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Of Brackets, Basketballs and Business

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Your content marketing strategy or your bracket? Which do you have more competitive intelligence about?

Your content marketing strategy or your bracket? Which do you have more competitive intelligence about?

It’s that time of year again, when the country is consumed by March Madness, that annual rite of Spring in which Cinderellas, Dark Horses and Number 1 seeds all hope the months of hard work, planning and strategy sessions pay off. It’s a time when coaching staffs and scouting departments are working overtime, trying to find that bit of knowledge, that key piece of competitive intelligence, that will propel them to victory and the admiration of their peers – just like you trying to fill out your bracket for the annual office pool.

Perhaps that’s what makes the NCAA tournament unique on the American sports landscape (that and the associated drop-off in workplace productivity) – it gives everyone an opportunity to participate.

The brackets are the great democratizer of sports fandom. It doesn’t matter whether you went to Duke or a #16 seed no-hoper, everybody has a chance to win their office pool or impress their friends by picking the winners. This year a perfect bracket might also make you a billionaire. Spoiler Alert: The odds of a perfect bracket are one in 9.2 quintillion (you have a better chance of successfully navigating an asteroid field). It’s also a great opportunity for anybody who’s ever watched Dickie V, Clark Kellogg, Jay Bilas or Bill Raftery and thought, “I know more than those guys,” to put their brackets where there mouth is.

The truth is, many fans do know more than the so-called experts because access to information has never been greater than it is today. Now, anybody – and everybody – has access to player highlights, detailed statistical breakdowns, games summaries and recaps, and the latest news regarding injuries. In fact, if anything, there’s too much information available.

What separates the best pundits, and bracketologists, from everybody else is the ability to not just collect information, but to interpret it. Understanding what’s valuable data and what’s noise is the key to picking the right #12 over #5 upset and accurately predicting which number 1 seeds will make it to the Final Four (and which ones won’t).

College Basketball’s Growing Analytics Trend

Much like how data has changed professional baseball (see Moneyball), college basketball is increasingly being driven by statistical analysis. When evaluating players, stats like points scored, rebounds and assists are now mere vanity metrics, similar to likes and follows in social media. Progressive coaches like these (ESPN Insider subscription required) realize that information has never been more critical. A pre-season article from this past November in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette outlines the changes:

“Athletic departments are spending thousands of dollars on computer programs to help better analyze data. Jobs once held by basketball experts are now being offered to graduates with finance, statistics and economics degrees, all in an effort to succeed in a crowded college basketball industry that generates $1.1 billion annually, according to the U.S. Department of Education.”

Competitive advantage can be a matter of knowing which matchups you can leverage or which defensive scheme to employ against your next opponent. It’s why coaches and fans alike have been rushing to KenPom.com these last few days, scouring the site that breaks down hoops analytics like no other. Knowing how to analyze real-time data, and more importantly how to act upon it in the form of critical half-time adjustments, is often a deciding factor.

Maybe this is why so many great college coaches have gone on to write business books. Mike Krzyzewski, Rick Pitino, Bob Knight, Dean Smith & Pat Summit all know the value of competitive intelligence and the advantages it brings on the court and in business.  Today, business resembles the frantic pace of a basketball game in the final two minutes as Social Media has created an ‘always-on,’ 24/7 business environment. For marketers this brings with it great challenges and equally great opportunities. Never before have brands had so many issues to deal with: increased competition, new and dynamic media channels, a participatory consumer with the means to speak loudly in the public forum; all these factors can make a CMO feel like an undersized point guard facing a full court press.

Utilizing Competitive Intelligence in Business

Yet at the same time marketers have access to tools that let them make sense of all this. We’ve seen the advent of Command Centers that help brands and their agencies take advantage of Real Time Marketing opportunities like the Super Bowl.  But of course not every brand can invest in a Command Center like Gatorade, or mobilize a strike force of writers, graphic designers, ad execs and legal teams to send out the perfect tweet to capitalize on a power failure like Oreo did last year. What most brand marketers need is an everyday tool that allows them to make sound decisions based on data, just like a good basketball coach does.

