Brett, Author at Noise Digital | Vancouver & Toronto Advertising Agency

Nice Mask

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Photo by godakshin

People have gathered in public spaces to observe and be observed since the dawn of civilization. What’s more, material objects, ideas and language have always been symbols that reflect self/group identity.

Since social media reflect and amplify the human experience, it’s not surprising to see voyeurism, self expression and self presentation thriving in the digital world.

How do voyeurism and self-presentation affect brand building? Let’s briefly explore through the lens of Facebook.

Facebook Voyeurism

Facebook offers many apps that help users actively communicate like messages, status posts, photo albums, comments, likes, and games. While these tools are certainly well used, research suggests that passively trolling through our friends’ posts and photos takes up the lion share of time spent.

Case in point, a study by Young in 2011 highlighted the behavior of adding a potential lover/partner  to Facebook soon after the first physical interaction with the intent of ‘face-stalking’ him/her for more insight.

Facebook Self-Expression and Self-Presentation

Facebook profiles have become symbolic reflections of our personal identity. The photos we upload, the objects we LIKE, the articles we share, the posts we make and the places we check-in work together to tell a story about who we are (and who we would like to be perceived as).

Through this lens, a user posting a story from the New York Times about the roots of the financial crisis is not just sharing a great piece of journalism with friends; the user is leveraging high brow intellectual content to help construct his/her personal identity as an educated thinker.

Facebook Users and Brand Interaction

When you correct for promotional incentives and customer reviews/inquiries, people tend to interact (like, comment, share) with brands that help them construct their identity and afford them cultural capital.

For example, a twenty something career newbie who considers him/self self socially progressive and hip,  might post a picture from a music festival from Coachella, Like Tom’s shoes, check-in to the Chicago airport on a business trip and post an image from a funky restaurant on a Friday night. All of these brand symbols work together to consciously and/or subconsciously send a message to those viewing his/her profile.

Closing thoughts

The cold hard truth is that many brands are not naturally self expressive and carry little cultural capital with the consumer segments they are trying to build relationships with. What should these brands focus on to generate higher return on brand and bottom line objectives?

Here are five suggestions:

  1. Allocate research dollars to qualitatively understand consumers’ social media behavior. When you deeply understand social media context, norms, rituals and motivation, you will start to find ways to infuse the brand into a social object that resonates.
  2. Borrow equity from something that has cultural resonance already. This isn’t a new tactic; it’s something that great brands have been doing above the line for years. Whether it’s using a celebrity spokesperson or a character/narrative from a well known story, there is a window to connect with your consumer via cultural stories that already exist. At Noise, we often look at our client’s portfolio of sponsorships and CSR to find opportunities for strategic consumer engagement.
  3. Create icons and stories around your brand that resonate with your target audience. Again, this is something great brand marketers have been doing for a long time. Whether it’s clever mascots like Snap, Crackle and Pop or a hilarious campaign around over the top masculine characters like Old Spice; creatively activating your emotional value proposition will give you assets to generate engagement.
  4. Use promotional incentives that relate to your brand and generate excitement. Watching the pandemonium that erupts when the t-shirt launcher is brought out at the ball-game is proof enough that people like freebies and deals. Offering a carrot will generate earned media from the consumer if the mechanic is constructed in the right way. Be careful to ensure you are not giving away a free lunch to heavy buyers and that the promotion does not harm your brand.
  5. Ensure your customer/product experience is phenomenal. Until you create that story that resonates, the only social engagement your brand might receive will be directly related to the substantive quality of your product and service. Now more than ever, delivering functional value that creates net promoters  is crucial.

Additional Reading

Young (2011) Social Ties, Social Networks and the Facebook Experience. International Journal of Emerging Technologies and Society

Mehdizadeh, S. (2010). Self-Presentation 2.0- Narcissism and Self-Esteem on Facebook. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking.

Chernatony, W. (2012). Facebook ‘friendship’ and brand advocacy. Journal of Brand Management

Social media, social capital, and seniors: The impact of Facebook on bonding and bridging social capital of individuals over 65.” (2011). AMCIS 2011 Proceedings – All

Comscore U.S. Data (May 2011) Share of Time Spent on by Content Section

How to Avoid Information Pin-Balling

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The speed and volume of information in the modern age can make us feel like our heads may physically blow clean off our necks.

In the world of marketing communications and ebusiness, both client-side and agency colleagues I’ve spoken share the same sentiment: it’s extremely difficult to effectively utilize the small bucket of time they have every week to read and synthesize information.

Metalife, a futurist/cultural insights agency, calls this struggle information pin-balling. In short, human minds are not programmed to handle the volume and interactivity of modern information. As a result, most of us bounce from content to content, barely absorbing the surface level information and over-relying on a cloud of information to supplement our inability to store and recall facts.

