Norming and Behavior Adoption (in this case, specially, with technology)

On the path towards a merged psychological-network theory of innovation diffusion through online communities.

This is a VERY low-fi description of the psychological theories at work - as it pertains to behavior adoption and network theory - but certainly is easy to digest. Influence is largely based on the shape of the network that connects individuals and and the position said individuals have in the network. Their proximity to the core of the network makes all the difference between how fast a rumor spreads or if the information will reach them at all. Not only that but how likely we are to adopt norms and stick to them Very powerful.

As such, our connection to each other has more impact on the decisions we make than what we perceive to be our own free will. Our likelihood to take on behaviors depends on two key factors - Attitudes and Adoption - both of which require very dense undertakings. However, when done well…can make the difference between wearing over-the-ear headphones vs ear buds or maybe even stopping the spread of a STD.

State of the Advertising Industry: The Music of Disruption

Bob Dylan once sang, “The times they are a-changin’.” This premise is truer than ever in today's marketing and advertising world.

Advertising firms were once the authority on idea generation. They were the best mass storytellers and the best attention-grabbers. They were the modern day Don Drapers.

But that isn’t necessarily the case these days. The ubiquity of new technology means anyone with a phone, tablet, or computer is now a content creator. The pervasiveness of social media propagates these ideas from person to person. Meanwhile, new analytics capabilities empower anyone with an affinity for quants to direct placement and inform content creation.

All of which adds up to less power for traditional advertising firms and sets the stage for disruption that will fundamentally change the way we do business — and soon.

Sound too apocalyptic? Just look at the music industry.

As recently as the early 2000s record labels ran the show. They funded handpicked hitmakers for long sessions in big, expensive studios. Top-notch sound engineers guaranteed pristine sonic quality and A-list directors were hired to make lavish, over-the-top videos. Singles had long given way to albums with “filler” songs, meaning fans wanting a hit song had to cough up $17 for the entire album.

Business was booming until a viable alternative came along — the world wide web.

The Napsters and Limewires of the world, and ultimately Youtube, iTunes, Spotify, and Pandora, ushered in the disruption in music in a newly networked world.

Here’s why history may repeat itself, this time with the advertising industry:

Ubiquity in Technology. The spread of broadband internet and CD burners allows more and more people to experience free music access (peer-to-peer exchange). For advertising, the devices in our pockets, bags, and desktops allow anyone to be a content creator, not just a consumer. A clever creative talent with an iPhone can legitimately create content for a brand without the overhead of a Madison Avenue ad agency.

Medium Shift. The product the music industry was selling — CDs — was no longer the medium people wanted. CDs were a secondary medium to the music itself. Likewise, advertising was once dominated by TV, print, and radio. Today content relevance is far more important than the channel by which it was delivered. In fact, there's often more credence awarded to content delivered via Facebook, Twitter, or Youtube because it was curated for me, by my people.

Access to Tools. Programs like Fruity Loops and Cakewalk reduced the financial barrier once presented by expensive recording studios. In advertising, firms once provided access to expensive software like Photoshop or InDesign that now can be accessed for free from Reddit or BitTorrent.

Decreased Learning Curve. The web allowed music makers to learn from each other, which reduced the need to apprentice for years before ever creating anything. Today social networks allow idea generators and content creators to share learnings about the craft, instead of being an apprentice at a big firm.

Democratization of the Internet. Broadband internet removed the middleman — radio, MTV, etc. — and allowed these new, non-major-record-label producers to reach music fans directly. Advertising content also needed TV, radio, and newspapers to be seen. Today social network platforms, search engines, and email allow non-agency content creators to reach the public directly.

Content Parity. It turns out people were fine with the varying quality of MP3s. Expensive sonic quality ceased being a discriminating factor for music fans, which leveled the playing field for amateur musicians and producers. While ad agencies tap big directors to shoot over-the-top productions for expensive media campaigns, the content that gets people talking the most is produced by amateur makers. It doesn’t seem to matter that it’s a vertical video shot with an iPhone. Production values are no longer a key differentiator.