So, this year when you’re filling out your bracket, ask yourself this question: Do I have more information about the starting center for Wichita State than I do about my content marketing strategy? If the answer is yes, we’d love to talk with you. We’re Unmetric and we believe that when you connect people with information great things can happen.

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Blame Chiat/Day: Or, How Do We Solve The Agency Office Design Problem?

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Here’s a recipe for disaster:

1 part novelty

1 part hype

1 part economic efficiency

The result? The open office floorplan!

Yes, the once revolutionary solve-all for workplace collaboration, innovation and cultural reinvention has fallen on hard times.  FastCo.Labs recently ran an article under the title, Death to the Open Office Floor Plan! which does a pretty good job of outlining what many people already know – sitting in a giant room, within earshot (and virus shot) of 40 co-workers may not be best for, well, much of anything. Last month Fast Company ran a piece on the Top 10 things people hate about open office which, after reading it, will likely lead you to utter aloud, “no kidding.”  It all seems pretty obvious really. So how did we in the creative world get here? Blame Jay Chiat. Wired certainly did.

Ok, not really, but certainly his legendary office transformation in L.A. kickstarted the trend. Opened in 1994, every employee got a laptop and a cell phone and entered the workplace, left to fend for themselves. Only a couple of years later, this concept was abandoned “to combat employees’ overwhelmingly negative response.” But Chiat was finished yet, the move ushered in a new era of creative workplace design. Chiat/Day moved to [...] a vast warehouse designed for 500 employees by Clive Wilkinson Architects, are a microcosmic ”Chiat town” of private and group work spaces and public ”streets” and meeting places that provide for every kind of company activity. Staff members enjoy kaffeeklatsches in a ”Central Park,” mingle on a ”main street” and have a work space they can call home in surrounding ”neighborhoods.”

That 1998 New York Times piece was followed two years later by an essay in The New Yorker by Malcolm Gladwell. Now this is pre-Tipping Point Gladwell, but it’s got all the elements of a great Gladwell piece. He brings in some arcane reference points, niche experts and weaves an fascinating story on workplace design, referencing the Chiat/Day office evolutions. Gladwell, as Gladwell does so well, writes convincingly about group dynamics, psychology and human behaviors, all the while lacing it with expert testimony from people like an M.I.T. researcher who found that if colleagues were stationed too far apart, they rarely interacted, and in fact were more likely to engage with someone outside their office (and this was before email and the Internet!) than a co-worker on the other side of the building. And so Chiat’s Office Reinvention 2.0, an urban city concept seems an intriguing one. How we got from there to people staring at screens and wearing headphones is another story. [You can read the full Gladwell piece here].

In a more recent New Yorker piece, Maria Konnikova writes: In 2011, the organizational psychologist Matthew Davis reviewed more than a hundred studies about office environments. He found that, though open offices often fostered a symbolic sense of organizational mission, making employees feel like part of a more laid-back, innovative enterprise, they were damaging to the workers’ attention spans, productivity, creative thinking, and satisfaction. 

And so creative agencies in recent years have looked for other ways to promote creativity and innovation. Jorge Barba of the Game Changer blog recently wrote about office design and innovation, noting, “Up there with “innovation”, “lean startup”and “design thinking”, the latest word to make it to buzzword-bingo is “Lab”.

Writing for the Influx Insights blog in 2010, Ed Cotton notes that, “[h]aving a “lab” mentality is a must for agencies today.” He cites efforts by BBH and Ogilvy in this area, noting their different approaches to the idea. Creative Bloq takes an even deeper dive into agency labs in this piece, concluding, “If we can learn anything about labs from the agencies we spoke to, it’s that without them you can easily miss fantastic opportunities – not just to identify emerging technology and ideas, but to find brilliant people willing to push your agency to the next level.”

