Uber had a rough month in the media. A former female engineer exposed their culture of sexual harassment and Newsweek best highlights a dozen other problems with the company.

Rationally, knowledge of these might be enough to impact one’s use of the app. Much of their behaviour is really not cool.

But I continue to ride with them. I can’t really justify it, but Uber retains a high enough level of motivation and ease – the two factors you need to impact in behaviour change.

That is, until this week. An Uber trip that was fine until I got out of the car, when the ride wasn’t terminated by the driver. I realised five minutes later, took a screen shot and cancelled the trip (automatically paying the full fare as it was at the time I cancelled).

A disappointing experience, but one that could be easily corrected when I sent Uber the screenshot.

Sadly, more than a week and eight emails later, as well as several attempts on social media – I still have not been refunded that portion of the trip.

Here’s how a driver’s mistake becomes an incompetent company cheating a customer.

An infuriating loop of scripted responses quickly shows how poor their system is. Particularly when none address my actual problem, and are always condescendingly signed off with how much they appreciate the time I’ve taken.

When I finally get through to a human, I’m told “the fare you were charged is within our estimate for the trip […] as a result, the fare was not adjusted”. Their algorithm supersedes the fact a driver cost me a few dollars. When I question this, the loop of automated incompetence begins again.

It was not their sexist culture or deceptive arrogance that stopped me using Uber, but an awful customer experience. Over only a few dollars they lose a loyal customer.

While it’s fun to invest in activities that generates media buzz (like Uber bringing puppies to workplaces) you can’t overlook the importance of customer experience, which always trumps perception.

Anyone got a Lyft promo code? (Who interestingly are also using media stunts wrapped in activism to drive growth, although only after another blunder by Uber of course.)

I had a great idea.

Based on an old blog post, I intended to remove all unnecessary uses of the word “that” from Wikipedia.

I created an account called removesthat and got started. Using the random page feature I spent an hour finding dozens of inappropriate uses of “that” and deleted them.

He was dismayed to discover that his granddaughter did not know what coal was.


He was dismayed to discover his granddaughter did not know what coal was.

It makes the writing more concise and saves five bytes of bandwidth on every page load.

Once I’d done a few thousand I was going to write up the stunt and see if it could get some traction in PR. It was going to be a fun side project to kick off the year.

But less than an hour after my first edits, they were reverted:

I attempted to point out Mean as custard‘s arbitrary decision making and the irony of indiscriminately reverting all changes, but ultimately I ended up dealing with a troll. And you shouldn’t feed trolls. (Interestingly the Washington Post has covered this user before!)

I guess not every idea is a good one. All I got out of it was this crappy blog post!

I do not like junk mail.

Which is why I have a No Junk Mail sticker on my letterbox. It’s meant to stop catalogues and flyers, although is frequently ignored by businesses big and small. Last year I got six from one pizza shop who each time assured me it wouldn’t happen again. They always blame the distributors.

It’s difficult to find research on how many Australian households have these stickers, so I conducted my own with a sample of 500 properties. (Happy to admit this was not random, but based on the first 500 mailboxes I came across in the northern suburbs of Melbourne.)

30.4% had No Junk Mail signs.

I wondered, what would be the impact if the junk mail system was opt-in, instead of opt-out? As behavioural economist Dan Ariely tells us, the default option in a system has a significant impact on how we make decisions.

We see this most dramatically in organ donation around the world, where countries similar in culture, religion etc. have very different outcomes. The critical factor is opt-in versus opt-out.

The difference between opt-in and opt-out of organ donation.

A month later I measured how many had been removed and how many remained. 61.3% of the No Junk Mail stickers were still on the letterboxes.Applying this thinking, I conducted an experiment by printing 150 No Junk Mail stickers and placing them on letterboxes around the neighbourhood.

Imagine our junk mail system was opt-in instead of opt-out, where people would put a Junk Mail Please sticker on their letterbox if they wanted to receive catalogues. We’d shift from 30.4% of households not receiving junk mail to 73.6%.

The difference between No Junk Mail and Junk Mail Please systems.

The industry would more than halve over night. And so too would the landfill.And this doesn’t account for how much harder it would be to source a Junk Mail Please sticker than taking off one of my homemade ones. Nor does it account for the social norming which would shift perceptions once it had a majority.

