Monthly Archives: September 2013

Are you being skeuomorphic – and why knowing helps you on YouTube

Last Thursday, I popped in to Google@MindShare’s ‘Connectivity Creates…’, to hear why timing is everything, authenticity is crucial and tried out Google Glass – amongst a host of other topics, all related to digital creativity and audience engagement.

Scott tries on Google Glass

Trying out Google Glass

The BAFTA reception area was laid out with turf and shrubbery, giant flowers and trees, all below a cloud filled blue sky and with a resplendent Google logo spread across an entire wall. The delegates arrived, dropped damp coats and umbrellas with the coat check and after a revitalising coffee we headed into BAFTA’s large screening theatre to hear some of Google’s folk share their thoughts and give us a peek into some of the things coming our way.

Here’s a copy of the morning’s agenda and some cherries I’ve picked for my highlights:

Could employees be their clients and customers?

Mark Howe, Manging Director Agencies, (NACE) talked about the way that advertising was extending to take advantage of second and third screens using an example of Top Shop where viewers can interact and “be the buyers” using Google+ Hang Outs and an app – which made me wonder what organisations could do if they took a similar stance to “be their clients” and enabled their employees to compare their perspectives interactively – what different views of client and customer opportunities they might unearth.

Mark also talked about timing and making sure to create experiences by aligning broadcast with emails or ads that would show at the time that programs when relevant content was running. An old adage perhaps, but “timing is everything”!

A ‘Bat Phone’?

Harry Davies, Lead Product Marketing Manager, Large Customer Marketing talked about “New Moments” and used an example of researching the purchase of a tablet across various devices that many of us now own, to the point where Google maps gave him a route not only up to the front door of the store, but with their internal ‘street view’ up 5 floors in a lift, and across the floor to the stand where the product could be found. He also demonstrated some web contact cards where a button could be pressed to get in touch with him – but only during the hours he’d specified.

It struck me this was a bit like Commissioner Gordon’s Bat Phone – when he needed help, the number was right at hand and Bat Man at the other end – really useful for customers to get help, and employees to surface expertise in a flash.

Why context in search is increasingly important

Mike Warriner, Engineering Director, Google demonstrated some really exciting ‘context’ search in Google. He searched on ‘Lincoln’ to be presented with the US President, the town in the UK and a car. Narrowing this to the president by clicking a picture of President Lincoln, he got more of the information he wanted. His next question into the search bar was “who is the current president?” and the search remembered his previous query, assumed the context was the United States and returned Barack Obama as the top result. The next search was “what is his wife’s name?” and again, rather than searching on just the words, it returned Michelle Obama, and there were a couple more queries down a similar path.

This notion of ‘context’ was a theme through other elements of the day – where data, timing and geographic position are all being used to shorten the time between seeking, finding and ultimately taking an action (buying, learning, discovering etc.)

Avoiding skeuomorphism – and the need for authenticity

Hamish Nicklin, Head of YouTube and Creative Agency, Google and YouTube Partner – Ruth Crilly: A Model Recommends then talked about the nature of YouTube, and that if we look at this only as another platform to place our TV ad’s, we’re guilty of ‘skeuomphism‘ (in a nutshell, something modern that retains design elements of it’s predecessor but which are no longer needed and so only decorative – such as rivets on a crockery pot that’s been modelled on a metal pot).

Ruth gave some great examples of the difference between a blogger’s content and brand developed content and focused on viewpoints and perspectives. Ruth found that her content worked best when she was on location, and captured content when she was speaking with experts in the field, and that when she videoed herself reflecting on this afterwards, the engagement dropped significantly.

Ruth hammered home how pivotal ‘authenticity’ is – that honest, consistent opinions are crucial to building and sustaining viewer engagement, and that a brand push stands out like a sore thumb, but that a genuine review of a brand can come across really well, provided that brand is credible in the blogger’s world and to their audience.

The Three YouTube archetypes

Hamish broke YouTube into three approaches:

Campaigners – who take offline content and make it relevant on-line, citing Dove’s Beauty Sketches‘ as an excellent example of taking a brilliant concept of ‘revealing real beauty’ to life on-line in a way that could never have worked as a TV advert (highly recommended viewing if you’ve not seen this extremely popular video already – prepare to be moved!).

Collabroators – who involved their audience in engaging ways. Hamish used an example of gamers who were encouraged to invent meat dispensing hats for ‘Fridge Raiders‘ snacks – with some hysterical results.

Channels – where brands move into brandcasting, and Hamish used O2 Guru’s as an example, where help tips are filmed and broadcast to assist cell phone users to solve technical issues (building brand loyalty whilst reducing visits to O2 stores and calls to help lines).

Learn by doing

The sessions closed with David Bruno, Senior Creative, and Joao Wilbert, Senior Creative Technologist both at Google Creative Labs, London. They showcased a number of examples of work that looked at encouraging the use of Chrome to sync phones to tablets and laptops with an interactive game called SuperSyncSports, and Google’s take on a Jam that brings musicians together on-line to create music with JamWithChrome. They also talked about Chrome Web Lab, a collaboration with London’s Science Museum, to open up a physical exhibit digitally to build on viewer interactions (sadly, now closed).

Each of these was built from a one line summary of what the project aimed to achieve, that was then sketched out, prototyped and brought to life – all under the auspices that you have to try things knowing that failure will help you improve them.

The morning concluded and back in the reception area we had the chance to try out Google Glass which was amazing! In the morning when Harry had demonstrated the way that Maps was developing and Mike had talked about context and geo location driving search, Glass brought much of this together.

