Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Digital Landscape: No Longer Truly Predictive, No Longer Purely Online

There has been a lot of exciting talk about 2010 and where digital marketing is headed. No doubt there are some very good insights being shared from a lot of very bright people.

But as marketers, I think we all tend to get caught up in predicting things like channel adoption, how to somehow reengineer ad content, and in figuring out ways to deliver the “soft-sell”.

The reality is that all of the variables around engagement as well as conversion — actually, building relationships — are all attributable to culture, first and foremost. And while we can make predictions about human behavior, we’re still figuring out the nuances of how communities share information and content. We know that people now sell products and services to other people, but what what we don’t have a firm grasp on just yet is why.

But that’s where things are getting quite interesting.

Take a social utility such as Facebook, for example. We’re seeing tremendous growth in adoption, yet profound shifts in retention, and a noticeable decline in attention. This means that people are yearning for experiences they can’t get anywhere else (or those they can get anywhere), and are not interested in being herded into a corner to find them. They also crave ubiquity — this means less time spent in a particular location, engaging with content we think they care about. Blogs for one, are taking a huge hit in this regard simply because people are starting to figure out that they don’t need to visit a destination site to get the information or content they need.

Consumptive behaviors and user archetypes are constantly changing, and these aren't purely functions of 'digital' or 'analog', 'online' or 'offline', but rather experience extraction, creation and recreation. And these aren’t things we can predict, but rather things we must adapt to.

As Griffin Farley puts it so brilliantly on his blog: “Plan not for the people you reach, but the people they reach.”

As for being smarter about developing and selecting ads, what all of this data tells us in sum is that no one really cares about ad-like objects... and if that means disguising ads as entertainment, then so be it, but the reverse is not likely, at least not anymore.

Or, you can simply create a conversation and then determine what your messaging can be as the result of a collaborative experience. Here’s an example of a happy medium we’re developing through a platform we call AdTalker (and no, we’re not afraid to share this because the idea isn’t entirely new, but the backend data framework – the secret sauce – certainly is ;):

The larger point is that all of the real-world intelligence we have available at our fingertips is actually reopening the doors of self-actualization, because we are now seeking  action, not just alignment with our personal value systems. The social web of the last few years has validated much of our beliefs, and now it is formalizing more viscerally in the way we build our social graphs and in how communities band together. We are witnessing a profound shift in consciousness, and this is not something that I think any of us could’ve predicted or even imagined, at least not to this extent.

Perhaps now we should be really focusing on things like:

  • adaptive analytics — how we move with markets, not just channels or inventory
  • publishing versus messaging — creating, enabling and propagating conversations & experiences
  • thinking of mobile (or mobility) as more than just a platform — geotilities as the regular instigators of physical connectivity
  • socializing the more 'traditional' forms of media through these stronger content offerings and extensions (OOH, print, radio & TV)
  • living a more enriched life -- (you fill in these blanks ;)

Going forward, do not fear technology, because even though it has leapt ahead of our thinking for a good many years, it now depends on our evolution as people. Technology, after all, cannot create experiences, it can only enhance them and help make them more accessible.

People are pixels. People are media. Fathom that, and then entertain the possibilities, because now, we can all play a significant role in this evolution.

<div style="width:425px;text-align:left" id="__ss_2668124"><a style="font:14px Helvetica,Arial,Sans-serif;display:block;margin:12px 0 3px 0;text-decoration:underline;" href="" title="Technology Integration: Adaptive Versus Disruptive Engagement">Technology Integration: Adaptive Versus Disruptive Engagement</a></object><div style="font-size:11px;font-family:tahoma,arial;height:26px;padding-top:2px;">View more <a style="text-decoration:underline;" href="">documents</a> from <a style="text-decoration:underline;" href="">Gunther Sonnenfeld</a>.</div></div>

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Jon Samsel » Blog Archive » 30 Ad Agencies Ranked By Heardable Score

My friend and colleague Jon Samsel, SVP of Interactive Marketing at BofA, played around with Heardable tool in private BETA and wrote a nice piece on his findings earlier this month, including a bit on how some of the top global agencies rank based on their Heardable score.

