In Conversation: Erinrose Sullivan

Lausanne-based Erinrose Sullivan is a senior marketing executive and analyst who helps businesses make sense of the digital world. She works as a strategist across various sectors including the telecom, gaming and entertainment industries. Libby O’Loghlin asks her about post-digital content, and if there’s any such thing as a Zeitgeist.

Erinrose Sullivan Over the past few years there have been huge shifts in the way readers (as well as gamers and viewers) use digital devices. How would you describe what’s been going on?

Quite simply : A revolution in the way we engage with content. We now have entertainment, information, news and shopping at our fingertips. It is incredibly powerful and also distracting. We are always slightly engaging with some and rarely giving our full attention to any one thing. It’s challenging from a content perspective—be it writing, video or games—to engage people fully today.

One could argue that right now we are experiencing a world that is the epitome of culturally fragmented—quoting the Wiki: “In the analysis of the arts and culture, the concept of a ‘spirit of the age’ or zeitgeist may be problematic as a tool for analysis of periods which are socially or culturally fragmented and diverse.” Do you think there’s any such thing as a Zeitgeist? And how do you go about attempting to decode and quantify a 21st century context that looks to most of us like a great churning sea of global content and disparate user experiences?

Interesting question!  There must be definitely be a Zeitgeist if we consider gaming within the context of arts and culture. Gaming has become such a prevalent part of people’s lives like no period previously. In the forty years since the inception of Pong, mother, kids, teens and grandparents are now all playing videogames. Today companies and school systems are applying gamification techniques to trainings and courses in school curriculum. Even the military uses gaming applications to help in trainings and to determine outcomes in combat.

“We are all trying to level-up in one way or another …”

The idea of gamification in our lives is even prevalent in loyalty programs and rewards for spending. We are all trying to level-up in one way or another. This now goes into warp speed with younger people and the ubiquity of smartphones. If you look up from your screen you will find everyone else is looking down at theirs. What I think is so fascinating is how dependent people have become on their mobile or internet network and the connection it provides, to the detriment of actual contacts around them.

People are now ‘addicted’ to being constantly connected. Only look at the Arab Spring: the revolution was aided by Social Media via Twitter and Facebook. But today, if you are looking for a Western World revolution to wake up today’s youth to engage, you do it by cutting their 3G and wifi.

You live in Switzerland, and have therefore experienced a multi-lingual environment first hand. And yet we live in a digital age … In which sectors do you see a global homogenisation of consumer experience, and in which do you see an adherence to the local?

It’s hard to say. I think we see more and more homogenization today. This again goes into warp speed in the mobile space and e-commerce.

Nontheless, I think the challenge is less about making a local experience than a relevant and engaging consumer experience. Today, websites know where you are from, so they should already be optimized to adjust accordingly, That is what I expect from websites today.

Remember Yahoo a few years back? When I typed in from Switzerland it would first give the weather info for California, and when it finally did register I was from Lausanne it would indicate it as Lausanne, SZ. SZ was how Americans thought you shortened the word Switzerland. It was ridiculous. Today there are so many good tools out there to create a simple and seamless experience for people that I find it hard to engage with content that isn’t optimized.

There have been numerous changes in the publishing world over the past decade, notably the augmentation of books on various digital platforms and devices, as well as the shift from a single medium story to the transmedia experience of stories and storyworlds. With all the narrative platforms and experiences on offer, what would you say are the key elements for successful user or consumer engagement?

Slides from Erinrose Sullivan presentation

Slide content: Erinrose Sullivan, XMedia Switzerland, 2013

Well, it has to be brilliant. Seriously, if it isn’t, people will slide their finger to something else that is brilliant.

Also, any content today needs to take into account people’s daily lives and how they engage with content. Because we have any form of media at our finger tips. We are multi-tasking more than ever. Today, who sits on a couch and watches TV in a singular fashion?  I think there is just a handful left. We are more apt to be on the computer or ipad with the phone next to us as we watch something, and that we might be missing something if we don’t check out what is happening with our twitter feed, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.

So within this context, I would encourage any content to have elements that allow for layering of other content that is ‘chunkable’, meaning, you can engage with a satisfying portion and come back for more later.

“we are reluctant for another thing to take more of our time …”

You’ve talked previously about consumers these days being commitment-phobic. Can you explain a bit about this, and whether it extends to reading (and specifically the consumption of novels in their entirety!)?

I think we are so completely overstimulated and over-connected today that we are reluctant for another thing to take more of our time. We are hesitant to engage with something, be it a TV drama, a new novel or a game that looks like a major time investment. We have to find ways that slowly bring people in, tease them in to giving more of their time. In gaming we talk about ‘not shooting the player’ when they are learning how to play the game. Nothing is more demotivating. The same idea should be considered when developing content for these increasingly distracted, multi-tasking audiences.

Are we now post-digital in the sense that we’re past the point where digital is remarkable? And what does this mean for the way we think about content?

I think it depends on the person you are talking to and what they knew before, or if there was a before. From a business perspective, I would say we are not yet in a post-digital phase, because so many companies have neither the in-house skills, teams, tools, processes or understanding of their business and how they need to excel in a digital age. So in many areas and for some time, a catch-up still needs to happen. Thinking of content today, if anything, we need to think of content as more of a conversation. We are completely in a period of consumer-generated content, and consumers want to be part of it and have an exchange with your content or intellectual property. Going forward in a digital or post-digital age this tendency will increase. This of course will continue to create challenges of ownership, and there will have to be more thought put into the ‘Commons’—thinking of content.

What is the most interesting aspect of your work?

I love to learn and understand new concepts, new people, and different mindsets and cultures. The work that I have been involved with at places like EA, Orange and Ubisoft have all let me explore that for the betterment of the companies. Now I continue to do this with my company BrightLab as a consultant for companies in telelcom, gaming, media and entertainment as well as start-ups. It is stimulating, complicated and challenging at the same time, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Erinrose is a senior marketer with 15 years of consumer marketing, strategy and insights experience in media, technology and telecom. She has held senior positions with Orange, EA, and Ubisoft at global, regional and local levels. Her expertise has been gained by managing cross-functional teams and driving global business growth through consumer insight, strategy and innovation. Most recently, she co-founded the digital marketing and strategy consultancy, BrightLab to help companies make sense of the digital world and develop marketing and digital strategies that ensure the consumer is at the heart of everything they do.


Author: Libby O'Loghlin

Novelist, social entrepreneur, nutrition and narrative coach. Creative Director of The Woolf Quarterly; Co-Founder of WriteCon and The Powerhouse Zurich. Nature is my jam.

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