Brand Happens: How to Create the Modern Brand Experience


conversation with our customers

Let’s have a conversation with our customers.

We hear it all the time.

Brand managers hire in social media and creative agencies to “create a conversation”.

They are led to believe that this conversation is the key to social media and, ultimately, brand success.

But, what these brand managers fail to understand is that these conversations are happening right now.

* The way your cabin crew greets your customers when they board the plane.

* The enthusiasm your field sales staff carry to the community event.

* The conversation between your product manager and the enthusiast about her latest project at the convention.

A thousand conversations are happening right now.

And your brand becomes the aggregate of each of these conversations, transmitted by Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Youtube and Twitter from the customer to a 100 other people.

When an employee pisses a customer off, you’ve just created a Brand Experience. Forget your brand makeover, new logo or employee training manual.

When you become genuinely interested in what an enthusiast built with your product at the Fan convention, you just created a conversation. You transmit those ideas back to 100 people within the company. The enthusiast transmits that feeling to 100 people who also stop by her stand and ask questions.

Dialogue is out there, whether you like it or not.

There are so many touch points today in creating Brand Experience that it’s impossible to manage under the Traditional Model.


We have to let go.

* We have to use metrics that encourage our conversations to last. We want people to stay and talk. We want people to see these Fans and customers as potential relationships not obstacles to next month’s KPI.

* We have to create cultures that encourage our people to interact and cultures that encourage Fans to interact with one another. We need to lead by example and show that each and every one of us needs to get out there and create a positive Brand Experience.

* And we need people who get it. We need people who love interacting. We need to recruit people who share the same passions as the Fans and empathize with their needs rather than people who want to manage and control markets.

Brand Management is dead.

Brand Happens.

Customer Experience Newsletter

Get the Digital Ape Newsletter

* Digital Anthropology
* Social Technology
* CX Trends & Research

The End of the Big Idea: Why Most Creative Agencies will Perish

What You Learn Selling Fizzy Water

By: Slava

If you want to find the best marketers, look at the guys who cut their teeth on selling soda. Why? Because how else do you sell sugary carbonated water? The only thing that differentiates your product from the next guy is not the product itself but how you market your product.

If you want to understand the future of marketing, look at soda. Here you’ll discover cutting-edge marketing models blazing trails for the rest of us to follow. You’ll also find well established brands being picked apart by challenger one customer at a time. Soda has it all.

The Hidden Power of Branding

We think ourselves largely impervious to the seductive nature of marketing but is this true? To what extent does brand really influence our choice?

Psychologists were keen to find out. They remodeled the Pepsi Challenge taste tests of the 1980s where subjects were asked to try 2 unbranded colas (Pepsi and Coke) and say which one tasted better. The results concurred with Pepsi’s old advertising – Pepsi actually tasted better. So, if it tasted better why were people still loyal to Coke?

Psychologists repeated the test but this time they told the subjects which brand they were drinking before they tasted it. The impact was remarkable. Subjects said Coke tasted better than Pepsi by a factor of 4:1

How could simply knowing which brand you were drinking actually alter our physical and emotional experience of a brand?

People Don’t Drink the Soda, They Drink the Can

The answer lies in the fact that people don’t drink the soda, they drink the can. As author Seth Godin puts it, “Blind taste tests are only any good if you have blind customers”. We consume the story – the emotions of a brand before – first and these expectations shape our experience.

We think we buy products based on physical factors like price and function, but these are often no more than logical post-rationalizations of our purchase decision. If you don’t believe me, ask yourself why people smoke. Why consume a product that you know will kill you? People buy on emotion and justify with logic.

How Pepsi Pioneered a New Model of Branding

Ironically, it was Pepsi who was one of the first pioneers in this space. In post-War America, it was Pepsi that understood people wanted to consume the story (which we’ll call context from now on) not the product (content). After all, why would young people be interested in a product that was once marketed as a cure for a common digestive problem (dyspepsia)? In the industrial society, content could be easily copied and replicated. What people wanted was the stuff that couldn’t be mass produced – the context.

Pepsi blazed new trails with its Pepsi Generation – the iconic ad campaign that ran for almost 50 years. The Pepsi Generation told of a new breed of consumers who, unlike their parents burdened by the experience of conflict, sought to enjoy life. The Pepsi Generation celebrated the moment. They hung out in milk bars and diners. They had enough money to afford cars even though they were barely into adulthood. They looked west to the rolling blue of the Pacific rather than back east to the old world.

Branding for the MTV Generation

By the 1980s, the Pepsi Generation found a new platform to broadcast its voice – MTV. Months before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Pepsi stuffed MTV airtime with highly paid celebrity brand endorsements.

They paid Michael Jackson $20 million to re-record “Billie Jean” with the words “You’re the Pepsi Generation”.

They paid Madonna $25 million for a commercial that aired just once. It was a formula that worked – tell them you’re cool, tell them in a BIG way and keep telling them. The nightly news announced the first screening of the Madonna ad. Schoolyards and college campuses were abuzz with talk of what they say on TV last night. We all bought into the chatter. So successful was this model that Pepsi’s still doing it today but this time it’s Beyonce or Pink instead of MJ or Madonna.

Advertising was the Investment Banking and Dot.Com of its Day

It’s at moments like these you need to take time out and take perspective. You are always most vulnerable at the peak of your success. Advertising was an industry on a roll.

Think about how each of these ideas transformed both their client brands and their respective markets:

* Diamonds are Forever (De Beers)
* The American Dream (Fannie Mae)
* The Pepsi Generation
* They melt in your mouth, not in your hand (M&M)
* Does she or doesn’t she? (Clairol)

Such was the power of advertising.

