Combining the power of short and long-term effects to improve brand performance
attributing, evidencing, learning, marketing, planning, researching

Getting your hands dirty; mediating the messy reality of combining the long and the short of marketing approaches

There should probably be statues somewhere of Les Binet and Peter Field. Their comprehensive, considered and rigorous work into the effectiveness of marketing has hugely influenced the industry – to the point where its essentially unofficial agency law to reference their findings in your thinking.

I’ve always however found their short vs long-term marketing step chart a little overly-theoretical. The logic is clearly sound and the general findings of course backed-up, but the danger is that its (over?) simplicity misses the messier reality of the real world.

Les Binet and Peter Field’s illustration of the impact – in general terms – of brand-building vs sales activation marketing activities, via Gracious Economics

Happy days then, as Dr Grace Kite from Gracious Economics has recently shared a trove of real-world examples and findings based on twenty years’ worth of economics projects.

The data proves out Binet and Field’s work, with evidence that many real-world brands drive growth via incremental sales when both sales-activation and brand-based activities are deployed.

“This advertiser’s email activity worked well to drive sales in the week it mailed and the week after. But, just as Les and Peter’s analysis predicts, the business didn’t begin to see growth until they increased their investment into longer-lived brand-building activity on TV.” Source

Beyond the general model holding up to real-world analysis, some addition messier and interesting examples were also identified – not all with positive growth stories. For example there were cases where the addition of more brand-based activities were unsuccessful, and unfortunately abandoned in favour of the more immediate wins.

“Four brand campaigns on TV were tried and found to have neither long-lived effects nor a positive return on investment. After evaluation, the advertiser understandably gave up and reallocated budget away from brand and into short-term sales activation online.” Source

There also a lovely example of a case where initial use of social and TV didn’t product long-term effects. When an alternative TV creative was paired with radio however, the advertiser saw incremental sales growth. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again (tho obviously with a considered test and learn agenda and performance benchmarks to ascertain success metrics).

“Initial experiments with social only had a short-lived effect and TV creative X was not strong enough to produce a long-lasting effect. It was only when they switched to creative Y on TV and radio that advertising was able to deliver growth.” Source

Working with Tom Roach (who, as an aside, wrote a great piece on the current state of brand purpose-based marketing worth reading if you haven’t already), they have developed an adapted view of the Binet and Field model – which combines both short-and long term effects as force-multipliers, as opposed to a long and short of it trade-off.

Having real-world examples – with all their sometimes messy and not always first-time successful outcomes – makes for a valuable addition to the general evidence available to support the case for investment in both short-term sales activation and longer-term brand building marketing activties.

And it is both.

As Tom notes on his blog post to accompany the research, “whilst the theory says we should all try to achieve a balanced approach in order to maximise both saleability and sales simultaneously, there’s a massive gulf between the theory and the actual practice, which is increasingly divided between practitioners of ‘brand’ and ‘performance’ marketing.”

Its unfortunately true that the two effects are too often seen as a trade-off. Of course they work hand in hand. If that’s a lesson for the best of times, its an even more important reminder whilst navigating our current moment. Both are needed, and you won’t always get the combination it right first time.

Its also true that all too often the focus is purely on return on investment, rather than growth – an analysis in which its easier for pure short-termist approaches to win out. Ensuring that we optimise to effectiveness goals, rather than to efficiency-based outcomes, is crucial if we are to ensure that we maximise growth opportunities.

Efficiency (including ROI analysis) is a means to an effectiveness end.

My very awesome colleague Malcolm Devoy discussed this, and the broader challenges and opportunities for brands navigating this Covid moment in the first of eatbigfish and PHD’s Challenger Strategies podcast.

Adam Morgan, founder of eatbigfish, and Malcolm Devoy, Chief Strategy Officer at PHD EMEA, discuss how the media landscape has changed for brands and the opportunities to build brand value through creativity and challenger thinking.

Dr Kite’s generous sharing of her work is a reminder – as if we needed it – of the need to mediate the long vs short absolutist elements of media planning and practice; but also a timely reminder that there are very few silver bullets. The combination of media and marketing efforts that unlock growth won’t always be found first time, and never in power-pointed theoreticals.