Distributors as Arbiters of Value. The launch of iTunes told the world — and the buying public — that it didn’t matter if a song was recorded in fancy studios or in someone’s bedroom with free software. It was all 99 cents. Big ad agencies charge for the time it takes to create content while publishers like Buzzfeed, Complex, and Vice charge per piece of content, not the time it takes to make it. Again, all content is valued the same no matter the investment to create it.

Bypass the Traditional System. Online music outlets like iTunes, CD Baby, and TuneCore allow amateur musicians to reach customers, often sitting shoulder-to-shoulder on the screen with some of the biggest names. In advertising, brands needed agencies to do the content work for them. That’s not the case anymore. Outfits like Maker Studio have amassed thousands of content creators worldwide and use technology that makes it easy for brands to manage campaigns. No agency needed.

Overwhelming Supply of Content. The influx of so much content in the market, from amateur content creators to superstars, with reduced time between album releases, means there’s more desired music than there is time to consume it. That greatly reduced the half-life of a song. Same is true in advertising. There’s so much content in the market now that brands see a greater supply of content than they need.

Access Over Ownership. The oversupply of content means fans don’t feel the need to own music anymore. They want to hear music they like on demand. Likewise, brands are wondering why they need advertising agencies. More brands are writing “jump ball” briefs to access the best ideas from a wide variety of potential partners — traditional agencies, YouTube stars, or aggregators. The agency model is no longer a very smart model for big brands – except the biggest brands and companies that require a factory-like agency to manage the enormous flow of content; think Ford and Procter & Gamble.

These implications have led to new vehicles for discovery (Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat), consumption (Vice, Complex, Buzzfeed), and creation (Maker Studios and Social Native), which sets the stage to disrupt the status quo of the advertising industry much like the music industry.

It won’t be long before more brands start to wonder, “With so much content being produced in the world, why would I reduce my access to it by having just one agency responsible for making it?” And perhaps more importantly, brands will soon say “With such a high amount of content available to me, why am I paying so much for it?”

Indeed, the times they are a-changin’. But there is hope. As the advertising and marketing world around us changes, we marketers and advertisers must change also, and these changes require us to reconsider the role we play as agency partners. Perhaps the best way to offer “agency” would be for agencies to move from being outsourced creative hands to true brand partners. Only time will tell.

A Peek Into Doner's Social Practice

The ubiquity of technology and its ability to accelerate the adoption of behaviors have created great opportunity for marketers to reach target consumers but simultaneously have made it more difficult to “break through.” This, of course, challenges the conventional approaches to marketing communications and puts more emphasis on leveraging social media as a means to engage target consumers and propagate messages, ideas, products and behaviors. Here at Doner, I have been tasked to reshape how we see the world of social media and how we operate in it as practitioners. The following is a peek into that world... 

THE STATE OF THE STATE: An intimate look at the disruption in advertising

Bob Dylan once sang, “The times they are a-changin’.” And in the world of marketing and advertising truer words have never been spoken.

There was once a time when advertising creatives were the authority on idea generation. They were the best mass storytellers and the best attention-grabbers. Today, however, that position is currently under duress. Thanks in part to the proliferation of technology, anyone with a phone, tablet, or computer is now a content creator. The ubiquity of social networking platforms have democratized access for these content creator’s ideas to propagate from person to person. Meanwhile, new analytics capabilities have empowered anyone with an affinity for quants to direct creative placement and inform content development - all of which diminishes the sovereignty of traditional advertising creatives.

Indeed, the times they are a-changin’. But these changes aren’t just bruises to the ego of our beloved, modern day Dan Drapers. They have set the stage for the disruption that the advertising industry is currently facing and will fundamentally change the way our business operates in the short years to come - if not sooner. Sounds like apocalyptic rhetoric, right? I know! Like you, I roll my eyes every time I read one of those “TV is dead” headlines. The difference in this instance is not due to some big revelation of the future on my part, instead, it’s foreshadowing from the past. We’ve seen the dynamics that exist in advertising today play out in other industries and ultimately shake their business to its core. And as they say, history has a way of repeating itself. Case and point, the music industry.


