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Archive for the category “Future”

A learner’s resolution. Guide to surviving the new world of advertising.

I was fortunate to meet with the great Sanjay Khare a few days ago. For those who don’t know Sanjay, he is an advertising veteran having spent over three decades in the business. He is now reinventing himself as a digital marketing specialist at Pinstorm. Sanjay was speaking to a bunch of students at a college do, telling them how he always wears an “L” board every time he goes lecturing.

In a world that’s changing every day I think everyone of us could do with Sanjay’s attitude.  Hang a metaphorical board around our necks, step out to embrace change by understanding new ideas and concepts as they emerge and get drawn into the mainstream.

So here folks, for whatever it’s worth, my game-plan to learn and stay relevant as things change around me. Over the years I have put down a process, a ritual as I call it, and if I have not already bored you to death at a party with my theories, maybe worth spending the next few minutes on.

When I started out in this business, the world was still analog. We relied on expensive award show annuals from One Show, British D&AD, Art Director’s Club or magazines like Communication Arts, Archive, Print and rare issues of Creative Review and Admap to feed our need for knowledge. Today the world of learning comes to us at broadband speeds, and free (mostly).  With sites like Ads of the World, The FWA, The Inspiration Room, The Dieline and not to miss out on a very important plug, this very website Campaign India.

Now I have never been a person who only looked at other advertising for inspiration and knowledge. So part of the learning process involves devouring magazines like Wired. I started out with second hand copies bought off the pavements of Brigade Road, Bangalore. Pop Sci. Reading authors like Tom Peters (don’t forget to check out his brilliant collection of PPT slides under the resources link), Ries & Trout, hell I even read their lame duck tome, Horsesense. Edward De Bono. Sun Tzu, Martin Lindstorm

By the late 90s, the web became my feeding ground. Using bookmarks and later a MyYahoo page, I dived deep into the endless pool that the information revolution had created. For a guy interested in new things, there was no end to know much he could read and understand. Soon blogs were upon us and some of the best minds whose books I waited for, for months and years, started to write their own blogs. Seth Godin, soon Tom Peters and Sally Hogshead.

Then in around 2003 I discovered RSS. Or Real Simple Syndication. For a learner, discovering feed readers was moment of nirvana. From a forager of information, feed readers like Bloglines brought stuff I liked onto my desktop. Instead of me looking for stuff on various sites, knowledge was waiting for me everytime I opened my browser. At the peak of my feed addiction, I was reading up to 700 blogs and RSS enabled websites a day (now it’s a more manageable 56). From ones that posted a few times a month to others like BoingBoing and Metafilter that posted many, many times a day. Glancing through some 2000 bits of new information a day, reading some 50 pieces or so that interested me and absorbing, sharing and using a dozen or so a day.

On a personal level I have had to make a few adjustments too. First and most important to set aside some time every day for learning. It’s easy to make excuses. We are busy, working hard, travelling, making presentations, pitching. Yawn.

For me, the fear of irrelevance, even worse obsolesce motivates me to get off the bed early every morning. And I do this every morning, every day, no matter how late I have slept, whether I am in town or on holiday. If I can have net access, I will clean up my feeds by the time I head out of home.

These days, Twitter has become a rich source of new stuff. G+ from being seen as a Facebook killer has become more like my Bloglines killer, where people I know and respect post interesting links and videos. I pick up an odd bit or two from Facebook through the day. As information and content sources grow online, I feel I am using other people as filters to filter what reaches me.

So what do I take forward into 2012 as a learner’s resolution? To glance less and read more. To read more books. The brilliant Brain Picker Maria Popova reads as many books a week as I have read all year. To seek out and find new semantic reading tools like Zite to help me discover more of what I will like and what I would skip. As Lord Alfred Tennyson captured in this pithy little line in Ulysses: “to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield.”

Thanks for reading everyone. If you are sober in the weekend, do go out and make an L board for yourself. And have a great 2012.Image

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Digital story telling. View from a massage table.

Come on. Dim the lights. Bring out the aromatherapy candles. Play some soothing Thai spa music. Lower the volume just a bit. Oh yeah!