To navigate, and win, in a messy world – you have to get your hands dirty.

insighting, marketing, planning, researching, understanding

Yeah Yeah but what’s the Insight?: a lesson in reverse-engineering from Contagious Magazine


a couple of weeks ago I found myself in the fortunate position of being one of the delegates on Contagious Magazine's Crash Course, a one-day workshop in the company of @JessGreenwood and @gual_contagious in how to understand the changing landscape of communications, but more specifically on how to apply Contagious' observations of this landscape to my own strategy and thinking.

there was huge value in the day, but one particular exercise has stayed with me.  one particular exercise that forced me to stop just admiring and enjoying other people's strategies and execution, and really think about them.  as an exercise its elegance itself, and one that I've certainly forgotten to do of late.

the exercise consists of a simple question; on seeing or observing a case study or piece of creative communications, ask yourself a single question…

what was the insight?

what was the crystallised observation of humanity that led to the solution?  what was the observation that sparked the execution, or experience, or application or movie or competition or retail space or book or course or race or tech or social media monitoring desk?

it's beautifully simple, and forces you to not just passively admire the work your looking at, but intellectually interrogate the work to understand how and why it was developed…

try it with these … for each example of work, ask yourself what the insight was?  the answers – as suggested by Contagious, are beneath…


OK … now for the insights that led to the above:


you may think that some of the insights are obvious, but everything so gloriously is in retrospect.  and in many ways the best insights are obvious; and whilst that doesn't make them any easier to spot, it makes it all the more enlightening – and for that matter fun – when to try to guess…

futuregazing, imagining, planning, predicting, researching

Planning for the Future, Today: Courtesy of Michell Zappa and his Technological Mapness


created by Michell Zappa, and sent to me by the awesome Mimi-ness of things, this speculative but intriguing visualisation of how technological developments could pan out presents an interesting question and exercise for brands and connections planning.  how would you connect to people, given technological developments over the next year?  what about in four years time?

perhaps a lot more social media, a bit less print?  perhaps you'll have more sophisticated CRM management and real-time insight capture via social networks.  so largely the same, but different.

the future may be more different than you currently imagine.  Zappa's map suggests that within the next four years the following will be mainstream.  not industry buzzed, geek adopted, first mover technologies.  mainstream…

Social Graph, Tabs & Pads, and Multitouch.  so far so Zuckerberg and Jobs.  but what if you go a little further..?  3D printing, Linked data, Gesture and Speech Recognition, and Electronic Paper.  within four years.  this kind of technology – if adopted by the mainstream – would transform the retail environment.  it would radically alter the opportunities we have to engage and interact with the conversations brands offer us.

it suggests a useful exercise.  create a brand platform (I originally typed 'plan a brand campaign' but let's not go there right now) in 2015.  imagine these technologies being on every high-street and in every home.  how would it change what you create?  what would be possible?  what would you imagine for a world that could 3D print your product in their home?  or interact with your communications by talking or gesturing to them?

then translate your ideas to right now…  what could – at a stretch – be done in the next three months?  what you do next is easy.  you go do it.

conversing, planning, researching

Word (of Mouth) Up: what Soup’s TalkTrack Study has to tell us about the simple and compelling truth about conversations and brands

Marketing_interview the power of word of mouth, cartoon from xkcd

the lovely Sharyn and Michele from word of mouth marketing agency Soup came in to Kent Street Towers yesterday to share the results from their TalkTrack research into word of mouth in Australia.  the study, which was conducted in partnership with Mindshare, ING, Foxtel and LG, consisted of a diary and quant with almost 3,000 Australians aged 16-69, who between them over the month-long course of the study had 30,000 branded conversations.  the report makes for fascinating reading…

turns out that the average Australian has 67.8 branded conversations per week, which equates to 1.2 billion conversations (or impacts if you like) across the Australia population every week.  this however is on average, 'influencers' – those people who are more passionate, knowledgeable and who tend to have more networks of connections – have 140 brand-centric conversations per week.

Telstra is the most talked about brand, but not necessarily positively – that title goes to Apple, which enjoys 1.7% of all positive brand-centric conversations.  in fact Australians are generally overwhelmingly positive about brands…  61% of all branded conversations are positive, whilst only 9% are negative.

but it's when you look at where conversations are had and what instigates them that it gets really interesting.  of all the conversations in the study, the vast majority were conducted face to face…  82% of the conversations we have about brands we have with real people in the real world.  this compared to only 7% online, which had fewer conversations than even over the phone (at 10%).

