Engagement Marketing: An Interview with Alan Moore (Part One)

Alan Moore created quite a stir when he called my apartment a little over a month ago. The guy on the phone had a delightful British accent of the kind one might imagine coming from the British comic book artist who is responsible for such works as Lost Girls, From Hell, Watchman, League of Extraordinary Gentleman, Promethea, Top Ten.... Well, it wasn't that Alan Moore. This Alan Moore is a distinguished figure in the marketing world -- the CEO of SMLXL, the Cambridge based "engagement marketing" firm, and the co-author of Communities Dominate Brands: Business and Marketing Challenges for the 21st Century. In Convergence Culture, I write about what I call "affective economics" -- the reappraisal of the value of fan and brand communities within the marketing sphere. I'd recommend Communities Dominate Brands to anyone who wants to dig deeper into the realm of "affective economics." Moore and his co-author, Tomi T Ahonen, have thought deeply about the changes that are rocking the current media landscape and their implications for the ways that brands will court consumers. The book is informed by contemporary media theory and rich in examples for recent marketing efforts that put the theory into practice.

In this interview, Moore shares with us some of his insights into what is going to happen to the branding process given the rise of participatory culture and the breakdown of the traditional broadcast paradigm.

HJ: Your Bio in the book describes you as a specialist in Engagement Marketing, which begs the question -- what is Engagement Marketing and for that matter, what constitutes engagement from your point of view?

AM: Engagement marketing is a very broad term, and purposefully so. At its heart, is the insight that human beings are highly social animals, and have an innate need to communicate and interact. Therefore, any engagement marketing initiative must allow for two-way flows of information and communication. We believe, people embrace what they create.

And why is this important? Because in advanced economies the values of society and the individual change. AT the heart of this is the key issue around identity and belonging. We have always had community. Pre- industrialization, we were tied to our communities by geography, tradition, the state and birthright. External forces shaped our identity. However, in a post-modern world we can have many selves, as we undertake a quest for self identity.

This is described as Psychological Self-Determination the ability to exert control over the most important aspects of ones life, especially personal identity, which has become the source of meaning and purpose in a life no longer dictated by geography or tradition.

The Community Generation, shun traditional organizations in favor of unmediated relationship to the things they care about. The Community Generation, seek and expect direct participation and influence. They possess the skills to lead, confer and discuss. These people are not watching television and have grown up in a world of search and two-way flows of communication.

Going further Engagement Marketing is premised upon: transparency - interactivity - immediacy - facilitation - engagement - co-creation - collaboration - experience and trust these words define the migration form mass media to social media.

The explosion of: Myspace, YouTube, Second Life and other MMORPG's, Citizen Journalism, Wicki's and Swicki's, TV formats like Pop Idol, or Jamies School Dinners, Blogs, Social search, The Guinness visitor centre in Dublin or the Eden project in Cornwall UK, mobile games like Superstable or Twins, or, new business platforms like Spreadshirt.com all demonstrate a new socio-economic model, where engagement sits at the epicentre.

For example Al Gore believes Current TV's hybrid of digital platforms and broadcasting can help re-engage young people with politics and the media. A third of its schedule is created by its mainly 18 to 34-year-old audience with digital video cameras and desktop editing software. Al Gore says It's not political, it's not ideological. You get a cornucopia of points of view and fresh perspectives that force people in rigid frameworks to reassess everything.

You can load up your 15 min film. The community gets to vote if it should be broadcast on cable and the creator gets $1000

Interestingly it's a different set of incentives both personal and commercial.

So reputation begins to play an important role here. And will increasingly do so.

I see this process as having value, not only in a commercial context, but also in education, civil society, science and politics.

Engagement Marketing could help sell a product, an industry, a region, combat a social issue. It can attract and deploy the collective intelligence of the many people.

Engagement Marketing is built upon the power of the meritocracy of ideas, and the strategic combinations of different media to propel that idea into the world, stimulating and facilitating the involvement of its audience to a commonly shared goal.

Engagement Marketing is about connecting large or small communities with engaging content to a commercial or social agenda. Rather than boiling everything down to a unique selling proposition, Engagement Marketing creates bigger ideas that emotionally engage its audience, who have a desire to participate.

