Mapping the human enome


The human genome project started in 1990 and continues today (I guess with ever decreasing marginal return) towards the exhaustive mapping of the core physical cells which make us. Definitions vary on when the project will be ‘complete’ but as Ray Kurzweil points out, we are accelerating towards whichever version of completeness you chose, as the technology to sequence the genome improves. This is a finite task.

This is of course very impressive.

But it will tell us absolutely nothing about why I used to hate my 13+ geography teacher, why Lindsay Lohan chose to throw away a promising acting career, what drove Tony Hancock to take his own life or how to sell a new type of toilet paper to anyone.


What we would need for that is an equivalent map of motivation?

I’m talking about a kind of super-matrix of Maslow needs, helping us to start to understand how the decisions we take are actually part of a broader model of interconnected behaviours and reasons we behave and think in certain ways – whether those motivations are primal, like the physiological elements of the hierarchy of needs, or more sophisticated like much discussed concept of ‘self actualisation’.

Such a model would certainly be useful in looking at tactics we use to address behaviours and behavioural problems, whether serious issues in development or less-serious issues (23 year olds are simply not buying enough cranberry juice), so why hasn’t it been done, or does it simply exist and I’ve been unable to find it? (Wikipedia lists the emotions here:, there is something interesting in this:

What sort of cook book would we be writing here? Will we – like chemists – come up with a long list of basic emotions from which all others will be cooked, or will we – like physicists – find a key emotion or two which sits as the basis of the entire system, and from which everything can be made?

I think we’re looking here at a system we can reduce to few components, maybe even one, the fear of death. From this fear we can start to derive many of the decisions  that fill our daily lives. Death drives us to build a physical and mental security and to want to be part of wider, social groups. Death makes us want to reproduce, to extend our legacy beyond our actual lifetimes.

How about belief systems in major external factors, like religion and patriotism. Surely such otherwise peculiar behaviours start to make sense when we can see how they relate to a complex map of beliefs based on more fundemental conditioning we have undergone.

So I propose a first draft of a tree of decision making which is as follows (and many many apologies for doing it in smart art). image

The one thing that strikes me absolutely immediately is that so many of the immediate motivations relate so directly to areas provided for my religion. In Connected, Nicholas Christakis argues that belief in a higher-power can support the desire to be part of a network, it also – often – supports the need to think beyond one’s death and many many aspect of family life and social cohesion. Put more broadly, the need to understand moral codes, seems to link directly to the model I have outlined.

The areas shown here seem to be amongst the most primal. Where we can relate the behaviour we are trying to foster to these motivations, we will be far more likely to drive adherence. Magazine editors have long known that money, sex and chocolate sell. Apple have unleashed the powerful allure of group status and immediate clique membership.

Perhaps I’ll not get to the bookshelf of densely packed information shown at the top (in the Wellcome Collection’s physical readout of the human genome) but I’m going to keep exploring this concept, trying to find motivations which just don’t fit. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the idea.

Now we know what the future looks like

Back to the future

The whole phrase is ‘Now we know what the future looks like, what would we like to do with it?’

For the second post in a row I’m afraid I’m in a rather idealistic mood. But it seems to me, now, that we look at the structure of business and marketing as it’s being done by the market leaders, we look at posts by visionaries like this one, this one and this one, and we think we pretty much know how this is going to shake out…

The question of micro distribution of corporate reputation has been answered. The question of finding value inside organistations through enablement of individuals has been proven. The question of whether we think better separately or together has been answered.

So, my point is this. In the Future (doesn’t really need a capital does it, since it’s only a couple of minutes away), if we assume that we will broadly have a marketplace of ideas where we all now can have our say. If we will have a world where communities of interest can be powerful, and massively devolved. If we will have a world where companies can thive by coming up with powerful ideas and finding ways to communicate them quickly and powerfully. Then what do we want out of that world?

It probably sounds a bit irrelevant but it’s an important question. Because we’re not, any of us, I think really after better mp3 players, nor mobile phones, nor fruit smoothies.

But we also don’t really have the passions of the past. If we live in big cities, at least, we’ve started to see the back of racism, sexism, for the most part, intollerance; what are we worrying about now? Knife crime? I know it’s a serious question but it’s very recent and very media orientated. House prices? Economy? That’s just not intereting, really.

I think it’s about this (you’ll read a transcript of a Clinton interview about finding similarities rather than differences). For all the things that have been resolved, we live in a world where far too many inequalities exist for the wrong reason (there are good reasons for alot of inequalities of course).

