Advertising in 2020 – Let’s Hope There’s Fire

John Willshire and Mark Earls make you think. They chisel and shape ideas until they are sharp enough to be carved into your mind.

As part of the Wharton Future of Advertising program, they put together this presentation that provokes a conversation around advertising and what it might look like in the year ahead. Take a look through, it’s quick and it will challenge you. Then read on below …

One of the things that caught my attention was a simple statement. “Make things people want [is greater than] Make people want things”.

This seems to be self-evident, but in practice it requires an alternative way of thinking. Almost all of our marketing theory and practice centres on the stimulation of desire. We deliberately create items, objects and experiences that are limited in their availability and then we amplify not only the fact of existence, but the fact of their scarcity.

And yet, we live in an age of abundance. We all know it. Yet we still play out this game of scarcity. I find it interesting. I find it fascinating that we are complicit in this form of cultural production that we call advertising. But I also predict a seachange ahead.

We are going to have to work a whole lot harder to generate the kind of engagement and interest that advertising once commanded. Our connected consumers have outflanked, outranked and even out-performed us. Mark and John are right. We will need marketing and advertising that is bolder than we have been in decades. And decidedly more primal. We’ll need to relinquish the calculator and the paperclip and step out from behind the mirrored glass and meet our customers face to face.

Big data may hold the answers – but we’re far from understanding the most basic of questions. Mark and John have lit a signal fire but it’s not off in the distance. Look down, it’s right under our arses.

CMO to CIO – It’s Time We Talked

When we crowdsourced the first The Age of Conversation book back in 2008, the idea of working from the outside-in was untested. Over 100 marketing innovators from 15 countries shared their thoughts and early experiences and Drew McLellan and I produced a book that would go on to create a community, showcase the early adopters and leading social media practitioners and ultimately raise around $50,000 for charity.

People like David Berkowitz wrote about participation and its ephemeral nature in a connected world. Toby Bloomberg peered into the future, suggesting that business was personal and that technology is fueling emotional engagement. And Katie Chatfield told brands to prepare themselves for a party.

Several years on, however, how many brands are ready to party? How many can scale their digital interactions into some form of customer engagement? And how many are prepared to turn conversations into something more than a link or a like?

As this infographic from Socialcast shows, many businesses continue to restrict access to social media in the workplace. At the same time, social marketing agency Awareness suggests that better customer engagement was a top business objective for social media.

  • Social Media Governance a Major Concern for CIOs: The gap between the business objectives and needs of two vital organisational units – technology and marketing appear at odds. Robert Half Technology’s survey of 1400 CIOs indicates that governance concerns are high on the CIO agenda – citing security, legal liability and bandwidth as reasons for blocking social media.
  • Social Media Generates Productivity and Creativity Payoffs: The “micro breaks” offered by social media may actually increase productivity. But this pales into insignificance against the business value of bringing the outside-in. A recent McKinsey Global Institute report suggests that cross-enterprise collaboration is estimated to unlock in excess of $900 billion across four industries.
  • CMO to CIO – Let’s Talk Timing: The competing needs of the CMO and CIO are often seen through the lens of conflict. Customer demands and revenue expectations drive a marketing agenda while risk management, compliance and governance occupy the minds of the CIO. Yet, the opportunity for collaboration exists. CMOs need to understand the challenges of governance and technology and CIOs need exposure to the “front office”. The answer lies in planning and timing. And having the right conversation.


Here’s to Your Strange Heart

Many, many years ago – back in my early days of social media, I connected with a very strange person. His name is Mike Wagner. He was a boldly creative and generous spirit that leaped at me out of the vast sea of social media chaos. I loved his energy and his thinking.

But the thing is … he stood out. We connected. We conversed. And after many years of connecting over social media, we met – face-to-face – in Des Moines, Iowa – and I felt like we had been friends for years. I thought it was about some deeper truth related to social media. But I was wrong.

And now I know how he did it. He used his STRANGE on me.

In this great TEDxDesMoines talk, he talks about the positive power of strangeness – and how we can tap into our strangeness to connect with the people who can help us solve the problems of our world.

So how do you feel today? I’m full of Johnny Cash today, but tomorrow I expect a touch of Ray LaMontagne. Rock on with your strangeness today.

