We are ubiquitous.
Think of people as pixels (or vice versa). The semantic web is taking on new life beyond artificial intelligence – it is incorporating real human sentiment and building personality into its own evolution. Scary? Perhaps. But perhaps it’s better to give rise to human growth, not just the machines. Case in point: online ads no longer follow ad inventory, they follow people -- tribes of them. The point is that we must move with markets. Ubiquity will also give us better opportunities to self-regulate, so even if we are followed (and we interact), we don’t take offense. On a more positive front, we are on the verge of profound, sweeping changes... All of which are activated in the ‘real’ world. As one might say, “You may be on, you may be off, but where you are right now can be anywhere.”
SaaS has evolved into multi-dimensional PaaS, Enterprise & API suites.
Google Wave is just one example of where web utility is meeting universal connectivity. Now we can not only aggregate content, we can create it, rate it and edit it before, during or after we share it. Look for brands via super-user communities to evolve as the new publishers, as well as those that turn brand content into adoptable vehicles that any user can shape and add to as their own. A further extension would be more active product development -- advocates using brand materials by way of network publishing tools to create and distribute their own products. The development community never mattered more than right now. And it’s not just about the cloud, it’s also about redefining culture. Want to be a great developer? Get out from behind the keyboard for part of the day and look around you... The world needs you. Seriously.
Transmedia is the high standard for planning & content development.
Speaking of culture, it’s time to start thinking from the perspective of the other side. If we truly want to remove the notion of ‘them’ from the equation, then we need to start thinking about how ‘they’ think... and why. Brands, communities, companies, countries, governments and new societies need to be shown commonality. Many-to-many means a one-to-one synchronicity involving a deeper understanding of language and action, knowing their differences, and marrying them accordingly. Media matters greatly in this mix, media of all types, and it all comes down to building strong, spreadable stories that can live on as currency beyond campaigns and cultural mores. Sure, choosing channels is important, but in the greater context of life, what we say is as important as how we say it (or maybe the other way around...). Bottom line: people are media. Give them a better voice and empower them to use it. Right now.
Research is not just a marketing function, it’s an inevitability of life.
The social web is teeming with truth. But understanding the truth is not only a product of how we listen, but what we actually hear. Predictive is one thing, adaptive is another. Can you handle the truth? (Sorry, had to go there...) Stop talking so much and listen in. YOU are lucky to be the topic of conversation, and if you’re not, you should be just as lucky to find out that your category has a reputation. Brands can take years to build, and mere seconds to destroy. Why? Because if your industry is a target, so are you. The Dominos YouTube Debacle wasn’t really about two knucklehead Dominos employees, it was about two people who were bored out of their minds in a pizza joint, desperately needing to express themselves and find a purpose behind their work. This could’ve happened to any franchise. Companies need to think more seriously about the bigger picture – their investment in human capital. As for brands, if you want to join in the conversation, and come away with real insights, you better bring something cool to the party. Try this on for size: instead of marketing brands, we really should be branding markets. Who’s better at this skill will boil down to contributors versus followers. Technology alone will not get you there, for the simple fact that you cannot automate sentiment, you have to cultivate it. Which is why ‘brand monitoring’ is a wholly deceptive term.
Brand (and product) collaboration is key.
Contrary to popular agency belief, crowdsourcing isn’t such a bad thing – we’ve been doing it for years whether we chose to accept it or not. In fact, cavemen and women were great at it. And while Neanderthals still exist within some of the higher agency ranks, there are plenty more brilliant people coming up through the ranks who recognize that real collaboration leads to catharsis, not calamity. The difference between yesterday and right now is that we need to guide it and make it our own. This requires a shared responsibility that balances wants and needs with healthy sacrifices for the Greater Good. As marketing agents, we must be better at shouldering this responsibility in the near term, and in the longer term, empower consumer groups to share along with us by giving them tools and information that have real cultural value. Turn breweries into learning centers. Make local reps into national icons. Use sporting events to inspire creativity in the darkest and loneliest of places. Think big and do better – together. And as brands, walking before talking means that we can be objective while still being ourselves. After all, people sell products to other people.
Utility is uniquely portable & competitively shareable.
Look for fixed, destination-prone, ad-like objects such as microsites (at least as we know them) to take a significant back seat to things like ‘dynamic content packets’ (formerly known as ad units) in which the extensibility of informational content can adapt to the needs, desires and passions of common interest groups. This will create a new media paradigm, as well as a much larger cultural one. Yes, all this talk about culture might conjure up images of a Petri dish, but great tools mean game-changing and life-changing offers, borne from brand stewardship, yet made by the people, for the people. Where does advertising fit into this mix? As culturally-relevant value adds (not ads), that take the ‘text’ out of contextual messages and turn them into conversations that are ongoing. You want to break through? First ask yourself the Nick Law question: “How do you fit in?” Fitting in entails that brand utilities actually change our daily lives in acutely powerful ways. Nike and Target have been doing it, other brands like P&G are working hard at it. Here’s something to chew on: even competing brands (like Coke and Pepsi) can share a voice – even complementary roles – in creating utility. Why? Because their legacies are everlasting, unlike many of their products. How? By acknowledging that brand loyalty is really about sharing consumer needs and experiences, and accepting that this requires the commitment of more than one company in the same category.
Mobile means a lot more than a platform.
