Interview with Richard Stacy by Adam Fraser
This is a transcript of this podcast interview with Richard Stacy on Hot Marketing
Adam: I’m delighted to welcome Richard Stacy to the EchoJunction Podcast. Richard is a well-known social media consultant and thought leader from the U.K. and the author of the wonderfully-titled book, “Social Media and The Three Per Cent Rule: How to succeed by not talking to 97 per cent of your audience.” Richard has been consulting on social media for over eight years and has consulted to organisations including Microsoft, Discovery Networks Europe, and the Royal Bank of Scotland. Prior to working in social media, Richard had a long and successful career in the PR industry, working at various times in London, Sydney, Brussels, and Prague, at major PR firms. Richard, a big welcome to the EchoJunction Podcast.
Richard: Hi there, Adam, it’s good to be here.
Adam: Good stuff, and our most distant guest to date, talking from the U.K. So, Richard, for those in the audience that may not know too much about you, could you just give us a quick summary of your back story and your career today and how you ended up working in social media.
Richard: Sure, yeah. Well, as you said, I started off my career working in public relations, so I’ve worked for international public relations agency for something like 20 years, in various places around the world. And about, it seems at this point, about eight or nine years ago, it doesn’t seem that long, I first started getting interested in this social media thing, and actually used that as an excuse to kind of get myself out of the agency world, which I’d had enough of pretty much after 20 years, and began operating as an independent consultant, basically helping companies understand just what on earth was going on with this new social media space.
And obviously, of course, things have changed quite a lot since I first started doing it, although in some ways, they haven’t changed that much. But I think what characterises the whole thing is that people are still trying to work out what to do in this space and they are getting lots of different advice from lots of different sources, and very few have necessarily kind of cracked it yet. So that’s basically what I’ve been doing for the last eight or nine years now.
Adam: Sure, and look, lots about social media, and a couple of specific blog posts you’ve done that I want to jump into. But before we do that, I don’t know how often I’m going to get people with 20 plus years PR experience on the podcast, I’m just keen to explore a couple of PR-related topics. Helicopter level with you, you would recall, without revealing your age too much, Richard, the pre-digital, pre-internet era. Bigger picture: how has PR changed from 20 plus years ago to where it finds itself today?
Richard: Well, in a funny way, it hasn’t actually changed that much. A lot of the other marketing disciplines, I think, have changed more, partly because of the fact that almost everything in the marketing services world is kind of merging, or it’s all turning into PR, actually. I mean, a former boss of mine, a guy called Lou Capozzi, who heads up the MSL Network globally, he said it’s all just become PR with zeroes added to the budgets. Obviously, it has changed a fair bit, but PR a long time ago started moving away from its core discipline, which was kind of media relations, and broadening out into this area of content and of stories and of narrative, all the sorts of things that everybody else is now trying to do catch-up.
So I think the reason for that is that of all the marketing disciplines, PR is the one that never had its own channel. It never had a channel it could automatically just kind of dump its stuff into and be guaranteed an audience. So it always had to work, to ride on the back of someone else’s channel, which to a certain extent is what we all have to do in social media these days, because, well social media isn’t really a channel, just another point. So, yes, PR has changed quite a bit, but in some ways it hasn’t actually changed that much, because everything else is starting to become PR.
Adam: Sure. I mean, look, I don’t claim to know huge amount, PR as it used to be, but, you know, visions of sterile, very sort of brand-polished PR releases come to mind, and I contrast that with all the buzzwords you hear now about transparency, authenticity, honesty, you know, real-time, ever I’m being a publisher. From what you’re saying though, PR had evolved a bit from that sort of sterile press-release background anyway, because it’s hard to see that fitting in in today’s, you know, very open direct world.
Richard: Yeah. I’m almost trying to think, even in my PR career, when I wrote my last press release, but it had started to move quite a bit away from the press release and media relations. I mean, media relations was sort of the thing that it had focused on for quite a long period of time, I guess. But of course, what really even happened within media relations is that PR people ended up producing much more of the content for the journalists because the journalists hadn’t got the time or the money anymore. So, that has been one of the most significant changes in straight media relations in PR is the fact that the PR people have, for quite a long time, been producing content specifically for publications and journalists, which the journalists increasingly are just kind of taking lock, stock, and barrel, and dropping into their channels, as it were.
