Archive for September, 2017

Why frequency matters

Friday, September 29th, 2017

drakeYou used to call me on my,

you used to, you used to

You used to call me on my cell phone

Late night when you need my love

What makes a hit a hit?

Since the dawn of popular music, two factors have mattered most, as reporter Derek Thompson explains in Hit Makers.  A catchy song.  Frequency of exposure.

There’s some science to prove this.  iHeart Media owns a songtesting company called HitPredictor.  They play hooks from songs to an online panel three times and the audience score the song.  Songs can score into the 100s but any score above 65 is considered a potential hit.

Some of the biggest songs score well under 80.  Beating songs that score in the 80s, 90s and 100s.

Drake’s “Hotline Bling” quoted above barely scraped 70 in the HitPredictor ratings, but was top five in the Billboard Hot 100 on release.

Songs become hits because if they’re catchy and have a good melody.  They also need frequency of exposure.

Pop songs become hits when they’re familiar enough, both in their structure in general (people like something that sounds like something else that they liked) and when the specific song has had enough airplay or online exposure to be recognised.

This is of course not just true of pop songs.  The Mona Lisa is the most famous painting in the world.  Some argue that this is down to the incident in 1911 when it was famously stolen.  This gave the painting immediate notoriety and exposure and as soon as it was recovered, two years later, queues of people lined up to see it, and are still doing so.

And of course this is why frequency matters in media.  It’s not just that shared experiences are crucial.  It is also that the more familiar we get with a brand (and its brand story), the more likely we are to buy it again.

Data analysis can now pinpoint the precise frequency that is optimal for a brand’s message.  Frequency works (although as we know precisely only up to a point.)

Frequency works because it makes the brand easy to think of.  Thinking that feels easy is called “fluency”.  As Thompson writes: “Fluent ideas and products are processed faster and they make us feel better – not just about ideas and products we confront, but also about ourselves.  Most people generally prefer ideas that they already agree with, images that are easy to discern, stories that are easy to relate to and puzzles that are easy to solve.”

Fluency lifts the brand from system 2 thinking (which is hard) to system 1 thinking (which is instinctive).

So frequency is good.  But it is not infinitely good.  Human beings like new things too.  As we develop from babies we learn to love to operate in the zone of proximal development.  Just outside our core comfort zone.  Where stuff is new, but not too new.  Different but sort of familiar.  This is an educational term, but it can be useful as a concept for understanding why variations on a theme are so necessary, in marketing as well as in hit making in general.

When catchy tunes start to annoy you, when politicians bore you with the same buzzwords and when yet one more advert follows current trends slavishly then you need the new.

Audiences like the familiar, and they also like the welcome surprise.  In media planning repetition is good, but frequency caps are crucial.  In marketing sticking to the brand truth is crucial, but regularly surprising and delighting the audience is essential.

We are social media

Friday, September 22nd, 2017

SMWThis month JoeMedia took on the big topic of whether Social Media is dividing us or bringing us together.

As their CSO Will Hayward pointed out at the recent Social Media Week London conference there’s been a huge stepchange in democratising news because of Social.

News is no longer curated by a set of editors sitting in Fleet Street as it was last century.  We can all find out what’s going on all the time anywhere in the world.  This is a privilege and a burden at the same time.  To a greater or lesser extent, we learn about what’s going on from sources that confirm our existing biases – and it is arguable whether this is more or less true than in the pre-internet era.

Alongside the democratisation of publishing has come much more visibility of hate and harrassment.

Do these two trends go along together?  Most readers will applaud the openness of opinions and at the same time deplore the hatred.  Is one the necessary consequence of the other?

Here’s Hayward’s important question: “In light of GamerGate, harassment of non-CIS gender white males on line and general casual misogyny, has social media really had a positive impact on society?”

The Fawcett Society  doesn’t wholeheartedly agree that is has.  Fawcett – a UK based campaigning organisation for gender equality that has been around since before there was TV let alone the internet – has launched #ReclaimtheInternet, to combat the rise of cyber-bullying, revenge porn and online abuse.

