Future Now – an introduction to Big Data

Big Data for Brands

Google, LinkedIn and Amazon are essentially Big Data companies, so you’re probably using at least some of the tools they offer every day. Google search, for example, is a Big Data tool that everyone can use – the trick is to turn it into a tool that works for you and your business. But let’s look at Big Data and what it is. Essentially Big Data is about finding meaning in what you can measure about your business performance and you may have already come across data mining tools that measure specific business areas such as social media.

Essentially Big Data is about finding meaning in what you can measure about your business performance.

A Big Data approach allows business owners and managers to see the future before it happens, to see the meaning and the patterns in what they are doing now that can tell them what will happen to them and their business tomorrow.

In other words it gives you a better, more reliable view of your own performance and customer behaviour and takes a lot of the gut feeling out of business strategy by giving fast, reliable, real-time insights.

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Does becoming a more social brand really help grow your business?

Total Brand Experience

Recent research from statista.com says 83% of SMBs use social media as a way of driving growth for their business. The same source says 70% of professional marketers claim to have been successful in gaining new customers using social networks.

These figures tend to support my own analysis. Social media has become one of the first things business owners and marketers turn to when they want to get more growth or launch a new product. But just how effective is social media in building your brand and growing your business?

I recently talked to customer experience professional and social media expert Augie Ray of Gartner. Augie argues that marketers “cannot achieve their goals with the limited and shrinking reach of organic social media.  Within a year or two, I think all social media marketing will be paid ads, with little effort dedicated to organic and free marketing.”

Brandcasting on social media rarely works

Augie thinks that while some brands do have a great success with social channels as they have great brand experiences that involve their audiences (examples are sports, entertainment and lifestyle brands like Apple and Samsung). But most do not and should be wary of placing too much of their focus on social media for marketing.

Social media marketing which isn’t really social will always be largely ineffective whether it’s paid for or not. Brandcasting on social media rarely works.

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Total product experience – why everything matters

Everything that surrounds your service and your product is part of your total product experience. Your website, the totality of your digital presence, including all your social media accounts, are all essential parts of your brand experience. This has implications for business owners of all types and brand managers in all business sectors, as there are some that haven’t quite got the message yet.

If you’re selling a car, a new flavour of cupcake, building materials, a cleaning service, or a digital app that will revolutionise the healthcare sector, in short almost anything digital or analogue, your customers will evaluate the digital experience you give them, as that’s how they first experiencing your brand.

Everything you do is part of your total product experience

Today the digital expression of your product is almost as important as the design of the product itself and the packaging and delivery method you use to get it to your customer. To be a successful twenty-first century brand, everything you do is important. A large percentage of your customers are already online looking for value and not only value in terms of being cheaper than your competitor. They’re looking for value in brands that can deliver more of their needs, more of the things that they want in a product or service, than they’re already getting.

Successful twenty-first century brands need to keep seeking ways to innovate their products and offer extra value that their customers and their competitors haven’t even thought of yet. To do this you need to put your customer first, while not being afraid to make sure that what you offer is not just forward thinking, but profitable and worthwhile for your business.

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As Forrester analyst James McQuivey says: ‘(We’re) not suggesting innovation for innovation’s sake, but that you’re innovating in the interests of your customer while explicitly tying those interests of the company.’ (Digital Disruption: Unleashing the Next Wave of Innovation, 2013)

If you want to see some total product experience in action have a look at what facecake.com are doing. It’s interesting to see how companies are using technology to change the way brands and customers interact with each other to enrich their online experience and make buying decisions.

Social media in service of a product experience is not just media, it’s the experience of the product itself

What does this mean for you? It means that your website and your social media are part of the product and the service you offer. They are not some optional extras but an integral part of your brand experience.

Here’s something to make you think: ‘…social media in service of a product experience is not just media, it’s the experience of the product itself,’ James McQuivey, as above.