Back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, record labels invested a wealth of resources in the creation of content. Long session hours in big, expensive studios. Handpicked hitmakers were tapped to make tracks at a premium. Topnotch sound engineers were enlisted to guarantee pristine sonic quality. Top-rate video directors were hired to make the most lavish, over-the-top visual expression of the hitmaker-produced song. Millions and millions of dollars were allocated in an effort to make and sell content.

That was the music business and in those days, business was booming. In fact, 1999 - 2001 were the highest revenue generating years in the existence of the music business. To ensure a profit margin that benefited from this rise in music consumption, record labels discontinued the sale of “singles” and began padding albums with “fillers.” These “fillers” were less expensive to produce and often times considered throwaway songs. This meant that if a fan wanted the hitmaker-produced song, they’d have to buy the entire album to get it, “filler” songs and all. Yes, $17 for the one song we wanted. #Crazy. Of course, this created frustration with the buying public to which there was no viable alternative. That is, until there was. And once this alternative presented itself — the world wide wide — the implication therefore completely disrupted the music industry and irreversibly changed it from what we knew it to be today.

While the Napsters and Limewires of the world certainly ushered in the disruption in music, it was the implications of the networked world, facilitated by the proliferation of the internet, that ultimately did the music industry in. These implications are as follows:

1. Ubiquity In Technology - cable companies started offering broadband internet, which enabled more and more people to experience the free music access (peer-to-peer exchange) that college students had been experiencing just a few years prior. Meanwhile, computer companies started manufacturing CD burners as defaults on their machines so people were able to make their own CD’s — from full albums to compilations mixes — with their newly obtained, free music.

2. Medium Shift - the product that the music industry was selling (CD’s) was no longer the medium people wanted (music). The CD’s themselves were simply the secondary medium by which we enjoyed the music (the primary medium) we desired. Once compressed files were made available, whether ripped from CD’s or obtained through P2P sharing, it became the closest medium to what we actually valued, the music.

3. Access To Tools - music fans that once longed to be artists themselves now had the ability to create content themselves. Programs like Fruity Loops and Cakewalk reduced the financial barrier once presented by expensive recording studios and now these “amateur” content creators had technology that allowed them to creatively express themselves.

4. Decreased Learning Curve - as access to the internet continued to grow, the growth of communities of people online ballooned as well. Out of this came the benefit of collective intelligence where people began to share their learnings of these new content creation tools across websites with the community via video channels, like Youtube. As a result, amateur music makers learned from each other, which reduced the perceived need to be an apprentice for years before ever creating anything.

5. Removal of Arbitrage - previously, content creators required access to radio to get their ideas heard broadly. However, radio airplay was strictly reserved for major record label products. Very few content creators could afford to make music videos, and even if they could, the production quality and lack of access would keep them from getting their videos played on MTV. The growing democratization of the internet removed the middleman (radio, MTV, etc.) and allowed these new, non-major-record-label-affiliated content creators to reach music fans directly.

6. Content Parity - compressed music files often ran the spectrum of sound quality. There was no sonic standard among most music fans because there was a sort of “you get what you paid for” apathy when it came to the degradation of sonic quality of their P2P sourced MP3’s. As such, it didn’t matter so much that the high-end frequencies were EQ’d perfectly or that the vocal spacing sat just right in the mix. As long as the song was recognizable and close to terrestrial radio quality, “all good.” This meant that sonic quality was no longer a discriminating factor between music created in big, expensive recording studios and music created in someone’s basement using Fruity Loops. Investment in production would not be the differentiator in how fans valued music, which leveled the playing field for amateur content creators.

7. Distributors As The Arbiters of Value - in 2001, Apple introduced the iPod and the accompanying iTunes store. While this new technology and corresponding retail destination has been written about as the deathblow to the music industry, the implication of their pricing model is often overlooked. Not only did iTunes’ pricing approach decouple albums and reinvigorate the sale of singles, but it also turbocharged the notion of content parity. Essentially, Steve Jobs told the world — and particularly the buying public — that it didn’t matter if the song was recorded in big, fancy studios with the most reverenced hitmakers and the best sound engineers or if the song was recorded in someone’s bedroom with a free music software and an engineering novice, it was all 99 cents. Period. No matter the investment in the creation of content, it’s all valued the same.