Over 100,000 people worked for US ad agencies in the late 1980s. Before tech and investment banking, the nation’s best blood lined up to work for names like FCB, BBDO and Ogilvy & Mather. Think of advertising as the scene of its day.

It’s at this point brands lose touch. Pepsi paid MTV to air a feature length documentary of the “making of the Pepsi Madonna commercial”. The creative industry could make or break any brand with a clever “big idea”.  Companies didn’t own their brand story, that was the prerogative of the ad agency who saw themselves as curators of the brand. As powerful as having a good brand was in determining the fortunes of the company, all the important work in branding happened outside the company. Brand managers became little more than rubber stampers.

Nothing Fails Like Success

Brands, and industries, lose their way.

Brands become lazy. Look at the whole creative industry pitch process for the last 20 years. It’s about who has the best “big idea” or which agency has the won the most awards this year. The brand takes no responsibility in the process beyond choosing between agency A or agency B.

Brand managers take short cuts.

The line “I’ll never get fired for booking a TV campaign” would be funny if it wasn’t so true.

But technology punishes the lazy.

The Era of Multiple Narratives

When young people today buy brands based not on what the creative agency says but on what their peers say on Twitter, Facebook and so on, the whole media landscape changes. No longer is the “Big Idea” the only player in town. No longer can creative agencies define generations simply though control of the media.

Now, the official brand story is just one of many narratives out there.

When your high school buddy told you about his positive experience of flying JetBlue, that American Airlines ad you saw on TV yesterday fades into obscurity. When you watch a video of road bike descending Mont Ventoux at 130kmh you start asking “how do they do that?” and your end up sooner or later on the GoPro website rather than typing in the name of that Kodak video camera you saw in the magazine.

Why Successful Agencies will Perish

Brands that were made in the era of the Big Idea are being punished because they were too successful for too long.

The first to perish will be the creative agencies that can’t adapt:

Agencies that still believe in the “Big Idea”. Agencies that see new media as a platform to tell the brand story rather than one to help customers tell theirs. Creative directors that get nostalgic about Tony the Tiger, The Super Bowl and “Diamonds are Forever”. Brand managers that pat themselves on the back for winning a Cannes Lions.

It’s the agencies that ingrained these icons and myths into their corporate culture that will struggle the hardest.

There will never be another “Heard it through the Grapevine” or the Beatles. Mad Men is a fictional TV show not your agency’s alter ego.

The party’s over.

People don’t wake up thinking about your brand anymore.

Get over it. Move on. Adapt.

Many won’t change. They will perish.

The printing press didn’t convince the Church of the virtues of a democratized media. The Catholic Church had a successful model built on 10 centuries of dominating the everyday narrative. Why change anything?

Rather, the printing press gave laypeople access to media, to education, to ideas. Change happened when these same people started questioning the authority of the Church and began to demand their own stories be heard. Such is the fate of those who control the media landscape.

Revolutions never happen when the younger generation convince the old guard of their ways but when the old guard die out.

Branding From Outside-In to Inside-Out

The last 50 years of storytelling was built on a model of branding from the outside in. Marketing served the organization. Today, brands need to turn this model on its head and do exactly the opposite.

After all, why don’t ad agencies advertise?

It’s here in the ashes of the industry that was once called advertising, we can find the green shoots of recovery. Brands like Lego, South West Airlines, Apple, GoPro and Monster Energy are that new generation whose ideals of building brands from the inside out, once customer at a time have turned challenger companies into billion dollar category leaders.

Customer Experience Newsletter

Get the Digital Ape Newsletter

* Digital Anthropology
* Social Technology
* CX Trends & Research

Fans don’t love brands, they love what brands do for them

What is Emotional Branding?

Apple, Red Bull, Lego, Justin Bieber… how can you create a brand that has this kind of emotional appeal?

The answer doesn’t lie in your products or your ad campaigns but in understanding how you create a social, emotional connection. You have to mean something in their lives. It’s brands that keep this understanding at the core of their daily practice that grow long term. And it’s the brands that forget, get lazy, cut corners that fail.

Enter Little Ralphie

Little Ralphie has waited all his life for this moment.

He opens the mail package containing a secret decoder and gets to work. Little Ralphie decodes each character of the code he wrote down listening to the Orphan Annie radio show. He reveals the hidden message.

It’s a scene from the movie “A Christmas Story”. It’s also one that reveals a little about how marketing has changed and a lot about how brands fail to change with the times.

Little Ralphie is a brand fan.

He’s coerced his mom into buying dozens of jars of the energy drink Ovaltine. He drank gallons of it, morning, lunch, evening. You might not know much about the milk-powdered Ovaltine today. But, back then in the 1940s and 1950s, Ovaltine was big all over America and Europe.

The Red Bull of Its Day

Think of Ovaltine as the Red Bull of its day.

Rather than sponsor Formula 1 racing or organize space jumps like Red Bull does today, Ovaltine built its own community and brand experience.

The Orphan Annie radio show debuted in 1931. It was the world’s first regular mass-media broadcast aimed at younger listeners. It was an era when children came knocking from down the street just to sit and crowd round the wireless set.

They’d listen to a 15 minute show bookended by 3 minute sales pitches about Ovaltine. The announcer pushed Ovaltine merchandise and, of course, the Radio Orphan Annie’s Secret Society. It was the golden age of radio serials and the beginning of mass marketing as we know it today.

Ovaltine saw the opportunity early. They were one of the first brand to move advertising on from simple product pitches “the feeling of Pears Soap on your skin” to community building using mass media.

