My home office is a powerhouse for creativity – I do most of my writing here, and repository for my much of my desk-based raw materials: books – along with a collection of miscellany I seem to pick up and collect along the way.
It came as a surprise when a new friend, New Zealand academic Michael Bourk came to stay with me this week, and my bookshelf caught his eye – and his camera lens.
Apparently, he liked the shot (above) so much he is now using it for his phone screenshot.
What does your creative bookshelf look like?
Why is there such a big celebration marking the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy?
OK there is significance that he was an important world leader.
Yet, you could argue that there are other even more significant figures who met a tragic end at the hands of assassins but don’t have anywhere near like the legendary status of JFK. (The anniversary of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in 1865 by the way is April 15th)
I would suggest that JFK’s memory has been enhanced by being a great brand story – his untimely death having all the narrative ingredients of the classic Tragedy storyline.
JFK crucially however, has also benefited from also having the ingredients of a great meme – an instantly copy-able, replicable message.
Firstly, there is the fact that a conspiracy meme, the most powerful meme going. You only have to think of other great conspiracy memes, such as; ‘Did man really land on the moon?’ Or the death of Princess Diana in order to respect their potency.
A conspiracy meme is indestructible because any time you provide any counter evidence to the meme, the conspiracy theorist will respond with: “They are bound to say that aren’t they?” And your counter-evidence deepens their conviction.
The Kennedy legend also benefits from some great supporting cast memes: ‘the grassy knoll’ and ‘the book repository’ (or ‘suppository as my wife calls it!)
What exactly is a ‘grassy knoll’?
I had the pleasure of visiting Dallas earlier this year as part of my trip to the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas – where I am working on a research project on ‘Weird Brands’.
In Dallas I did the Kennedy legend tourist trail: visiting the book repository and grassy knoll.
The book repository is well worth a visit. It’s now The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza in Dallas, which chronicles the assassination and legacy of President John F. Kennedy http://www.jfk.org
The ‘grassy knoll’ however was, wel,l a letdown: there was no grass and also it made me realise that I didn’t really have a proper conception of what a ‘knoll’ is.
Do you know of any other ‘knolls’ or even ‘book repositories’?
What if subsequent news reports had referred to ‘a small grass bank’ and ‘a book warehouse’? The terms ‘knoll’ and ‘repository’ I would argue have added richness, colour and further depth to the telling of the Kennedy assassination story.
It has highlighted how memes and brand stories can be made even more powerful if there are meme-friendly supporting elements, to give further resonance, memorability and copy-ability.
The Kennedy legend will live on and on. (It was also helped by being at the right time for the advent of global television news – to facilitate the ‘Where were you when you heard the news?’ booster meme.)
And it will be helped by a ‘grassy knoll’ that isn’t grassy!
From our client SalonTracker: The cost of no shows to the beauty industry can amount to as much as £12,000 a year for the average salon.
Our research shows that just one client forgetting to turn up for their appointment will cost a salon £30 in lost income as well as impacting on the stylists’ income.
SalonTracker managing director Lorraine Cave said: “So-called ‘no shows’ are one of the single biggest costs to salon owners and are a huge frustration to the beauty industry and are all too familiar to beauty professionals in all areas.
“Salons are trying to mitigate the loss from no-shows by charging anywhere from half to full fee when a customer chooses not to honour the reserved appointment – but getting the money out of them is very difficult.”
Another key issue for salons suffering from persistent no shows is being able to fill the booking left empty by tardy clients as working schedules are based on the number of employees salons need to serve their customers.
As a result employees who are on-site to work, are paid for their time but don’t generate revenue, so the payroll and is out of balance with income.
Mrs Cave said: “It’s like calling a restaurant and asking them to have your meal ready a month from now, then not showing up to eat it and pay for it. That’s the reason why SalonTracker has been set up to alert clients of their bookings via mobile text messaging and email to ensure the salon seats remain full.”
That’s why SalonTracker can be configured by salon owners to send out reminders to clients 48 hours ahead of their appointment and can help cut no shows by as much as 70 per cent. Moreover, clients who cannot make an appointment can alert the salon giving it ample time to send out a message to other clients offering the vacant spot at a discount. SalonTracker recommends marketing texts such as: “Due to the cancellation of a treatment today between 2pm and 3pm 20% discount on all treatments, first person to book will receive the discount!”
