Archive for July, 2010

Why context matters more than ever

J Walker Smith and David Bersoff write:

We’ve just had a piece published in Admap where we argue that the challenge of context is the biggest challenge facing marketing – and until it’s addressed, everything else is a waste of time.  Research at Columbia University  illustrates why. In a web-based experiment respondents were asked to listen to and rate unknown songs by unknown bands, then given the opportunity to download as many as they liked. One group of respondents made download choices independently. The other group of respondents made download choices after first being told, in different ways, choices made by previous respondents. The influence of others turned out to be far more important than the individual’s own opinions.

The implications? As the Columbia team noted in their summary, most studies “view the individual as the relevant unit of analysis”. But “when individual decisions are subject to social influence, markets do not simply aggregate pre-existing individual preferences”. In other words, when context is missing, the research results are wrong. Both marketing, and marketing research, will have to change to keep up.

Fragmenting technologies, and fragmented markets, have disaggregated the audience for marketing, and the mass market has splintered. But we’re still using models that were developed when mass media was dominant. Now that people are ever more deeply embedded in narrowly drawn networks of information and influences, contextual reference points play a bigger role in moulding choices. People are surrounding themselves with input they have chosen. The result: people get more of exactly what they want, but are closed off to other ideas.

What this changes for marketers is that they must actively manage both ads and the context for ads, and managing context becomes a primary consideration, not a secondary one. In turn, this calls for an attribution-based marketing model, not to displace persuasion, but to nest it in the bigger picture, like Russian dolls inside one another. Attribution works by shifting how people think of themselves, rather than how people think of brands.

Attribution-based marketing aims to make people attend to alternative aspects of themselves. When people see themselves in new ways, they adopt new reference points for calibrating their opinions, and then behave in ways consistent with their new sense of self. Persuasion must still get the brand message right; attribution sets the context within which a brand message can succeed. The implication for research is that it needs to understand its users’ reference points as well as their opinions. It doesn’t do this well at the moment. It’s a big challenge, and also a huge opportunity.

21 July 2010 at 1:33 pm Leave a comment

Scenes from (non) office life #3

© Jake Goretzki

14 July 2010 at 2:17 pm Leave a comment

The future’s here – even in Thanet – it is just unevenly distributed…

Eleanor Cooksey writes:

We often use this quote[1] but, as far as I know, have never applied it to thinking about this part of the country. Thanet (the area of Kent made up of Margate, Broadstairs and Ramsgate) doesn’t tend to crop up in discussions about places that are doing new or interesting things, in the way, that for example, we talk about Totnes with its own currency, or Hay with its literary festival now gone international. Thanet, despite being in the south east, has high unemployment, relatively low income levels and poor health indicators.

However, after having spent a week in Thanet, I am struck by how it does appear to contain elements of what we think will be significant in the future. There are three features in particular which make me think this:

1. Old people make up a significant proportion of the population here. When working on futures projects, we often talk about the ‘ageing population’ with perhaps a reference to the impact this will have on the workplace, but I am not sure we have thought through what it means for general day-to-day living. What I see here is a perhaps a taster. It means that I see many bungalows with neat gardens full of paving stones, gravel and flower pots (meaning no stairs, lawns or flower beds to worry about). I see lots and lots of small cafes offering all-day breakfasts for very good value, where people, who may be living on their own and therefore less inclined to cook for themselves, can get a meal without incurring great expense. On the pavements and in garages, I see mobility vehicles. At the sparkly new Westwood Cross shopping centre built in the area, I couldn’t help noticing that, in addition to M&S, Debenhams, Thorntons and the like, there was also a shop specialising in mobility vehicles.

2. Renewable energy is very visible in the form of the Thanet Offshore Windfarm. On completion this year it is scheduled to have 100 wind turbines, making it, according to the website, the largest operational windfarm anywhere in the world.