Within weeks of sponsoring Little Orphan Annie, their marketing department was flooded with requests for badges, pins and decoders.

New Media Favors the Bold

At first, the mindset shift was a challenge. Old fashioned management questioned the need to pile resources into this new marketing. Why hire envelope openers responding to requests for badges, books and club song lyrics? Old fashioned management wanted to spend the money on ad copy and print. But the move paid off.

Traditional Ovaltine marketing touted the virtues of product features. It was a drink “for the sake of your health, your nerves and particularly your appearance”. With their investment in radio, Ovaltine elevated its appeal to something intangible and lasting. By creating an opportunity to belong, Ovaltine created a connection.

Great Brands Create Emotional Connection

It’s a connection that went beyond the features of the product itself to a new level of emotional benefit. Buyers turned into customers and customers into fans.

Ovaltine created excitement and anticipation. Fans sat at their school desks daydreaming of the next installment of Little Orphan Annie. Fans sat in their bedroom working on that afternoon’s secret code reveal.

Ovaltine fans like Little Ralphie tuned in every week. They talked about the brand at school. There are no official records of numbers, but experts estimate Ovaltine club membership to be in the millions. In the UK alone, there were an estimated 5 million British club members – almost 30% of the youth population at the time.

How Great Brands Fail

So what went wrong?

Today, Ovaltine is an obscure European brand (from Switzerland). If known at all, it’s for sleepy bedtimes. From curating millions of Fans, how did Ovaltine disappear into branding oblivion? How can the brand that was once the official drink of the 1948 Olympic Games and the first successful attempt on Everest in 1953 be now a brand more likely drunk by your grandma?

The story of Ovaltine is the story of almost every brand.

Imagine the emotions of Little Ralphie when he decodes the final letters of his secret message? What will it bring? A new mystery? A clue to a hidden location? The identities of the villains revealed?

Now imagine Little Ralphie’s emotions when he reads out the secret message. It doesn’t reveal any of the above but, instead, a reminder to “Be Sure to Drink Your Ovaltine.”

When Brands Cut Corners

Ovaltine got greedy.

Marketing execs felt the pinch of next quarter’s sales figures. “Maybe we can use this month’s secret message to sell just a little more. It won’t hurt. We have millions of fans.”

But it does hurt.

Brands forget about why their fans love them in the first place. Fans don’t love brands, they love what brands do for them. Easy to forget when you’re riding high.

If a brand can create an emotion, a feeling of belonging or importance, fans feel all kinds of emotions. Fans experience loyalty and anticipation. But if brands forget, cut corners, become short-term focused, they stand to lose everything.

In 2 generations, a brand can fall from grace. From the highest peaks of Everest to the sleepiest avenues of surburbia.

Victims of Their Own Success

Most brands fail because they are victims of their own success. Brands discover a formula that works. They grow, hiring new staff along the way. But, more often than not, the new staff aren’t able to connect with that original formula. They don’t understand why the brand is growing, they see only numbers. They don’t need to know, the brand has the midas touch. With millions of fans, employees feel they have a license to do cut corners and get lazy.

In time, employees forget that formula. Brands love what brands do for them.

Brands lose their way. In a desperate bid to stay on top they throw money at outsourced creative and design agencies with their fantastic pitches. They forget what they once did for their fans. Within a generation they disappear.

Is Brand Failure Inevitable?

I write almost every brand because failure is not an inevitable part of every brand’s lifecycle.

Ovaltine failed because it behaved like most brands. But you don’t have to.

You can stay relevant by staying close to your fans and that starts by creating a culture that puts fans, not short term sales, first.

Apple, Lego, South West Airline and Monster Energy drinks are all category leaders. They all lead their categories in customer loyalty and employee happiness.

They all invest in their resources in the long term. They favor customer experience over advertising. They all faced stiff competition from well entrenched incumbents but won their market one customer at a time.

They all work with their fans at the frontline. They all remember the formula that made them successful.

Great Brands Start Inside the Business

Doing common things uncommonly well means remembering Little Ralphie as a fan with his own story, and that starts inside the business.

Inside, because the DNA of any great brand is “what brands do for them”. Great brands work hard to make that promise core to everything they do – from hiring people who “get it”, to creating a culture that encourages people to get out there and connect with fans.

Outside – creative agencies, campaigns and celebrities.

Inside – the culture you create, the people you hire and the metrics you use.

You see, great marketing is not the result of great strategy but of great people. Get the people right and your brand, marketing and experience will fall into place.

Customer Experience Newsletter

Get the Digital Ape Newsletter

* Digital Anthropology
* Social Technology
* CX Trends & Research

5 ideas you should steal from Lego’s marketing


By: Konnor

You can also download a shareable PDF version CLICK HERE

Lego has is a classic brand turnaround case study.

From once being a misguided and out of date European brand, Lego is now the world’s biggest toy manufacturer.

Look around and you’ll see signs of success: tapping into fan bases with the Lego Harry Potter, a multi-million grossing Lego Movie and long tail variants like Lego Minecraft.

The Lego Movie Trailer

24 million views and counting

So what makes Lego so successful?


Here are 5 ideas Lego exploits from their own playbook:


It’s just a plastic brick.

It’s easily imitatable.

But then it’s not just a plastic brick is it?

Your Grandparents don’t buy the cheaper Chinese knock offs because they trust the Lego brand.

People don’t buy stuff, they buy what stuff does for them.

Look on social media from Youtube to Instagram and you’ll find countless homages to Lego builds.