I can barely see the warm tubs of oils, hot stones, moist towels, the steam rising. Not to let my mind wander though. I am at work. Need to complete a strategy note by EOD.

You know why I am advertising, don’t you? It’s mid-afternoon, I am lying on a couch in a posh spa getting pampered. The Mad Men days may be over for our business. And anyway, I am a digital guy.

I am putting together a strategy presentation for a new client. And I am soaking it in, the brand experience. Exploring options, feeling the stuff, poking, prodding and getting my thoughts ready.

As the masseur’s trained fingers run up and down my back tickling out hidden knots and pockets of stress, I am thinking of the brand story. A spine, as it were, around which this luxury spa brand will unravel it’s POV to the world.

Ah! I love my job.

The client will see no numbers, click thru rates, fan counts and such in this presentation. This is higher order stuff. The foundation of a brand, built around its brand story, its truth.

What’s the big deal, you may ask. Any good advertising person is supposed to experience a brand, live the experience, use the product and come up with a POV. What’s new?

Well, digital needs brands to be richer. Offer multi-layered story lines that get played out depending on the channel that is being used. More importantly, since brands can own media platforms on the digital channels they operate in, they can tell longer, more detailed stories unlike with traditional media, where they are constrained by sizes or time limits.

So how is this story coming along? Let’s for argument sake call the spa at home brand “Soul” and imagine that I am putting together this multilayered brand story document for them.

Let me begin with the brand proposition. Soul. Luxury spa at home. Hmm nice. Looks like new territory for me. I begin to construct the brand’s story.

If you have, like me, been lucky enough to interact with a smart lady called Story Ninja you too would have learnt a few things about stories. The theory around stories. About concepts like the Monomyth and The Heroes’ Journey as propounded by Joseph Campbell. In conversations with Story Ninja I have come to learn that there are basic patterns that can be found in all universal stories. And as I construct a digital strategy for Soul, I dive in to build a compelling, multi-dimensional narrative that can make deep connections with people.

Additionally, I reach out to the teachings of former MIT Professor Henry Jenkins and his wonderful approach called Transmedia Storytelling. Or, how in today’s world with multiple digital and traditional media platforms stories can play out differently, across these platforms and yet create a powerful and unified whole as the participants in these stories (people) put them together. Advertising planner Faris Yakob has taken this thinking and furthered it for use in advertising, which he calls Transmedia Planning.

So as I think of the brand story for Soul I am constructing a simple, universal narrative from within the Heroes’ Journey and then use transmedia planning to play it out to the world.

I can’t disclose the brand story that is coming alive in my mind (NDA and stuff my friends) but I can share the platform thinking. From the company’s website, to the many digital and social media channels that are available to brands these days. YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, 43 Things, Instagram, Pinterest, Linkedin. Throw in a porn site even, YouPorn, why not? For a brand that makes massage oil, let’s have some sensual “how to” videos up there too.

Told you, love my job…

So I can see the streams coming together. Soul: Luxury Spa at home, if that is the proposition. Unlike a traditional advertising, where I will be constrained by ad sizes or spot time limits, I can think free. Have long sensuous videos play out on video sites. Seed them across the web using Facebook and Twitter. Build a good profile of the company using a smart website to help Soul come across as a solid and reliable brand. Talk about individual products and their secrets using blog posts. Show beautiful images of Soul products and how they can be used, on Instagram and Pinterest. Build the reputation of people behind the company on Linkedin. Cross link stuff around so I can optimize the company’s site for search engines. Sweet! I can see this working on me. Not the massage, silly! The startegy.

Apart from the cost of building the Soul website and some monies incurred in production, I have not spent a dime in media costs. So while historically a brand would have a 90:10 split between media and production, all that Soul is incurring is in production costs, and of course the fat fees they pay me for helping them get their digital act together.

So before I doze off, and if you are still with me, here are the take outs. In the world of digital brand building, we need to imagine richer, multilayered brand stories. While executing these stories don’t worry about space and time constraints. Instead think platforms. So what you do on YouTube need not be what you will do on Pinterest. Each platform has a grammar of its own. Consider that when building brand stories. People who are on these platforms expect a certain behavior from others around. So instead of thinking traditionally and narrow casting your brand around one line, or around a slogan, think wider. Think richer.