8. Bypass The Traditional System - thanks to online retail outlets like iTunes, CD Baby, TuneCore, amateur content creators were able to get their products sold to the buying public. Often times, their music would sit in (online) retail, shoulder to shoulder, with some of the biggest names music, which added perceived value to these amateur’s offerings and further drove the notion of content parity.

9. Overwhelming Supply of Content - with the influx of so much content in the market, from amateur content creators to superstars with reduced latency between album releases, music fans found themselves in a state where, for the first time ever, there was more supply of desired music than there was time to consume it. This created a dopamine cycle for music fans that would lead to shorter time spent “experiencing” or listening to a particular album or music releases so the half-life of songs were greatly reduced.

10. Access Over Ownership - since there was so much content in the market and not enough to consume it all, music fans no longer felt the need to actually own music content — especially if the lifespan of a release was so short. Ultimately, fans just wanted the ability to hear the music they liked on-demand, which gave raise to platforms like YouTube to be a music discovery and consumption destination.

These 10 implications led to new vehicles for discovery (YouTube, Facebook, Soundcloud), consumption (iTunes, Reverbnation, Spotify), and creation (Protools, Reason, Logic), which rocked the music industry by the mid-2000’s and forever changed its business. And the advertising industry is facing the fate.


While it’s easy to see the dynamics, and subsequent follies, of the music industry in hindsight, it would be nearly impossible to predict that an industry — in the hight of its success — would experience such unprecedented disruption just a few years later. Fortunately, history has a way of repeating itself so we can align historical data with causality-based theory to increase the likelihood of predictive outcomes. Unfortunately, for the advertising industry at least, the 10 implications that existed in music then are the exact same dynamics present in advertising today, especially in regards to both industries’ emphasis on content creation.

As such, one would expect similar outcomes from similar disruptions. Let’s unpack this further:

1. Ubiquity In Technology - technology is in our hands, in our pockets, in our bags, on our wrists, on our desks, and on our laps. These devices provide the broader populous access to the networked world and a pipeline to receive communications. Simultaneously, these device-holders are not just content consumers, they are now content creators.

2. Medium Shift - advertising was once primarily dominated by TV, print, radio, and OOH. The prevalence of the social web has since added new vehicles to the mix. This has become the most significant way messages, information, products, and behaviors are propagated by people within their communities. The content syndicated across the traditional mediums are increasingly becoming the talking points (secondary medium) that we share between our people (the primary medium) within our communities.

3. Access To Tools - at one time, an aspiring content creator would have to work for an agency to get access to Photoshop or InDesign (the defacto creative software suite) if they were to actually make something. Otherwise they’d have shove out a crap ton of money to get a user-license. Today, that is not the case. Aspiring content creators are now accessing these programs, and the corresponding license key, for free from Reddit or BitTorrent and finding themselves up and running in no time.

4. Decreased Learning Curve - the traditional path for a creative in advertising is that you’d produce a ton of ideas (that would likely never see the light of day) and get feedback from the Creative Director until your work is ready. This is a typical right of passage for the industry. Today, that is not the case. As access to content creation tools grow, people have begun to share their learnings across blogs and social networking platforms. As such, there is a ton of content across the web that amateur content creators are leveraging to learn about the craft of “making things,” instead of being an apprentice for 4 years, waiting to one day (hopefully) be “good enough.”

5. Removal of Arbitrage - previously, if a content creator in advertising wanted to get their ideas seen, they needed access to media - TV, print, radio, OOH. Otherwise, their ideas would go largely unseen and their marketing efforts would go unrealized. Today, that is not the case. Social network platforms, search, email, and other vehicles have democratized access to people. These information and communication technologies have removed the middleman (agencies, traditional media, etc.) and allowed these new, non-agency-affiliated content creators to reach the public directly.