One of the many Lego unofficial movies created on Youtube

This is the world of the Fan and the “what stuff does for them” is the social packaging of that plastic brick. The social packaging is the stories we tell, the memories we make with those pieces of plastic.

Lego understands the power of Context – what stuff does for them. The Content – the plastic brick – is meaningless. Soda brands have known this for generations. The Content is just fizzy water and sugar, all the same.

But the difference between Pepsi and Coke, between Red Bull and all those knock-offs is the emotion.

In the modern attention economy, the fine line between marketing success and failure is the difference between being liked and being loved. If customers “like” your product, you might as well be invisible.

Don’t fall in love with your product, fall in love with what your product does for them.


Lego CEO Jorgen Vig embraces Fans.

Lego doesn’t see Fans as those clicks on the Facebook page but as core to their marketing and innovation strategy.

Unlike many brands today, the buy-in for Fans (and social media) starts at the top. Lego has a clear business case for why Fans count.

The data stands up. When it comes to word of mouth and persuading peers to buy, fans aren’t 2 or 3 times more influential than your average customer. Fans are up to 100 x more influential.

When the buy-in for Fans starts at the top, social media doesn’t become an adjunct to marketing strategy but a cornerstone of their whole business. Social media is a promise, and delivering on that promise requires a business-wide effort.

Social media is a key driver in marketing and innovation.

Lego Ideas is a key platform for sourcing the next line of products. Rather than turn to an outsourced design agency, Lego lets its Fans steer the direction of innovation. As Vig said himself, they may have only 120 designers in-house, but they can leverage 120,000 designers out-house.

ReBrick helps connect Fans with each other. By allowing Lego Fans to share ideas and builds, the Lego community and all that Earned Media it generates, grows.

Lego understands that in cultivating its innovative and influential Fan base, it needs to go deeper not wider. When you have a business obsessed by awareness and market share and new customers, resources are stretched. There is never enough time to build relationships.

Where most brands today still aim to be everything to everybody Lego understands a change in customer appetite. Brands need to be something to somebody. Brands need to take risk, alienate a few people but delight many more.

Reversing the trend at Lego requires leadership.

By focusing on going deeper, Lego can identify powerful, influential Fan beachheads. Each beachhead provides a base of ideas and influence from which to grow. Lego’s tie-up with Minecraft is a good example of this idea loyalty transfer. Lego will gain new Fans and new ideas from tapping related passions.

If you don’t know who your Fans are, you have only customers.


By: Bill Ward

CEO Vig talks about “managing at eye-level” and how this strategy underpins Lego’s success.

Brands always struggle with remaining relevant, especially as they grow. The more successful brands become, the bigger the bureaucracy, the less contact they have with customers.

When was the last time the marketing team spoke to a customer?

It’s a question that reveals some uncomfortable truths about marketing today.

Successful brands like Lego maintain a close contact with customers. I’m not talking about focus groups and online market research but maintaining a Frontline.

Apple’s Store is a Frontline.
Red Bull’s events are Frontlines.
Monster Energy’s Army is a Frontline.

And Fan conventions like BrickCon are Frontlines.

Lego BrickCon: Connecting Lego Fans with Lego Fans

Managing at Eye Level means getting out to where the conversations take place. Sure, there are conversations on social media but that’s the easy answer. To understand what these conversations mean you have to be out there interacting with customers.

Managers need to go to the shop floor. Not as easy as it sounds. Too many “I didn’t take an MBA to do customer service” attitudes in the business today. Overcoming corporate ego starts at the top through the CEO setting an example.

Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, mans the call center phones when he’s at HQ. And Jorgen Vig can be seen chatting to Fans at Lego conventions.

Great brands are built in the field, at the Frontline. Relevance isn’t a function of your marketing or innovation team’s genius, but of the distance between you and the customer.

Toyota brought the term “Genchi Genbutsu” to the public philosophy. Outside of Japan, the term is sometimes called “Get your boots on”. Genba means to “go and see”. Go and see how people drive their cars. Go and see how the shop floor builds on a daily basis. Go and see how the machines work.

Only through getting out there can we build empathy with Fans and gain real insight into the Context of our Content.

Get your boots on.


Old School Brand Management has a lot to answer for. We live in an era where brand managers want “conversations” and “buzz” but they still operate from brand templates. The two are mutually exclusive.

You cannot take a brand like Lego and expect to impose a singular brand narrative across all the Fans. You have Harry Potter fans, technical builders, young explorers, Minecraft Crafties and so on. There are a million conversations, each retelling their own stories using Lego.

In the era of Brand Democracy, the monolithic brand narrative no longer applies.

The modern marketing landscape is one of many narratives. Brands are defined in the everyday conversations between Fans, less so in the advertising messages seen in the media.

Brand happens.

There is a well worn military adage that says “no plan survives the enemy”

The same can be said of brands and customers.

When the bullets fly, when customers talk, old school templating falls apart.

And Lego accepts this.

Lego accepts its role as a custodian of the brand. Lego curates rather than controls their conversations. ReBrick aims to connect Fans to share ideas and builds. Lego doesn’t impress or force conversation topics or ideas on these Fans. Just like your mobile phone company.

Lego Rebrick: showcasing Fan builds

Curating not Controling the conversation. Nobody picks the phone up and listens to the mobile phone company talk do they? In the same way, Lego accepts that Fans don’t talk about Lego, they talk about themselves. Lego doesn’t employ celebrities to broadcast the Lego story, they help Fans tell their own. And in the era of Curation, this is how it needs to be.

Every Fan looks at your marketing and asks “where am I in this story?”