Finally. There are a few kits of Soul that my client wants to give away. Would you like to receive one? Post a comment below and I will reach out to you. Brands in the digital world are all about giving.

An Agency of Makers.

In a first for a non-technology company, Unilever brand AXE had called for a developers’ day in early October.  One that I believe has a strong message for agencies.

Digital is the way ahead. Yes!

While there’s nothing path breaking about this fact, I’d like to argue that agencies can participate in the digital revolution in ways we have never imagined. Not just by being partners of our clients as we have always been, but by making things for ourselves, and profiting from it.

Planner Griffin Farley is one of the smartest minds out there. He makes an interesting point in this presentation on Fringe Planning, and I borrow shamelessly (God bless the Internet).  Slides 16 and 17 are noteworthy.  “Ad Agencies have recruited some of the smartest creative people out there.” And 17, “the byproduct of agencies are ideas that don’t get sold, or are not appropriate for a particular client.”

I see the second point as particularly appropriate. With agencies thinking up more business ideas as part of the integrated marketing communications mix these days, than merely communication ideas as they did in the past. For example, this Cannes winner from Tesco is not so much a communication idea as much as a business changing idea. Or the recent announcement from Shoppers Stop of setting up a Facebook store is a business idea, and less a marketing one.

So how are agencies taking advantage of the rich stream of “by products” they create? Griffin has listed out a few in his deck.

Anomaly, an agency with offices out of New York and London discovered YouTube amateur Lauren Luke and helped her develop, manufacture and market her own range of cosmetics. This is not a one off from Anomaly. They have developed a few IPable ideas, including ShopText, a mobile based shopping and couponing and commerce service.

There are other agencies too who think alike. Among the better known ones, BBH has Zag, a brand inventions agency. Deutsch has Consigliere, Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal and Partners  have KSBP Ventures. While independent traditional agencies have set up innovation shops, there are a new bunch of making agencies building things and creating a niche for themselves. Breakfast out of New York, Definition6 , the guys behind the Coke Happiness Machine, Deep Local, who built the NikeChalk bot, or London based agency, ustwo, who have a portfolio of client work and a bunch of independent products.

What connects these new agencies? Unlike traditional agencies that spend their energies creating communications ideas, the new ones are focusing on out and out innovation for their clients and for themselves. Thinking product ideas, which can be patented, to create intellectual property and build new revenue streams in the future.

A simple way for agencies to take advantage of “making” opportunities, we have to go beyond the campaign mentality. For example, with mobile apps, now accepted as a tool for marketing. (Most traditional agencies have an app or two to show off these days which means we have cracked the model of how to imagine and make them.) So instead of doing an app for, say, a diwali mela campaign, could we think long term? If we can understand the key reason for a person to buy a brand or use a service and then build something that fulfills an unmet need.

As this story in Fast Company points, can agencies think more like startups, and less like communication partners? Or as advertising planner Russell Davies goads us so eloquently in Wired UK, make things, not messaging platforms.

In a changed world, there are ways of making them happen. Thomas Freidman pointed us to some mega trends in his bestselling tome The World if Flat. For this story, the key ones from the book are outsourcing, rapid prototyping, workflow software and supply chaining.

So an idea, that comes up in a brainstorm, ideas that we agencies are so good at spotting, can be scaled up with help from partners who the agency has relationships with, and taken to market with the support of a client, or independently.

To do this we will need to add new skill sets though. Which is where agencies will have to have the startup mentality. We have rarely hired to build revenues in the future. But an agency with a headcount that runs into many hundreds can afford a small team of geeks, engineers and project managers for sure.

In a state of the union address early this year, Barack Obama told his country that their future lies in taking leadership of innovation. I believe the same should apply to the communication business that is seeing its fundamentals shifting with the arrival of the digital revolution.

DIY culture is a growing trend. This trend is spawning whole revolution, led by small groups of people who are using technology, easy connectivity, access to venture capital and microfinance.