Want to Write a Book? Join Age of Conversation #4

Have you ever wanted to see your name in print? Do you have ideas you’d like to share with a global audience? This may be the opportunity that you have been waiting for!

Over the last four years, Drew McLellan and I have instigated and published three books exploring the Age of Conversation. These crowdsourced books have brought together over 400 authors, raised more that $50,000 for charity, and provided many people with the opportunity to see their names and ideas in print.

After our third book, the Age of Conversation 3: It’s Time to Get Busy!, we thought that the series may have reached it’s natural end point. But now, two years later, we believe there may be still more to explore. And this time, it’s PERSONAL.

Once again, we are throwing the doors open. If you have an idea that you’d like to share with us, we’d love to have you join us.

How does this work?

  1. Nominate for a topic area using this form (please choose three topics – as we have a lot of authors to accommodate, we need to ensure the coverage is spread)
  2. We will advise you of the area
  3. Write a 400 word chapter (no longer please) or 750 word case study and send it through
  4. We will edit and curate the flow of the chapters
  5. The book will be produced on-demand and be ready to promoted
  6. All funds raised will be donated to charity:water

What if I have a case study?

If you have a case study that you can share, we’d love to have it. BUT … this needs to be YOUR case study. They need to be projects that you have worked on or have been responsible for. You must include measurable results of some sort. We’re not going to get into the whole ROI discussion … but you need to show how it played out. Please don’t propose case studies based on other people’s work.

Where do I sign up for the Age of Conversation #4?

It’s easy … sign up using this form.

Please register your interest QUICKLY as we will close off very soon.

Creative is Back – Conversational Topics with Responsys’ @simonoz

As I sat bleary eyed in the audience at the Ad:Tech Sydney breakfast briefing this morning, three words sailed over the heads of the audience and slapped me awake – “creative is back”.

He said it again for added impact – creative is back.

The speaker, Responsys’ Simon O’Day, was part of a panel focusing on email marketing – but his interest was broader. He was talking lifecycle marketing, multi-channel and data.

I caught up with him after the panel for a quick conversation and to get a greater sense of what he was hinting at. Here are some of the themes we discussed:

Creative is back: there is a clear opportunity but also a challenge in the years ahead – after all, we are now all receiving vast amounts of email every day. The opportunity and challenge is to invest in creative and bring it into the heart of our campaigns and use that to cut through.

Data drives insights: there is a vast amount of data now at our fingertips – but rather than delivering insights, most marketers are drowning. Increasingly we need to look to technology to help us sift through the information that is available to us. My view was that we needed some creative partnering to take place – between the marketing teams, agencies and companies like Responsys. To make this data work for us all, we need the deep expertise and the maturity to collaborate. Of course, that’s easier said than done!

Data is everywhere: We have our mailing lists and our databases – and that is all goodness. But social networks are now delivering additional data points that can deliver fantastic insights – as long as you know where to look. We should be looking for these opportunities beyond our own organisations – and tapping into the networks of value that already exist.

Imagine a world of 100% plus open rates: This is where it got interesting. As we spoke, Simon became more and more animated. He explained that hidden deep within the data – what Responsys call “profile extensions” – is information that allows you to engage people in a highly relevant way. The way I understood this was that a new piece of data – like a status update or a change in profile information (whether in your system or on Facebook or Twitter etc) could trigger an engagement – like an SMS alert, an email or an @ message. And because it was highly targeted and relevant, it generates 100%+ open rates.

So what we are seeing, really, are micro-segmentation capabilities that are based on people’s behaviours rather than demographic or other forms of segmentation. It’s pretty exciting – slightly spooky – but also the way of the future.

So what do you think? Is this deep level of targeting, when coupled with a focus on permission a way for us to deal with email overload? Is this a new way of understanding trust or is it going in the opposite direction? You tell me.

Where Are You on the Trust Barometer?

Whenever the social media conversation shifts to “influence” – who has it, how you can get it and what it’s worth, you know we’re talking trust. After all, what we perceive as “influence” is simply a combination of trust and relevance – a heady mix of the right audience, a trusted shepherd and a call to action.

Don’t believe me?

