Why Network Theory Matters.


network_theoryWe have a great team here at bloomfield knoble. Each member of the team brings a unique perspective to the table regardless of what product or service we are offering to a client or brand. I have built personal and professional relationships with everyone here and, while I may not always agree with them, truly value their input as a variable in the decision-making process. However, the weight I give to each person’s input depends on the topic. For example, if the bloomfield knoble team is working on developing a logo for a brand, I will give more weight to the creative team than the finance team. I don’t do it to be prejudicial, it’s just how I interpret the value of comments from people I interact with.

If you think about it, you realize that you’ve been doing the same thing your entire life. You have had a series of teachers, tutors, mentors, whatever, shape the way you approach everything from solving a math problem to driving down the highway. At some point you took all of the lessons you learned and created your own identity – your own plan for solving problems and determining a course of action. You can still accept outside influence, but you’ve got a way you like to work and do things and you’re pretty sure you know what’s right for you.

At bloomfield knoble, like any agency, we’re doing our best to be an influence in the decision-making process. We work hard to generate awareness, drive engagement through education and provide a clear call-to-action (or incentive) to drive usage. It’s why there are TV ads, billboards, magazine ads, online banners and a million other messages that bombard us as consumers. What is relevant to one individual may not be relevant to someone else. The point is that advertising is trying to provide you with information (of a sort) to help you make a decision during the buying process and, ideally, it’s the product or service we’re trying to sell. Agencies work very hard to identify who you are as an individual, where you are in the buying process, and what might give you the greatest incentive to engage with our client. Agencies work very hard to build brand awareness, recognition, trust and loyalty and create a one-on-one relationship.

And here’s where it all goes out the window: welcome to network theory.

In a nutshell, network theory is finding pathways and determining the influence of those pathways. There are different types of network theory, but I’m only going to talk about social network theory. The bottom line is this: the people with whom we interact on a regular basis, and some with who we interact only sporadically, influence our beliefs, decisions and behaviors. If you want to really understand this concept, I highly recommend An Overview of Social Networks and Economic Applications by Matthew O. Jackson, written for the Handbook of Social Economics.

What does that mean to us as advertisers? It means that all the hard work we put into creating awareness, attitude and usage when building brand essence doesn’t mean squat if we can’t control the other connections that people use as part of their decision-making process. This is an impactful statement and is already changing the way every agency and brand does business, so let it sink in for a second.

Let me give you an example of network theory at work. A young couple is shopping and decide to grab a bite to eat. There are many restaurants around them, but none where the couple has eaten before. Thanks to advertising, there is some awareness of their choices. From an agency perspective, the hope is that the couple recall a particular ad or incentive tied to an ad to make a decision. Each restaurant in the area has spent money to capture attention and provide a point of difference versus the competition (come eat pizza – come eat chicken) and, ideally, the people will use their knowledge of the restaurants – provided via advertising – to make a selection. So what happens? One person pulls out a phone and opens Yelp. Now, people whom the couple have never met are influencing the decision-making process. It doesn’t matter that the brand has built a one-on-one connection via their marketing efforts; someone else – not even remotely associated with the couple – have driven the couple to (great place to eat review) or away (worst place ever review).

Understanding this process – the concept of network theory – is changing everything. It’s not just social media – it’s deeper than that. It’s understanding the core functions and concepts behind why we, as consumers, accept influence from people we don’t know. Understanding at least the idea behind network theory is the only way we as an agency can truly develop a strategy that will help clients maximize the impact that channels, like social networks, can have on brand essence. There are plenty of agencies that promote relationship management or content development, but that’s being reactive to the channel – not the underlying cause. It’s the difference between taking medicine to stop a stomach ache and understanding what is causing the stomach ache in the first place. It’s why movie trailers still feature comments from critics and it’s why TV shows now put comments collected from Twitter in their ads.

Network Theory is changing the very way agencies do business. Are you ready?

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