Advertising as an industry that has a rich history of identifying and nurturing creativity. Unlike engineers, we are masters at helping find a way to make things that make an emotional connection with people. Could an agency create the next Angry Birds, Instagram, Klout or Hipstamatic asks this story. I believe we have the credentials. The inclination? Let’s wait to hear from the winners of the Axe developers’ day.

Backing up your brain. One little app at a time.

A few weeks ago I celebrated by birthday. While I am not an 8 year old anymore to care about birthdays, what struck me most was the number of good wishes I received. From a dozen or so greetings a few years ago, I received hundreds, perhaps a thousand messages this time.

So what has changed? Facebook, obviously. Those useful little notifications that appear on the right top of our streams. Sure. But that’s missing a broader trend.

Einstein’s telephone number. The story goes that when someone asked Albert Einstein his phone number, Einstein replied that he didn’t remember it. This startled the man who was well aware of Einstein’s genius. Mr Relativity had to then clarify that when his phone number was easily available in a telephone directory, there was no point of him remembering it and crowding up his memory,

Remembering to forget. Starting with a telephone directory to new digital platforms like Facebook, Google and Outlook calendar, apps like Rememeberthemilk and programs like Basecamp we have started to slowly outsource our brain. By setting up alerts and reminders we are using technology to help us forget days, times and activities that would have otherwise added noise to our already overwhelmed brains.

I don’t bother to remember to pay my utility bills anymore as I have set them all up in the automated system that my bank provides. With SMS messages that arrive month after month, I only keep a notional track of bills that have come in and have automatically been paid out.

I have gone further, with tools like CarLocator that helps me remember where I parked my car in a busy parking lot.  Or whosthat?, an app that I, err, use discreetly, to help me remember names of people who I have met, and may have forgotten, and therefore avoid real world social embarrassments.

Carbon meets silicone. The brain outsourcing business is still in its infancy with simple apps that need our intervention to take over things we want them to. But this could soon change, with scientists finding ways to connect carbon based humans and silicon based computers seamlessly. British Scientist Kevin Warwick has been working on wiring silicon based interfaces that can send signals between a human body and a computer. In fact he has had a chip implanted in his own arm more than a decade ago and has been experimenting with ways to turn analog signals from his body into little pieces of digital software that once activated on a computer will be able to create a reaction in his body.

Others believe we can take it further. With inventor and futurist, Ray Kurzweil foreseeing that we will, in our own lifetimes, be able to download our memories, thoughts, emotions and consciousness into a hard drive. He has written several books on the subject and at 63 is working towards being one of the first humans to be able to seamlessly move from being a man to a machine. Computers are already better than humans at logic, he says and it is just a matter of time when we will be able to transfer our emotional intelligence into a computer.

There are others too who agree with the Kurzweil line of thinking. Ian Pearson, head of the futurology at British Telecom has put a date to when we will be able to seamlessly download minds into a machine. 2050, he says, if you are rich enough, add another 25 years for poor guys like me.

I have seen heaven. So what does happy birthday alerts and online bill payment systems tell us about longevity and immortality? That, unbeknownst to us, we have started our journey from being creatures of carbon, to having our memory and our consciousness preserved in a server farm somewhere. With Apple launching iOS 5 sometime in October, and the promise of free or low cost digital storage on iCloud and elsewhere, we are slowly and steadily uploading our lives onto silicon. With his ongoing battle with cancer, Steve Jobs may not make it. But his vision could help me live forever, in silicon heaven, on a cloud somewhere.

This story appeared in FirstPost. You can read it here 

Anna Hazare and lazy protests in a frictionless world.

I just signed up an Avaaz petition supporting Anna Hazare. Took me one click and a five field form. In fact my form was incomplete, saved my mobile number from getting into yet another database.

In less than 30 seconds I had posted my contribution on my wall for my friends and their networks to view and participate. Felt good that I did my bit in helping weed out corruption in India.

I am an armchair protester you see, sitting in an air conditioned room, connected to broadband wifi, clicking away. Ah my bit. The world is in safe hands.

