July 2009


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To those of you who are reading this in the UK, it should come as very little surprise that our trust in the UK government is on the decline. Notwithstanding the stupidity of the expenses scandal from our parliament, the results of the recent Edelman Trust Barometer shows that the UK are bucking the trend …for the wrong reasons.

Specific UK findings include:

  • 71% don’t trust Gordon Brown and 65% trust him less than six months ago
  • 69% trust Government less than six months ago
  • There is a strong link between trust/distrust in Government, Gordon Brown and MPs in general
  • Three quarters don’t trust financial institutions who have taken bail-out money to use tax-payers’ money responsibly
  • 49% think the country is heading in the wrong direction
  • Only 11% believe that global business has a good reputation
  • 44% don’t expect economic recovery to happen before 2011 at the earliest; 50% think it will take until 2011 or later for business to be trusted again
  • Britons believe that a CEO’s business decisions should consider the interests of employees, customers and communities before those of shareholders or government

For more UK highlights – click here and here (for supplementary Omnibus findings)

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However, what surprised me was that these findings are not universal across the world. Whereas you might expect some more positive outlooks regarding business in the eastern countries (and you’d be right), in the west the US, France and Germany are rebounding – which is in stark contrast to the that in the UK.

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There is already some debate about this in twitterville.

Mike Freer (@leaderlistens), Leader of Barnet Council – and probably one of the best politicians who understand how micro-conversations help (unlike David Cameron) explains, the issue of trust is about being open:

@JonnyBentwood when the Govt won’t come clean about having to balance the books on tax and spending why should people trust politicians.

Sharon Richardson (@joiningdots) agrees – her view is the problems go back to the beginning of the financial crisis:

@JonnyBentwood I think many believe if Gov had let Northern Rock fail other banks might have acted instead of assuming tax-funded bailouts

This debate will no doubt continue for some time yet – get involved in the conversation on twitter by following the hashtag #edeltrust

The full report – and the key data – can be found on our global site, on the FT site here and on Edelman’s UK site here

Jonny Bentwood (@jonnybentwood)

Frankly, if a blog post hasn’t got a pun in its headline, I’184x265_dog_old_istockm not interested. A picture’s also important.

So, here we are on WordPress. We tried tumblr, but it didn’t really work for us. It just seemed a bit clunky; a bit inflexible. So we’ve turned to what some might consider rather old technology in the grand scheme of all things social media. And that might be the case. But sometimes you just want something that’s tried and tested. I’m sure the Boeing 787 is going to be lovely, but for the time being I’ll stick with a 737, thanks…

People might think it’s a bit odd to turn to a blogging platform when, surely, blogging’s dying out? Perhaps, but when I was thinking about Twitter the other day, and how it’s become another content feed, I was also pondering the Twitter effect on blogging. There’s no doubt that Twitter has had an enormous effect on the volume of blogging that goes on. And why wouldn’t it? Twitter’s the ideal tool for doing what 90% of blog posts used to do…point people to other content.

So 90% of blog posts get replaced by Twitter and blogging dies, right?

Not in my mind. In my little head it means that blogs becomes what they should have been all along; a place where longer, more structured and well thought-out thoughts and opinions get published.

Oh, and really funny stuff like Ross Kemp’s face, folded and Fu*k You, Penguin.

Mark Pinsent (@markpinsent)

One of the great sports of recent times has been to make fun of Jonny Bentwood and his passion for industry analyst relations.  In fact analysts have always been easy if not fair game, after all it’s their job to forecast the future and give people advice on serious amounts of money and why they should spend it in a certain way.  Clearly a profession that is asking for a ribbing and one that it got in the fall out from the dotcom forecasts.  So in a world where as we know Trust in experts is in precipitous decline who would be bold enough to stand up as such an expert?

Well fortunately for the technology industry many very smart people are happy to don the domed forehead of industry analyst-dom.

However, even though they pertain to be font of all knowledge when it comes to IT – they have tough times ahead. In a similar manner in which media has witnessed a battle to keep its market with the growth of easily available content on the web, analysts have also had to adapt or die.  In this battle where their IP is what they have to sell, they have had to face three distinct challenges:

  • How to make their content better than what is freely available on the web.
    Solved by adding unique value by deep knowledge of market trends and being truly independent.
  • How to become more visible in a noisy and crowded environment so their voice and opinion can be heard and consulted on.
    Solved by an aggressive adoption of social media to increase their share of voice in technology conversations
  • How to tackle in enterprises the reduction of discretionary spend in this tough economic climate.
    Solved by adapting their business models to provide more tactical solutions with clear metrics as oppose to generic forecasts and strategy.

