Category Archives: Communication

Would you know a successful process if you saw one? Or: A return to hierarchy-of-effects

If you’ve read (or leafed through) Strategizing Communication, you’ll know that we advocate an approach of ‘practising strategizing’ – or planning for process, if you like. Thus, we aim to pragmatically combine the best of several paradigms; strategic communication as deliberately planned transmission and as collaboratively emergent process. One of the reasons we do not want to discard the notion of planning completely, is our belief that it is essential to set goals for one’s communication and to be able to evaluate whether or not these goals are achieved. The goals, for sure, may change as the process unfolds in ways one might not have planned for – or it may turn out that the plan actually led to different results than one had envisioned. However, if there are no pre-set communication objectives, there are no guidelines for planning the process, nor any benchmarks for evaluating how it played out.

Citing Yogi Berra (the baseball player, not the cartoon character), Patti et al. (2015) argue that setting objectives is paramount because:

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We agree. Without objectives, you’ll not only be lost along the way, you won’t know whether or not you ended up in the right place either. Only if we have objectives in mind, will we know whether or not the process – as it actually played out – was successful or not. Having a plan for the process, then, may not always take you where you want to go, but at least it means you’ve got a chance of getting there – and a means of finding out whether where you actually ended up was better or worse than what you intended.

Thus, even if one does not think of communicative effect as a direct transmission of the communicator’s intention to the audience’s head, one must have some means of articulating the underlying intention of the communication and of measuring whether or not the intention was realized. This line of thinking leads us to a return to the otherwise much criticized notion of hierarchy-of-effects. Hierarchy-of-effects models have great difficulty in explaining and predicting how audiences will actually respond to communication, but even so they offer good practical tools for setting communication objectives. This is especially true for models that Dagmar-Defining-Advertising-Goals-for-Measured-Advertising-Results-Dutka-Solomon-9780844234229both forego strict divisions between cognitive, affective and behavioural effects and leave one-directional sequences of e.g. attention, interest, desire and action behind. If the most simplistic idea of a hierarchy is abandoned, we are left with useful tools for articulating communication objectives that are attuned to the specific communicative context.

One particularly useful model is that of Defining Advertising Goals for Measured Advertising Results (DAGMAR), which was originally proposed in the book by the same name in 1961. In their presentation of DAGMAR, De Pelsmacker, Geuens & Van Den Bergh (2013: 156) render the model thus:

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While clearly moulded on a series of steps from initial awareness to final purchase, DAGMAR incorporates a number of more precise elements and allows the communicator to focus his or her efforts at any point(s) rather than necessarily working through the whole sequence. This not only makes it a great planning tool, but also means it can be usefully applied in analysis of audiences’ actual relations with a brand – before and after the communicative engagement. Further, and as the name indicates, DAGMAR has the virtue of being imminently measurable. That is, using this model one can stipulate specific and specifically quantifiable goals for the communication. For instance, if one finds that building brand awareness should be the main aim, one can go on to specify the number of people (or percentage of a target group) that should become aware of the brand as a result of the communication. Similarly, if the ultimate aim is to increase sales, one can specify how large an increase to aim for – and what other aims might have to be fulfilled in order to get there. And so on – in any imaginable combination.

Today, we have more means of measuring the process of communication than ever (as we’ve discussed in the blog posts on Data-mining, Big data, and Netnography), but these are mostly and most directly relevant in terms of evaluating the communicative process as process. As such, they lend themselves most readily to the test of media objectives whereas communication objectives are still left a bit in the dark. Not because communication objectives are impossible to measure, but because many communicators do not pose the objectives as clearly as they could and do not test whether the objectives are reached as rigorously as they should. Using a model such as DAGMAR to plan and assess the communication provides one means of both overcoming the shortfalls of current practices and putting the new tools for monitoring process to even better use.

Just remember: DAGMAR may provide you with the means of finding out where you want to go and assessing where you ended up, but it does not give you any indication of how to actually get there. Thus, the measures of communicative success for today and tomorrow may be the same as yesterday and yesteryear, but the means of communicating successfully are, now, completely different. Hierarchy-of-effects models do not help you actually carry out your process, but they provide an apt framework for the planning of it.