But I’m in intrigued about views here.

If we’re all going to be a position where we have all this extra information, all this extra access to cheap, easy, global media, all of this ability to form communities, how do we use this to moderate our behaviour for the better?

And more to the point, what is we actually want to achieve? Or are we all going to turn into Miss World, and look for world peace and happy families.

Spot the obvious mistake

What’s wrong with this picture?


Well apart from the fact that their advertising is clearly so laser-guided that they’re shoving the ‘your ad here’ ad up to their entire market, there’s only one item on the page you can’t ‘prioritize’ (dig or bury) yet it’s likely to be the only item on the page that people will want to remove. Why not collect this data at least – perhaps it could even be passed off as a piece of that much over-discussed and underdone ‘customer engagement’. ‘We tried to get brand X to engage with your customers and they interacted with it… by telling it bugger off!’.

And not like this either:


Planning planning

(or ‘towards a complete redefinition on the role of the brand strategist’)


There’s a terrible joke or riddle I still remember from school: ‘What was the longest river in the world before the Nile was discovered?’. The answer, of course, is ‘the Nile’.

The launch of the landmark Stephen King retrospective on planning poses an similar question. What was King’s job (and Pollitt’s for that matter) before they invented planning. Presumably job titles like ‘head of planning’ were, at that point, unavailable.

The answer is different for the two men. King worked in JWT’s marketing department (which appeared to involve research and the setting of strategy – so broadly the same, although presumably very differently conducted), Pollitt was an account man who’d been put in charge of research.

And a bit like ‘Hitchhikers’ guide to the galaxy’ and the secret of life, the universe and everything, ever since their job was invented, planners have been  trying to work out what it means.

King, apparently lamented planning’s obsession with constantly trying to redefine its raison d’etre (as Jeremy Bullmore is supposed to have joked, it is a major irony that a profession that spends so much time looking for insight, still can’t explain itself), his own view seemed merely to be that planing was bringing science to the art of communication and persuasion. Famously he said the role spanned ‘grand strategist’ to ‘ad tweaker’.

So what’s the new planning? How do we start defining the role, the profession of the marketer / communicator / staff member who can drive business value through product and communication strategy nowadays.

Of course, if you speak to a planner, they’ll tell you that planning is the new planning. Indeed many of the leading lights of the new discussion (Russell Davies, Richard Huntingdon) and the most interesting and exciting thinking have come from this area. But that’s bound to happen, underlying truths about communication are indeed timeless, and the biggest and most insightful brains are the ones most likely to understand the changing face of the market (they’re the ones faced with the demise of the old paradigms)

But is ‘old planning’ the same as ‘new planning’? Hardly. We all see far too much ‘old’ thinking and approach being forced into the new discipline.

Perhaps marketers will lead the charge. Well again, there clearly are some marketers (like Godin) gearing up, but it’s certainly not most of them. What about designers? What about UEs? What about ‘Persuasion Architects’? Hell, what about cartoonists? That seems an equally rich vein at the moment.

So what are the axioms of this new group?

We take as our starting point that the adversarial unilateral relationship between brands and consumers is over. We understand that great, interesting products will succeed. The acknowledge that consumer insight must inform the product itself and not just it’s messaging or communications. We understand that the consumer will decide how they value goods and services.

Iain Tait’s somewhat tongue in cheek ‘why digital is better than advertising‘ speech at PSFK contained this gem (apologies for the transcription):

[in the traditional agencies, you find] structures that have been put in place  […] to make well-understood units of advertising, that’s why you have planners, creatives and TV producers. It’s not the same structures you need for technical and cultural innovation.

But like the pioneers that brought science to advertising through planning, we must look at how we do that more broadly in a world where we no longer ‘game’ communications; where we return to designing brands that matter in its deepest sense. It will have to be someone who understands people – from meeting them in all contexts, through observing them, through understanding the latest drivers in society and culture; someone who understands the tonnes of research we can now gather constantly; someone who understands user-experience across multiple media; who understand the truths of communication and persuasion, and the limits of a huge number of media.

But let’s not try and pretend that there is one group ready to simply take the crown. There is not.

On with the show

Oh Mickey, you’re so fine

Aside from the usual rubber chicken and three-inch-wide movies, most of my long flight yesterday, and a rather intimidating trip on the A-train into Manhattan, was taken up with reading Lewis P Carbone’s Clued In.

This amazing book provides a method for understanding customers, products and brands that not only fits the classic American hospitality industries of the 70s (which is where Carbone’s own interest was kindled by his work with clients including Disney at Epcot) but the new moves away from mass-communication and towards brands and reputations. His system doesn’t need re-invention for the noughties. It comes millennium proofed, with massive relevance to the new consumer and even the way digital interfaces must work.

And it is incredibly accessible. It’s amazing to see ideas that have been washing around my brain half-baked given a clear articulate voice.

Carbone starts with the premise that the accountants and management consultants have caused us to lose focus on a key fact – that the “value” our companies produce must be measured in terms of what the customer wants not just the bottom line of pounds and pence. Sound obvious? Well look what’s happening to the airline industry. In the name of low prices, we now have to put up with non-predicatable pricing models, literally no service on the (low cost) flights, being bumped and moved around, fighting over chairs  (on EasyJet) and being routed through multiple stops. Carbone points to JetBlue and Southwest who have both consistently posted profit in a market which is otherwise falling apart. Southwest publicly explains their philosophy for business

More than 30 years ago, Rollin King and Herb Kelleher got together and decided to start a different kind of airline. They began with one simple notion: If you get passangers to their destinations when they want to get there, on time, at the lowest possible fares, and make darn sure they have a good time doing it, people will fly your airline. And you know what they’re right.

As Carbone goes on to say, it’s not precisely about having a good time (flying on any low-cost carrier is not going to be a week at the Four Seasons), it’s about feeling good about the time you’re having.

And here we get to what I think is the central insight. The question brand marketers often ask is “how does you customer feel about the brand”. Ask a customer that question and you will get an abstract post-rationalised answer back. Instead, Carbone suggests, we should focus on how the customer feels when they’re interacting your brand. The negative feelings that we have when companies who provide poor customer service are actually negative feelings about ourselves that have been created by the experience.

For the experience to work, it must be authentic and it must connect on an emotional level as well as a functional one. He points to a survey which shows that defecting customers are likely to say they are “satisfied” on customer service score cards (i.e. not “dissatisfied”, “neutral” or “very satisfied”). To bread the sort of customer advocates we need nowadays, we need to be aiming for customers who thoroughly enjoy the whole experience and come to expect a fantastic experience on future vists; customers who enjoyed your experience so much that they are willing to put their own reputations at stake and recommend it.

As a brief  aside, Carbone is looking at established retail chains so does not dwell on purely funtional issues, assuming that all outlets achieve “hygiene” levels of service. Obviously, this is far from being the case online, where far too many mistakes have been made in the name of emotional design).

Where’s this working in practice? Taking roughly equal sellers of a commodity product – Krispy Kreme and Dunkin’ Donughts, Carbone shows that the product itself is a small part of the value proposition, with a focus on customer experience driving the lion’s share of the value. Krispy Kreme sells more (of essentially the same thing), at a higher price, with less advertising to a more enthusiastic audience.

He maintains this is possible in any market or scenario, showing how it’s been applied even in emergency rooms int the US and in the development of campus sports facilities.

My old boss had a great epxression about all this. Traditional wisdom has it that “If you take care of the pennies, the pounds will take care of themselves”. Kim Conchie’s version was

If you take care of the pennies, you’ll end up with a big pile of pennies

Businesses that drive ‘shareholder value’ by cost-cutting and commoditising their product will end up with a bigger and bigger share of a smaller and smaller market, as new entrants, redefine their products around customer expereince.

Without space and time

Word of mouth 

I spent alot of time listening to (and trying to find intelligent responses to) Julian R Harris on Friday. He’s also at Conchango and we had a number of meetings with clients, although they took very different directions.

Anyone who’s met Julian, or plugged themselves into his high wattage blog will know that the experience is somewhat like the proverbial “drinking from a firehose” as Julian comes out with idea after idea across a huge variety of topics, leaving the mere mortal gasping for air, trying to slot the ideas together. Great fun though. 

Anyhow we were talking about trends and social change and Julian made the point that word-of-mouth was always the most powerful influence, it’s just that the web has changed word of mouth from an activity anchored in time and location and turned it into a permanent (and through Google, findable) reference which the whole world can see.

I know this isn’t new news but it seemed to me to be an incredibly succinct way to understand what’s going on. And how can brands recover from negative word of mouth? There’s only one way. They must change and enlist customers as advocates in that change. 

