Bubbles, Carbuncles and Brand Management

Hello…It’s been a while.

Courtesy of Buffer I’ve just come across the “two-minute rule” to defeat procrastination.

This is the result.

My last post touched the concept of brand buoyancy and the role of bubbles. Some 18 months on (Is there an Olympic event for procrastination? – I think I am a contender!) I have gotten around to moving it on a bit.

Firstly, thanks to Faris & John W for feedback.

John W added to the idea by pointing me to Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ conceptual design for Bulk Carrier Ships, which reduce frictional resistance between the vessel hull and seawater using air bubbles produced at the vessel bottom. along with high-efficiency hull form and enhanced propulsion system.

This seems to fit well with the initial analogy and has the added dimension that it not only improves buoyancy but in doing so it also enhances performance. However there are other dimensions to consider that are crucial to this effect. The effect of the bubbles is as nought without the “high-efficiency hull form and enhanced propulsion system”. How might we develop this.

Over the last 18 months social has been adopted by the majority of brands as an integral part of their communications mix, and this is seen to have been followed by the (faster) recognition of one of the key challenges (that the growth of social and fragmentation of consumer attention has stimulated) – the need for a coherent, responsive and ongoing content strategy. The “bubbles” are no longer just the interactions between the brand and the consumer in social channels, but now include anything created by the brand or consumer (about the brand) that can be shared, whether we want it shared or not.

The good…
Screen Shot 2014-03-12 at 16.00.11

….or the bad

Screen Shot 2014-03-12 at 16.03.43
Courtesy of eConsultancy.

In this context the “high-efficiency hull form and enhanced propulsion system” can be seen as the client (and sometimes their agency partners) listening and responding rather than just talking. The focus for brands has moved from buying impressions, to creating expressions – its own and those of its customers.

That said, as Facebook reduces the reach of organic posts, more brands are responding by employing more “traditional” tactics.

In the context of content creation this would relate to a brand’s ability to look beyond just being present in the ‘right’ media channels or supporting the right devices.
As Brian Solis observes “earning relevance is more than the adoption of new technology or launching endeavours in the latest social platform or ‘app of the week’. The checklists for making content spreadable are numerous, and mostly consistent – the simplest is from Faris – make your content awesome. That may sound intimidating, but I’d argue that the JetBlue example above meets that criteria in the context it was created, and the impact it had on the customer, and hence his desire to share it. (vs of course the BA example!)

Jeff Bezos’ view is increasingly apposite: “Your brand is what other people say about you, when you are out of the room”. Brands are increasingly recognising the need to invest time, energy and resources across the whole customer journey, which is of course circular, social and more public – rather than stepping out of the room before or once the customer has bought what they are selling.

The customer journey funnel of old took us to the points of loyalty and loyalty and arguably inferred that these things would arise as a result of a product or service performing well enough to encourage repeat purchase – in the context of person to person recommendation or criticism.

Image courtsey of Meltwater

Image courtesy of Meltwater

Social media has changed all this and the “brand bubbles” created by consumers can far outweigh those created by the brand itself. Which brings us to the final analogy of the day.

Brand barnacle, which if ignored or left to build up can not only slow a boat down, but can also ultimately cause severe damage.


You can paint the hull to reduce the speed at which barnacles build up, but as always prevention is best, and is also one of the features of Mitsubishi’s MLS system.

In brand world there a monitoring and management systems that help deliver better and faster customer responses, but ultimately it’s down to the quality of the response as BA found to their cost.

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Buoyancy, Bubbles and Molecules


Following on from my last post I have been giving some thought to the idea of brand buoyancy as a useful way of looking at brands.  My current thinking is leading me away from the simplistic metaphor of brands as boats, though I do feel the Collective Spirit project does point to some interesting, engaging and potentially powerful ways of brand-building, particularly around co-creation and storytelling.  

Having recently read John Willshire’s post “Digital storytelling, Statues and Strata” I was really taken by the way he laid out his initial thinking in order to develop his ideas and to invite input.  He used his recently invented Artefact cards, a box of which I have recently purchased.

Whilst I can’t draw to save my life I have used his idea of thinking out loud using said Artefact cards, in this post.

I was (am and still am) also crap at physics at school, but with the help of Wikipedia I have tried to get a basic grasp of buoyancy.


The forces at work in buoyancy are Gravity (which pulls all things downward) the Mass and Density of the object and the Density of the fluid in which it is placed. Buoyancy occurs and its relative level is dependant on the mass or density of an object in relation to that of the fluid.

The less dense an object the greater is its buoyancy (assuming its mass is constant).


This leads me to the first of my embryonic thoughts.

We know that brands are increasingly recognizing the need and advantages to be gained from being more open, transparent and involved with their customers and business partners.  