3. There are new ways of growing food. Kent has traditionally been regarded as the ‘garden of England’ and the new Thanet Earth greenhouse complex represents a way of achieving this in a resource efficient and technologically enhanced way. Thanet Earth grows salad vegetables hydroponically (meaning the roots of the plants are in a type of rock wool as oppose to soil). Everything in the glasshouses is computer controlled – from the blinds in the ceilings to opening the windows, the liquid feed make-up, the heating, lighting and carbon dioxide levels.

So if you want to experience the future, or at least parts of it, go to Thanet.

[1] The quote is actually ‘The future is already here – it is just unevenly distributed’ and is from William Gibson.

The image is of Thanet wind farm and is from Warwick Energy, used with thanks.

2 July 2010 at 6:03 pm 1 comment

New consumers, new rules: branding the World Cup

Alex Steer writes:

In Cape Town, ‘This is Africa’ is normally a sort of verbal shrug. It’s what you say when you see a road that’s more pothole than tarmac, or when a breakfast meeting finally starts at noon. In the last few months, though, ‘This is Africa’ has taken on a rather different meaning, as every media channel, and every brand, scrambles to ‘welcome the world’. This is Africa, and this is Africa’s World Cup.

The more optimistic see it as a chance for one of Africa’s most successful countries to show that the whole continent is coming of age. The more pessimistic see the World Cup as a cynical commoditisation of the idea of ‘Africa’: a cheap shorthand of Lion King imagery and broad cultural stereotypes lending a false exoticism to a Euro-centric and hugely commercial football tournament. The evidence for the prosecution rests on the shambles of ticketing, which either incompetently or viciously priced the vast majority of South African and African football fans out of attending matches.

If FIFA had paid more attention to its hosts, it might have avoided mixing bland pan-Africanisms with repressive corporatism. If brands are paying attention, there are a few deeper lessons they might draw about South Africa’s new consumers (the ones that didn’t make it to the stadiums) – lessons that even consumer research sometimes misses, to its cost.

The first is the need for specificity. Just as vague nods to ‘Africa’ will not wash, neither will any brand proposition that is not explicit about why it deserves attention. FIFA’s major sponsors are spending hundreds of millions on media and global brand campaigns – yet an increasing share of purchasing power in South Africa is in the hands of millions of low-income consumers who are driven by a fundamental conception of value. Brands thrive because they offer low cost, quality, safety and personal status. Global sponsor? Nobody cares.

The World Cup has also revived the lingering stereotype of the ‘new African consumer’: young, upwardly-mobile, black and with disposable income. This isn’t confined to advertising: hugely popular soap operas like Generations and Rhythm City are dazzling cocktails of social issues and fetishisation of commercial success that make Dallas look tame. These ‘new consumers’ look remarkably like the old ones, though, and there are some signs that the use of aspirational ‘black diamond’ images to sell existing products to new target audiences is wearing a bit thin.

‘Emerging consumers’ do not think of themselves as if they were playing catch-up with richer ones – or as if they were the same as each other. The smarter brands are segmenting these markets attentively, and looking for genuine insights. Asking the wrong questions can lead brands astray. Few low-income South Africans, for example, report having life insurance (24%) or investments (17%; see Global Monitor), in part because they do not associate these labels with membership of informal burial societies or stokvels (rotating credit unions), widespread in these markets. Insightful financial services brands are developing formal versions of these, tailoring their products to their new (not ‘emerging’) consumers.

If the World Cup has given us anything, though, it is the sound of the vuvuzela. Raucous, unfamiliar, disruptive, it’s an apt metaphor for the new South African consumer landscape and its challenge to brands. You can’t block it out, you can’t change it, and you’d be churlish to try. Sorry, brands of the world, but you’ll have to get used to it. This is Africa.

Alex Steer is a WPP Marketing Fellow and worked in our London office in 2009. He is currently a planner at Ogilvy Cape Town and rejoins The Futures Company in New York in September. The picture at the top of this post comes from the internet guide to Cape Town, and is used with thanks.

1 July 2010 at 10:30 am 2 comments

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The Futures Company was created through the merger of Henley Centre HeadlightVision and Yankelovich in 2008. This is the blog of the new company - but the former posts from the former Henley Centre Headlightvision blog still can be found here.

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