SalonTracker user Lynsey Bennett from The Secret Day Spa, Belfast said: “We have found Studio Tracker to be an invaluable part of the day-to-day running of our salon. Our no-shows have decreased by at least 70 per cent and our revenue has increased using the effective marketing features.
“Having moved premises Studio Tracker has been brilliant, we initially did an advertising campaign to let our clients know our new address, however, it wasn’t until we used SMS messaging that we saw a significant increase in client foot fall. In the first week after sending SMS messages at least 60% of those targeted visited our new salon.”
Fully integrated with Facebook and with a dynamic SMS messaging service, Salon Tracker allows users to manage and prioritise appointments, capture customer information and build an interactive database – which can even tell users how clients like their coffee and market special offers to customers direct from the system with mobile text messages.
The system also delivers fast and efficient Point of Sale with simple business sales reports, cash flow and profit and loss accounts management, staff commission and stock management, and remote access from anywhere in the world – even when the salon owner is on holiday.
SalonTracker is available in three formats – Standard, Professional and Enterprise – and allows users to manage every facet of their beauty business.
Using a PC, tablet or mobile phone users can access their business online 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year to ensure it is run efficiently and profitably.
Another SalonTracker user, Luke James of Ultra Tan based in Hull, said: “We put a text message together on a Friday morning to people. We had 48 people in that afternoon and evening alone in response. That’s a 33 per cent response in less than eight hours. In real terms that was an extra £1,000 sales for a cost of under £20. It’s great because the cost is low and it’s easy. We are now experimenting with SalonTracker with other offers and getting good responses.”
I’m really looking forward to sharing a posh dinner with some great minds in marketing and communications and advancing better use of creative and strategic thinking.
Creativity is on the menu with a starter of creative capacity building, giving you the resource to think differently, a main dish of profound insights into the changing creative world of marketing and comms, a dessert of ‘how do you make it happen’ and a takeaway of new habits, ideas on your current work challenges and more.
Thanks to the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) I am the creative host for a dinner party with a difference: ‘Creativity and ideas – food for fresh thoughts. A dinner to make a difference to your work’ from 6pm on Thursday, November 14 at Redworth Hall Hotel, Redworth, Newton Aycliffe, County Durham.
I will be sharing my thoughts, ideas and tips on what I call ‘Creativity 2.0’ and more importantly listening to my fellow diners – all senior marketing and comms practitioners -to hear their experiences and challenges of managing creativity and the creative dimension in their work – and make what I have to share relevant to their situations.
As a result it will advance everyone’s understanding – me included – of a fundamental aspect of marketing and comms – better strategic and creative thinking – with new inspirations, insights and ideas.
Don’t worry I won’t be doing the cooking. The food and venue are, I’ve heard, fabulous.
The ‘Come Dine with me…’ format for a CIM was first held in Sheffield and is hoped will be repeated with other CIM regions across the UK.
Further details of the event here.
Big Thanks must go to the indefatigable Lorraine Davidson who works tirelessly for the CIM in the North East and has made the event happen.
One of my favourite scenes from the BBC Comedy series Black Adder III is the encounter with Dr. Johnson where Edmund Black Adder makes up words on the spot to confuse the lexicographer and creator of the first modern dictionary.
It seems we are in danger, not so much false or empty words entering our vernacular, but rather that we face an urgent need for clarity and greater precision in our lexicon. Our field of brand communications is exploding in a revolutionary era, with new knowledge, insights, and just things which need clear labels and cataloguing.
The issue came up in a recent dialogue with a new friend made during a webinar.
Both Sam Ford from Kentucky and I were taking part in a Bulldog Reporter on Creativity to practitioners across the United States.
During my contribution I made repeated reference to the word ‘stickiness’. I use it to imply a contemporary reference to any content’s memorability and replicability.
Sam said he challenges my use of ‘stickiness’ and kindly provided me a link to his news book he co-authored with Joshua Green and Henry Jenkins.
