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Sounds are part of life, but when we learned how to bottle it up and share it back in 1877, well, that was the real birth of the power of sound. Thank you Thomas Edison for inventing the phonograph.

Sharing sound stimulates our thinking and triggers our past experiences.  It’s amazing to see how our brains and sound relate.  They seem to remember a lot more than we give them credit for.  And they are often storing away experiences and repetitive sounds that we barely realize, until that same auditory signal triggers us in the future.

We know this is true just by thinking of how excited we can get as our favorite band starts to play songs we have heard hundreds of times.  Less obvious, however, is how auditory “reminders” can trigger us during the course of a normal day.

Why is this important to all of us?

Well, in communications and marketing, we often focus on the written word and the visual image.  Makes sense.  We spend far less time on the auditory experience, even though it can transcend language, cultural barriers and other common obstacles we all face in reaching our customer.  Why wouldn’t we use sound in our normal outreach to social channels for example?  What is that distinguishing characteristic we want to trigger association with us each and every time?

It can become our auditory brand signature.

The auditory cortex part of our brain has the ability to precisely process and distinguish the wide range of sounds we experience.  During this process, we hear certain sounds that cause us to feel a certain way emotionally. We can also distinguish different sounds by the memories they bring us.

If we are building brand value over time, we can then ask “what is the auditory experience that our customers have when they think of us?” “Are we using sound to drive behavior or to establish a signature that differentiates us in the minds of the customer, perhaps without us even realizing it is happening?

There is plenty of evidence that this is worth our time.  Yes, having a great brand involves a cool name, logo and packaging.  All are important visual appeals. However, it’s time to think of how to use all five senses online in a more powerful way. Haptic touch, by the way, is the latest innovation to make us rethink the power of the five senses.

The evidence is there that when done well, the use of sound is powerful.  Whether we look at Nike’s 1988 Revolution ad or the jingles of Intel or McDonald’s or how GM associated with a great song from The Who, you can see the power of sound to get our attention, remind us of the power of a brand we love or help us pay attention to a new product in a way that is more entertaining.

Sound often adds that entertainment value.  It makes things a bit more fun.  And it ultimately becomes a signature that can build brand power.  The next generation of musicians is figuring this out big-time, particularly rappers.  Some rappers are using a certain word, phrase, or another name for themselves that they say in the beginning of their songs. This allows the listener to subconsciously identify which artist is about to rap if they are singing as a group. Some of the most iconic examples include Lil Wayne’s sound of a lighter, DJ Khaled’s phrase “we the best music” or the famous “major key”, and Wiz Khalifa’s funny laugh.

Which brings us back to the main point of today’s musing.  Sound matters.  It is underrepresented in how we market and communicate today, yet we know its power. We all experience it every day.   Do we know what is in the auditory inventory of our customers and why?  Better yet, do we understand how we can align with our customers and improve their joy and happiness with our brand via our auditory cues and sound?

It’s time to discover the full power of sound in our online world.  And by the way, for the skeptics who think that smell and taste will never be online, just give it time.  Entrepreneurs are breaking down the barriers one sense at a time.

Common sense we guess?

Best,

Brittany and Bob

This blog post was co-authored by Bob Pearson, Vice Chair and Chief Innovation Officer of W2O.


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Last week UK academics and representatives from the NHS and a couple of young people gathered at the House of Commons to take part in a panel run by GlobalNet21 on how we should approach meeting the healthcare needs of Generation Z. More meetup than formal consultation, I quite welcomed the unexpectedly random circumstances that gave the evening a more informal feel then you would expect: the Sri Lankan concurrent event which meant we spent ages in a very busy security queue outside, the change of room, the constant division bells for MP participation and the lack of attendance of perhaps the star of the show, the MP Lisa Cameron (SNP), herself.

None of that mattered much in the end because I was able to catch enough of the opener, the setting-the-scene Q&A between Dr. Sarah Lewis, Research Associate on the Digital Health Generation project, and two young people, Jack and Alex, and heard what they had to say about how Generation Z finds and uses healthcare information. The most important point they highlighted was the difficulty in finding information that they can trust. It was clear they feel they are navigating through all sorts of unfiltered information and it isn’t easy to find credible experiences as sites/apps aren’t advertised adequately. They noted the danger of winding up in bubbles of misinformation but seemed aware of this and clearly had started to craft strategies to mitigate its risk. To form fairly confident decisions, they reported having to constantly check with other sources in order to root out healthcare’s equivalent of fake news. In particular, they called out finding the experiences of others on YouTube as a key place to find information in a way that is not only trustworthy but engaging.