It’s not who’s telling your story, but whose story you’re telling that counts.


It’s not just a plastic brick, it’s a tool for play and cognitive development.

Lego is a tool to help father and daughter spend time together, a tool for a teenager to explore his passions for science, a tool for adults to create and even a tool for scientists.

In a world where we are losing public space and the ability to engage in unstructured play, Lego helps redress the balance. Such is the anomaly of this plastic brick that it’s the most popular toy in the world; a world of iPads, Playstations and mobile phones.

Lego’s Higher Purpose is one of storytelling.

That humble plastic brick is a blank slate to tell a story.

It’s easy to forget your Higher Purpose.

Lego helps Fans connect. Only getting out there into the market do Lego managers understand and empathize with the needs of Fans and how to best connect them. By spending time at the Frontline, Lego can better understand its Higher Purpose.

Lego KidsFest 2014 Calgary

Kodak used to be about Sharing Moments. But by failing to spend time at the Frontline, Kodak lost contact with Fans. Kodak failed to empathize. Kodak began focusing on Content not Context. Why would Kodak be developing film in an era when Fans were turning to Instagram and iPhone. If Kodak followed Lego’s playbook, Kodak could be in the mobile business now.

Customer Experience Newsletter

Get the Digital Ape Newsletter

* Digital Anthropology
* Social Technology
* CX Trends & Research

Telephones vs Loudspeakers: How to make the right choices in marketing strategy


When faced with change we make choices.

The choices we make shape our future.

Think back to when you were asked that question “what do you want to be when you leave college?”

You said “business woman / nurse / artist / designer / vet” and so on.

You may not have become that choice, but the choice changed the direction of your future.
Businesses make choices too.

In the Social Era, we are faced with a choice of similar significance.

Do we become a Loudspeaker or a Telephone?

It’s a choice that will radically alter the results of our marketing and innovation. Every business strategy that follows will be a ripple of this original choice.


When the Bolsheviks seized power by ousting the Tsar in November 1917, they were faced with the challenge of building their vision of Russia.

Now, at the time, even though Russia had been under the thumb of a rather brutal regime, it wasn’t a technological backwater.

Russia had electricity, telegraph and heavy industry.

But, unlike the United States which was emerging as a world superpower, Russia clearly lacked vision.

On the one hand, Russia had access to the telephone.

While Russia lagged behind the telephone rollouts of its more advanced European and American peers (there was an estimated 1 telephone for every 200 inhabitants on the eve of the Bolshevik revolution in 1917 (compared to one in 50 in the UK) , Russia could have easily and relatively cheaply created a telephone network that brought even its most remote outposts online. A.G.Bell had already made the first coast-to-coast long distance call in the US 2 years earlier and work was already underway to activate the then meaning Russia could not only be connected with itself but also the US and Europe within a decade.


Behind America’s revolution was the telephone.

Here was a technology that was bring the vast continent together, connecting East and West Coast while filling in the blanks in the middle. The Telephone enabled communication between business, gave train operators the information they needed to address network issues and empowered a burgeoning financial sector to stay informed.

The telephone was a simple democratized solution: everyday people could speak to each other about everyday things and it required only the smallest amount of knowledge to make it happen. The US Glen Telephone company in 1917 demonstrated how convenient the technology could be for the untrained user – its operational guidelines supplied with each new lines were, simply put, “Speak directly into the mouthpiece with your lips close to it. Speak distinctly and deliberately.”

The telephone networks didn’t need to train or educate users.

Despite the size of the market, the telephone network grew rapidly. Rapid developments in technology and the railroad meant that within years, centralized operators and exchanges could be dropped allowing true peer-to-peer technology freed of the overhead of top down installation. Telephone exchanges were built out locally, new areas could be added by simply adding a node to the network.

2 years earlier, the US had begun work on activated its then “wireless” networks to bridge the gap between the US and mainland Europe, connecting two of the world’s largest markets.

The telephone could have been an ideal solution for Russia too.

The ruling party wouldn’t have the cost of creating content in multiple languages and time zones. People would create their own conversations and communicate freely with each other allowing the government to get on with the business of rebuilding the country.
But despite the overwhelming technological advantages of the telephone, ideological impasses made Lenin look elsewhere for his vision.

Lenin was looking for a technology that fit his ideological view of how Russia should be communicating. Lenin’s dream of highest political awareness visualized a world where the worker would divide his day into 3 equal parts – 8 hours sleeping, 8 hours working and 8 hours studying. The audacious 8/8/8 philosophy meant the only connections you could maintain were between the Party and yourself. Our fundamental societal structure would be reorganized to make the center of every interaction, every socialization and every connection the Party.

The word “Bolshevik” in Russian means “big” or “majority” and big was good. The Big Party, the Big Idea and the Big solution.

“Every government office, as well as every club in our factories should be aware that at a certain hour they will hear political news and major events for the day. This way our country will lead a life of highest political awareness, constantly knowing actions of the government and views of the people”, wrote Lenin in his post-War address of 1918.

Lenin’s vision was not the Telephone but the Loudspeaker.

The rest…as they say… is history.


When a brand takes to social media, the effectiveness of its strategies are little to do with the choice of media or the nature of the content and everything to do with that choice made further upstream.

Media, content, conversions – these are all ripples created by a conscious choice about what role the brand plays.

Is the brand a Telephone or a Loudspeaker?