But again, you could say that 15, 20 years ago, it was kind of the clichéd image of the journalist, a long lunch, just firing out press releases. But that probably has changed quite a long time ago, and I think it really started to change when the media’s business model came under increasing pressure, not just because of social and digital, but because of a whole bunch of other things as well, you know, proliferation of media channels as much as anything else. It’s been pretty tough in the media world now for quite a long time. So, that was the sector that first got touched by these news or digital change, really.
Adam: Yeah. Look, Richard, you mentioned storytelling, and the word “content” has obviously been mentioned a couple of times already. Clearly, a lot of buzz – call it the last five years – about this new thing called content marketing, but I’ve seen you reference brand journalism, and in essence, what we now describe as content marketing had been happening well before that. I mean, what’s your general view on content marketing and is it really anything new or these sort of activities had been happening for a longer period of time?
Richard: Well, it sort of is, and it sort of isn’t. I mean, yes, brand journalism has been something that was… I can remember when I was working in Australia, well, that’d be probably 15 years ago now, developing something that actually I thought at the time was really quite new, which was now become known as a video news release, which was we were doing a big public offering. I think it was for Channel 7 Network, I can’t remember, way back in the distant mists of time, but we were producing a lot of content that we were giving to the TV networks to support the work that we were doing, and that was getting a run. So, this was stuff we were doing at least 15 years ago.
But of course what’s happened recently is this thing called content marketing has suddenly exploded. And I must admit, I’m a huge sceptic of that, because the difference is when we were producing content back then, we were putting it in a channel that guaranteed that content was going to a large audience, because that’s how the media was structured. That doesn’t work in social media. What’s happening with most content that people are producing now is it’s just being used to fill up a channel that to a large extent almost no one is doing anything with or consuming. The vast majority of content that most organisations produce nowadays is what I call “brandfill,” it just goes straight into a content dustbin, no one even looks at it, no one pays any attention to it at all, because that’s not what consumers want in this new social digital space.
The relationship that these people want is not one that’s based on the receipt of content. It’s based on a whole bunch of other things. The relationship they had to have previously, in the traditional digital space, sorry, the traditional media space, was based on content because that’s the way it operated. There was no other way that you could really have a relationship with a consumer except by pushing content at them down a mass media channel. But that’s all changed.
But what we’re doing now, therefore, with content strategy is just taking an old-fashioned approach and just trying to force-fit it into this new world, where the rules are completely different. And that’s why I’m a huge sceptic of this thing called “content.” What I prefer to say companies should have is not a content strategy, it’s a real-time information management strategy — a process that’s in place so that you’re always answering your consumers’ questions. And you don’t do that just simply by forcing an editorial schedule of content, which is what most organisations are doing.
Adam: That’s interesting stuff, Richard. I want to probe a bit more deeply into some of the things you’ve just mentioned when I jump into your blog post on hot marketing. But maybe one final segue question before we dive into that, moving from the PR, sort of traditional pre-internet world, to the social media world of today. The term “audiences,” when people hear the term “audience” and we instinctively, I guess, maybe jump to TV or radio. I’ve read some interesting thoughts you’ve had previously about audiences and what that means, I guess, in a social media, digital landscape. Could you just share your thoughts on that topic?
Richard: Sure, yeah. The thing is there are no audiences in social media, by and large. Occasionally, you come across them, when things go viral, as it were, but generally speaking, social media, it’s just not an audience space, and trying to create audiences in social media is extraordinarily difficult. But the trouble is we’re also locked into the idea of there having to be an audience, but that’s only because we’ve always had to communicate with audiences, because that’s what we’ve been used to doing. So again, we’re still desperately carrying on as though the challenge in social media is an audience-based challenge, because audience-based challenge measured by reach and frequency, but that’s just not the challenge anymore in the social digital space.
It’s why I titled my book, “How to succeed by not speaking to 97 per cent of your audience.” you have to recognise, in the social digital space, you’re only ever speaking to a few number of people at any one moment in time, which doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it, but you shouldn’t do it if then what you’re pushing at those people is generic content that’s designed for an audience, which is what most organisations are doing.
