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- UX: 'U' is for Users in and beyond the digital realm
Global competition and the digital age have put severe importance on the user’s experience. It has become one of the ways a brand can stand out. Though, to a layman User Experience (UX) would equate to UX design for digital interferences and applications. In reality, UX principles can be used in various situations beyond the digital realm. “Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it's really how it works.” User Experience is the overall experience of a person using your product or service, especially regarding its ease of use and engagement. It takes into account every possible interaction and touch point of a user. They are kept in mind when going through the 5 steps of a UX design process: Strategy: Identify the problem to solve, considering both users' needs and the business goal. Scope: Defines the function of the product Structure: Defines the organization of the interactive experience Skeleton: Presentation and arrangement Surface: Look and Feel of the product. User Experience begins with asking critical questions that address long-term timelines. It is a strategic approach to solving issues and making a seamless enjoyable experience for a customer. UX design requires you to think strategically about consumer behavior, desires, and touchpoints. Businesses have to remember the User in UX. It is often seen that decision-makers tend to leave behind the users/customers while trying to highlight the product or service. Of course, the product is the end but the means to the end is your experience; and this should not be taken for granted as the interaction is what your customer/user remembers. The key is to remember the three essential checkpoints of a good UX design. Simple Depending on the subject, Simplicity could mean how clean the design is, how intuitive it is, or how many features are included in it. Keeping designs simple is difficult and getting tougher especially when there is so much to add, highlight, consider, and integrate. The 3-click rule might be challenging and may be outdated, but it still leaves a lasting impression when the process is efficient and simple. Usability ‘Usability’ and ‘User Experience’ are concepts mistaken for each other, but there is a crucial difference between them. Usability does not only measure ease of use but also if the user achieves their goal with the product. User Experience on the other hand is how the person feels before, during, and after using the product. Aesthetics First impressions always matter. It takes only 50 milliseconds for a user to decide if they like your website, which may sound like a tough task but it is achievable. Here visual aesthetics play a huge role. Research conducted by Kurosu and Kashimua indicates that users who encounter aesthetically pleasing designs experience a positive emotional response which in turn affects the usability of the designs. People tend to believe that designs that look better will work better. The best example would be the Google Search Engine. It is so satisfying from a UX perspective and here's why White Background for no distractions The Logo for brand emphasis The search bar Easy to Navigate, Intuitive suggestions, clean aesthetics, and mobile friendly too. “No business has ever succeeded without connecting, in a deep and meaningful way, with its customers.” UX outside digital space IKEA retail space Ever entered IKEA and have been focused on their multiple products, curated displays, and little trinkets? No, because this is their winning recipe. The Gruen Effect is when you overwhelm the senses and thoughts of the customer as soon as they enter the store. This leads them to forget their purpose of visit and leads to more impulsive shopping. IKEA’s fixed path design ensures that a visitor's stay is as long as possible, enriching the sensory experience with curated displays and providing small merchandise which subtly adds to the Gruen experience. Airbnb service design Airbnb is the obvious choice when it comes to service design. It provides temporary stays and various experiences stretching from wellness, food, and nature to art, design, and social impact. They storyboarded 45 different realistic emotional moments for Airbnb hosts and curated various experiences for different target groups. Customizing experiences based on customer types and taking real-life feedback proved that good service design makes a brand more approachable and desirable. Nintendo Switch Product design Launched in 2017, Nintendo Switch is still considered a good purchase for gamers. Nintendo games are a personal favorite especially because of their cheerful colors, iconic and relatable characters, and engaging gameplay. The Switch with its unique design offers three different ways to play on the console: Handled, Tabletop, and TV. This versatile design gives contributes to the immersive gaming experience in addition to the multitudes of games available for it. Other than that, the simple and easy interface in the games caters to gamers with minimum experience, making it universal and approachable. Nintendo did keep the user’s experience in mind, as it is still a loved product even with all its flaws. These are just a few names that have implemented User Experience beyond the digital realm in different ways. The one thing that ties all of them together is that these designs are created with their customer in the center. Creating a user-centered design is a key ingredient when it comes to creating chemistry between brands and their customers, and a meaningful relationship between them.
- Why Design Thinking is a Lifeline to our world
As the Apple advert goes, "Here's to all creatives, innovators, thinkers, dreamers and most importantly do-ers". In our life as creatives, we coin ourselves with many monikers, "Problem Solvers", "Imagineers", and recently "Design Thinkers". The transformative power of design thinking In my life as a creative professional, I've been repeatedly awed and mostly humbled by the transformative power of design thinking, both as a learning experience and from an executional perspective. The power of good design, can transform societies, create communities and foster change in behaviour (sometimes for the good and sometimes for the bad). But oddly enough, not a lot of creatives even know that what they are doing is design thinking, and not a lot of them are even aware of how overreaching a role, design can play in our lives. Design is every day, everywhere. We all interact with design every day. It's a part and parcel of the products we use, the apps on our phones, and the signs on our street. But beyond just its physical manifestations, design is a methodology, a way of thinking. And it's this facet of design—design thinking—that I believe holds the most potent promise for our futures. Design thinking, for the uninitiated, is a human-centred, solution-focused approach that values empathy, experimentation, and iteration. It's a mindset that allows us to delve into the intricate labyrinth of human emotions, unravel complex problems, and weave together creative solutions that truly resonate with people. By placing empathy at its core, design thinking fundamentally shifts our perspective. The fundamental questions yet remain, like "How can we build this?", or "What's the most effective or efficient way to solve this?" It may urge us to inquire a step further, "How does this make our user feel" or "Are there any deeper needs that this solution addresses, if so, what?". And most importantly it enables us to walk a mile in our user's shoes, to immerse ourselves in their experiences, and to make decisions that honour their aspirations and goals. Today with the advent of AI, from Midjourney to Google Bard and ChatGPT, everything is automated, from the recipes you cook your daily meals from, to the day-to-day mundane tasks your job requires you to perform. We now live in a word that is inherently automated to some routine and is increasingly data driven. And in such a cold world where you are just a pattern of recognition, a series of tasks, it is very easy to overlook the importance of emotions and to underestimate the power of human feelings. But let's not forget, we are thinking, breathing and emotive beings. Emotions will always be the undercurrents that form the basis for our actions, shape our everyday decisions and form connections with our fellow human beings. In essence, they are the invisible threads that weave the tapestry of human life. And through design thinking, we have the opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate these threads, to create solutions that not only solve problems but also touch hearts and inspire minds. Design thinking should be part and parcel of every designer's way of doing things Think about the products you've used, or a service you have availed off in the past, that has left a lasting impression on you. More often, it's not the features, or the gimmicks, or the efficient process that you notice, it is always the tiny nuances of human touch, the ones that made you feel heard, noticed, valued and appreciated that you remember fondly. As Jon Kolko says in his brilliant HBR article, "Design Thinking Comes of Age", To build empathy with users, a design-centric organization empowers employees to observe behavior and draw conclusions about what people want and need. Those conclusions are tremendously hard to express in quantitative language. Instead, organizations that “get” design use emotional language (words that concern desires, aspirations, engagement, and experience) to describe products and users. Team members discuss the emotional resonance of a value proposition as much as they discuss utility and product requirements. Design centric organizations don't view emotions as silly or denigrated, they are central to creating emotionally resonant products and experiences that customers rave about. Design thinking was earlier used to develop and build physical or digital products, is now being applied to more intangible issues like how a customer experiences a service. This encourages organizations and brands to help build the courage to start looking at things from new perspectives and traverse new territories. Design thinking can also be used to shape narratives, experiences and influence perceptions. But most importantly a culture built on design thinking almost automatically fosters nimble innovation. To design is to be human In a 'sea of sameness' with AI tools that enable speed of execution, how does design thinking fare? It's simple really, to design is to be human, and to think like a designer is to embrace our shared humanity wholeheartedly. It's not about just designing for people but designing with people. Also, because design is fundamentally empathetic, it implicitly drives a more human-centric approach to business. In the words of the legendary designer Dieter Rams, "Good design is as little design as possible." And to me, good design thinking is as human as possible. The only way to be truly bold is to be incredibly humble. said Gilbert, who has lead IBM’s design program since 2012. In a world of user outcomes, restless reinvention, and diverse, empowered teams, design thinking is finally receiving the attention that it deserves. Let us continue to champion design thinking in all we do, not just to create better products, services, and systems, but also to create organizations and a world that is more understanding, compassionate, and kind. Because ultimately, isn't that what being human is all about?
- New Age Social Media Marketing: TikTok or Instagram?
