For the love of type

Posted by Mike Walsh

11/20/14 11:55 AM




I was fascinated with dictionaries as a child. Not just the traditional ones, full of obscure words and mysterious meanings, but the great dictionaries of history, the illustrated medieval texts and secret alchemical treatises. A dictionary is as much a celebration of type as it is a stage for words and meaning. Letters and typography have their own magic, and as I started planning my own book, I wanted to bring that power to life in a new way.

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CATEGORY: Marketing

Five Ways To Weaponize Your Brand Storytelling

Posted by Mike Walsh

4/1/12 11:52 AM

shoot!As you read this the world’s most dangerous symbol is only a few inches from your eyes. That small, blue thumbs-up icon may look harmless enough but not if it distracts you from the real game in town - arming your brand to tell better stories.

The future of your social media success is not chasing friends and followers, but rather influencing what they are talking about. Here's my prediction - your most important decision this year will not be the amount of money you spend recruiting fans on Facebook, but rather the investment you make in the stories through which your brand tells your customers what it stands for. Let me explain.

When a fighter jet approaches an aircraft carrier to land, after a high G turn to throw off speed, they then do the unthinkable - they rev to full throttle. The idea is simple. If the jet misses the arresting gear wire, it needs enough velocity to take off again. But stranger still, is the fact that I learned this not from talking to a pilot but the marketing director of IWC watches in Geneva.

At the SIHH watch fair this year, IWC staged an incredible, immersive brand environment that created the illusion you had stepped on board a high tech naval vessel. Awash with a cast of real life Top Gun veterans and celebrities - all recruited to do the one thing that luxury brands do better than just about anyone else - telling sophisticated brand stories to sell IWC products.

According to Karoline Huber, head of marketing at the Swiss watch brand, IWC tells two kinds of stories to attract its customers. There are horizontal stories that establish heritage, explain provenance and reassure customers of the brand's long history of quality, engineering and authenticity. And then there are vertical stories - annual themes like military aviation, deep diving, ship navigation or Italian south coast lifestyle - that support specific product lines and provide a contemporary edge to the core brand values. In the luxury industry, stories are what establish a brand's prestige - not just because they defend premium pricing, but because they provide something for their customers to believe and talk about. The brand becomes an expression of the customer’s beliefs and it is this they want to share.

So why should this matter to you? Luxury brands are one thing - but you sell washing machines, industrial tunnelling machines, legal services or mortgages. Truth is - whatever business you are in - if you want to engage your customers on social platforms, you need to think very deliberately about what you want them to talk about. You need to be telling them the story that they will want to express in turn to their network.

It is no longer enough to just hire a team of copywriters to invent clever fictions about your brand. In the very near future, you will need to think about how you turn your stories into weapons of mass attention.

Here are five ideas to get you started today:

1. Build A Dedicated Content Team
The worst thing you can do is outsource your storytelling and content to your marketing agency. Think seriously about bringing your content resources in house - even if it is just the editors to drive the content strategy. If you don't have them already - you need a strong set of video assets for YouTube, regulararticles for your blog and newsletters, whitepapers and controversial thought pieces, and other interesting content for people to share on their networks.

2. Close The Loop
Storytelling may seem like an art, but these days it is also a science. Spend time understanding the new tools of inbound marketing, and track which articles and videos attract the most leads, and which of those leads end up becoming customers. Platform integration and data analytics can be tough to implement, but when you can understand exactly what types of content really engage and convert consumers, it will transform the way you think about your brand stories and further inform how you allocate marketing funds.

3. Bring In The Anthropologists
Study the lives of your tribes. You may know what kinds of stories you want to tell, but what stories are your customers listening to or already telling each other about your products? How are these stories changing, and what is driving these changes? These questions are a study anthropology, not academia. Immerse yourself in your customers’ lives to gain critical insights into how to make your brands truly a part of their story.

4. Leverage Pinterest
The persona board is already a favourite tool for brand experts. They are a quirky way of illustrating a consumer segment through a collage of products, pop culture and activities that best represent them. Spend some time on Pinterest and you will realise that the future business model of that platform may lie in the incredible data on product and brand affinity it offers marketers. As a very early example, check out the Women's Inspiration Day campaign by Kotex in Israel, where the brand used Pinterest to find out what inspired fifty women from their pin-up boards and sent care packages based on their contents. By being creative you can quickly apply this approach to any product. For example in mortgages perhaps you ask your customers to collect images of what they will buy with the savings you have achieved for them over the life of the loan. Surely a more interesting story than a 0.75% reduction in their interest rate!