This was perhaps the most important point for me in the session and Hazel Jones, Director of Apps, Wearables and Uptake, NHS Digital, picked up on it and said that she agreed they needed to do more to reach young people through vloggers and were testing concepts using ambassadors. For me, this was the gold nugget I would take away from the event. In my own work researching perceptions around the patient journey, from symptoms, through diagnosis and then onto experiences on treatment I am often staggered by the hugely personal stories shared online by patients themselves and the way online relationships make all the difference to the quality of their lives. As an example, survivors in breast cancer tell others not to Google, not because they don’t want them to find information for themselves, but because oncology data moves so fast, what they are likely to find is already out-of-date and can even cause panic. Here, more than ever, this role of peer-advisor approach is critical. It is on the level of life and death itself, it’s that important.

Unfortunately, the subsequent conversation was directed mostly at healthcare apps. This was a shame as I didn’t see much evidence that Jack and Alex found them particularly valuable. The room was full of people who wanted to mention the buzzwords of big data and IoT and so we got carried off on a discussion on what sounded like what young people clearly want is to be able to track their data, huge amounts of it, and probably all the time. Dr. Emma Rich, Reader/Associate Professor in the Department for Health at the University of Bath tried to reel this in by saying this probably isn’t the future we should be imagining. There are mental health issues that can arise with an overzealous tracking of personal minutiae that we are best to avoid.

Emerging technologies clearly have a key role to play in this but we just need to find better ways to help people find each other to share experiences, and perhaps this is especially true for Generation Z. In this event we only briefly touched on some of what I think are the most important issues. Continuity of care was noted by Professor Andy Miah, PhD, Chair in Science Communications & Future Media, University of Salford and this is of critical importance in accessing services when you live a mobile life, for example, say at university for half the year. You could add digital literacy to that list as well as the emerging consent literacy which we all could use help with.

From my perspective, certainly in our own work at W2O with patients and clinicians, the gaps we see most are not in the technology or the capturing of the data. Where most work needs to be done is around what do the new signals we see in healthcare data actually mean? A cardiologist told me recently that he only wanted to know about a new diagnostic biomarker if it leads to a clinical decision. Whilst it might be interesting from a scientific perspective, it ultimately was just not very useful. Without a sense of what fundamental healthcare behaviours we need to encourage and without the medical evidence to really understand what data points support these over time, we won’t be able to make all this fascinating new data ‘work’ for any of us.

W2O presents Firing-Up Emerging Leaders (FUEL) Forum— an event by and for millennials. After successful events in NYC and LA, we’re excited to bring FUEL to Austin! The focus of the evening will be on how individuals and companies foster the entrepreneurial spirit by highlighting what matters the most to millennials.

The event will feature a stellar lineup of speakers from incredible companies that are fortunate enough to call Austin home including: Facebook, Whole FoodsWP Engine, Baylor Scott & White, MI7, HELM BootsNewsCredZen Monkey, May Designs and A Taste of Koko.

Attendees will come away with:

  • First-hand stories from peers who have used their diverse backgrounds, experiences and knowledge to disrupt the status quo
  • Tips for taking charge of their career path, including the importance of reaching outside of their comfort zone to develop effective leadership skills
  • Confidence in the ability to make a positive impact within an organization, while engaging with a diverse workforce
  • A broadened network of ambitious peers who represent the next generation of leaders focused on fostering and building inclusive perspectives

Sounds pretty great, right? If you’re interested in attending RSVP, we’d love to see you there!

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For many initiatives, achieving high social engagement is a necessary step towards reaching an end goal. But in most cases, engagement alone doesn’t do enough to drive tangible results. No brand wants impressions for impressions’ sake—they want impressions that create an audience inspired to act.

The Millennial audience is one that is growing in importance as a powerful driver of the consumer economy, and while social media is native for them, most Millennials still report feeling overwhelmed by balancing their “double life”—that is both a social media presence and a real-world presence.

To harness the true actionable potential of the Millennial audience, it is crucial that communicators help Millennials bridge the gap between their lives on social media and their real lives; this bridge is content that inspires both engagement in the social realm and action in the realm of reality.

Luckily for social media marketers, Millennials are more willing than any other age demographic to base their actions upon content they consume in social channels.

A study conducted by Deloitte in 2015 found that 47 percent of Millennials say their shopping habits are influenced by social media, with 33 percent being influenced by social in health and wellness purchasing decisions. Survey respondents in other age demographics were only 19 percent likely to say that social media influences their buying actions.

This does not imply that Millennials are simply most willing to be passively led to action by branded social posts. Their adjusted action instead stems from content posted by their peers or trusted celebrities, such as product reviews. Social media content resonates with Millennials because it allows them to take informed action in the marketplace while still satisfying their innate craving for authenticity and social connection. These needs are no longer met by traditional corporate advertising.