Of course, the marketer in me knows the channel is an effective one. Retailers invest in catalogues because they work. I have a client whose most successful marketing activity to date was a fridge magnet drop.

Doesn’t mean I wouldn’t mind seeing the end of junk mail though!

Kittens (or memes) aren’t a social media strategy.

Our Global Chief Strategy Officer says “Everything communicates.”

Not just your communications. Your product, your customer service, your price point. The perception of a brand is informed through experience, not just ads.

Your social media strategy communicates too. Obviously the content itself, but so too does the way you approach the channel, where you invest your time and money. Everything communicates.

And these days social isn’t a single line item on the bottom of a media plan. Bigger budgets every year support the channel which is long over due – too many brands over invest in production relative to distribution.

As the channel matures, so too must our approach. Unfortunately brands still think the answer is memes – attempts to ‘hijack the conversion’ with reactive content. Now, armed with a media budget, they have reach.

In two days I’ve seen half a dozen attempts by local brands to jump on the salt bae and jacketgate memes (don’t worry, I had to look them up as well). And there’s more every day.

Please, stop doing it. Far more often than not:

  1. It’s too niche or early for people to have context (so much wastage)
  2. It’s off brand (and it’s not distinctive if everyone is doing it)
  3. It’s off strategy (if you even have one)
  4. You don’t own the image/video rights or talent usage (ask your legal team)
  5. It’s lame (especially when you PR it in trade press)

No doubt it’s more engaging than the shitty content you put out every other day. But if you wanted to be popular, you’d just post photos of kittens.

Just because it’s getting lots of likes doesn’t mean it’s working.

Your lizard brain slows ideas.

It’s nearly a decade old, but as relevant as ever: Always. Be. Shipping.

I’m very slow at shipping ideas. From big side projects to short blog posts (like this one). They often float around in head for weeks, then longer as notes on my phone. Only much later do they turn into something. Sometimes.

Seth Godin says it’s our lizard brain. It slows down ideas and kills them through inertia. I also find it stops new bulbs from lighting up – there’s only so many ideas I can keep in my head at once. If I don’t get them out fast enough new ones don’t come.

But it’s never been easier to quickly get from light bulb moment to shipped product. It takes almost no time or effort or cost to gauge demand or build a prototype. Technology let’s you make things (or break things) fast. Or bash out a hundred words.

There’s probably something to be said for letting ideas sit to evolve. They “stew”. But I find it doesn’t happen without action – researching, brainstorming, writing. Especially when Mario Run doesn’t let you get bored enough to stew them over. (That’s why you have your best ideas in the shower.)

I love pushing things out into the world. Even pressing the Publish button on a post. Not just because people engage with your idea, but shipping one creates space for the next to exist.

If you don’t, your current small ideas (or bad ones) might be blocking that next big one.

I’m not very good at it. 73% of my blog posts last year were published in the last week of the month. I don’t have a schedule or volume target – I post whenever I have something worth sharing. Yet my lizard brain apparently likes an artificial monthly deadline. Rarely do I post more frequently, unintentionally holding out on a post idea to ‘tick’ off that month. And while my brain is holding ideas, it’s not generating new ones.

I’m not really one for New Year’s resolutions, but this year I want to move faster with ideas. Get them out into the world sooner (and not just one at the end of each month). Starting with this post, based on a conversation I had with a colleague only three days ago. Normally it would take me a fortnight.

And I’ve got another post to write tomorrow.

Freeing up the mind keeps it hungry.

Just prior to the 2016 US Election, something interesting happened on Facebook.

For the first time someone used Reactions functionality as a polling mechanic in live video. Publisher Demyos broadcast a stream where likes would vote for Hillary Clinton and loves for Donald Trump, with the results feeding back to the user in real time.

We call this creative hacking – finding exploits within a platform’s existing functionality to build ideas around. One of my all time favourites is the Whopper Sacrifice (which was later shutdown by Facebook – the best creative hacks often redefine the rules, literally).

This one is particularly clever because it’s not only ‘cute’ (the extent of many creative hacks), it combines two factors which Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm weighs highly; strong engagement and live video.

