Data brilliantly presented can crystalise a complex issue and to make us think. Fans of David McCandless (information is beautiful) will find plenty of examples in this show-distillations of the world’s data, information and knowledge into beautiful, interesting and, above all, useful visualizations, infographics and diagrams. I expected to see this at the show and it certainly delivered.

But what surprised me ?

  1. Pre-digital data still packs a punch

The most powerful example in the whole show was for me not a whizzy new digital data visualisation. It was over 200 years. It was brutally simple, static and in black and white. It was a visual showing how a slave ship was packed with men and women like sardines.IMG_6443

In advertising we know that emotion is a powerful persuader. This image, though, is bald fact – yet  it is more moving that the very best of the John Lewis ads because it does not try to tug at my heartstrings or tell me what to feel with stirring music. In fact it does the opposite: it invites me to use my own empathy and imagination to conjure up what the awful scene below deck in a slave ship would have looked and smelt like. I have to think for myself, which makes it a more powerful piece of communication by being implicit, than visually explicit storytelling

2) The phrase “cloud computing”  is misleading

Cloud computing conjures up an image of something fluffy, amorphous and insubstantial. In fact it is anything but. Every time you post on Facebook you produce yet more digital landfill. Your pokes and likes end up in a data centre like this one in Alaska


A fine example of how a label can change meaning- a bit like called second hand clothing ” vintage”

3) Controlling you own data 

Edward Snowden gets a big shout out at the show for exposing how corporations and governments control and access our personal data. But you knew that already- what to do about it? There is an intriguing little prototype demo at the show of how citizens could control and licence their own data and give selective access to some and block others. Pertinent in view of rise of ad-blocking.

But where are the businesses?

This show which runs till end feb is worth going to – but it’s earnest and arty. For example there is not space commercial organisations like Sky Sports and The Met Office- both of whom have been brilliantly creative in turning data into entertainment. Cricket and those endlessly fascination  weather fronts have been transformed into things of beauty


Aurora magazine recently asked me where and how i look for insights online, so i thought i would share. Here are five I find really useful (heavily influenced i guess from working at Google )

ThinkwithGoogle ( a treasure trove of think pieces and case histories about good digital marketing .

 Google trends what is trending in search right now? What are people searching for in your market right now? What does that tell you about how culture is changing or how your market is changing? You should check it every day. It might change what you think is really relevant to your brands customers.

 Slideshare Presentations shared on more topics than you can imagine. Want to know more about Behavioural Economics and its practical applications? You will fine several presentations about it here.

 Twitter If you search Twitter you can find high quality articles. But you need to narrow down it down a bit to get the right stuff. “Milllenials” as a search might be too broad “Millenial employees” or Millennial insights “ or “Millennials brands” gets you a more relevant result (assuming that is what you are looking for)

 YouTube Re:View A selection of the best of YouTube every week.. An insight what’s hot in American culture. Sit back and soak it up

is the business model of media owners down the years- and that battle has now moved to your smartphone.

Winning apps find ways to “scratch your itches”many times a day. Facebook  is the most energetic in enticing you back to their platform with a continuous flow of digital addiction-it started with “poking” for me and most recently I have found it irresistible not to look back on “memories from a years ago” ( most recent innovation) as well as “my year on Facebook”(which was as i recall launched last Christmas). With Facebook you feel that they constantly at your elbow nudging you check out your page and anxious should you drift away and fall out of the Facebook habit. They are right to be paranoid.

Snapchat has been making moves too – originally, it was a visual messaging app with an auto-delete after viewing.( that was its launch USP).  Then they curated “content snacks” from a whole range of media brands in a section called “discover” (see below)



But that did not take off and so they have launched a “live” channel which consists of an edited selection of videos submitted by snap-chatters in a particular locality-

“London life” gives you a window into what fellow users up to based on the video clips they submit. It is weirdly fascinating content – rough and ready , generated by ” people like you” and and a “things to do” prompt. For people who submit it is also like a competition – will my clip make it to the final cut ? somehow you can’t resist checking it out – but to work the video mash up  will need to change everyday or even several times a day IMG_6245IMG_6246In the social media app market snapchat is a challenger that has to be inventive just to stay in the game up against a well funded heavy hitter in Facebook

What happens if you don’t keep evolving your app to make it irresistible ?

The recent fate of the CEO of Twitter is a reminder that it is easy to fall off the pace. Across the web you will find the husks of former shakers and movers – like friendster or friends re-united or myspace. It will be interesting to track the innovations of both FB and Snapchat in 2016 because they teach us a lot about how to win and retain attention in “the smartphone economy”- which is shaping up to be as ruthless and competitive as the newspaper market

‘Tis the season to hear the rousing voice of Noddy Holder in a retail environment wishing us a Merry Christmas and for marketers to opine that this year, as in all previous years, change is getting quicker and quicker. If this was true then by now change would be so fast that our eyes would be popping out of our heads and life would feel like a blur in which you have barely a moment to catch your breath

Here is just a cross section of this kind of talk from last weeks Marketing Week

“The pace of change in all industries is only intensifying with technological progress”

“Developments come fast and furious driven by factors that are out of our control”

“We are now seeing three dimensions of change: complexity and sophistication:sheer breath and range and staggering velocity”

This from a survey of 152 C-suite executives and 56 senior marketers.