The glasses are brought to life with a tilt of the head or by saying “ok glass” and a small screen in your peripheral vision pops up with a menu that you move either by looking up and down at it, or by tapping on the stem of the glasses. You can have it shoot video, take a picture – and share those instantly – you can get directions, see pictures of where you’re going – much of what you can do with Google Voice today, but by talking at a tiny screen. What I hadn’t appreciated until afterwards is that there’s no ear bud that you pop in, you hear the voice through the side of your head where the arm of the glasses rests.

Really impressive!

My take outs:

  1. timing is everything – plan multi-platform campaigns and touches sensitively to how they work together to create novelty and cohesion
  2. context – where you are, and where you’ve just been will be increasingly relevant in the world of digital experience design
  3. authenticity – audiences on different platforms and viewing different formats have different expectations, but all rely on the authenticity of the originator as a key element of engagement
  4. Google Glass is extremely cool (even if I may not look so cool wearing them!)


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Corporate stories – where’s the drama?

Good stories have drama and drama comes to life in the action between characters. If the last corporate story you read was more fact sheet than blockbuster it was likely missing the vital personalities and perspectives needed to elevate it beyond corporate reflection.

Graphic showing how to build drama into corporate stories

Click for larger version

Common pitfalls in story telling

Following my last blog on bridging the gap between good and great stories, inspired by a series of four short videos by Ira Glass, in the final part, ‘On Two Common Pitfalls‘ Ira points out a couple of pitfalls to watch for:

  • Pitfall 1 – you feel you need to sound like other presenters
  • Pitfall 2 – you focus solely on one perspective and lose the drama

There’s a tendency to take on ‘reporter voice’, mimic the intonation, build the same peaks and troughs of speech, and in the process your own voice gets lost. Audiences like individuals, and the more you put of yourself into your piece, the more you’ll give them to connect with.

Corporate ‘tone of voice’ or your own?

This rings true in the corporate world where there’s often a ‘house style’ or a corporate ‘tone of voice’. This works great for official communications like annual reports, thought leadership pieces, white papers and fact sheets, but when it comes to story telling, it’s your personal perspectives that create the engagement. If you report the facts alone, you’ll sounds like a fact sheet. If you only provide your opinion, you’ll come across as self-absorbed and the purpose of your story will get lost. You need to find a balance between these two to engage your audience and deliver the purpose of your story.

You need characters to create drama

Ira reflects that even if you’re producing a first person story documenting experience, what’s interesting is not just your take on things, it’s seeing how you interact with other people; seeing other people through your eyes seeing what you deal with – otherwise there’s no drama. You need all the things that happen between people. It’s not going to work if there’s too much of you and not enough of the other people, and it’s not going to work if there’s too much of the other people and not enough of you, because there’s not enough characters to make a drama.

How do you balance corporate reporting and personal perspectives?

Think about your last corporate story – how much was setting the scene, reporting the facts and concluding with the outcome? Did you mention how you felt? Did you recall your interactions with anyone else? If you’re not including other characters and creating some drama, you’re not really telling a story, you’re just recalling an experience.

My take outs

  1. Don’t lose your own voice amidst the corporate house style – one size does not fit all communications.
  2. Good stories have drama, drama needs action, and action needs characters – ensure your stories have the drama that creates the engagement.
  3. Balance your content between your subject and your perspective, all subject will read like a fact sheet, all perspective will sound like a soliloquy, both approaches will lessen your reader’s attention.

Think about the last corporate story you read – on a scale of ‘corporate fact sheet and business blockbuster’ where did it sit?

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How to bridge the gap from good to great corporate stories.

Not every corporate story you write will merit a Pulitzer, but focusing on what you love in your writing, producing in volume and not letting reader stats distract you from your course will steer you towards your best work.


Click for larger version

Trust that you have good taste

Following my last blog on balancing time between story selection and story production, inspired by a series of four short videos by Ira Glass, in Part 3 – On Good Taste Ira observes that you get into something because you love it, you have taste, but to expect that for a lot of your early work, your output won’t match your ambition or reflect your taste very often. But you’ll know that gap – and you must continue to produce and the quality will come.

Focus on what you love

In corporate story telling, you may have limited choice on your content, your medium or your writing deadlines. Try to find an element that you love, and hone your story telling skills around that. It might be your ‘voice’, it might be the format you work in, it might be a content specialism. Try to identify the essence of what you enjoy in your writing – and your reader will likely ‘hear’ that too.

Keep viewers’ feedback in perspective

Views and likes are great, comments are better, but keep them in context and critique your own work. Look at the work of other writers and ask yourself what it is in their writing that appeals to you, and see if you’re using the technique in your own work.

Start now – and keep on writing

One of Ira’s key points is that you mustn’t let your own critical eye dissuade you from writing, it’s only in producing a body of work that you’ll create material that you truly feel reflects you. If you stop at the first hurdle – you’ll never know. Many employees have a sense that everything they write has to be Pulitzer worthy, it makes them nervous, and they dabble only as far as comments and status updates, likes, or don’t join in at all. Take a leap of faith and ‘publish and be damned’.

My take outs

  1. Amongst all of your corporate content and obligations, find what you love in each piece and let that be your focus.
  2. Audience feedback is great, but write first for yourself – your audience will appreciate it more.
  3. Every article won’t win a Pulitzer – it’s not supposed to – so ‘publish and be damned’.

Have you found a foreboding sense of corporate writing perfection has prevented you from publishing or felt constrained to venture only as far as reading, liking and commenting?

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