So what about you? How proud are you of your design and digital presence in every area of your brand communication? When customers search for you and your product are you sure you’re completely in control of the total product experience they’re getting? There’s always room for improvement.

Brangento is the tool we’ve developed to help you better manage and control your brand

Brangento is the tool we’ve developed that helps you to better manage and control your brand, then use your brand to grow your business.

Based on the concept of continuous branding and total brand experience it lets you see you brand all in one place. It helps you grow your brand and grow your business. Try it for yourself at Brangento.com and watch the video below.

Eugene Burns


Authentic design – a lesson from cinema

It was while reading how exiled Iranian film director Abbas Kiarostami approached his work that I realised that the great filmmaker has something important to say to designers and marketing professionals in every sector. Kiarostami says ‘in all my films not a single shot comes from cinema,’ thereby highlighting that the freshness and originality of his vision doesn’t come from other films, but from real life and his own experiences and emotions.

If you’re a designer how often have you persuaded a client to take a specific approach or creative solution mainly because you had seen it done elsewhere and thought it was cool? That’s like taking a sequence from someone else’s movie and making it part of your own. Great influences are always useful, but if you don’t learn to create with your own voice and accent then you’ll always be a follower instead of a leader.

Similarly, if you’re a marketing professional or business owner, how often do you want to use the latest trend or marketing tool because you’ve seen it somewhere else, or read about it in a LinkedIn post and want that feature as part of your site and brand experience? Sometimes in the always-on rush of modern business, it’s hard to stop and simply ask why.



There’s much to be said for keeping up with the latest trends such as parallax scrolling and flat design, or the coming implications for businesses of 3D printing and the internet of things. But it’s also good to realize that those great ideas that you’re looking for may not be in the latest edition of Wired, but may already be in your own head and in your own business and creative plan.

Think about who you are and what you’re planning to achieve with you life and your business and then chose the tools that will help to get you there. Use the approach that will help you reach the targets you really want to reach, rather than one that’s fashionable.

In design, this authentic approach means developing a design and visual language that really says who you are and what you do. It’s not borrowed or reimagined from someone else – it’s authentic for you and suits your personality and your values.

An authentic approach to design creates authentic brands – brands that don’t need to borrow everything from somewhere else as they have a point of view they want people to know about and unique values they are confident in expressing.

You’ll find that if you take a Kiarostami approach, the people who use your products and services, or visit your site, will feel they are connecting with something real – something they can understand and relate to, as it’s not simply something they’ve seen better executed elsewhere.

By all means have influences, but learn from them rather than be overpowered by them, and celebrate the authentic voice of your personality and your brand.

‘I am what I show to people’ says Kiarostami showing us in his work an original view of life and of cinema. It’s an approach we would do well to apply to each area of our own work and life, if we want to produce original thoughts, create new and cutting edge brands, or have authentic feelings that are something more than the strung together sequences from someone else’s movie.

Eugene Burns

Connect with Eugene on LinkedIn



Social media is not life and death – it’s much more important than that

On the day after Twitter announces it wants to raise $1 billion in a stock market flotation, it’s a good time to look at how important social media is to businesses of all kinds. As my Shanklyesque headline implies, I feel that if you’re ignoring the full potential of social media, you’re missing out on a potentially exciting and compelling way to grow your brand and your business.

You probably arrived here because you’re following either of my two business Twitter accounts, or though my other social media accounts such as LinkedIn. But what you may not be aware of is that I create and manage social media platforms for other businesses and groups that enable me to analyse and manage large amounts of followers and their behaviour and interactions.

Just one of the Twitter accounts I manage, for example, follows less than 140 people but has tens of thousands of followers including at least one Hollywood A-lister, another highly respected film director and many influencers in the UK, Irish and international media.

This insight, and the approaches used to build and maintain such a following, allows me to use the same processes to build and develop the social media presence for brands and other businesses, while creating and developing the voice that each individual brand requires.