* Help people have a conversation with each other (who wants to “have a conversation” with the phone company?)
* Promote conversations no matter how mundane or trivial (e.g. SMS texting, gossip, chat)
* Focus on connecting not the content (nobody’s interested in what the phone company has to say)
* Empower localized connections not a singular, monolithic narrative


* Set up in every town square or work place
* Promote the award-winning, infallible “Big Idea”
* Broadcast constantly, everywhere
* Control the content, dominate the conversation, crush parallel narratives


We all make choices.

When you sit in a marketing meeting, you have a choice to say something or not when the Director says “we’re going to talk about our latest handset on Facebook”

You have a choice to say something when the Creative Director says, “here’s the Big Idea”
We can make choices about who we believe we are and what role we play in the lives of our customers.

Simple choices can shape our future.

Customer Experience Newsletter

Get the Digital Ape Newsletter

* Digital Anthropology
* Social Technology
* CX Trends & Research

Social Media is a Promise


A promise you will let the customer’s story be heard.

When you fail to deliver on that promise, you anger customers.

Delivering on the promise isn’t a tactic but a mindset: Set Up, Step Back and Shut Up.

We’ve seen how this mindset works well for Lego. So, why isn’t everyone doing it?


For traditional Top-Down brands, the problem lies in letting go.

…and you won’t get fired for hiring Lady Gaga.

We’re so used to managing brands, controlling conversations and templating everything that customers just seem to be a fly in the ointment.

The reality is, unfortunately, that people don’t want to “answer Tea or Coffee?” on your Facebook page, they want a platform to connect with each other and have meaningful conversations.

Rather than Set Up, Step Back and Shut Up, traditional Top-Down marketing does the opposite:

Set Up: Instead of instilling a culture of fan appreciation at the very top of the organization, they see social media as a channel strategy, an adjunct to the marketing. Top-down marketing outsource to social media agencies who have to do their best to deal with what is left of the marketing.

Step Back: Top-Down brands have almost no contact with the customers they wanted to engage. Marketing managers wouldn’t know a customer if she walked into the office with a $10 note taped to her head. When you are this removed you have no empathy, no understanding of the challenges, no appreciation of the types of emotions involved.

Shut Up: Brands just want to talk about themselves, and they’ll Lady Gaga to do it. New media becomes a platform to broadcast their monolithic narrative just like TV, radio and print had served them for the last 50 years.


The radical Bottom-Up approach to social media marketing adopted by Lego has transformed the brand into the world’s most successful toy brand today. Sure, they have great products, but products without a promise are just plastic bricks.

What we must commend Bottom-Up brands like Lego in achieving is demonstration that success isn’t about deflecting the bullets and editing your message so not to offend anyone but delivering on that promise, whether you like it or not.

Change means you can fail.

But unless you are prepared to fail, you are not prepared to change.

And this puts many people off because they’re focused on what could go wrong rather than what could go right.


In the modern era, where the average American sees 170,000 marketing messages by aged 17 our biggest challenge is attention.

In marketing today, attention is your biggest cost.

If people “like” you, you might as well be invisible.

Sure, you can get noticed by hiring Lady Gaga, an award-winning campaign or a clever social media viral stunt.

But, remember this, unless you’re delivering on that promise, all that goodwill is soon lost. We easily forget that bacteria and viral outbreaks soon die out.

Creating sustainable engagement means giving customers a platform to tell their own stories.

* Lego Fans connect with senior management to share their ideas.
* Lego Fans connect with each other.
* Lego Fans tell their own stories by building homages to their passions – from Harry Potter to Star Wars to Minecraft.
* Lego Fans recreate stories of their youth by building together with their own children

The only way to make it work is to realize that indifference, not vitriol, is your biggest enemy.

What social media storytelling is about is something far more emotional, it’s about connecting with what they love.

And to do this we have to put customers, not ad agencies and celebrities, in control of their own storytelling. Because in the Social Era, you can’t buy their trust and attention anymore, you have to earn it.

It’s not who’s telling your story that counts, it’s whose story you’re telling.

Customer Experience Newsletter

Get the Digital Ape Newsletter

* Digital Anthropology
* Social Technology
* CX Trends & Research

My Free Downloads for July

Customer Experience Newsletter

Get the Digital Ape Newsletter

* Digital Anthropology
* Social Technology
* CX Trends & Research

Teen Falls into Manhole (is the Mobile Generation a lost cause?)


Teen Falls into Manhole (is the Mobile Generation a lost cause?)

Alexa Longueira, 15, from Staten Island New York fell into an open manhole cover on Victory Boulevard while casually walking and reading a text on her friend’s cell phone. She plunged 6 feet into four inches of raw sewage.

“From your sink to your toilet, it’s down there,” Longueira’s mother told the television station. “She was smelly… it was putrid. One of her sneakers is still down there.”

The Susan E. Wagner High School sophomore was lucky, coming out with only cuts across her arms and down her back.

“It was four or five feet, it was very painful. I kind of crawled out and the DEP guys came running and helped me. … They were just, like, ‘I’m sorry! I’m sorry!’”

She said the manhole she fell in to was left open and unattended with no warning signs or orange cones. She said two workers with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection failed to secure the area as they prepared to flush the sewer.

The girl’s mother said Alexa will see more doctors next week to get an MRI and check for damage to her spine.


In the 13 years I’ve been writing about the Mobile Generation, I’ve seen all kinds of stories like this:

  • teens falling into manholes while on the phone
  • teens falling off the end of piers while reading their mail
  • teens selling their virginity for an iPhone
  • teens selling their kidneys for an iPad2

The list goes on…

We’ve all seen the scenes from dinner tables around the world. Teenage kids playing with their phones while parents look on confused. Students sitting together in a cafe while messaging their friends who could be miles away. Messaging secretly under the desk, checking Facebook in bed and even messaging in the bathroom.

