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It's an attention economy
2011-03-07: This is probably the most important, and most fun, part of Internet marketing. The bit where you and I wrestle with how to make your website interesting.
Back around probably the launch of Windows '98 I was working in PR and I got talking to a journalist who had been to the American press launch, and also the UK one and he was saying how the British journalists had been 'yeah, but will '98 crash less?' and the American journalists had been literally up off their chair whooping about the new features.
The other day a funky new collaboree told me about Jones Soda, a fizzy drink brand that's been turned over to the people and crowdsourced. Which is interesting. And then again, is it? I mean, it should be. My intellect goes all Bruce Forsythe "good game, good game", but at the core of me .. I'm bored.
Jones Soda is Canadian. Imagine if they'd had that idea in Manchester? They'd have been told.
There's this thing in psychology called 'agency', which (and I may be wrong) could be renamed 'intention', and a chunk of our unconscious brain hums silently watching for intention. Is that lion going to eat me? Is the boss going to fire me? Will she let me?
We evolved a bit of brain that models other people and animals in order to second guess what they might do. The better we do that the more we are likely to live and procreate.
Marketing is intention. When we walk into a supermarket or click through to a website or watch TV our brains are watching all the time for scams, hidden agendas. We have to be streetwise or our bank accounts will be emptied for us. A large and important, crucial to our survival, part of our brain is being used to watch what marketing does for signs of ill intent.
Our subconscious isn't stupid, either. It can recognise complicated patterns, even do maths, secretly, and the results come out as unease or happiness or doubt.
I may be more upset by the forthcoming changes to the NHS than I've been over almost any other political issue ever, but it took a real wrestle to get me to sign the petition that's been going around Facebook. Why? I didn't understand what it was. I'm not sure clicking 'stop child abuse' on Facebook means anything besides making me look naive to everyone I've ever known.
So as Facebook seeps onto every website, our shields go up. One day, every one of us will become aware that if we 'like' Pit-Rok, when any of our friends go to that site, they will see our name associated with it and we become roped in as hidden salespeople, advocates. And so we stop 'liking' things so readily. In order to Facebook 'like' something, we have to really like it. Really trust it.
I'm at the age where I don't care what people think. I'll like the Cheeky Girls reasonably happily. But look at younger people and they seem so very, very hot on this. I drum in a band, and we went into a college studio where a lecturer and student recorded us for an afternoon, afterwards we gave the student a local music shop voucher .. £50 I seem to remember .. and he never spent it. He was upset with us. He felt used, prostituted. He'd done it for love. For music. For kudos. We'd turned it into a financial transaction. We'd made him feel buyable.
The climate now in the UK feels almost pre-revolutionary. It only needs a spark. Cameron needs all his PR skills to damp things down. OK Blair looked slippery towards the end, but this guy. And banks. Big companies not paying their tax .. what about the Vodaphone thing .. let off their tax bill equivalent to the whole austerity package. Young people no longer getting that weekly benefit for staying on and studying. Tuition fees.
It's always been a very unequal battle. Little old you, pootling into a supermarket to face an army of professionals whose job it is to extract the most money from you they can.
It turns out most of our decisions aren't even conscious (so the only real defence is to disengage, not enter the arena). Our subconscious makes most decisions, our conscious plays catchup, inventing convincing sounding arguments about why we bought chocolate A over chocolate B but the reality is it was positioning, packaging or something else fairly intangible.
Companies know this. They treat us like laboratory rats.
There's no-one up there who represents us. Ordinary us, growing up in a terrace or semi-detached house, sharing a room with your brother. Why is there no-one on the telly with my accent?
When we turn up to our GP in a year or two's time, we'd better take our lawyer with us because it's going to be whoever shouts loudest if they hold the budget.
Trust.
We don't. Any more. It's a matter of survival. Our intention-o-mometer says no.
When the majority of the population switches off and disengages from companies, politics, work .. there's a problem.
So when you start to think "I fancy a new website", don't me-to it. Don't insult your customers with special offers and last minute deals. Don't ask your customers to be advocates. Don't .. sell.
Just serve. But do it jaw droppingly well. Think what you can give. You have to turn off your cynic first. Drop your weapons. Disarm. Love your people.
Share information that is currently private: Which of the items on your menu is most popular?
Share your knowledge.
Be genuine.
Be local.
Brands are about trust. Brands are substitute, simplified friends. We buy Apple because they are always stylish and fun. We buy Volvo to keep our family safe. We buy M&S knickers because they don't chafe (or maybe that's just me).
Start with your brand, work on your core values, define them, be certain about them because the next thing you're going to do is to turn them up to 11. What should you be doing? If your coffee is the best .. make it really, the very best. Win the world championship.
If it's cheap, make it Ryanair cheap.
Fast? Make it supersonic.
Your brand values are permanent. Always. Everywhere. Everything you do. Everything you sell. Every marketing method you use. Always and forever those values.
What's that? Solving marketing cynicism with more marketing? Yes, because people know we're in business. They know we are selling stuff. They know we're not really their friends. Just don't let us down (I'm talking to you Green and Blacks, and you Innocent).
Young people aren't cynical about everything. They're just cynical about us. I was speaking to a young guy from the Sheffield music scene talking about playing gigs, never for any money. They play for the love. And they make money for charity too. He can walk into town and meet great friends who are part of the scene too. There's mutual trust. It's local. It's close.
They're right. It's us who need therapy.
What are you thinking? Our customers rip us off? I'm trying to make money here?
It's us who need therapy.
Drop it all. Rethink. Serve.
There is no-one out there doing it right. It needs reinventing. And if it gets past British cynicism, imagine the American reaction. Where's Tom Peters when you need him?
I feel a new summer of love coming.
That would get people's attention.
(There's more about how you do that (and me mumbling on video) here).

By John Allsopp
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