Saturday, February 28, 2009

Calling all Philanthrocapitalists!

The economic collapse may have immobilized the capital markets for the most part, but there's a silver lining in all of this. Matthew Bishop and Michael Green's theory on how private enterprise can actively empower social, political and environmental development is one such movement that is gaining momentum.

To start, we know a couple of key things. First, philanthropic endeavors can and do help the bottom line of corporations. The accounting cycles can be handled a number of different ways, but in essence, you go about your business and form a subsidiary 503c. You have a write-off, and you don't necessarily have to donate a percentage of proceeds (although you should, but that's another conversation). Second, philanthropy is a great incentive for innovation. Just look at what the X-Prize Foundation has been doing (Sergey Brin and Larry Page's brainchild) with it's corporate partnerships. Scientific advancement in aerospace and nanotechnology are rapidly experiencing dynamic new shifts, and with a little bit of patience, there is a return that stretches far beyond the initial investment.

Now let's look at the government's role in supporting an open relationship with private enterprise. We know that our new administration is fostering a climate that supports small business and entrepreneurialism - as long as you don't try to cook the books, you're gonna get the breaks you need. The administration has also committed stimulus dollars directly into these development sectors, as well as bolstering, for example, the resource pools that municipalities need to thrive and keep pushing forward on things like renewable energy.

So what does this mean? This means that Church and State are starting to think along the same plane. It means that bipartisanship might actually be set into action (it already has to some extent). It also means that this country, as well as the free world, has an opportunity to return to greatness sooner than you think.

Harken back to the days of the industrial revolution, when confidence and productivity worked in concert. There was a sentiment of fearlessness - people with even marginal trade skills by today's standards had nothing to lose and everything to gain in trying something new. Now, we are making a similar return to the truth. We have no choice but to be altruistic, and in many ways, optimistic. 

From a marketing perspective, consumer confidence will rely heavily on newly built or rebuilt brand relationships. From a manufacturing perspective, supply chain systems will have to experiment and take more calculated risks. From a media perspective, a more collaborative environment will be needed to address the evolving needs of affiliates and consumers. And all of this will facilitated by a reciprocal and equitable investment in the development process from corporations and government agencies.

So try out that big idea of yours. Put pen to paper, or finger to typepad. Talk to your peers. Think about what that product or service means in the role of affecting change. It's very likely that those dreamy concepts of yesteryear will now come to life. 

Video Microblogging: Social Currency of Our Immediate Future?

A colleague of mine apprised me of an app called BubbleTweet, which allows you to create and post a video on your Twitter page, the idea being that you can make a personalized introduction to fellow Tweeters. I'm actually going to be creating my video this weekend, and it got me thinking about the possibilities.

There's been a lot of debate within the ad community about the effect that microblogging tools like Twitter will have on brand marketing -  pundits on both sides have very valid things to say. The folks at BubbleTweet have a disclaimer that basically says that the videos uploaded onto the app should not be used for "commercial use", which is an interesting statement when you consider that nowadays, there are a few ways to slice that orange. To boot, when you look at the videos from the BubbleTweeter community, you notice that many of them are used to promote articles or books they've written, as well as events and other TweetUps. 

So, what does this mean for the immediate future? Probably a few different things.

- Brand marketers who have Twitter pages will have a field day introducing new product launches or releases; the content doesn't have to be "commercial", it can come directly from an "ambassador".

- Brand advocates (or detractors) can now illustrate their affinities for a brand or product, utilizing creative ways to show placement, i.e. real world experiences.

- The viral aspects are potentially incredible; if you can integrate players like YouTube or Vimeo, think about all the ways you can optimize and syndicate that content through search, as well as provide access to fields of other relevant content.

- Messaging takes on a whole new perspective; it is likely going to be more didactic in the sense that brands can then instruct people on the uses of product or services, and then elicit the same type of video responses in their consumer feedback loops.

- Video content itself will embrace the newer, more experimental "shorter burst" medium, in which :05 second or less "interval" spots will be used to build longer storylines (think of :30 theater on TiVo - BBDO's invention a couple of years back).

I could go on and on...this is sure to shake things up. I'd love to hear what other folks think about this.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Borrowed or Shared Capital - Isn't This the Point of the Social Web?

AdAge ran an interesting story today on the new Skittles website that has "floating navigation".