It's interesting that this list should come out now, considering all the recent talk about how agencies should practice what they preach, particularly in their social communications efforts.

To reiterate, Heardable scans more than 20 on-site and 20 off-site variables (meaning outside of the main site but across the digital landscape) to provide a holistic purview of a brand's online visibility. We look at the primary areas of portability, shareability, measurability, sociability, actionability and searchability to assess a brand's score, as well as how it might compare to others in a particular category.

One other important thing to note is that while we start the process by scanning in a URL, we look at a brand's website as a conduit for its overall presence, meaning that in today's consumer environment, content must be syndicated and hyper-targeted to individuals and groups as they share and consume, when they share and consume. In this way, brands have effectively become publishers, and people follow good content (as well as engage with it), so those who serve up the best stuff in the best of ways will capture loyalty... plain and simple ;)

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Monday, December 28, 2009

Talent imitates, genius steals: Myth of the Near Future

This film from Faris Yakob, in my humble opinion, really sums up the hypersocial relationship between brands, technology and entertainment in a simple, thought-provoking and powerfully contextual way. And of course, uses a nice narrative to do so ;)

And speaking of narrative, also note how Faris describes the use of transmedia elements as an integral part of one's social identity (that transcends one's presence online or offline, and certainly blurs the line between the two...), what I believe is a key distinction between transmedia development and integrated or branded content development.

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A Glance at Online Brand Visibility Within the Automotive Category

As a lead strategist on the Toyota national account (I'm a hired gun for the Omnicom agency, RAPP), I can tell you that the Heardable platform (wide BETA release to come in late January) has been invaluable in helping to prove out the importance of online visibility. In fact, not only does the Heardable score reflect the constant need for the Toyota brand (and its various portfolio brands) to uphold and manage its online reputation, but in using our comparative analysis tool, we can see exactly how the competition might be gaining ground, when, why, and how often.

The good news is that the brand is taking very active steps (and following our advice) to improve its content base. The great irony that we must all realize as digital marketers is that beyond technologies themselves, lies a vibrant, yearning and demanding culture, one dictating that brand relevance comes in the form of compelling and engaging content. In other words, we have plenty of delivery systems to choose from, but if our words aren't strong, then it doesn't matter what we proclaim to be or do as brands.

I've been running a comparative analysis on Toyota versus the 4 primary U.S. market competitors since the beginning of November, and the brand overall seems to be holding on fairly strong, despite the fact that its content offerings are disjointed... to put it mildly. The following are some cursory screenshots of the results.

You’ll notice in this next section that Honda and Nissan are not very far behind, and both have a much stronger social presence online than Toyota does. The takeaway there is that Toyota, as the biggest car manufacturer in the world, has more cars on the street than the other guys, which means that there is more content by default being indexed into searches.

Now of course, this poses a curious debate over the value of online conversation. If you look at the Toyota diagnostics, you’ll see that the brand still has no text, audio or video feeds on its main page (; we also don’t detect any analytics packages, but upon second glance at examining the code, we found Google Analytics embeds. One of the things we like to point out with our tool is that if critical feature sets such as shareability, measurability or portability are not detected through a scan, then it’s likely that the brand is not doing a great job of making this information known or accessible. The bottom line is that it’s only a matter of time before one of these other brands gets ahead in the race... That is, if we can’t get this new, market-relevant content developed and syndicated asap.

Theoretically speaking, all of this suggests that if a dominate brand can generate equity in the marketplace by virtue of its ongoing advertising efforts, and of course, by putting out solid product, it can sustain its place in the market only for a limited time.

But we all know that Being Heardable, and more importantly, optimizing brand visibility, is about going the extra mile (pun intended). And that’s what we all live for.

