Friday, February 01, 2008

Influentials are they the new black ?

So there is a lot of chatter around the blogosphere about influentials. This was 'sparked' through the article in fast company about the 'The Tipping Point being Toast' which discusses how Duncan Watts believes that the way in which we have always targeted influentials in marketing and other communications industries is in fact wrong. Noah has also done a great post on it here, which as per usual has helped to clarify my thinking.

Although reading what I have.... I dont think what Watts is saying it is altogether wrong. I believe it is just another way of looking at it and if your objective is mass audience involvement, then only targeting influentials wont altogether work. So I have tried to simplify it all for my tiny brain to understand better.

I think driving the flow of a message through people (be it digital or one to one) comes down to four key things:

1. The time is right
Watts brings this up in his article. I am currently reading Jon Steel's the Perfect Pitch where Jon pulls apart the OJ Simpson trial in the US. There is a great comparison about how the prosecutor didnt understand the broader context of that time in the US. She thought about her own personal strengths with engaging with African American women and not about the negativity that African Amercians in general had towards what was seen as a very white driven American system. (I am not starting a racist or political drive here or questioning the case. I just thought its an interesting example of not understanding the broader context and the time frame.)
Therefore you need to think about is the time and context right to drive your message through to your audience. Watts uses the analogy of a bush fire (you can tell he is an aussie) and he is how Clive Thomson put it in his article in fast company.

'there are thousands a year, but only a few become roaring monsters. That's because in those rare situations, the landscape was ripe: sparse rain, dry woods, badly equipped fire departments. If these conditions exist, any old match will do.

2. Relevance for me
This sits in two strands

I often bring this one up a lot with clients. So we work with a number of old brands. But what you find is that the brands awareness scores are great but relevance drops as there isnt the right product for them. In comes an NPD which should be seen not only as new news. But as driving more relevance for the overall brand. Baked Beans are huge in the UK and I believe that the UK has 57 different varities. Why..... to bring the brand more relevance to smaller groups. Im not a big baked beans fan..... but baked beans with cheese and onion is OK. So now the brand is a bit more relevant to me when I tick the boxes in the research questionaire. This is the same with the new Fiat 500 which can be customised in 500,000 different ways. Which is great. But also it makes the car and in turn the brand more relevant for me. I agree with Noahs comments on sending out a huge array of messages to gain a spark. As each one will hit a different nerve for a different person and drive brand relevance for each one.

But lets talk about the relevance of the environment. I am going to start with the original article from Watts. I attempted to read this and got lost. Then I read the article in fast company which was more my style. But as Noah highlights Clive Thomson is a journalist and although I love FT and his writing, the environment or distributor could still be more relevant. Enter Noah and a bunch of other people from the blogosphere that I believe are more relevant to me . Why...... although I have never met them... reading and discussing how they think has built their credibility and relevance to me. In some ways I see them as likeminded to my own thoughts, loves, hates etc which technology has enabled. Therefore their word is more powerful than the FT.

3. Influentials influencing the Influentials
We have a bit of a joke in the UK that advertising people make ads for themselves and their creative friends. I commented about it on my previous post here... we call it the 'Hoxton Virus'. I believe in what Watts says in that if you want mass coverage. These guys arent often the best bet. Because they are more often likely to spread their message to the same type of people. Which is fine and I think important. But if you want to make something bigger. breaking through this group into a broader group is really important to reach the masses.

4. Breaking away from the cool group
This is where I agree with Watts in terms of truly making information flow through a broader set of people you need people who might not be seen as influential. If you truly want to make it work on a broader scale. Then you need to target a broader audience.

So as an example of everything I have said. I am going to look at the video gaming market.

The time is right

The time was right for nintendo to bring out the DS and the Wii. Sony Playstation and Xbox had been fighting for the same old audience for years with the same tactics. But a wider audience's techno ability had grown. There were things like suduko and brain games that were a huge trend that could be linked to gaming. It was time to broaden the appeal.

Wii and DS change the style to games to truely be relevant for women specifically. See the video here of the engineer who created the game talking about his 'wife o meter'. (this story is brillant) Then they seeded it to mothers and showed demonstrated how it was relevant for them. I am unsure how this worked across the flow of information. But as you can see the DS and Wii are doing extremely well.

Breaking away from the cool group
In gaming they often see the influentials of this market as hard core gamers. The guys who are looking out for the next big bit of kit or high graphics etc. But after all these years they are still talking to the same people in the games market. Then comes along Wii who decides to break away and speak to a broader audience that the others have been trying for years. They seed the game with mums. In the gaming market you wouldnt see a mum as an influential would you ? You would see that 25 year old IT guy that has all the latest kit and a blog about the latest games as being an influencer.

This was a bit of a lame attempt. My brain hurts. Feel free to rip it apart if you like. Any comments would be great

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