Mode of conversations Brand conversations overwhelmingly happen face to face; Source: Soup's TalkTrack study – for more information contact Sharyn Smith via here

there's a big flashing 'proceed with caution' here – because whilst we're all of us going about measuring with gusto branded conversations, turns out that in most cases (as most trackers are online-based) we're doing it with a sample of 7% of all conversations.  skews and distortions are therefore almost inevitable.

the other big news is that the research provides hard evidence as to what actually sparks conversations.  overwhelmingly it is customer or personal experiences with a brand or it's products and services that get's us talking.  compare this to media or marketing efforts – which people attribute to 49% of the brand-centric conversations they have.

Conversation drivers Experiences with brands, products and services cause more conversations than media or advertising; Source: Soup's TalkTrack study – for more information contact Sharyn Smith via here

it's here that online plays an interesting role…  it just outperforms TV in terms of it's ability to spark conversations.  Nielsen report that FY up to June '10, 28% of media money was invested in TV, versus 15% online – so online more than punching above it's weight in it's ability to get us talking.

proof, if it were ever needed, that – unless a brand has a very good reason otherwise – the best role for advertising is to amplify innovative products and services from a brand.  the best ad in the world, all things being equal, won't start as many conversations than an investment in relevant and engaging products and services.

I've talked about planning for transactions on these pages before.  I firmly believe that advertisers should invest in marketing to their existing customers via the creation of collateral – products and services – that add value to their lives.  the role of bought media is then best aligned to what it does best: amplify what a brand is doing with and for it's existing customers to a broader audience…

and now, thanks to the research described above, we have another crucial bit of evidence to prove how this model of approaching comms planning works: it sparks conversations which create intention to buy or try (33%) or consider (25%) a product.

kudos to Soup for commissioning this research.  research that proves that it's not he who shouts loudest that builds the biggest and best brands and businesses, but rather he who gives the most people the most compelling reason to talk about that brand or business.  and in the evolution of media and communications, this simple but compelling truth should be a game-changer for any brand and business brave enough to do it.  whether we do, is entirely down to us.

CRM-ing, data planning, IPA|ED:final - existing customers, researching, targeting

Doing and Saying: what a WOM study from HBR can tell us about understanding customer groups

HBR_WOM_formulas_v3 formulas for calculating CLV and CRV: copyright of Harvard Business Review / V. Kumar, J.Andrew Petersen, and Robert P.Leone

the joy above are two formulas, developed for an article by V. Kumar, J.Andrew Petersen, and Robert P.Leone published in the Harvard Business Review entitled How Valuable is Word of Mouth?  Mediation is a big fan of planning and incorporating WOM – in a structured way – into brand strategies, and have written a fair bit about it on this blog, so was more than a little happy when Mark H and Guy C sent me the above article.

the awesomeness of the above formulas get the authors to a place where they can compare CLV (Customer Lifetime Value) with CRV (Customer Referral Value), and something really interesting happens – there's no direct correlation.  it doesn't – I don't think – occur to planners often enough that those groups of customers who are valuable because they buy the most are not necessarily the some groups of customers who are valuable because they talk about a brand the most.

so on the basis that CLV added to CRV is not a good predictor of overall customer value, the authors develop and propose a rather useful matrix of low buying / low advocacy bottom left to high buying / high advocacy top right (with the obvious skews top left and bottom right).

…by splitting customer segments out in this way you get a very clear and potentially dual role for a strategy and schedule…  what's the plan (if any) for getting less vocal customers who buy a lot to talk more about your brand?  versus the plan (if any) for getting the less frequent purchasers but most vocal groups of your customers to buy more of what you're selling?

data, data, data … getting it and more specifically understanding and using it to illuminate what's going on in and across brands' customer bases.  better strategies, better plans and better schedules.  what's not to love.  you can get a copy of the report at HBR Reprints.

content creating, praising, researching, understanding

Bringing our understanding of people to life: what happened when BAMM went to Africa for Nokia

one of the biggest challenges and opportunities we face is bringing to life our collective understanding of people in meaningful and engaging ways.  beyond the demographic, beyond the observation or statistic, beyond the quote or the screen-grab …there lies insight and understanding of people (I nearly typed consumer there) that inspires, influences and dictates the best of what we do.

its awesome then to see such interesting work emerging from the boys at BAMM, who sent me a note describing what they'd done for Nokia in Africa…

"As part of an international project for Nokia we looked at bonding behaviours in different cities across Africa, Asia and Europe. The team spent a week with a middle-class family in Lagos. We observed, interviewed, photographed and filmed Amaka with her extended family. We were guests at the naming ceremony for her eight-day old baby, which gave us better insights into how her community bonds."