I would like to suggest an alternative explanation using some principles from Behavioural Economics

Availability Heuristic. We overestimate the importance of the information available to us. These are types of folk that are overwhelmed by their email inbox and have spotted that communication is speeding up (which it has ) and have extrapolated from this that the world is speeding up.(which may not be true)

Cui Bono: these are also the types of people who receive regular presentations from media agencies,business school academics and big tech companies saying that the world is speeding up and that they should  buy their services to help them with cope with this change. AI has super heated this talk by fuelling the ideas that we are all about to loose our jobs to machine learning ( I am only slightly exaggerating)  Beware – the change merchants have something to sell

Social norming/Bandwagon Effect: All senior execs say that the world is speeding up so it becomes normal to say that the world is speeding up. Everyone is breathing everyone else’s exhaust fumes

Fear: it sounds complacent to say “things are much the same” and nobody wants to be seen as that. Likewise nobody ever sold out a conference by saying that nothing really big has changed/is about the change.

Role models. Big Tech are the darlings of our age ( big profitable growing and successful) and so marketers tend to look to them as role models. And in big tech change is constant. Look at the apps on your mobile (the ones you use regularly) and it becomes clear why. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Uber etc are in a life and death struggle to keep you in the habit of using their service many times a day. That is their business model. Fear and opportunity stalks big tech-once you drop out the habit they are dead in the water – the next Myspace ( remember that – it was not so long ago) And so change in big tech is fast and the winner is the one that constantly innovates its service to keep users hooked. It is the most Darwinian of all the markets and also the most salient- it therefore distorts our view of the world.

The Uber effect:Bits of markets are changing fast:they are highly visible to us and so we overestimate their importance. Senior executives use Uber in London and the USA and so get  excited by the Uberizing or AirBnBing of many markets through the creation of Peer to Peer markets and networks.(see below). These “disrupters” will grow but at different paces in different sectors and are unlikely to be anything more than niche in for example banking

Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 5.16.22 PM.png

Get out of the office and look at the real world

A useful corrective would be to visit your local Tesco (still with us ) and have a look at the aisles. There is change – but some of it is slow and the cumulative effect of years of innovation ( think Cider and Snacks). The success of Aldi and Lidl is not sudden but the product of prolonged recession ( ie the slowing down of markets) and decades of building their reputations for quality. Amazon is trying to be the winner takes all in e-commerce (with some success) but that will slow down change. In some markets change will slow as there is consolidation on the supply side ( think Beer). Your Iphone 6 is much like your iphone 5 with a few bells and whistles. The apps you use are the same that you used a few years ago ( Google, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube ) and will be the same in three years time as all in a well funded arms race to keep you in the habit. When it comes to “user behaviour”  a different picture emerges . Some change is constant and some slow.

Counter trend to small and slow: Market consolidation (a bit trend in USA at the moment)  and the market strength of the big brands will have the effect of slowing change. Much change will be a reaction to this and take the form of a counter trend towards small, niche, personal and craft- and therefore rooted in our un-changing humanity. Slow change in other words

Just back from the Marketing Society Annual conference where much of the talk was about how technology +data are leading to innovation. It’s all about brand building through better more personal experiences, services and speed of new products to market ( with advertising getting barely a mention.)

What are good examples of this? Here is one of my favourites

Disney ‘Magic Band’: “Park guests” use the Magic Band to gain access to the park, get in priority queues for the attractions, pay for their purchases at the concession stands, and even get into their hotel room. Each family member has a wearable band with GPS and radio transmitters that track each other’s location in the park. At the end of their stay, Disney presents the family with a photo diary of their park adventures, having used automatic cameras to snap pictures when the Magic Bands are nearby. And imagine the face of a newly-turned six-year-old who just had his favourite Disney character address him by name and wish him a happy birthday. Disney made a billion dollar investment to create a wearable accessory that changes their park experience completely.imgres-1.jpgimgres.jpg

This is worth a watch -especially from about half way through (Declaration of interest- Lars leads the team in which i work at Google -known as The Zoo).

Lars explains what the Zoo is,what work it does and (most interestingly) introduces some of the cool stuff that we are going to see in Gaming and Filmmaking making soon. These give a glimpse what’s going to be possible and applied in other ways – such as in retail, services innovation and “brand experiences” in general

(Innovation in gaming tends flow down and out and become more mainstream in marketing communications over time)

I will do a number of posts over the next month of examples of how tech is making live experience better – easier and more pleasurable- right now. It helps explain why brands need to build creative technologists and data analysts into the way they seek to improve ” the service experience”

One of the little joys of the Goodwood revival is a re-created Tesco store from the early sixties- complete with packaging from the era. It is almost worth the price of the ticket.
Most striking thing for me was how little packs had changed: some like Marmite and Heinz have just been refreshed slowly over time-a time visitor from the 60s would recognise them immediately

Perhaps product claims were bolder and more arresting back then

Like Ariel’s “The Biological Washing Miracle” . Today its “Complete”- which somehow doesn’t have the same confidence and chutzpah. That said its identity is still the same – it’s still the sciency one.

And i suspect that in a few years time when Higher Purpose Branding ( A.K.A. brands “doing good” and trying to save the world) has passed its current peak of fashionability this will still be true. Ariel will be the sciency one and Persil will be the caring one. Who know perhaps the good folk at P&G will think they need a bold and confident performance claim once again.