There are still brands large and small that have not embraced this approach, but by doing so I think they by ‘open themselves up’ and potentially become less ‘dense’. In doing so they reduce the extent to which they sink in a sea of sameness.

Another perspective of this may be the extent to which brands act authentically, both corporately and through their employees, particularly where they interface with partners and customers.


 The bigger an object’s surface area the higher is its buoyancy. In a marketing context this has been historically driven by the size of their ad budgets, the effectiveness of their advertising creative and the extent of their distribution etc.

Today the surface area of brand may be a function of some of these factors as well as:

–  The degree of successful engagement with its community of customers and fans, and related to this the strength of the advocacy and positive WOM this generates.

–  The nature and coherence of its content strategy, supported by the extent of its (relevant) distribution.

Noah Brier’s ‘stock & flow’ concept offers some helpful advice on this. Brands such as ASOS come to mind.

–  The extent to which brands make their content shareable, and produce awesome content that people want to share.

–  The degree to which they collaborate or co-create with other brands, which previously they may not have seen as obvious allies; Nike+ being the obvious example.

–  The breadth of a brand’s product and service offering, provided it remains coherent.  Arguably the success of some of the world’s most successful companies (e.g. Apple and Google) has been driven by their ability to move beyond their historic product bases to create or redefine markets. 

The ‘dancing raisins’ experiment, used in some schools demonstrates how increasing the surface area of something can make it more buoyant.


If you take a glass of carbonated water and add a few raisins, they will initially sink to the bottom of the glass.  Because of the rough surface of the raisins bubbles of CO2 will gradually attach themselves to the raisins, and both increase their surface area whilst reducing their density.  The raisins then start to float upwards.  Reaching the top the bubbles burst and the raisins sink. Provided the water remains carbonated the cycle repeats.

In brand terms we may see these bubbles as breadth of (consistently great) product – Apple again being the obvious example.  But they equally could be customer reviews or positive tweets, or extensively shared content.  Whichever, the extent of the effect of each of these relies upon creating a fan base that is actively pulling for the brand.  Whether it’s by brands “doing things that help solve people’s problems” (Faris) or “making things that people want” (John W again) it’s increasingly becoming about what brands “do” not what they “say”.

This brings to mind the whole discussion between Hugh McLeod, Mark Earls and (yes) John regarding social objects and purpose ideas.

It’s easier to create powerful social objects that act like ‘bubbles’ to increase brand buoyancy if said objects have their roots in a brand’s purpose or as Simon Sinek calls it – the brand’s “Why?”

Finally, taking the bubbles a little further 2 more quick thoughts:

 –  I wonder whether John Grant’s brand molecules framework can be viewed in this context, and whether it helps to consider the nature of such molecules in the context of how they reduce a brand’s density, or increase it’s surface area.

In the context of the dancing raisins experiment can we view the bubbles in the liquid (the market) as a series of lightweight interactions, (referred to by Paul Adams, from Facebook’s product team) and hence in Noah’s framework as ‘flow’? Flow of liquid after all does often aerate it and produce bubbles – or am I getting carried away with this analogy?

If so, do the same brand initiatives and actions that help reduce brand density also create these bubbles, or are they created by distinctively different brand actions?

What do you think?  Does the overall concept hold water?

Does it add anything to current thinking?

How might it be developed?

I’d welcome any comments.

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About Brand Buoyancy


This week saw the completion of Collective Spirit, a boat built as part of the celebration of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad. This is a remarkable piece of art in its own right, as well as being an example of and a metaphor for the development of what I believe are a number of key themes in today’s marketing and communication landscape (or should that be seascape).

The boat has taken a year to build, and is made up  of 1200 thin slices taken from a collection of “everyday” objects donated to the project; mostly by the public.  The vast majority is highly personal to their previous owners, and each is embedded with its own story, all of which add to create a greater whole (or should I say ‘hull’).  Arguably the centerpiece is a guitar once played by Jimmy Hendrix, but in the context of the overall idea, this does not dominate.  It sits alongside a peg (that a lady used to gather all her important documents), a ruler (a key tool used by an architect before the advent of computers and part of a wooden spoon (used by someone’s beloved mother when baking).

As a whole the boat represents a ‘floating collage’ of peoples lives and memories and metaphysically a richness of stories that each component part sparks.

I also think it is representative of a number of key frameworks that have come to the fore in recent times, as brands respond to the changing marketing environment that all brands are having to respond to.

The name itself points to the more obvious ones – crowdsourcing and collaboration.

Though each of these is linked to the power of the group (e.g. to solve problems and develop ideas), over and above that of the individual, I think this particular example also demonstrates that the sum of the parts is greater than the whole, not just in terms of the end result, but also in the context of shared common experiences and stories.  Some of the power of the latter comes through our own identification with events in stories, or their characters.  By bringing together such a wide and distinct range of objects, people, and their stories we gain something of a precious stone with many facets that each reflect the light of life in their own way, whilst creating an overall sparkle.

