Anders Sorman-Nilsson is a renowned Swedish-Australian author and speaker, as well as the creative director at Thinque – a research company focused on strategic innovation. A reformed lawyer, Anders has a unique perspective that has contributed to companies such as IBM, Delta Airlines, MTV and Apple. His experiences have also made him an active member of TEDglobal. Anders is also the curator of The Social Media and Communications Summit. Heavy Chef was privileged to get some insight from him regarding social media, the digital divide and a phenomenon he refers to as ‘word of mouse’.
Hi Anders. Thanks for chatting with us. In one of your TED talks, you discuss the combination of old media and new media. How do you think this can best be done in a smooth manner?
The key for organisations to successfully market and position themselves today is by finding the right balance between digital and analogue marketing. Even though everything is digitizing, we need to be aware that people still need to feel something tangible. In many ways, even though our minds are firmly digital, our hearts are still firmly analogue. Thus we need to combine old and new media in the way we approach our customers and key stakeholders. Think of Apple for a moment. When all the other computer companies were embracing digital mass customisation, like Dell; Apple actually went the other way and focus on the customer experience. Apple’s analogue stores are modelled on the customer experience. You can approach someone at the Genius Bar where you are exposed to educational and thought leadership marketing. Based on the last quarterly earnings, Apple made 2800 dollars every second. If your company made this kind of money, you’d probably also keep your flagship analogue store on 5th Avenue, open twenty four seven. But as we all know it’s not just in the analogue space where Apple dominates. Their digital presence is of course impressive, with keynotes being watched by millions of fans in what is essentially a digital sales pitch and product launch. Forward-thinking retailers are also embracing this new environment of combining old and new media to make sure that they don’t just turn into changing rooms in an environment where more and more people are buying their clothes online. I recently spoke at a conference in Chicago, and found an online store via social media called Haberdashmen, which prompted me to make a visit to the analogue store. The store is very old school, but I think this combination of old and new media, connecting our hearts and minds is really the future of digital marketing. Perhaps paradoxically.
Can you explain the ‘word of mouse’ phenomenon?
Word of mouth marketing, or recommendations, is still the most powerful form of marketing. It immediately gets us over the trust barrier, and this phenomenon has now gone digital. Companies cannot solely rely on analogue word of mouth. But we also need to ensure that we can enable happy customers to spread the word from the comfort of their computer mouse. There are questions you must ask. Are you making it easy or difficult for your customers to recommend you? Can they easily like you on Facebook? Do you enable them to share your profile on LinkedIn? Can they easily share a video from your YouTube channel? Word of mouse, the digital version of recommendations, is truly powerful with 90% of all purchasing decisions now being influenced by social recommendations according to Nielsen research.
In the last few years, social media has clearly taken the lead with regards to online interaction. In your expert opinion, where do you think digital is headed in terms of communication trends?
I think in many ways it is unfortunate that we are calling this phenomenon social media. In many ways this has hamstrung what is essentially just the new generation of effective digital marketing from a large corporation’s perspective. At the board level, many still don’t have respect for social marketing because they think it’s all about friends, likes, shares, and being popular. If we look at social media through the lens of direct marketing for a moment, it’s very easy to establish some metrics around social media. This is something I believe it needs in order to become a respected household marketing channel. I believe the next iteration of social media is turning those social conversations into commercial conversations. I believe the commercial transactions will still occur on a controlled website for many companies, but I believe the trust is arrogant; largely because of social channels where it is easy for people to recommend, like, and share your brand, whether this is business to business or business to customer. Of course we are also likely to see the ever expanding use of augmented reality and mobile communication trends, and that will largely be location-based. As we rely less and less on our desktop, making sure that your website is mobile friendly is going to be key.
How do you see emerging markets fitting into the picture in relation to the digital divide? Will the gap increase or decrease as technology advances even further?
I actually think that there is more room in the emerging markets for companies to be truly innovative. It we look at Kenya, MPESA banking system, is fully mobile. This speaks against the digital divide, because many people’s worst experience of the Internet is not via a desktop or laptop, but rather through their mobile devices. This makes for a very different experience much in the same way that generation Y was the first generation for which technology was not just the business device but rather a social device. This made generation Y relative to technology in a totally different way. One that is very conducive to driving innovation, creativity and emotional connection. Some of the emerging economies are totally side stepping old infrastructures and going straight to mobile. This can be an interesting trend to watch. Across Asia, Africa, and Latin America on every street corner there is evidence of great innovation, foresight and entrepreneurship related to mobile and Smart Media. There is something to learn for every established company in this regard. In fact this phenomenon is called reverse innovation, where anthropologists from the established world and established brands go out and study the end use of smart phones in emerging economies. This will be a space to watch, as I believe that digital will exponentially lessen the digital divide.
What are the most important things for businesses to remember when trying to keep up with the ever-changing digital shifts?
I think there are a few basics you need to get absolutely right. Having a website with educational and thought leadership ideas is going to be critical. Great content in various formats; audio, video and text will be key. Search engine optimisation is still key, but social media will become the new search engine optimisation over time. Already social rank is starting to feature in Google’s algorithms. This might be driven further by Google plus. Having an interactive website with a frequently updated blog, adds value, producing thought leadership reports. A well-integrated system in the background, allows the web to integrate with cloud tools, like sales force, is also an enabler. In many ways you need to think of your own website as the place where social conversations can turn commercial. It is the central part of a hub and spoke model, where the spokes are other social conversations across Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram. This is where you earn trust so that traffic is driven to your main website, where the customer is ready to commercially transact with you. I think it’s important to set a strategy for your website that focuses on the main trends, social and mobile, but that is also heavily data driven and analytical so that you can make sense of customer behaviour on your website. This can then drive continuous improvements in your marketing effectiveness. Thought leadership content needs to be engaging, sophisticated, and thought-provoking to establish you as an authority in your field. And this is the price you have to pay to ensure that visitors and customers share information with you and become part of your inbound and permission-based marketing efforts.
Lastly, which organisations do you see as a great example when it comes to embracing communication changes through innovation?
You know as an active TEDster, I think the TED conference is a great example of thought leadership and digital marketing combined with old media, and it produces extraordinary engagement. If we look at the development curve and the numbers at the annual TED conferences, it has steadily increased in the last ten years. And this is even though the pricing of the conference is several thousands of dollars higher now, than when the digital videos were released to the world of free. This organisation truly understands the power of digital marketing in driving analogue connections. While seeing the video is a great educational experience, the real experience at TED lives in meeting the other attendees. The conversations in the hallways between sessions, the late night conversations over whiskey, and the start-up entrepreneurial chats in the coffee line. They are truly impactful. But I think all the content on the TED website is truly thought leading. This drives demand for very expensive tickets, because you expect that the live experience is going to be amazing. There is of course a lot to learn for any organisation that is trying to drive analogue visits. It’s a great example of combining old and new media. Analogue and digital experiences combined, drive business results.
- Despite What Social Media Gurus Say, You Are Still In Control Of Your Brand
- Top Digital Expert, Michael Barber, Talks About Digital Marketing Strategy
- Is 2011 the big year for Social Media in South Africa?
- First Heavy Chef Session in Jozi: ‘Smoke, Mirrors and Social Media Part 1′
- Herman Manson On Writing For The Digital Generation