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    • Introducing thinky.do

      11th February 14

      Posted by Agathe Guerrier

      Posted in Experiments

       

      As Jeremy hinted at last week, we want to make more experiments this year. One of the key things we took away from Robotify is the need for a more modest approach that genuinely allows for speed, failure, mess … experimentation, really.

      thinkydologo_black

      So for this year, we’ve baked lightness and pace into the process itself in order, we hope, to accelerate learning, but also to have more fun.

      Our ambition is to create and release 10 experiments in 2014. We will do this by adopting a ‘hit and run’ approach to the exercise. Each month we’ll pose a new question, and we’ll run a live session to generate and prototype answers. We’ll force ourselves to ship something within 25 days and with a tiny budget – the month’s experiment needs to have sailed before we agree on the next brief.

      We might end up with 10 failures, but we’re certainly hoping for 10 pieces of learning, 10 horizons broached, many more new people met and at the very least, to have done something fun with something new, every month for a year.

      This new framework means our focus will be on people before machines, behaviours before builds and live development, not drawn out processes. Inspiration might come from platforms, from partners or from people’s imaginative uses of technologies and the web. It could come from anywhere really, as long as it gives us an opportunity to learn.

      As well as more experiments, we’re also looking for more involvement from more people. So we’re going to be inviting the whole of BBH and our partner MediaMonks to experiment with us, and a bit later this year, look at how we can go even more open source. For now, we’ll post the question up on the blog before we run the working session and welcome comments and insight. And, as we did with robotify.me, we’ll make the learning process itself transparent, with briefs, ideas, and development being posted in (almost) real time on our new experiments platform.

      This new home for Labs experiments is thinky.do. From now on, this is where anyone interested can follow the erratic ballads of Labs experiments, though of course we will point at new thinky.do activities from here and from our twitter every now and again.

       If you head there now, you’ll see that we’ve put up our question for the first experiment of the year. It’s all to do with crypto currencies and the creation of value. We’re holding our first live session this afternoon at BBH in London, so expect to hear more very soon.

      We’re excited about switching up a gear in experimentation and we’re definitely curious to see what happens. If you’d be interested in joining us for the ride, please drop a note to collaborators@bbh-labs.com, leave a comment here or at thinky.do.

    • Learning Bit by Bot

      7th February 14

      Posted by Jeremy Ettinghausen

      Posted in robotify.me

      Tyrell: Would you … like to be upgraded?

      Batty: I had in mind something a little more radical.

      Tyrell: What … what seems to be the problem?

      Batty: Death.

      Blade Runner, 1982

      Robotify.me – what we did, what we learned and what we’re doing now

      In December 2012 we launched robotify.me, an experiment to test our hypothesis that seeing social media behaviour visualized could actually influence and change those behaviours. Perhaps, we asked ourselves, data visualisation might reveal surprising nuances of social media behaviour which might otherwise be overlooked?

      robo1

      How would it feel to compare activity – likes, links, retweets, checkins, photos – with the rest of the group’s data? Would the transparency of the visualisation cause any changes in social behaviour? Would inveterate retweeters be shamed into posting more original content? Could we encourage more checking in, more posting of photographs, more liking by visualising the effect that it had on the robot?

      Robotify.me was also another opportunity to learn and experiment with process. Could we create a service rather than a campaign? Could we work fast and lean and create a mvp? Could we create a product without a brief, without a client?

      robo2

      A little over a year on, the answers to some of these questions are in. The first thing to say is thanks. Thanks to the team who worked so hard (and gave their time so generously) on robotify.me and thanks to everyone who took part in this project. Thousands of you created robots and we loved seeing the project come to life, reading the tweets, hearing your thoughts and feedback on this thing we’d made.

      Much of what we learned is displayed in the infographics accompanying this post and some of our early learnings were incorporated into changes we made live on the robotify site in the early go-live days and weeks. Perhaps our major learning was to do with storytelling – if we wanted people to learn a little about themselves we should, perhaps, have shown more, and told more explicitly. Knowing when to intrigue and when to explain is something we will take with us in the future.

      robo3

      We also learned that when you have a team with demanding day jobs it’s impossible to schedule daily scrums and the focus and scheduling required for an iterative workflow are not easily applied to side projects. When we plan future Labs experiments (and more on that very, very soon) we’ll definitely be thinking about the sorts of projects that lend themselves to a leaner approach. Stretch is good, but restraints will help define scope from the very beginning.

      So, we’re going to be pulling down the shutters on this particular garage and disassembling the robotifier, cleaning down the work surfaces and wiping down the whiteboard in preparation for a new swathe of Labs experiments, robotify learnings fresh in our minds. We’ll be keeping the service up in it’s current form for another month, so you can still create a new robot, revisit your robot mirror-self or download and print out your robots for your digital files.

      Finally, thanks again for supporting our Robotify.me experiment.

      Bleep. And out.

    • Ecosystem Management: why marketers must learn to think like ecologists

      24th January 14

      Posted by Jeremy Ettinghausen

      Posted in Brands, Social

      Author, Ben Shaw, Strategy Director/Social Strategy Lead, BBH London. Originally published in Marketing Magazine

      Marketers could learn a thing or two from ecologists on the maintenance of ecosystems. We live in a world of always on brand communications across multiple platforms and communities that require the same care and attention as the Amazon’s most delicate wildflower. Over the course of time, new parts of a brand’s ecosystem must be created, grown and nurtured, whilst being careful to think how these new presences will impact the rest of the system.