Basically, all this means is that there is a tool bar of sorts that exists at the top of the screen prompting you to different social media pages such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Flickr. It's a cool concept and plays off the notion that a brand, like Skittles, can be ubiquitous on the web, and be a catalyst for conversation with those who advocate the brand. What's interesting isn't so much this particular iteration of the concept, but the fact that the article calls attention to the fact that the site is strikingly reminiscent of other sites with floating nav. My reaction was simply, "And?"

First off, let's not forget that imitation really is the highest form of flattery. But we should also look at this a bit deeper. Thought leaders in design, web development and technology - folks like Shepard Fairey, Chris Anderson and Marc Andreessen - have always talked about how platforms and other digital pieces should inspire people to adopt and improve upon them. After all, this is what the social web is really all about. Further, sourcing these development communities in a collaborative environment is how we innovate as a business culture.

Community sourcing in product development is certainly nothing new. But what irks me is why major publications like AdAge - who get plenty of ad dollars from tech companies who are at the forefront of this innovation - would run a story like this. In fact, it's not even a story. A story would be something to the effect of how the navigations differ between various user cases past and present. Or, what consumer pollsters think about the experience, and what they would suggest to improve functionality.

The point circles back to the idea that if you have an influential platform like AdAge - with the power to not only convey key information but incite meaningful conversations around these topics - you should take the time to encourage innovation, not criticize it without further basis, even if you do feel the work is a blatant imitation of something else. This mentality is the very reason why many agencies are losing and going out of business. Let's just hope that more people see the light before more jobs are lost.

Social Responsibility in Business

I'm reading Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman's book "First, Break All the Rules". Good stuff on true management efficiency, and a lot of insights on corporate culture. One of the things that really jumps out at you when you read it is the notion of social responsibility. In looking at and cultivating the strengths of the individual, you create a shift in thinking and consciousness that affects the entire group, and more importantly, develops a bond that can shield against improprieties and missteps that are often lethal to the culture of any business. This may sound lofty, but I think this is one of the main reasons why so many companies are laying people off - not because they didn't see the downturn coming, but the fact that they didn't aptly prepare for it. In other words, a majority of the layoffs probably wouldn't have happened if senior management had truly been responsible for their subordinates by having earnest discussions about things like performance, scope or scalability and then creating action plans that capitalized on strengths and improved upon weaknesses. At the end of the day, it all begins and ends with a conversation. Or a few.

Which leads one to the notion of expendability. How many companies have you seen over the years turn people over like a revolving door? This baffles me, mostly because, in many cases, intellectual capital is a company's most prized asset. In the agency business (and other service businesses), this currency is your lifeblood. Ok, so maybe some people are expendable...but are their ideas? If someone is considered to be a "bad seed", is there any way to empower them to become a "good seed"? The point is that we all need to look at the resources we have and make them work for the collective good of the company. And if that's not realistic, well, it should be. Put it this way, if the pool of employees and candidates becomes disgruntled to the extent that no one wants to be a part of any company culture, then it's not entirely inconceivable that we could have a bunch of consultants (like myself) running around from project to project with no loyalties to any organization, product or service. Recruiters take note. 

If this all seems dire, then let's focus back on the positive. And if you need some inspiration, look no further than the man sitting in the Presidential chair. Here is someone - a transformational figure, no less - who is running the corporation known as the United States of America with the utmost social responsibility (fantastic congressional address the other night, by the way). In less than 100 days of public service, he has done more for the free world than we've seen in years, if not ever. Company execs and senior managers: take a cue from our leader.

Upward and onward, people!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Media and Message

I've been reading a lot lately in various industry posts and forums about the use of social media utilities like Twitter. Personally, I don't Tweet (or blog for that matter) all that much, but, that's not to say that these tools don't have tremendous value. I suppose it really depends on the needs of the individual or company. More importantly, what's undeniable is the real-time ability to cut through social network layers that can grind correspondences to a slow crawl. Bottom line: choose your channels wisely, and whatever happens to be your preference, it's the message, the ideas, that matter most. We are witnessing a radical shift in information sharing as well as experience sharing. And that is something we can all be very excited about. 

The interesting thing in my discussions with agencies and brands alike is a general unwillingness to adapt and try these new tools. Creatives and brand marketing folks tend to think that their message and brand experience gets lost somehow. Media people fear that these platforms will affect their buys (and they do, but mostly in a positive way) and therefore their bottom line. Technology folks don't really want to hear either side and would rather push for things that support the large "robust" backend frameworks they've already built. But who suffers in the end? The consumer.

Look out in a couple weeks for an article that addresses the issue head-on with some interesting case studies on that little thing called "ROI".