6. Content Parity - while advertising agencies tap big directors to shoot over the top ideas that play out during big (read: expensive) media moments in hopes of getting people to talk, the content that gets shared the most among people — essentially, the things that people talk about most — is the content produced by the amateur makers. Grainy photos with uninspiring font choices. Vertical videos shot with an iPhone. The general public doesn’t care if the content was shot by David Fincher or a regular Jane Doe. Investment in production is no longer the differentiator in how consumers value content, which has leveled the playing field for amateur content creators.

7. Distributors As The Arbiters of Value - more and more, publishers like Buzzfeed, Complex, and Vice are entering the market and offering content creation services for brands. This is a service that agencies would exclusively provide for brands. When a client would asks for 5 TV spots, some banners, and a handful of social posts over a period of time, agencies would bill them for the time it takes to make said deliverables. All the while, the Buzzfeeds of the world are telling clients that “content costs ‘x’ amount per piece.” So if you want 5 pieces of content, it will cost you ‘5x.’ As such, since publishers are actually ascribing costs for content creation, not the cost of time to make it, the publisher’s determined value of content becomes the closest proxy to the actual product clients want and, therefore, become the new cost of content creation. No matter the investment in the creation of content, it’s all valued the same.

8. Bypass The Traditional System - if brands wanted content made (TV, print, OOH, radio), they’d have to enlist an agency to do the work for them. Today, that is not the case. Companies like Maker Studio (who was acquired by Disney a few years back) have not only amassed a network of 10’s of thousands of content creators across the world, they have also developed technologies that (1) make it easy for brands to task, review, and select creative assignment submission, (2) curate the maker to brand alignment, (3) publish across a myriad of mediums, and (4) measure the impact of the creative. All of which is being done without any agency from the agency. See what I did there?

9. Overwhelming Supply of Content - with the influx of so much content in the market, from amateur content creators to publishers, brands have found themselves in a state where there is more supply of desired content than they actually need.

10. Access Over Ownership - since there is so much content in the market and consumers are seemingly attention-deficient, brands have begun to wonder why they’d need to retain content creators as opposed to just accessing what they do. As a result, we see a trend where brands “jump ball” briefs to access the best ideas from a selection of partners — be it agencies, YouTube stars, aggregators, or even platforms.

These 10 implications have led to new vehicles for discovery (Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat), consumption (Vice, Complex, Buzzfeed), and creation (Maker Studios, Social Native, Vine Stars), which is setting the stage to disrupt the status quo of the advertising industry. I don’t fancy myself an economist but if there’s one thing I learned from my 200 level Econ class it’s this; when the supply is greater than demand the cost of goods will go down. As the aforementioned implications have illustrated, content is in great supply. That is, there’s more content being developed and published than there is a demand for brands to make content. Ergo, if the supply of content continues to exponentially increase (and all signs point to “yes”) then the cost of said content has to decrease. That’s just basic economics. And this will ultimately drive the commoditization of content and reduce margins for agencies that focuses on “making” things.

With content in such an overabundant supply, it won’t be long before more brands start to wonder, “with so much content being produced in the world, why would I reduce my access to it by having just one agency responsible for making it?” And perhaps more importantly, brands will soon say “with such a high amount of content available to me, why am I paying so much for it?”

Indeed, the times they are a-changin’.


        Marketing in the Digital Age

        Professors John Branch and Marcus Collins show that in the era of social media and digital campaigns, marketing is still about people and their networks.

        Digital and social media marketing campaigns are often centered on the tactical delivery of the brand content, but often lack the more important objective of what is being said and how – not to mention whether or not the message taps into what people really care about.

        With all the technology, it is easy to forget that marketing–even in the digital era–is foremost about understanding people and their social networks. Michigan Ross Professor John Branch and Lecturer Marcus Collins want to elevate the importance of decoding human networks in the development of digital campaigns. One way they’re doing it is through their new Executive Education program – Strategic Marketing for the Digital Age.

        The goal is to get practitioners to focus less on “how” a campaign is delivered, or the delivery tools, and more about “who” they are trying to reach and the environment where they live.

        “Marketers still tend to think about people based on demographics, but that approach doesn’t help us understand people and their networks,” says Collins, lecturer of marketing and senior vice president and director of social engagement at Southfield, Mich.-based advertising agency Doner. “Digital marketing too often focuses on the medium, but technology is only an extension of what people already do. We want marketers to understand the social networks of people–the shared beliefs, norms, and unwritten rules. Their networks are the community in which they live. Only by understanding their community can you leverage technology to the fullest and influence those social ties.”