Nicholas Christakis has an interesting post on the power of twitter and its ability to influence a large following. As he explains, Alyssa Milano with her celebrity and her 1.3 million strong Twitter following would normally be considered “influential”. But when she tweeted out a link to the Amazon page of a book called Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks & How They Shape Our Lives, the roar of social media silence was deafening.  There was not ONE clickthrough. Not one sale.

It seems – finally – that we are seeing the reality of trust and the power of relevance. That’s why I am particularly interested in this report from Edelman Australia – the 2011 Australian Edelman Trust Barometer.

Launched today (see the Tweetstream), this is the third survey to be carried out in Australia, but we are already seeing some interesting trending:

  • Coming out of the GFC, we saw an upswing in trust in government (54%) and businesses (52%)
  • Trust in NGOs (65%) is the highest of any Australian institution, with the Media well down at 32%

The full report is embedded below and can be downloaded from Slideshare. It makes for interesting reading.

But what does this mean for brands and marketers?

As one of the launch panellists, Vanessa Hall, pointed out, trust is created through the interplay of the message or story the brand wants to tell, the expectations of your customers/stakeholders and the promise that exists between the two (my interpretation here). This is where the challenge comes – after all, our customers are rarely interested in the brand story, and their interpretation of your brand promise is often different from where you (on the client or agency side) tend to see it.

And with social media, individuals are now well equipped to engage with brands in a public (and searchable) sphere. Positive and negative brand experiences can be published, shared and amplified around the world in minutes – and this makes “trust” all the more important. As the report points out, “Trust is a protective agent …”. And yes, it can lead to tangible sales.

But, we need to consider the following trends:

  • Aligning our business purpose with a greater good (CSR is a good start)
  • Strong support for NGOs (consider partnering with an NGO to build your trust profile)
  • Multiple voices in multiple channels (while CEOs have increased level of trust and respect, use expert voices across your business and in multiple channels to build a network of influence)

Perhaps, most importantly, you need to think about all this in relation to YOUR business. Where do you sit on the trust barometer? And how are you going to improve?

Give the Gift of Water #BAD10

Today is Blog Action Day, a day where bloggers from around the world come together to support a single cause. This year’s cause is water.

Right now, almost a billion people on the planet don’t have access to clean, safe drinking water. That’s one in eight of us.

Unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation cause 80% of diseases and kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war. Children are especially vulnerable, as their bodies aren’t strong enough to fight diarrhoea, dysentery and other illnesses. The UN predicts that one tenth of the global disease burden can be prevented simply by improving water supply and sanitation.

And you can make a change in this situation.

For the Age of Conversation 3, we have partnered with charity: water – one of the non-profit partners associated with Blog Action Day. This means that the profit from every book purchase will support the UN’s effort to bring clean, safe water to millions of people.

So what can you do?

  1. Buy a copy of Age of Conversation 3 for each of your customers – they’ll love it and they’ll love you:
  2. Make an additional donation at our charity: water page
  3. Insert the Blog Action Day widget on your blog

Don’t forget to become a Fan of the Age of Conversation on Facebook.

Are You Ready for Blog Action Day on Friday?

Blog Action Day 2010: Water from Blog Action Day on Vimeo.

Last year, Blog Acton Day was a massive, global initiative, bringing together thousands of blogs around a single, social topic. This year’s Blog Action Day is due to happen this Friday, October 15. Thus far, almost 4000 blogs have been registered from 125 countries – reaching 28 million readers.

To support, Blog Action Day, all you need to do is register your blog and write a post for this Friday. Water has been selected as a globally appropriate topic because:

Right now, almost a billion people on the planet don’t have access to clean, safe drinking water. That’s one in eight of us who are subject to preventable disease and even death because of something that many of us take for granted.

Access to clean water is not just a human rights issue. It’s an environmental issue. An animal welfare issue. A sustainability issue. Water is a global issue, and it affects all of us.

There are many topics that you can choose to write on. Check out the Blog Action Day site for topics and details – or simply write on a topic of your own choosing. You can also sign the Blog Action Day petition or raise funds to build water wells in developing countries through charity: water.

BUT – if you are looking for a topic – I’d love to have you support our push for The Age of Conversation 3. The profits from the sales of the book go to charity: water – and will have a direct impact on the lives of people living without adequate water.

