On the Seventh Day of Christmas

Posted by on Dec 30, 2007 in Uncategorized | No Comments


…I was thinking about things. Christmas today seems to be about things – read any op-ed for a seasonal disabusing of thing-mania. Shiny things like the iPhone, less than shiny things like the knitted version above and things that you’re never quite sure what to make of (what does that thing I’ve just unwrapped reveal about how my sister-in-law sees me????)

You see, even in writing about things I found myself slipping back into what really matters – people. People give things to each other for social reasons, people desire things because other people do or because of what the thing says about them…to other people!
and then pretend to themselves that its about the thing itself.

Yet in Marketingland, we still much prefer things to people. People are unpredictable and uncontrollable; things aren’t. Thinking about marketing in terms of things make it easier to handle – one example is technology. It’s much easier to talk geeky things and features and giga-things than it is to talk humans; lots of folk still prefer speeds, feeds and the rest to the tough stuff of human behaviour. Similarly, old school marketers like the idea of “my” advertising and what it does to the (passive) “audience” or about USP’s (god, bless ’em).

Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m not suggesting that bad products are good enough. Quite the opposite, infact.

It’s just that by taking a big step back and trying to see how things spread, you can see that the hard truths about all of the things that have excited folk in our little world in recent years are rooted in people:

things change because of people interacting with other people, rather than technology or design really doing things to people.

Put simply, any given behaviour propagates through a population by the means of people: even tech behaviours like Twitter usage spread this way (try adding the “MHB” the Missing Human Verb to product propagation by the way; its suppression suggests that the thing is the thing and its reinstatement helps you remember the people thing).

Similarly more obvious marketing behaviours like believing that such and such is seen by people I know to be cool brand (as Fallon London has managed to pull off a few times recently for Sony) spreads this way. Or people wearing those sparkly Converse that Sair got for Christmas (and so many other girls in Camden did). People do what other people around them are doing (or responding to what they are doing) .

I think I’ve cracked a way to put this insight to work properly now: got a creative strategy tool to diagnose and teach this and am very excited about the analytics work I’ve been doing with Alex recently in understanding how behaviour cascades work and how to categorise them, which underpins this. Think we are breaking really new ground here with real but revolutionary application for marketing folk (and very friendly to those of us how like making neat and groovy things).

Our early findings clear: for most consumer behavioural cascades, the important thing is not the thing product or service (or even ad) itself; what matters are the people and their interaction with each other (and how ready they are to do some more interaction).

Of course, a good thing is preferable to a poor thing and a remarkable thing is really good to have, not least because it becomes a Social Object – one which changes the social interactions of folk. One which fuels their enthusiasms, maybe?

So maybe this New Year you need to put all your things and your thing-mania to one side and polish up your human skills!

UPDATE: Hugh has a terrific longhand post which explains the Social Object idea with real clarity. Go check it out