Copywriting and an understanding of brand tone-of-voice are great social media skills to have and are highly valued by social media managers who understand how marketing has developed and grown with the new media tools.

Not every business or marketing department can afford to have a professional handling their social accounts for them, and the whole point of social media is that you should be able to do it yourself once you’ve got the skills and confidence to create and develop your voice and have a high level technical assurance with the tools.

Social media is the lifeblood of a digitally disruptive, socially driven company.

But as social media is so important, it is the lifeblood of a digitally disruptive, socially driven company, then it’s important to do things right and start as you mean to go on. You should realise that your social media profile sets the voice and tone of your brand.

Increasingly it’s how the people who use your products or your services find you and it’s how they talk and interact with you even if you have a bricks and mortar real world presence.

If you have a brand and visual language, ask yourself if your design really does work across all the social media channels you use, and if it fits with the tone and message you want people to have of you and your business. If you think you need it get professional help but there are lots of resources available to help you.

Here’s a good social media crib sheet that will help you see how your logo, images and messages need to change across the main social media platforms. It’s a little bit out of date as the platforms change regularly, so it’s still a good idea to get help from an experienced designer who can help you get things working right and looking professional whatever the media.

Your website should be one of the core elements of your social media brand.

If you approach social media in a planned and structured way, you and you business will get a lot out of it and come to see it as a vital new business tool. Both Twitter and LinkedIn for example offer extremely powerful and detailed search facilities and it’s possible to see either, or both, as your own database, not only for finding information but also for building and developing new contacts and ultimately new partnerships and customers.

I’ve found too that many business owners and managers tend to forget that your website should be one of the core elements of your social media brand. Rather than merely being your online presence, your site should be playing a dynamic part in your social activity. It should be the place where all your media channels combine and link together and where people can experience the full range of your social media platforms and engage with you seamlessly.

If you’re feeling a little like this new social world has left you and your business behind remember – social media is not just another business tool, it’s much more important than that, but it’s never too late to start being social and growing your business too.

Eugene Burns

Connect with Eugene on LinkedIn



Irish design at the centre of Europe

As Guinness promotes Arthurs Day 2013 it’s a good time to look at the role design has to play in the growth of the Irish economy. In some areas the gloom of recession has started to lift and the technology sector in Ireland has been experiencing something of a boom due to a number of factors.

Ironically, the Irish weather is seen as ideal for data centres, as the temperate climate dramatically reduces the need to heat them during winter or cool them during summer. Just this week Twitter announced that their European headquarters in Dublin will double its workforce, citing the availability of a highly skilled graduates and a cosmopolitan environment as some of their reasons for increased investment in Ireland.

While one hundred new jobs in Dublin doesn’t mean a boom, it’s the quality and profile of the new Dublin based tech firms that catches the attention and leads to further interest from overseas investors. So what do these things mean for design?

As Ireland is becoming internationally respected for its technology and contributions in the areas of Big Data and web innovation, is Irish design ready to play a part in communicating and expressing new technological innovations? Will the Book of Big Data be the new Book Of Kells?

The great advantage Irish design has is an ability to embrace all types and styles of influences thanks to technical innovations and cultural diversity.  With the influential Game Of Thrones series being made in Northern Ireland, design and film production are also benefiting from the higher profile the production brings.



We can say Irish design has always been at the centre of Europe as that’s where Celtic design originally came from. The knotted intricacy of Celtic design has echoes in contemporary Irish design and thinking. There’s a Celtic self-reflection about James Joyce’s Ulysses and the cubism of Joyce’s approach has the same origins as that of Braque and Picasso.

Thanks to its geographical location and, yes even the climate, Irish design is perfectly placed to be part of a technological resurgence and design itself is constantly changing and evolving with the technology. If you haven’t been there lately Dublin is in many ways more open to other cultures and influences than London.