      Like any good ecologist, marketers know that overinvestment and focus on just one organism or resource can leave the rest of the ecosystem malnourished. However, when looking to develop beyond their status quo, new platforms and opportunities are often discarded as a distraction or a gamble compared to the reliability of their main channel. But it may be a bigger gamble for marketers to not care for, or develop, the rest of their ecosystem. What happens when that once fruitful resource dries up?

      Organisations are continually encouraged by Facebook to first invest to build an audience and then spend again to actually reach them (thanks to Facebook’s ‘clever’ Edgerank algorithm). They get an immediate positive return, their fan numbers shoot up and the reach of each post is in the millions. But then, as they grow, they have to spend more to reach the same audience. And then Facebook tweak the algorithm and it becomes harder to reach their original audience, so they spend a bit more. Then their original audience gets bored with all the branded content on Facebook and starts spending more time on other platforms. By this time, the brand has invested so much time and money into this one platform, it would be a waste to stop now. Wouldn’t it?

      Facebook’s Chief Financial Officer David Ebersman recently admitted that  “We did see a decrease in daily users, partly among younger teens”. Immediately after this, they had £11.2b wiped off their share price. Everyone remembers the infamous collapse of previous all-dominating social networks and although Facebook is now so big and so ingrained it is unlikely to ever end up as dried up as MySpace or FriendsReunited, marketers mustn’t take this news lightly. This should be the warning bell for brands to start tracking the changes in their consumers online behaviours and deciding how their brand ecosystems should change accordingly.

       

      Brands should be looking to diversify and experiment across new platforms as their online audiences develop. Snapchat didn’t exist 18 months ago and now more photos are shared every day than on Facebook and Instagram combined. This should be the time when brand’s ecosystems are reappraised every month, not every year. As audiences develop new behaviours – like teens are with mobile messaging apps – brands should be figuring out how they can connect with, and add value to, audiences on those platforms.

      This requires brands to build and develop their ecosystem, which takes planning and continued management, not just to ensure the brand is covered at a basic social hygiene level, but to ensure the brand is gaining value from all of their activities. This need is why social media teams have developed from a sole community manager just managing a page to a team of analysts, strategists, creatives and now editors ensuring a consistent brand presence, narrative and experience across the ecosystem.

      Ecologist Norman Christensen defined Ecosystem Management as “management driven by explicit goals, executed by policies, protocols, and practices, and made adaptable by monitoring and research based on our best understanding of the ecological interactions and processes necessary to sustain ecosystem structure and function” – which sounds pretty familiar, doesn’t it?

      Things to consider to help manage your ecosystem:

      1. Track your audience – Pay close attention to where your audience is moving online and decide where to follow them

      2. Experiment before investing – the best brands act like users on social platforms, so follow their lead by cheaply creating content to see what your audience likes in different platforms

      3. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket – As with any B2B service, it can be dangerous to solely rely on one platform – build your ecosystem across multiple platforms

      4. Look to build retained data – ensure you’re building for the future and collating valuable consumer data to add value to future opportunities

    • CES 2014 Round Up: Sympathy for Sherlock

      13th January 14

      Posted by Jeremy Ettinghausen

      Posted in technology

      Author, Helen Lawrence, Social Engagement Director, BBH London

      “Two high pressure jobs, probably the city. Foreman’s a medical secretary, trained abroad, judging by her shorthand. Seven are married and two are having an affair, with each other it would seem. Oh and they’ve just had tea and biscuits. Would you like to know who ate the wafer?”

      Ah, Sherlock. Impossibly switched on and observant to the point of obsession, though ultimately a troubled man for it. These scenes of fast paced detectivery delight the audience, but leave Sherlock a frustrated man. Too much going on, not enough pace, no one is keeping up, he can’t switch off, nobody else can switch on, notice something, notice something, notice something…

      The trends for CES were set in stone before the last crumb of mince pie was brushed off a knee – automotives, 3D printing, gaming, TVs, phones & tablets, wearables, smart homes. And of course, the nerd glue holding all those together – connected devices. I’m struggling to think of a single product shown at CES that didn’t connect to something else in some way. Razer, Garmin, Epson, Sony, LG and Spree all launched some form of self-tracking wearable at CES.

      So, nothing unexpected there.

      Belkin, Goji  and Sleep Number introduced tracking watches, mattresses, light bulbs and locks. Even a connected slow cooker.

      Again, nothing unexpected there.

      WeMoSlowcooker_large_verge_medium_landscape

      Each product was, in itself, a good idea (curved TVs being somewhat of an exception), but look at it all collectively we’re in a bit of a nightmare. We’re back to Sherlock. Notice something, notice something, notice something… beep, beep, beep, beep.

      None of it works together. A lack of interoperability across devices and platforms will suck our time, not give it back to us. Endless notifications leave us stuck in an inescapable chain of device control. The traffic is bad. Get the heating to come on later. Delay the slow cooker turning off. Record the show you’ll miss. Get the washing machine to come on later. Stop 3D printing the cake decorations.