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Saturday, December 26, 2009

How Transmedia Could've Helped Us Avoid the Financial Crisis

Gretchen Morgensen and Louise Story wrote a terrific piece in the New York Times this past week (Thursday, Dec. 24th) on how the global banks, namely Goldman Sachs, forecasted the implosion of mortgage-related securities, created a marketplace for C.D.O.’s (Collateralized Debt Obligations), and then made bets against them from which they profited handsomely.

Sylvain R. Raynes, a structured finance expert, described it well: “When you buy protection against an event you have a hand in causing, you are buying fire insurance on someone else’s house and then committing arson.”

Well, in this case, you can replace the word “arson” with collusion or fraud and you’ve pretty much distilled the situation down to a tee. Sound familiar? We’ve seen it before, in scenarios ranging from the Michael Milken/Drexel Burnham Lambert junk bond fiasco, to Enron’s energy grid collusion scandal. But this, of course, quite possibly, and single-handedly, catalyzed the collapse of all the world’s financial markets.

And here’s the really scary part. Goldman Sachs knew about this as early as 2006, and started packaging and trading its toxic product as early as October of 2007. The bank had a solid two-year window with which to create a wildly profitable business for itself, while people lost their homes because they had to ultimately make good on crappy debt, and trading institutions made a run on other reputable banks (such as Bear Stearns), who eventually couldn’t hold themselves up under the weight of bad securities and rapidly depleting liquidity... Which also meant that the people who lost their homes had no backup options (and of course, the U.S. Government issued bailout money to Goldman, of which it also profited handsomely from... But that’s another topic for discussion altogether).

As we know, in today’s world, two years is a lifetime of opportunity. But history doesn’t have to keep repeating itself.

So imagine this. Imagine that as things started to unspool and the signs were revealing themselves, we could create a platform whereby anyone affected had a voice, a real voice, and they could inspire others could tell their stories as well. Even further, what if Tetsuya Ishikawa, one of the key players on the inside of this whole mess, felt compelled enough and supported enough to speak out and effectively stop the bank’s terrible run on the global market?

It turns out Ishikawa did write about this, but well after the fact. Another guy, a Deutsche bank employee, actually issued T-shirts to memorialize the experience.

Ishikawa’s book could’ve just as easily become a graphic novel or a multimedia piece in which bankers, homeowners and lending institutions (at least those who were forced to defer to their integrity) would contribute to an ongoing narrative about financial responsibility, and, one that would actually provide peer-to-peer lending options for those in crisis. Major banks and financial services companies, such as Wells Fargo, Bank of America or Charles Schwab, could’ve ‘sponsored’ the narrative, even running campaigns inside or alongside of it, promoting relevant, solutions-oriented programs.

Beyond that, the ‘mortgage-lending phenomenon’ could’ve just as easily translated into a documentary-style narrative, in which local communities would tell their unique stories and even sell these as properties to TV Networks or IPTV content hubs or publishing houses... Or all of the above. Where could those profits have gone? Back into the communities and local banks, as well as new opportunities to build infrastructure. You see where I’m going with this.

For those of you who might think this is far-fetched, or that hindsight is merely 20/20, in the book, Groundswell, Forrester pointed to a great case study of how a French bank, Credit Mutuel, enlisted the help of the community to deal with the country’s own recessionary period by giving people a direct purview into what it’s like to be a lender/credit institution. Granted, the context was considerably smaller that the one we are talking about here, but if my memory serves me correctly, this wonderful ‘little’ example of content, context & community happened right around 2006 or 2007.

The larger point is that US & Global banking brands should take careful note: we may not be able to reverse the damage done (at least not in the shorter term), but we can take a strong position and align ourselves much more closely with consumers who need the mental, spiritual and financial support. It’s about time that all of us marketers took a real and resounding stance.