Adam: As I said in the intro to this podcast, I’ve been lucky enough for you and I to have a few lengthy chats on various topics, and we’ve explored some of this before, but I’m envisaging some members of the audience that have listened to lots of people telling them to develop content marketing strategies and ‘build an audience,’ that may be saying, “Hang on, Richard, you know, McDonald’s have got 50-plus million Facebook fans, and Coke have got 90 million Facebook fans, why are they not an audience?” What would you say to that?
Richard: Well, one, obviously, Facebook fans, Facebook likes are not an audience, because that just means someone once clicked a button, it doesn’t mean they’re out there, waiting for your content. You may have got up to thousands of Twitter followers, but you haven’t got thousands of Twitter followers, you’ve only got whoever might be actually having a conversation with you on Twitter right now, which is probably, generally speaking, just a few number of people. So there’s this kind of misinterpretation… And I think people are starting to realise now that trying to create Facebook likes and Facebook audiences always was a stupid thing to do, at working. Mostly because they can’t work out the value from it
This is now being called organic social media, and they’re saying, “Organic social media is dead, therefore we’ve got to then move to pay for social media.” But organic social media was never alive, it was never working. But the reason that everyone’s doing this, to a large extent, and the reason that people are being sold content strategies, is because content ticks all the boxes. It ticks the boxes of marketing directors, because it’s something they can understand and they can know how to do. They can outsource it to agencies, so it ticks all the boxes of the agencies, because it still provides them with a living. But the only box that content doesn’t tick is the “this is what I actually want from a brand,” the consumer’s box. They’re not ticking the content box, because that’s not what they want.
There’s a whole bunch of other things that consumers want, but content is not it. But no one really wants to face up to that fact, because it’s kind of too disruptive and it’s a different kind of business model. How you do this doesn’t mean doing… it’s not the same as how you used to do this stuff before. So there’s a huge set of vested interest behind this idea of producing content. That’s why everyone’s doing it and no one wants to change or to challenge that thinking, because that’s just too disruptive sort of a thought.
Adam: So you’re almost saying, Richard, there’s a major change afoot. There’s almost an industry-wide change management, if I get my consultant hat on, there’s a change management project happening for the entire industry, but people are resistant to change, as organisations are, and they have a vested interest, I guess, for not wanting it to change.
Richard: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. The key to it, really, is to understand the world of traditional media was a distribution challenge, okay, that’s what it was there to do, where social media, the world of social media, was a world of connection. It’s a connection challenge. So you have to understand how to create value to the power of connection rather than understand how to create value to the power of distribution. And that’s what marketing has been. Marketing as audience-based marketing, it’s all about distribution, it’s reach and frequency, how many people can we reach with that message. That’s what marketing has been.
But marketing that’s based on connection, understanding the power of connection, is a totally different thing. I mean, it won’t even be called marketing once we start to develop the right words for what it is that’s going to happen. And that, of course, is a challenge if you’re a marketing person and your career and experience is based on essentially audience-based, mass-media channel marketing.
Adam: It’s a really interesting perspective, Richard, as I say, it may be slightly different to some of the more commonly held views that people in the audience are used to listening to. So, let’s dive into the blog post specifically, that you wrote actually towards the end of 2014, where you said, “2015: the year of hot marketing (you heard it here first),” I like that bit. Pulling together some of the themes that we’ve already been touching on — reach and frequency, social media, connection –what, I guess, what is hot marketing, and by definition, what did cold marketing use to look like?
Richard: Well yeah, we have started to cover off some of this stuff, really, it’s because essentially, the kind of relationship that you can create with an individual consumer on the basis of treating them as a member of an audience and pushing generic content at them is by definition never going to be a particularly warm or engaging relationship. You can only really have warm or engaging relationships when you start treating your consumers as individuals. And we’ve never really realised, up until this point, just how cold an exercise marketing has been, because it is. It’s just single messages broadcast at large audiences.
We’re moving from the world of the audience to the world of the individual, and understanding how you create relationships with individuals. But as I think I mentioned before, if you are going to create relationships with individuals, those relationships have to be hugely more valuable than the sorts of relationships you were creating when you were just treating everyone as a member of an audience in order to make that exercise worthwhile. I always say, social media is a low-reach but high-engagement medium, whereas traditional media is a high-reach but low-engagement medium. But we’ve never really realised, up until now, just how low that engagement really was.