        Collins, MBA ’09/BS ’02, has run social media campaigns for Apple, Beyoncè, State Farm, and the Brooklyn Nets, among others. He sees the knowledge gap on human networks play out often in the field.

        “Digital education has been so tactical,” he says. “If we tell marketers how Facebook works, for example, that doesn’t really help because Facebook is always changing and evolving. We’re trying to show people how to think differently about people and customers, and how to solve both digital and social network problems.”

        For example, Collins led a media campaign for the Brooklyn Nets at a time when the team was moving from New Jersey to Brooklyn’s Barclay’s Center. The team was viewed negatively in Brooklyn for building an arena that displaced residents and sparked more gentrification. The strategy was to build excitement around the Nets despite the backlash.

        Collins and his team tapped into to residents’ strong sense of identity with Brooklyn. Tweets and billboards played up an “us vs. them” spirit vs. Manhattan; early in the campaign, the name of the basketball team wasn’t even mentioned. “We tapped into their shared value of feeling overshadowed by Manhattan,” says Collins. “It was all based on understanding the social norms of Brooklynites and knowing their environment. Twitter, hashtags, and billboards were just the tools,” he says.

        Branch, academic director of Part-Time MBA Programs and clinical assistant professor of business administration, says marketers often fail to align their digital and social marketing campaigns to an overall coherent and clarion idea.

        “I was in a meeting once where somebody asked, ‘what’s our hashtag strategy?’” says Branch, who has worked with companies and brands around the world. “A hashtag isn’t a strategy. A strategy needs to reflect what I call the ‘North Star’ of the brand -- the idea at the core of the brand that everyone knows, loves and holds on to.”

        A good example of that is the shoe company Toms. The company is built around the idea of “one for one” -- for every pair of shoes purchased, Toms buys a pair for a person in need.

        “That’s their identity–a giving company that literally balances profits with good works–and everything they do is informed by that guiding strategy and reinforces it,” Branch says. “That North Star not only is what customers and brand enthusiasts hold on to year after year, but it should also guide marketers internally every time they are in doubt about how to proceed on the tactics.”

        The goal of this new Executive Education program is to fill the knowledge gaps of human psychology and strategy, and show participants how to apply it to their work.

        “Humans are still social beasts,” says Branch. “The fact that we’re getting news on our phone instead of down at the mercantile store doesn’t change how our minds work. This program delves into how the human brain works so that marketers understand the North Star of the community which they are trying to reach first, then develop cutting-edge tools and tactics.”


        The Pursuit of Dopeness

        For as long as I can remember, I've always had a sense that I was meant to do something remarkable with my life. Something audacious. Something awesome. I don't say that to be boastful, as I don't necessarily see myself better than the next man. We all have talents that are unique to each one of us. While some people are fortunate enough to find their path early in life and spend the majority of their days exercising themselves in their gift, others spend their lives looking but never fully realize their potential. We're all on a path to do something great, despite adversity and disappointment. I call this journey "the pursuit of dopeness" and this talk details my journey. I hope your find it helpful as you pursue your own.


        Unlocking Networks: Want to truly understand people and make accurate predictions? Look at their networks.

        It’s been said that good marketers see consumers as complete human beings with all the dimensions real people have. But do we marketers really understand people?

        For decades we used demographics to identify and segment groups of people in an effort to create better products, serve relevant messages, and forecast more accurate predictions. This is the holy grail of marketing.

        But demographics don’t describe “real people.” While gender, race, age, household income, and other demography-based inputs are “truths,” they are static facts and do not accurately describe who people truly are. This, of course, is why savvy marketers focus their segmentation efforts (to whom they target their messages) on psychographics — people’s interests, preferences, and attitudes — because they paint a more vivid picture of "real people.”

        Now we’re getting somewhere, but not close enough because psychographics are merely byproducts of our networks. And networks are much better indicators of who people are, and what they are likely to do. 