BAMM_quote BAMM_people_pic
in a world where more information about more people is more available all the time, experts who can go somewhere, experience a place in time and the people within it, and return with valuable, genuine and actionable insights about what they saw and heard becomes increasingly valuable.  whenever I see what these boys do I redouble my own efforts to go beyond the observations and stats and mine for myself the insights that make our communications as meaningful and effective as they deserve to be.  brilliant stuff.

you can see the video of what BAMM did for Nokia here


IPA|ED:final - existing customers, planning, praising, researching

Going beyond a Wing and a Prayer: How Guardian Media Group’s efforts to measure the extent and effect of Word of Mouth should improve the quality of planning for us all

GMG_WOM_intro a very illuminating visit from Guardian Media Group this morning, with Chris Pelikarno and Mia Barnes coming into Vizeum towers to talk us through their recent Word of Mouth research.  the study, which follows on from their exposure and engagement research pieces, sets out a framework for identifying and measuring the extent of influence of individuals' propensity to propagate messages and information via word of mouth.

so Gladwell so good.  but the study went a great deal further than this, GMG have not aggregated significant amounts of existing research and information into this area, but have then gone on to fuse the data onto BRMB's TGI so that anyone with access can tangibly integrate WOM analysis into their planning.



in a nutshell the research identified three traits and abilities make one person more influential than another… "Weak Ties, Bridging Capital and the Status Bargain are the core of what makes a person influential.  When combined these factors allow people to access and spread ideas and opinions faster and more persuasively than others".  the research then used Emmanuel Rosen's ACTIVE theory as a framework in both qualitative and quantitative research as a way of measuring the extent to which people have Weak Ties, Bridging Capital and are likely to make Status Bargains.

what was really smart about the research was the recruitment method for respondents…  ten individuals were selected and interviewed, as well as being asked to rate themselves on ACTIVE measures.  those individuals were then asked to recommend other people GMG should talk to.  they were then interviewed – including rating themselves and the person who have recommended then on ACTIVE measures – and asked to recommend more people and so on and so on till the research panel was 350 people strong with ten networks running throughout.  ten networks available for measurement and analysis of the extent to which different individuals and the traits they demonstrate affect the levels of WOM through the networks.  fuse this onto TGI via a recontact survey of 1,359 people and Bob's your uncle you have an integrated WOM analysis planning tool.



the research – of course – achieved the task of demonstrating that Guardian readers are more influential than the average newspaper reader, but its achieved much more else besides.  by investing in both the aggregation of existing WOM theory and then following thru into practice with real people in real networks, GMG has advanced the agenda of one of the most important topics in planning of the moment.  as Mediation has commented previously, we too often plan brand communications with the ambition and expectation that people will talk about it, but its too often on a wing and a prayer…  we're planning blind, with fingers crossed that the right people will talk enough about what we put out there to propagate our message and – as the IPA have shown – increase the effectiveness of or efforts.

but the real story of this research has only just started.  in handing over control of the data and putting into potentially every planner's hands, GMG will see their efforts propagated far beyond the number of presentations they can give to media agencies.  this could and should help change planning culture: going beyond the crudity of awareness and reach measures and allowing planners to plan in and around the reason advertising actually works.  we're all better off for GMG's investment and generosity.  other research studies could learn a thing or two.

advertising, blogging, branding, broadcasting, content creating, converging, engaging, listening, planning, regulating, researching, social networking, user-generating

Fighting the Future: reaching a rose-tinted concensus at the IPA 44 Club’s Future of Advertising in a Networked Society

A short history of marketing from jabi on Vimeo.

