John V. Willshire at [ ]

Natasha Halhead is attending Google’s Squared course. This is Part 3 of her experience, read Part 1 and Part 2.

We had an inspirational talk from John Willshire in our first week – you may recognise him as the ex-Head of Innovation here at PHD or in his words ‘the excitable Scottish innovation one’. John is now the proud owner of Smithery, a marketing and product innovation studio, with a manifesto to help companies Make Things People Want, rather than trying to Make People Want Things.

John raised the question; ‘are brands fracking the social web?’


For those who are not up to speed with this engineering jargon, like myself, fracking is an aggressive, invasive technique for extracting valuable raw materials out of hard to reach places. (If you want to find out more, see the recent Greenpeace campaign; #Frackandgo).

Anyway I digress: as John suggested, the most valuable raw material within the digital domain is attention. Brands are constantly digging for attention within the social web, craving likes, followers, retweets, repins and any interaction they can get with the outside world. Put simply, for many brands social media activation presents pretty meaningless conversations with consumers.

Not to be a prude, but Andrex’s new ‘scrunch or fold’ debate is just awful. Asking people to vote on their toilet paper ritual is a prime example of a desperate plea for attention online and a very ridiculous and meaningless conversation. As John rightly put it, it’s just REALLY ANNOYING.

Tweeting from the seat?!!!

Tweeting from the seat?!!!


‘Brands are challenged with the fact that people really don’t care’ – Martin Weigel, W+K

Given the extinction of the broadcast age, brands really need to be having meaningful conversations with consumers. As Martin Weigel suggests, one of the major challenges facing brands is that consumers do not necessarily share their passion and enthusiasm. This needs to be earned. But this need not be an excuse for poor communications, brands have to fundamentally improve the quality of their conversations and work in a way that compliments the ways of the social web.

In short, stories really matter!


John went on to recall the Labour Theory of Value – where something’s value is determined by the labour that went into its production. This led to an explanation of the Labour Theory of Brand Value – where brand value is derived from the stories of something’s production.

Interestingly, this ideology has been cropping up throughout Squared. Compelling stories are part and parcel with successful brands. This was coherently summed up, for us Squares, by using the example of the stationery company, Field Notes. Field Notes have built their brand around compelling stories from the raw materials they use, the production process they adopt, to the people that use their carefully crafted products. They have created a culture, told a story and subsequently are able to sell their products at a premium price.


I’ll admit that I have barely scratched the surface of John’s talk so please see his full presentation here…particularly his analogy of dialectic and dialogic conversations.

Posted by Natasha Halhead, Media Assistant (@nat_erz)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: