The Next Big Thing is not a Technology at All

We live in the “both/and” age — competence and trust, in person and online, marketing and communications, high tech and high touch, thinking and doing, and so on.

The Web enables us to interact with people and brands at the level of closeness or distance of our own choosing. It's not about achieving blanket intimacy with all customers. It's about giving people the option to calibrate their level of engagement — or distance — with you and your brand.

This was my number one insight from watching the intelligent and highly conversational talk with Rory Sutherland, Vice Chairman, Ogilvy Group. Whether is is a matter of perception or not, this has quickly become a very personal decision.

Because, as Web developer Marco Arment says in the ethics of ad blocking:

Web publishers and advertisers cannot be trusted with the amount of access that today’s browsers give them by default, and people are not obligated to permit their web browsers to load all resources or execute all code that they’re given.

I recently started using Ghostery on my computers, and a simple homemade iOS content blocker that I may release for iOS 9’s launch. The web performance improvements with these are staggering, and the reports of quite how much Ghostery is blocking on most pages is shocking and disgusting.

The technology track — or should I say tracking — has swung the pendulum in a far position and many of us are still unaware of how far. Doc Searls has some examples of what he has found using Ghostery (I am also testing it). He says:

In their landmark study, “The Waste in Advertising is the Part that Works” (Journal of Advertising Research, December, 2004, pp. 375-390), Tim Ambler and E. Ann Hollier say brand advertising does more than signal a product message; it also gives evidence that the parent company has worth and substance, because it can afford to spend the money. In the vernacular of Madison Avenue, this was called branding. All familiar advertising is about delivering a strong economic signal along with a strong brand signal.

Today a huge percentage of advertising is online, and a huge percentage of that advertising is personal — or could be. Hard to tell. This uncertainty is one of the things that makes so much online advertising low-value stuff. Chaff, not wheat.

We can do more to understand the interplay between our identity and web by becoming more aware of how we use it as a lens. Rory Sutherland is optimistic that the science of decision-making is part of the answer. In an interview with Elina Halonen he says:

“I truly believe that “The Next Big Thing” is not a technology at all. Most progress in the developed world in this coming century – economic, social, hedonistic – could in fact come from improvements in the social sciences. This is bigger than the Internet.”

Designing better experiences means fixing things that are broken, making something useful, providing a service. He says:

The problem we all face is “The physical fallacy”. All of us, even those the social sciences, have an innate bias where we are happier fixing problems with stuff, rather than with psychological solutions – building faster trains rather than putting wifi on existing trains, to use my oft cited example.

But as Benjamin Franklin (no mean decision scientist himself) remarked “There are two ways of being happy: We must either diminish our wants or augment our means – either may do. The result is the same and it is for each man to decide for himself and to do that which happens to be easier.”

There is no reason to prefer one solution over than another simply because it involves solid matter rather than grey matter. This is an interesting area where the advertising industry and the environmental movement (rarely seen as natural bedfellows) sometimes find common ground. Intangible value is the best kind of value – since the materials needed to create it are not in short supply.

Later in the interview he states that good brands don't put “the learnings of behavioural economics to evil ends – in displaying “only four seats left at this price” when there are in fact 28.” Social pressure and fear of being found out work in our favor, too. 

Our biases and assumptions do color our decision-making:

One other contribution the decision sciences and neuroscience can make to the commercial world is in questioning the sometimes excessive influence which market research (ie asking people to explain how they decide and what they want) has on business decision making. The insight that much of our decision-making is heuristic and instinctive, made by parts of the brain inaccessible to introspection, is of enormous importance in killing off the naive assumption that people can always tell you what they want.

If someone where to ask us why we buy a product, we would likely give a very rational answer, when in reality, we may not know the whole story. Which is why good marketers learn the approaches to see the link between jobs to be done and segmentation, for example.

Environment and context play a role in influencing our decisions. We can, however, do more to become a confident, independent, and wise decision-maker.


[image via Pixabay CC0 Public Domain