the rather lovely above video – by jabi – neatly sums up the collective dilemma of how brands, marketers and, specifically, agencies address the challenge of social media.  the issue was the topic of discussion last night at the IPA 44 Club's inaugural event of 2009:
The future of advertising in a networked society.  quite the session it was… here's the gist:

part one – report findings

  • social media = the online tools and platforms people use to share information, thoughts, opinions, content etc
  • problems is that brands are "crashing the party rather than hosting it" (Russell Davies)
  • many brands are experimenting but not getting traction in the area
  • we need a model of comms that reflects 'ME' as opposed to 'brand'
  • a model that's about conversation and participation rather than interruption and engagement
  • a model that incorporates David Armano's thinking about 'influence ripples'
  • Johnny X by Dare is a cracking example
  • which succeeded in concentrating the feeds into and out of it's online space (64% of upstream and 84% of downstream feeds came from 10 sites each)
  • planning social media should focus on targeting the few, that demonstrate: (1) expansiveness (propensity to chatter), (2) popularity (propensity to filter and target) and (3) reciprocity (likelihood to act)
  • network size is predictable, as is network flow, as is circulation

part two – agency survey

  • brands in a socially-networked world are more responsible for creating and disseminating the right information – brands should be more discretionary in what they produce [Mediation found this less than substantiated and at odds with Clay Shirky's comments at the MGEITF this year on filtering in a content-abundant world being after the fact, ie produce then allow the network to filter]
  • the way to reward brand advocates is not through financial incentive
  • the industry disagrees on two areas: (1) that advertising principles are the same in a networked society and (2) that social media behaves in a fundamentally new way
  • it is believed that most revenue is up for grabs in content creation, then data & insight, then market research & insight gathering (amongst others)
  • these new revenue streams represent £11bn of additional revenue opportunity, with another £5bn potentially
  • …which would be (exactly!) enough to meet the £16bn shortfall in industry revenues by 2016 predicted by the IPA's Future of Advertising and Agencies report of two years ago (£16bn = the difference between the IPA's 'Central' and 'Consumer' Scenarios)

part three – the discussion

I won't bullet this because it's getting late and you had to be there, but this was the better part of the evening with discussion ranging between philosophy of brands in a social media space to the (inevitable) measurement and accountability of such activity.

for me a kind of rose-tinted consensus was reached; consensus that went along the lines of:

  • marketing has always been about great social networking, the challenge is the same – getting the right content in the right place, its just that…
  • (1) people power is more potent (we have 500 networked connections not 50 disparate ones) and (2) we need to react to the context our message are in rather than control the context our messages are in
  • it's brilliant because we can react to real people in real time in the context of a real conversations
  • social media isn't a bolt on, it has to be woven into every brand touchpoint
  • brands need to behave differently, and understand that their relationship with consumers is – to consumers – much less important than consumers' relationships with other consumers

so in a nutshell social media is great because it's as old as the hills, better than the disruption model, measurable …and there's a freak-off big commercial opportunity for the brands and agencies that get it right.

I just don't think that it' that easy.  our industry is woefully
unprepared for the future.  there's some brilliant thinking and debate
going on, but the commercial models, joined-up industry measurement
systems, and marketing best practice principles – from a 'what works'
as opposed to a 'self-regulatory' point of view – just aren't moving
fast enough.

most importantly, not enough consideration was given
to the integration of broadcast and social media.  they're not going to
exist in isolation and broadcast media is going nowhere. iTunes didn't
kill CDs and Amazon didn't kill Waterstones.  social media certainly
won't kill mainstream broadcast media; the same mainstream broadcast
media that in the vast majority of instances provides social media
users with the content they comment on, pass on, or reappropriate for
their own ends.

the other interesting question is how the
behaviour of digital natives will evolve…  we're familiar with the
media 'hubs' that are the current crop of adolescent's bedrooms;
they're multi-tasking away across ten devices and infinite bits of
content.  but what happens when they grow-up?  how much of their social
media behaviour will they take with them into adulthood and how much
will they replace with the aggregated broadcast consumption of their

we live in interesting times; and I guess we wouldn't have it any other way.

one last word, I urge you to read JVW's post
about the event and specifically his debate on how the IPA can use social media
to get their social media report into more people's hands whilst not
impacting on revenues.  a pleasure and a joy.

advertising, broadcasting, researching, television, viewing

Getting more out of the ad break: how ITV prove the extent to which content affinity is transferred to advertising

some new research from ITV attaches some numbers to what we all – should – intuitively know.  the network's Event TV research, which can be viewed here, quantitates the simple theory that "compelling content generates higher levels of interest and awareness" in advertising.

the research looked at 'event TV' – programming that is anticipated, time-sensitive (ie less likely to be time-shifted), and which often involves ritual behaviour (getting the pizzas in for example).  what most defines such programming however is the extent to which it is a shared experience. 'true fans' – those more likely to seek-out additional programme content and talk about it – are also those most likely watch in groups.  the shared experience doesn't of course stop there – they are very much aware that the same broadcast is being watched by millions of others at that very moment.