Travel is also an area where Millennials find social media to be particularly actionable. A study by the Blitz Agency in Los Angeles found that 15 percent of Millennials say they use Facebook to decide where to travel, and 13 percent claim to base their travel actions on Instagram content. This ranks social media as the second strongest force driving Millennial action in the travel category, after word of mouth at 16 percent. This indicates that Millennials’ desire to feel like part of connected physical group is not purely metaphorical— they want an in-person connection.

Our very own Millennial employees here at W2O also noted that social content that features surprising facts and statistics also serves an extremely effective bridge between engagement on social media and real-world action. For example, shocking statistics that revealed a hidden truth about how destructive K- Cups are to the environment inspired one Account Associate stop using them to get her caffeine fix.

These examples demonstrate that content will spark action if it provides Millennials information about their peers’ actions or offers bold statistics. Both types of information serve as a compass, helping Millennials to guide their own actions to meet their innate desires for social belonging and authenticity.

And it makes sense that these factors would drive action. Perhaps the two halves of Millennials’ “double lives” are not as unique as previously thought. Historically, society has been most driven to action by leaders who create a sense of community and seem personally authentic. Why shouldn’t the same hold true in the social realm?

Engagement will come to those brands that make themselves relevant to their audience. But action on the part of Millennials will come to those brands that dare to cultivate online communities and strong, authentic brand voices on social media.

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In a world where the internet is no longer optional, having a social media presence has become a requirement for individual users and companies alike. Technology and thorough research have given us the ability to target our content to precisely the right audience. The only remaining question is: what content should we be putting in front of these semi-captive social users to inspire engagement?

As Millennials have entered the workforce in increasing numbers, it may be possible to leverage their native knowledge of social media to create content that inspires not only a chuckle, but the virtual nod of assent that is a like, share, retweet or comment.

One factor that Millennials report as a deciding factor for engagement levels is whether the content fits into their online persona. Any online action is public, and thus reflects upon the user’s personal image. The increasingly common, carefully cultivated social media life means that for something to be worthy of sharing, it must fit into the user’s personal brand.

A recent ad for Vitamin Water featuring Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul struggling through a workout was repeatedly mentioned as one that Millennials were more than happy to share, comment on or tag friends in. Lovers of the show, fans of Paul’s, or really anyone who has ever not truly been 100% enthusiastic about their time on the treadmill (aka everyone) could identify with this ad, and the 15 second bite-sized Facebook clip was perfectly share-ready.

Another ad that inspired engagement among Millennials was the 2017 Heineken ad entitled ‘Worlds Apart.’ Several pairs of strangers from opposite sides of the political aisle each build a bar together while getting to know each other, and are then shown a clip of their partner sharing their social and political opinions, taped prior to their shared experience. When given the option of leaving or talking it out over a beer, each chose to remain and engage in discussion. Regardless of where you may fall politically, this ad inspires engagement. After all, who wouldn’t want to be known for espousing a love of peace-keeping and beer?

What these two seemingly dissimilar ads have in common is the ability to incorporate peoples’ existing interests, like sharing a beer and television, and common enemies such as working out and political divisiveness, so that content is seamlessly integrated into the user’s existing online presence. While the respective products are not necessarily the immediate focus of either ad, both brands received major props for their enlightened involvement that garnered far more attention than placing the product front and center ever could.

Another facet to gaining engagement centers on which channel is utilized. Millennials overwhelmingly admit that they exhibit what are basically split personalities, not just between their social media and their life in the “real” world, but between different social media channels as well. Essentially, a person may have an Instagram personality that is slightly more wild than their semi-reserved Facebook persona, while their LinkedIn personality is so bland it can’t even sit with them.

As a result, the same content that gets unprecedented engagement on Twitter, where Millennials report feeling less inhibited in their social actions, may report next to no engagement in front of the same audience on Facebook, where family, friends and potential employers promote a greater level of self-censorship.

For this reason, content that is bolder, riskier, and potentially less PC (a risk companies should maybe not always be willing to take) may perform better on Twitter, such as Wendy’s replying with extreme sass to customer requests, while Facebook may be the place for the safer content that can be more appropriately shared.

Branding has become so entrenched in everyday life that its power cannot be overstated from a personal, professional or corporate standpoint. Everything we do online is now available for our entire network to see. While we’re all focused on our personal brands, when it comes to creating engaging social media, companies should think less about how the client can fit their corporate identity, and more about how they can be relevant to the client’s personal brand.

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