Man is a social being which explains the increasing importance of social media for the current population. In the last two decades, social media has changed the way people communicate and express themselves; we have moved from forum chats and status updates to dynamic visuals and short video content. Social Media marketing is here to stay, with the rise of their user base and the potential digital markets. In terms of marketing, visuals and video content are better at attracting attention and converting potential customers. Clearly, Instagram and TikTok are leading in terms of short visual content. Especially since the COVID-19 pandemic where everyone was confined physically yet their creativity roamed free. Both Instagram and TikTok have a world-wide presence with a ready-to-buy audience that is easy to market to. So the question arises, which should you choose for your business Go-To-Market strategy? Instagram Instagram was launched in 2010 and then bought by Meta (previously known as Facebook) in 2012. This app was originally made for photo-sharing, providing a stage for digital creators, brand ambassadors and marketers. Even though it was not intended, sponsorships and product integration became a huge part of the app. On top, Instagram is a great platform for creating groups and communities which makes it great for influencer marketing. Content engagement and follower’s loyalty makes Instagram an ideal channel for brands to market their products and services. TikTok Tiktok boomed in the pandemic, and now is known for being the fastest growing social media platform in the world. The platform started off as a short form video content, primarily comedic sketches, dance trends and lip-syncs. It has now become a home for world famous influencers, boasting huge followers. Influencers like Charlie and Dixie D’mello and Addison Rae rose to fame through TikTok and have increased their followers through the years. It is predicted that Instagram may be entering its flop era since tiktok rose to fame. Instagram has tried to expand its user base by introducing real time updates like Stories and video content through IGTV and Reels which is pretty similar to tiktok. This update along with statistics like hours spent on both the apps and the growing user base of tiktok may show that Instagram might be replaced by tiktok. A common man may believe it since both the channels offer visual content with similar demography and world wide presence. Though in my opinion, it is not that easy and simple. Instagram offers a good competition to tiktok, and both cannot be considered in the same field, since the content types are quite different from each other. While there are frustrations regarding the Instagram algorithm favoring reels over images, Static images and static content still is quite popular. It is because Instagram gives equal importance to the look and feel as well as subject of the matter; aesthetics are the king. Content creators on Instagram carefully curate their aesthetics and presentation. In fact, when visiting an account, the viewer can grasp its sense of style. This makes Instagram a great choice for curated design ads and marketing campaigns. TikTok has a more raw, lo-fi and unedited content structure where creators make and upload videos instantly. This makes it difficult to pinpoint the aesthetics of an account since it is all over the place. Another point of difference is the algorithms of both the platforms. In a recent article about Tiktok’s algorithm, Arvind Narayanan says that every video has equal chances of success; number of followers do not play a huge role when it comes to your feed and what content is being shown to you. This makes it easier to get viral and popular on TikTok, but the trick is to maintain that virality. According to the Wall Street Journal, people spend around 197.8 million hours a day on Tiktok thanks to the algorithm that shows new people and new content randomly on their feed, making it more engaging and varied. Instagram algorithm favours accounts and creators whose base is already strong and have a good number of followers. They also have options like save, share and reposts that give a higher credit to posts than likes and comments. The algorithm strongly favours the influencers and established content creators who have a good loyal base that follow their content. This might be a letdown when compared to the rate of original and refreshing content exposed on Tiktok. The basics of marketing tells you that you need to identify your target audience and curate your content which resonates with them or allows them to relate with your brand. While both platforms have a young audience, Instagram demography mainly spans from 25 to 34 years old and TikToks audience are largely GenZ followed by millennials and GenX. Tiktok's audience responds well to advertising but not the obvious ads, instead branded content and influencer partnerships. I mean, there is a video content type that is called “Tiktok made me buy it” which just goes to show the potential of marketing in this space. So what do you choose? Well that depends on your strategy. If you wish to communicate to GenX and Millennials then you should place your bets on Instagram. If you want to go viral and make sure that your content is reaching everywhere, then TikTok might be your go to. The key is to leverage on the strengths of the platforms. It also might be smart to combine and use both platforms that can create larger impressions and audience reach.
- Left Brain vs Right Brain Marketing
As readers of this blog might have noticed, I prefer crafting narratives. I think this comes naturally to me in my role as the Chief Creative Officer, but as I transition to a larger more important role of the Chief Executive Officer, I am starting to see that I do have some prowess in my left brain too. This was extremely odd to me, because I grew up with the narrative of the Left-Brain vs Right-Brain marketing and thinking. A for a large segment of my life, I have been a conventional Right-Brain thinker. Or at least, that's what I have been told. Now for people who are strangers to this theory, let me summarise down below: Left Brain vs Right Brain Marketing To start off with let's clearly define the two camps. I would say the Left-Brain type people resort to systems thinking or theories, whereas the Right-Brain type of people gravitate more to storytelling. I love the concepts of storytelling and will veraciously defend it till the day I die. I believe, and have some measure (I hope) of factual experience that storytelling helps us better make sense of the world we live in. You disagree? Well hear me out... Storytelling is as old as culture. And almost every society in the world has established a strong storytelling tradition. You know those Christmas, Eid, Passover or Diwali stories with friends and family, where you have your elders retelling you, stories of their life and their wealth of experiences? Well, that is a clear-cut tradition of passing down the wisdom, through Anthropology, Sociology, Religion, Social Studies, or just plain storytelling. It's as universal and as ancient as mankind is. From the cavemen who told their stories and left remnants for us to see on the cave walls of ancient human civilisation to the Sistine Chapel Ceiling paintings by Michelangelo, and more recently to Banksy murals on street walls the world over, stories are there for us all to see. For me, this fascination is more professional and somewhat personal. I want to find ways to improve at both understanding and telling stories better. And the only way to improve is two ways: theory and practice. But before we get into the nitty-gritty and try to understand how to better utilize these two instruments (theories and/or storytelling), let's try and figure out commonalities between the two. Or in storytelling form, let me set the stage for you. Both stories and theories are our way of understanding and representing the reality we live in. With theories its more straight cut, but stories - even the wilder imaginative Sci-Fi ones - are representations of reality. For a story to connect, it has to represent some level of truth, or it would be alien to us. Its either characters should be human-like or relatable that they go through some sort of emotion, elements of time, space, objects and events should be representative of a reality that we recognize. This boils down to a simple fundamental fact, stories and theories are always derived from first-hand experience. Our MO as humans is participation, and it's through this that we have our fundamental understanding of reality, and this is innate, implied, sometimes contextual, but always intimate and deep. The many facets that we use to construct our stories are the raw materials from which we connect to on a deeper, sometime inexplicable level. Stage set let's get on with the show. Stories Why are stories such powerful tools in understanding our world, after all philosophers from Plato to Dewey, and every human after and to come will have been arguing on these ideas, and these concepts I am presenting to you. Enter the human condition - emotions. First stories are engaging, ever so often even captivating. A great story enthrals its audience in a drug like vice, enamouring them, captivating them so they can absorb the sordid details, and decipher as much information as humanly possible. Second, stories are great at inciting empathy. Simply put, its putting yourself in someone else's shoes, in order to understand what they feel. This is decisively a human trait. It liberates us from our often-chaotic lives, to make us understand how different the world is through someone else's eyes. And stories connect us with a myriad of characters, suddenly we now see the world from a multitude of perspectives. But dare I say it, reality is highly engaging too (though subjective in most cases), and your own personal reality gives you ample opportunities to empathize with countless humans. So why turn to stories? A couple of reasons, but let's start with scope. This wide all-encompassing experience, that stories deliver to us, could never be reached by ourselves directly. We see every facet of every human condition, from the highest of highs, to the lowest of lows. Stories show us what it's like to be male, female and transgender, what it's like to be rich and poor, brown and red and all the colours in between, on the good side and on the bad side, to live in Kampala and to live in Dubai, Mumbai and Tokyo, Singapore and Kabul, to the past and somewhere in the very distant future, to live through wars and agonizing famine, to live as a Viking and as a Mafioso in the 1930s, to experience births, deaths, and various levels of life in between and a million other things. Stories focus on what's exciting and what's different, and on rare ambitious occasions, a story will even cover what it's like to be without senses, floating in a sensory deprivation tank. They give us access to hypotheticals. What if Christopher Colombus actually reached India? What if we were living under the Third Reich? What if you lost everything you worked so hard for? What if we are living in a computer simulation? We can understand reality in different speeds and humongous scales. The storyteller's lens can record any type of video, be it high-speed, slow-motion, wide-angle, or time-lapse. It can zoom into the tiniest, relatively insignificant details like an ant walking down the road, carrying a morsel 5 times its weight, the most minute smirk that a serial killer gives just as he's about to get bail. Or it can zoom out and in a 15 second segment take us through the rise and fall of an entire civilization, spanning multiple centuries and trillions of lives. That's not all, it's not only about the breadth of the scope, but how deep it is. It's almost eerier how small simple phrases can channel so much emotion. It can take you inside someone's head