watch with other (source: ITV)

the research goes on to quantify the extent to which such fans are less likely to flick over when the ads come on, and therefore more likely to watch the commerciality that is the break (eg true soap fans are 97% more likely to watch the ads during their shows than their non-fan equivalents).  finally, it demonstrates the extent to which affinity for programmes seems to be transferred to ads, with fans of TV shows having more positive opinions of the advertising in breaks throughout the show.

it must be said I find myself asking what this actually tangibly means for planning and buying.  the benefit for ITV is clear; this research makes the case for the justification of investment in event (and therefore often peak-time) programming.  but this airtime is oversubscribed as is – further encouraging agencies to plan into this space will only lead to further premiumisation (I know that's not a word btw) of said airtime.

that quibble aside, this is not only a solid bit of research to add to our collective canon, but is research brilliantly presented in the form of a video-diary of a day ('sofa-Saturday') in the life of a household from the perspective of the TV.  you can view it from the above link, I recommend it.

it also highlights the extent to which viewers will track desired content across platforms; there's an interesting multi-platform (transmedia) opportunity for a campaign that wanted to acknowledge and capitalise on the multi-platform relationship true fans have thru their content.

advertising, branding, IPA|ED:two, planning, researching

The Ecology of Engrams

en·gram [en-gram] – noun

encoding in neural tissue that provides a physical basis for the persistence of memory; a memory trace (1)

E·col·o·gy [i-koluh-jee] – noun

branch of biology dealing with relations and interactions between organisms and their environment, including other organisms (2)

I believe the concept of the individual brand engram for the purposes of marketing communications is redundant. I believe that a truer reflection of brands can be found by examining the dynamics of engram herds within a population.

1. The Myth of the Isolated Engram

The emergence of neuroscience has informed us that brands are not definitive established entities. Rather they are ideas. An ever-changing and dynamic concept of meanings and associations held – amongst millions of others (4) – within our minds. As Wendy Gordon puts it, “a brand in memory is a totality of stored synaptic connections between neurones … gradually built up through the combination of many past experiences and ongoing current encounters with a brand” (5). The term engram – coined originally by Richard Semon in 1904 – refers to this ‘memory trace’ (6) within which a brand is held.

Two key properties emerge from this concept:

First, the brand-as-engram is largely malleable and open to influence. Whilst marketers would hold that this gives them remit to leverage this set of associations thru advertising and other means, the reality is quite different;

The stimuli we receive don’t uniformly alter the engram. Daniel Schacter notes that; “our memory systems are built so that we are likely to remember what is most important to us” (7). Not all stimulus is created equal, as Willmott and Nelson observe; “ in a networked society, where people not only have more contacts but rely on them more for advice and support … personal recommendations, and recriminations, have more weight” (8). In other words brand engrams are – by their very nature – most open to influence by other people. Brand engrams are most open to influence by other engrams.

The second property to emerge from the brand-as-engram concept is that because engrams are formed from different experiences in different individual’s heads, no two engrams can be the identical. As Wendy Gordon puts it; “two people can never experience an identical set of encounters with a brand, and therefore their brand engrams will be different” (9).

So brand engrams are mostly open to influence by other engrams, each of which is unique; the concept of the isolated and definitive brand engram is therefore a myth.

Brands aren’t individual ideas, but herds of ideas, within a population. Herds that over time will grow or shrink, become more disparate or move more tightly together, or that become more or less consistent; all as a result of their environment that includes other engrams. It is this latter facet of the engram herd – consistency – upon which this submission will focus.

2. The Importance of the Consistent Herd

Key to successful marketing of a brand is to have a consistent engram herd, with consistent meanings and values associated with a brand. As Wendy Gordon points out, “new entrants to established product categories require an enormous financial investment to build these values, which ensure that a target group of consumers are able to share a similar pattern of specific belief system about a brand” (10).

There are several reasons why consistency of engram throughout a herd is crucial; as a shared language for word of mouth, as a consistent reference for self-identity, and within the concept of transactive memory:

2.1 The importance of consistent herd in Word of mouth epidemics

In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell describes what he calls ‘the law of the few’ and describes how it was beneficial to the spreading of Hush Puppies from a few individuals in New York’s East Village to the mainstream American malls; “The law of the few says the answer is that one of these exceptional people [the few] found out about the trend and through social connections and energy and enthusiasm and personality spread the word about Hush Puppies” (11).