As for men like Lewis Sachs (who oversaw C.D.O.’s before becoming a US Treasury advisor) and John Paulson (whose company made millions from the market collapse), Karma will likely give them a swift kick in the ass, if it hasn’t already.

An interesting aside regarding Karma, Goldman may lose millions as a result of an ex-programmer who stole and redistributed its proprietary trading software.

That said, nothing can make up for what has happened. And destroying Goldman is not the answer. But transforming perspective is.

This is the power of transmedia. This is our immediate future.

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Transmedia Equation, Part 1: Top-Down Development with Jeff Gomez

In this great JawboneTV article, Jeff talks about the distinct differences between cross-platform integration and developing transmedia narratives from the 'ground up' so that they can affect mass media and weave themselves into (or extract themselves from) culture at large as true phenomena. We really hope that we see (and will be encouraging) more agencies, studios and gaming companies pursue the types of synergies that will create and help facilitate this development cycle.

On another note, Jeff will be helping Brendan Howley and me on our Canada IFTF (Institute For The Future) initiative that seeks to create an educational transmedia platform that can build infrastructure at the local level and potentially scale out to regional and/or national executions. Backed by the University of Waterloo and RIM, the platform is also intended to become an active (and dynamic) part of the school's new media curriculum.

Stay tuned...

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Transmedia Task Forces (Part 2)

Back in June, I wrote a post on transmedia task forces <> that reinforced the idea of merging agency functions so that qualitatively informed ideas would drive the creative process and provide the most optimal results for clients.

Again, this concept is nothing new, but in looking at the dynamics of transmedia initiatives and the amazing potential they have for generating ideas that actively extract meaning from culture at large, proximity is one thing that is top of mind. This means that ideation is not just a function of streamlining communication, but also a function of physical activation within a working environment. In other words, when you look at behavioral studies on how people develop and exchange intellectual capital, you notice that a lot of ideas fall by the wayside by the mere fact that they have to travel a considerable distance... which, in relative terms, could be across a long hallway or on the other side of a floor or building. As we all know, accessibility is everything.

Shops like Mother <> , Anomaly <>  and Big Spaceship <> have created and used community workspaces for some time now. For less 'progressive' agencies, this is a more daunting prospect given that people are not only naturally averse to change, but they also feel naked without a fixed workspace. This is completely understandable, and so perhaps in the effort to get people thinking beyond their comfort zone, we need to consider bringing some of these physical dynamics directly to them.

The agency I currently work with (RAPP, Los Angeles) is doing a terrific job of taking this challenge head on. Not only is the agency blending disciplines and erasing the lines between 'traditional' and 'non-traditional', but it is redefining itself as an innovator by actually reinventing its own physical workspace dynamics.

Below is a floorplan of the entire office:

All the offices within the floorplan have been rearranged so that people from 'opposite disciplines' can share space and actually collaborate, even if they're not working on the same accounts and/or at the same time. For example, the head of the strategy & enablement group shares a space with the ECD.

Agencies have always extracted meaning from culture (or redefined culture) to create new ideas. The difference here, however, is in building an environment where anyone and everyone is stimulated, and, one in which fictional or non-fictional elements of a narrative can actually be disseminated and adopted across entire groups of people.

I've added elements to the floorplan to illustrate areas where transmedia development can be harnessed and nurtured. The red-bordered orange areas are the cultural hubs, where an entertainment context drives conversation around social, political, environmental or educational themes. For example, “Cinema & Gaming” is one hub, “TV & IPTV”, “Graphic Novels”, “Mobile/Digital” and “Any” are other hubs. At first glance, these may appear as more silos, but we must remember that these elements are reflexive, and so the idea is to give the environment as a whole some structure based on content or contextual interest.

The blue areas are either conference rooms or shared office clusters where ideation can be discussed further and formalized at any given time. If a conference room is booked or an office cluster is occupied, the birthing areas – what you see in the turquoise stretches – can be utilized to declare ideas into existence and share them immediately with a co-worker, regardless of their title or role in the agency... Essentially, an ‘open office’ policy for creative ideation.