Within hours, it was replicated. The concept was recreated (same idea in similar execution), stolen (ripped and re-uploaded pretending to be live) and parodied (‘Hillary v Trump v Meteor’).

So too was the mechanism, particularly by publishers.

While this was happening, it was productised. From complete commercial out-of-the-box solutions through to free DIY tutorials.

Then, not unlike the Whopper Sacrifice, Facebook started cracking down on it. It took just 18 days. While there’s no official policy yet, they are reaching out to publishers and removing offending content. (Not wrongly either IMHO.)

And that is the very short life and death of Facebook Live Video Reaction Polls. Launched, mimicked, monetised and banned – all in less than three weeks.

Content marketing programs… are like upside down trees.

Exactly two years ago to the day I wrote a content marketing cheat sheet. Sometimes your strategy should be “just fucking start already”. Other times you need a more considered, comprehensive approach. You could call this post its sequel.

The easiest way to build a content marketing program is with a series of IF THIS THEN THATs. For example, if someone indicates they’re a warm lead by browsing a section of your website, trigger retail message via display. If someone watches an awareness video, trigger educational infographic on Facebook. If someone doesn’t open an email, trigger another one.

If behaviour occurs, then trigger content (and a means of distributing it).

Every IF THIS THEN THAT is built around a consumer’s action and steers them toward a goal – signing up to newsletter, consuming more content, using a financial calculator, etc.

It’s not too dissimilar to Google’s Micro Moments where a real world action triggers an online search (my son wins his hockey game so I search for ice cream in the area). Ultimately it should work across more channels, integrating with not just search but social, display, web, email, video, etc. It’s very easy to forget that distribution is just as important as the content.

Over a period of time, you steer people down the funnel, helping them convert when their ready. With the right message to the right person at the right time. Kinda like Advertising 101.

Eventually you end up a tree diagram made up of a series of IF THIS THEN THATs.

This can get complicated. Especially when you add the marketing tech requirements to build a single customer view, automation, asset creation and programmatic media buying (what a lot of buzzwords!).

But you can start with a single branch. Make an assumption about the current customer journey, and attempt to influence it with a single IF THIS THEN THAT. If you see a measurable improvement in their likelihood to move further down the funnel, add more branches. Or strengthen existing ones by testing different messages or formats or executions or means of distribution.

And watch your tree grow.

We’ve all become pancakes, with interests wide but not deep.

Years ago I sat in a session ‘Where Have All The Rebels Gone?’, a piece of research on young Australians by Junkee Media.

A key finding was what they called becoming the Content Generation – “content” as in a state of complacent satisfaction, not the thing you watch on YouTube (that gag works better when you present it out loud).

They described a generation of people who value experiences over things (think #fomo). Combined with the lack of housing affordability means they’re living at home longer. They hero their parents more than any previous generation. They’ve grown up comfortably where everyone gets a participation trophy and been told everything will be okay all their life.

As a byproduct of technology, they’ve never had to wait in line. And lines are where passions are formed. When you camp overnight for front row tickets to David Bowie, you meet others fans who love Ziggy Stardust just as much. And that’s when you decide to start the David Bowie fanzine. Interestingly the guys who started Junkee Media met while waiting in line at a record store.

We’re becoming pancakes – with a wide variety of interests but none of them very deep. We don’t have to know much about anything because we can look it up on our mobile, and when we do we only go so far as the Wikipedia entry. There’s no hierarchy to our news because it’s delivered in a newsfeed by an algorithm. Politics, health, education and finance sit right next to photos of cats and foodporn. And when we do see the important stuff it’s summarised in 140 characters of clickbait.

The opportunity, Junkee Media said, is for brands to connect people with their passions.

Of course, that’s a fairly pessimistic take on a whole generation (of which I am a part). My sample of one likes to think he has more ambition and passion. And would argue the internet allows for greater connections among like-minded people by removing the barrier of geography.

But what I find most interesting is how this impacts content strategy. Specifically, the premise and role of content hubs – a common strategy many brands invest in (and I’ll put my hand up to say I’ve been involved with a few myself).

The thinking is to build a ‘sticky’ environment full of relevant, regularly-updated content. People (not “users”) discover this rich content, browse thoroughly in an ‘experience’ and love it so much they want to return and/or share.

