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Advanced Persistent Opportunities: building brand systems

Image: “Low and slow” threats (to your herb garden)…

These are the slides and notes for my talk today at Media Future Dublin. See Slideshare to download the slides…

Thinking Biases

Cognitive biases are often talked about breathlessly by marketers keen to play on ways we think and bending them to their brand messages.

Cognitive bias is too often associated with the idea of a thinking error, though.

A bias can be a useful tool. They are basically shortcuts so we can do things, think about things and make decisions more quickly.

Being geeky we might cal them “brain hacks”. I suppose we might also think of them as “brain apps” – we pick them up when we need to think in different ways.

They aren’t universal. Different people have different biases in the way they think about things.

Take optimism and pessimism as a couple of biases. We tend to be optimists in marketing – we’re looking for the positive, the story, the selling point, the good in the things we have to take to market.

You wouldn’t want a pessimist to come up with your brand strap-line, your big launch press release, your speech to an audience of prospective customers. But you wouldn’t want an optimist doing your tax return, or handling your divorce settlement. Lawyers and accountants tend to be better at what they do when they bring some pessimism to bear.

NB: The book I mentioned that has a lots of interesting short essays around thinking biases is This Will Make You Smarter.

Advanced Persistent Threats

So I was talking to some people in the cyber-security industry the other day. Now there is a profession where pessimism pays.

There’s a concept in this industry that really caught my attention: Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs).

This term encompasses any threat that is well-resourced, focused and constant. APT’s can be organised crime, networks of hacker activists or government agencies.

There are various defintions, but one which Wikipedia pointed me to was from security firm Damballa Labs (my emphases):

  • Advanced – Criminal operators behind the threat utilise the full spectrum of computer intrusion technologies and techniques. While individual components of the attack may not be classed as particularly “advanced” (e.g. malware components generated from commonly available DIY construction kits, or the use of easily procured exploit materials), their operators can typically access and develop more advanced tools as required. They combine multiple attack methodologies and tools in order to reach and compromise their target.
  • Persistent – Criminal operators give priority to a specific task, rather than opportunistically seeking immediate financial gain. This distinction implies that the attackers are guided by external entities. The attack is conducted through continuous monitoring and interaction in order to achieve the defined objectives. It does not mean a barrage of constant attacks and malware updates. In fact, a “low-and-slow” approach is usually more successful.
  • Threat – means that there is a level of coordinated human involvement in the attack, rather than a mindless and automated piece of code. The criminal operators have a specific objective and are skilled, motivated, organized and well funded.

APTs, then, are all about the long game. All about achieving a goal by whatever means the group or organisation behind them can access or create. They expect to take their time, to look at every angle, to have to invent and innovate their way to their goal.

As Optimists we should build: Advanced Persistent Opportunity

Being an optimist, I look at that and see the positives, naturally. Being someone looking at how brands can adapt to digital media, to the opportunities of inbound marketing, the obvious questions is:

What would an Advanced Persistent Opportunity look like?

Creating an Advanced Persistent Opportunity is what brands need to create to be successful in digital. It is:

  • Focus: We are going to make this work. We are going to find the things that work to earn attention, support our customers, engage them wherever they are…
  • Commitment: It is going to take resources. Kit, tools, subscriptions and talented people who can devote their time and energy to the task in hand.
  • Adaptiveness: We know what tools and content and people we have to start with but we don’t know what it will look like in a few months time. We might build an a amazing app, a thriving customer community, a leading presence on a new social platform we haven’t even heard of yet. It doesn’t matter which, we will find our way to it.

The market correction in brand spending

Brands need to create a purposeful capability is they are to succeed in digital media. Too many attempts to develop in social media and related areas stutter and fail at the outset because they lack the above elements – they are still treating a digital or social project like a campaign with short shelf-life, or worse, a mere adjunct and amplifier for better funded and shorter-lived advertising campaigns.

At Media Future, I heard these theme repeated by media professionals especially, like Matt Locke of Storythings and Laura Evans of the Washington Post. You have to be doing it to find the metrics that work, the content that sticks, the contexts that matter…

You have to have some skin in the game, as Matt put it.

One of the really important reasons brands need to look at building their Advanced Persistent Opportunity is what I think of as the market correction we’re seeing in brand spend at the moment.

This is something that I have talked about before, but spend is switching from outbound marketing (a.k.a. advertising, a.k.a. paid media) into inbound media (a.k.a. earned media, a.k.a. social media/content marketing).

We nod sagely when people talk about “brands as publishers” but still relatively few are credible in this area, still held in thrall to the stop-start, bursts of awareness-raising activity that the advertising model, the funnel sales model, still skews marketing budgets and strategies toward.

So content and social media and PR still orient around the big bangs of TV-spot buying, and the focus on the digital opportunity is far from persistent, far from advanced.

What is an Advanced Persistent Opportunity?

Let’s take a look back at the definition of an APT above and pulled out some of the phrases I emphasised. They start to sound like a good recipe for a digital inbound marketing or earned media function in an organisation:

  • utilise the full spectrum of computer intrusion technologies and techniques.
  • their operators can typically access and develop more advanced tools as required.
  • combine multiple attack methodologies and tools
  • operators give priority to a specific task, rather than opportunistically seeking immediate financial gain.
  • conducted through continuous monitoring and interaction 
  • It does not mean a barrage of constant attacks and malware updates. In fact, a “low-and-slow” approach is usually more successful.
  • coordinated human involvement in the attack, rather than a mindless and automated piece of code.
  • operators have a specific objective and are skilled, motivated, organized and well funded.

So, APTs’ approach and methods as an apparently very effective way of getting stuff done in a an environment where the challenges and opportunities are unpredictable and fast-moving.

Some example of brands that are building APOs

The brands I admire most in social media are – I would argue – at various stages of developing their own Advanced Persistent Opportunities in digital media.

The furthest down this road are Red Bull and Nike. It’s not (just) about their ability to create great content in digital, it is about their focus and investment in developing their capability to execute in digital. My interest isn’t so much in their outstanding creative – that’s great but not enough – it is in the systems thet are building – operations, technology, talent – keep going, to scale and broaden their ability to be successful in digital.

The last example I gave was Nokia, where I think Craig Hepburn and his team are doing really interesting work developing the brand’s social media opportunity in everything from recruitment to sales. There’s more about it in the recent post on this blog: Nokia’s social media strategy and principles.

: : NB: The transcript of the talk by Admiral Gary Roughead US Navy can be found on the Navy’s website.

And I discuss the idea of assemblages further in this blog post of notes from a talk at SoCon 2011:

One way of understanding that networks and hierarchies have to co-exist is to look at a sociological idea called “assemblages” – ad hoc collaborations between formal, hierarchical organisations and loose networks.This diagram – and again it was Dan that introduced this idea to me – represents the assemblage that was put in place around the Haiti disaster. Learning the lessons from Katrina, the Red Cross and the US Navy connected with ad hoc networks using tools like Ushahidi to help them coordinate the relief effort.

: : Anyway, I hope these thoughts and links are useful to you. The Advanced Persistent Opportunity idea is one I would like to build on, so let me know what you think of it…

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