Friday, 7 August 2020

Digital Quackery

 I am sure that one of the career paths we're going to see developing in the next few years is that of the Digital Nutritionist. This may seem as bizarre today as the idea of someone with no recognisable talent called an "Influencer" earning millions did a decade ago, but hear me out.

The whole idea of Digital Nutrition has been waiting in the wings ever since we started talking of "digital content" (the word still reminds me of stomach contents, so point proved) and "digital consumption" as well as "news feed" and all the other nutrition-related analogies. As I have said before, the whole digital space (aaarrrggghhh!) is one that we started by surfing or exploring, then became happy to stumble and bumble around and finally we've ended up in a passive state of being "served" or "fed." Of course, many of us have overdone it and had to resort to some form of "digital detox".

No surprise that the last few years have brought a plethora of reports and articles about the dire consequences of digital overload to our health and well-being, broken only by a short period at the beginning of lockdown where the internet and all things digital were hailed as a saviour in dark times.

The next logical step is to ask the question: does digital consumption have to be detrimental to our health and well-being per se? Or can we draw an analogy with analogue nutrition (if you like - I mean actual food that you shove in your mouth)?

This article introduces the work of AeBeZe Labs - see also the website from Jocelyn Brewer. It's all about Digital Nourishment, Digital Hygiene, Healthy Digital Diets, Digital Pharmaceuticals. 

OK, I studied a bit of pharmacology and I know that we release mood-altering neurotransmitters (Serotonin, Oxytocin, GABA, Endorphins, Acetylcholine et al) in response to stimuli, which could be watching a film, listening to music, reading an article. And usually one transmitter will alter the mood of most people in a certain direction: calm, happy, motivated, focussed or whatever.

But the flaw is that we all have different tastes and reactions. The awful caterwauling that was Justin Bieber plus Ed Sheeran (who on earth had the grotesque idea of throwing these two together into a studio?) that I heard on the radio this morning might well send some into oxytocin-drenched raptures, but it sent me into an extreme fight or flight reaction.

Bodies are rather more standardised when it comes to what is good or bad in terms of nutrition. Minds and souls certainly aren't.

And, finally, how do you account for good old-fashioned non-digital media in all this? I'm talking about books, be they penny dreadful potboilers, or highbrow works of literature.

Tuesday, 28 July 2020

Give them all a rest

From the days of the much-maligned Brand Onion (which occasionally shape-shifted into a pyramid, or a key, if you were at Unilever), I remember very few specific good examples.

But I can remember the endless debates:

Is X a functional benefit or an emotional benefit?

Does this go in Personality or Values?

What's the difference between an attribute and a benefit?

Is this meant to be how we're seen now, or where we want to be?

Fast forward a decade or two, and enter Kipling's "honest serving men" - or some of them - in a glorious glowing Golden Circle. It was all going to be simple - chuck out those endless debates and start with Why?

I've noticed in the last few years that those "honest serving men" are getting about a bit. Almost every presentation on a process or strategy is peppered with Hows and Whos and Whats.

However, the debates remain:

Do we mean Who or To Whom? (The grammar fanatics love this one!)

Is that the How or the What?

Is When important?

And in this article by Thomas Kolster the author (previously a proponent of Pupose and Why?) suggests that it's now all about the Who a brand can help people to become (so a kind of Who in the future). A brand is a coach, helping people "be more, do more, see more, experience more!". This Who "focuses on the role you can play enabling their beliefs and dreams, whereas Why focuses on your organisation's beliefs and dreams."

The "honest serving men" have done a sneaky pivot from a circle to an arrow (perhaps still golden?). Why has disappeared and taken Where with him:


This all feels suspiciously like a return to "what's in it for me" - or a simple statement of what your brand does for people - benefit, if you like.

Kipling's poem continues - and this is not often quoted -

But after they have worked for me,
I give them all a rest.

I let them rest from nine to five,
For I am busy then ...

I think he had a point, and don't intend to discuss the Whys and Wherefores ;)





Saturday, 18 July 2020

Travelling hopefully

One description of the current "coming out of COVID" phase that particularly rings true for me is that we're all teetering on a tightrope between hope and anxiety. The anxiety is a form of constant fear of the unknown, acknowledging that we simply aren't as in control of anything as we once thought we were.