But what the malls of mainstream America depended upon, what made the spread of the idea commercial on a large scale, was the creation and existence of an engram herd which consistently adopted Hush Puppies as cool. Gladwell’s ‘exceptional people’ may spread a message, but once tipped, it requires consistency of an engram throughout the herd to hold, and maintain it.

And what any individual relies upon when receiving or transmitting messages within a word of mouth epidemic is a consistent frame of reference throughout that herd, a consistent language, a consistent engram on which to build.

The point is backed up by Caroline Whitehall who – in describing tactics to reduce marketing inertia – notes that “most of us are only likely to change behaviour if there is evidence of a larger movement emerging” (12). What this tactic relies upon is a consistent understanding throughout the herd of what that larger movement means; in order to create meaningful understanding of what adopting that group idea or behaviour entails.

2.2 The role of the consistent herd in communicating self-identity

Heath and Potter observe that “what we are all really after is not individuality, it is distinction, and distinction is achieved not by being different, but by being different in a way that makes us recognisable as members of an exclusive club” (13).

This construction of identity is achieved in various ways, the adoption and presentation of brands to others being one. We rely on the meanings and associations of the brands we choose to communicate something about ourselves, what Daniel Dennett calls ‘centres of narrative gravity’ (14).

The creation and communication of identity is wholly dependent on this centre of gravity, this consistency amongst the herd of what a brand means and the associations it therefore imparts to the individual who bears it. Only with consistency throughout the herd, other people carrying the engram are immediately aware of what – for example – wearing a t-shirt from Abercrombie & Fitch, or Armani, or Bathing Ape, imparts to the wearer.

Without consistency of meaning the message is at best diffused and at worst lost; the brand less effectively contributes to identity. Wendy Gordon notes that “A brand is metaphor for a complex pattern of associations” (15). Without consistency of engrams across the herd, that metaphor is meaningless.

2.3 The need for a consistent herd for a functioning transactive memory

A final example of the value of herd consistency is a concept developed by Daniel Wenger of the University of Virginia and described by Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point; that of Transactive Memory. “When we talk about memory, we aren’t just talking about ideas and impressions and facts stored inside our heads. An awful lot of what we remember is actually stored inside outside our brains … we store information with other people” (16).

This ‘outside’ information is encoded within and amongst engrams, many of which will be held within those of brand engrams. For example when we talk about Live Aid with people who also hold that engram, we may be reminded of information about the concert and the events surrounding it that we may have forgotten. We recall that the event happened as well as those specifics most pertinent to us within our own individual engrams, but we expect and require the herd engram to hold the greater body of information and detail of that brand.

It is in many ways a concept analogous to that of the Wisdom of Crowds, and idea James Surowiecki expounds in his book of the same name: “under the right circumstances, groups are remarkably intelligent, and are often smarter than the smartest people in them … chasing the expert is a mistake, and a costly one at that. We should stop hunting and ask the crowd” (17).

The same could be said of a marketer wishing to understand how a brand is perceived; stop hunting a ‘typical’ individual engram; no such thing exists. Start by understanding the nature and dynamics of the engram herd as a whole, in which the greater and truer reflection of the brand can be found.

3. Case Study – Articulating eBay’s engram herd

One brand that has seen a chasm develop within its engram herd is eBay, a brand that is seeing its growth slow (18). Existing heavy users hold very positive associations – both with the complexity of the site and the community around it. But a great many of the engram herd have lapsed from use of eBay, citing that it’s too complicated and riskier than conventional online purchasing (19).

These are two very different centres of narrative gravity. And they’re in direct conflict. I’d suggest that it is partly this conflict within the herd that is resulting firstly in the slowed growth that eBay is currently experiencing, and secondly in decreasingly effective marketing communications. Put simply, communications are failing to reflect, and therefore resonate with, the herd engram footprint.

Saying ‘buy this on eBay’ (20) isn’t indicative of the heavy user positive engram gravity well; to heavy users it feels patronising. Nor does it address the negative engram gravity well typical of lapsed users who feel that eBay is complicated and risky.