5. Scale Global, Talk Local
The most compelling stories always have a local twist, and social media is no exception. I've been watching for some time how global brands like Converse have successfully engaged new consumers in markets like China by contextualising global brand values with hyper local content strategies. And in emerging markets, local celebrity endorsement whether on Weibo in China or Orkut in Brazil - is a critical part of local engagement. Social platforms may standardize in many markets, but consumers will retain a very native perspective on the content and individuals that influence them. Global CMOs will have the increasingly tough challenge of navigating the tensions between global values and local context - but the companies that become adept at this, will be clear winners in the digital space.

When I first started giving my Futuretainment presentations a number of years ago - I predicted that brands would need to behave more like media companies, and media companies more like brands. The advent of social media has made this shift a reality today. When so many are competing for 140 characters of consumer mindspace, brands have to be consistent, clear, deliberate and ruthlessly strategic about how they craft and articulate their stories in order to achieve cut-through.

Oscar Wilde's said it best - 'the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about at all.' Sage advice. The marketers of the future will arm their customers with stories worth talking about, or risk the fate of having thousands of friends with nothing to say.

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CATEGORY: Marketing

Why Inspiration Trumps Imitation

Posted by Mike Walsh

8/23/11 4:11 PM

Sony Store

You can have too much of a good thing, especially if it wasn’t yours to start with. Here’s the perfect example - brands that shamelessly imitate the strategies of their major competitors. I was scouting the Westfield complex in Century City, LA last week and noticed a new Sony concept store a few feet from a classic Apple retail shrine. It was striking how similar both stores appeared, except for one crucial distinction - Sony was devoid of customers.

Years ago I remember watching a fascinating interview with Steve Jobs. He was comparing himself to Microsoft and Bill Gates, explaining that their mission at Apple was to take as much as they could from art, music, history, science and technology - in his words ‘the best things that humans have done’ - and cram it into their products. That’s why, he said while people use Microsoft products, they love the ones that Apple makes. The difference was passion.

Apple’s retail strategy is also no stranger to appropriation. Next time you are in front of one of their stores, stop for a minute and squint your eyes so that the laptops and screens disappear and all you can see are abstract shapes, materials and lighting. Anything look 

familiar? When they designed their stores, Apple took direct inspiration from the world of luxury boutiques with their expensive construction materials, theatrical street presence and sparse merchandising, They ruthlessly imitated, but importantly - it was not from the playbooks of their immediate competition.

That said - there are some limited scenarios when direct imitation works as a disruptive strategy. For example when you take an expensive product, and deliver a comparable substitute at a dramatically lower pricer point. Although their customers might deny it - low priced imitation is the secret behind the success of fashion brands like Zara and H&M. They directly copy high fashion styles from established luxury brands, and rapidly manufacture and curate market appropriate products at prices mass market consumers can afford. Not so dissimilar is the practice of Chinese ‘shanzhai’ or bandit phone manufacturers, who offer clones of high end smartphones at substantial discounts to their originals, and in doing so, open up entirely new consumer niches.

The distinction between inspiration and imitation might be nuanced, but the competitive differentiation can be vast. Steve Jobs was always fond of the infamous Picasso quip - 'good artists copy but great artists steal'. But what does stealing really mean? When you steal something, you don’t just take it - you make it your own. Sage advice for the next time someone asks you to look over your shoulder and mindlessly mimic something your competition does.

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CATEGORY: Retail, Marketing

The 7 Motivators Of Sharing

Posted by Mike Walsh

8/7/11 4:56 AM



Now that it is fashionable to be sociable, those wretched share buttons are turning up everywhere. Read an article, book a flight, buy some shoes, finish a book - you are endlessly encouraged to let other people know. Surely it won’t be long, before they even ask us to tweet about paying our traffic fines. But here’s the problem. Making it easy for people to share is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for social success. People are happy to share things when they feel like it. The real question then, is what motivates them?

No one wakes up in the morning thinking they need to share something on Facebook. Perhaps you could argue that spending time on social networks nourishes the ‘belonging’ phase in Maslow’s infamous 'Hierarchy Of Needs'. Personally, I’m not convinced that human desires are even hierarchical to start with. But there is no doubt that when it comes to our online behaviour - we are just as emotional, irrational and driven as we are in the physical world. From my observations of digital consumers - I’ve created a list of seven motivating factors for why people share. Here they are in no particular order:

1. To be a network alpha
There is always someone in your group who likes to be the first to discover and share the latest pop culture meme, interesting article or crazy statistic. This is no accident. ‘Network alphas’ spend a considerable amount of time and effort to establish themselves as the primary node in your circle of friends. They share content because it establishes their status in their group. If you want them to pay attention to you, make sure you feed them your material first.