Sure enough, I came across other modern meanings and applications of the word ‘stickiness’ with a particular emphasis on the word meaning an on-line space’s capability to hold a visitor’s attention.
Here, I think there is a need to distinguish between ‘stickability’ and ‘stickiness’. Maybe, we could do with a new, different word, like ‘Velcroness’, alluding to one fixed element’s ability to get something else stuck to it.
Going forward, the discussion made me realise how we do need to distinguish between the mechanical catch-and-hold ability of content, in contrast to my emphasis on content’s emotional connectivity which facilitates and promotes replication.
Their book quotes Malcolm Gladwell (2000, p132) who describes ‘stickiness’ as to ‘describe the aspects of media texts which engender deep audience engagement and might motivate them to share what learned with others’, i.e. sticky content is content people want to spread.
I would emphasis however, your content is optimised for spreadability if it has an emotional value.
The authors propose a term of ‘spreadable media’ to overcome what it perceives as an over-estimation of the power of media producers and underestimating the power of agency, rather than ‘passive carriers of viral media’.
Their debate on ‘can you create a viral video’ highlights the disconnect when: ‘prohibitionist corporate attitudes have collided with the collaborative nature of online social networks.’
The ‘viral video’ debate in my view exposes the gap between knowledge/knowing how something works, and actuality; can you really make it happen?
It’s rather like the joke about the management consultant who knows 150 different sexual positions but doesn’t know any partners!
In communications we have the reality that you can manage your creative outputs, influence your outcomes, but only hope that the integrity of your content will achieve outgrowths.
In reviewing their work I now conclude that we don’t just need new words, or better, more precisely-defined-and-agreed words. Rather, we actually need new bigger box concepts and categories to frame a more robust lexicography.
In my book ‘Effective Personal Communications in Public Relations’ I posited the concept of a ‘parameme’ – what I suggested is a three dimensional meme, a tool that can help understand a communication by how its defined by its present, past and future.
I feel using the concept of parameme, as a vehicle for how content is both defined by its existing context along with its potential to be replicated for outgrowth into new contexts.
We all also need to assert more the concept of the ‘Infosphere’ within which communications. Sam’s work quotes Rushkoff who “describes the culture through which modern U.S residents navigate as a ‘datasphere’ or ‘mediasphere’ – a new territory for human interaction, economic expansion and especially social and political machination.”
I am convinced future generations will look back on our era and establish an intellectual gap, a cultural disconnect between them and us. They will, I am sure, look back with a wry amusement how we in the early 21st century’s failed to fully embrace the concept of ‘Infosphere’ – in much the same way as we may feel incredulous on how Roman mathematicians failed to establish the concept of ‘0’.
Going forward, I hope Sam and I will be able to demonstrate it’s still possible to disagree, or have points of difference in our worldviews, but still be friends – because that in itself is a strong, powerful emotional connector that drives us forward as social animals.
I can imagine Edmund Black Adder creating a word for Dr. Johnson of ‘friendstickiness’ , a term to describe this very quality of relationships overcoming different points of view and moving onto new contexts.
I wonder if that will stick?
Our clients Phil and Lorriane Cave, the beauty entrepreneurs behind Studio Tracker, have launched a new salon management solution called Salon Tracker to help salon owners, spas, nail bars and other beauty professionals to manage their businesses more efficiently and grow sales.
The husband and wife team behind Salon Tracker have created a range of software solutions aimed at the beauty sector to help salon owners improve how they engage with their customers and manage their cash flow and profits.
Phil, an expert software developer who has worked in the beauty sector for a number of years, has worked with a wide range of salon owners to create a new salon management system which is fully integrated with social media allowing salons to take bookings through their Facebook page.
Lorraine said: “We have taken a lot of time to listen to salon owners to understand how we can enable them to run their businesses more efficiently and most importantly, get the most out the marketing features such as mobile text messaging we have created to help them communicate with their customers.
“Since we have launched Salon Tracker the feedback has been very encouraging with many users telling us that they have already seen improvements in their bottom line, cash flow management and better client retention.”
Salon Tracker is available in three formats – Standard, Professional and Enterprise – and allows users to manage every facet of their beauty business.