This also sends another interesting message to co-workers: that no one is above or below the creative process.

In fact, account people, analytics people and media planners are held to the same standard that experience architects, developers, strategists and art directors are. For one, it gives account leads an opportunity to embrace the work in a way that they can represent it altruistically, yet on their own terms. For another, it gives the 'thinkers' of the agency a better way of understanding the pains that account people and clients go through and make these considerations as they develop new ideas. This also cuts down on executive hubris and brings management more directly into the fold on some of the more intricate development being done inside the agency.

Hopefully, this type of thinking will be adopted across the entire agency network, and can be also be applied to studios, schools and other creative businesses.

I would love to hear your thoughts on ways we can expand this model, and adapt it to different working environments.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Calling All Marketers: Time to Pay It Forward (For Real)

“Objects of design and desire are never going to scratch the itch, in short. Only the moral imperative of self-actualization (because we no longer have to struggle to survive — the sheer nastiness of this global recession aside) will stand as the single most important driver in people’s lives. That’s our talisman as marketers.”

                                                                                                                - Brendan Howley, Novelist | Screenwriter | Activist | Partner, Fresh Baked Entertainment

We, as marketers, are sitting on a goldmine, a wealth of opportunity. Not the kind that will make us rich in a material sense (although I suppose it could as well), but in a way that can help us formalize our roles as individuals in this world.

You see, there are all these theories and declarations about ‘social media’ (which is an oxymoronic term, by the way), and how we can convert engagement into sales (which we can, but I digress, and so?).

We talk about digital as the new, new, new thing, even though many times its core functions are really no different than the way we’ve been behaving as slightly evolved apes for centuries... Pointing and clicking (grunting and f------).

We talk about ‘integrated’ solutions as though we’ve come up with a wiz-bang framework for manipulating the shit out of people without them knowing it (why, when we don’t have to?).

Inevitably, we can’t help but call into question what got us here, and where this is all going.

Why was ‘CRM’ ever considered a discipline at all, when relationships are all we really have in the first place? (It should have been called Customer Relationship Manipulation.)

Further, why is ‘cause marketing’ still considered a separate marketing discipline, when people are killing each other over natural resources? When children miss school because they have to walk miles just to fetch a bucket of water? Are we afraid to fully commit our brands to improving the world, even though we violate labor laws, pollute the environment, evade corporate taxes and STILL allow executives and board members to take home grossly inflated bonuses... Er, excuse me, ‘earn outs’?

Is this all some sort of joke... On us?

At the beginning and end of each day, there are billions of people out there ready and willing to join the conversation, and to fulfill on the promise of being better members of society. Of empowering culture at large. Yet when we invite them in, we most often exploit them and then leave them without a proper goodbye, or, with nothing to grab onto or ruminate over... Or very little, if anything, with which they can ACT.

We (as in most of us marketers) act like we’ve never been in a relationship before. As though a relationship will run itself and work itself out, find merit of its own accord, and magically acquire some sort of following in the process.

Marketing (and advertising) in a social sense — in a LIFE context — is about mobilizing thought in the form of meaningful action. It is about embracing the realities of life and recontextualizing them, through rigor, consequence, goodwill and, dare I say, enlightenment.

If you don’t believe me, then hark back to the golden era of our industry, when the likes of Bill Bernbach, David Ogilvy, Hal Riney and Lee Clow told stories about the human condition... All expressed through a lens supported by a mattress, a wine cooler, a financial institution or a big, white box with keys that sat atop our desks. And yes, these were experiences that produced sales, but more importantly, they produced relationships that resulted in repeat sales.

Cutting back to present day, here are a couple of recent examples of how we can create experiences and pay them forward:

Clearly, we are only scratching the surface of our potential.