in a way no experience can, enabling sympathy for a seemingly horrendous individual, but illustrating the hell they came from as a child. The final thing that stories provide is legibility. With the world being so chaotic and hard to decipher, stories simplify reality, presenting it in a way anyone can understand. Characters are more evocative, action punchier, cause and effect more pronounced. Legibility is amazing, but it's always in tension with something equally bloody important: realism. Legibility and reality aren't always diametrically opposed, but they aren't always complementary either. The more a story tries to paint a very matter of fact image, the less realistic it gets, but the more it sticks with realism and ignores the drama, the more boring it gets. Remember stories have to omit details, but as the saying goes, the devil lies in the detail being omitted. Legibility casts the environment in easy perception, enhancing the details while omitting the ones that distract. But oversimplification, that's leaving out the essential. Legibility is a balancing act, its a delicate art. Theories Another way of making sense of this world that we all live in, is theories. Theories take the cumulative approach, looking at systems of groupings, individuals, cultures and behaviours to identify patterns within a system. By the way, stories can and often do inform theories, and vice versa, but they are fundamentally different, almost diametrically opposite ways of understanding our world. We know why stories are powerful, so let's approach why are theories so powerful? Now forgive me, we might have a bit of repetition here, but as I mentioned the devil is in the details. First off, is again scope. While the scope of stories is humongous in comparison to your direct experience, the scope of theories is vaster, perhaps infinitely so. Theories provide perspective-shifting, mind-altering shifts in understanding reality. You now can think of smaller and larger objects, at smaller and larger time scales, in ways that defy personal experience. We can theorize about the tiniest particulars (quarks), a billion times smaller than anything visible to the naked eye, to the size and the grandeur of ever-expanding universe (which we in scale are a relatively insignificant part off). We use theories to understand how we evolved from Neanderthals to the earliest seconds of the Big Bang. Theories help us understand how the space dust combined to make the planet we live on, and how through a not-so-distant connection, we share commonalities with every fungus, bacterium, plant and animal. It shows us our deepest motivations, how our brains work, and how our social systems function (or fail) at gigantic scales. It hypothesizes how we could use a nuclear bomb to terraform planets, using a destructive tool to probably seed mankind as a space faring civilization. Stories lets us see the world through many lenses, but they are all human eyes, human perspectives. Theories show us reality as it actually is, and its ultimately powerful because it allows us to make predictions. Predictions are great because they are specific in telling us what's going to happen, before it actually does. Stories in retrospect are just case studies, they can help us reason about the future, but only if it is by means of a theory. Predictions are great because they help us go back and check if a theory is true or not. And this is the fundamentals of all scientific discovery. Falsification. All knowledge, all progress, all inventions are dependent on falseability. Remember the tension between legibility and realism in stories? There is no such tension with theories. While some do admit to a greater or lesser realism, they can be false, or oversimplified. But weak theories, more often than not are always exposed, when they make bad predictions. Theories are legible by construction, but as Dreyfus has pointed out, theories need not be explicit to be powerful and useful. Theories though have their space and domain in Science and Technology, but in marketing and with anything to do with the human emotion, stories reign supreme. Deconstructing a narrative and breaking it down into smaller segments to understand the emotion that you want to evoke is a prime directive of any good story. Storytelling has and always will remain on of the most universal human experiences, and the rare chance to look through new lenses, and new perspectives are what makes stories a fundamental tool to enable a more human-centric experience. You’re never going to kill storytelling, because it’s built in the human plan. We all come with it.
- Ads are so wrong!
Generations of Ad men, from the time of Ogilvy, commonly known as the ‘father of advertising’, have fed us this narrative on how advertising gently seduces us, eventually leading to a purchase. We’ve been told: Ads prey on our emotions. They work by creating positive associations between the advertised product and feelings like love, happiness, safety, and confidence. These associations grow and deepen over time, making us feel favorably disposed toward the product and, ultimately, more likely to buy it. And this mechanism, of how ads influence human behaviour is more inception than just a plain suggestive tactic. It’s coined like an implantation of an idea in people’s minds, subvertly influencing or outright manipulating their motivations in a deeply intrusive manner. This phenomenon, and I call it phenomenon, because there is no outright word that can adequately describe such subversive, and possibly psychopathic behaviour. These suggestions or dreams aren’t the inception vector, instead it's just the ideas, stories and images, especially those with potent emotions that crack even the most hardened shells of men. “Why Good Advertising Works (Even When You Think It Doesn’t), says that. Advertising rarely succeeds through argument or calls to action. Instead, it creates positive memories and feelings that influence our behaviour over time to encourage us to buy something at a later date. The objective [of advertising], is to seed positive ideas and memories that will attract you to the brand. Dr. Anna Lembke’s new book, “Dopamine Nation”, emphasizes that we are now all addicts to a degree. She calls the smartphone the “modern-day hypodermic needle”, where we turn to for quick highs, an endless cycle of seeking attention, validation and distraction, with each swipe, like, tweet and snap. But this endless rush of dopamine chasing, has left us bereft and empty. Researchers now have found an inverse connection between the two. The higher a country’s ad spend was in one year, the less satisfied its citizens were a year or two later. Basically, Advertising makes us unhappy. Whoa, hold up, this goes against every grain, morsel, food for thought, that we have been taught about. What happened to that visceral emotional response? Shouldn’t the opposite be true? Or maybe, we are just looking at things in a wrong way. Remember the Pavlov experiment with the dogs? So, Pavlov first discovered what we call today, classical conditioning, when he was experimenting with his dog, ‘Circa’, who over a period of time started associating food delivery with the ringing of the bell, hence would salivate in expectance of an eventual food delivery. Pavlov hypothesized that humans too could be trained to make more-or-less arbitrary associations, and if you think about it, this is a precursor to much of what we have been trained about advertising. Think about it. We’ve been told, show emotion, positive if you want it reinforced. Let’s use grit for this example. Nike is infamous for showing grit, determination, and perseverance in its ads, you’d think by now that model would have lost its lustre, only it hasn’t. But the underlying principle of every Nike ad is, you see a story of grit and perseverance, you connect it with a story of your life, the vibes attract you to purchasing Nike shoes or products, because it deludes you into thinking you’re a part of that ‘perseverance against all odds’ culture that Nike promotes. Great. Sound logical? Perhaps not. Let me explain why... How ads should work... This model, of how ads should work, is so ingrained in modern culture, I doubt any of us have actually thought about it. And I mean really thought about it. To suggest that an intelligent, rational, thinking creature like a human could change his view, perspective, thought with nothing more than a few images is inherently illogical to me. Hear me out. At least Pavlov’s dogs received the food, following the stimulus. Meaning an action led to a reward. Hence, they weren’t easily manipulated. Now if you’re going through a difficult time and a Nike representative gave you a pep talk, pumped you up and then gave you a shoe for free, of course the natural association would happen. But ads today are shells of its former counterparts. Yes, there are some that do stand out. But hear me out, ads can’t feed you, hurt you, or comfort you in any way possible. So, if we are talking about emotional manipulation (and the fact that it is not argued against), we should of course subject it to a high burden of proof. Realistically it boils down to a number of things. Can an ad be that memorable that you watch it once, and it is forever inked in your memory? Or is it that we need to see it multiple times before our desires are so ‘cheaply’ written over? Regardless the point still stands, we can be easily influenced, and external agents can, without our explicit permission, change the content of our minds and hence our desires. This means that if inception does work on us, then our goals, ambitions, and preferences can not only be manipulated, but way too easily manipulated. All we as advertisers need to do is show a pretty face next to Product X, and suddenly we are filled with the desire to acquire that product. I firmly believe that the inception theory of advertising does our human mind a terrible disservice. It makes us look like impulsive buffoons that are manipulated as easily as the Three Sisters of Fate, who change human destiny by simply playing with the strings that bind us. Nope, I refuse to accept that, we aren’t that easily manipulated. Well then begs the question, how does advertising really work? Advertising and the Fine Line that is Truth. Advertising is a collection of various techniques that collectively work with each other to succeed. And they are not mutually exclusive, in fact, one ad might employ a couple of techniques all coupled at once. The pillar is that these techniques impart legitimate, valuable information. Let’s take a crack at a few: Raising awareness Most ads, technically fall in this category. “Hey, Product X exists. Here’s how it works. It’s available for purchase here, here, and here. Almost all ads work, in at least some part by being informative and telling customers that hey, there is a product that solves a particular problem, or fulfils a particular need. And if that makes an impression through presentation, edits, animation, visual, motion, sonic, then even better. Measures of Persuasion Occasionally an ad will employ some measures of persuasion. But remember, contrary to popular opinion, this is not the most common or most powerful mechanism. Often, this backfires repeatedly on several brands. In the older, let’s call it legal cigarette days, “4/5 doctors prefer Camels”, was used quite often. You’ll tend to notice; older ads were very fond of this technique. Thankfully, its lost is appeal as modern advertising has taken over. Now this leads us to the most important, and arguably strongest proponent technique of advertising. Making Promises. This is arguably where branding and advertising merge cohesively together, creating a compelling technique that given the test of time and consistency works on customers. BMW does this very well, “The Ultimate Driving Machine”. As a promise, this is cemented in your expectation when you purchase a BMW (Apologies in advance to the Mercedes’ fans, you know who you are 😊), customers come to rely on that BMW is going to provide just that. And when BMW does fail to deliver on this promise (enter the BMW X6), consumers get angry, and feel betrayed. So, no matter how this promise is conveyed to the customer, be it explicitly or implicitly, the brand is always incentivized to deliver on that promise. You the customer respond in kind by buying more of the product, and allying yourself closely to that brand because you believe firmly that they will deliver in their promise to you. Honest Signalling Now there’s another piece of the puzzle. Another technique widely adopted in recent days. It’s called “Honest Signalling”. Here an ad conveys a message, simply by existing. Or to pin it down, existing in a very expensive location. The perception is that the brand is willing to spend a lot of money, it shows commitment, and they are putting money where their mouths are, a lot of it! This can also be used deceptively. Think FTX and their very expensive Superbowl ads, but for the more honest companies, it does create a perception of stability. I mean after all only a big, stable company can afford to spend that much on such a prime location without such support. This leads the customer to believe that the products are of higher quality and perhaps a higher calibre. The same way an engagement ring (with a very expensive diamond), is considered an honest commitment between a man and his future spouse. So that’s for the ads that choose to stay above board. But as we all know, unfortunately, not every ad is so straightforward and clear-cut. The Sneaky Advertising Whatever seems to be going on here, at a first glance, you know it is not about awareness, persuasion, promises or honest signalling. I mean, at the end of the day, there is no information that can be deciphered at all. The image is so conceptual, so arbitrary, that it doesn’t convey any information about Corona, neither does it distinguish Corona from its competitors. After all you could replace the Corona bottle with a Kilkenny or a Bira, and it wouldn’t make a damn difference! This ad employs a sort of Pavlovian association between the idea of Corona and relaxing on a beach. The goal is to seed us with imaginary associations that when we see a Corona we think of past times at the beach, or we associate a Corona with good memories. Basically warm, fuzzy feelings, then: purchase! But remember my tirade about emotional inception? Well, I do not think that’s what’s going on here. I think there’s another technique at play. I think this is more cultural inception, a term used by Kevin Simler, where while similar to the theories surrounding emotional inception, the effect of cultural inception is far, far larger. Cultural inception is a technique where an ad, rather than trying to change our minds individually, instead changes the landscape of cultural associations. This is turn, changes how we are perceived by others when we use a product. Drinking a Bira, Kilkenny, or a Corona, says something about you. You could be a discerning beer connoisseur, or you are fussy for the taste of that independent brewery, or you’re just a ‘chill’ person. But, and here’s the important thing, you are never in control of that message, it just is adopted by the world, and is imprinted in urban culture to associate brands with such characteristics. You the customer, only have a choice in belonging in that club, or that association. This is where the success of this ad campaign doesn’t need to work on anyone, it just needs to work on X, turning the product into a more cultural association with a membership through purchase. Now of course, some products work better at this than others. Think Apple. But see, the class of products can be massive in terms of this particular technique’s usage. Beer, soft drinks, chocolate bars, energy drinks (in fact any kind of food), restaurants, bars, coffee shops, airlines, cars, computers, clothing, music, movies, and even TV shows (Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, anything Star Wars related – recently the Mandalorian). Even household product carries these signals, because you eventually hope that people you invite to your home notice it. For this type of a campaign to succeed, an ad campaign that is targeted and relatable seeds everyone with this imprint, or message, or association. Then it steps back and just waits, as its tendrils crawls into popular culture and takes hold and root in your brain. Your choice is simple, do you like and want to associate yourself with such signals that the brand allows you to send? If yes, welcome… So, for an ad to work in cultural inception, it is not enough to be seen by one person. This is a mass audience, loud and obnoxious type of advertising. It has to be broadcast publicly and acquire as many eyeballs as possible over a longer period of time. You need to imprint in stadiums, billboards, bus stops, subways, stations, social media, websites. But the internet here is always a reinforcing mechanism (the annoying little ad that follows you till it's done its job), it’s the offline that does the true cultural inception, imprinting, and then finally reinforcement. The beauty of this type of inception, is that it stays, it has longevity. This ad doesn’t need to incept deep into our emotional cortex, it just merely needs to suggest that other people’s brains are privy to its inception and adoption – and then regardless of whatever evidence that our logical centres might require, it will slowly work its way into the fabric of our social reality, to become an enduring part of our cultural landscape. It leaves our goals fully intact, without any modification (unlike emotional inception), and it ends up with more of those products being advertised, by just changing the subtle pathways of influence. If you’re one of those bold, daring brands that wants to achieve cultural inception, get in touch, we’d love to work with you!
- Ads that celebrate Women
Since the past mid-twentieth century, women have either been showcased as sexual objects or as the domesticated housewife but as women’s rights and representation has come a long way, so has the advertising and marketing. With more representation, marketers cannot ignore the voices of women. With women occupying 53% of the global workforce in marketing and advertising, the quality and messaging for women has consistently improved, and today we are highlighting the best campaigns for women that have put their message across successfully. Here are the ads that celebrate women... Nike Nike has always known to be inspiring, bold and fearless. A brand that advocates actions and overcoming hurdles, Nike has released multiple campaigns that expresses the strong confident women. Not just physically strong but the overall strength of women. Their campaigns hit hard and on the spot that will leave a lasting impression on the audience. My personal favourite is the Da Da Ding campaign, which was released when I was in high school. With strong lyrics and beats that pump in the confidence, the ad expresses the unrelenting and go-getting voice of women, who do their best to achieve what they set their eyes upon. You can imagine a 15-year-old girl rapping along the song and believing just that. “And fail is not part of the plan. But if I fall, I'm going to stand again” A special mention to What Are Girls Made Of? A recital by a young girl that starts with flowers and rings as descriptions of what girls are made of. The poem progresses to state how strength, self-dedication, grace and independence are what girls are made of. Dove This personal care brand stands for beauty being a source of confidence. Women have been objectified for their beauty and have been reduced to unrealistic beauty and body standards, setting high expectations. This leads to many being insecure in their own skin that might not conform to those standards, while others are annoyed that they are usually judged on the basis of their appearance. Striving to achieve that unrealistic beauty standards has left women comparing themselves to edited and photoshopped models. Dove with their “You are more beautiful than you think” campaign draws attention to how women are very self critical about their appearance, focusing on their negatives more than their beauty. The experiment shows a woman describing her facial features to a sketch artist. When compared to the description by a stranger, we see the stranger’s description was more accurate. A powerful message that our beauty is what stands out more than the little critical details, with a candidate mentioning that there is a lot of internal work to be done after looking at the sketches. An honorary mention to Dove’s “My Beauty My Say” video. The ad presents how women in different spaces are judged by their appearance. Their work and potential is then assumed by how they present themselves and how they naturally look. It calls out the emphasis put on the physical appearance and face value of women, more than their calibre and achievements. Pandora The connection of a mother and her child is something that cannot be replicated. It is unique and special. Even with multiple children, Mothers have a unique connection to each of her children, one different from the other. Pandora’s “The Unique Connection” ad portrays the special bond between a child and their mother. Through touch alone, the child knows, even when blindfolded, who their mother is and does not fail to recognise her in a row of different women. The uniqueness of their relationship also shows that each woman and mother are different and special. Lean In Women when ambitious, driven and motivated are labelled as bossy or stubborn. Men who stick to their values and goals and do not deter from their plan are called motivated, determined while women are referred to as stubborn. Ambitious women striving for leadership and are actively vocal are called bossy, not in a nice manner as well. The stereotype of women being the compliant one is an archaic notion which needs to be changed. Lean In’s Ban Bossy video features multiple celebrities that call out to encourage young women and girls to strive for more, aim to change the world and achieve the impossible; they strive to ban bossy. Housing.com This one is a new release and to be honest, it was so relatable that I had to add it to this list. One does not find full autonomy of their life while living with their parents and this issue is not something that women alone suffer from but it is something that women face a lot. Families usually decide and control the woman’s autonomy until her marriage; or in urban modern scenarios, when she moves out for work. Also the ‘paraya’ keyword used, implies the concept of ‘paraya dhan’ where the woman is another man’s property and hence must leave her family otherwise she is seen as a burden (by marriage of course ). This archaic concept is still prevalent in India and other Asian countries too. This ad takes a humorous approach to this concept. The female lead does not know the address of her house and is confused when asked for directions. It is because she has been told several times to do things as per her wish when she lives in her own house, hence the confusion. The ad subtly and humorously explains the history and calls for a change in the mindset and point of view of the people. Ads that celebrate women Ads and marketing are a huge indicator of how the society functions, giving a brilliant insight on the social, economic and political landscape of a country or an era. At the same time, ads have a huge impact on the population, making people question and express themselves better. You can read more about other campaigns that have done justice to their message and brand. At Unmarketing, we help you create chemistry between your brand and your humans. To learn more, connect with us.
- Creative AI: will it take your job?