        Let’s unpack this further.

        By “networks,” I mean the groups of people with whom we exchange information, experiences, and behaviors: friends, family, classmates, co-workers, teammates, congregates... our people.

        And our people give insight to who we are and how we see the world. Within each of our networks are shared beliefs, unwritten rules, rituals, and social norms that guide the behaviors of the people in the network. As Aristotle said, “Man is by nature a social animal,” and these dynamics are the glue that keep our people connected. 

        Much of our daily life is governed by norms — unwritten rules we follow to remain community members in good standing. As such, our interests, proclivities, and actions tend to follow the way of our networks and spread in a predictable and contagious fashion.

        Our networks inform our psychographics. Therefore, not only are our networks more powerful descriptors of who we truly are than typical demographics, but they are also more holistic representations of ourselves than psychographics alone.

        Unfortunately, traditional marketing segmentation misses the mark. Common practice identifies groups of people based on demographics (with a bit of psychographic seasoning) and buckets them into target audiences — a group of passive people waiting for marketing messages to wash over them.

        But people aren’t passive, and audiences aren’t real, so this approach often leads to broad generalizations and trite overtures. Peek into most creative briefs, and chances are you’ll see brands targeting “millennials,” as if everyone between the ages of 18-34 are the same because they were born within the same generation. It just isn’t so. As a result, marketers make blanket generalizations about a cohort of dynamic people, and the subsequent work often falls flat.

        What a waste.

        Networks, on the other hand, are dynamic, human, and innately social. And people use their networks to describe themselves. Take me, for example. I’m a Collins, I’m a Michigan Wolverine, and I’m a non-denomination Christian. I subscribe to these networks and take on their respective characteristics to stay in good standing with my people — as we all do with our own unique networks.

        Understanding the dynamics of these networks is the gateway to consumer intimacy and relationship development because these groups of people are, in short, real. Marketers would benefit greatly by shifting their focus from talking at passive “target audiences” to engaging with active “target networks.”

        Even more interesting, networks are also more accurate indicators of what we’re likely to do. This is heavily supported by behavioral science research. Humans are naturally inclined to take on the actions of the people around us, so much so that our behavior can be predicted from exposure to the example behavior of others. And we are most influenced when we observe the behavior of people most like ourselves — our networks. That means if brands can understand the dynamics of my network, then not only will they better understand me, they’ll also be able to predict my behavior with a high degree of probability.

        Now that’s powerful. 

        These predictions are driven by the natural propensity that people have to rely on one another. We’ve built trust within our networks and rely on their expertise and experiences to help inform our decisions. In fact, research shows that we trust the recommendations of our people more than any form of advertisement or media.

        The collective intelligence of our networks help us decide where we go, what products we consume, who we vote for, and which brands we choose. As a result, our consumption patterns naturally follow that of our networks. Want to predict what people will do next?

        Watch the behavior of their networks.

        Contrary to conventional wisdom, we are not independent agents in this world, where our decisions are driven by our preferences and IQ. Rather, we live in complex systems — networks of people — where members therein help shape each other’s affects, cognitions, perceptions, and beliefs. We rely on our ability to learn from the behaviors of our people, and they set the example for how members of the network should also behave. These networks move forward on the basis of a simple, subconscious, question: “Do people like me do something like this?”

        If the answer is "yes," then we follow suit; if "no," then we don't take action.

        We don't inquire.

        We don't share.

        We don't buy.

        It’s that simple. And it all starts with people — real people — and the influence of their networks. This sets the stage for a more actionable approach where brands can deliver ideas, products, and communications in an effort to influence consumer behavior.

        Considering the ubiquity of social media in today’s connected world, marketers can now apply network thinking to the use of these tools in a way that promotes social pass-along and enables more accurate predictions.

        ‘MORE THAN WORDS’: Moving from brand comms to brand kinetics

        Love is in the air this Valentine’s Day. It's this time of year when sappy, indulgent love songs reach their peak rotation on the radio and Spotify playlists. They latch onto our eardrums, sneak into our subconscious, and stay there on repeat for weeks on end. These songs, in some way or another, profess an end-of-the-world love, a promise of undying affection and dedication, all in hopes of wooing a love interest. Songs that say Don’t leave me. Take me back. Reciprocate my overture. Say “you love me, too." I can’t help but notice a resemblance between our beloved ballads and brand advertising.