The swirls and knotwork of Celtic design are the interconnected data of twenty-first century communication – a knotwork of connectedness and a network of form and expression. Irish design has the opportunity to be reignited for the interactive era. Irish design and Irish business has the chance to be at the centre of new thinking and new technologies. Wouldn’t you like your business to be there too?

Have a look at our new brochure Irish design at the centre of Europe.

Eugene Burns





Big data approach means business empowerment for all

In one of our previous posts on Big Data we looked at how a Big Data approach can let you see your brand’s performance before it happens, because of the competitive and marketing advantage it gives you.

Business owners often ask me if Big Data really will make any difference for them and how is it possible to gain a competitive advantage if you don’t have the time and resources to adopt an enterprise level Big Data strategy?

Many of the tools used to help get insights are available to everyone and can empower virtually every business.

You may feel a Big Data approach is only for the big boys, however many of the tools used to help get insights and measurements are available to everyone and can empower virtually every business.

It’s probably not feasible or appropriate for you to have a team of data analysts sifting through your company and customer data in the hope of uncovering actionable insights. But you probably already have feedback and listening systems in place that tell you about your brand performance and the thoughts and views of your customers.

BigData2You probably have a social media account like Twitter, or Facebook, that gives you the chance to measure and react to your sales and marketing messages and brand performance. You can listen and absorb what clients and potential clients are saying about you and your competitors and what they’re looking for from you and other companies. Twitter and Google, for example, make great Big Data tools, as their open search engines can give you a large amount of free data and information that can help drive your business and brand decisions.

You may not have the luxury of full-scale data analysis, but if you take the time to think and digest what social media and organic search results can tell you, then you’re using a Big Data approach where you decisions are based not on gut feeling alone, or conjecture, but on live social data mined from your own and other easily available sources.

If you operate in a B2B environment, there is no better Big Data tool than LinkedIn where you can use saved searches, build prospect lists and search a wide variety of criteria to build a unique data-rich resource to help drive your new business strategy, without even having to pay for a premium account. With the right Big Data approach you can use LinkedIn as your own personal new prospect database.

Google AdSense and Facebook advertising both give you access to a rich resource of potential targets for your products or services, that can also be approached with a Big Data mindset to ensure your marketing campaigns and brand promotions reach their desired targets. You get fast, accurate feedback on the effectiveness of your campaigns and this speed of response is exactly what a brand owner needs to measure and respond to brand communication. It takes a willingness to be flexible and to have the speed and desire to adapt and evolve.

Your website too is one of the primary resources of easily available data. Once you have registered your site with Google Webmaster tools, you get measurable information on how visitors are using your site without having to pay for expensive analysis. If your site is built on a platform like WordPress, you also get great tracking and feedback from useful plugins like Jetpack, that help you learn more about where your users come from and can help you get more and better traffic from your web design and content.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

So you see these are all things any marketer or business owner can do right now to begin to adopt a Big Data mindset and help grow your business in a competitive and cluttered market. The most important thing, however, is to be ready to adapt as soon as useful information becomes available. As Charles Darwin said “it is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

The Big Data model then is to become the Amazon or the Netflix of your market, by being the business that listens to and responds to what your clients want now and will probably want tomorrow and you’ll find that this approach can help you empower your business and your brand and give you confidence in, an ownership of, your future.

Eugene Burns




Apple and the new design philosophy behind iOS 7

In a new Wired article, Kyle Vanhemert examines the underlying philosophy behind the new Apple iOS 7 update and makes some valuable insights.

The first is that the new operating system looks likely to change not only the way apps are created, but the sort of people who will be creating them, ‘iOS 7 will set a different trajectory for apps, changing not just how they look, but how they work, and in some cases, who’s building them, too.’

The new visual language is designed to get out of the way of the further development of new and potentially exciting app developments, as iOS 7 isn’t just prettier to use, it’s more accessible to build for, too.

‘The new software looks the way it does not just because the shadows and bevels of previous incarnations were stale or tacky; it’s because they were fundamentally limiting the types of things that were being built for the iPhone.’