After witnessing and experiencing this phenomenon myself, I’ve isolated a few problems and some simple solutions that I believe help our minds recall and absorb information.

Four things you do that exasperates information pin-balling:

  1. Multi-tasking:

Do you read a whitepaper while answering emails and listening to music? If so, comprehension levels are probably going to be low. There are lots of good studies out there that establish that humans are very poor at multi-tasking.

2.Poor (or lack of) archiving system.

What do you do after you stumble into a great financial services campaign from Germany? If you don’t have a system to log articles, you are not going to be able to action insights and best practices when the time comes to use it.

3. Lack of rigorous evaluation

The democratization of information has led to an explosion of agencies and experts. There are now more people than ever tasked with analyzing information and making strategic decisions. Unfortunately; due to lack of time, skill and/or will, there seems to be a lack of critical evaluation taking place.

Even if you didn’t major in statistics and it’s been a while since your last research methods class, you ought to be capable of assessing methodology, assumptions, limitations and similarities at a high level.

4. Quantity over Quality

Rather than deeply evaluating one sub-topic of a larger theme, many of us seem to get a thrill out of exploring 100 different topics at a surface level.


  • Find a quiet space, turn off all other applications and take notes while you read.
  • Develop a knowledge bank database with a reliable tagging system and a search function that indexes tags and file text contents (Noise uses Zotero, an open source citation management application developed by George Mason University).
  • Rather than trying to read 1,000 articles on 1,000 different topics, choose one topic per week or even month and find as many reliable sources as possible.
  • Wherever possible, try to find on the root sources of information (press release, research study) rather than the chatter and commentary that are simply derivatives of that core information.
  • Document each article’s argument, sources, methodology, findings, etc while you read.
  • Compare and contrast notes for articles that address the same topic for common threads than you can turn into actionable insights down the road.

Quantifying Teamwork

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Building the right team for innovation is important in any business. For example, in the agency world, there is constant debate on how conduct the ultimate brain-storm session or what resources should be involved in a project team to deliver the best work for our clients.

The folks at MIT’s Human Dynamics lab recently conducted a study (partially available here – expanded view requires a subscription) at German Bank aimed at generating hard data on daily interactions between team members (product, sales, marketing, customer service, and management).

Each individual was given an electronic sensor that tracked interactions (tone, length of conversation, angles) over the life-cycle of a new product release and corresponding marketing campaign.

The over-arching conclusion was that patterns of communication are equally important to content of communication. For example, they found that teams that had a higher rates of informal engagement (shared coffee breaks and lunches) and energy (frequency of interaction) were more productive. They also theorized that an increase in cross-functional team communication earlier on in the development cycle will decrease the volume of help calls in the customer service center.

The authors are careful to extend these conclusions to teamwork in general across all sectors; there are still a lot of soft data variables that affect the productivity and creativity of a team.

The most interesting of this work from my perspective is the study’s methodology (the sociometric sensors). Employing real-time tracking sensors will provide researchers a new lens into human behavior. It’s not hard to imagine researchers employing these sensors on a sample of consumers to quantify the dynamics of their daily lives. This will support qualitative research efforts and paint a more reliable picture of who we are trying to connect with.

Marketing to Nations

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Marketing to Nations (Not States)


A state is a political body.

A nation is an ethno-cultural group of people who share common values/traits. In marketing speak; nations are analogous to segmentation of a population into groups.

Up until now, most brands have overlooked nations and focused too much on states. I’d argue that it’s time to start conducting research and writing strategies for the real nations that make up North America.

State-centric thinking is a problem for two reasons:

  1. Cultures and values cross state borders.
  2. What it means to be ‘Canadian’ or ‘American’ depends on which ethno-cultural group you ask.

We are missing key insights by conducting consumer segmentation studies on a country basis instead of a North American basis. Additionally, we are wasting a lot of money by thinking ‘What’s our strategy for Canada’ instead of ‘What’s our strategy for the libertarian cultures that make up the western interior states and provinces of North America’ or ‘How are we connecting with folks in the Cascadian region’.

Author Colin Woodard tries to describe the nations that make up North America in his book American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America. Although there are limitations to his very thorough analysis of reams of historical and attitudinal data, it is an eye-opening look at North America from a historical and strategic perspective.

Of course, all this is not to say states don’t matter. Canada and the United States have different laws that must be followed (as do the states and provinces within those countries) and state-based narratives and values are still important considerations.

Key Takeaway:

There is more to regionalizing your marketing communications than replacing baseball with hockey in your T.V. spot then calling it a day. It’s time to deep dive into the nations that make up your consumer base and craft strategies that are built off a true understanding of North America. You may be surprised at what your flag-waving mind has over-looked for all of these years.

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