At the Golden Drum podium you will share the Contagious Commandments. What was the road you had to walk to recognize them like?
The Contagious Commandments took a ten year walk. Contagious Magazine launched in 2004, in the middle of a marketing maelstrom. It was a time of ferment. Mobile was beginning to get smart, social media was primed to explode and people’s relationships with brands were becoming a whole lot more interactive. New media formats and behaviours meant that the audience had run ahead of the advertiser, so we figured that the communications industry needed a fresh guidance system to make sense of this brave new future. We wanted Contagious to be the instruction manual for the future of the business, sitting at the intersection of marketing, consumer culture and emerging technology.
Our mission was to focus on the top 1 % of marketing innovation; those brilliant, brand-funded ideas that were going to change behaviours, change businesses and maybe even change the world. We never saw ourselves as reporters in the traditional ‘news’ sense. Instead, we wanted to act as agitators, pushing the industry forwards. Because of this unique position, clients and agencies kept asking us for advice and for our objective perspective on all the changes that were happening, so we created a consultancy unit called Contagious Insider. The Commandments are a series of laws and principles that we built up over the years by giving talks, running workshops, helping to build briefs and writing thought leadership pieces. They’re the rules we feel modern brands should live by if they are to flourish.
In your opinion, what does it take to become a fearless brand?
Following all ten of the Contagious Commandments, but definitely the one about asking Heresy Questions: Don’t ask why, ask why not? The best answer may be 180 degrees away from where you think, but the bravest brands are those who dare to question their assumptions and aren’t scared to break category codes.
You are talking about weaponizing the audience. What does that mean and how does it look like?
Weaponizing Your Audience is probably the most contagious of Contagious commandments. The difference between 2016 and 2004, the year we launched the company, is that the balance of power has, thankfully, shifted in favour of the audience. The conversation now runs two ways. Get your content and platforms right – like KLM, Volvo Trucks, AT&T’s Summer Break and Sephora have done in the past few years – and you can turn people into media, willing to spontaneously spread your brand’s gospel far and wide. Provide them with a platform to participate in your products and services – like Coca-Cola managed with its personalized Share A Coke initiative – and you have the chance to embed people directly into the narrative or fabric of your brand. Your audience is powerful and vocal, so why not invite them to influence your brand’s direction and behaviour?
You published numerous articles for different publications, including Business 2.0, The Guardian etc. What inspires and drives you to write?
I now spend half of my time running the Contagious business, so I don’t get as much time to write as I used to. I’m talking to a couple of publishers about turning the Contagious Commandments into a book, which means I will have the perfect excuse to lock myself away and type like a demon.
Your TED Talk on Alternative Currencies was a huge success with almost a million views. Is loyalty as a currency a significant factor to consider when we think about marketing?
Yeah, and only 100,000 of those views are by my mother ;-) Yes. I think consumer loyalty will be the catalyst for brands to start creating their own forms of currency. Boiled down to its essence, money is simply an expression of an agreed value. With digital and mobile technology, it is now possible to quantify value in multiple ways, which in turn makes it easier to create new, valid forms of currency. In today's hyper-connected, data-driven age, it's reasonable to assume that brands are likely to create synthetic, shadow economies -- entirely endorsed by the consumers who choose to trust and engage with them -- in exchange for useful rewards, information, services and lifestyle tools. Contagious ran a survey on this subject two years ago and we found that 19 % of people in the United Kingdom and 27 % of people in the United States say they would be happy to use a currency issued by a private entity or brand. Tellingly, that figure rises to 45 % amongst 24 to 35-year-olds in the US -- and 36 % of that demographic agree that they would be comfortable if sovereign currencies were replaced altogether. That's a significant proportion of consumers. The crucial factor in this behavioral shift is loyalty, which has now become a micro-economy in itself. The system of coupons and reward schemes has been around for decades (think Green Shield Stamps or Air Miles). But what's radically changed the loyalty game is the smartphone. An article in the Harvard Business Review last year pointed out that loyalty schemes are evolving into economic ecosystems of significant value -- partly thanks to mobile technology bringing the mechanics of payment and loyalty together.
To whom are you loyal?
Middlesbrough Football Club. Brands: I guess, Apple, Audi, Netflix, Moleskine, John Lewis (UK department store), Yorkshire Tea, Carmex and The Guardian. I used to be loyal to British Airways, but they are really quite atrocious now.
What would be your message to Golden Drum delegates?
Don’t you dare miss my talk! See you in the castle…