The emphasis is less on design for its own sake, but on design that’s thoughtfully and effectively applied to solve a problem and delight the user.

The new ‘flat’ design means that developers no longer need to emulate the Blackberry world of buttons and skeuomorphic pseudo-physicality and instead can concentrate on content rather than interface, on solving actual problems rather than presenting a flashily packaged product.

IOS7_2However the new Apple design philosophy is not just about making things easier ‘it also puts a premium on genuinely thoughtful design.’ The emphasis is less on design for its own sake but on design that’s thoughtfully and effectively applied to solve a problem and delight the user. In this we can see the influence of Apple’s Senior Vice President of Design, Jony Ive.

As Ive himself says, ‘In many ways, we have tried to create an interface that is unobtrusive and deferential. One where the design recedes, and in doing so, elevates your content.’

With iOS 7, the Apple design interface has grown up, taken control and points towards the challenges of tomorrow and beyond.

This is the core of Apple design philosophy; a digital first design approach for a world where most of us are now just as much at home with our mobile technology as we ever were with the more analogue interfaces that preceded them. Like all good design, it’s a design that speaks to the user’s intelligence; rather then trying to fool them into thinking they’re in a more tactile, but less real, world.

With iOS 7, the Apple design interface has grown up, taken control and points towards the challenges of tomorrow and beyond.

So what does this mean for you as a professional marketer and business owner? It means when you’re designing products, or services, or even just your new web interface, you and your design and marketing teams, need to take this new technological maturity on board, and be prepared that, subliminally perhaps, your customers and your users will intuitively grasp the Apple philosophy and expect simple design and innovation that doesn’t get in the way of what they want to do.

It needs good design thinking and technological insights to be able to follow where Apple and others are going. Are you ready for the future?

Eugene Burns


Put a tiger in your tank – the advertising revolution

There was a time when a great headline, image, copy and strapline were all you needed to get your message across to your target audiences. And once you had a great campaign in place, you could pretty much broadcast it to the known world without thinking too much about nuance and local adaptation.

The Esso ‘Put a tiger in your tank’ campaign is a good example of an old style company ‘brandcasting’ its message to a captive audience in every corner of the then developed world. Have a look at the example below. When you consider these campaigns were often beautifully produced and hand drawn without the help of any technology, they seem to belong to a very distant world.

Multinational agencies grew as the campaigns grew, but it really wasn’t that long ago when I was a young designer in McCann Erickson, I could pretty much guarantee that anyone that saw a Peugeot advert in Ireland in any given day, in any media format, would be looking at a version of the layout I had designed.

It’s the ability to target that has revolutionised the advertising industry, so that it’s possible to say the best forms of advertising today are not really advertising at all.

TV, radio and 48-sheet posters, of course, could extend the brand message and target customers as they travelled and went to work, but advertising was essentially ‘brandcasting’ with very little personalisation.

It’s the ability to target that has revolutionised the advertising industry, so that it’s possible to say the best forms of advertising today are not really advertising at all, and certainly have little relation to old-style brandcasting.

The tiger in the tank of business owners and marketing professionals today is technology. Instead of roaring an unambiguous brand message, the best targeted and most effective results are found using personalised marketing and social media that purr in the ear of the target audiences. You have the opportunity to get closer to your target market than the old advertising tigers could ever dream of getting.

Through digital and social media you can engage with virtually anyone, even when they’re behind the wheel of their car, without resorting to large radio and outdoor budgets. You can speak to them though social technology on their smart phone, be part of their entertainment and lifestyle though sponsorship and branded content and use existing sales and research data to refine your message and grow your business.

This is the advertising revolution. This is the new tiger’s roar.

If you take a total product experience approach to your brand and your business, everything you do is an important part of your brand and product experience.

Note that I use the term social technology, as social media really owes it reach to the software and hardware-driven technology that has changed our lives and businesses in recent times and continues to evolve and revolutionise our communication on an almost daily basis.