On the other hand the internet has given a voice to communities that were previously silent.  Mums at the school gates for instance always have had strong opinions.  Now those opinions can’t be ignored thanks to sites like Mumsnet and Netmums.  #Everydaysexism has given everyone an insight into harrassment calling out behaviour online but also in the real world that’s surely unacceptable by most people’s standards.

A Demos survey a couple of years ago calculated that there are on average 9000 misogynist tweets a day.  Twitter’s verification tick has improved the experience online (to an extent.)  Bruce Daisley, EMEA Twitter supremo, says that he’d verify every Twitter user.

This begs the question: does the ability to disguise your identity online bring out unacceptable behaviour?  (Real character is how you behave when no one is watching.)

Social media encounters are different from real life ones; at the same time both better and worse than face to face conversations.  They are not an accurate reflection of each other.  A 2012 Harvard study found that in real life people use only about a third of personal conversations to talk about themselves (I’m sure we can all think of someone who stretches this stat, but this is on average).  Online that number jumps to over three quarters.  Your ego more than doubles in size when you go online.  Part of the attraction is that it is all about you.

What you get from this is a world that is twice as good as anyone’s good traits and more than twice as bad as the worst traits.

In real life conversations we usually have to put our best selves forward.  Most people do that most of the time online too.  But, just as in the playground, you can find popularity through attacking those who are perceived to be weak.  If we’re online, we have a choice.  Will you be kind, will you be mean, or will you stand by and watch?  What’s the role of the tech titans?  To preserve freedom of speech or to moderate (censor) behaviour? Martha Lane-Fox said recently that we are at the inflexion point of the internet, it’s mid-life crisis.  Time to take a step back and think.

We all have a choice because we are social media.

Is it time to pour the tea yet?

Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

booklaunch12 months ago Kathryn Jacob and I published The Glass Wall: success strategies for women at work and businesses that mean business (Profile Books).

Since publication we have given over 50 talks in companies in many sectors ranging from the civil service to banking via media companies and the entertainment business.  Businesses have recognised that they are better off in terms of leadership and profit if they have more women leaders.  Since this time last year there has been plenty of talk.  What has and hasn’t changed, and what more is there to do?

Our book is packed full of strategies for women to progress, and for businesses to ensure that they promote talent irrespective of gender.

The Glass Wall is the invisible barrier that exists in many workplaces and prevents women from fulfilling their ambitions.

One of our most controversial recommendations (it is Britain after all) turned out to be that if you are a woman on the way up you should not pour the tea or coffee in a meeting as it will immediately give the impression that you’re not there to make decisions or give advice, but to help with the catering.  This formed one of the headlines in our coverage in the national press: “Don’t make the tea: how to get to the top in 8 steps”, and a big part of our talking points on Woman’s Hour.

Someone recently remarked to me: the senior men out there must be “spitting feathers” waiting for their tea to be poured.  We always acknowledged that if you’re the boss, its ok to pour the tea.  Are there enough women bosses to change our view?  Is it time yet to fill those teacups?

Not by recent evidence no.

The gender pay revelations from new legislation that requires big companies to publish the facts have proved very useful, but make stark reading.

The BBC got lots of publicity when it appeared that by far the majority of highly paid stars were men.  As the celebrated Woman’s Hour presenter Jane Garvey put it: “Whether we’re black, white, brown or pink with green spots, we’re the majority. And we deserve to be valued in the same way as men – for our brains, our experience and our expertise. A gender pay gap at the BBC makes it look faintly ridiculous. Why would young women want to work there?”

Company after company has revealed pay deficiencies between men and women in sectors as different as banking, the civil service (where the gender pay gap is widening at a quarter of organisations) and even the church.

In our own sector the 2017 IPA census showed a reduction in the number of women leaders year on year.

There’s been a row at the seminal 21st century company, Google,  when an employee claimed that biological differences accounted for the pay gap.

The man responsible for the memo in question left the company, but as Kathryn and I can attest, he is certainly not the only man who thinks that this might be the case.  We know because it is a question we get asked at the talks we give.