Technologies have evolved with a simple motive: Either to make the process simpler or to achieve what has otherwise been impossible for humans. It has been serving its purpose and allowing human minds to leave the boring, repetitive tasks in the hands of machines and AI; more specifically Creative AI. So far, it was never thought that technology could create or be present in the creative industry which today is being constantly challenged with all the recent success in the AI creative space. When a machine exhibits full human intelligence, it is referred to as strong AI or general AI. AI that has been restricted to domains to work on specific tasks are called narrow AI. Most recent AI programs have been based on Machine Learning which is largely date driven. Today AI has learnt human behaviour, patterns, languages and the human nuances in each of them. ChatGPT is making the big noise, by scarily identifying or understanding human queries and responding back in the same way as well, gaining 100 million users in two months. While some regard it as no big feat, it is just highlighting how in the last 5 years AI has gone from automating repetitive tasks to writing a whole short film and creating images and designs with a string of simple keywords. Creative AI? Friend or Foe? “Where AI is the simulation of intelligence in machines, Creative AI is the simulation of creativity in machines." -Ed Newton-Rex For long machines and creativity have been considered as oxymorons, as creativity has been an entirely human act. Now we have AI editing images, writing scripts and even creating trailers for movies! Naturally it raises concerns like, how much will AI replace humans or will it completely replace humans. How is creative AI helpful? Creative AI can help in enhancing and speeding up the process. All the data analysing, research and corrections can be improved with AI involved. This leaves more time and energy for brainstorming, ideation and visualizing. Personalization can be achieved with AI creating accurate content, suiting the preference of the user after studying and analysing human behaviour. With the power of AI and machine learning, human understanding and creation can be limitless. It can enhance collaboration amongst artists and help them explore more themes and inspiration. Let's take a look at how advanced AI in creativity is: Midjourney Midjourney is an independent research lab that produces an artificial intelligence program under the same name that creates images from textual descriptions, similar to OpenAI's DALL-E and Stable Diffusion. It operates in discord and you can generate 25 images after which you will need to subscribe. You can type in your request and describe the image and then upscale whichever version you like the best. Dall-E 2 Dall-E 2 is an AI system that can create realistic images from a description in natural language. It can create images from descriptions, expand the composition of the image, edit and repurpose an already existing image. The AI system has familiarized itself with all the images of a given keyword, and also understands the relation between the given keywords to create realistic and accurate images with 4x higher resolution. Jasper.ai Jasper is the generative AI platform for business that helps create content tailored for different brands 10X faster. It enables individuals and teams to leverage AI to scale content strategies. It can write long form content like blog posts, emails and stories, which are SEO optimized as well. Create ads, copy and creatives for advertising campaigns and social media. Can help business and companies to scale. AI has been in the music industry for a very long time, yes we’re talking about auto-tune. But it is not just that. In March 2020, the AI-powered music software Osmose won a Grammy award for Best Immersive Audio Album. Osmose was created by the French artist and researcher Jean-Michel Jarre and uses AI algorithms to generate music that adapts in real-time to a user's movements and gestures. Sony flow has also released a song “Daddy’s Car” which is entirely composed by AI. The algorithm was able to create a new song in the style of the Beatles, which was then arranged and produced by human musicians. We have just scratched the surface of creative AI’s role in these spaces. There are films, videos and writing where AI is gaining momentum and being more involved in the creative process. Even though AI has raised concerns regarding it taking over human jobs, there is an accepted notion that AI tools work better as assistants in areas such as image search, editing, etc.. Creative AI: your support friend While creative AI has impressed many and shown promising potential, it is unlikely that it will take over humans entirely in the near future. There are quite a few reasons why. Firstly, art and creation has been a part of the human experience since the beginning of the world we know. While machines can create and learn art, it is human nature to understand art. Creativity often arises from personal histories, emotions, and unique perspectives on the world. AI algorithms, on the other hand, do not have this same level of personal experience, and therefore may not be able to fully capture the depth and complexity of human creativity. Secondly, the originality in AI art is quite a hot topic for discussion. AI machines draw inspiration from other existing artforms and other data that has been fed to them, but it can never create from scratch since it does not have a critical aspect of creativity, Imagination. AI creativity cannot match human creativity, and it cannot do so in the near future at least. While machines can make it quicker, replicate it exactly down to the last detail, and provide insightful analysis and results, the human mind should not be underestimated. Art and creativity are subjective fields that rely on interpretation. Creating is a personal journey that coloured and painted by the original thoughts and understandings of a human. Do not worry, machines are not coming for your jobs.
- Tech and its cults of personalities
Tech has always played a key role in humanity, whether it is putting a man on the moon or literally saving the world when we were in a footrace with the Nazis to split the atom. So this tech universe sometimes seems like magic, for example, the ability to send a message into the universe and understand the world that we live in can border on fascinating and enthralling to the common man. It's sometimes no wonder that tech CEOs can sometimes seem otherworldly, and sometimes even godlike. Tech and its cults We've seen this happen in Theranos with Elizabeth Holmes, and now with FTX and its overhyped CEO, Sam Bankman-Fried. The most important part here of realising is how marketing and founder branding was ultimately responsible for both companies' sense of legitimacy and played a huge role in their user growth until finally, the overhyped, unsustainable image came crumbling down. It looks like FTX's downfall would lead to a riveting book, written by none other than "The Big Short" author Mike Lewis, where I would surmise that sordid details of how FTX's lavish marketing and celebrity sponsorship spending would probably read as a measure of the hubris of Sam Bankman-Fried. Ironically even more so considering that just a few weeks ago FTX was valued at $32 billion US dollars. Before its collapse though, the FTX founder and chief executive had garnered a reputation for being one of the loudest voices of the Web3 industry, being active on social media, politics and in the press, just like tech and its cults. The funny thing is that Sam Bankman-Fried told everyone what he was doing. It was no secret about his appetite for risk, and he even went so far as to outright say that quite a number of associated crypto exchanges were "secretly insolvent". Even when declaring his net worth to be a whopping $10 billion, he was frank enough to say that it was in "mostly illiquid" assets, and in interviews with Forbes and Bloomberg, he didn't disagree with the idea that he was in the "Ponzi business". But with the ecosystem of hope and awe that was built around him, few really heard what he was actually saying, so much so that one of the titular investors, Sequoia Capital finally wrote its $213 million FTX investment down to $0. This was not according to the plan But that was not how it was meant to go, according to the legions of crypto fans, and big-name Silicon Valley venture capitalists, who were so busy heaping praise upon this demigod of the industry, as they continued to fail in ensuring his business had an iota of legitimacy. With the embrace of philosophies like effective altruism, promoted by social media influencers like Nas Daily, Sam employed a masterstroke of adding morality to his ruthless and precarious money-making. This rare façade of an altruistic billionaire was maintained by lavish spending on professional sports teams, stadiums and donations to multiple charities. Playing both Washington lawmakers, with large sums of political donations he managed a workforce who truly believed (or rather pretended to) in Bankman-Fried's mission to earn stupendous amounts of money only to give it away. On one hand, the famed crypto leader told Congress that the industry needed "disclosure and transparency", and on the other hand, his myriad of secrets was held closely between friends, leaving even the highest levels of his executives completely in the dark, on the true nature of FTX's financials. While the book will definitely turn out to be a riveting read, this is a morally challenging example of what effective branding and marketing could do. Bolster the reputation and the outlook that a brand and/or company is doing so well, that it can afford to tell you about it. Ask the many normal people (and professional investors), who have lost enormous amounts of their money, some of them losing their entire life savings altogether, about whether such a company that didn't have their business fundamentals sorted, should even be allowed to advertise so extensively. Too good to be true Rings absolutely true here. I mean does the sound of a Bahamas-based firm run by a 30-year-old, with no actual board of directors, that deals in trading complex and rather unclear digital financial instruments, sound just a tad bit risky to the casual observer? It is an understatement to say that the company spent heavily on marketing, some hundreds of millions of dollars with publicly reported tags. In the second half of 2021 alone, FTX signed deals with the NBA's Miami Heat, Major League Baseball, the Golden State Warriors, the Washington Wizards and Capitals, the F1 racing organization and finally esports giant TSM. A basic question, how could a company that hadn't even existed for three years, sign a 19-year contract with the Miami Heat? That's a grand total of $375 million in the above commitments, and that doesn't even include any of the fees given to individual sports athletes or their sponsorships, since they weren't publicly disclosed. One particularly well-aged Super Bowl spot from 2022 cast the comedian Larry David as a nay-sayer to revolutionary inventions like the wheel, coffee, the American experiment, Nasa's lunar module, and then eventually, FTX as an easy way to get into crypto. Aaaaah, I don't think so, and I'm never wrong about this stuff. Ever. This was expensive advertising played in prime-time spots during the Super Bowl in 2022, averaging $233,000 per second! Legitimacy through advertising? FTX's most visible promotional efforts were surrounded by sports. Umpires in Major League Baseball all carried the FTX logo on their shirts, Tom Brady and Gisele Bündchen were also involved in multiple ad spots. Steph Curry, and Naomi Osaka were key ambassadors, and in Formula One, Mercedes-AMG Petronas were partners. This was no shot in the dark either, Bankman-Fried even shamelessly noted that the high-reach sports marketing effort worked tremendously in introducing the brand to a new consumer market. Clearly, this has penetrated more than everything else we've done combined, in terms of people's perception of us And herein lies the danger, just like there is no overall regulator for crypto exchanges, the lack of ethics and a moral compass abound in advertising. It's hard to pin down, should we blame the advertising agency? Because after all they were just servicing the client with creative ideas, and if the senior management of FTX itself had virtually no clue about the major problems abound at FTX, how could an external service provider like an ad agency know? But if anything else, this lesson definitely teaches us the dangers of how effective branding and marketing can be weaponised by a brand and executives with no moral compass...