2. To be more attractive
If you thinking about human motivators, you can’t go very far without acknowledging the magnetic compulsion of sex. People share inspiring quotes, their dreams and passions, pictures of themselves having fun on exotic holidays or driving glamorous sports cars - not for the sake of pure content creation, but rather to signal their suitability to the opposite sex. If we reveal ourselves through what we share, ask yourself this - will sharing your content make someone look sexy, or a complete dork?

3. To think out loud
Sometimes people also share things for organisational reasons. Everyday I share dozens of articles on - not because I care whether anyone is subscribing to my feed, or because I’m trying to vote up a particular article - but for the simple fact that tagging and sharing means that I can come back later and access my research from the Cloud.

4. To be part of something bigger
Sharing can also be a way of participating in a groundswell of collective action. We can add our ‘likes’, comments and votes to a big idea, a timely charity, or an election campaign. The visibility of our sharing behaviour during this process is important - because it binds us closer together with people with similar views and passions. That is why the share counts on posts or webpages can create momentum effects.

5. To build social ties
Have you noticed that after a party or a work function, there is generally someone in your network who insists on uploading photos and videos and tagging everyone in them? Sometimes it is a nice way to relive the collective moment. Other times - it’s an embarrassing reminder not to drink Tequila in public. But social cohesion is a powerful force. Groups - social or work related - become more dynamic with a greater sense of common purpose when they participate in collaborative sharing behaviours.

6. To get feedback
Content creators are motivated to share content to get feedback on their ideas. There is nothing less inspiring than writing a blog post or editing a video, for it then to languish in isolation on your hard drive. People who write and produce, do so increasingly for a public audience. We share what we make with people we hope will in turn share it with others.

7. To be famous
The final, and perhaps the overriding motivation for online sharing behaviours - is to get noticed. There are many figures in the digital community who are largely famous for being famous, and who have used social media and frequent sharing as a way of building their fan bases. Super sharers like Robert Scoble, Gary Vaynerchuk and Guy Kawasaki have built large followings as a result of early adopter domination of new social platforms. Sometimes you don't have to offer free iPads or discounts to get people to share. Help them become more visible in their networks, and they will move mountains to share things for you.

A few caveats. Firstly I'm not the only person who is thinking about this. The New York Times and Latitude Research recently put out their own research on this subject. You can read it here. The other thing you should bear in mind is that any list like this needs to be taken with a cultural grain of salt. Consumers will behave very differently online and on social networks depending on their cultural programming. To be considered ‘digitally social’ in Brazil means something very different than what it does in the US, or in China for that matter. Nevertheless, if you are a brand or a professional marketer - understanding the true motivations for why your customers are willing to share your content and products is essential for your long term survival.

The future of marketing may be social - but the brand consumers care about is theirs, not yours.

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CATEGORY: Marketing, Social

This Moleskine May Damage Your Health

Posted by Mike Walsh

7/1/11 7:18 AM


If I have learnt one thing from studying innovation in emerging markets it is that constraint is the mother of invention. When you are short of energy, money or resources - you are often forced to find solutions that are smarter, cheaper and more flexible. But there is another, darker example of constraint led innovation - tobacco marketing. As you can see from this photo I shot at the airport duty free the other day, Davidoff were more than a little inspired by Moleskine in their latest packaging design. Time for more regulation - the non-smokers and air puritans among you cry! But is there any point? The real issue in controlling Big Tobacco in the future will be not stamping out innovation but dealing with what consumers are already doing on their behalf. Social media is a minefield for tobacco regulators.

So far, the big brands have exercised caution about lighting up on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. But in a sense, they haven’t needed to do anything. Search YouTube for references to Marlboro and you will find thousands of videos - none of them created by the brand themselves. Clips from movies, old Marlboro Man TV ads, and bizarrely enough - smoker fan videos. Equally disconcerting - growing membership numbers on consumer generated fan pages and forums. All of this demonstrates one simple fact - in a network connected world - marketing is less about what brands say to consumers, and more about what consumers say about brands to each other. In the future, banning cigarette marketing will prove increasingly futile. Already in many countries, packet warnings seem tepid, and at times, even counterproductive. In Istanbul I saw one packet with a picture of a beautiful woman and an empty baby stroller. The label helpfully proclaimed that smoking makes it harder to get your girlfriend pregnant. The ambiguity of that statement is fairly self evident!

So here’s the issue - you can try and stop Big Tobacco advertising, regulate their packaging and even force them to display their brands as generic texts - but the damage is done. The iconic metaphors of smoking - The Marlboro Man, Joe Camel and the millions of scenes in movies old and new - have taken on a life of their own. Like the artist Richard Prince’s re-photographs of smoking cowboy advertisements - our commercial unconscious is already full of the ghosts of prohibited brand icons roaming free in the landscapes of our mind. And can you really hope to ban consumers talking about the brands they love?

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CATEGORY: Marketing

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