But ultimately it’s not the office layout that determines collaboration. Christening an area as your “Lab” doesn’t guarantee superior creativity. Those attributes are the result of culture and that’s determined by who you hire and the people in charge of leading the organization. Every agency is different – location and clients being just two factors – and who (and how) you hire is a far greater influence on culture that office design.  But even more important is the mindset and actions of the people at the top. They set the tone and if innovation and collaboration are not just what they talk about, but who they are, then the rest of the agency will take their lead.

Is that enough however, or is there another factor at play? More so than office design, is the size of the agency an inhibitor to great work? Maybe it’s not open floor plan per se that is the problem, but rather than agencies try to fit 50 or 60 people into that model. Does open floor plan work better with 10 people or less? Does collaboration in general have an equivalent to Dunbar’s Number? Perhaps, rather than putting the entire planning department together, or an entire agency, in one big room, the answer is to create a series of smaller open areas where teams can congregate is the right option. I’m sure this happens at many agencies, I’ve certainly been a part of ad hoc ‘war rooms’ for big pitches or other temporary projects, but maybe that should be instituted on a more formal, permanent basis.

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Here’s A List Of The Least Despised U.S. Brands

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On Wednesday, AdWeek ran an article titled, The Best Perceived Brands of 2013It was a recap of a recent YouGov Brand Index survey that “measures consumer perception of brands by asking consumers if they’ve heard anything negative or positive about them and assigns a score ranging from 100 to -100 by subtracting the negative from the positive feedback.”  Here’s a look at the top brands courtesy of a AdWeek graphic:

data-brandindex-01-2014

Now here’s what I find fascinating. Everyone one of the top saw a year-on-year decline in brand perception. And these are the cream of the crop! On average the Top 10 brands dropped nearly 7 points. Put another way, the Top 10 brands averaged a score of a little over 26 points. The 6.9 average drop amongst them from 2012 represents a more than 25% decline in brand perception.

If I follow the methodology correctly the Top 10 are receiving roughly three negative pieces of feedback for every positive one. Nike, the darling of every marketing case study has a score of 16.5. What in the world is going on here?

It seems to me that there is something fundamentally wrong culturally. The would appear to be a massive gap between how brands would like to be perceived and the reality of the situation.  If the scores are any indication, there isn’t a magic bullet solution here either.

Dissecting the Top 10 is a fascinating exercise as well. You’ve got old, traditional brands like Ford, V8 and Cheerios right next to Amazon and YouTube. Media outlets like History Channel and brick and mortar locations like Lowe’s.  If I were to take a stab at it, I think all 10 are perceived as providing value, or empowering people in some way. Take control of your health (Walgreens, Subway, V8, Cheerios), DIY (Lowe’s, YouTube), on-demand (Amazon, Kindle). Ford and History channel are interesting. They both are a nod to nostalgia, perhaps even patriotism on some level, but neither brand feels stuffy or out of date.

It would be worth a deeper dive to see if there aren’t some other insights that can be derived from this survey.

 

 

 

 

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Gamification in the Workplace

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In this past Sunday’s Wall St. Journal, Farhad Manjoo had a piece on gamification in the workplace. It begins…

Envision that every one of your professional endeavors was meticulously tracked and measured in points, that there were levels to complete and you were given prizes for excellence. That every workplace action provided a tangible sensation of winning or losing as part of a system engineered to keep you addicted, thrilled to come back every morning.

I attempted to do just that back in 2012. Working at Y&R advertising at the time, I wanted to explore motivation, cross-discipline collaboration, measurement of productivity and other issues within a creative environment that often defaults to rather soft metrics when assessing output from both a qualitative and quantitative standpoint.  I should preface this by saying I by no means consider myself an expert in game mechanics, which is a real science and requires some real rigor. My experience with game mechanics, and the broader concept of gamification comes from my experience working with Badgeville, a leader in this space and a company that is mentioned in Manjoo’s article. I’ve seen a little bit of how the sausage was made and I found it fascinating and more complex than I, or I imagine most people, originally assumed.