Using a PC, tablet or mobile phone users can access their business online 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year to ensure it is run efficiently and profitably.
Fully integrated with Facebook and with a dynamic SMS messaging service, Salon Tracker allows users to manage and prioritise appointments; capture customer information and build an interactive database – which can even tell users how clients like their coffee and market special offers to customers direct from the system with mobile text messages.
The system also delivers fast and efficient Point of Sale with simple business sales reports; cash flow and profit and loss accounts management; staff commission and stock management; and remote access from anywhere in the world – even when the salon owner is on holiday.
Flavio Refrigeri, who runs Clinica Fiore in London’s Covent Garden, said: “Salon Tracker has benefitted the salon greatly and the system is very easy to use. Salon Tracker’s reporting feature has helped improve the performance of our clinic by 80 per cent making the software well worth the initial investment. The software has also helped with security in the salon and the free customer support I have received since purchasing the software has been excellent.”
Louise Tillotson who owns Dreams Wellbeing Salon in Bradford, said: “Salon Tracker has made day-to-day salon tasks a lot simpler and we are a lot more productive because of it. It is simple and effective and customers love the fact that everything is stored on the system and they don’t need to bring in appointment cards or receipts.
“We regularly use the SMS marketing to inform customers of our offers. This has resulted in customers revisiting us when offers are running or when we have product ranges on special offer. We also wish high spenders a happy birthday and offer them something free if they visit us that week.”
The picture shows, left to right Kevin Conway owner of the Sun Centre salon with Salon Tracker’s Phil Cave.
Google has announced a brand new algorithm for its search engine, called Hummingbird. Although Google often produces updates and enhancements (such as the “Caffeine Update” in 2010, and “Penguin” and “Panda” since), the last time Google introduced a brand new algorithm was 2001, so it is a big change.
Although Google has not given away many details, it said that Hummingbird is focused on ranking information based on a more intelligent understanding of search requests. As Internet data volumes explode we increasingly have to type more and more words into Google Search to gain greater accuracy of results. Often we need to conduct multiple searches to find the information we are looking for, which is frustrating and time consuming.
This is because the Search results we currently receive reflect the matching combination of key words that a search phrase contains, rather than the true meaning of the sentence itself. Search results produced by Hummingbird will reflect the full semantic meaning of longer search phrases, and should in theory produce more accurate results.
For example Hummingbird will more greatly consider question words like “how” “why”, “where” and “when” in search phrases, in addition to content keywords. Hence Hummingbird moves the emphasis of search from “results” to “answers”.
Google also has acknowledged that the number of mobile and voice-based searches is increasing. Such voice searches are in natural language, and may not therefore contain the keywords we might finesse on a computer keyboard. These ‘on the fly’ searches are likely to return poor results using a keyword search system.
The future is therefore “conversational search” or “hot wording” as Google refers to it. In a separate move announced by Google in September 2013, the company will seek to accelerate the movement from Google keyword search to Google semantic search. Google will encrypt all future Search results, which means that keywords used by publishers will increasingly produce ‘not provided’ results in Google Analytics.
This means that publishers will have less idea where the web traffic to their website comes from. An underlying commercial motivation maybe that Google’s premium products will continue to provide some keyword detail, hence encouraging upgrades from free to paid-for Google products.
In both cases Google has been quietly introduced these changes without the hullaballoo that accompanies an Apple product launch, for example. Google has been encrypting search results since 2011, and we have all been using Hummingbird for 6-8 weeks now.
These understated actions also suggest that commercial or competitive motives are to the fore, rather than the altruistic ‘better user experience’ public positioning that Google is promoting. Few if any of us have noticed the improvements suggested by Hummingbird. There has been significantly more debate online by concerned webmasters concerned about the potential loss of their precious keywords statistics.
One beneficial result of Hummingbird should be that it creates a more even and fairer playing field for ‘the long tail’ of website publishers. Search keywords are dominated by large companies and brands who can afford to win the search word bidding war created by Google. Semantic search results are less predictable, and should enable small and niche website providers to gain a higher page ranking when a precise and complex search phrase is used.
