POV: Interview with Terry Young, CEO and Founder of sparks & honey

Jami Oetting
Jami Oetting

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Tell us about sparks & honey and what differentiates it from other agencies.

We synchronize brands with culture by bringing a real-time, data-driven newsroom model to advertising. Through a combination of live-data streams, proprietary algorithms and old-fashioned human know-how, we identify emerging trends and predict the size and potential of those trends before they explode. This process allows us to map trends in real time to brands — converting them from just another trend to real, measurable business opportunities.

We then create, curate and deploy branded content on behalf of our clients, optimizing what works and tweaking what doesn’t. Unlike the more traditional forms of advertising, this approach allows big brands to adapt swiftly to breaking trends and news and insert themselves into the conversation as it is happening. It’s a new breed of marketing: operating at the speed of culture.

Why create an agency based on identifying and capitalizing trends? What in our culture makes this necessary?

The Internet, social media, and always-on connectivity via mobile devices have driven a fundamental shift in the way we consume content and, therefore, how we expect brands to communicate with us. We want content — whether it be editorial, user-generated, advertisements or basic customer communication — to be relevant, immediate and authentic.

This need for speed and relevance demands a new breed of marketing organization. The next generation agency must be able to grow or de-emphasize creative content as the market reacts and offers real-time, real-world feedback. Newsrooms are built to read movements in culture as they happen to create content that increases in quality and sophistication as the public’s demand for it grows. Success depends on timely, relevant and stirring content that is useful for readers and often highly emotive. This is the model we’ve developed at sparks & honey to apply to our client’s brands.

How do you convince brands to get away from the seemingly endless number of reviews in order to take advantage of recent news and future trends to communicate? How do you help them take a risk?

Aligning with culture delivers results for brands. If you catch a cultural wave early and connect to it directly, then you will outperform traditional calendar- and media-based advertising.

Like a traditional newsroom, we build a content reserve based on the cultural patterns and trends we have carefully predicted will take center stage. This arsenal of content allows for quick activation of content. Only a small percentage of this content is reactive. The key to reducing review cycles and risk is leveraging a well-constructed content arsenal that can be activated quickly.

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What has been some of your favorite projects produced by sparks & honey Tell us about the thought and strategy behind these campaigns.

  1. The Explosion of Conscious Media with GaiamTV: We used our cultural mapping methodology to understand and dissect the latest trends shaping the Consciousness movement for GaiamTV, the leading provider of streaming media in the space. We helped establish and define the term “Conscious Media.” This work was satisfying and eye-opening for us. It gave us deep insights into conscious capitalism and conscious marketing.
  2. Real-Time Content Activation for a Major Beauty Brand: We worked with a major beauty brand to build a content reserve, identify real-time cultural bursts and activate content via our data-driven newsroom. This work improved this client’s social media engagement by 100 percent
  3. Innovation Workshop for a Major Consumer Durables Manufacturer: We used the sparks & honey methodology to develop materials and concepts to inspire new ways of thinking about innovation for this household appliances manufacturer. The objective was to break out of traditional modes of thinking that were focused on vertical category insights and expand the frame of reference for product development to encompass broader cultural phenomena that have high “energy” among consumers.

sparks & honey uses some interesting terminology to describe its work. Can you give us a lesson in the language?

Wave Branding: We see culture occurring in waves. If we catch the wave early, our clients can ride it to its peak and then exit before the trend bottoms out. In other words, “wave branding” is a term we created way to connect the right opportunities to the right brand messages at the right time — or real time.

Synchronizing Brands with Culture: Brands that fall out of sync with culture risk becoming obsolete. Brands that are in sync with culture have a distinct advantage in a competitive marketplace. Our entire methodology is designed to keep brands synchronized with culture.

Energy: Energy isn’t a new word, but we use it as a marker to quantify the size and velocity of an emerging trend.

Content Networks: Our proprietary macro trend methodology. Content networks, like people, have webs of connections. We map, track and score those connections in real time to monitor current and predicted energy as well as shifts.

Data-Driven Newsroom: Our newsroom is at the center of our agency. This is our hub of cultural identification, mapping and activation. It operates very much like a traditional newsroom, though our newsroom monitors not just news, but all sorts of cultural activity from fringe developments in technology to the latest meme and viral video.

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What is conscious media and what are some of the implications for brands?

100 million Americans are becoming more “conscious.” It’s a phenomenal number, so obviously there are few brands that can afford to ignore this powerful and growing segment.

Conscious media is content that uses alternative modes of thinking — integrating spiritual, experiential and contemplative ideas with methodologies drawn from modern science — to explore and understand the human condition and ways in which individuals can align their spiritual, emotional and physical beings to live in harmony with themselves, others and the planet. It often merges scientific concepts with spiritual concepts and Eastern thought with Western thought.

More broadly, conscious media is the type of content that inspires or creates an awakening or expands the spectrum of choices and possible answers to deeper concerns. We’re seeing the explosion in conscious media driving enormous business for our client, GaiamTV, which is essentially the Netflix of consciousness.

But from our viewpoint, conscious media is paving the way for what we refer to as “conscious marketing.” Conscious marketing has everything to do with brands being authentic, transparent and, of course, in sync with the culture of consciousness — which for brands generally means understanding and implementing conscious business practices.

We recently published a white paper detailing the explosion of Conscious Media and the underlying shifts in culture driving this explosion.

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In your opinion, what is one of the biggest hurdles brands will have to face in the next few years? How can your model help them to succeed?

The biggest single challenge is creating brand relevance in a highly fragmented media market. Media continues to move toward snack media consumption and creation —think Vine videos, tweets, animated gifs, transmedia storytelling.

Brands are realizing that they lack the tools, consumer data and human capital to create authentic connections with consumers in a timely fashion. Our model helps them do that.

What trends in marketing/advertising do you find most interesting/exciting?

  • The shift to a data-driven newsroom model.
  • Aligning marketing to the conscious consumer.
  • Quantified self movement is leveraging real-time, personal data in order to shift habits and enhance performance. This is impacting every industry.
  • Embedded Sensors everywhere — clothing, appliances and unexpected places — which are all connected to our smart phones. This will create new brand experiences and storytelling opportunities.
  • MicroBiome or the continued impact of microbes and microbe-infused products across multiple industries, including food, fashion, beauty and art.

One reason you love what you do: This model will change the advertising industry.

Favorite ad: “Just the right amount of wrong” campaign from the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas

Must-read book: “Conscious Capitalism,” “This Will Make You Smarter” and “How to Create a Mind.”

Where can readers connect with you?

On our website, through our contributions to Big Think, Twitter @sparksandhoney or @terryyoungny, LinkedIn and Tumblr.

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