Despite these challenges, the analyst market is robust and remains strong.

One intuitive explanation for this growth is that as technology becomes ever more pervasive then the need for brain boxes to analyse its use and role grows accordingly.  However, there is another explanation that can be found in the Trust Barometer and that is that Industry and Financial analysts have been one of the expert groups to retain trust as a credible source of information.  In caparison the trust in CEO’s fell to only  29% last year.  The only other group to hold its head above water were academics.

This is all fine but it does leave the question as to what analyst have done to earn this trust ‘privilege’ after all they have not always been seen as independent to man (or woman).   In search of some insight I spoke to the martyr of the cause Mr Bentwood himself.

Clearly that’s just one man’s view but I would love to hear other thoughts as to why industry analysts have this trust privilege and indeed do they deserve it?

Jonathan Hargreaves (@Naked_Pheasant)

At a time when brand differentiation is a more important and effective marketing strategy than ever before, we’re seeing many brands revert back to tried and tested techniques that play on nostalgic sentiment and develop new personas in order to reassert their dominance in an extremely crowded marketplace. But does brand rejuvenation always have a positive impact and add value? And is it a risk worth taking, especially in an economic downturn?

March 2009 saw the comeback of Britain’s own (although less racy) answer to Jessica Rabbit. Cadbury brought back its alluring ‘Caramel Bunny’, a character that was first conceived during the 1980s. With extra curves, a bit of botox, a fresh palette of makeup and a seductive attitude asserting that ‘she’s still got it’, the bunny made its comeback after almost a decade in the burrow. But will Cadbury’s nostalgic £1.2 million re-branding investment be enough to reposition their product in the chocolate popularity stakes? By falling in love with a marketing campaign – worse still, a cartoon – will this campaign really be enough for Cadbury’s Caramel to make a successful comeback? I suspect so. This campaign will not only capture old fans but will also attract new ones too. Differentiating a familiar product as ‘luxury for less’ will also be warmly received as customers face increasingly challenging economic circumstances.

Persil, Sainsbury’s, Sony and Marks & Spencer are other brands that are currently attempting to play on nostalgic sentiment to re-energise their brands during the economic downturn. Sainsbury’s is promoting its 140th anniversary while M&S is promoting its own 125th birthday. Persil is showing compilations of former adverts and Sony is bringing back the Walkman after 30 years since its creation.

But will these attempts at short-term brand rejuvenation find success in the current economic climate? If you saw Jon’s recent post about the ‘Emotional Selling Point’, it becomes obvious why nostalgia sells. Longevity, in most cases, does equate to brand success as it presents a certain degree of promise to consumers. Consumers see brands that have a long lifespan with a higher degree of reliability, quality and trust. These are emotional links that connect the consumer with the brand. That said I’m interested to see if this really applies to Sony’s new X-Series range of Walkman devices.

Along with this short-term brand rejuvenation strategy, M&S has also planted the seeds for a potentially longer-term campaign, which uses different tactics. In an attempt to survive more taxing times, M&S has started rolling out branded product trials in a network of South-East stores in a bid to attract more customers through new ‘convenience’ messaging. This is something of a shock for loyal M&S foodies. 350 products from Tetley Tea to Heinz Ketchup are on sale following a 5.2 per cent drop in food sales around Christmas and the planned closure of many Simply Food shops due to adverse economic conditions. For a brand that has never compromised the quality of its own food label, this can be viewed as quite a reactive statement. But in tighter times it could be seen as quite a sensible solution; after all, why limit your selling capabilities?

Gymbox, a less well-known alternative to the Fitness Firsts of this world, took a completely different approach to repositioning its brand earlier this year. To differentiate itself in a saturated market, Gymbox used nightclub designers to dress each branch and started to also offer ‘parkour’ and ‘chav fighting’ training sessions, as well as ‘boob aerobics’ and ‘stiletto workouts’. This creative approach will certainly give the brand a more distinct, competitive identity when judged by consumers.
P&G’s Herbal Essences hair-care range is a brand that I think really lost its ‘ooohhh’ factor as a result of a recent re-branding effort. Consumers apparently took the ‘herbal’ and ‘natural’ messages too literally, so the brand decided to move away from it core messaging and change direction when it reached a stalemate to appeal to the vibrancy of Generation Y and Millennial women. This new direction, however, compromised the look, feel and overall quality of the product and diverged from the core ‘natural’ messaging as the brand started producing what looks like e-number hair products. This may very well account for the nine per cent decrease P&G is currently seeing in its sale of beauty products.