Theories of persuasion

When was the last time you were persuaded by someone? That is, made up your mind about something, changed your opinion on a matter or did one thing rather than another because of what was communicated to you? Our guess is that these questions turn out to be more difficult to answer than what might be expected. Although we are constantly influenced by the flows of communication in which we engage, the exact moment and cause of persuasion usually eludes us. Was it a forceful argument, the authority of the communicator, the emotions stirred in us? Classical rhetoric suggests that persuasion arises from a combination of all of the above. These three forms of appeal are termed logos (appeal by reason ethos (appeal by character) and pathos (appeal by emotion), respectively. Persuasion, the ancients tell us, arises if and when these three are combined in an appropriate manner, making a communicated utterance persuasive. This understanding of persuasion begins with the communicator and his or her intention to persuade; it sees persuasion as the planned effort on the part of the speaker to shape the message in such a way as to make it convincing. Having the intention to persuade someone and using all the means available, however, is not the same as succeeding in this endeavour. An utterance may be ever so beautifully crafted, its reasoning may be impeccable, the communicator may be just the right person to deliver the message – and yet the communication may fail utterly in having the desired effect on the audience. So, what is persuasion? Here are three possible answers.

First, we should not necessarily give up the classical mode of explanation just because actual efforts at persuading are not always effective. Aristotle, for instance, clearly saw that being able to ‘see the available means of persuasion’ is not the same as actually persuading; he was concerned with the crafting of the message, not with its actual effect. And in many ways this is still as good as it gets from the communicator’s point of view. We can try as best we may to analyse the situation, understand our audience, attune our reasoning and style of presentation to the situation at hand, but once the communication is out there, it is also out of our hands. This is the reasoning behind Lloyd F. Bitzer’s (1968) idea that rhetorical situations call for fitting responses. A rhetorical situation, as Bitzer defines it, consists of an exigence, an audience, and a number of constraints. The exigence is that which calls forth the intention to persuade, i.e. rhetorical discourse; it is an ‘imperfection marked by urgency’, something that ought to change and can be changed by means of communication. The audience is the group of people who are able to correct the imperfection; those who have the ability to make the necessary change and who are also open to be persuaded by the communicator to do so. The audience, then, is not anyone who might happen to stumble upon the communication, but only those individuals (or groups) who are or can become mobilized as mediators of change. Finally, constraints are all those elements of the situation that must be considered if the communication is to succeed; e.g. the audience’s prior knowledge about and attitude towards the topic at hand, the communicator’s personality and authority (in relation to the topic and the audience), other communicators who have similar or different opinions on the matter, the circumstances in which the communication is to take place (the medium and the genre). The constraints, then, are many and varied; they can generally be divided into those aspects of the situation, which the communicator has little or no chance at changing, but must take into account (e.g. the procedure for making a decision, the opponents’ arguments, the general norms and values of the audience), and those that can be shaped directly by the communicator (e.g. through the selection of a certain argumentative strategy or the adoption of a particular communicative style). Bitzer’s final argument is that if and when a communicator analyses these three elements correctly, he or she will deliver a fitting response – that is, an utterance that holds persuasive potential.

However, Bitzer’s position has been heavily criticized for being both deterministic and functionalistic. Richard E. Vatz (1973) offers one of the earliest and most influential articulations of this critique. Vatz basically turns Bitzer’s argument on its head, stating that situations do not determine persuasive efforts, nor do such efforts function by being fitted to situations. Instead, it is persuasive efforts that create situations, establish exigences, call forth audiences. This is the second answer to the question of persuasion: it is the creation of meaning by communicators. Here, a main issue becomes the identification between the communicator and the audience; persuasion can (only) happen when there is common ground, when the communicator and the audience create meaning in similar ways. We can return to the classics for an explanation of this process. In the words of Cicero:

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This may still sound somewhat like a fitting (or rather, fitted) response, but the fit is now with an audience rather than with a situation. And audiences, as e.g. Edwin Black (1970) has argued, can also be shaped; they may even be constituted in and through communication (Charland, 1987). This second answer, then, views persuasion more as a process of creating common meaning and less as an intentional effort on the part of the speaker.

This takes us to a third possible answer, namely that persuasion is inherent to the process of communication rather than a property of speaker and/or audience. Again, we can find traces of this answer in classical rhetoric. Most notably, Gorgias saw speech as all-powerful, using the story of Helen in the Iliad as an example of how human beings can be overcome by communication:

…if persuasive discourse deceived her soul, it is not on that account difficult to defend her and absolve her of responsibility, thus: discourse is a great potentate, which by the smallest and most secret body accomplishes the most divine works; for it can stop fear and assuage pain and produce joy and make mercy abound.