Blog Action Day – and the Age of Conversation

I know some of you will have already purchased a copy of Age of Conversation 3: It’s Time to Get Busy – and I do thank you for that. But I have new news for you, and an idea I’d like you to action.

The Age of Conversation Official Charity – charity: water

The first piece of news is to confirm that the charity that benefits from each and every sale of each and every book, is charity: water. charity: water is a non-profit organization bringing clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations. 100% of public donations directly fund water projects.

Amazingly, just $20 can give one person clean water for 20 years. An average water project costs $5,000 and can serve 250 people with clean, safe water – so purchasing a copy of the Age of Conversation 3 really can make a difference to someone’s life!

An AoC3 Bum Rush for Blog Action Day, October 15

As you probably know, the upcoming Blog Action Day is October 15 – and this year’s focus for Blog Action Day is water. To participate in Blog Action Day, you simply register your blog and then write a post. BUT what can you write about? Here’s where Age of Conversation comes in!

Charity Water is one of the participating partners for Blog Action Day. So what I’d like you to do is to help us with a Bum Rush on the Amazon charts – generate sales for AoC3 and raise money for charity: water.

The step-by-step is as follows:

  1. Buy the Book and send others to buy the book. If you work in an agency, get your agency to purchase multiple copies and give them out as year end gifts. This is the #1 call to action, because this is where we want to see the most impact. NOTE: Please buy 1 copy at a time because Amazon counts bulk orders once, and please use these affiliate links, which will help us in tracking sales. Remember, all the proceeds from the book sales and referrals will go to charity water:
  2. Register with Blog Action Day – Help raise the profile and participate in a huge global effort around water by registering for Blog Action Day.
  3. Blog About Blog Action Day, focusing on AoC3 – Make sure you have a prominent link to the Amazon listing so that readers can easily purchase the book. (Remember to use the affiliate link above. All of these earnings will go to charity as well.)
  4. Twitter Commentary – Join the other authors as we give a Bum Rush play-by-play on Twitter. We also ask that everyone saying anything about the Bum Rush to use the code #aoc3 so that it can be picked up by What The Hashtag.
  5. Trackback or Comment on the post that I will leave here on October 15, so that everyone can follow the conversation and help promote exposure on social sites (Digg, StumbleUpon,, etc.)
  6. Digg the posts listed here and send emails and shouts to friends requesting Diggs.
  7. Stumble the posts listed and tell friends to do the same.
  8. Bookmark your posts on
  9. Don’t forget Facebook – Make sure to become a Fan of AoC3 and to contribute to our wall
  10. Send an Old Fashioned email to your friends about the Bum Rush for AoC.

Oh, and if you have any others ideas, I’d love to hear them. Feel free to leave a comment below or over on the Age of Conversation fan page.

Age of Conversation 3: From Social Media Theory to Social Media Practice

We have seen an incredible shift in the role of social media over the past three years. It has moved from an outlier in the marketing mix to one of the strategic pillars of any corporate marketing or branding exercise: 
— Drew McLellan.


Three years ago, I began a conversation with Drew McLellan on the topic of social media and crowdsourcing. Thousands of book sales and downloads, two editions and hundreds of collaborators later, we are pleased to announce that the Age of Conversation 3 is now available.

It all started when Drew blogged about a similar collaborative book effort and I suggested we get a few fellow bloggers to produce a marketing book in the same vain. Three emails later, and we had named the book and set what we thought would be an impossible goal: 100 bloggers. Within seven days we had commitments from 103 authors from over a dozen countries.

Back then, the marketing industry was abuzz about how citizen marketers were changing the landscape, whereas the second two editions have revolved primarily around the growing field of social media and how its methodologies have affected marketing as a whole. What all three books have in common is that they each capture a uniquely global vantage point.

The first Age of Conversation raised nearly $15,000 for Variety, the international children's charity, and the Age of Conversation 2 raised a further $10,000 for Variety. This year’s proceeds will be donated to an international children’s charity of the authors’ choosing.

It’s available in a sexy hardcover, softcover and even a Kindle version.

As the many authors of this new book explain, the focus may be on conversation, but you can’t participate in a conversation from the sidelines. It’s all about participation. And this book provides you with 171 lessons in this new art.

Get the inside running on how you turn social media theory into practice with the Age of Conversation 3 – it’s essential reading.