Forget 3-screen thinking for now (and perhaps forever), there’s this thing called ‘content connectivity’. Set-top boxes aren’t just boxes, just like PDAs aren’t just devices – they’re assistants. Geotilities and purchasing apps like Red Laser are guiding us in ways that not only call retailers out on their bullshit, but are showing us that consumers have ultimate power in making the decision to purchase, as well as how to purchase. Preference-based platforms are enablers for this movement, although, as we’ve seen with large cable providers, not necessarily the gatekeepers. Comcast made this mistake, but wisely got hip to the way the game can be better played. Again, shareability is everything, especially to the bottom line. Perceived failures, such as Slingbox, provide windows into the truth about how we consume both media and product (or media product). Another thing to take note of: mindshare is collectively owned. The next time you make a trip down the aisle (no, not that aisle...), you may come to the realization that your friends are better to you than you might’ve thought. Ralph Lauren understood this before and after technology came along, which is probably why the brand uses it so well.
Good content is good content.
Here’s the shameful thing about Hollywood. Most movies are pieces of crap. Even worse, good movies often don’t make money, and bad movies most often do. Okay, that’s fairly subjective (not really), but you get the point. It shouldn’t be this difficult to create and distribute good content. Well guess what? It really isn’t. Video networks are overtaking cable nets in both viewership and engagement. Even better, we’re seeing strong correlates between TV viewing and online participation. This tells us that if we can’t provide people with entertaining and fulfilling content, they’ll either get it from somewhere else, get it from multiple places at the same time, or they’ll just make it themselves. Now of course, there is a ton of mediocre content on offer as well, but the extension of the mid-tail is creating – actually forcing – a higher demand on quality. Further, the intricacies of a channel experience demand that a story arc is told specifically to that touch-point. In other words, you better know your medium before you start delivering a message. When most internet marketers started touting that video ads were the Second Coming, they failed to realize that message and medium meant the same thing: good content. Further, things like curtains and overlays are interesting, but they don’t hide shitty content, nor do they sell ads. So, when we say that the origin of content shouldn’t be a deciding factor as to why we watch or engage with it, we must always pay our respect to the value of ideas and hope they can be adopted through stronger distribution channels. Which, by the way, might explain why MySpace has one of the best video platforms few people seem to know about or use.
There are new channels out there, just waiting to be discovered.
Actually, they’re not so much ‘new’, so much as they are ‘over there’ or ‘right here’. God has a wicked sense of humor. It’s called irony. There are 1.6 billion Internet users, yet 95% of the Internet is hidden from us. Tim Berners-Lee created the greatest Divine Comedy imaginable. Or maybe he, like God, wanted us to use our hearts and our imaginations to seek out more equitable paths in our communications. Heard of micro-financing? Well, you have now. A few Wall Street groups and foreign banks are using it to subsidize our future, by putting control and moderation back into the hands of the people. Notice a theme here – people. People are going to build infrastructure and create jobs. People are the ones who are willing to put money in the hands of other people, knowing that they can gut check their own agendas. What’s even more incredible about this, at least from a technology and media perspective, is that these channels will reveal themselves as carriers of new currency that can adapt to market fluctuation and asset flow. In vaguer English, communication is not limited to what see or hear, and it is often activated by what we don’t see or hear. Which is precisely why, in a social context, we have to earn media before we can share it. More importantly, this means that the next big media channel could be you and your peer group.
Networks are becoming truly interchangeable.
Here’s where the fight for world domination seems so glaringly pathetic. We no longer need to squabble over bigger pieces of the pie, we just need to create bigger slices in order to make the pie bigger. For more historical reference, hark back to the early 90s, when U.S. car companies colluded and created an enterprise fulfillment exchange so that parts suppliers wouldn’t gouge them on price or inventory. It worked, and this type of thinking rarely seen within the automotive classes saved the industry at that time (unfortunately, as we know, they now face much bigger challenges). Cut to present day, where ad networks face a similar dilemma over inventory and demand. The larger solution is to work together, and the smaller solution is to figure out how to enable the little guys to become more valuable. Users are no longer loyal to places, but they are loyal to information. Go where they go and help them get there, especially if it means crossing borders. Look, even Google is shrinking its mighty algorithm to serve the needs of the people, and ultimately recognizes that people make for the best publishers. And who has a renewed opportunity to play a mighty role here alongside Google? You guessed it – The Purple Cow. No need for pink elephants in the room, or on the network.
Embrace the human condition with real-time social search.
Attention brands (and agencies): you no longer own search. Repeat. You no longer own search. In some ways, you never really did, which is why it can cost so damn much. This might have something to do with the fact that people own brands, and more specifically to do with the fact that more and more search queries are user generated. Think about it – social sites and related content comprise a majority of the ‘webiverse’, not to mention that they fulfill both ends of the conversation loop. The funnel is stretching sideways, folks, and doing so in a way that is turning the Long Tail into a new mass market. Tipping points aside, what will come of paid search? Well, ask yourself this question: Do you own language? Maybe you do, but keywords don’t really live inside of ads, they thrive inside of conversations. If you want to send a message, write about it and be sincere. If people like what you have to say, they’ll share it (and index it). Look at everything they do, or you do, as a ‘Twiggle’ or ‘FaceFeed’. Sounds silly, but so is paying someone to wait in line.
Good marketing means improving the world. Period.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that Facebook Causes is one of the largest active platforms around (well, actually it’s an app – which makes it even more impressive) with 75 million registered users. Consider the the three “Es” of social change – economics, environment and empowerment – then consider this: if you want to be relevant in the world, you’d better help improve it. Global brands like Dove, Kellogg’s and even Aflac (quack-quack) are leading the way. Why? Because they’ve realized and embraced the fact that brand equity is as important as product quality. Further, brands are not only the expectation of things to come, they are the projection of what we can be. At the end of the day, doing good is profitable. Really, it is. Now hold out your hand and open your eyes.
Welcome to the New World Web. What can we do together?