      Brilliant that we can control such things. Amazing. But we’re looking at maybe a dozen apps here, all independent and all probably built on the manufacturer’s own proprietary system. If nothing else, the dominance of ‘smart phone controlled devices’ at CES will inevitably mean we all run out of battery about five minutes after leaving the house. I’m serious about this one – Mophie are going to sell a whole load of extra battery packs if we’re all going to start controlling our slow cookers from a meeting room.

      So, for 2014 and then ahead to CES 2015, I’m less interested in the devices themselves, but instead the platforms and systems that bring them together. Will we see an open platform and data standards for device control and tracking, allowing developers to add the cross device connectedness that the manufacturers can’t? Security is a big issue, of course, but until then expect 2014 to be the year your wrist doesn’t stop buzzing with notifications. Perhaps embrace it, buy a deerstalker hat and a great coat. Rival Sherlock with your real time knowledge of any situation. Notice everything. But don’t expect it to be a smooth ride, just yet.

    • Under My Skin: The 2013 Edition

      31st December 13

      Posted by Mel Exon

      Posted in BBH Labs, culture

      Wind-blown - What the Internet Felt Like in 2013

      Windswept – What the Internet Felt Like in 2013

      “We are sensation junkies, predisposed to excitement, and if that means danger and death, we are ready for it.”

       ~ Doris Lessing, ‘Under My Skin’ (part 1 of her autobiography)

      Since Labs was founded in 2008, at the end of every year we’ve written a round-up of our favourite memories of the previous 12 months: the people, the products, the posts. And I like to think this has reflected the fact we’ve spent much of the past six years engaged in a sort of happy, virtuous circle of accelerated learning and application; of thinking and doing. Taking everything we’ve learned about the Internet and technology and applying it to client business, for the company we work for, with a generous community around us and even together with our families. And, personally, I was proud of the balance I was striking for a lot of that time. Although who needs work-life balance when you can have the merge, eh?

      This year we’re taking a different approach.

      When Lessing wrote the sentence above she was describing mid-20th century life, bearing witness to a ‘regret for intense experience’ that was voiced openly in the aftermath of two world wars. She wasn’t referring to Internet culture in the early 21st century, although that was the association that immediately suggested itself when I read the sentence. I’m going to use the fact she makes her assertion in the present tense as my excuse.

      Looking back over the past year or two, I’d argue we’ve reached the nadir – or the height, depending on your perspective – of our generation’s sensation junkydom. I say this as someone who has disagreed vehemently with Nicholas Carr, Jaron Lanier and the rest of the-Internet-is-making-us-shallow gang, smiled blithely through Sherry Turkle’s ‘Alone Together’ (“c’mon, I’m not that bad” I said to my family as I swiftly sent another 5 tweets over lunch) and I have declared my undying love for the joys of the social web, several times, in public.

      Certainly by 2012, the point at which this post becomes harder to write, we had started to sense a shift from the visceral burn of excitement, the learning curve we were all on, to something else, something more akin to a collective burden, that – god forbid – we’d helped fuel. At worst, a pressure to overvalue and prioritise what we could call the “‘nesses” truthiness, newsiness and, the king of all things real-time: nowness.

      Now, whether you are a journalist questioning the very purpose of your existence when a casually fact-checked Upworthy or BuzzFeed piece beats your thoughtful op-ed hands down again, or the brilliant poet Kate Tempest beautifully and poignantly nailing how it feels as a teenager to have your life documented, duplicated and fetishized over, or a blogger satirically sending up copy-cat millennial marketing, our social status quo is being questioned from multiple perspectives.

      Taken to the absolute extreme this year in The Circle, Dave Eggers paints a (fictional) portrait of a totalitarian world where the pursuit of ‘completion’, or total information, is the sole, unrelenting goal. Warning: if you’re mildly paranoid about privacy, this book will push you over the edge. Back in the here and now, Alexis C. Madrigal puts things perfectly in his article, 2013: The Year ‘The Stream’ Crested:

      “Nowadays, I think all kinds of people see and feel the tradeoffs of the stream, when they pull their thumbs down at the top of their screens to receive a new updates from their social apps. It is too damn hard to keep up. And most of what’s out there is crap… I am not joking when I say: it is easier to read Ulysses than it is to read the Internet. Because at least Ulysses has an end, an edge. Ulysses can be finished. The Internet is never finished.”

      These are not crackpot Luddites frothing at the mouth about the evils of technology or, for that matter, New Age Cassandras prematurely worrying about the End Of The World As We Know It. These are people who have helped conceive the best products and thinking in the corner of the web we traverse daily; people who consistently, visibly and tangibly crank open their minds in the pursuit of making things better.

      By the end of 2013 our unease has become a dull roar of disquiet. A palpable sense that the exhilaration we experienced a few years back has passed, to be replaced on a bad day by a mixture of exhaustion and that worst of all things, ennui.

      When something is ‘under your skin’ it’s an itch that needs continuously scratching: addictive but never wholly satisfying. And after a while, it’s finally dawns on you that you need to stop doing that and move on. I don’t mean ‘embrace continuous change!’ in a brace-yourselves-through-gritted-teeth-for-more-new-stuff sense, I mean: some things need to stop, in order for new things to start.

      So 2014 is going to be different. But it won’t become different on its own: we have to make it so.