Hummingbird is set to affect around 90 per cent of all Google search results, and search results will undoubtedly be affected, but to what degree is currently unclear. One conclusion we can draw is that Google is seeking to retain more data for its own purposes, thus providing it with a unique ‘data competitive advantage’. This will potentially enable Google to target consumers with advertising and promotions more accurately than any other advertiser or publisher.
Already some online advertisers and publishers have expressed concern at Google’s domination of the online advertising industry, so much so that they now refuse to share their valuable data with Google. The Hummingbird and search encryption moves may well heighten similar privacy concerns in other parts of the web ecosystem.
As the ‘plebgate’ row continues to make the headlines in UK news headlines is this yet another example of ‘truthiness’ – and what fuels memes are not facts but rather what we want to believe?
The story unfolds of how Andrew Mitchell, a Government Minister, was originally accused of calling a police officer a ‘pleb’ after refusing to let him ride his bicycle through the Downing Street’s main gates. Now it emerges that he may not after all have actually used the word, along with its connotations, and the three officers involved in the incident, as well as their Police Federation, may be culpable of not telling the truth.
Regardless of the verifiable facts of the situation or what was exactly said in the incident, it reveals a far greater truth: we believe the facts we want to believe.
If subsequent disclosures reveal that the Minister Andrew Mitchell never said ‘pleb’, or anything like it, the reality remains that there are many people who wished he had said it, wanted him to have said it, and still continue to have a reality in their heads that he did say it.
No amount of ‘facts’ are going to dislodge that perception. The perception is like a comfort blanket of the ‘world-as-they-would-like-it’.
Welcome to the world of ‘truthiness’.
A major philosophical concept, well at least a label, was not created by a philosopher – but by a comedian. During an episode of the political satire show ‘The Colbert Report’ comedian Stephen Colbert coined the word ‘truthiness’. It means in essence: ‘the quality of stating concepts one wishes or believes to be true, rather than the facts.’
Our reality is that we all see the world through ‘truthiness glasses’.
Perceptions are just as valid as facts in our mental landscapes, certainly, when it comes to triggering belief, behaviours and reactions to Tory Government Ministers, who you might not like, or tolerate, but retain the right to sneer at their apparent privileged non-pleb backgrounds.
Let us first examine a scientific definition of ‘Perception’: ‘Perception is the process by which organisms interpret and organize sensation to produce a meaningful experience of the world where sensory stimulation is translated into an organized mental experience.’ (Source: Peter Lindsay and Donals A Norman: ‘Human Information Processing: An introduction to psychology’)
You are the only one who can tap into your perceptions – and how do you know you are really perceiving what you are perceiving? A conundrumm mitigating against 100% external validation.
When you might receive contradictory information/facts you can refuse to belive the new statement. You erect a barrier in your mental landscape preventing recognition of ‘the truth’ of this new information.
You do not want the dissonance, the anxiety to upset your existing world view, which acts as a magnet for any negative information and precludes contradictory data, otherwise your truthiness, your definition of truth, would need to be re-evaluated.
So, it does not matter if Andrew Mitchell said ‘pleb’ or not, in terms of being validated by data. You can have your own facts. We all cultivate positive illusions about ourselves to boost or protect our self esteem, make ourselves happier, and to cope with difficult challenges.
Our brain’s reticular activating system filters how we see the world, filtering incoming data according to what you want to see. We prime ourselves to notice certain things; implicitly we do not see other things.
On the one hand truthiness is what some people want to exist.
So, if you want the reality of ‘Andrew-Mitchell-saying-Plebgate’ to exist, perhaps to demonstrate how you may either not like Tory politicians or if did vote for them but don’t feel comfortably aligned with who they are, want to create a social distance with them.
On the other hand truthiness is what some people want to exist.
And that’s the truthiness of it.
What truth are you deciding upon?
The award-winning and must-see television series Breaking Bad is a great example of the idea everyone laughs at is usually the seed for something brilliant
Apparently, the TV legend that is Breaking Bad grew from a throwaway joke.
And the inspiration for Japanese conglomerate NIntendo to create the video game market grew from an idle conversation between its chairman and his chauffeur.