I created ‘CultureCasting’ as a bullshit term (in a sea of buzzwords, including my own) to prove a larger point that socializing media is about inspiring people to act. Further, it is meant to illustrate that people sell products and services to other people, by way of experiences that are meaningful. Period.

It’s time to pay it forward, folks. For real.

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Transmedia Planning, Development & ROI (The New World Model)

Transmedia looks at narrative as a hypersocial activity in which a story can evolve across multiple platforms, manifesting in an array of products and various revenue streams.

Where ‘integrated marketing’ often seems to trip on itself by simply coloring content with the same brand palette rather than contextualizing and enriching it, transmedia picks up momentum and cultural relevance by creating and/or adopting advertising assets or ad-like objects as parts of a greater whole. In fact, ad campaigns can evolve as mutually exclusive parts of a transmedia story, since transmedia has the innate ability to promote itself and its constituent elements.

So, if we can look at advertising & marketing as a publishing practice, the possibilities seem unlimited because we can sell more media and sell more products and/or services, and we can do so in a compelling, engaging and even transformational way. This has already begun to happen, as evidenced by brands like Ikea, Army, Dodge, the NHL, Guinness, Red Bull and Levis, that are publishing richer, more dynamic, highly shareable and entertaining content.

Faris Yakob of McCann Erickson hatched the first transmedia planning model; to honor his work, I have created my own version of what the planning process might look like for agency folks, and is, as you might notice, a multi-disciplinary, fusion process:

I happen to believe very strongly that transmedia is a primary gateway for global change through creative, economic alternatives.  Transmedia already presents an economic incentive for media creators to lower their production costs by sharing assets. But if we go a step further, we can make this causal by creating peer-to-peer environments in which transmedia projects are funded by communities and proliferated by means of multi-community participation. This also means that in a marketplace where inventory and demand are greatly in flux, we can also make media (and respective products) more affordable to the creator and the consumer.

By the way, by causes, I don’t necessarily mean philanthropic (although that is ideal), but rather initiatives that inspire people to act, such as what we continue to see as a result of Dove’s ‘Real Beauty’ initiative (and a great example of transmedia adoption within culture at large).

So if we apply this construct to content development, here’s what that process might look like:

Coming full circle, we now can get a picture of how media and campaigning can be leveraged through non-linear storytelling (or storymaking), and as you can see, this certainly does not have to disrupt our current media models, but instead lends many opportunities to enhance them (by providing adaptive means), as well as creates a greater ‘spread’ effect:

You might also notice that the media, content and product elements represented in the model are reflexive, meaning that they can ‘reproduce’ themselves, or, they can spawn new media or product vehicles by virtue of feedback and collaboration.

For more on transmedia, be sure to check out the work and groundbreaking perspectives shared by the pioneers of the movement such as Henry Jenkins (author of Convergence Culture), Stephen Dinehart and Jeff Gomez, as well as MIT Comparative Studies grads and maverick agency strategists, Ivan Askwith and Ilya Vedrashko.

You can also check out a presentation I recently gave at my Miami Ad School communications planning bootcamp on transmedia development:


...A cover story article I wrote a few months ago in iMedia Connection:

Here’s to now and the immediate future — let’s collaborate and see what we can create in the effort to transform our world.

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Friday, December 4, 2009

The Conversation Tree & Social Forestation

A friend of mine, Robert Murray, had a really beautiful way of describing the conversation dynamic and the importance of seeing conversations to their full potential, as told to him by a Ugandan friend of his named Derrick. It got me thinking about this in a context that might be quite powerful for any brand, agency, media company or content producer out there looking to better understand how to socialize media.

Derrick describes conversations as trees.

Derrick says that he is often late to meetings and social events because his prior engagement runs beyond the allotted time. The reason for this is that he always wants to give each and every conversation its due course, so that the next conversation can build from the previous one and real progress is made. In other words, so that the relationship is advanced and cultivated, and nothing is forgotten or lost between the current engagement and the next.