I felt this tension as I booked up my first trip back to the UK recently. Travel and tourism is a category that is arguably the most disrupted by COVID, and also one of the most disrupting to the planet. That brings a double tension into play - should I really be making this trip, not just for my health, but for the health of the planet?

I've had flurries of emails in the last few weeks from airlines, rail companies and hotels. These all take much the same form:

Inspiring the hope: talk of renewal, freedom, reopening. New journeys and destinations. A world waiting to be discovered. Wanderlust. Beckoning pictures of azure waters, golden beaches, midsummer mornings in the far North.

And at the same time, reassurance to calm the anxiety: #WeCare, worry-free travel, safe and comfortable, relax, protection, well-being, flexibility, hygiene, Bring Me Home promise.

I suspect the way we travel will change permanently, as it did after 9/11, and there will be no going back in terms of the new safety measures introduced. But I also wonder if there will be a going back in the way that travel is regarded - instead of "jumping on planes" and "ticking off the bucket-list" I agree with James Bidwell of Springwise who says that travel and tourism will continue to contribute massively to diversity, cultural understanding, education, a global outlook and to contribute to a more harmonious and peaceful world for all. 

I see a future for travel and tourism which is more conscious, and goes back to a certain degree of exclusivity - that travel becomes a privilege, not an automatic right. And if the excitement and magic of discovery returns, that can only be a good thing. 

I paid double what I would have done last year for my ferry crossing and don't begrudge the price.

I'm hoping it'll all be plain sailing and will see you on the other side!


Monday, 6 July 2020

So long, spontaneity?

When I first came to Germany, back in 1996, one of the strangest aspects of culture shock was what I called "unspontaneous dancing". I'd been alerted to this to some extent in Austrian ski resorts, but this still couldn't prepare me for the weirdly robotic and joyless spectacle of what the Germans call Disco Fox. The low point had to be seeing a couple grimly going through the mechanical motions to Smoke on the Water. It was enough to make me want hail a taxi to the airport and hop on the first plane back.

Of course, these days, hailing taxis and hopping on planes seem like quaint memories of the past. We have all read enough articles showing how the COVID-19 crisis has accelerated trends in behaviour that were going on anyway. I commented already some years ago about the reduction of (positive) surprise in our lives, both online and offline.

It's apparent in communication and keeping in touch, where phone calls are scheduled, both business and private, and even meetings with friends are organised with the precision of a military operation - aided and abetted by all sorts of apps and software as well as both virtual and real assistants, planners, coaches and organisers.

Even before the crisis, the entire travel, hospitality and leisure industry was going this way with all-important checks on TripAdvisor, and extensive online research even for a trip to the pub. Serendipity was already on its way out of the window for many people who pooh-poohed the "real god of travellers":

All the strangeness, all the distinctiveness of a country will utterly escape you as you are led and your steps are no longer guided by the real god of travellers, chance. - Stefan Zweig, 1926 'To Travel or be Travelled'

After all, who needs strangeness? These days, "stranger" equals "danger" more than ever.

As the world emerges from lockdown, it's clear that chance should play as small a role as possible. It's a world where everything should be controlled, scheduled and traced. Safety and security have become idealised virtues: stay safe, safe spaces. Safety is what is known. Or what we think is known, that is, predictable. And we are armed with templates, frameworks, algorithms and tools to  box in, clarify and capture anything that might care to be numinous, elusive or inexplicable.

But, I wonder. While jumping on planes with gay abandon and merrily ticking off bucket-lists might become a thing of the past, maybe more conscious travel and the knowledge that things don't always go to plan may just open a door to discovering things off the beaten track?

And with social distancing the order of the day could those standardised dance moves foxtrot their way back to the 1980s and make room for something a little more inventive and expressive?


Monday, 29 June 2020

Your business is none of my politics

When I was a bright young thing in my 20s, I joined the ad agency that had put Margaret Thatcher and the Conservatives into power. I never worked on the Conservative party account personally. I wouldn't have refused (as I wouldn't have refused working on Silk Cut at that point) although I would have found it quite daunting. I don't know if everyone who worked on the account had to be staunch Tory supporters, or whether a few wild cards were brought in to challenge and play devil's advocate.

It may seem odd to younger readers, but I didn't necessarily know the politics of my colleagues. I knew what their favourite tipples were, which films they'd seen, their favourite bands and possibly who they'd slept with last Friday (if the office gossip machine was working). But politics and religion weren't discussed. Not with workmates and certainly not with clients. Salary was another thing. You didn't go blabbing about it - maybe that was a deliberate ploy from management in general to avoid transparency and fairness. Maybe it was what we thought at the time - decency and respect, and an avoidance of vulgarity. Or, I expect, a bit of both.