      At Labs and BBH, we’re taking some steps to balance things out a little. Here are just a few:

      1. Valuing both ‘stock’ and ‘flow’.

      A master metaphor for media today coined by Robin Sloan back in – jeez! – 2010, also via Madrigal, ‘stock’ is the durable content and behaviour that stands the test of time, whilst ‘flow’ is a continuous feed of updates. Both are modern necessities, but, as the sheer newsiness of nowness deflates (see what I did there), the importance of more contemplative content bubbles back up.

      We’re seeing evidence of this in the lovingly created, more durable digital publishing evidenced by the likes of the NYT Magazine’s ‘A Game of Shark & Minnow’, the oft-mentioned Snowfall, the Guardian’s brilliant ‘NSA Decoded’ (for more of this ilk, see this helpful spreadsheet via @neilperkin) and closer to home, the likes of Toshiba and Intel’s Beauty Inside and Complex Media’s The New New for Converse Cons.

      A Game of Shark & Minnow, NYT Magazine, October 2013 - http://www.nytimes.com/newsgraphics/2013/10/27/south-china-sea/

      A Game of Shark & Minnow, NYT Magazine, October 2013 – http://www.nytimes.com/newsgraphics/2013/10/27/south-china-sea/

      2. Looking inward for a while.

      This year, we deliberately reduced our external focus and instead designed an end to end New Skills training course for BBH and our clients. At BBH London it began with a #bbhexpo in November and continues with a series of 2 day workshops throughout the first quarter of 2014.

      'How To Do An Awesome Project At BBH' - one element of a New Skills training course for BBH beginning in 2014.

      ‘How To Do An Awesome Project At BBH’ – one element of a New Skills training course for BBH beginning in 2014.

      We’ll publish the assets and what we learn here once it’s completed end of Q1 2014.

       

      3. Switching up the leadership of Labs in London.

      Agathe Guerrier, or AG to her friends, formally took over the leadership of Labs in London alongside @Jeremyet from me a few months ago. For those of you who don’t know AG, she is the perfect leader for a new phase in Labs’ development: her name translates as ‘the warrior’, yet she is a practicing Yoga teacher and has a Tumblr aptly named ‘Wegan Wednesdays.’ She’s also a peerless Strategy Director & Partner at BBH and the brain behind the New Skills training course above.

       

      4. Taking a lighter, more open source approach to Labs Experiments.

      It isn’t all about depth, contemplation and stopping to smell the flowers. Historically at Labs we’ve tried, failed and sometimes succeeded at lots of different approaches to experimentation: amongst other things, crowdsourcing our own logo, attempting to reinvent street newspapers, providing a useful catch-up web app and also an entertaining little service that displays your social data as a personalised robot unique to you. A lot of the above took blood, sweat and tears carefully collected in our downtime. In 2014, we’re deliberately adopting a lighter, more open source approach to experimentation instead, opening up the Lab and its resources beyond the core Labs team. More on this from Jeremy and AG in the New Year.

      In the meantime, we’re biased, but check out the excellent work BBH Zag have been doing this year co-designing new digital products and services like Autographer and Money Dashboard.

       

      5. Less, but Better.

      More individual time spent on fewer clients. It’s not radical but it is profound. We hope it will help everyone regain a sense of equilibrium and clarity of focus, making our work better along the way.

      Finally, what about the intense experience Doris Lessing reminded us of, the thing we long for, despite ourselves? Patently, it doesn’t go away. It’s simply about a concerted effort to get some balance back. In 2014 there will still be flow: of course there will be a multitude of memes, ideas and products that catch fire and light up the Internet for a day or two. But I’d wager we will recognise that we need both durable stock and the adrenaline rush of flow in our lives.

      Perhaps the most ‘now’ thing we can choose to do next year is to do this: remember to take stock.

      ***

      A huge thank you to everyone who’s written, shared, commented and generally made the BBH Labs world go round this year. And a particular thank you for the thoughtful writing, links and provocation that have directly fed this post (whether they knew it or not) to the following people inside and outside BBH: Agathe Guerrier, Jeremy Ettinghausen, Adam Powers, Yuri Kang, Chris Meachin, Alex Matthews, Simon Robertson, Nick Fell, Tim Jones, Jim Carroll, Tom Uglow, Ben Malbon, Tim Malbon, Neil Perkin, John Willshire, Amelia Torode, Anjali Ramachandran, Pats McDonald, Alexis C. Madrigal, Nathan Jurgenson, Saneel Radia, Len Kendall, James Mitchell, Ben Fennell, Charlie Rudd, David Spencer, Jon Peppiatt, Sarah Pollard, Heather Alderson, Kate Roberts, Dan Hauck, Kirsty Saddler, Jonathan Bottomley, Ben Shaw, Helen Lawrence, Sarah Watson, Olivia Chalk, Dav Karbassioun, Tim Nolan and last but very definitely not least, Jason Gonsalves.

      ***

      For a more straightforward look back at some of the themes of 2013:

      - Our own round-up of the 2013 technology year, written for Marketing magazine

      - Maria Popova’s excellent ‘The Best of Brainpickings 2013

      And for more on looking forward to 2014:

      - JWT’s 100 Things to Watch in 2014

      - IBM’s ‘5 in 5’ (5 innovations in technology that will change our lives in 5 years

    • The elegance of cards as a mobile design pattern

      18th November 13

      Posted by Mel Exon

      Posted in design, mobile

      Latest in a series of cross-posts we’re publishing here from the monthly tech column we write for Marketing magazine in the UK. This article first appeared in the October edition.