20 years ago, these sights would have been strange, if not shocking for the casual observer. What has happened so quickly and with such acceptance that the mobile phone has co-opted the attention of the younger generation?

I’ve been studying this question for the best part of 20 years, ever since I arrived in Tokyo as a cultural observer at the start of the mobile phone boom.

And what I found is that the answer to WHY? is nothing to do with addiction, the seductive nature of technology or the social ineptness of this generation.

Instead, it has everything to do with their social reality.

You see, teens aren’t addicted to mobile, they are addicted to what mobile does for them.


“Yeah, but… I didn’t have a mobile when I was a kid… and I turned out okay!”

Let me guess.

You grew up in an era when:

  • You talked to strangers at the bus stop
  • You ate peanut butter sandwiches at school
  • You went to school even when there was snow and ice on the path
  • You could hang out somewhere without having to spend money or get arrested by the cops
  • You sat in the pilot’s cockpit because it was your birthday
  • You knew who the kids were next door
  • You took archery lessons at school (yes, crazy as it seems, this actually happened back then!!!)
  • You were treated as “different”, “creative” or “boisterous” rather than having a syndrome and needing medication
  • You didn’t get threatened with arrest or exclusion just because you kissed a girl/boy at school
  • You didn’t even know what a “terrorist” was
  • You played out until dark
  • You could play with friends without your parents organizing a “play date”

Yeah… apart from mobiles, things were the same right?

The average American today has 1 close friend according to experts, down from 3 in the 1980s.

Times are changing and it’s this gradual degradation of our offline social connectivity that forces us to mobile technology.

We are all addicted to this social connectivity and have been since we first lived in rudimentary Stone Age societies.

So, before we jump on the bandwagon about this lost Mobile Generation, let’s take a few minutes to remember how lucky we were “when we didn’t have mobile phones”.

Customer Experience Newsletter

Get the Digital Ape Newsletter

* Digital Anthropology
* Social Technology
* CX Trends & Research

Set Up, Step Back, Shut Up: The Secrets Behind Lego’s Social Media Success


Brands spend millions securing a few words of seconds from celebrities like David Beckham to endorse their projects.

Perfumes, clothing, sunglasses, mobile phones – the list goes on.

Yet, Lego gets it for free.

“The last big thing I made,” said Beckham in a media interview,” was Tower Bridge… It had about 1,000 pieces. I think Lego sometimes helps to calm me down.”

From David Beckham to everyone’s Grandchildren, Lego’s appeal crosses all divides and appears universal.


Lego is the world’s second largest toymaker, behind Mattel, and despite being an anomaly in an era of digital games and the iPad, its sales continue to grow. 10% growth in 2013 took global sales to $4.6 billion and there’s more to come, especially with its eye on emerging markets.

It’s just a plastic brick, so easily imitated.

What gives?


Lego wasn’t always the runaway success it now is.

Back in the 90s, the Danish toymaker was struggling.

Lego retired a large number of designers who had created sets through the 70s and 80s, replacing them with 30 innovators recruited from the top design schools around Europe. Unfortunately, these new designers knew little about the Lego culture and the logistical nightmares of the brand grew: the number of parts increased from 6,000 to 12,000 meaning storage and production costs doubled. Products like Znap, Primo, Scala and Galidor – products which now fade into history – all emerged from this dark period in Lego’s history.

Due to high production and distribution costs, many sets were making a loss even before they hit the shelves. Many more were seen as either too out of touch or too expensive for their market. By focusing their energies on an internal story of design, Lego lost touch with its fans and was facing an irrevocable slide into irrelevance.

Jorgen Vig, the current CEO, identified these problems immediately on his appointment in 2004.


By: Brickset

His first task was identify the biggest asset and build on it. It would be this asset that the company had ignored, and one which used properly would restore it to its decade long growth story.

Lego’s strength was its fans – customers who loved that simple plastic brick.

“When the company started involving a couple of enthusiastic fans in product development I started systematically meeting with the adult fans of Lego,” said Vig in a media interview, “…I realized the power of customer contributions.”

Lego’s problem was that it had spread its energies to thinly over a wide range of products to manage these contributions. By refocusing its resources on those the fans loved, it could help win back some of that support. Vig slashed the number of parts down to 6,000 and began the reorganization of the company. The unprofitable Lego computer games business was shut down. Interestingly, the programmers left and started their own business (Traveller’s Tales) which now licenses the Lego brand today, profitably.

“We’ve actively encouraged our fans to interact with us,” says Vig, “and suggest product ideas. An amazing number of grown-ups like to play with Legos. While we have 120 staff designers, we potentially have 120,000 volunteer designers we can access outside the comapny to help us invent.”

Rather that recruit from the best designers in the world, Lego’s creative minds would come from the fans themselves. Designers were people who grew up playing with Lego, ones with ideas, ones who were passionate about the kits.


Vig’s core push was to promote a culture of “managing at eye level” which encouraged all managers to hit the shopfloor, talk to factory workers, engineers, marketers and, importantly, the fans.

Perhaps what differentiates Lego from many companies is this institutionalize endorsement of their grassroots.

Social media would no longer be “what the social media marketing agency does” but a core strategy that helps keep the company focused, helps keeps product development real.

It’s this groundswell of support that Vig calls, “the avenue to truth.”

Peter Espersen, Head of Lego Online Communities, says of this approach that “Our main goal is to work with fans in creative ways as opposed to simply managing a Facebook page or our Twitter feed.”