Brands might do well to learn from this.  Crowd sourcing and collaboration need not just be for the brands benefit, say in helping in the development of new product.  The boat of itself is beautiful as a piece of art and as a statement of our shared culture and experiences, but the real richness lies in the multitude of individual and personal pieces and associated stories. As brands open themselves up to more input from and involvement with consumers, they perhaps be careful not to subsume all the small stories, both from within and outside the organization that can add to the richness of the brand story.

I’ll develop my thoughts about the relationship of other marketing frameworks to the “Collective Spirit”, in subsequent posts, and explore to what extent we can see brands as boats.

Are there any connections that you can see?

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People need Purpose


Simon Sinek, former anthropologist and author of “Start with Why” is possibly best known for his“Golden Circle” presentation at TedX in 2009.  This is another one of his recent talks given in New York at a Creative Mornings monthly meeting.  I’ve just come across the latter, and am looking forward to exploring their talks on Vimeo.  They seem to have quite a movement going worldwide, so the range of speakers promises to be varied.

In this talk he tackles what companies can learn from the US Marines in terms of building strong mutually supportive cultures.  His ideal is to contribute towards a future where the majority of people in the world wake up in the morning and want to go to work, and are fulfilled with the work that they do.



He is one of a growing number of influencers who have recognised that we are on the cusp of major cultural, political and societal changes, which is seeing both people and organizations re-examiningand realigning our priorities. The likes of P&G, Unilever or GE, are each all pursuing strategies founded on delivering social good as well as profit. (Read, “Who Cares Wins” by David Jones) 

The “Occupy’ movement is but one example of an initiative that is calling into question the validity of a raw capitalist perspective that has got us in the situation in which we now find ourselves.  And the really interesting thing is that that is all it is doing – asking us to question “is this right? “There are no demands, no agenda – they don’t want anything, and that’s why the establishment doesn’t know how to respond.

In this talk Simon asks to think about the impact of companies when they lose their sense of caring for their staff – where customers and clients are seen as more “valuable” than employees.  He argues that those people who do not feel connected to and a part of the business in which they work are more unhappy, more likely to just be going through the motions, less likely to be team players (and hence more lonely) – and overall more likely to get sick.

This is not a talk about lowering absenteeism.  It focuses on the difference that having a sense of purpose can make to organizations and their people. How, when fulfilled employees are more committed, more effective and happier; all of which leads to a more successful and profitable company.  (Is Zappos a real world example of this?) 

This seems to fit with David Jones observations.  He argues that companies cannot merely develop a social business idea.  They have to be transparent and authentic and be seen to live the idea on a daily basis through their people.  Further he says that a “Social Business Idea” needs to be the rallying call for the entire company, embracing both internal and external stakeholders.

People like Sinek and Jones are, I believe, are not merely theorizing about, so-called, better ways to do business.  They are detecting and amplifying a radical change in the way we are beginning to think about business and its impact on society. CSR in all its guises can no longer be a tick box element of a company’s public profile or marketing.  It is being moved centre stage, and to use an Americanism “we’ve all got skin in the game”.

As John Schwartz, CEO of Timberland, and famous for how he treats his employees, puts it “the power of transformation isn’t in somebody else’s hands, its in ours”.

How and where will you use yours?


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Business, ready and willing (almost)

More evidence of what David Jones identifies in ‘Who cares wins” – the rise of Corporate Social Good as opposed to the more passive and sometimes cynical CSR.

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Are you listening?


Why do we listen?  Now that’s an easy question isn’t it!  To hear what someone is saying either with their words or perhaps their music, right.  But it’s more than that, its about understanding.  As well as the what, there’s the context of the why, the how or even the where and when that will add to our interpretation and hence our understanding of what we hear.

Add to that all the range of motivations or the personal agenda we may or may not bring to the listening process. Perhaps we are reluctant (and probably therefore distracted) listeners. Perhaps we are listening in order to get confirmation of our own opinions (and hence may listen selectively or interupt).

In this video AMGEN CEO Kevin Sherer talks about  his epihany about listening, when he heard IBM’s Sam Palsimano talk about what he learned about listening from his stint in Japan.  It turns out that because he was listening to peole talking in a language either he or they were not fluent in, he had to focus solely on “listening to comprehend” .  He listened with only one objective:

 I was only trying to understand what the person was trying to convey to me. I wasn’t listening to critique or object or convince…” 


The clarity of this observation has clearly had a significant impact on Kevin Sherer, and it has prompted me to be more aware and present when listening.
Perhaps it’s appropriate that this insight, in this instance, had its beginning in Japan – it feels like the sort of thing a Zen buddhist would say!
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Logic+Emotion: Thoughts on the Future of Social-Digital Agency Services

More thoughts from a man who has a lot of experience of digital agencies, and has seen some succeed whilst others are no more.