      We like Google & R/GA London's "Google Outside" pilot in London a lot. It uses Google Now technology and card-based design approach to great effect (though proximity can be a killer: did we need to be told the London Eye was 135m away).

      We like Google & R/GA London’s “Google Outside” pilot a lot. It uses Google Now’s technology and card-based design approach to great effect (though proximity can be a killer, eh).

      For half a decade or more, marketers have been told to expect ‘the year of mobile’ as we watch helpful graphs plot an inexorable path to where x marks the spot: the moment mobile overtakes desktop usage globally. And yet still we see mobile marketing spends failing to keep up with user behaviour (source: KPCB, Internet Trends report, May 2013).

      Some businesses are notable exceptions. It’s no surprise that smartest and most marketing-savvy of CEOs, Burberry’s (now outgoing) CEO, Angela Ahrendts, recently declared a wholesale commitment to a mobile first strategy:

      “Our design teams design for a landing page and the landing page dictates what the store windows will look like, not the other way round. In creative media, they’re shooting for digital, then we are turning it back to physical… now let’s do everything for mobile and then take it back to desktop.” (CEO Talk, Business of Fashion, September 2013)

      Okay, so this approach may not work perfectly for every geography, category and every audience (Ahrendts is clear that their core target audience are Millennials), but if a company the size of Burberry can adopt behaviour like this and win, what’s stopping other organisations?

      With the benefit of hindsight, the issue is easier to call. We’ve had at least three false dawns for mobile marketing:

      i.  innovations in hardware, specifically tablets

      ii. mobile apps

      iii. responsive design practice

      Don’t get me wrong, each of these has brought tremendous value in multiple ways, but none of these has provided a perfect solution to marketing on the move. We know most tablets stay at home. Branded apps fail more often than not (as I’ve shared before in this column, 80% of branded apps have less than 1,000 downloads according to Deloitte data published in 2011). Responsive design is an elegant solution some of the time, but of course can’t solve every communications and design issue all of the time, particularly with banners.

      Truthfully, most marketers still stare at the real estate available on a mobile ‘phone and frown at the tiny little ad units with even tinier little links contained within them.

      So what now? Enter cards. Yes, cards. They don’t sound like the key to the mobile marketing universe, but bear with me for a bit. Cards, aka modules, are not new in digital media, services like Pinterest and Flipboard are built on cards, for example. What is exciting is how cards are rapidly emerging as an elegant design pattern to distribute individual, small packages of information (if you’re a marketer, a light bulb should have just gone off in your head). Witness Twitter Cards (enabling multi-media data to appear in-stream alongside tweets), Google Now, Spotify’s Discover service, not to mention Google Glass, for which “timeline cards are core to the user’s interaction” according to their developer guidelines.

      It’s important to note cards aren’t simply an html rectangle; think instead of a manipulatable pattern you can arrange in stacks, flip over or fold to expand or contract the information. Aggregated content can be marshalled and presented depending on different, personalised criteria: location, interests, behaviour etc.

      Quite fundamentally, the likes of Google Now show us how mobile use is forcing a move away from a web that mimics the publishing world of old (linked pages of content), to individual, dynamic and shareable pieces of content instead. Cards that feel beautifully native to a mobile experience, not a mobile version of something born on a desktop. As cards as a communication canvas becomes a new norm, it strikes me the opportunities for more effective, more exciting mobile work will only grow.

      Perhaps finally, we have found an elegant solution to the real estate of a small screen.

    • Talk Like a Tech Brand

      14th November 13

      Posted by Jeremy Ettinghausen

      Posted in strategy

      Authors: Jim Carroll, Chairman & Nick Fell, Strategy Director, BBH London

      artgame

      From Art Game, by Leo Caillard

      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?

    • It’s a flat planet

      5th November 13

      Posted by Mel Exon

      Posted in design, User Experience

      One more in a series of tech columns we’ve written for Marketing magazine this year. This article by Adam on flat design appeared in the September issue.

      Author: Adam Powers, Head of UX, BBH London & BBH Labs

      Image credit: selection of modernist, flat graphic design by Brent Couchman http://brentcouchman.com/

      Image credit: selection of modernist, flat graphic design by Brent Couchman http://brentcouchman.com/

      Sir Jony Ive revealed his vision for Apple’s iOS7 operating system on September 10th, and the SVP of Design’s vision of the world is flat.

      This redesign is about more than just eradicating embossed buttons and drop shadows. In typically thoughtful mode, Ive declared, “True simplicity is derived from so much more than just the absence of clutter.” For the first time in perhaps a decade though, Apple is joining a movement rather than creating one.

      The flat design movement has been gaining momentum amongst technology companies for some time now. Looking back, it may well have been Microsoft Windows 8 design team that pushed things past the tipping point. They created a crisp, clean and minimalist approach where geometric shapes, bold colours and sharp corners dominate the rather nice operating system. The next flat design fans were Google, with their new aesthetic applied across a dramatically improved suite of applications (Google Maps, I adore you). Then came Yahoo’s elegant weather app, but many others have followed.

      Like many art and design movements, flat design was a reaction to the dominant aesthetic that preceded it. Skeumorphism – the approach that borrows affordances from a user’s day-to-day life and translates that to screen-based design with the aim of aiding comprehension. All that stitched leather, aqua shine and drop shadow of the past few years was borne from that belief. It goes back further, to the days of WYSIWYG computer desktops where the workplace norms, such as files, folders and trash cans, were employed in the language of the operating systems to help us comprehend and participate in the desktop computing revolution.