(Lego ReBrick Video)

Seeing a senior LEGO leader interact with fans at a live event isn’t uncommon. Espersen points out that senior managers meet with fans numerous times a year and have conversations with them, conversations that spill out onto social media, attract others along the way and eventually become their own movements in the Lego community.

At Lego, social media is an integral part of the whole development process, not one of the possible end-channels to retail, sell or market the products.

Supporting their fans isn’t a way of improving the impact of their ATL advertising ROI, it is their whole marketing strategy. Lego Ideas is a popular platform for fans to submit their ideas for new product lines. Typical entries focus on existing franchise such as Batman with the Lego Dark Knight series and most have bubbled under with several hundred or, if lucky, 1000 votes of approval from the community. But when the idea floated that Lego should make Minecraft sets, the submission received over 10,000 votes in 48 hours.

Lego Rebrick connects fans with each other by sharing designs and ideas. The Lego Movie premiered to applause making $69m in its opening weekend, not bad for an hour long “commercial” for Lego products.

Lego understands that people aren’t buying plastic bricks, they’re buying what those bricks can do for them. Take a look at that lego box and you’ll understand the appeal. Inside a rather disappointing plastic bag of bricks that occupies a fraction of the padded box. On the outside, however, the story. To this day, in my adult years, I feel a sense of anticipation when I see the bright colors of the Firetruck and the lego figure scaling the ladder to the rescue. The “what those bricks can do” for the child is a promise of play, discovery, exploration, creation and telling a story with friends, with siblings, with parents or alone in the bath.


Lego is a tool to help tell stories.

Take away the stories and it’s just a plastic brick, something easily copied by Chinese imitators.

But then that’s what people pay for – not the plastic brick but the platform Lego gives them to tell their own stories.

It’s the story of father and son spending a weekend building the Millennium Falcon together.

It’s the story of the daughter building a firetruck all on her own without help from her parents.

It’s the story of enthusiasts whose passion for Lego helped her connect with similar minded people all over the world.

Lego’s social media success isn’t the result of a clever social media strategy, it’s the result of recognizing what Lego stands for and creating a platform for the truth, the authentic stories of the fans to take over.

Letting go requires a lot of courage but in time it’s going to be the only way to go.

Customer Experience Newsletter

Get the Digital Ape Newsletter

* Digital Anthropology
* Social Technology
* CX Trends & Research

Brand Democracy in Times Square


By: davejdoe

In Times Square, Brand Democracy springs to life, albeit it with baby steps.

There it was standing there – a 5 foot/1.5m tall wooden lectern with a megaphone holster attached with a sign reading “Say Something Nice”.

There was nobody around, no obvious cameras, no politician on the soapbox and no celebrity with a book to launch. Just a wooden lectern on its own in the middle of Times Square New York.

A passer-by scowls at the object.

Why is it here?

Who left it here?

Is it a terrorist bomb?

Where is the rally?

He scoots by.

A few minutes later a group of students stop by the wooden plinth. “I love you” one giggles through the amplifier as they quickly disperse into the crowd. As more curious shoppers and tourists stop by the lectern, the conversations become braver, more vocal. A solo joker simply says “something nice” through the speaker.

Was he expecting a prize?

A group of children too small to reach the lectern try desperately to pull themselves up near enough so their voice is heard as their bemused mother watches arms folded from a safe distance.

Two twenty something guys take the opportunity to discuss domestic affairs over the speaker. The more vocal member of the pair publicly castigates his embarrassed partner for backing out of his move into a downtown apartment.

A lady promotes an event she was working on. Another, predictably, takes the opportunity to engage no-one but himself in a lengthy monologue about the return of the Messiah and the need for Christianity in our lives. Nobody is listening.


I recently watched a nature documentary about dolphins and how they reacted to a strange bubble blowing object placed in their home waters.

At first they were suspicious but it took the bravery of a few early explorers to test the object. Within time, they began developing their own games out of the object and the whole school had joined in.

In time, too, the lectern changed from an object of suspicion to a valid Social Tool; two students serenading potential mates across the microphone – one with acoustic guitar, the other just his voice. Then there was the makeshift gospel choir of women who needed little prompting to break into full song while passers-by stopped to momentarily let them into their lives.


This is how we as customers take to Brand Democracy.

The lectern project by New York artists Improv Everywhere is revealing.

As they themselves write on their website

“It was exciting to stage a mission that we had so little control over. Unlike our more performance-based projects, the results of this one were entirely in the hands of random people who happened upon the lectern… Mission Accomplished”


If you’re a brand, consider Times Square your social media platform.

What do you do?

Do you dominate the megaphone and talk about your brand all day or do you free it up to let people talk about themselves?

You can see why brands struggle with the latter.

Not only is there the issue of ceding control but you need patience.

We’re so not used to media, brands or institutions giving us a voice that when it comes our way, we treat it with suspicion, we don’t know what to do, we look to other people for guidance and direction.

It’s at this point brands throw in the towel.

“We tried the Brand Democracy thing and it didn’t work, so we’re going back to Brand Management”

Impatient brands parachute in a celebrity who’ll show these “ordinary” people how to do it by example.

Impatient brands scrap the project and go back to the Big Idea.

Patient brands, however, let things happen naturally because they know, in time, people will work things out.

In time, they won’t be able to get enough of these tools.

In time, they’ll become reliant on these tools and your brand.

In the era of Brand Democracy, you’ll gain more attention and importance than you ever did by just stepping back and shutting up.

Customer Experience Newsletter

Get the Digital Ape Newsletter

* Digital Anthropology
* Social Technology
* CX Trends & Research