In the money

Carlsberg £10 note “litter”

The Carlsberg ad campaign has always been extremely entertaining and memorable. It’s what Russell Davies describes as generous or rich, as opposed to simply being the “big” idea of which ad men are so fond. In 2004, this was successfully adapted to a very nice “french disqualified” viral email idea (if you know me you’ll know how much it hurts to say the ‘v’ word). The latest incarnation, spotted on Flickr by Leo Ryan at RMM is a sort of piece of viral activity started offline which travel online. A bit like the Microsoft Vanishing Point game but a lot more subtle and with not all the discussion activity necessarily online, Carlsberg appear to be hoping the £10 will do more than just go into someone’s pocket – it will make it into public discourse. I’d love to know what happens, and clearly it’s all inlne with the rest of the advertising.

Yet, while the advertising idea here is big, rich, deep, generous, memorable, famous and all that, does it motivate you to buy the product?

One follow up on Flickr says a great deal

If it only cost them fifty grand (which is a snip for advertising) then potentially the five thousand people who discover one of these on a friday night will tell all their mates. Still wouldn’t make me drink Carlsberg though…

Having said that. Perhaps it only cost them £10 and they got lucky!


Paris Hilton with a Blackberry

I’ve never really understood Twitter. I regard this as a weakness. All the coolest people seem to love it, and I can see how it’s a neat concept. I just wonder what I’d put: “Doing sudoku on tube”, “buggering up a lasagne”, “In meeting”, “reading in bed”. I’d bore myself.

Well I’m delighted to see that I’m not 100% alone in my luditeitude (I hearby create a new word!). This brilliant ‘Creating passionate users’ post by Kathy Sierra goes well beyond that initial suspicion that there’s something a bit freaky in it, putting a (very cool) name to a phenomenon I’d been quietly aware of for some time.

In the quite brilliant Perfect Pitch, Jon Steel talks about how constantly receiving and checking of messages can (temporarily) lower your IQ by 10 points.

We now know what it’s called:  “intermittent variable reward”. Or, in other words: behaviour which is rewarded/reinforced intermittently, rather than consistently – is the most difficult to extinguish. Or to really reduce it to simple terms, the addiction to email and Blackberries is similar to slot machines. As Patricia Wallace put it in Time magazine: “You are not sure you are going to get a reward every time or how often you will, so you keep pulling that handle.”

Not content with revealing the real reason for email addiction, Sierra goes on to explain the emotional dissonance that arises out of “virtual” interactions – although this is not necessarily a twitter phenomonen – it applies equally well to TV. The brain feels like it’s experiencing social interaction but is missing an element – body language etc, leaving the subject feeling disappointed and dejected.

Finally, Sierra brings in the concept of “continual partial attention”. Thinking-wise, what we as humans enjoy most is deep thought and processing. But what we do now is the opposite, we constantly pay partial attention to a huge range of inputs. We care more about not missing anything than about actually focussing on and achieving anything.

Scoble on Edwards Campaign Trail


For all of those who find WebCameron interesting but mainly cringe-worthy (and I’m definitely one of the them), it seems pretty likely the 2008 presidential race in the states will set a new high water mark in the way candidates communicate and connect with their audiences.  

Just when does that kick off? Well, amazingly enough about a week ago. John Edwards (the Kennedy-alike running-mate of Jon Kerry in 2004) announced his candidacy. And did it simultaneous online, on MySpace, YouTube, Flickr and loads of blogs on his site. He actually screwed it up and announced it a day early by accidentally turning on some pages on his site

People will think this is a desperate attempt to be “hip” and “youth” but look at how he’s actually done it. He’s not tried to make it his own, he’s not trying to control it (there are anti-Edwards posts *on his own site*), he’s taken Robert Scoble, tech blogger extraordinaire (an ex-Microsoft tech evangalist) with him. I believe this last move is to show how much he’s open to the stuff and so he gets some quick insight if he’s getting it wrong. I think people are defining some of the rules of engagement pretty quickly here. See Scoble’s post here over bias criticism.

Personally I think there can be nothing better than a political re-engagement. Even if it is just a re-engagement of those who currently vote to think a bit more deeply about the issues. The Edward’s initial tour and announcement has – apparently – caused a real stir, with town hall meetings sold out and big crowds outside. Do you believe it? Well you’re more likely to if Scobleizer says so and John Edwards has 5,000,000 friends on MySpace!

How the hell will he keep up with answering voters’ quesions? That’ll be worth watching. Obviously assistants and interns will have to do it. How will that go down? And finally, whoever wins the 2008 election will have to work out how they actually govern if this is how they are going to get elected.