- From the worst to the best commercial in the world
In 1983, a small ad agency Chiat/Day created a commercial that one Apple executive at the time referred to it as, "the worst commercial I've ever seen." Today, close to 40 years later, it is considered one of the best ad commercial ever created and has inspired or down right been copied by Fortnite and others. This is the story of the ad that ignited the imagination of millions worldwide and yet continues to inspire ad professionals to this day. Its 1983, Apple was preparing to launch a product that had been in development for over 5 years. The Macintosh Computer... It was built to be the first mass-market personal computer systems with a graphical user interface, a built-in screen and a mouse. A far throw from the computers of that day, which were either typographical focused DOS interfaces or UNIX interfaces, where the utility of such computers were only targeted towards computer engineers or their like. Steve Jobs believed that the Macintosh computer system would democratize the access of the public towards computer systems. It would give the average person access to technology that was previously reserved for research institutes, NASA, governments and super large corporations that could afford this expensive piece of technology. This new product or piece of technology was revolutionary and a damn big deal, the product launch needed to be even bigger. A pathway to the best commercial? So, Steve Jobs called on Lee Clow and the Chiat/Day ad agency to develop a campaign for the product launch. Now remember this was before the advent of social media, Google and any sort of digital marketing. The Superbowl ad spots were coveted by the entire advertising industry, and the half-time ads were often better than the game itself. With costs averaging around $5.6 million for 30 seconds of view time, these halftime ad slots were one of the most coveted and expensive places to advertise in the world. So when Chiat/Day determined that a commercial during Super Bowl XVIII would have the widest reach, the challenge had just begun. But that was dependent on the commercial really standing out, it needed to capture that attention. I want to do something great. Clow very early on understood Job's vision for the launch, "I want to do something great. I want to do something that nobody else would do." So with that limited brief, the agency got to work and began brainstorming ideas, and it wasn't long before the commercial had some premise. It would be inspired by George Orwell's dystopian novel, "1984". In it, technology is used by the government and corporations to control the masses. Steve Jobs, on the other hand was an ardent believer that the Macintosh computer could be used to empower the individual. So Clow and his team were able to convince the legendary director, Ridley Scott, to join the project. As Scott said later about the storyboard pitch, "This was such a dramatic idea that I thought it would either be totally successful or we'd all get put in the state penitentiary." The commercial was then shot in London with an unprecedented production budget of approximately $900k. Scott wanted to tell the story of a dystopian future where the masses are held prisoner under a despotic government, with the set being dark, grey and extremely industrial. Dozens of identical looking men with grey uniforms march towards an auditorium. With everyone being transfixed by a man on a large screen speaking about the "unification of thoughts". Suddenly our hero runs into the room. She hurls a sledgehammer and destroys the screen. A bright flash of light... A bang... And an announcement from the narrator. On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like 1984. After the filming ended, Clow presented the commercial to Steve Jobs and then CEO John Sculley. They both loved it. Sculley then approved the agency to purchase 90 seconds of ad time during the Super Bowl for a total of $1.5 million. Oddly, and very unexpectedly, few people seemed to agree with Jobs and Sculley. And the commercial performed horribly in focus groups. Apple's entire board of directors hated the commercial - The company was launching a product to compete with IBM and the ad didn't even show what the hell the new product was! The board even went so far to demand that the agency sell back the ad spots to someone else and recoup their losses. But Jobs and Chiat/Day still firmly believed in the commercial. So, the agency sold 30 seconds to another advertiser. But, with a wink and a nudge, Clow "conveniently" couldn't find another buyer for the other spot. Masterpiece for a revolution And, on January 22, 1984 the commercial ran during the Super Bowl XVIII. Their firm belief in the creative output that even the board of directors couldn't see, paid off and within days local cinemas and TV stations continued to bombard the air waves with the unique ad. Within a record 100 days, Apple sold 72,000 computers, thus generating $150 million in net sales. Advertising legend Regis McKenna would later refer to the ad as "more successful than the Mac itself." Apple's masterpiece went on to win the best Super Bowl spot in 40 years and was awarded amongst the greatest commercials ever made. Cleverly Steve Jobs used the blue tones of the ad to subconsciously connect IBM with the dystopian future of the ad. As he said in his own words: It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers, initially welcoming IBM with open arms, now fear an IBM-dominated and -controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?” The greatest impact But the greatest impact of the "1984" commercial was that it changed Super Bowl ads forever. Apple inadvertently invented the Super Bowl commercial as we know it today - A massive, one-time production meant to capture attention and inspire awe. Every single big budget Super Bowl commercial since then has been an attempt to replicate that magic that Clow and his team were able to create for Apple. To this very day, the "1984" commercial continues to be the bar that many other companies measure their ads against. Ironically there have even been copycats, like Fortnite with their inspired shot which was aimed as a direct attack on Apple. Apple's App Store policy must allow in-store app payments to be handled through Apple, and revenues of 30% are directly grabbed by Apple. In fact it went so far that Apple removed Fortnite from the App Store, effectively becoming the very corporatist giant it started out disrupting. And in the same spirit of defiance, it ends exactly like the Apple ad did, but with one key addition. Epic Games has defied the App Store Monopoly. In retaliation, Apple is blocking Fortnite from a billion devices. Join the fight to stop 2020 from becoming “1984.” But the symbol of empowerment remains, and Apple yet remains a tool for combating conformity and asserting originality. Which begs the question, you as brand managers or your brands conforming, or are you willing to make a stand and make some noise. If so, lets talk!
- Building a formidable brand community
From 1973-1983, Harley Davidson's market share went from 78% of the US market to 23% as Japanese manufacturers flooded the market with high quality, low priced bikes. In response President Reagan introduced a new protectionist trade bill, granting Harley Davidson protection against foreign brands that sought new markets in North America, by introducing entry duties up to 49.5% of their wholesale value. While the Gephardt trade bill granted certain protections to Harley Davidson, the company realised that it needed another edge, and started to use the emotional appeal that hooked customers into something bigger than just technology/features. The real power of Harley Davidson is the power to market to consumers who love the product. The adventurous pioneer spirit, the wild west, having your own horse, and going where you want to go - the motorcycle takes on some attributes of the iron horse. It suggests personal freedom and independence. This come back from a near extinction refocused Harley Davidson into its loyal community and galvanized the brand so that twenty five years later, it held a top-50 global brand valuation at $7.8 billion. A group of ardent enthusiasts that was focused around the lifestyle, activities and ethos of the brand, enabled a reorganization of the brand's purpose to focus on its community, building it to be one of the earliest and largest brand communities the world admires today. Think about it, automotive brands have tried (some successfully) to take a page out of the Harley Davidson playbook and capture that community within their own brands. Enfield (an Indian brand), boasts a smaller enthusiast base, and so does numerous automotive brands like Mercedes, Audi, Lamborghini, etc. In today's turbulent world, people are hungry for a sense of connection: and in leaner economic times, every company needs to find new ways to invigorate enthusiasm into their brand and outreach activities. But while companies try and try to aspire to customer loyalty, experience and brand authenticity that robust communities deliver, few really understand what it takes to achieve such benefits. Much worse than that, companies hold serious misconceptions like a brand community exists to serve the business, or that the brand community must be tightly controlled, moderated and limited. However the reality is far from that. An effective brand community exists in service to its members, who participate for a variety of reasons and motivations, from building relationships, cultivating new interests and contributing to each other and society at large. Secondly a brand community always defies management control. Effective brand stewards create environments which people and communities can thrive and excel, somehow designing multiple experiences that appeal and cater to various audiences. So let's get started in dispelling these popular myths around brand communities, so that you have an exact measure of what it takes to build and invigorate your own brand community. Brand community is a marketing activity This couldn't be farther from the truth. The reality is that brand communities is a key business function and isolating community building efforts within the marketing purview is a mistake that is going to cost you down the line. Following the 1985 buyback that saw Harley Davidson leverage control back of its company, the management reformulated the competitive strategy and business model around a thriving brand community that was rooted in the organizations' business