Before diving in it’s important to understand that the blanket term gamification that gets thrown around has probably hurt more than helped. I’ve heard people just throw it out there without a real understanding. Like most tools, it can be used in a multitude of ways and before you implement it, it’s important to understanding a variety of factors:

  • What are you trying to accomplish?
  • What are the existing behaviors of those who will be using the system?
  • Will this program be competitive or cooperative in nature?
  • Will it be individual or community-based?

There are many more factors of course, I’m just listing a couple to give you an idea. One other important thing to mention, and this is something brought up in the article. Manjoo writes:

“Getting people to do things they don’t really want to do turns out to be a key mission of workplace gamification.” 

One of the core tenants reiterated in many of my conversations with Badgeville was that “gamification won’t get people to do things they don’t already want to do.”  Or, maybe they’ll do it once, but they won’t stick with it very long and they’ll resent you for the manipulation. I’m not arguing with Manjoo’s assertion, my guess is that that is exactly how many organizations are implementing gamification on the enterprise level. My guess is that they will be disappointed with the results.

Game mechanics are better used in service of engaging people in activities they are already interested in participating in. That’s why it works so great in games, or people who are already motivated to connect with others via social platforms (think LinkedIn profile completion progress bar.)  Game mechanics can work great within communities that are focused on a common cause. I’d wager that workplace implementation of gamification strategies fairs poorly in companies that have a toxic corporate culture. Conversely, and somewhat ironically, places that have a great culture probably don’t need to use game mechanics to motivate employees.

So, how did my experiment go? It was certainly educational. I learned about my own motivational triggers, what sort of activities I liked doing and what I didn’t, and which ones I was best at. I also learned a good amount about implementing game mechanics. Here are some key take-aways:

Have a common cause

Whether you are using game mechanics on individuals or groups, in competitive or cooperative situations, it’s important that it ladder up to something more than just points and badges. Needing everybody to get their timesheets in on time is not enough of a reason. Gamification can be a great way to help employees understand how they fit into the bigger picture (lack of that understanding is a big reason people leave a company.)

Story matters 

Here’s where the science meets creativity. Yes, I created a sophisticated points and ranking system that took into account dozens of different transactions and engagements that I regularly undertook. But I wrapped that in a story about needing to reach certain point totals to help my creative muses escape the clutches of an evil villain.

Understand the Psychology of Your Potential Users

I can be super-competitive at times. I knew going in that what I created would appeal to me, and I created something that would press all the right buttons for me since I was the only player in this game. It’s important to understand the larger group dynamics within the organization. Would individual players want to know other people’s scores? Would that inspire, depress or potentially embarrass them? Would a competitive game with one winning team or player be better, or should it be set up to be a cooperative experience where individuals are helping each other? Or would the entire concept of gamification go over like a lead balloon? If your company isn’t a good fit for this sort of thing, don’t force it.

Have a Plan for the Long Game

My experiment went pretty well for the first five months. I set it up so that I would be motivated to do things that I felt were important, but that weren’t perhaps things that came naturally to me. Initially I found that I was engaging in those activities, and in general I was doing more and had a better understanding of what my overall output was. But after a while it became a bit mechanical. I hadn’t fully planned out a sequel or continuing adventure to keep the motivation high. Playing completely by myself (and being the game designer as well) was certainly a factor there, but the rule still holds true. Once you commit to engaging people through gamification, and they commit to the program, you have to make sure you know how to continue the program and be clear about how it will progress and how it will end.

Communication

This wasn’t an issue I ran into in my experiment, but it’s something I’ve experienced participating in many gamified environments. You need to over-communicate to the participants. Yes, you know what’s happening and why and when, but they don’t. This shouldn’t be a mystery, clear objectives and goals should be stated. Let people know what they need to do to succeed, how it works and who they can contact if they have questions. That being said…

Surprise!