      Fans of this flat aesthetic, ahem, cite this change as a sign of the maturity of human and computer interaction. Our interaction with technology no longer needs to be disguised to make it more palatable. Flat design embraces the constraints and challenges of screen-based design and runs with it. Minimalist and utilitarian design that foregoes excessive ornamentation and is sensitive to bandwidth and functionality.

      Before I get caught up in adulation of this latest expression of modernism, we should pause.

      It would seem that flat design might come with risks. That (once?) esteemed voice of digital usability, Jakob Nielsen, has undertaken extensive user testing focussed on everyone’s must have tech – the tablet. After testing on a whole range of fondle slabs, Jakob concludes that flat design is not optimal for tablet devices. It would appear that the absence of hover-states on tablets, combined with departure of drop shadows and the ‘less is more’ conviction of flat design, means there is “…a dearth of distinguishing signifiers for UI elements.” i.e. It is harder to intuit what is and is not clickable and therefore things are harder and less satisfying to use.

      This presents a very specific challenge, but I would suggest that there are a couple of wider reaching challenges that face the flat design movement.

      The first is the ever present spectre of commodification of the web. Look at the search returns page on Google, the tightening embrace of iOS and Android design guidelines or the increasingly far-reaching rules for brands on Facebook or Youtube – it’s just getting harder for brands to cut through on tech platforms and services. Though the folks at YouTube etc. might argue that brands should focus on the quality of their content rather than the ease with which they can spray their colour palette across their respective brand channels. Either way, the flat design movement does appear to be at risk of further contributing to the commodification situation.

      The second challenge that I see is that much of the impetus behind flat design is from Europe and North America – where there is long history with Modernism.

      What does a critical market like Asia make of flat design, for instance? A Hong Kong based expert, working at the juncture of global marketing and technology, advised me, “Whether you’re considering ux design, user testing or anything else for that matter, you mustn’t think of Asia as a single market. China is as different to Japan as it is to Australia…and each has quite a different relationship with technology…”

      Actually, one doesn’t have to look too far for some quite specific insights. This Tech in Asia blog observes that in China, Vietnam and Thailand, flat design may frequently be interpreted as overly austere or ‘…a lot of hot air…” It also proposes that for many of these commercially important markets, it is in fact ‘crowded design’ that performs best.

      Somebody better tell Jony.

    • An epilogue: 21 Things I learnt from Midsummer Night’s Dreaming with the RSC

      24th October 13

      Posted by Mel Exon

      Posted in culture, digital

      Midsummers_Web_Banner_Final copy

      Guest Author: Tom Uglow, Creative Director, Google Creative Lab 

      > No epilogue, I pray you; for your play needs no excuse. – Theseus

      On the 21st to 23rd June 2013, the Royal Shakespeare Company put on a unique, one-off performance of Midsummer Night’s Dream in collaboration with Google’s Creative Lab. It took place online, and offline – at the same time. It was the culmination of an 18 month project looking at new forms of theatre with digital at the core.

      Midsummer Night’s Dreaming occurred as a live performance in 4 locations over three midsummer days, following the time structure of the play (which, it turns out, meant mainly at night. Clue is in the title apparently). Simultaneously, an universe of 30 new characters were created on Google+ (i.e. Hercules, Theseus’s best man, Phoebe the Moon & Bottom’s Mum). Their role was to illuminate and augment the play. We didn’t really expect them to go spinning wildly off from the play into their own fractured and fragmented narratives online. But that happened. Even fictional characters like to document their mundane (fictional) experiences: a concept that an audience member described as “like a live online soap opera wrapped round the drama of the play”.

      RSC_Google_Dream40(properPlus1Logo)

      This piece isn’t about what we did or why – for that see about.dream40.org/why. Our collaboration on Midsummer Night’s Dreaming was an experiment for Google and an experiment for the Royal Shakespeare Company. It wasn’t really marketing or sponsorship, it wasn’t a live stream; it was a trial, a rehearsal, an attempt to do something new. #dream40 was an experiment in online narrative for the digital creative world from local theatre through to global agencies. It wasn’t a passive broadcast of a play and it was always meant to be more about questions than answers – so that is why we want to share our thoughts, what we learnt. It’s for you, if you are interested in this sort of thing.

      We soon discovered that our experiment had two paradoxes buried firmly at its heart.

      1. Until we saw what we were creating we didn’t know what we were creating.

      2. Until new paradigms for interaction are defined it is impossible to interact within them.

      And finally a truism: An audience with no idea what to expect can only have their expectations confounded. People ‘watch’ plays, they don’t ‘perform’; cultural consumption is traditionally passive. I personally realised that physical theatre is magical, transformative. It is a form of virtual reality.

      “We learn through doing” said Sarah Ellis. Wisely.

      And what did we learn? Well, we learnt a lot. There is almost nothing that could not have been done better, but there was also nothing wrong with what we did. And if it were a rehearsal we would be able to change up for the big night – instead of which (alas) these ‘notes’ are for other players with similar ideas.

      Fail once, fail twice, fail better said Beckett. Although I am not sure who was there to hear it. Maybe Mrs Beckett tweeted it.

