‘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.

Data-mining

Encyclopædia Britannica defines data mining as “knowledge discovery [through] the process of discovering interesting and useful patterns and relationships in large volumes of data. The field combines tools from statistics and artificial intelligence with database management to analyse large digital collections, known as data sets.” Or put slightly differently, the term describes the process of extracting insights and knowledge from large data sets, that is the processing of information, e.g. available and extracted (mined) from social media platforms.

We will soon provide you with more on this topic, but until then, check out this introductory article by Chen et al. (1996). Also, check out the SIGKDD, the Association for Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining,  and its publications on data mining.

SAP studies

By Ursula Plesner

It should come as no surprise that Strategy-as-Practice is not just a set of principles for doing research, but has also produced countless empirical studies of practice. They range from detailed conversation analytic and ethnomethodological studies to longitudinal approaches.

At one end of the continuum, Dalvir Samra-Fredericks is a proponent of close-up observation of strategists’ talk-based interactional routines. To go beyond the prescriptive strategy schools and arrive at an understanding of how strategists ’think, behave and feel’, he suggests doing ethnographic studies with a focus on talk. In a study of a manufacturing company (Samra-Fredericks, 2003), he presents a very fine-grained analysis of strategists’ real-time deployment of relational-rhetorical skills and links these micro episodes to strategic outcomes on a macro level.  His analysis documents the moments where one strategist succeeds at creating the foundation for strategic directions – in specific moments, the strategist shapes the attention of others and creates the facts on the basis of which they act. The strategist does this through question and query, through the display of appropriate emotion, and through the use of metaphors and history. Samra-Frederick analyzes interruptions, choice of words, tone of voice, and other elements of talk, and argues that all these types of linguistic evidence document the way that strategy is shaped though persuasion.

Another corner of the Strategy-as-Practice research has looked into how strategy tools (for instance concepts or models) are used by practitioners. In strategic management, tools are developed and applied to ensure competitive advantage, but from a Strategy-as-Practice perspective, it is more interesting to look at how these tools are used in practice (see e.g. Jarzabkowski & Kaplan, 2015 or Jarzabkowski, Spee & Smets, 2013). To take one example, Paroutis, Franco & Papadopoulos (2015) studied how managers interact visually with strategy tools during workshops. The researchers participated in a six-hour workshop and analyzed video data. They chose to analyze just one workshop in depth to closely examine group interactions – and the video method allowed them to study micro-behaviors and interactions that they consider key to understanding strategy practices. The aim of the specific workshop was to create a shared understanding of the organization’s strategic context, and to support this process, a particular tool was put to use. This was a computer system allowing participants to collectively create a ‘strategy map’ on a common screen, based on contributions from the individual laptops of each participant in the workshop. Examining the video material, the researchers first identified the strategic themes presented in the workshop and then examined the types of meaning negotiation and visual interaction associated with the themes. They could observe how the tool could both constrain and enhance visual interactions during the workshop and used the conclusion of the study to argue for more attention to how workshop participants interact visually around tools in order to develop more reflexive strategy practices.

powerpoint-presentation1The focus on tools has also been extended beyond the single episode. In 2011, Sarah Kaplan published an article with the title ‘Strategy and PowerPoint: An Inquiry into the Epistemic Culture and Machinery of Strategy Making’. As the title indicates, Kaplan studies strategy as linked to culture and knowledge practices, and in this particular article she reports on a study of how PowerPoint has become a dominant element in strategy practices. Kaplan carried out a large ethnographic study in a single organization. Through 8 months, she observed daily project activities, conducted 80 interviews, observed team meetings, participated in teleconferences and got access to emails. Although the goal of the study was relatively broad – understanding strategy making as knowledge production – PowerPoint emerged as a pressing theme. She observed how PowerPoint – as a technology and a genre – was able to mobilize conversation and knowledge production in specific ways. PowerPoint worked to structure conversations both during strategy meetings and outside them. Basically, PowerPoint created spaces for discussion, simply because strategists needed to use them in specific ways when they drafted and presented strategies. The fact that PowerPoints are modular implied that they allowed for recombinations and adjustments of various kinds of material, and the fact that they could be shared among a wide range of actors and edited by a document owner made them a central site for negotiation of meaning. Another example of looking into a specific tool and its use over time can be found in Martin Giraudeau’s study of strategic plans in practice. Giraudeau shows that by examining strategic plans, i.e. opening them up, reading their contents and studying how business actors use them, it becomes possible to see them as specific visual and textual representations of contexts and strategies that in practice enhance strategic imagination (Giraudeau, 2008).

At the other end of the continuum, we see more macro oriented, longitudinal studies of strategy-making. When the City of Sydney embarked on a strategy project resulting in the Sustainable Sydney 2030 report, Martin Kornberger and Steward Clegg followed the strategy-making process through a two-year period, from 2006 to 2008. The researchers set out to investigate not only how strategy was practiced, but also what kind of knowledge it was based upon and which power effects it had. They analyzed written documents produced as part of the strategy process, they conducted interviews with the core team involved in the strategy-making process, and they attended public events, strategy workshops and strategy meetings. They analyzed texts, transcriptions and notes by posing the questions; ‘how are different forms of knowledge mobilized in the strategy process’ and ‘what performative impact does strategy have’. Their analysis details how a city administration learns the strategy lingo, how economic language becomes the dominant voice in practicing strategy, and how strategy mobilizes people by inspiring them to ‘think big’. The analysis illustrates that strategy is also an aesthetic phenomenon – a storytelling endeavor to create ‘big pictures’ that are more convincing than technocratic planning discourses. The study contributes with knowledge about how strategy practice becomes performative over time through constituting particular subjects and objects. It offers a perspective on strategy as a sociopolitical practice aiming at mobilizing people, marshalling political will and legitimizing decisions (Kornberger & Clegg, 2011).