To test this theory, I conducted some proprietary quantitative research amongst 88 randomly selected consumers (from my Facebook friends!) and asked them to indicate whether or not a range of words applied to eBay as well as three other brands within the online commerce space – Amazon, and

Figure 1 shows the extent to which various associations were made with each of the four brands. So for example across the 88 respondents 70 connected the association ‘affordable’ with Amazon, 56 respondents with, 46 with eBay etc. By pooling the associations we get an indication of the herd engram footprint for these brands, indicating the extent to which these four brands overlap with each other.

Figure 1: herd engram associations by brand 21

But when each brand is examined individually, a much more distinct herd engram emerges. Figure 2 shows only the eBay data, ranked by association.

Figure 2: eBay herd engram associations ranked strongest
first 21

Big, community, choice and affordable emerge top (reflecting the positive gravity well), as do time-consuming and risky (the negative gravity well). In an individual engram this picture wouldn’t have emerged, the gravity well of that individual would have dominated. Only by looking at the herd engram are the range of (in eBay’s case less consistent) associations observed.

But the real indication of the relative strength of herd consistency comes when the brand herd engrams are compared. Figure 3 shows each of the four brand herd engram footprints as ranked by each brand independently of association (i.e. the first point on the x-axis is the strongest association for each of the four brands).

Figure 3 brand herd engram footprints as ranked by each
brand independently of association (21)

Amazon’s herd engram footprint has most connections concentrated across fewer associations. In short its herd is the most consistent. Amazon’s herd more easily and implicitly recognise what its individual members mean when they mention Amazon or when it is used as a display of self-identity.

The challenge for eBay is to use its marketing communications to help generate consistency across its herd engram. At present those carrying the engram are forming very different memory traces orientated around different experiences of the product, ensuring that broadcast communications resonate less well with the collective associations of eBay’s herd.

The challenge for all advertisers is to acknowledge the existence of the herd brand engram and accept its truer reflection of the brand as it exists across the memory traces of consumers. Articulate it. Measure its consistency. Identify the foci for the gravity wells that will influence the currents and eddies of the conversations and interactions – the ecology – of the herd engram.

Notes and References

  1. Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc.
  2. American Psychological Association (APA): via
    Unabridged (v 1.1). Retrieved October 01, 2007
  3. Wildebeest herd grazing on savannah, Masai Mara Game
    Reserve, Kenya, as seen on
    the ‘Great Plains’ episode of Planet Earth.
  4. Daniel L. Schacter. Searching
    for Memory: The Brain, the Mind, and the Past. Basic Books. p59
  5. Wendy Gordon. Brands
    on the brain: new scientific discoveries to support new brand thinking. Kogan
    Page. P112
  6. Daniel L. Schacter. Searching
    for Memory: The Brain, the Mind, and the Past. Basic Books. p57
  7. Daniel L. Schacter. Searching
    for Memory: The Brain, the Mind, and the Past. Basic Books. P46
  8. Micahel Willmott & William Nelson. Complicated lives;
    sophisticated consumers, intricate lifestyles, simple solutions. Wiley. p221
  9. Wendy Gordon. Brands
    on the brain: new scientific discoveries to support new brand thinking. Kogan
    Page. P115
  10. Wendy Gordon. Understanding Brands, by 10 people who do.
    Chapter 2: Accessing the brand through research. Ed Don Cowley. Kogan Page. p36
  11. Malcolm Gladwell. The Tipping Point. Abacus. p21-22
  12. Caroline Whitehall. Inertia is Good. Admap December 2005,
    Issue 467. p3
  13. Joseph Heath & Andrew Potter. The Rebel Sell: How the
    Counter Culture Became Consumer Culture. Capstone Publishing. p219
  14. Daniel Dennett. ‘The Self as a Centre of Narrative Gravity’
    in Self and Consciousness, ed F. Kessel, P. Cole, D.Johnson. Hillsdale, NJ:
    Erlbaum, 1992
  15. Wendy Gordon. Brands
    on the brain: new scientific discoveries to support new brand thinking. Kogan
    Page. P112
  16. Malcolm Gladwell. The Tipping Point. Abacus. p188
  17. James Surowiecki. The Wisdom of Crowds. Abacus. p xiv-xv
  18. As reported by eBay, specific proprietary data is
  19. The author. eBay proprietary qualitative research. June 2007
  20. This was – amongst other specific messages eg Trust &
    Safety – the general message communicated by eBay from circa. 2005 until
  21. Independent proprietary quantitative research conducted by
    the author for the purposes of this paper. Sample on 88 respondents (recruited via Facebook – not nationally
    representative). September 2007