Rather than focus on the one single proposition which would be a manufactured communication strategy, Engagement Marketing is built upon the fundamental notion of shared experience, something which 'interruptive' communications cannot do.

Mass media, presumes, only one thing of its audience that they are passive and they will consume as much as marketers can persuade them to.

Mass media is cold media, its push, its myopic, its about as relevant to the 21st Century as First World War military strategy. The age of set piece competition is over.

If the 20th Century was about managing efficiencies, then the 21st Century will be about managing experiences.

In the book you write, "Conventional marketing and advertising is the silent movies of the 21st century. The proletarian nature of the internet, blogging, moblogging, the mobile phone, interactive TV, media choice and the PVR, the rich flows of information and the reach of that information, have all contributed to bringing an era to an end." A bold claim, indeed! I'd love to

see you unpack this for us a bit more. Why is this era ending? What evidence can you offer that this era has ended?

"TV advertising is broken, putting $67b up for grabs, which explains why google spent a billion and change on an online video startup." Stated Bob Garfield in a Wired article just before Christmas. He cites "evolution of dance," which has got nearly 35 million views in six months on YouTube, as evidence that conventional media is in meltdown. These numbers are impossible in a conventional media world.

P&G bankrolled commercial television, so when Jim Stengel CMO for P&G said:

In 1965, 80 per cent of adults in the US could be reached with three 60 second TV spots. In 2002, it required 117 prime time commercials to produce the same result. In the early 1960s, typical day-after recall scores for 60 second prime time TV commercials were about 40 per cent and nearly half of this was elicited without any memory aid. Currently a typical day-after recall score for a 30 second spot is about 18- 20 per cent and virtually no one is able to provide any form of playback without some form of recall stimulate.

The number of brands and messages competing for consumer attention has exploded, and consumers have changed dramatically. They show an increasing lack of tolerance for marketing that is irrelevant to their lives, or that is completely unsolicited. Traditional marketing methods are diluted by a hurried lifestyle, overwhelmed by technology, and often deliberately ignored.

One has to start to question the value of traditional marketing communications, which is further supported by Glen L.Urban. Professor at the Sloan School of Management. MIT, who argues that:

Marketing is changing from the push strategies so well suited to the last 50 years of mass media to trust-based strategies that are essential in a time of information empowerment.

On top of that we are witnessing the emergence of a new socio-economic model as Yochai Benkler explains in his book the Wealth of Networks:

We need not declare the end of economics as we know it. We merely need to see that the material conditions of production in the networked information economy have changed in ways that increase the relative salience of social sharing and exchange as a modality of economic production. That is, behaviours and motivation patterns familiar to us from social relations generally continue to cohere their own patterns. what has changed is that now these patterns of behaviour have become effective beyond the domains of building social relations of mutual interest and fulfilling our emotional and psychological needs of companionship amd mutual recognition. They have come to play a substantial role as modes of motivating, informing, and organising productive behaviour at the very core of the information economy.

And lets not forget TRUST. According to the World Economic Forum, Trust is at its lowest level for Governments, Global Brands and even the UN since tracking began in 2001. Trust plays a key role in any interaction, and the media and business have done a great job in destroying that trust.

For example Sony being sued for the pernicious use of spyware on 24million music CD's it sold, without the buyers consent. Or Verizon promoting Bluetooth capability in its ads and then turning the Bluetooth functionality off. Which resulted in a class action against the company. the lawsuit against Verizon Wireless - and the way it came about - highlights the challenges that weblogs pose to corporations.

Verzion advertised the Motorola V710 with Bluetooth this made it possible for file sharing between the mobile device and a computer. Verizon However turned the bluetooth functionality off.

This case has been identified as being possible purely through the power of the blogosphere and the millions that provide such overwhelming force via "word of mouth"

And how about Fake TV news?

Over a ten-month period, the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) documented television newsrooms' use of 36 video news releases (VNRs)--a small sample of the thousands produced each year. CMD identified 77 television stations, from those in the largest to the smallest markets, that aired these VNRs or related satellite media tours (SMTs) in 98 separate instances, without disclosure to viewers. Collectively, these 77 stations reach more than half of the U.S. population.