The world is a different place today. I've been spending more time on LinkedIn and a couple of Facebook groups for brand and communication strategists.

To be honest, these online places sometimes feel like snake pits.

Should "we" be buying so-and-so marketing guru's book, given his "uneducated" or "offensive" tweets on a completely different theme?

Pushing of pdfs, books, "voices" to follow and other assorted resources to "educate ourselves" so that "we" finally "get it."

People being sworn at, generally harangued and told they have "issues they need to work on" if they dare to say that (maybe) strategy isn't political.

Everything from hate to food has become politicised.

You could be forgiven for thinking you'd stumbled into the desperate-to-impress anarcho-extremist- nihilist group in Fresher's week. I sometimes wonder why on earth these people are working in advertising agencies and for-profit organisations - surely it's all just a trifle hypocritical?

My politics have evolved in the last thirty years. I have achieved some reasonably dizzy heights in my career as well as fallen down in the gutter a couple of times. I've learned from that. But I still don't think I need to talk about who or what I vote for with clients, let alone complete strangers on the internet.

It's not about bravery, or speaking up. Nor do I want to avoid being uncomfortable. A certain amount of discomfort helps growth, I know that.

But it is about understanding people - whether clients, customers, people you're communicating about your brand with. You don't know what they've been through, what their views are, what their experiences are, what makes them tick. And the best place to start for understanding is common ground - something you can agree on as fellow human beings.

From there on you can agree to disagree - a phrase I hear only too seldom these days.



Wednesday, 17 June 2020

Dirt is ... oh, hang on

Time goes quickly when you're enjoying yourself. It was over two months ago, at the beginning of April, that I wrote a post about the gush of information and opinions about the New Normal. Well, now we're in the midst of the beginning of it (I think).

One question was which mindsets and elements of behaviour would be carried over as restrictions ease. Would the whole world remain obsessed with hygiene, for example?

Certainly, hand sanitisers and soap-related products have taken a huge hike in sales. The emails that the travel companies are sending me now on resumed services are full of #WeCare and Safety First, and providing masks and cleaning seats, tables and armrests, with links to cute little films should you need extra reassurance.

But what about all the other microorganisms that are killed off in the process? Have the role of the good guys - the gut and skin microbiome - in developing immunity been forgotten?

I have a theory, which could be complete nonsense, but might be one explanation why Germany has not been as hard-hit by the virus as the US and the UK. I wrote a couple of articles in my early years here expressing what I saw as a cultural difference between the Germans and Anglo-Saxon cultures in their approach to use of "hard" chemicals in household and garden, and the preference for plant-based remedies and cures in personal health.

Maybe the Germans are just more in tune with their germs - good and bad?

Sunday, 7 June 2020

We and me

One thing I need to get round to is a revamp of my website, which is hopelessly out-of-date from a technical and user-experience point of view. And the photos probably don't - ahem - reflect how I look these days. I had a look at it recently to see if the content was also in need of a total rejig - and surprised myself.

It still makes sense.

I'm reading Jung again in the form of The Red Book, a generous and apt gift from my college chums, and I'm rediscovering a lot of what must have influenced my worldview as I started my career and has stayed with me ever since.

The idea of the personal and the collective - Jung applied this to the unconscious but it has a universal application:

For every brand, each individual has a different personal experience of that brand. We must try to understand the collective elements of the brand that we have as shared experience in order to develop communications.

And:

There are elements of brands that are personal to each of us in the way that we perceive brands, and there are elements that form the brand's collective unconscious that unite the users of that brand.

I was pleased to see this theme taken up in an IPA essay entitled The Wide and Narrow of It by Omar El-Gammal from Wunderman Thompson. The author stresses that brands are not built through carefully constructed communication plans that we as marketers somehow control but through the we (shared cultural experience) and the me (personal experience). Thinking about the cultural and the individual is a good way of looking at brand growth.

The collective, cultural, call it what you will would always be my starting point to understand the essence of a brand. I believe that humanity has more in common than that dividing us and it's here that I'd start to find how my brand can be relevant to a broad section of the human world yet still maintain its own individuality and uniqueness.