      This project started out as an essay for Sarah Ellis’s MyShakespeare project of 2012.

      It began as a question: What would theatre look like if you invented it in 2013? Would this new theatre would be physical, with a stage, un-augmented by the dominant technology of the day? A format uniquely unaffected by the profound shift from static to fluid information?

      Then, we thought the essay would work better as  a single scene translated via social media. This became a single act. Then a whole text, perpormed live, in real-time, in Selfridges, with cctv, and celebrities. But we never quite got to that. Google finally committed to the dream in Jan 2013 and a more modest schedule that involved a full RSC production performed over three days in the middle of the night, a creative team of five writing 2000 pieces of material for 30 new characters to be shared online non-stop for 72 hours, and a digital team of three.

      Our expectations also scaled up as the project became more visible; the more people we brought in the grander the vision became. We all know how that story ends. Several things didn’t change: 1) the principle – to illuminate a traditional play with online augmentation; 2) the core team (Geraldine Collinge, Sarah Ellis, myself and James Boyce); 3) the budget.

      Looking back what we achieved seems unimaginable.

      Biggest successes:

      Energy and reach – the ability to reach so many people worldwide on our terms was unexpected.

      Theatre – the RSC’s ‘scratch’ performance was transcendent and mesmerising.

      Behind the scenes – the transparency of RSC process (e.g. Hangouts) was a special win.

      Numbers:

      The RSC went from 0 to >300k followers on Google+ moving them into the top 1k brand pages globally. Their page has 375,000 +1′s (‘likes’)

      We assembled a community of more than 1k creators as part of the project.

      On twitter we reached more than 20m people; we assume similar reach on Google+

      #dream40 trended 4th worldwide on G+ for two days

      The project lives on in as a timeline and in archive form at http://dream40.org

      We made a film

      What people said: storify.com/tomux/dream-quotes

      Behind the scenes: storify.com/tomux/dream40

      Dream cast

      Dream cast

      What would we do differently?

      1. Do all the new writing a long long long way in advance. Like a long way. Really long. We hurt the production through the anarchic chaos of having creative arriving simultaneously to the performance, and trying to incorporate live content via the audience, and having creatives live-write for their characters.  Having said that, it was great fun.

      2. One vision directing every aspect. We had digital, artistic and creative directors without oversight of the other teams. It was a miracle the three parts came together at all.

      3. Have a strong, obvious over-arching narrative that brings in the online characters. In television a show-runner makes sure every line, every character feeds back into a topline story arc. So photos, responses, quotes should all be part of a grand whole. Keeping it firmly in the world of the play and with characters who digress less wildly onto their own orbits.

      4. We didn’t let the main characters speak (which was correct,) but we should have involved them more. The play must be real, and have integrity and you shouldn’t break from the words Shakespeare wrote, or their characters — but those characters needed to exist more online and interlink with the new cast more intelligently.

      5. A story requires the audience to see themselves revealed through a character. Action: Have a hero online, as well as on stage. Puck got closest to this for us and created the most interaction online. He was brilliant but we could have made more of his part.

      6. Create strong media channels. People understand how to share news and gossip. We allowed too much content to be led by the characters not the events.  This is the thing I feel we did least well.

      7. Introduce your characters more slowly and clearly. Clarify the characters and introduce them easily. (Big profile pieces).

      8. Know your content. Build a content library (including imagery & video) which can be drawn on – digital content needs significant pre-production to make sure it responds to the original text appropriately.

      8. Have a stage performance that made sense of the online characters. It was a shame that the online characters did not ‘appear’ in the live performance – which in turn could have made the use of their phones make sense in the context of the play.

      9. Contrive opportunities to ‘show’ the live action more, ‘Film’ must be contextual, you can’t just ‘live-stream’ – but we could have done this better than just letting audience members film and share raw from the room.

      10. Screens break the wilful suspension of disbelief. When we physically sit together as a collective audience (simultaneity) this we become part of that moment; the actors transport us as a whole (transformation) to another world. But operating a phone or ipad drags us out of that world into a solitary world connected to our lives. Which is not where we should be at that moment. Mediating a shared reality or fantasy through a screen removes the possibility of being present in the reality/fantasy. This probably applies to life in general. Ban screens unless they are integrated into the dynamic of the performance.

      11. The power of music. The live musical arrangement created magic and drama and tension – right down to the blackbird at daybreak in Act II – we completely failed to transfer this to the online. Which was a shame.

      12. Know your tools better. I came away impressed with Google+ but we should have used it more widely beforehand. It has endless confusing but epic properties. Communities, Events, Circles, Photos, Q&A, Hangouts, +1′s, Pages, API’s etc. Fb wasn’t a focus but Twitter, Vine, Instagram and Storify were all great tools.

      13. The digital stage confounded some, annoyed others, and delighted a few.  It suffered from trying to show too much, yet also carried too much exposition. Trying to show the story but also not baffle first-time visitors.

      14. To ‘watch’ the play, the online audience took a ‘research’ approach. While the site was pretty, the audience indicated that the play worked best in conjunction with their native G+ and Twitter i.e. as if they were browsing a news event, rather than watching a channel. Allow and encourage multiple ways to experience the action online (and maybe offline).

      15. Don’t confuse the hell out of your audience. However much we hide behind the “first time” or “experient” argument, clearly the structure was baffling to some we could have done better at guiding our audience. Create catch-up trailers and hold the hand more.