As we see, empirical studies from the Strategy-as-Practice tradition expose multiple aspects of doing strategy – often with a focus on either discursive interactions or interactions around material objects or conceptual tools. These are studied through various methods, which are often qualitative.

Netnography

By Julie Uldam

Drawing on ethnographic methods such as participant observation, netnography was coined as a methodological term by American professor of marketing Kozinets during his thesis work in the mid 1990s. Netnography has been most prominent in consumer and marketing research, examining consumer preferences as they are expressed in bulletin boards and social media platforms such as Twitter (Arvidsson and Caliandro, 2016; Kozinets, 2002, 2011). However, netnography has also been adopted in other fields such as media studies where Postill and Pink (2012) have developed the approach so as to sensitise it to ‘digital socialities’ and the interplay between the online and offline in activists’ uses of social media platforms.

Netnography is arguably distinct from related digital methods such as digital ethnography and online participant observation in that it provides a particular framework for analysis (Snee et al., 2016, see Hine 2000 for virtual ethnography as an example of another framework with particular procedures and focal points), including ethical reflections on covert and overt research (see Uldam and McCurdy for a discussion of covert and overt participant observation in online and offline contexts). The adaptation and development of netnography demonstrates the usefulness of the (developed) approach for uncovering the dynamics of interactions between different societal actors, facilitating research beyond the confines of media-centric approaches and a focus merely on technological affordances. These potentialities of netnography makes it a useful approach for studying the role of digital media in strategic communication, especially when strategy is seen as an on-going process influenced by multiple actors as in Guldbrandsen and Just’s perspective. However, further development of netnography is necessary in order to sensitise the approach to the analytics of the power relations that underpin the possibilities for different actors to influence communication, online and offline.

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.

The sharing economy

Is the sharing economy changing our modes of consumption? And beyond that, does it herald a new epoch of how we relate to each other and to the world? Is it the beginning of a new and more sustainable economic order as e.g. Rachel Botsman has argued?  Or is it, at best, more of the same and, at worst, a less rather than more responsible form of economic exchange as, for instance, suggested by Ehsan Zaffar? Before seeking to answer these highly charged and normative questions, we should probably take a sobering step back and simply ask: what is the sharing economy?

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Well, you have probably already heard the term plenty of times and you are most likely familiar with many of its specific manifestations. Services like Airbnb and Uber have become globally familiar brand names, but a plethora of more local (or at least smaller) initiatives are also blooming under the sharing economy umbrella: car sharing, redistribution of used clothes, books and the like, knowledge sharing…it seems only our imagination sets the limits. If you can think it, you can share it. But how? The sharing economy operates on the principle of creating possibilities for consumers to either share products or collaborate in processes. Or, in Botsman’s definition, the sharing economy is “an economic system based on sharing underused assets or services, for free or for a fee, directly from individuals.”

While there are some quibbles about definitions – when is something ‘collaborative’, ‘sharing’ or ‘on-demand’? – the basic model of the for-profit participants in this system is to find some way of making money out of facilitating contact between those who have an underused asset and those who need to use it.

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In one sense, there is nothing new or particularly revolutionary about this. After all, libraries are not exactly a recent invention, flea markets have existed for centuries and in some local communities there are long-standing traditions of borrowing from each other, just as ‘housesitting’ was hardly invented by Airbnb. However, because of technological innovations that free peer-to-peer transactions from previous constraints of time and space, the scale and scope of sharing is now greater than ever. The sharing economy, we might say, is the barter society gone online. Thus, what is different is not the act of sharing, but the mode of doing so – and the challenges (as well as the opportunities) this creates for traditional businesses. As an example, traditional players of the transportation industry, e.g. car manufacturers, rental companies and delivery services, are being challenged by new actors who base their business on the sharing model. In response, a number of the traditional companies have adopted sharing initiatives of their own; e.g. BMW forms part of the DriveNow car sharing initiative, Avis has acquired the car sharing network ZipCar and DHL has created the MyWays app that connects people who do not have time to pick up their parcels at a service point with people who would like to earn some money by delivering a parcel to the recipient’s address of choice.

So, is this a new beginning for how we consume, a new economic order? Well, the sharing economy does present new forms of exchange, but these can be interpreted in a variety of ways. As Chris Martin (2016) shows, the sharing economy is currently framed in at least six ways: as (1) an economic opportunity; (2) a more sustainable form of consumption; (3) a pathway to a decentralised, equitable and sustainable economy; (4) creating unregulated marketplaces; (5) reinforcing the neoliberal paradigm; and, (6) an incoherent field of innovation.  Further, big business’ current appropriation of the sharing economy, consumers’ tendency to combine sharing with traditional consumption (and not with less consumption), the controversy caused by Uber and similar events show that there is nothing inherently sustainable in the sharing economy – instead, its effects depend on how organizations and consumers alike make use of the new opportunities it offers.