So, that’s my analogy of moving from cold marketing to hot marketing is a way of trying to get people, I think, to understand, one, that fundamentally marketing has got to change, but also that it’s got to change to an environment where you extract much higher-value relationships with much smaller numbers of people. It’s a different sort of numbers game. So that, in essence, is what it’s about.
Adam: Sure. There’s a few things I want to unpack within what you’ve just said, if I can sort of jump on one of them, on one specific quote from the blog, where you said: “The old approaches don’t deliver in the new environment.” I mean, is that another way of saying that advert… Yeah, I don’t want to say something controversial, “advertising is dead,” but certainly mass reach and frequency advertising as we used to know it is becoming less effective and less relevant in the digital era.
Richard: Yes. I mean, we’ve all known that for ages. You talk to any head of an advertising agency network, and for years and years now, they’ve been facing this challenge as they’ve seen their margins and their business going down, the volumes of their business going down, and kind of not knowing what to do about it. Advertising isn’t dead. The thing that’s dead or dying is the business model that delivers advertising. So there’s always going to be advertising in the future, but it’s going to have to be delivered in a very different way to a very different business model, because it’s getting competition from so many different sorts of spaces. That’s the thing that’s ultimately going to really change. There’s still going to be a role of it, there still will be a time when you want to speak to an audience-sized group of people, and for the time being, as a general rule, the best way to do that is through advertising.
I think probably what’s going to happen in the world of the audience though is what I call this term, “convening an audience,” it’s going to shift much more to how it is you attract an audience-sized group to your brand rather than just reliant on the fact that you can broadcast what your brand is about to an audience-sized group of people. So, this concept of “convening” an audience is what I think traditional marketing is going to have to focus on to a much greater extent. And it well may be that the thing that opens up in the social digital space… again, as I said, won’t be called marketing at all, it will be called something else, but marketing will retrench and become focused onto this idea of how do we convene an audience around our brand, where we’re the target, rather than just simply targeting an audience with our stuff.
Adam: I know, from what you said earlier, Richard, you’re not a fan of, call it, mainstream content marketing theory, but what you’ve just said sounds like, if I can use another buzzword, inbound marketing rather than outbound. Is that a fair comment, or are you not a fan of the term inbound marketing?
Richard: Well, possibly, that’s a label you can put onto it. The trouble is that then tends to come with it, the sort of connotations of what inbound marketing used to be, which often takes me to territories like CRM, customer relationship management, and that sort of stuff. Although interestingly, actually, as I think I’ve mentioned in that last blog post that I wrote, that whole area is about to be blown up by big data and algorithms anyway, so that’s yet another change that’s going to come along and transform marketing. I’ve never got into really. But the challenge in the social media space, it’s all about behaviour identification response. That’s the thing to remember. So, I would say, forget terms like “inbound marketing,” but think about behaviour identification and response. Those are the two buzzwords that you need to be able to get your head around in order to work out how your organisation should respond to that.
So on one level, you could say, “Well, you know, CRM was all about looking at people’s behaviour and then targeting them with messages,” but it’s not, again, just trying to… a targeting exercise, it’s a response exercise.
Adam: So, again, is another way of expressing that is sort of social listening and customer service? Do you see those as almost foundation planks of what brands and enterprises should be using the social media platforms for?
Richard: Absolutely, yeah. I mean, I’m still astonished at the extent to which so many organisations, they jump into content, which is like to rush into a room and starting to shout at people without actually doing listening first. I mean, listening is the most important thing, and the first thing that you can do in social media, but also the thing where you often get the most value, because you can find out stuff about your consumers and your competitors and your market. It’s an enormous source of intelligence and value, but so few organisations, I think, have really tapped into it yet.
And this, the customer service thing, I think is, it’s kind of always been humming along in the background, but I think more organisations now are recognising that. Sometimes that’s where the pressure is coming, because individuals are expecting them to be listening and if they’re asking them a question or something on Twitter, they’re expecting an answer. So, that’s where you kind of get a pressure point that is actually pushing organisations to start, ultimately, to start doing the right thing.
But those two things I think are incredibly important and hopefully are going to become more important. It’s going to be the kind of not quite the bandwagon that drags people into this space, but something a bit like that.