In short agencies will need to:
1. Speak the language of business;
2. Adapt to the speed of change, or die;
3. Respond to the demands of today’s markets, whilst working on tomorrows solutions today;
4. Develop relationships with key partners and leverage each other’s strengths relationships and complimentary services

Thoughts On Altimeter’s Digital Influence Report |

Thoughts on the Future of Social-Digital Agency Services

Screen shot 2012-04-07 at 12.46.07 PM

*The above does not reflect actual or estimated market share

Now is as good a time as any to be thinking about the future of digital (and social) as defined by those of us who provide services or even products around these. If you work for any agency or consultancy—this article is relevant for you. If you’re on the “client side” consider it relevant as well as ultimately it is your business model and needs which dictate the market conditions that affect your partners, vendors and professional service providers. I’m writing this piece from the perspective of having worked at several digital agencies—some of which are still taking market share and others which have slowly faded away or been digested into other formations.

Today, I work for a large privately held company (Edelman) with a “practice” consisting of roughly 600 individuals globally who offer services in the “social-digital” space (Edelman Digital). Given that the word “innovation” is in my title, I am always thinking about how we service the market today vs. how will will need to service it tomorrow. I obsess a little about things like comoditization and have seen it happen in other places I’ve worked at during my career. Below are some things which have been keeping me up at night, with a few ideas around how to address them. They are specific to the “digital-social” space largely, but can be more broadly applied as well.

Talent Importing & Exporting
The ground war starts here. If you work for an agency or professional services firm which operates deeply on the digital and social side of things, you are competing with everyone for talent. From start-ups to brands to the big three (Facebook, Google & Twitter)—it is essential to “import” the best talent while they are still emerging and “export” them into different opportunities across your firm to ensure retention. I am convinced that the Darwinism which happens regularly in this business is connected to acquisition and retention of talent who not only possess the right skills but deeply understand “the culture of service”—an art in and of itself which is critical for any client relationship. In addition to service culture, talent must be able to speak “the language of business”, especially when it comes to understanding how our clients build theirs.

Adaptation of Skillsets
Our world is changing daily. One of my recent tasks was to write a detailed point of view on how Facebook’s latest changes affects the skillsets of the people who provide the services we make money from. For example, featured posts essentially converts brand page administrators into media buyers and real time analytics means community managers must become junior analytics consultants as well. There’s no training course in the world designed to prepare your firm for the pace which our space runs at—you must have passionate, adaptable teams who are constantly challenging themselves to grow supported by leadership infrastructure which demands and rewards this. Simply put, we adapt or die.

Supply & Demand: The Keys To The Castle
As I mentioned earlier I think a lot about the services needed (as well as the ones which will be needed). For agencies specifically looking to gain market share in “social”—the “keys to the castle” so to speak are linked to how deeply we can embed ourselves in the platforms both internally and externally of our client partners. Translation—if you don’t have direct access to a client’s social properties and/or work closely with their teams, you are in trouble. The digital shops who both survived and are still thriving learned this lesson and are still here as a result. It’s difficult to replace a partner who has helped create and maintain your infrastructure. The services we provide today must match market demand and be conducted flawlessly—for example if market demand suggests a need to run global social properties at scale, than you should be better at that than anyone else. Meet today’s market demand and execute flawlessly while working on tomorrow’s services today.

Ecosystem Development: Establish Your Alliances
Today’s digital ecosystem is even more complex than yesterday’s with new players emerging who attach themselves to the dominant platforms. From social CMS providers like Buddy Media, to data and analytic platforms such as Crimson Hexigon, Sysomos or Radian Six. Relationships with key partners (emphasis on plural) is critical to leveraging each other’s strengths relationships and complimentary services. Should a digital or social agency develop their own ecosystems? The answer depends on the objective as well as the execution. Many “back end” platforms can be customized leveraging the API’s of third parties. Today, build vs. assemble is a significant decision. Either way, I am convinced that for social and digital firms or those who wish to grow market share here—relationships built now will lead to success or failure later.

Integration: Multiple Roads
I could probably write more and perhaps I will at a later time, but this is a good start. While I haven’t dwelled much on “integration”— It’s also key, however there is more than one road which leads to that particular Rome. Ultimately integration of services (and agency partners) is linked to client business structure. Some are more hands-on, managing integration tightly and look for multiple partners while others seek to consolidate and empower certain partners to lead integration. But, while integration is complex and messy — I believe it’s less critical than results. Websites that don’t work, apps which aren’t used and social execution which ends up in the media (in a bad way) are more significant indicators of success or the lack of, than having an agency structure which looks neat and tidy. In the end, it always has and will come down to execution and results.

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