The VNRs and SMTs whose broadcast CMD documented were produced by three broadcast PR firms for 49 different clients, including General Motors, Intel, Pfizer and Capital One. In each case, these 77 television stations actively disguised the sponsored content to make it appear to be their own reporting. In almost all cases, stations failed to balance the clients' messages with independently-gathered footage or basic journalistic research. More than one-third of the time, stations aired the pre-packaged VNR in its entirety.

So, once you have stormed the Bastille, you don't really want to go back to your boring day job. In this instance, the day job is the consumer as an; uninformed, unconnected, passive, ignorant, non-participative, controlled individual that will happily consume and not question what is put in front of them.

The point is that neither the media, nor brands are in control, and we are not waiting for them. We see image advertising as junk mail and by default irrelevant, we don't believe the hype, and we have learnt to question the motive. We the people formerly known as the audience are no longer content to be good foot soldiers.

So the upshot of all of this is the people taking control and creating their own media platforms like OhMyNews . Founder and Editor Oh Yeon-ho said in an interview with Wired Magazine "With OhmyNews, we wanted to say goodbye to 20th-century journalism where people only saw things through the eyes of the mainstream, conservative media. Our main concept is every citizen can be a reporter. We put everything out there and people judge the truth for themselves."

The article goes on further to say that the Guardian has described it as the world's most domestically powerful news site and a South Korean diplomat was quoted as saying that the no policy maker can now ignore OhMyNews.

What does this mean? It means we are redefining what journalism is, what media is and who controls it. If this is the case we are redefining what advertising is, what business is and who benefits. It means we are redefining how we communicate and to whom.

We are witnesses at the birth of a new socio-economic model.

The Silent Cinema analogy suggests less a fundamental break than the reconfiguration of the system to reflect a new technological environment. Your book talks a lot about what needs to change. What lessons will these new marketers carry over from the era of conventional marketing and advertising?

What can they carry over?

Well - not a lot as I can see.

It's a new set of rules and a new language.

I think there is a great deal that can be left behind. The worse thing that can happen to you is irrelevance which is always the precursor to obsolescence. And that is a one-way street.

With TV audiences in decline, globally what is the model for the future?

Your book describes a shift from a Networked Culture to a Connected Culture. Explain what you see as the difference between the two. How does this distinction map onto the distinction people are starting to make between Web 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0?

Web 1.0 is representative of a networked culture. We're all plugged in, and can be defined as Metcalfe's Law.

But a connected culture is a world of hot media, of Current TV, peer production, collective intelligence, Second Life, the world of Warcraft, Pop Idol, Citizen Journalism, Myspace, Bebo, YouTube, mobile social networking, new business platforms which is about utilising digital technologies to radically challenge the status quo of our industrialised world. It is all about persistent conversation and extended narrative.

A connected culture is one that can be better described as Reeds Law and Group Forming Networks

(GFNs) are an important additional kind of network capability. They allow small or large groups of network users to connect and to organize their communications around a common interest, issue, or goal.

GFN's have an exponential effect and significantly out perform either Sarkov's Lawthe law of the mass media and Metcalfe's Law which is the Law of the internet.

Connected culture is about Commons based peer production as a third model of production that relies on decentralized information gathering and exchange and more efficient allocation of human creativity.

For example Yahoo talk about better search through people. Bradley Horowitz of Yahoo talks about User generated content that is Tagged, Described, Organized and, Discovered not by editors but by the users.

Yahoo talks about: User Distributed Content, and, User Developed Functionality

And they talk about F.U.S.E. = Find - Use - Share - Expand

Another illustration of a connected culture is >em>The Elephant's Dream, the world's first open movie, made entirely with open source graphics software such as Blender, and with all production files freely available to use

The short film was created by the Orange Open Movie Project studio in Amsterdam during 2005/2006, bringing together a diverse team of artists and developers from all over the world .

All mobile/web technologies are designed around social interaction of one form or another. It's a world of Social Media not Mass Media. Niche mass audiences - forming around passion based interests that are not geographic specific.