Adam: And when earlier, Richard, you said traditional media – high-reach, low-engagement; social media – low-reach, high-engagement; I was keen to understand what that sort of warm, the hot marketing, that warmer relationship looks like and how brands will gain, like you say, if you’re investing more time in a small number of people, you need to repay a greater value exchange from that investment, if you like. So, what benefit would brands get by doing this effectively?
Richard: Well, a bunch of things, really. At one level, there’s going to be the fact that there is an expectation now from consumers, that if you don’t meet that expectation, they will just lose interest in you. There was a very good study that was published at the end of last year by Edelman, I think it’s their Brandwatch or Brandshare survey, something like that. It did an exercise which surprisingly few organisations have actually done, which is to actually ask people what it is they want in their relationships with brands. And it was very, very clear what people were saying, that the four most important things that they were saying were all basically linked to listening and to response — to listen to our questions, to respond to our issues, to give us opportunities to contribute, and in fact, the last four issues were much more about brand values, actually standing for something that I can identify with, other than just simply the generation of profit.
So, there’s a very, very clear message that’s coming back from consumers if organisations choose to listen to it. And so you’ve got to be able to respond to that in the future if you still want to be relevant, but when it comes down to kind of more prosaic things, really, the amount of intelligence that you can get just simply by listening to and analysing what’s going on in the social digital spaces is very, very significant. I mean, as much as anything else, you don’t need to spend money on a market research agency pretty much ever again, because you should be able to extract everything that you need to know about your consumers from just simply by listening to them in that space.
And, again, this is often an area where some of the more techno-platforms are starting to move in, which is creating the platforms that are going to allow you to do that as well as some specialist agencies that are developing methodologies based around extracting information out of what’s conversations, basically, in the social digital space. There’s value there to be had, but there’s also an imperative, because if you don’t respond to what it is consumers are saying, you’re just not going to be here in however many years’ time.
Adam: Yeah, I’m all on board on the importance of customer service and using social media for, call it, core business processes, not just B to C marketing, as people often dub it. And you recently said, Richard, in this post and another one about customer service being legitimately difficult to execute? Pulling that together with your earlier comment that it is a bit of a mystery why more brands aren’t doing it. Why do you think that is the case? As you said, there are technologies and platforms now available for people to do it effectively, so what’s stopping brands moving in this direction?
Richard: Well, I think you’d said it before, change is always difficult. Particularly if it’s change that involves hiring people, because social media, kind of clue being in the name, is a social process, and whilst you can use technology and machines to kind of help you to a certain extent, at the end of the day, a machine isn’t going to be able to think for you, or not yet anyway, and kind of put out most of those sorts of responses. There has to be another person on the end of the line doing things like answering questions or even managing participation within various forms of community.
And the trouble is, hiring people in business has been a criminal offense for the last 20 years. It’s all been about reducing the headcount, outsourcing. It’s easier for a marketing director to spend a couple of million on an ad campaign, but to spend 50 grand on a new hire is a crime. That’s what gets you fired. But that’s what people going to have to do, you are going to have to change the profile of your resourcing away from, basically from buying media channels, to buying people, because it’s social. And that’s tricky. It takes a lot of pushing or a lot of pain to get organisations to respond to that one.
Adam: And it’s a complete change of mindset, like you said, from customer service being bottom of the food chain and very much a cost centre.
Richard: Absolutely, it was a cost.
Adam: Turning that into a value-adding customer retention, brand-building pick-a-phrase. And that is a big mindset shift.
Richard: Well, there’s a little example I’ve got of a company I was doing some work with that really just sums it up. They’re a beauty cosmetics company, this takes us into the whole area of brand advocates as well, which is another kind of bugbear of mine, but they’d hire a bunch of beauty bloggers to basically distribute messages about their products to their audience on social media. So there, we’re using them from a distribution perspective again, pushing messages out, an influence network, all this kind of stuff.
But interestingly, whist they were doing that, when I sat down with them, there were two issues that they were facing. One, they weren’t able to work out just what value this was contributing to the business, in fact it wasn’t really contributing any value to the business in terms of measurable metrics, like increasing sales. But also a part of their business had had a problem, they lost about 30% market share in the nail varnish sector, okay, because something had happened in the nail varnish sector, which is people have started to go for fancy, funny, shimmery, glittery nail kind of effects. This was a new trend that came out of the consumers to a large extent, and they missed this trend. And as a result, they lost about 30% of their market share.
