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Archive for the ‘SXSW’ Category

The 2012 South By Southwest Interactive Conference is over, and I would have to say that this year stands out as one of the better SXSW conferences that I’ve attended. The team at Brunner has spent the last  five days immersed in information, creativity and inspiration which we are all excited to share with our agency and our clients, as well as weave into our work in the coming months. And that is really the reason that I’ve come here over the years - to find inspiration.

This year, as every year, a number of key messages have been echoed again and again by the speakers, panelists and attendees of the conference. So here are a few of the main ideas that I’m leaving Austin with in 2012:

Business as usual has ended: there is a New World Order.

I heard Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins say it about music, Anthony Bourdain say it about TV, and a number of smart advertisers saying it about advertising and marketing: the legacy business models that shape the media world are dead. As Bourdain put it, “Everyone knows it. The body is dead but the brain keeps kicking, refusing to recognize it.” We, and the brands we represent, keep doing the same things today that we did in the past and wonder why we don’t get better results. It’s time to change not only the things we do but the way we do them to remain relevant to consumers.

Digital isn’t a medium, it’s age in which we live.

This is one of the primary themes that was present in just about every talk that I attended. Digital is not a channel in which to run adds. It is a way of thinking, and a state of being, that pervades all of our lives. Brian Solis called today’s generation Generation C - Generation Connected, and it encompasses the majority of us, regardless of age. So much of our lives have been affected by digital connectivity and we have discovered so much control in the messages we receive, the media we consume and the media we create that we have largely begun to reject anything that doesn’t fit into this culture of connectedness and consumer control.

Just go make things.

This was repeated again and again, panel after panel at SXSW this year. With so many possibilities in front of us to connect with consumers these days, we as an industry of communicators seem to freeze up and struggle to communicate. And when we finally work up the courage to produce something, it’s often a retreat back to what we are comfortable with: print ads, TV spots, banners and landing pages. It’s time to be more agile, to stop talking ourselves out of action and just go make this that aren’t necessarily ads. Make apps, make prototypes, try new ideas in social and mobile. Make products. We will never know what works unless we pick up the tools, make things and put them in front of people to get a reaction. If it works, invest more there. If it doesn’t, move on. The age of planning a campaign for 18 months is over. The age of failing fast in order to succeed is here, and we need to embrace it.

Combining these three key points and a new model for the advertising and marketing industry begins to emerge. Our old way of doing business has ended, and we need to recognize it and stop trying to do things the way they were even 5 years ago. The connectivity and control granted to society through the growth of digital technology has fundamentally changed the way people live, and has altered their relationships with media and brands forever. So advertiser and their agencies must become more agile, try more things more quickly, and make things that people want rather than try to make people want things.

It’s the way things are, and SXSW is not the first place that it has been said. But our industry, and our brands, will need to stop talking about this new world order it and actually start living up to it in order to truly move things forward.

Ninety-five percent of our decision making is unconscious.  Yesterday, at SXSW, I took a fascinating journey into the brain.  A panel featuring A.K. Pradeep, Brian Clark, Derek Halpern and Roger Dooley took the room through the unconscious responses that people make on the internet.  They discussed psychological studies that identified how we react to text, imagery, and the reasons we use social media.  I’ll share three important learnings.

The first insight (but really no insight at all) was that the visual of an attractive woman “makes a man impatient and short-term oriented,” says Dooley.  On a video-game website enrollment form three designs were tested among men.  The first version was plain and had no women.  The second design featured a headshot of a woman and the third showed cleavage.  The version with the female had 65% more enrollment than the first and the boobs attributed to a 95% increase in enrollment from version one.    In fact, the title of this article may have just jettisoned the readership of my blog way over that of my colleagues.  So this isn’t really news with Paris Hilton’s Carl’s Jr. car wash ad and the antics of GoDaddy, but it is a reminder, that at the end of the day, stereotypes aside, we are hardwired a certain way. 

The second learning was about the Doppelganger effect.  Researchers showed respondents pictures of themselves drinking Coca-Cola.  The respondents desire to consume Coca-Cola increased simply from the visual.  The brain is more receptive to places, people, and things, when we already see ourselves interacting with them.  This means that dynamic content isn’t just about tailoring the product messaging we deliver as it does incorporating the personalized details of the person we’re talking to (with permission of course).  Check out the technology at St. Bonaventure University’s www.BecomingExtraordinary.net (which actually uses your Facebook picture on a student ID card) and www.TheDexterHitlist.com.

The brain is more receptive to places, people, and things, when we already see ourselves interacting with them. 

Lastly, we are wired for storytelling.  Researchers asked subjects to look at an animated drawing of a box that had one circle and two triangles floating out of it.  They were asked to explain what they saw.  Only a single respondent replied that they saw floating shapes.  Every other respondent told a story complete with metaphors, characters, plotlines.  Evolutionary psychologists explain that we need stories because that is how we define people and also how we define ourselves.  The Wall Street Journal is acclaimed for one of the most powerful direct response ads in ad history.  It is simply 10 sentences and tells the story of 2 guys who went to school together, graduate together, go to work for the same company and ultimately one is running a department and the other is the President.  The WSJ then says what made the difference was the things they learned along the way.  People inserted themselves into that story and concluded “I need to read the WSJ so I can be the right guy in that story.”    How many of the websites and Facebook pages that marketers create tell a story? 

Evolutionary psychologists explain that we need stories because that is how we define people and also how we define ourselves.

There is an opportunity to be more explicit with our storytelling and for brands to get into that same state of mind that consumers live in every moment of their day.  We have an opportunity through technology to insert our consumers directly into that story and use visuals that interest and motivate them.  The more we understand the brain, the more we can successfully engage consumers who are currently only using 5% of the conscious brain to tell us what they want.

The Complexity CurveAt the beginning of an interactive project, we are excited about the possibilities and think we understand what it is we are setting out to create. Then, as we dive into things and begin to shape the work, we start to add complexity. We add new features and new information, give in to the “wouldn’t it be cool” impulse, and begin removing or changing features. We also hear from stakeholder requirements have changed or evolved, or we discover that the technology doesn’t support what we want to do.

Eventually, our features list is complete and we believe our design to be complete. At this point, we are balanced at the top of the Complexity Curve: the product is full of features and maximally complex.

Complexity takes many forms. It can result from poorly designed interfaces, too much irrelevant information, or actions that are difficult to complete. It can be caused when a user’s expectations are not met by the design and functionality. And when we ask users to think too much, or make too many decisions, it feels like we have created and unnecessary complex interactive product.

So how do we reduce complexity in the things that we create, making them simpler?

Shift the complexity from the user to the designers and developers.

Don’t make the user, the consumer, work too hard. It is your team  that needs to work hard in the design and development of the interactive product to ensure that your user has the best experience possible - otherwise they may not be your user for long.

Here are 10 ways to help reduce complexity and design for simplicity:

  1. Clean up messy and confusing interfaces.  Basically, apply the principles of strong graphic design.
  2. Get rid of indirect action. Don’t make people interact with one thing to affect another. You’ll just lose them along the way.
  3. Don’t try to be everything to everyone. Focus on who you are designing for and what you are doing for them.
  4. Give up on design by consensus. Cross-discipline teams and multiple points of view are good. Averaging the work out across the opinions of the team is not. Use the team to find the best solutions, not the ones that everyone will accept as a compromise.
  5. Eliminate “nice to have…” It’s either essential or it is not. If a feature isn’t essential, get rid of it.
  6. Stop copying solutions. Solutions to other problems can be inspiring, but probably won’t apply directly to the problem your team is trying to solve.
  7. Don’t map structure of experience to organization or technology. That’s a long way to say don’t put a square peg in a round hole. Don’t shape a user experience into something it shouldn’t be because you are tied to a certain technology or organizational way of doing things. Consumers don’t care how your database is structured, but they do care if it impedes their interaction with your brand.
  8. Don’t lead with technology. It often results in solutions in search of a problem.
  9. Stop designing for yourself. Follow user-centered design. Think of their needs and design for their motivations and behavior.
  10. Always exercise Critical Thinking. And definitely stop accepting assumptions. Think hard about everything that you are doing. Recognize assumptions and question them instead of accepting them Assess relationships. Optimize solutions.

And always remember what Einstein said: make everything as simple as it can be, not simpler.