Both stories highlight the significance of your ‘Creative Ears’.
In terms of audio functionality my ears apparently are pretty useless; my wife says they are ornamentally attractive in being quite cute – but not very good for hearing, particularly DIY instructions! So, for training classes I may often resort to a hearing aid.
Yet my ears are my best creative friend. Indeed, for any leader their best tool is their ears; we have one mouth and two ears – use them in that proportion is sage advice.
Going back to Breaking Bad, legend has it that show creator, Vince Gilligan, was complaining to an old friend and fellow writer,Thomas Schnauz, about the state of the movie industry and speculating what they could be qualified to do instead.
“Maybe we can be greeters at Walmart,” said Gilligan. “Maybe we can buy an RV and put a meth lab in the back,” replied Schnauz.
“As he said that, an image popped into my head of a character doing exactly that: an Everyman character who decides to ‘break bad’ and become a criminal,” Gilligan recalled. (Source Guardian Brett Martin, September 21st)
In the same day’s newspapers (Financial Times) an obituary to Nintendo President Hiroshi Yamauchi recalls how the mobile video game revolution started one day in the late 1970′s with an absent chauffeur. Yamauchi’s regular chauffeur was away so an engineer at the Nintendo toy company stepped in.
To fill the conversational void, the engineer described how he saw a guy playing with a pocket calculator to pass the time on the bullet train. Maybe, the engineer thought, there might be an idea for a toy there?
Yamauchi was non-committal, but at his subsequent meet with the head of Sharp Electronics he pitched an idea for a calculator-like game player.
The lesson in both cases is to develop your Sagacity, your opportunity spotting muscle, to listen to a bigger picture (the metaphor is wilfully mixed!)
In my Tubespiration! Tours – where I deliver creative and critical thinking classes on the London Underground – where the Tube is my classroom – I teach people to boost their sagacity quotient by taking advantage of what is a dialogically fertile environment, full of stimuli and provocations to enrich your thinking. (I am now also developing non-Tube tours in other parts of Britain.)
Key skills here are to facilitate an open and receptive mind state that can optimally listen to your world around you.
Thankfully, for devotees of ‘Breaking Bad’ and computer game fans both Vince GIlligan and Hiroshi Yamauchi both ‘listened’ to the seemingly irrelevant or fanciful, and extracted potential gems of genius ideas.
Could your ‘Creative Ears’ work better to boost your sagacity and feed your creative inspiration.
Congratulations to our old colleague Joe Moorwood who has just had his first book published.
Joe, a former account manager with us and now a fire fighter in South Yorkshire, wrote The Yorkshire Meaning of Liff.
Inspired by John Lloyd’s and Douglas Adams’ cult-classic The Meaning of Liff, first published thirty years ago, The Yorkshire Meaning of Liff recycles the lesser known place names of God’s own county, and twins them with all things in life there should be words for (aka ‘liffs’)…
John Lloyd says: “After 40 years in radio and television, I think I’m right in saying I have never produced a show, directed a movie or got involved in a book based on a script sent to me out of the blue by someone I’ve never met. Maybe it’s just me, but it’s never happened yet. Until now, that is.
“Joe first wrote to me earlier this year, after hearing an appeal on Radio 4 for contributions to a programme called The Meaning of Liff At 30. Designed to mark three decades in print of a book I wrote with Douglas Adams in 1983, listeners were invited to submit new ‘liffs’ – definitions of ‘things there should be words for’ brought to life by attaching them to a place name.
“Some 400 people responded to the BBC’s call and the standard of entries was impressively high, but one person in particular stood out. He had not, like most contributors, come up with one or two ideas, he had written an entire book.
Here’s some of Joe’s Yorkshire Liffs:
The tilt of an imaginary pint glass to ask if someone on the other side of a noisy pub wants a drink.
Holding areas used for guests on The Jeremy Kyle Show.
To lock eyes with someone inside a parked car in the process of checking out one’s appearance in their window.
An adolescent male’s first attempt at sideburns.
The high-pitched screaming noise emitted by fairground ghost trains.
The first person in a motorway traffic jam to get out of their car and walk about sighing.
You can buy the book here.