And I said, “Well, the people you are paying to distribute messages to their influence networks, they didn’t miss this change. They had been aware of what was going on, but they were facing the wrong way. They weren’t reflecting the consumer back to you. You called them ambassadors because their role was to be an ambassador for your business, where they should’ve been an ambassador for your consumer within your business. And if you had done that, and by the way, to do that, you can just get ordinary consumers to be that, you don’t have to have people that you pay money to do that for you.”
So, again, that’s another example of the way in which you can extract value by changing the direction of flow. By becoming much better connected to what it is your consumers are doing and thinking, and then you won’t miss necessarily shifts in the market and lose market shares, these guys did.
Adam: Now, that’s a great example and case study. And Richard, you used the term “connected” again there and you’ve used it a couple of times. So I want to ask one specific question where this may seem me being anal for the sake of being anal, but I’m almost trying to bridge the worlds, that maybe, again, the audience may be familiar with certain terminology and mainstream thinking and, look, I think everyone’s on board with distribution not being a challenge, anyone can be a publisher, you don’t need permission, etc. I don’t think there’s too much debate that raw distribution is available to anyone, there’s no gatekeepers.
But I often see the challenge being described as one of attention, that content shock and how do I get the attention of my audience and cutting through, but you don’t use the word “attention,” you use the word “connection.” Is there a difference between getting the attention of a group of people and connecting with them?
Richard: Oh, yeah, a huge difference. I mean, attention is just another word for… an excuse for reach and frequency. This whole idea of content shock is nonsense. Once upon a time, it was all right or easy to do content because the space was empty, therefore you could find an audience to get around. Then now, there’s this idea that the space is filling up with stuff and that’s making it more difficult. It’s complete nonsense because the problem is nobody wants the stuff that’s there. They don’t want that message. There’s no point in shouting at them louder if what you’re giving them is something they don’t want in the first place. And that’s all that this thing “attention” is all about. Or it’s about this kind of desperate search to try and make something go viral, which has obsessed the marketing industry for ages, despite the fact that the evidence shows almost nothing goes viral. And even the stuff that does is usually the stuff you don’t want to go viral.
So this whole idea that you’ve got to make your content better and shinier and more engaging to get through this, create attention in the cluttered world of content, is complete and utter nonsense, in my opinion. It’s not about content, it’s about answering people’s questions. You need to identify what questions is your audience or your potential audience, kind of the wrong word, but anyways, your consumers or your customers asking. And you’ve got to have in place a process that answers those questions in real time, either because they’re asking you directly on Twitter or something else, so you’ve got to have a person at the end of the line that can give them that answer, or they’re asking Google, so you’ve got to have a process in place that ensures that your answers are in those Google spaces.
So, content strategies and information, it’s a real-time information management process, and if you approach content from that perspective, it’ll work. You’ll get value out of it simply because you’re giving consumers what they want. If you approach it just simply editorially, as a way of filling up the channel, we’ve got all these new channels, we’ve got to fill them up with stuff, as I say, it’s just brandfill, a complete waste of time.
Adam: So, Richard, when you say “connection,” it sounds like, if I’m hearing you right, you’re not talking from a sort of emotional, “I want to love the brand” type connection. You’re talking almost more functionally. “I have certain needs, requirements, questions, issues I want solved by a product I’m buying, you know, give me the answers I want,” an almost functional relationship.
Richard: Yeah, absolutely. I think we’ve talked about this before, it’s a bit like the waiter or the butler, you know. You want the butler to be there to pull the drinks, to clear the plates, to give you the menu, whatever. You don’t want him to come and join the conversation, or you don’t want to be their friend, you just want them to do their job, which is answering your questions. And at all other times, you just want them to sit in the corner and shut up. So, brands have got to learn to sit in the corner and shut up and talk only when they are talked to in effect, to respond when and where consumers want that.
And it’s interesting, that Edelman study I referred to a while back, they kind of touched on this because they saw this division between the emotional and the functional, and the things that people really wanted, as you said, they were very functional, very rational, kind of “I’ve got a question, give me the answer. How many colours does it come in? Where can I get it? What about this, how can I do that,” type of stuff. But then the other things they wanted that were emotional were very different, they were different kind of order of magnitude. They are wanting to feel connected with actually what it is your brand does and stands for and feel that there’s something there other than just making money.