And if, like many of our clients, you take a total product experience approach to your business, everything you do is an important part of your brand and product experience. Your technology and everything you do is your advertising.

You will need help to deliver the best targeted messages that fit the positioning and voice of your brand. To grow your business you must be hungry to communicate and get as close as possible to those you want to speak to, but without biting them of course!

Let your social media purr…

Eugene Burns




Grow your business? Luckily humans are hard-wired to connect

Doing business is essentially about making connections in the real world, but making connections online is becoming even more important every day. And the good news for you, if you’re a business owner or marketing professional who wants to grow your business, is that humans are hard-wired to connect with each other and have evolved to value connections at a deep psychological level.

Of course demographic, social and cultural factors play a big part in how we connect with each other online as well as in the real world and, as I mentioned in my recent post, I recommend you read Nathalie Nahai’s book, Webs Of Influence – The Psychology Of Online Persuasion, for more detail on the cultural factors involved in the psychology of online decision-making.

From a branding perspective, it helps to understand that storytelling is hard-wired into our consciousness when it comes to communication and connecting with your users. Why do many billions of us read books, or iPads and watch TV if not to consume real or invented stories on a daily basis.

‘The story is one of the oldest and most powerful forms of communication known to man’ (See Nathalie Nahai as above page 109)

Think Arthurian tale in Le Mort d’Arthur, think the wanderings of Ulysses in The Odyssey, think overlapping narratives of Game of Thrones, or Mad Men, or the latest invented blockbuster myth. Humans connect with stories and it helps your brand and your online business communication if you understand the importance of storytelling and the benefits for you and your business when you get it right.

What is your brand story and how are you delivering it? That’s a question that business owners and marketers don’t get asked often enough.

‘We’ve long known that storytelling is an incredibly powerful, primal medium through which we connect as a species, but the extraordinary fact that our brains are hard-wired to understand each other in this way has huge implications for the manner in which we deliver information.’ (As above page 110)

What is your brand story and how are you delivering it? That’s a question that business owners and marketers don’t get asked often enough.

‘Our success as a species has depended on our ability to form and maintain social groups, so it is no surprise that we have evolved to value reciprocal exchanges at a very deep level.’

Then there’s the role interactivity and social media play in your online story and in connecting with your customers. If we’re all hard-wired to respond to connections then reciprocity – the give and take of online transactions – is an important part of doing business in the twenty-first century. Online transactions are becoming more of a social activity.

Social media too has been evolving. Social media is no longer social media it quite simply is the media and everything you in your business communication – your Twitter feed, your Facebook page, or your LinkedIn profile – plays an important part in your total brand and product experience. Simply put, social media is one of the primary ways users today experience you business and your brand.

‘Our success as a species has depended on our ability to form and maintain social groups, so it is no surprise that we have evolved to value reciprocal exchanges at a very deep level.’ (As above page 138)

The message is, no matter what your business or the sector and countries in which you operate, you ignore the interactive, social aspects of your brand communication at your peril, and leave the door open for your competitors to talk to your customers if you turn a deaf ear to what they’re saying. Social media should be part of your brand experience and an intrinsic part of your business activities.

Talk to your clients. Listen to what they have to say and you’ll soon find out what they’re looking for and maybe even begin to anticipate their needs. Easy to say, I know, but we can all get there if we stop broadcasting and listen between the silences.

The Holy Grail for any business is to be loved by your customers. And in this week of yet another iPhone launch, Apple gives us the perfect example.

Of course the Holy Grail for any business is to be loved by your customers. And in this week of yet another iPhone launch, Apple gives us the perfect example.

‘Areas of the brain that light up when believers look at religious imagery, also light up when Apple fans view their favourite brand’s logo and products.’ (As above page 208)

So if you want people to buy your products or your services, offer them something they’ll fall in love with. Easy isn’t it?

Eugene Burns





Every great brand tells a great story.

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