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“Let’s give them something to talk about
A little mystery to figure out”  – Bonnie Raitt

People and brands are finally talking.
People and brands are finally talking!

In case you missed it, brands and people are beginning to talk.  It’s weird, like watching a teen discover that his dad is a little bit cool after all.  Sure it’s been coming for years, but lately things have gotten clubbier fast.  What’s changed?

Pictures.  Photos.  In essence, we’ve found something to talk about.

Since cave boys sketched stick-figure gazelles on cave walls for cave girls, pictures have served to establish common ground when the conversation was teetering on awkward, as it has been for brands and people through the ages.  Pictures get the conversation going.  People love to share and talk about pictures.  4,000 pictures are shared on Facebook every *second*.  Instagram passed 150MM active users.  And according to Simply Measured, visual content generates 5x more engagement than non-visual content on Facebook.

Pictures are the new words.

Old timers will remember how the Cluetrain Manifesto foretold that “markets are conversations”, where real dialogue would eventually lead to real efficiency. And for the past fifteen years we’ve struggled to bring the conversation to life, with honesty, transparency…and less than stellar results.  First email, then blogs, podcasts, and games and contests were supposed to lubricate the dialogue, get brands and people talking.  But it always seemed a little cheesy, a little dirty, not sincere, at least not in both directions.

Then some brand said, “let’s not talk about that…let’s talk about this cool picture!”  And everyone relaxed…began to get to know one another.  Pictures were the new scotch.

Predictably, brands are now in the market for good pictures that get their customers talking (“activated”, in marketing parlance).  They need pictures related to tent-pole events like product launches or holidays.  They need relevant pictures day to day, to keep the conversation going all the time.  The race is on to source and optimize pictures…but not just any pictures, pictures that walk the line between interesting and relevant (being marketers we have thrown a banner across such pictures:  Brand Relevant Content.  Look for it here soon).  Amidst the firehose of pictures, they are not easy to find.

Actually there’s a great way to come by BRC:  run a contest.  Shycast has been generating BRC for brands for years…pictures, videos, and essays (we were the original branded video contesting platform, and our foray into pictures is documented in the post We Ought to be in Pictures).

There is an important inflection point happening in the relationship between people and brands, driven by two big factors:

*  The social framework for picture sharing has reached scale, and

*  Brands finally have the courage to play in other people’s sandboxes, and the really smart brands are losing their fear of “brand identity” and handing it, a little bit, over to people for interpretation, with stellar results.

The result is one plain and simple BIG game-changer, a long time in the offing:  brands are figuring out how to talk to people, and people are increasingly interested to talk to brands.

Because we figured out how to talk about pictures.

“Thinking ’bout you every day
Dreaming ’bout you every night
Hoping that you feel the same way

Now that we know it, let’s really show it, Darlin’”