This is a recap of the SXSW talk by David Hogue, VP of User Experience at Fluid, Inc.

This is a comprehensive summary of SXSW Interactive Panel “We Made This And It’s Not An Ad”.

makingthingsWhy is everyone talking about making things that aren’t ads? Because the internet happened. What does that mean?

No mass audience = no mass media
No mass media = no mass advertising
No mass advertising = oh oh.

So what can agencies create and sell?

The answer begins and ends with consumer behavior. The future of marketing is not advertising. Agencies need to go from making people want things to making things that people want. Do it for our clients and do it for ourselves.

The most innovative agencies have within their DNA the vision that there is no separation between products and services. They don’t just provide marketing services, they create products.

Paid media driven connections to consumers, fixed deliverable projects, and an over-emphasis on the big idea. This is the Old Way, both offline and online. Even in the “new media” space there is such a thing as Traditional Digital (note: a term I’ve also been using for a while). This is still filling a hole on a page, but filling it with banners ads, landing pages, and emails rather than print ads, billboards and posters.

So the best agencies and the smartest clients are not just making ads - they are creating products. Sometimes these are physical products, and other times they are digital. And increasingly, they are a blend of the two, or so-called physical-digital, like the Nike Chalkbot developed by DeepLocal.  They are building things that enhance people’s live. And agencies, not just brands, are creating products and devices that serve a true purpose.

But agencies can’t make stuff unless you have people who make stuff. Once you see people making things, it’s infectious. But if you just hire people with ads on their resume, they’ll probably just make ads for you.

The Art Director + Copywriter team is awesome for making ads, but not much else. And the Creative Technologist role, as originally conceived, is defunct. We don’t needs a translator between creative and technology. We need creatives that can speak directly to developers and be understood.

When you hear things like “This whole ‘collaboration, we’ll work together as a team’ - I find it really difficult,” or “there are too many people around the table,” or “developers aren’t creative or idea people,” then you have the wrong people around the table. You have the wrong people on your team.

Progressive agencies are shutting their doors for a day or two for personal project time, group work sessions and hackathons. Everyone gets involved to make stuff, to concept it, to create it. They are doing this because coming up with ideas alone doesn’t give you an edge, it’s the ability to make stuff that sets you apart.

Your competitors (or clients) will make stuff with or without you. This isn’t maybe going to happen. It is happening. Brands are already doing this. Other agencies are doing it.

So get out there and make stuff that isn’t an ad. Here are 10 things to consider as you go:

1. What’s your reason for making things?

2. Find, or hire, your makers.

3. Beware of old ideas in new clothes.

4. Mistrust hierarchy, legacy structures and roles.

5. Give people time to create and to build.

6. Institutionalize collaboration.

7. Be agile in thought and action.

8. Establish a “No permission required” culture.

If there is one key message delivered at SXSW every year, it was summarized perfectly yesterday by Greg Johnson, Global Creative Director for Hewlett Packard:

Digital is not a medium, it’s the age in which we live.

For years, people have been saying that “digital is just another medium.” I’ve heard it hundreds of times myself. Take good, solid approaches to marketing and creative thinking and then execute it in the digital medium: that’s the recipe that our industry has been using to address digital from the start.

But, as Johnson so nicely summarized, digital is not just another vehicle to carry advertising messages. And understanding digital is not just an extension of skills that allows professional to create things on the web.

Digital really is a pervasive current that is interwoven into the fabric of everything that we do as people. It is with us all the time through the devices that we carry, and has become the way that we connect to information as well as manage and enhance our lives. It isn’t something that we consume, as with magazines or TV. It is part of everything that we do. How we shop, how we travel, how we learn, how we are entertained, how we keep in touch with family and friends, and how we meet new people. It is a force that has shaped the way we think and the way we live.

So understanding the broad thing that we call digital is truly about understanding our world. You may be really good at what you do, and may understand a lot of things about our industry as marketers and advertisers, but unless you have a comprehensive understanding of this thing we call “digital”, you really can’t fully interact with our society as communicators and builders of brands.

That is why understanding digital is so important. And that is why I come to SXSW Interactive every year that I can - to help increase that understanding for myself, my colleagues and my clients.