These techniques of brand rejuvenation illustrate that if the brand message is at the core of the re-branding effort, regardless of wider economic circumstances, consumers will stay true to the brand. Re-branding during a downturn can be seen as a risk in terms of short-term financial loss, but if the campaign is implemented correctly in terms of strengthening and protecting the brand, then the longer-term value-add has the potential to scratch well beyond the next economic recovery.

Lucy Davies (@LucyDesaDavies)

The Renaissance Man understood the relationship between art and science perfectly. Music is mathematically constructed, but to pull at the heart strings it has to be infused with emotion. Da Vinci developed an unhealthy habit of digging up corpses – but the anatomic knowledge he gathered whilst elbow deep in bones was fundamental to his ability to draw the human form.

Art and Science are interlinked, so why are they so often viewed as conflicting polarities. For simplicity, snobbery, or stupidity’s sake, who knows? What interests me is that technology has always sat slightly outside both art and science; present in both yet embraced by neither.

At school, for example, we would learn about physics in the science lab, we would create electronic games in the carpentry workshop – fusing light and sound with acrylic plastic – in drama classes I learnt how to programme a lighting desk and in music we learned the fundamentals of sound recording. However, technology’s role has always been one of facilitation. It allowed us to see the actors, to balance the levels when recording; it gave my steady-hand game the satisfying buzz that announced a player’s failure.

But it stikes me that this is changing. Just as the digital revolution has seen technology warmly take residence in the sitting room, technology is finally being welcomed into the artist’s studio.

The renowned artist (and geek) David Hockney has recently discovered PhotoShop for his exhibition Drawing in a Printing Machine (read the Indy’s review here). The exhibition of “inkjet-printed computer drawings’, again uses the technology as facilitator. However, here Hockney is also celebrating the nuances of ink-jet, the possibilities of digital drawing; one of contemporary art’s greatest masters is presenting the technology as art itself.

Digital has democratised art, at least to some degree Just look at the explosion in iPhone art. Yes the iPhone is facilitating here, but you can’t ignore the potential for collaborative art if every mobile phone user has the tools in their pocket. That’s some creative commutes.

True – the fine art word will continue to protect and celebrate professional artists, as well it should. However, the tides may well be beginning to turn. In May, Tim Freeman was named Welsh Artist of the Year, which was the first time I’d noticed a digital artist beating traditional work in a competition. (As an aside check out Kozyndan’s work. They’re my favourite – combining pencil skill with epic digitial proportions). It’s probably worth noting that digital photography has facilitated the work of many photographers – both in portrait and reportage – but photoshop is still widely frowned upon in critical circles.

Video games are where perhaps the most obvious fusion of art and technology is played out. Games like Fable II have caused writers to rethink the relationship between film and game; whilst Spielberg has also got in on the act.

The Hide and Seek festival takes the principles of gaming and play and creates events which allow the public to take part in something truly unique. Sometimes theatre, sometimes playground game, sometimes living art – their initiatives are always fun. A recently developed ‘game’ is Playmakers. Again this fuses short-film making, with an element of collaborative fun to create a unique experience. (See the brains behind it, Mr Fleetwood, describing the project more eloquently here). What excites me about the project is that the camera isn’t just facilitating fun, it is bringing strangers together to create art.

So what does this mean for Tech Flacks? Well I suppose it should encourage us to really explore how art can work alongside technology to engage with consumers.

Art has the power to engage with audiences. That’s why consumer tech brands have been pouring money into sponsored events, such as the PlayStation Season programme. But we should move away from this outmoded, facilitator, approach. Gone are the days when a big budget sponsorship of an ‘arts’ event is enough to communicate with an audience. Let’s look (and encourage our clients to see) how technology can become art, let’s put the technology in the hands of artists, curators and consumers and let’s see what they can create with it. In other words let’s play…

Luke Mackay (@LukeMackay)

I was thinking about Twitter at the weekend. That’ll annoy the readers of the Guardian. Take a look…any article on the Guardian website that has any mention of Twitter seems to attract a stream of vitriolic comments like you’ve never seen. Lots of them are of the “Twitters for egotistical idiots who think that everyone’s interested in what they’re doing every minute of the day and it’s just a fad which’ll be around until the next shiny new thing come along” type.

And I can understand that. Hell, when I first came across Twitter, I had a similar reaction. But I don’t now.

When you first have a look at Twitter, it does seem a bit rubbish. And then you sign up and start following people like Stephen Fry and Jonathan Ross, which is fun for a bit but then gets really, really dull. In the meantime, you’ve started following people you know, people who work in the same area as you do, and people that make you laugh (this is really important, I reckon). As with any social media, there’s more to be had in listening than in talking.