ethos and philosophy. Instead of focusing on just the marketing function of the organization, Harley Davidson re-engineered every aspect of its organization - from its culture, operating principles to its governance structure to drive is community strategy. The 'brotherhood' of riders, united by a shared ethos, offered Harley a means to strategically reposition itself as the only motorcycle manufacturer that understood bikers on their own terms. To reinforce this community forward positioning, and further strengthen the connection between the company and its customers, Harley ensured that all community outreach functions were staffed with employees rather than contractors. This had a unforeseen effect, many employees became riders, and many riders become employees. Executives were expected to spend face-time with customers, thus allowing them to close the feedback loop, and bring valuable insights into the boardroom. This philosophy was further reinforced with new employee orientations, and all brand/company decisions were rooted in the community's perspective. Thus making the community the true owner of the brand and the company executives and staff, their stewards. Brand Community exists to serve the business Executives often tend to forget that their consumers are actually people with a multitude of needs, wants, interests and responsibilities. Building a community doesn't mean that you focus on driving up your sales numbers first, but by helping people to truly meet their needs. The status quo doesn't matter with brand communities, and is not about trying a new identity through brand affiliation, instead people participate in communities for a variety of reasons - to find emotional support, connect with like-minded people, explore ways to contribute to the greater good, and to cultivate their interests and skills, just to name a few. Decathlon in its early days offers an example of how a community can give rise to a brand. For instance, the retailer consciously decreases profit margins of its products year on year to pass on the benefits to its buyers. As Olivier Robinet, CEO of Decathlon Australia said, What I have in mind is to sell at the lowest price we can. A lot of companies think exactly the contrary, they want to sell at the highest price they can at the highest margin. We want to … sell at the lowest margin we can. Our margin decreases every year and that’s a big topic for us. It is a brand that wants to sell at the lowest possible profit margins, a brand that measures the effectiveness of their business objectives by looking at how happy its customers and employees are and yet, it has outpaced competitors (established brands) in the most complex and demanding markets. While the company localizes its expansion strategy to suit the needs of the country they are setting their foot into, there are a few parameters that they don’t compromise on. The store space is one such factor. When retail spaces are shrinking and the world is moving online, the sports retailer chooses to open outlets that are the size of a warehouse. The size of the retailer’s flagship store in Emeryville, California is 47,000 square-feet! "Third place" brands like Gold's Gym and Starbucks tap into this sentiment by providing brick and mortar venues that foster interaction. In these cases, brand loyalty is the reward for meeting people's needs for the community, and is not the core motivation for the creation of the brand community. Robust communities take a life of its own. They are not built on the brand's reputation, but on an understanding of their members core values and motivations. Putting the brand second is virtually an impossible task for a marketer to do, but it is absolutely essential if a strong community is the ultimate goal. Build the brand and the community will follow There are three basic forms of community affiliation: pools, webs and hubs. Really effective and meaningful community strategies continue to combine all three in a mutually reinforcing way. Members of pools are united by shared values or goals (think vegan or Apple devotees). Brand management practices have been rooted such that managers in a pool based approach focus on communicating a clear set of values that connect your potential customers to the brand. Unfortunately, pools only deliver very limited community benefits. People tend to share an abstract and sometimes vague set of beliefs but build few interpersonal relationships. Meaning that over time engagement drops, and community members eventually drop out of the pool. The solution then is to focus on building webs and hubs to further strengthen and build the community. Web affiliations are based on strong one-to-one connections. These are by far the strongest and most stable form of communities because the people involved in them are bound by many and very varied relationships. Looking at a key example, the Harley Davidson museum for example, fosters webs of interpersonal relationships on their campus. As museum visitors peruse through the exhibitions, they come across these custom inscribed, stainless steel rivets that are commissioned by groups or individuals. As they reflect on the stories told by these rivets, they engage with each other and soon find themselves comparing interesting inscriptions, engaging in interesting conversations and building connections. Often leading to lifetime friendships, the museum through rivet walls strengthens the Harley brand pool by building webs around and in it. Members of hubs are united by their admiration of an individual (think Tony Robbins or Deepak Chopra). The hub is a very strong, though unstable form of community that is completely dependant on the central figure. Once the central figure is no longer present, the hub often breaks apart. However hubs can help communities acquire new members who hold similar values. Hubs can also be used to create or strengthen a brand pool, a strategy Nike has used since its inception, by associating with stars like Michael Jordan, Luka Dončić, Lebron James and many more. To build stable communities, hub connections must be bonded to the community through webs. Brand communities should be a form of hero worship for true brand advocates This couldn't be further from the truth. Smart companies embrace the conflicts that make communities thrive. Communities are always inherently political, and even with like minded people, there is bound to be conflict. Playstation gamers dismiss Xbox players, and PC players dismiss both. Apple enthusiasts hate Microsoft and Dell with a passion, and Tim Horton's lovers shun Starbucks and vice-versa. Dividing lines are a definer within any community, where degrees of passion and loyalty separate the hard core fans from the posers. Community is often than not about rivalries and lines drawn in the sand. Firms can reinforce these rivalries to engage fans to draw others to fan the flames. Pepsi and Coca Cola have always had a long rivalry that has taken on various forms in advertising campaigns. A group's unity is formidable when such conflicts are brought into the limelight. Some companies make the mistake of downplaying this rivalry instead of effectively using it. Take Porsche for example, its 2002 launch of the Cayenne SUV drew lines in the sand by past owners of the 911 refusing to accept it as a 'real' Porsche. Porsche tried to stem this divide, with a campaign that was complete with roaring engines, aimed at demonstrating that the Cayenne was a genuine member of the acclaimed Porsche family. But the entrenched community was not convinced. Smart managers know that singing praises will not force warring tribes to unite. Communities become stronger by highlighting, not trying to erase the borders that strongly define them. Outspoken leaders build strong communities Leaders and Evangelists play a role in any form of networking. They spread information, influence decisions and help new ideas get traction because they are outspoken by nature. But they are a misguided approach to community building. Robust communities establish their own culture by enabling everyone to play a role. From Burning Man to car clubs in your locality, successful communities give members opportunities to take on new roles, alternate between roles and further the community strength by introducing it to new audiences. People need to be offered a variety of roles, from active to passive, in small groups or large. Members of strong brand communities need to stay involved and add value by wearing multiple hats, and becoming more intimate with the community they are involved with. Successful brand communities are tightly managed and controlled. Control has been the norm when it comes to community management. Hasbro's suing of fans for publishing content based on its brands, is a clear cut example of community managers putting corporate interests over those of their customers or their community. Such efforts have led to much debate about how to control or assert over brand communities. But that's the wrong question. Brand communities are not corporate assets so control is always an illusion. But that doesn't mean brands need to forget their responsibility to their community. Effective brand stewards are your community's co-creators and by nurturing and facilitating this community, they are creating conditions for it to thrive. Companies build effective communities through a design philosophy that replaces control with a balance of structure and flexibility. Like the Nike+ online community, that cultivates peer to peer support and interaction by encouraging members to challenge and even trash talk each other. This has led to multiple offshots, the Nike Run Club, Basketball Club, Workout Club and so on, creating sub communities that thrive around common interests and goals. So do you think you are prepared? Almost every brand can seriously benefit from a community strategy, but not every company has the capability to pull it off. It takes a certain boldness to examine everything from company values to your organizational design. And it takes a certain degree of fortitude to meet people and engage with them on their own terms, give up control, and accept conflict as a part of the package. But the results are clear, a strong brand community increases customer loyalty, lowers marketing costs, makes your brand more authentic and opens up dialogue with your consumers on how to grow the business. The truth is very simple, when you get your community right, the benefits are irrefutable. So are you ready to start your own brand community, if so, get in touch with us.