Whereas persuasion in the Aristotelean sense is a rational exercise in finding the best reasons that may or may not convince an audience, Gorgias sees it as a passionate process; one in which the persuaded part becomes fully and unwillingly immersed. However, Gorgias seems to assume that the communicator is not passionately involved, but rather to blame for the manipulation of the audience’s emotion. This is both the attitude that for centuries gave rhetoric a bad name and it is a position that does not stand to reason: if communication were this powerful, then how can communicators themselves avoid its force? Would not the manipulator be as open to manipulation as others? Or, conversely, if one were able to manipulate, would that not also mean being able to see through other people’s manipulation?

A more appropriate answer, and one that takes all three options into account, then, is that persuasion is the process of bringing speakers, audiences and situations into being in such ways that common meanings are formed. This means that persuasion is both within and beyond the reach of speakers and audiences; it is a force that cannot be controlled entirely by either. Communicators, on the one hand, are not free to persuade as they intent. Audiences, on the other hand, cannot choose freely to remain unaffected by communication. Persuasion is both a driver and an outcome of the communicative process.

‘The hipster effect’ (or: how to target the untargetable)

They have long beards and/or side-swept bangs, they wear plaid shirts, they ride bespoke longboards, they drink single-estate coffee. They are hipsters. They are anti-conformists, yet easily identifiable. They are anti-consumerists, yet one of the most coveted consumer groups. How does one identify a group of individualists and target a group that does not want to be targeted?

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If we think of hipsters through the lenses of segmentation, it is immediately clear that they can be delineated from other groups based on demographic traits that first and foremost have to do with age and dwelling place: hipsters are young(ish) and they are urban. Looking at the psychographic criteria, hipsters share the important personality trait of wishing to stand out from the crowd, which – somewhat paradoxically – leads them to share a number of lifestyle choices. Jonathan Toubal (2014) has termed this ‘the hipster-effect’: “[the] non-concerted emergent collective phenomenon of looking alike trying to look different.”

The history of the very term ‘hipster’ may illustrate this point. First used in the 1940s and ‘50s to denote a group of youths who searched for alternatives to the conformist and traditionalist lifestyles of their parents, it is now used somewhat pejoratively to point out a certain type of pretentious trendiness. Remember, the true hipster would never use the term about him- or herself – or rather, would only do so in deep irony. What unites hipsters across time, then, is the constant search for positions that are in opposition to the majority. This search makes the group dynamic and malleable, but hipsters (or whatever label might denote trendy anti-conformists at a given time) constantly end up grouping themselves around a limited number of anti-establishment alternatives; e.g. they prefer jazz when the majority listens to hip-hop, they drink beer when everyone else toasts in wine, they let their hair down and their beards grow when the mainstream is smoothed and groomed. And they end up being the perfect targets of certain types of products and certain forms of communication as their anti-conformist, anti-consumerist, and anti-commercial attitudes lead to identifiable consumption patterns and communication preferences.

The hipster, then, likes ideas and products that are definitely and defiantly not mainstream, but this actually leads to more, rather than fewer opportunities for organizations to target their business (be it commercial or otherwise) at hipsters. Hipsters like to stand out in a manner that demands a trained eye. To the outsider, a hipster may be wearing any old shirt, but other hipsters will recognise the unique details, specific cut or other ‘secret signs’ of the hipster uniform. Hipster brands, then, are not loud or glaringly obvious, but hold other and subtler attractions. This means that certain start-ups have great advantages in terms of reaching hipsters and may experience great benefits of this reach – as hipsters are almost by definition first movers. However, established brands may also become attractive to hipsters, especially if the brands are somehow on the wane or have an image that might need dusting-off. If the hipster can be convinced that s/he has (re-)discovered the brand, one has already come a long way towards reinvigoration.

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Hipsters, of course, are immune, if not outright allergic to traditional advertising, but given that they are very active communicators, they can be reached on various (digital/social) media platforms and by means of new and untraditional forms of marketing – not least word-of-mouth. Also, hipsters like quirky, tongue-in-cheek, self-reflexive hints; communication that signals ‘insiderness’ – ‘I know that you know…and we are all playing around with it’. As when the clothing brand Khujo winks at ‘the shopping rebel’ or the microbrewer Brewdog crowdfunds its operations, inviting patrons to become shareholders – and ‘craft beer crusaders’ – through the ‘Equity for Punks’ initiative.