But this approach is broken. And not just because most branded content sucks either.

We consume media on the Buzzfeed model. If 62% of adults get their news from social media it means not only are we not picking up a newspaper (which we’ve known for ages) but we’re not even going to publisher homepages. The notion of browsing dies. People want their content served directly to them, one piece at a time. And once it’s consumed they’ll spit it out and bounce (and that’s okay).

Distribution becomes more important than the content creation, yet is often the most overlooked.

The role of a content hub should just be a container, not a destination. Don’t advertise the fact you have content, push the content instead. Your content becomes your advertising.

In some cases people may not even need to hit your content hub. Instant and formats like Canvas mean you can create a valuable, immersive experiences without ever needing to leave the Facebook environment.

In many ways Facebook Pages have also fallen into the same troubles. People don’t visit Pages for content (it would appear they only visit for customer service). Likewise distribution remains hugely overlooked, with either no spend behind posts or a media strategy which is too simplistic (it has never been easier to be more sophisticated with your targeting and ability to steer consumers down a funnel).

That feels like a really long-winded way to say if you’re investing in content, especially a content hub, ensure you have a clear distribution strategy. And align your objectives to how people actually consume their media.

The Hateful Eight, in glorious widescreen.

Ideally every placement in a campaign is created bespoke, embracing where the ad will be consumed and the context around it. The best executions lean into their channel, not blindly ignore it.

Aside from message cut through (kinda a big deal), this becomes even more important on Facebook. Because Facebook penalises brands who create shit content. They also reward those who are more relevant with greater organic reach and a lower CPM on the media buy.

Naturally the concept itself plays a major role in increasing relevance, but so too does execution. This is particularly pertinent with video, which is quickly taking over our newsfeeds.

And here is why Quentin Tarantino would hate contextualising video for Facebook (or “How to Make Your Videos on Facebook More Relevant”):

1. Play Your Cards Early
The Director’s Cut of The Hateful Eight starts with a three minute overture, followed by a slow series of establishing shots. Which works in a distraction-free cinema but not when you’re on the tram scrolling through your Facebook feed. Videos need to get to the point quickly with only a second or two to catch someone’s attention. The establishing shot is crucial, as is the preview image that holds while autoplay loads.

2. Use a Square Format
At select theatres that The Hateful Eight projected in 2.71:1 ultra widescreen. But with 60% of Facebook Video watched on mobile, that’s a terrible use of the screen real estate. 4:3 works well but for best fit run with a square format (or if you’re feeling really brave, tell the Creatives they need to film in vertical video).

3. Don’t Rely On Sound
A long dialogue-heavy scene is classic Tarantino. But in some cases we’re seeing up to 95% of video being watched without sound. The quick fix is subtitling, although don’t make it too small for mobile and consider caption overlays. More effective would be bespoke concepts that don’t rely on audio. Publishers tend do this best, building in visual cues and edits that tell the narrative without sound.

If you’re looking for inspiration, Tasty do it best. And without spending a cent they did more than 1.7 billion views in July. Not bad for a publisher only 14 months old.

You would never run your print ad as outdoor (although Coles just did) so don’t do the same with your TV ad on Facebook. And don’t ask Quentin to direct it.

Most people in our game cringe when you mention “affiliate marketing”. But despite its bad rap, I’ve had only positive experiences to date.

The first: on a couple of content websites I built and eventually sold. While a majority of revenue was generated through advertising, affiliate links to merchandise generated a passive, ongoing source of income. Even with relatively big traffic numbers the income was small, but incremental and not bad for a student who had no idea what he was doing.

The second was directly influenced by the first. After selling one of the websites, I was discussing with a Creative how the site made money. Less than a month later, he came up with Homepage For The Homeless, a simple but brilliant idea to turn your everyday online shopping into a charity donation.

Since then I’ve always wanted to explore further, especially understanding if communities can be built and leveraged while maintaining transparency. And if affiliate marketing is sustainable on higher priced items.

With that in mind, this post is about to become my third experience with affiliate marketing. That’s why I signed up to FlexOffers, an affiliate service who combine a number of various networks into one program, making it easy for newbies like me.

And yes, that link is a referral one. And they sponsored this post too.

So here’s the question – does paying the bills hurt my credibility, even with transparency?