Over time, you build a little network of people who add value to your life in one way or another. And I reckon it is a relatively small network. I follow fewer than 300 people. Any more than that and there’s no way that I’d be able to keep up. I’m still suspicious of people who follow thousands.

The 300 people I follow are what I might call my network of trusted sources. I’ve vetted then all and therefore listen when they say something or point me to some information. In fact, as my feed reader replaced a huge amount of my web browsing, so Twitter has reduced the amount of time I spend checking my feed reader. I’m either subscribing to the Twitter feeds of the same sources or, more often, I’m being pointed to relevant content by my network.

Which is why I don’t think Twitter’s a fad. It’s become as fundamental to my working life as email, IM, browsing and RSS feeds. All of these technologies had their naysayers. Honestly, I remember an old schoolmate of mine who was working in the City in the mid-90s who said that he “couldn’t see a day when his company would use email due to its inherent insecurity.” As long as my network’s on Twitter, I will be.

Mind you, email’s about as far as my mate’s got. His wife stuck him on Facebook but I’m not convinced he’s ever been there himself. Twitter’s as far away for him as a lightsabre is for me.

But he’ll get there (as will I, because The Force is strong in this one).

Mark Pinsent (@markpinsent)

I read some Yenning related rant about what is happening out there in the ocean that reminded me of what’s become of the Internet.

Way out in the Pacific Ocean, in an area once known as the doldrums, an enormous, accidental monument to modern society has formed. Invisible to satellites, poorly understood by scientists and perhaps twice the size of France, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is not a solid mass, as is sometimes imagined, but a kind of marine soup whose main ingredient is floating plastic debris. Floating beneath the surface of the water, to a depth of 10 metres, is a multitude of small plastic flecks and particles, in many colours, swirling like snowflakes or fish food. Measuring the weight of plastic in the water compared to that of plankton reveals six times more plastic than plankton.

This plastic soup strikes me as being similar to the jumble of data, thoughts and opinions that are beginning to gather around certain issues and ideas that live online. The small bits of plastic that make up the garbage patch are referred to as nurdles and it seems that much of this digital soup is just this electronic nurdles – real but pretty pointless. Just look a the average tweet if you want an example of an online nurdle.

Now clearly amid all of this stuff lives electronic plankton: good wholesome stuff that strikes a cord; feeds the imagination or actually gives a buyer some valuable product information. I am not sure of the ratio of Internet nurdle to plankton but gut feel tells me it’s more than six fold. Indeed it feels that today the job PR has become very much a job of sieving the plankton from the nurdles we have in short become like a Basking Shark.

Jonathan Hargreaves (@Naked_Pheasant)

Free is a very ambiguous and imprecise term these days. Many of our everyday consumables that we often view as free (tap water, BBC etc) aren’t really free of a cost, yet their almost comforting pervasiveness means that we barely consider a financial cost for their consumption. It’s a commonly held assumption that as a good becomes increasingly common and available, its price will reduce to almost zero. The most famous example of this is of course, the aforementioned tap water. Essentially (almost) free, businesses can only charge for water by either associating it with fashion/purity/exoticism etc, or by ‘adding value’ with the likes of flavoured or vitamin-enriched water.

Much has been made in recent weeks about the cost (or not) of content on the internet. The internet changed the face of consumption of information and other forms of content across the globe because by its far reaching nature, it enabled millions of people to consume a piece of information in seconds, without such obstructive concepts such as printing or shipping.

A recent survey by Telindus (covered in the Guardian) showed that 43% of UK respondents said they never paid for digital media, regardless of whether they should or not. It also found that nearly one in five people surveyed believed that material was effectively in the public domain once it had been posted online. This kind of widespread acceptance of what is effectively piracy means that a multitude of industries are now quite intently looking at their business and distribution models.

Lionel Barber, editor of the FT is claiming: “How these online payment models work and how much revenue they can generate is still up in the air; but I confidently predict that within the next 12 months, almost all news organisations will be charging for content.”

Ashley Norris has made some very interesting insight into Mr. Barber’s comments on his blog (http://ashleynorris.posterous.com/why-the-time-might-be-right-to-ch…). Firstly he points out that it’s considerably easier for a publication like the FT with its executive readership and strong commercial ties, to charge for content than a paper like the Guardian with its readership of power to the people communists and people like me who just like the blogs.

Secondly many formerly fledging alternative news sites like the Huffington Post have now evolved to be far more similar to traditional old-world media than they had perhaps originally intended, with a considerably reduced amount of blogging going on within their remits.