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A final word of warning, though: by the time you read this, the ‘real’ hipster is sure to be moving on to a new look and a different scene. The point, then, is not the content of the specific trend as we may spot it right now, but the constant act of trend spotting. The hipster effect means new targets constantly appear to those who know how to be in the know now…

Content marketing

“Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.” (Content Marketing Institute)

The term content marketing was coined by John Oppedahl in 1996 at the American Society for Newspaper Editors (Doyle, 1996), though it did not get a lot of attention or traction before the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) was founded in 2010 by Joe Pulizzi (see his book Epic Content Marketing). Today, we generally find content marketing happening on blogs and social media, in newsletters and infographics, via podcasts, print magazines and videos, in addition to webinars, eBooks and white papers. In other words, everywhere. Either as paid, owned and earned media.

There is not a lot of academic research on the topic, as it has long been considered old wine in new bottles (Basney, 2014). Meaning, that though the term is popular, and most often described as something new, communicating strategically through the active and deliberate use of content is something organizations have always done. In many ways, content marketing is closely related to immersive communication, as presented in chapter 6, meaning communication that is aimed at attracting viewers/readers/listeners through interesting and attention-grabbing substance, rather than just attractive packaging.

Real-time marketing

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Put simply, real-time marketing is strategic communication on-the-go. The overall purpose is to exploit current events by inserting the organization’s communication into those. Much like strategic communication as ploy, as we discussed in chapter 1. The overriding point here is that as new information becomes available to the organization, the organization takes advantage of that. See e.g. how NASA inserted itself into the event of the movie Gravity winning the Oscar for best director in 2014.

But instead of us explaining this to you, take time to watch this video featuring the author of the book Real-time marketing, David Meerman Scott, detailing what this concept is all about.

 

Native advertising

Native advertising is camouflaged advertising, meaning it is advertising, or strategic communication, that presents itself as something else. See for instance this infographic on oysters: though it purports to teach you about different oysters, it is (also) an ad for the beer Guinness.

Beyond advertisements-turned-infographics (or vice versa?), you have probably stumbled upon native advertising online, e.g. on news sites where you will find articles that appear to be written by a journalist, but actually were written and paid for by an organization. The point with native advertising is that the advertisement is camouflaged – its form, content and function matches that of the platform it appears on. The word “native” hence refers to the ad’s coherence with the content normally found on the platform on which it is published. Check out Native Advertising Works for more examples.

Native advertisement is not new per se. It shares many similarities to product placement (also called embedded marketing). But unlike product placement, where the goal is to place a product within an already existing content (think Aston Martin, Bollinger and Omega in James Bond movies), with native marketing the goal is to merge the product and content

In an article on Native advertisement, the American law professor Chris Jay Hoofnagle and the civil rights lawyer Eduard Meleshinsky, argue that the concept can be traced back to 1951. In particular, the publisher of Atlantic Monthly, Donald B. Snyder, who then “observed that products had become more complex and that the existing advertising jingles and slogans could not convey the messages that consumers needed to understand in a modern economy” (Hoofnagle and Meleshinsky, 2015). In the article, they quote Snyder for writing:

“To provide the facility for advertising to convey information, the Atlantic has developed a new form for the expression of business ideas. We call them Advertorials. They will be paid advertisements…They will involve the thoughtful participation of the reader; they are intended to give him pause—and in the pause, compelling facts about the way American business works. They are predicated upon the belief that the free competition of ideas has made this country great.” Following this announcement were five pages of advertorials paid for by the American Iron and Steel Institute. Each page was prominently labelled “An Atlantic Public Interest Advertisement.”

But it is not until more recently that this practice has become widespread. Why? Because of two trends: 1) people are less inclined to be persuaded by ads and commercials (many of us directly shun them), and 2) ad-blocking technologies available on our multiple devices have made it more difficult for organizations to reach us. Combined, these trends have forced companies to come up with other ways of grabbing our attention, and one way is to camouflage strategic communication as other types of communication, e.g. news stories and memes.

And it works! Research shows that we, the consumer/citizens, are more engaged with and persuaded by messages delivered as native advertising compared to other forms of advertising/commercials/strategic communication.