What you do want to do is add little elements of surprise, or humor or some other trigger that gives the user a little moment of joy. It could be in the copy you write, humorous badge art or an inside joke turned into the name of a super-power earned.  The more personal to your organization the better.

Fiero and Naches

I can’t make this an exhaustive primer on gamification, but here are two key elements you do want to understand and consider. Fiero refers to the feeling of accomplishment one gets when succeeding in a task that is just hard enough to be challenging. Creating a system that achieves enough of those moments is difficult and I’m sure something that isn’t often considered in the enterprise level gamification that Manjoo is writing about. Naches is the sense of pride one has when we see the success of someone we taught or helped. Parents get this with their kids, and there are no doubt people at your workplace who thrive on the sense. How are you creating, fostering and rewarding that behavior is a key question.

When done right, game mechanics can be as powerful as the hype surrounding it. But I’d caution that you have to really understand it and put resources behind doing it right.

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The Death of Facebook?

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Menlo Park, We’ve Got A Problem

Facebook’s got a problem. One that I saw coming last year (Ed. note: I certainly wasn’t the only one).  I was at a Facebook event in

Facebook Has A Facebook Problem

Facebook Has A Facebook Problem

New York as they explained to marketers how their system worked and how marketers could best leverage the platform. I remember sitting there and thinking, “So, this EdgeRank system is going to let Facebook determine what people see and don’t see in their feeds? Facebook is going to manipulate that so brands will have to pay to be in people’s feeds.” Again, I wasn’t the only one who came to that conclusion.

Fast forward to December 2013 and what do we see? Headlines like this:

Facebook Admits Organic Reach is Falling Short, Urges Marketers To Buy Ads – AdAge

Facebook Wants to Be a Newspaper. Facebook Users Have Their Own Ideas. – All Things D (WSJ)

Facebook Brand Pages Suffer 44% Decline in Reach Since December 1 – Ignite Social Media

Facebook Finally Admits That You Do Have To Pay For Ads To Reach Your Fans – J Campbell Social Marketing

That sounds problematic.  While this is certainly an issue of Facebook’s own doing, there is a fundamental misunderstanding of the platform behind this.

People Are From Mars, Brands Are From Venus

What we’re seeing is a mismatch of purposes. What people want to do on Facebook and what brands want to do on Facebook are, depending on your outlook, either simply different or fundamentally opposed.  I have over 1,000 connections on Facebook and the amount of times I’ve seen those connections talk about brands, unaided and with positive sentiment, is something I could count on one hand. Complain about a brand? Sure, all the time. Make fun of a brand? Frequently.  Most people just aren’t on Facebook to have a “relationship” with a brand. They want to wish a cousin happy birthday; talk about the big game on Saturday; post a photo of their daughter going to her first day of 5th grade; or share a video of an adorable dog trying to catch its own tail. These are all personal, intimate expressions of people connecting with other people.

By contrast, most brands are posting stock photos of their products or trying to solicit engagement with entreaties like, “share this post if you think Fall is the best season!”  That is when they can find time between bouts of self-immolation with posts that range from insensitive to downright insulting.

So, at its core we have a purpose problem, not a technical one, and brands are caught between Scylla and Charybdis. On one side they are being squeezed by Facebook, asked to invest money if they want to be seen by more than a small percentage of the people who have self-selected as being interested in the brand. On the other hand, be careful what you wish for because a lot of people would try to figure out how to turn off updates from brands if they were exposed to the pablum most brands turn out on a regular basis.

So, Should Brands Even Be On Facebook?

As exposure rates continue to decline (without paying to play), should brands even bother with Facebook? The answer, as with most cases in Social Media, comes back to this fundamental question: What do you want to do?

If driving sales is the primary business objective right now, and you need volume, I’m not sure Facebook is the best platform. Especially if you don’t have an established community of millions of people. But having some presence on Facebook certainly makes sense. People are there, they want to know that you are there. But maybe your Facebook presence should be less about your products and more about the story of your brand. Or what if it was completely focused on your employees? Or your customers?