- The need of the hour is a useful Metaverse
News articles have been rife with the Struggles of Mark Zuckerberg’s Metaverse, and his vision of a utopian future, where billions of people would inhabit this immersive virtual environment where you work, play in a hybrid augmented/virtual reality. In our view, it does not matter about the billions of dollars already spent. However, to make the Metaverse ubiquitous like the web is in our lives, it should become a collaborative environment where multiple vendors build this world together, combining their different strengths to make this vision a reality, and most importantly the metaverse should be useful. The easiest way to describe the Metaverse would be to use key movies that have illustrated this theme. You have the Matrix series, Inception and even Tron, which have successfully demonstrated what a Metaverse could look like or feel like. But the problem is much deeper. Environments that have been created so far are run by either a single company, without a collaborative vision and the potential pitfalls are so much deeper than just a “Metaverse.” Let us focus on our Humans first With the dependency on Virtual Headsets, like the Meta Quest 2 and the Meta Quest Pro, you are limiting the scale of usage and controlling the type of users who could access this universe. Technology should not be a limiting factor; it should allow us to reap the benefits and leave the disadvantages. After all is it not easy to just go back to the web and dump the metaverse? Shouldn’t the usage be tailored to adapt to current user habits and behaviours rather than try to force new ones down their throat? Ideally, we should try and create technology, and its dependent technologies to motivate us in a direction that could be ideal. It should allow us to meet new people in new environments that we otherwise could not meet in real life, have new interactions, encourage new ideas, and finally foster fundamental changes that benefit humanity. That is exactly what kind of technology we need right now. Building a useful Metaverse We understand that the metaverse is a steppingstone to something bigger and conceivably better. I think after all, we have a genuine understanding of what we want. The end goal is having the virtual world overlaid upon our physical world, where we can interact with our present reality with more information and services in a more interactive manner. It’s not about adding computer animations, and graphics onto our physical world, which serves no purpose and is ultimately just a gimmick. In fact, we need a way to present experiences, information, and services in a way that merges both the physical and digital world. The Ideal Metaverse To create an environment where hundred of millions of users spend their day to day lives, we need just two basic steps to make this a reality. Consistency both in experience and expectations The ability to marry the physical world in real-time to the real world. So, let us focus on how we get there. So, what do we mean by consistency? It is simple. It is a ‘shared stage’ of sorts where everyone is not only seeing the same thing, but they are also experiencing the same thing. And this is across devices and not dependent to one vendor, one operating system, one universe or one region. Like how Google Maps recently and very cleverly I might add have launched augmented reality (as a new feature) allowing you to see the surroundings to match the actual environment to your destination. Now imagine this, being able to navigate across multiple levels. You reach the building, and Google Maps tells you that you need to go to the 32nd floor, but before that you need to check in to the reception, which requires some sort of identification to enter. This is a use case that is tailored for the real world, and hence adoption is going to be a lot easier because it makes our lives easier, taking care of mundane tasks. Now let us take a step further. Instead of allowing you to physically check in to the reception, Google Maps could take care of this, submitting your ID via an automated system, and allowing you to use the NFC system on your phone to get through the boom gates, and all of this done in advance well before you even reach the location. It is like the usual GPS with a ton of added features and services that just make sense. If such a service was available, wouldn’t you use it? Wearables that don't make you look like a robot While we understand that it takes time and numerous iterations to improve this technology, AR is yet in a very nascent stage of its development. A ton of innovation is required to really build and manage the flow of information, and 5G is a step in the right direction. But the fundamentals are the same. We need to deliver this complex technology in a way that is socially acceptable. We have evolved from the days of mainframes to computers, to PCs to laptops to smartphones to smart watches. The one thing that is constant is that technology and processing power has evolved, and the size has reduced. Creating wearables can make this new reality malleable, but to make it useable it must mimic real use cases, and most importantly real life. Yes, we need to start somewhere so this trend continues, but a starting point of $1,500 for a Meta quest is prohibitive to making this Metaverse a reality. And the fundamental problem is if we are creating for the initial subset of users (i.e., people who have a disposable income of $1,500 to splurge on a bit of technology), we are limiting the future developments to cater to that user group. When you want to revolutionize something as fundamental as how we access technology, and if we are aiming for the Metaverse to replace or be an alternative to the web, it needs to be created for the masses. Let us face it, the current and future potential applications of the Metaverse should not be restricted to the gaming and entertainment industries. Businesses across all domains need to not only start preparing for the Metaverse but have a larger voice in how this unique environment/world is created. It’s not about competitive edge anymore, it’s the fundamentals of how technology should be leveraged for humanity’s needs. The ultimate immersive experience This is exactly what the Metaverse is. Like Zuckerberg said: The metaverse is the next frontier in connecting people, just like social networking was when we got started… Over time, I hope we are seen as a metaverse company, and I want to anchor our work and our identity on what we’re building towards. Fine speech, but to do that, you need everyone working on board. I mean after all the Horizon World should ideally be using a combination of Unity and Unreal Engine to create a better more realistic world. If you want a virtual world that imitates our real world, you need the digital environment to have the right textures that makes it feel close to our physical reality, with a little bit of photorealism. This collaborative experience can ideally be laid out in multiple stages: Enablers Enablers lay the foundation of the core technology which the Metaverse runs on. They should ideally cover the basics like governance, security and privacy, and also facilitate the operation of the metaverse economy. This is where Web 3.0, Blockchain, AI, crypto currencies and NFTs would ideally be situated. Infrastructure The infrastructure covers the hardware and software requirements for the Metaverse, but let’s go a bit deeper. To us, infrastructure is also the environments, the core world. Just like it is in our physical world. Platforms & Tools Platforms and Tools allow the creation and deployment of Metaverse experiences. This could be Web Browsers, Dapps, App Stores, Render Engines, AI services, etc. But more importantly this is where you try to build a coexistence of immersive technologies like AR, VR, Unity and Unreal Engine, sort of cooperating with a slight modification of experience, depending on the device used. Content Content is the final piece. This is where developers, creators and even users are active. In an ideal metaverse, your users create the world and the environment which drives the overall Metaverse experience, either through a mimicry of the physical world, or an alternative world where your imagination is allowed to run wild. Our Ideal Solution It's simple. Democracy. Allow the creation of an open source metaverse which allows organizations and people to borrow systems and applications to build a shared universe that is virtual and could be a bridge between the physical and the virtual world. This allows a proliferation of technology and applications, as people will end up building for their own preferred use cases, kind of how the web started and grew. Why waste a lot of time for no reason and allow a single company to be burdened with such a huge responsibility? Share it, distribute it, and this is how we build a new web, which is not only useable for the bulk of users, but can evolve and grow in the future without limitations and hinderances. If you had to build a metaverse, what would you imagine it to be?
- Beyond the Journey of Branding
The journey of any branding exercise will lead you towards a clear understanding of the personality, values & purpose, tone, messaging and the way your brand needs to communicate with every stakeholder. A lot of effort goes into a branding exercise to understand and conclude in the way your brand needs to be seen, heard, and felt beyond its physical characteristics. (sometimes even it gets to the understanding of how a brand wants to smell/taste/touch). How many of you and your colleagues are exactly living up to values on a daily basis to actually give a real time experience to all your stakeholders. The founders/leaders of the organization tend to focus less on people and culture. Either they take the teams for granted or they are too sucked into the vicious cycles of the business other than people and culture! It’s very important for the founders and the leadership to be aware of how they are aligning their people to the business operations of the organization. The importance of people and culture Firstly, realizing the importance of people and culture in a business is a necessity to start aligning people, culture and operations. Because, when you do not realize the importance of it, you tend to spend less time on challenges that are popping up. It might not be intentional for any leader/founder to ignore these challenges, however, these are to be addressed on priority. Because, people are the core participants in a Team. And teams tend to expand when business expands and these teams together is what is called your organization. According to me, entrepreneurship/leadership is about people and relationships. Both are intertwined because people are the one who establish relationships with others and make commerce happen. Once people and relationships are aligned across the value chain, the commerce that happens will take you to glory! In an ideal case, every leader should focus on growing and nurturing his/her teams to be smarter, knowledgeable, have the right attitude and be better in the way they function everyday. It’s the quality of the decisions that these teams take will help the organization to sail despite any storm. In short , leaders don’t build products/services. They build teams by getting people together and enable them to move ahead. So how do you as a leader/manager do this job right. These can be the focus areas for anyone that's looking to build a team: Aligning individual goals & aspirations to that of Organization's It’s very important for a leader to align an individual's aspiration to that of the organization's aspirations. According to me, a lot of people are desperate for jobs and they tend to answer the questions in a way to convince you. But reading between the lines and understanding their true personal aspirations can be a very important factor in hiring anyone, especially when you are hiring the top 50-75 people of your team. These things are better understood through enabling a comfortable dialogue with any potential individual. That’s the skill that leaders have to hone. Because, if there is a misalignment at this level, then there is a high chance that the individual might leave the role soon. Through this alignment, you can also keep your teammates motivated well. Understanding the cultures in which an individual thrive According to me, we are what we are and where we come from. It’s important for a leader to understand what type of culture one comes from and what type of culture that an individual aspires to be a part of. It’s very common to hear from anyone about how they want to be a part of a positive culture that nurtures growth and collaboration. But what I see is a gap in between what an individual aspires to be and how that individual conducts himself/herself at a workplace. It’s very important to be observant of all these aspects so that we draw our inferences as an enabler. It’s very tough to have the right people who fit in the company’s culture at one go. There is always a gap between the kind of the culture the individual aspires to be Vs the kind of the culture that they come from. It’s important for enablers/leaders to identify this gap very early on and nurture individuals towards being the flag bearers of the company’s culture. Sensitize the team with the role description and the deliverables Young companies with young team members always have this issue when it comes to role understanding and the deliverables that come with each role. The deliverables for each role are generally aligned to the outcomes the company is aspiring to have. But often there is a missing link between these two. It's very important that we sensitize the team about the company’s immediate business goals and align their efforts towards contributing to those Business Goals. It sounds simple, but implementation of this will definitely haunt every leader that I worked with, especially the first time entrepreneurs. Revisiting the roles and responsibilities periodically will really help because every business is dynamic in nature and it requires alignment every MoM or WoW depending on the nature of your business Beyond Branding... WHEN YOU EXPECT, YOU INSPECT. This is something that works well when you implement it judiciously. If you are expecting something from your teammate/colleague, it's very important to give the right inputs to them, understand if the inputs are sufficient for them to process the subject at hand, and then expect an output that’s desirable. Often, I see leaders aligning their personal interests to that of the expectations from any team mate. But that’s an effing blunder that happens everywhere. You should align every input, effort and output to the Business Goals and Outcomes AND NEVER to what your personal interests/opinions. This is a very thin line for any Human Being to cross but leaders are supposed to be mindful of this. Lastly, monitoring is not about policing your teammates. It's about being there for your teammates as a support and as a person that they look up to for everything they need. Afterall, leaders are to teammates just like fathers are to kids in a family. You give them all the freedom to be themselves and grow to be the best version of themselves but never cease to monitor them and render the support the teams require. So how are you conducting employer branding, through engaging your people. Get in touch, if you need help to further your employer brand, to attract and retain the right talent.