Although this is great for organizations, there are a number of ethical and regulatory issues connected to this practice. In particular, how native advertising is designed to disarm the consumer/citizen’s natural defence against advertising by blurring the lines between objective, third party produced content and content produced and paid for by organizations. Why could this be problematic? Because it makes it difficult for the consumer/citizen to identify who the writer, and hence source, of the information is. Making manipulation and propaganda uncontrolled tools for organizations to employ in their strategic communication. For more on this, check out Amar C. Bakshi’s interesting read on the question of ethics and regulation, in Journal of Media Law & Ethics

 

Fan culture

By Kjetil Sandvik

There is at least two ways of defining fan culture. Fan culture may be conceived of as the culture emerging from fan activities and the ways in which these activities generates various communities in which fans are playing out their love and affection for their fan object, communicating about it, sharing knowledge and thoughts about it with each other and so on and enunciating their fandom (Sandvoss, 2011) both inside of the community and to the outside world. On the other hand, fan culture may be conceived of as descriptive for contemporary culture as such:  a culture which sociological, political and economic characteristics to a certain degree are influenced by fan-behavioral logics. As suggested by Jenkins – from his seminal work ‘Textual Poachers: television fans and participatory culture’ (1992) and onwards – fan culture can be understood as a specific ‘participatory turn’ characterized by dedicated, active audience; they are consumers who are often also media producers who may be analyzed as a significant part of contemporary consumer culture. The study of the participatory and creative mode of media users in the perspective of fan culture have also been pioneered by sociologist Camille Bacon-Smith in ‘Enterprising Women: Television Fandom and the Creation of Popular Myth’ (1992) and by media scholar John Fiske in ‘The Cultural Economy of Fandom’ (1992) – all three books founding works in academic research on fan culture.

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What is a fan then?  The word itself being short for fanatic hints that what distinguishes the fan from the average user of cultural products (music, movies, books, TV shows etc.) is the level of intensity and engagement. As such fans may be divided into e.g. simple, enthusiastic and advantageous enthusiastic fans (Emmanouloudis, 2015) depending on the amount of time and resources allocated to being a fan. A fan spends a substantial amount of time (and often also money) on the object of his or her fandom and the act of being a fan becomes a crucial part of his or her identity-work. The fan is not distanced or detached to whatever the object of whatever cultural product/phenomenon constituting the object of fandom may be (a specific sport, sports club or player, a specific band or musician, a specific movie or TV series and show, specific actors, reality stars, various types of franchises like games and story worlds: fans are engaged on a personal level not only delving into e.g. the music of a specific artist, but also into the personal characteristics and the private life of said artist thus striving for the sense of intimate relations by various acts like sending fan mails, birthday greeting and so on. Taking pride in knowing details, acquiring specific items (merchandise in all shapes and forms), dressing like the fan object and being part of a specific and exclusive club devotees are important parts of being a fan and when looking at e.g. contemporary pop icons like Lady Gaga, we can observe how facilitating a fan community (“Little Monsters”) and creating the sense of intimate attachment and inauguration becomes an important part of the artistic and strategic communication (Bennet, 2014).   As such, facilitating fan engagement is a matter of putting fans to work in establishing and enhancing Lady Gaga as a pop icon.

 

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This productive and creative characteristic of being a fan is significant to fan culture: as stated by Jenkins (1992) fans continuously build their own culture out of media products and by selectively “poaching” meanings and interpretations from favored media texts. It has bearings on how communicational structures are shaped and cultural content is being produced: “Media producers are consciously building into their texts opportunities for fan elaboration and collaboration – codes to be deciphered, enigmas to be resolved, loose ends to be woven together, teasers and spoilers for upcoming developments” (Jenkins 2003: 200).

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Facilitating possibilities for drilling into, exploring and engaging in new features is an important part of contemporary franchises from the average ‘behind the scenes’ of movies and TV series to the continuously expanding of story worlds like Harry Potter as we see it with Rowling’s continuously adding to the tale e.g. on Pottermore or like Star Wars with its proliferating and expanding structure of films, games etc. But we also see how the creativity of fans are put to work in creating new content and new products as part of the production logic. Gamers have enthusiastically for years contributed to the development of computer games in the role as bug fixers, modders and designers using existing game codes to create new games, a prominent example being the gamer-based creation of Counter-Strike on the basis of the Half-life game engine. And the same type of fan community based production can be observed in LEGO’s use of fans as developers in features like Cusoo and LEGO Ideas.

 

Picture4Dedicated fans do not just consume, they also produce: they remix content, create their own content in the shape of fan art, fan fiction and so on. Even though this co-creative or even independent artistic activity is not new, it has increased in scale and intensity with the advent of digital and online media enabling not only building online fan communities but also the production and spreading of media content (e.g., creating home-made videos for YouTube, or using games like World of Warcraft for creating their own ‘machinima’ films). As such the mediascape in which contemporary fan culture is embedded enables fans to conduct their creative fandom as distributors, remixers, as well as producers in their own right.