Gender assumptions start early (did you see the BBC 2 show “No more boys and girls?  The increased confidence that the girls acquired when boys and girls were treated the same was very moving) and  they run deep.  Every manager needs to go out of their way to ensure that they’re fair to talent of every kind, whatever their gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, mental or physical disability or age.  The EHRC points out here that many more measures need to be taken to speed up equality.

Where targets are being set for board gender parity at big companies the current solution to meet them often seems to lie in appointing more women NEDs rather than executive directors to the board (where the real power in decision making lies.)

Whatever barriers you face to the career you would like, its crucial to develop resilience and a set of strategies to deal with every barrier to success that everyday working can throw at you.

Confidentially, Kathryn and I have been surprised by some of the issues that have been raised at our talks by the attendees.  Not because we haven’t come across them but because they are much more common than we thought.

Not enough has changed.  Time for business to take a good long hard look at itself, in every sector, and make real changes to ensure that the Glass Walls come down and talent thrives.  Time for every woman to ensure that she doesn’t get frustrated in her ambitions.  Sometimes you might need to use pragmatic solutions to win sure, and what you want probably won’t get handed to you on a plate, but the time has never been better to take the next step.  Meanwhile, don’t pour the tea.

Can robots be brave?

Friday, September 1st, 2017

robotHow do you win big at the upcoming Awards, where the final round of judging is imminent?  The judges will surely be looking for brave work.

Brave work that innovates.  That breaks the mould.  That shatters existing preconceptions.  Robots can’t deliver this, only people can.

As more and more tasks are taken over by machines who can work more efficiently and faultlessly, many are asking what is left for humans to do.  The answer is surely to be brave.

Robots cannot be brave.  They can only do what they’re asked to do, and proceed logically. Sure, this actually might mean doing things that have never been done before.  The robots work on the basis of logic and evidence rather than accepted practice and rules of thumb often prevalent in media.  Of course then this might deliver new best practice.  But you can’t call this bravery.  Since robots can’t fear they cannot overcome fear either.

In 2011 Sheryl Sandberg during a “Commencement Speech” to graduates of Barnard College famously asked her audience: “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

This is not a question defined by gender.  Human beings are designed for fear.  It keeps us safe.

Back in the primeval era feeling terror at an unexpected sound in the forest, the snap of a twig or some heavy breathing, would mean the difference between surviving a predator or becoming dinner.    If you experience this fear now when you’re walking home late at night, is this appropriate dread or is it paranoid anxiety?

There are many things to fear in life (and depending on your route home that dread might be appropriate).  Fear of embarrassment in a meeting or of finding your ideas rejected are proportionately low on any real list of what those legitimate fears should be.

Anyone who has spent time in a chronic hospital ward will witness extraordinary bravery of human spirit.  The experience of becoming a parent can change your comprehension of bravery, fear and anxiety over night.

In The Glass Wall we recount the true story of a woman who faced with a promotion (her boss asked her to take over as CEO) felt real fear of failure.  She hadn’t asked for the promotion but on some level she knew she deserved it.  She told us: “I remember that the following day was the same day as my little boy was starting school.  I’d taken him to school, big school, and he was scared and looking to me for reassurance.  I had exactly the same feeling when I walked into work that day… I thought I’ve got to be brave.  I told my little boy to be brave and I have got to be brave.”

She made a great success of her CEO role.  I believe that the fact that she felt the fear, and therefore worked very hard to overcome it, helped her be great at that job.

I once judged the APG awards.  During one presentation the planner said that what he had learnt during the process was that making great ideas happen requires bravery all through the process.  It isn’t enough to come up with a clever insight. That’s not bravery.  It isn’t enough to get the idea through the first pitch.  That’s not bravery.  Bravery is required to hold onto the idea all the way through to execution, despite some inevitable robust criticism.

Media Awards reward bravery.  In the age of the robot lets replace fear of them with a celebration that overcoming fear for brave work is the bit we humans can uniquely deliver.  Stop worrying about a robot taking your job.  Ask yourself, have I been brave today?