      16. Ask clearly and make it easy. When we specifically asked people to do something it worked well. Yet we had a community of 1k people who actively signed up yet we didn’t successfully ‘ask’ them to do as much as they clearly wanted to. Choose clear activities, create roles and jobs and assign those roles to users.

      17. We obey 4th wall dynamics even when told not to. It was optimistic to imagine that our audience would disobey the natural instinct to ‘watch’ a play rather than interact.  Those that did found it rewarding but those that didn’t found the fragmented, fractured and intentional disorganization off-putting. We could have helped them more. Don’t fight the desire to consume passively – give easy ways to ‘just watch’.

      18. Know your level. Working with the RSC actors was incredible and perhaps highlighted the distance between 10 years of social digital and 500 years of theatrical practice.

      19. Be in the room. We made it so hard by having the digital, creative and theatrical teams on different sides of the planet. That was dumb.

      20. If you don’t tell people, they won’t come. Online advertising works. I know you think I would say that, but it is true.

      21. Involve everyone. Alix Christie brilliantly suggested (the day before) that a journalist would have wanted a hangout round-table on issues around subjugation and misogyny in Athenian/Fairy marriage. Talk to everyone about your idea, all the time. No one will steal it.

      Insult Generator

      Insult Generator

      Conclusions

      At the end of the project we must re-examine the hypothesis and interrogate our ambitions.

      Have we explored? Certainly.

      Have we reached new audiences? Yes.

      Was it successful? No idea.

      We believe it was a blueprint for something with enormous potential. As a kindly friend put it, something that shouldn’t have worked, did sort of work – and for that reason we are very happy with the outcome.

      There is more we could have done with the content and activating passive audiences. This is the power of retrospect.  Also I disliked the way we used phones and cameras. They broke something – so we need to integrate the hardware, more intelligently. They need more context to be less clumsy. The actors were unperturbed, nor was everyone in the audience bothered – so possibly just me.

      Throughout the project I was astonished by the Royal Shakespeare Company, it’s bravery and energy, it’s ability to conjure fairy worlds, and its belief in trying. Both from the board but also the people there, everyone was so many passionate, courageous, involved – so I would like to offer a one-person standing ovation to the entire Company. Bravo.

      This was a disruptive experiment and a hugely successful one if judged simply on what we learnt and where we now move forward from.

      My hope is that the next time someone wants to have a non-linear play that leaks across multiple realities in real-time performed physically and digitally simultaneously to a global audience they will not have to explain it from the ground up to blank looks and puzzled faces. They can point at the RSC’s seminal 2013 production and say “like that, but much better”.

      Copy of RSC01

      dream-characters0018 dream-characters0019fairy flying school

    • BBH London is looking for a Social Strategist

      18th October 13

      Posted by Mel Exon

      Posted in People, Social

      Author: Shea Warnes, Social Strategist, BBH London

      Who are we looking for?

      “Get us more page likes!”

      “We need a Facebook sticker on our vans”

      “Let’s make a viral!”

      “People need a hashtag they can really get behind”

      “Lets do what Oreo did in the Superbowl”

      “We want people to film videos of their grans dancing”

      Do these statements make your skin crawl? If so, we’d like to talk to you.

      BBH is looking for a Social Strategist to join our rapidly growing Social team. We need someone who can cut through the social waffle and understand the true business needs of a brand.

      What is a Social Strategist?

      Social Strategists at BBH are passionate advocates, well-versed in digital communications. They have a strong strategic background – a traditional understanding for a modern environment.

      They understand the technologies that enable social communication and think with the community or user in mind. A passion for the platforms is essential, they are called upon for the latest developments within the industry. They have an intuitive approach on how best to work with communities and develop advocacy for a brand. They can identify and articulate a social insight based on audience behaviours.

      They will help lead the agency’s vision for social, inspiring teams, challenging the status quo and optimising campaigns for social. The role is crucial for helping BBH get to great ideas, so creative thinking is a must.

      Expectations of a BBH Social Strategist

      • Present strategic thinking clearly and convincingly, in terms that make social media strategy understandable and tangible for all

      • Develop stand alone social strategy for brands/campaigns, working into the Social Strategy Lead and working closely with the BBH Brand strategists

      • Continually strive to develop fresh insight and original thinking which adds value to the client’s goals in social and helps build creative ideas

      • Understand how the advertising you are involved in actually works, and whether or not it is effective and how appropriate it is for the social platform in question

      • Deliver external training programs in social media, skilling up clients with the latest knowledge

      • Establish the foundations of process and best practice for social media in client organisations

      • Extensive knowledge of social platforms and social behaviour on them

      • Be able to get your ideas across to any audience, via simple articulation and well-argued logic.

      • To adapt your method of communication to suit the needs of different audiences (written vs verbal, formal vs informal, etc.)

      Experience

      • Already demonstrated a strong understanding of social through strategic and creative recommendations that have been implemented

      • 3+ years working in strategy on social projects

      • Successful social projects with their influence stamped on them

      • Experience presenting to and collaborating with clients.

      Ultimately, like all BBHers, Social Strategists are ‘good & nice’ – someone who wants to make great work and work in a great environment.

      If this fits you down to a T, or know of someone who it might, then send in a CV to: social@bbh.co.uk

       

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