[**Side cultural note: While one might argue that being late is never a good thing, Derrick contends that a sincere apology along with a quick, “enlightened” summary of the previous conversation tends to realign the current dynamic.**]

The “root” of the analogy (pun intended) is that if you cut the trees branches off before they've had a chance to fully bloom, then the tree can grow outwardly, but not up. But if we nurture the branches to their full extent, then the tree can grow up to its full potential, and help grow more trees.

Naturally, leaves fall from branches, just as conversations may die off or fade away. But what we glean from those exchanges allows us to develop new perspectives and keep those branches (and trees) growing.

So here are the elements of growth (which are reflexive and cyclical), the “soil” being the social nutrition we provide to “the grove” which represents an ongoing narrative:

SEEDINGputting ideas into action
CULTIVATIONenabling ideas to develop
PROLIFERATIONideas spreading organically
REGENERATION when (leaves fall) insights are created, sparking new ideas

From a marketing perspective, when we thoughtfully create, enable, shape, adopt, adapt, and most importantly, cultivate content, we grow more branches.

When we thoughtfully buy, sell and barter media, or truly earn it, we grow more trees.

When we grow more trees, we create or tap into more communities of people.

The more communities we empower, the more opportunities there are for people to sell goods and services to other people (as opposed to brands having to sell goods and services to people).

So, Social Forestation would be described as

The process of fostering conversation by providing relevant nutrition, enabling communities to develop, grow and flourish.

Thank you, Robert and Derrick, for sharing your wisdom, and I hope that all of you can take something away from this that is unique to your own experiences.

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Marketing... It's all Cause-Related (Or Causal)

Today a client had asked a group of us what we thought the social consumption habits of Gen Y would look like in the next year or so, and more specifically, around their brand. Our collective response was "What exactly do mean by 'social consumption', and, do you consider this media, platform or 'line' agnostic?"

The even better response would've been, "Ask us in a year from now to the day, because every day tells a different story". In other words, trends are starting to mean very little in the grand scheme of things (and this a topic for another conversation).

Naturally, we face some serious challenges with clients over this whole notion of what social media is (I find the term to be oxymoronic), how it is used and why, but the real question we should be asking is "What really drives us to connect, engage, and ultimately, purchase?"

With over 75 million captive users and growing, platforms like Facebook Causes have already shown us that brands are becoming more relevant in the world simply because they've embraced the fact that they need to help improve it. Stalwarts like Kelloggs, Nike and Aflac are setting a great new example for the rest of the marketing world in this regard.

Further, online environments like Wired to Care and Project Label are making brands way more accountable for their actions as well as their words.

But the reality we also face is that causes can potentially be played out and manipulated... just like trends. So perhaps we need to reestablish that causes or cause-related dynamics of an initiative or specific forms of outreach don't have to be philanthropic (at least by clinical definition), but rather what they are inherently... which is causal.

So what defines causal marketing?

Initially it is the birth of an idea, culled from market needs tied to (but not necessarily bound by) environmental, social, political and/or economic variables. This idea then engenders a sense of true purpose for the individual or group, and empowers them to adopt or create messages as currency, as well as spread it.

How do we go about doing it?

Identify a need state, establish a cause to act, and within that intersection is borne an idea that can manifest itself in any number of ways, all of which is a solution to a larger problem. And since market needs and world needs are almost inextricably linked, the larger problem resides within the larger context of the world, which means that our marketing solutions might actually mean something beyond a campaign or a crude media buy, or even better, outside of what all of our polished up historical data wants to tell us.

Perhaps this is what "social marketing" has intended to do all along, and our mistruths about the media associated with it have led the marketing majority to believe that this is still a push mechanism that rams direct sales vehicles down their throats through the veil of conversation.

Look, at the end of the day, people are media, so it's time we figured out ways to better motivate them, whether they're looking to buy a product or a service... or not.

What do you think?