So according to Ashley the two things making it hard for media organisations to charge for content are:

“Blogs – Walled content gardens could actually spark a renaissance in blogging, especially when coupled with tools like Posterous (which works incredibly well with Twitter), as bloggers simply cut and paste (either physically or intellectually) subscription content from media sources and publish it freely.
The BBC – The corp is still going to offer all its content for free, so readers can still access one of the world’s premium news sources for nothing. It makes paying that few quid each month to The Guardian looks a lot less appealing.

Here’s an idea for Brown, Cameron or whoever is running the UK next year. Develop a subscription model for the BBC’s online content. It would generate income, give the commercial sector of the UK media a level playing field and an opportunity to move forward and it would enable the government/corporation to rethink how it funded the BBC.”

What do you think of both Lionel and Ashley’s standpoints?

I for one will massively re-evaluate my media consumption habits if many of the online outlets i read start charging for content. Are some of the powerhouses of the online content industry heading for a fall if they start to charge for their media? If it remains free, will the BBC became some kind of all-encompassing Orwellian one-stop shop for all online news?

Alex Smiddy (@AlexSmiddy)

As I am in the process of buying a new house the Estate Agent’s mantra of location, location, location is ringing in my ears. Well actually it is interesting how having spoken this truism they then seem to spend their time showing houses that break the rules of location being the prime determinate. It struck me that a similar game might be occurring with cloud and new computing models. Bear with me.

There was a great article in the Observer this week on the launch of Google’s new OS highlighting how it was likely to change the rules governing computer operating systems. Rather than being the heart of the PC the OS would become simply a “life support system” for a browser, which you use to pull down computing services from server farms over the web. Radical thinking but this chant of location began to ring in my ears.

Well it was at a breakfast to discuss the future of cloud computing that it first began to ring. At this talk Professor Nigel Shadbolt, among others, pointed out that the problem is with access. If you are dependent for a broadband connection on being able to access your computing tools, there will be many times (particularly for the nomadic business person) when you simply can’t compute because you don’t have access. The obvious times are planes and trains but within the office every network failure would mean not just inability to access the web but also your desk top and even LAN. Moreover, this access when it is available is not cheap; with everywhere from a hotel to hotspot, the cost of access, while seemingly small, would actually add up dramatically when used for such a mission critical purpose.

The breakfast revealed many other challenges from legal issues to knotty interoperability challenges, but it did seem to me that the prime determinant for access, if not free access, was being overlooked in the face of exciting new models and futures. Admittedly one option was the idea of software and services put forward by Microsoft, but as one observer pointed out, this was perhaps paying twice. A simplification of a grand vision, never the less it still strikes me that amid all the talk of new futures we should be thinking of access, access, access first.

Jon Hargreaves (@Naked_Pheasant)

In the interests of disclosure we represent Microsoft, HP, Motorola, Orange, Symantec and broolz, all with interests in the field of cloud computing.

This week the New York Times published a story about the relationship between traditional media and blogs in the news cycle, based on a paper just published by Cornell University called “Meme-tracking and the Dynamics of the News Cycle.”

According to the research (or the New York Times story at least) when it comes to reporting news, traditional media lead and blogs follow, but personally I question whether the reality is quite as cut and dried as that. Firstly, the research focused on blogs. which are rapidly maturing into a platform for publishing considered views rather than news. So perhaps a comparison between blogs and newspaper comment and opinion pages might be more appropriate. Secondly, the research didn’t include emerging platforms like microblogs (e.g. twitter) or social networks, which is increasingly where news reporting happens in social media.

I’d suggest that when it comes to reporting news traditional and social media are increasingly playing complementary roles. This creates a great deal of interdependency between the two. Take the recent situation surrounding the Iran elections as an example, where you can break the media reporting of events down in to three stages:

1. The news about the Iran elections and the public protests that followed broke on twitter
2. The quality of the “news information” on twitter quickly became diluted by the volume of people outside Iran using the platform to express their support for the protesters or opinions on the situation as a whole…some more intelligently and constructively than others!
3. “Traditional” media outlets and established blogs like the Huffington Post then stepped in, providing their own informed insight and, crucially, aggregating and filtering the content produced online (tweets, pictures, blogposts) to create stories.

While this was happening, social media continued to provide a great forum for public engagement, both for people outside of Iran to express support, and citizens living in the country to organise their protests. In a situation where the activities of credentialed media outlets like the BBC are heavily censored, these content aggregation and public engagement roles are particularly important. Iran, like China, has an approach to censorship based on the principle that the state needs to protect itself from information on the outside getting in, normally from established, recognised sources. They’re simply not equipped to deal with situations where the people on the inside begin producing the content themselves, which of course is precisely what “traditional” media need to produce reports. Its media and technology creating a powerful democratising force.

Tim Callington (@timcallington)

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