So, those are the two things that consumers are saying to brands they really want. But as you said, a lot of what they want in the social digital spaces is very, very functional, kind of transactional, “Answer the bloody question,” type of stuff.
Adam: So what you’re saying, and this is probably a potential topic for an entire podcast of its own, is the more creative, mere puffery, if I can call it, side of brand marketing kind of diminish over time, because consumers are turning off to, let’s just say, some of the nonsense over the last couple of decades marketing’s come out with? Do they no longer want or expect that from brands?
Richard: Yeah, they still expect the brand show to a certain extent. I mean, there are, I think, instances where they are happy to be treated as a member of an audience, but what’s going to have to happen here, I think, is this whole process of convening an audience of people. Brands have to create reasons why large numbers of consumers should be attracted to them, and they’re not going to be able to do that simply by making nice 30-second bits of kind of crazy content and pushing it out there down the media channels. So, that’s the challenge, I think I said before, for conventional marketing. It is how to convene an audience around your brand.
There are some organisations that are starting to get that, but quite a lot, I think, that are not. And this is the challenge. The guys like Coca-Cola, I’ve had a number of debates with the guys at Coca-Cola, because I think their content strategy stuff is nonsense and this stuff they’ve talked about, moving from creative excellence to content excellence is, again, a complete disaster, I think, really. They have to understand how to actually start to convene an audience around their brand, not just simply by pushing vast amounts of content, which they’re currently doing.
Adam: Richard, it’s always great to chat to you, and I could go on for hours on this, but I do want to respectful of your time and bring the interview towards a close, and just pick up on a couple of final questions. Yeah, without labouring the point, and I’ve said it a couple of times, some of your views clearly do swim against the tide and go against some of the more mainstream views, if I can call it that, particularly out of the U.S.A. Two sub-questions there, how do you feel about that and why do you that is the case, why is your view so distinct from some of the others that we see around?
Richard: Two reasons, I think, one is I haven’t got a team I’ve got to feed. When I was working at the agency world, you had a whole bunch of people whose…you weren’t just responsible for your own mortgage, you were responsible for their mortgages as well. So, again, it’s this environment, you don’t want to change anything, you want to continue to invent excuses to continue to do what you’ve been doing and what you’ve been selling in order to pay one’s mortgages. So I don’t have to do that anymore and I’ve paid off my own mortgage. So that’s one of the reasons you can do it.
But the other reason is, from the very outset, what really intrigued me about social media was… the problem I found with so many experts out there is that the better ones, even, are doing a good job at describing what’s going on, but they’re not doing a good job explaining exactly what’s going on and why it’s happening. And right from the very get-go, I had delved into this whole idea about what’s driving this change. It is a change that’s as fundamental as the change that was introduced with the printing press about 600 years ago. And once you’re kind of switched on to that, it actually gives you the key to really understand what’s happening and what’s going to happen and what has to change.
And I don’t think many people, they haven’t really looked at social media from…they look at it from a perspective of technology and channels and bright new shiny things. They don’t look at it from the perspective of history, for example, and society and the relationship between information and distribution, because one of my sound bites about social media is: social media is essentially the separation of information from the means of distribution. But we’ve been living in a world for 600 years where information has been married to particular means of distribution, information has been married to the channel, and message has been married to the channel. That’s created the world as we know it. It created the Renaissance, for example. The printing revolution created the Renaissance.
So, what we’re unstitching here is something as fundamental as that. And that’s the bit, actually, that I’ve always found fascinating. It gives you the key. It gives you the ability to actually understand the much more fundamental changes that are driving things and the appetite to expose that.
The other things is I did 20 years working for the man in the corporate machine and I kind of made the decision I’m not going to spend the next 20 years doing that, so I want to go and do what I want to do and not have to be cowed by anybody else or anybody else’s business model.
Adam: Got it, I understand it. If I can pull it all together, Richard, final question before we jump into the Quick Fire Round, what are the main trends you’re seeing right here right now and where do you see things heading in the next, call it, 12, 24 months?