        Like the singers in love songs, brands make big promises in their marketing communications, to both current and potential consumers, begging and pleading “Baby, baby, please…!” Brands use catchy language, music mnemonics and featured performers (i.e., celebrity endorsers), all in an effort to woo consumers into relationships that lead to action: Buy. Share. Click. Search. Sample. 

        But much like true love, it’s not enough to say it, brands also have to prove it. Smart marketers are moving beyond just brand communications (saying it) to focus on brand kinetics (behaving it).

        As we find ourselves nearing Valentine’s Day this year, it’s a good reminder for brands to do a little less declaring and a little more demonstrating.  Or as Madonna puts it, “get into the groove, boy, you have to prove your love to me!” On that note, here are three things to consider: 

        (1) “You can’t hurry love, you just have to wait”

        Love takes time. If a couple says “I love you” after the first date, we immediately become skeptical of its merits. However, marketers are constantly looking for love to bloom within a quarter because that’s when their performance numbers are due. Intuitively, it doesn’t make sense, but brands are showing up in more places and more frequently - thanks to programmatic buying and retargeting - in hopes of “developing a relationship” quickly. Some may see this as persistence, but in many instances this level of stalking would turn someone off. Brands have to be willing to put in the time it takes to build a meaningful relationship the right way. 

        (2) “Try not to hide what you feel deep inside/if you care, you must dare to be free as the air”

        As Earth, Wind, & Fire proclaimed, brands have to let their feelings show. When a brand’s beliefs are reflected in its behaviors, it sends a clear signal that the brand is “about it.” REI’s decision to close its stores during Black Friday is a great example of this, because beyond PR value, it was a demonstrative representation of its core beliefs. REI believes the outdoors are meant to be explored, so it encouraged consumers to spend their day off exploring, not shopping. Though the decision might have cost REI potential revenue on an important day for retail, it was far more important for them to represent their truth. And isn’t that what we expect of any overture of love?

        (3) “Because I need somebody who will stand by me”

        When it comes to love, it’s the hard times that prove the “real” vs the “fake.” A perfect example of this is Tristan Walker’s Bevel. The company founded a core shaving system product for men of color. It was meant to be an alternative to Gillette and other mainstream shaving products that did not meet the unique sensitivities of black men shavers. Walker launched Bevel as a subscription based service to remedy these pain points with a product “for us, by us.” After three successful years, Walker has reportedly received offers to the tune of $500 million to acquire Bevel from the very same companies that previously ignored Bevel’s target consumer, considering it too small. Sounds like a payday, right? Rather, Walker has remained committed to the brand’s core consumer. Bevel is putting a stake in the ground to say this is “for us, by us” despite potential riches, letting core customers know that this is truly the “real thing.”  

        (4) “No chocolate covered candy hearts to give away”

        According to Stevie Wonder, our motives for “showing love” have to be more than just a holiday. Brands must remember true love should be demonstrated all year round, not just at designated moments. It’s too convenient for marketers to show moms appreciation on Mother’s Day or in support of a new product launch, but those that show their love throughout the year stand to build strong, authentic relationships. American Express demonstrated its commitment to small business owners with Open Forum, a platform that creates and curates content to help small business owners avoid the pitfalls of entrepreneurship and turbo charge their efforts by sharing the knowledge and experiences of successful companies. They also created Small Business Saturday to help small businesses thrive during the critical holiday retail season, which has even resulted in other brands using the day as a moment to show small business owners love.   

        Perhaps the 90’s band Extreme was really onto something with their classic ballad, “More Than Words.” The lyrics read “More than words/is all you have to do to make it real/then you wouldn't have to say that you love me/cause I'd already know.” In the world of marketing, truer words have never been spoken. If brands are to cut through the clutter and truly establish relationships with would-be and current consumers, these marketers have to move beyond communications and start focusing their efforts on kinetics, because actions speak louder than words.