The Problem Isn’t Facebook, It’s You.

Remember in Ferris Bueller when a stoned out of his mind Charlie Sheen is talking to Ferris’ sister in the police precinct. She’s telling him about the cosmic injustice she faces daily as Ferris lives a charmed life. He tells her the problem isn’t Ferris, it’s her. She should stop worrying about Ferris and just deal with her own issues. Very Zen.  Similarly, brands should stop worrying about Facebook and its constant tinkering with its own system and start worrying about the time of content they create – whether on Facebook or any other platform, from Twitter to YouTube to a website or mobile experience.

If you create content that contains value, that entertains, informs or educates, people will find it (and share it). If your content contains a human truth, if it speaks to people’s emotions, you’ll build a community that will want to engage with you.

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Should a Fast Food Outlet Employ an All You Can Eat Strategy in Social Media?

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Burger King Norway has decided to “Think Outside The Bun” when it comes to social media. Wait, that’s Taco Bell’s tagline. Ok, let’s just say BK Norway is taking a decidedly unconventional approach in regards to their Facebook page. FastCo.Create has the details. The short version is that BK Norway offered followers to their Facebook page a coupon for a free Big Mac – the key product of their chief rival! – to those people who would unfollow BK Norway. That’s right, they gave away somebody else’s signature item in an effort to lose followers. Why on Earth would they do that?

Social Media strategy, brand loyalty and community engagement all put to the test

Social Media strategy, brand loyalty and community engagement all put to the test

Here’s the thing about Facebook “likes,” especially for brands: Likes are a cheap, and I would say frequently arbitrary and misleading metric. Especially when you lure an audience with free goodies and coupons. Those are fans of your brand, those are fans of a brand called “Gimme Free Stuff.” Listen to what Burger King Scandinavia marketing director Sven Hars said in explaining the rationale for the move:

“This campaign gave us the opportunity to get rid of all the fans that just liked us because of freebies,” says Hars. “We stopped focusing on how many likes we had, and put time and resources into finding out what to talk about and how to engage our fans.”

Bingo. Several key insights here. Let’s break ‘em down:

1. They got rid of the “fans” that were just there because of the freebies.

Those people are going to be nothing but a drain on resources. They’ll want to know when they are getting their free food, and then they’ll likely complain about the quality when they do — both in public. Don’t believe me? Go ask TGI Friday’s.

2. They stopped focusing on “likes.”

Quick, go to your Facebook profile and review the brands you’ve “liked.” My bet is that you can’t remember ever “liking” about 30% of them, you have patronized another 30% in the last year (or ever) and then there’s another 30% that you do use/buy, but their Facebook presence has nothing to do with it. Focusing on “likes” is a never-ending race to nowhere. What’s a successful number of “likes” to have? One million? Ten million? Who knows. Likes are a result of doing the right thing, not a means to and ends.

3. They decided to do some research and focus on the people who matter

Most brands, especially in this category, just pump out product promotions, but Facebook – and by extension social media – isn’t, or at least shouldn’t, be about that. It should be about understanding how people live, what they really want, and being part of culture. Then figure how your brand (not your product) fits in.

Yes, BK Norway has a lot fewer fans on their Facebook page. But these are people who, when given the choice, declared they would prefer to stay loyal to Burger King over their chief rival. Now BK has set up an us vs. them situation, just the type of thing that can be the catalyst for building a true community.  Again, here’s Hars on the results of the move…

 ”There are so many more conversations going on between both us and the fans, and the fans in general,” he says. “Focus on quality for us has led to a dedicated and loyal fan base, and has also made it easier for our fans to connect to the brand.”

Conversations are a better way of measuring than mere “likes.” In a category where quantity usually trumps quality, at least when it comes to products, it’s great to see a brand focus on the latter.

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