’ and instead have one or two smart devices and create many interfaces into them. Also suggesting that devices need to get ‘dumber’ is right up my street. The best solutions are not always the ones that add a million buttons and an Android OS to your microwave – instead just make your microwave remember the time after a power outage (after all, for 99% of the time we only use out microwaves as a clock).
In the same vein was a talk by Golden Krishna (who recently joined Samsung) about his premise that The best interface is no interface. In his paper he discusses the 13 steps that are demanded by car-door unlocking apps now coming to market. Is this really a more efficient system than a key? Or a better system than the non-app solution developed by Mercedes ten years ago?
The Robot in your pocket: AI powered applications talk from Gravity‘s Amit Kapur and Xobni‘s Jeff Bonforte also ran on a similar theme (and is well worth listening to here). Phones have 14 sensors typically – all of this data is available to us and to developers and yet we are still not using it to its full potential. For example, asking Siri to “call Chris” pulls up a list of the Chris’s in your address book. With your behavioural data at its disposal, surely Apple should know that most evenings at 6pm the Chris I call is Chris Smith as I try and organise a quick beer after work?
Although there were quite a few relatively pointless apps on the trade stands I must big up one app that I found – Speakerfy – it allows you to simultaneously and synchronously play a song from your phone or laptop to multiple devices that also have the app. Basically, it creates a multi-speaker system on your and your friend’s phones. It’s going to make bus journeys with school kids even more noisy I’m sure.
Finally, I have to mention the Google Glass presentation in which they live-demoed Glass and launched their Mirror API. The API seems quite open, simple and developer friendly using all the usual standard technologies, though they’re not sure yet how people are going to subscribe to apps for their Glass headset. Aside from the big question which is “will any normal person actually want to wear these?” and the fact that we’re all already entrenched in a behaviour pattern of checking updates on our phones, the demos they gave (New York Times, email, photo, sharing etc) were not all that amazing.
Personally, I think Google is in a limbo state with Glass at the moment – they’re getting people interested, providing APIs but there’s no way for the masses to try out Glass, which does leave that “will anyone really do this” question rather open. There’s a lot of talk and hype from futurology types about Glass, but I’m not convinced they’re going to change the world overnight – going back to my original points, you have to ask the question “what is the business or user problem that Glass is trying to solve?”.
5th March 13
Posted in culture
Watching this film a couple of weeks ago, Google Glass all of a sudden made all kinds of sense. Being able to record experiences in the moment unencumbered by a camera or phone, share them in the moment, navigate through a city without reference to a map (digital or paper), augment real live experience with the power of search – all these things seem to be requirements of living a frictionless digital duality. While I’m not sure that using a mobile to access the web is exactly ‘emasculating‘, I do think that Google are tapping into an important behavioural realisation – experiencing the world through the screen of a phone is not optimal living. As Sergey Brin says, “You want something that frees your eyes.”
But, inevitably, now that the application date to become a ‘Glass Explorer‘ has passed, some reasonable, inquisitive voices are raising questions about whether Google’s version of ‘documentary vision‘ is as desirable as it first appeared to be. Steve Mann, a pioneer of wearable computing, asks whether Google have learnt from his experiments in augmented vision – he raises important practical concerns about the design and safety, short and long-term, of Google’s solution. He also touches on important privacy issues, asking whether this technology will ‘turn us into so many Little Brothers’.
The privacy issue has huge implications, not just for societies already coming to terms with near-ubiquitous surveillance, but for individuals living in those societies. ‘Google Glass will live or die solely in the experience it creates for people,’ says Steve Hurst. But the people Hurst worries about are not the users, but ‘everyone other than the user‘, everyone viewed and potentially recorded, snapped, reverse image searched, Googled, by a Glass wearer. This is, obviously, a big deal. There are rules about how surveillance camera footage can be used. Google itself has had to modify streetview imagery according to national privacy laws. How are we going to legislate for Glass? Will social norms keep up with the march of technology? Who do I send a takedown notice to if I don’t know that I’ve been recorded and who that recording has been shared with? As Hurst says, ‘The experience of being a citizen, in public, is about to change.’
Any new tech idea comes with caveats and warnings, sometimes reasonable, other times hysterical linkbait. At Labs we’re incurable optimists, and it feels, from here, that this is something big and important. Admittedly our excitement for the possibilities of Project Glass is tempered with plenty of unknowables, not least when we’re going to be getting our hands on a pair. The current $1500 pricetag and clunky design doesn’t change the fact that Project Glass, in some form, in some timeframe, is coming. As The Verge say in their positive ‘eyes-on’ review, ‘the question is no longer ‘if’, but ‘when’.