Richard: I don’t know. The next 12, 24 months is always kind of a difficult one. I mean, we’re still all obsessed with content, unfortunately. It’s going to takes us a couple of years at least, two or three years, to get through that. I’m sort of hoping that customer service and particularly this idea of community and understanding communities is going to become more developed over the next year or so. That’s one of my other buzzwords – that community is going to become the new media.
Looking kind of further forward, and a bit that we haven’t really talked about much, is the way in which algorithms are just going to blow the whole thing apart. They’re not going to change marketing, they’re going to change society as well, which is another kind of… But that’s so big and potentially so transformational, I can’t even get my head around it, really. It’s one of those things that’s you need to be aware of it, but just how it’s going to pan out, it’s so difficult to tell.
So, anyway, my main hope is over the next couple of years, people are going to just work this content nonsense out of their system and actually get to thinking much more about dealing with communities of people, understanding the power of connection, these sorts of things.
Adam: Great. Really interesting stuff, Richard. Thanks for your time and your insights. We just like to lighten things up at the end, so are you all set for the EchoJunction Quick Fire Round?
Richard: Yes, I am, I think.
Adam: Okay. Here we go. Question number one to Richard Stacy from Stacy Consulting in the U.K., if you could only use one social network for any purpose in the next 30 days, which would you choose and why?
Richard: I would choose Google, but I may be not allowed to choose that, because you may say that’s not a social network, but…
Adam: Well, can I interrupt and say I found someone that’s using Google+, so let’s pause and reflect on that? No, did you mean Google or Google+?
Richard: No, definitely not Google+.
Adam: No, of course not.
Richard: Google is still the thing, Google is everything still. Everything happens in Google, it’s still the number one place. We still often tend to forget that, partly because we don’t see it as being a network. But if I’m not allowed to use Google because it’s not a network, but the next tool I would use is Netvibes, and the reason I’d use Netvibes is because Netvibes is a listening tool, and listening is the most important thing you’ve got to do. But again, Netvibes isn’t a network, so if you’re really pushing me to use a social network, I would say, okay, I’d do Twitter, and the reason I do…
Adam: Thank you.
Richard: Because you can listen on Twitter. Twitter is a listening network. That wasn’t quick fire, was it? Sorry.
Adam: That wasn’t quick fire, but it was always interesting and consistent with the rest of the interview, slightly different to the other answers we’ve had to date, so thank you for that. Now, Richard, question two, what’s the most influential and impactful business book you’ve ever read?
Richard: I haven’t read that many, to be honest. But the one that always sticks in my mind is good old Tom Peters, “Pursuit of Excellence” from way, way back then. But the one I’ve read most recently, if that can qualify, that I think everybody should read is “Big Data” by Kenneth Cukier and Viktor Mayer-Schönberger. That really is a fascinating book.
Adam: Interesting, I will link both of those up in the show notes. And lastly, Richard, who are the top two or three influencers you personally follow on social media?
Richard: I gave up following influencers on social media quite a few years ago, because I found it’s much more productive to follow conversations. And insofar as I follow anyone or anything, I tend to follow sources of information, so I can find out what’s going on. So, I’m sorry to have not really answered that one specifically, but I’m really not a great fan of social media influencers or the concept of social media influence expressed as being an individual. Influence is a process and it’s all about conversation, it’s not about people.
Adam: So even blogs, podcasts, videos, there’s no sort of regular spots you check in to stay on top of the market?
Richard: Well, I mean, I check out things like Social Media Today, and E-Consultancy, but not because they’re influencers or because I value any of the opinions, necessarily, I find within them, it’s just they give you a good perspective on what’s happening at the moment.
Adam: Great. Exactly why I wanted on the podcast, Richard, sort of a different view all the way to the end, I found it really fascinating. Thank you so much for your time. Before I let you go, where would you like to send people that maybe want to find out a bit more about what you’re up to online?
Richard: Oh, best to go to my blog, I guess, which is richardstacy.com.
Adam: Great. I will link that up in the show notes. Richard, thanks so much for being with us.
Richard: Okay, cheers!
Adam: There we go, ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Richard Stacy. I did warn you in the intro, an incredibly deep and insightful thinker on this sector. As I always do, I took a lot out of that interview and I hope you did too, and I hope you enjoyed it and found it of value.
Here are the show notes for this interview with Richard Stacy