This is not a post about us armcharists. But about how easy it is to rustle up a group these days.

I counted and then lost count of the number of groups there are on Facebook goading us to to support the noble man. My search showed me 183 pages. There were more, but I gave up. Hard work Nishad. I am sure you understand my pain. Social networks make it easy. Click on a button and you are done. No money either.

There are online petitions, Facebook apps, Twitter widgets, what-have-yous. And there are millions of us taking the easy way out. Clicking on the create a group tab on Facebook without even looking if someone else has created one. Mind you there’s a search box on top of the page. And it is easier to join a group than to make one.

Would my contribution be good enough if I didn’t create my own thing? I am a geek you see. The guy who does cool things. Clicking a button is for others.

Maybe I should have started a group that protested the formation of so many groups supporting the Lokpal movement. Would have been quicker. Damn I spent half hour writing this…

We need to save digital from the IT department

A few weeks ago we got a very strange request. Could you please make our IT guys the admins on our social media properties? The mail was innocuous in its tone. A simple request you could accede to you’d think. A little digging revealed what was coming. There were multiple names in the mail, and each one of them had to be made admins.

Our team promptly set about working on the request. Looking for the said individuals on Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter.  And when we could not find them, we wrote back asking for handles and URLs. Promptly the response came. What is a Facebook URL? Why do you need a Twitter handle to access an account? While yes in the case of Twitter, many people can use the same log in credentials, in the case of Facebook, you need to have an account, we replied.

We don’t want to be on Facebook, we just want backend access, our client pleaded.

I hope you are getting the drift. People who had never used Facebook or Twitter, never understood a platform like Linkedin now want to be choreographers of the space. Ah. Make that an effing Ah!

Can you please tell me what I should do with this button that has like written on it? I am getting emails from people I knew from long ago who want to be my friend now…

See I have nothing against IT guys. But for companies who still have policies like “all IT related services should be managed by the IT department” guys you need a relook.

Digital is not about IT, they are about people and social is not so much about media, but about behavior (I borrowed this from @metaxas). Users have never had to worry about the IT behind the digital platforms that are so part of our lives today. Which is why my Mom DMs me these days rather than call me. She has done a cost benefit analysis of the two platforms and figured it out.

If I could give IT guys some advice, learn up as much about people and behavior as you know about hardware and software. Play around on the platforms you want to manage and control. Lean to give up control rather than put locks and admins. You guys could be the most sought after people on this planet, or you could work for Mom.

Social Media’s New Gold Diggers

Sitting on the fringes of some social media campaigns I am noticing an interesting bunch of players. Fans who have made it their business to win prizes that brands offer online.

You see them again and again and again. The moment a contest is announced by a brand, they swoop down, powered by their personal networks on Facebook, Twitter and 4sq.

Free keychains, no problem, Tee Shirts, we will play! Mobile phones bring em on…

Anything that is thrown down at them, they are game. The same names, the same faces, similar styles. Their theme is familiar. As if telling brand and community managers – you play, we are game.

The “9s” in the 90/9/1 rule of social media they are. They don’t create much on their own but they are ready participants on games simple and tough. Sharing, joking, heckling, flaming, cheering – they seem like a virtual band of brothers and sisters sharing tips as they move from network to network, game to game.

We have heard about Chinese Gold diggers and their subsequent ban on online. Virtual millionaires on Second Life and this excellent story in Wired Magazine that tipped us about this demographic some years ago. Others who help you farm better on Farmville and stuff. But these guys are not that intense. Afflicted with ADD as it were, flirting between many contests at the same time, day in and day out.

It’s a privilege to be a fly on the wall to watch these online merchants ply their trade. Young people from cities and small towns who have learned tricks, shared tips and how tos online.

Would be fascinating to bring these new age netizens together for a tete-a-tete. Understand their real world lives, virtual avatars, online strategies, motivations and more.

In the connected world, anything is possible and I could be a digital anthropologist. Dig, dig, dig

Advertising. Not Like the Music Industry.

There have been many stories in the media in the last few weeks about the decay of advertising. There was this long one about The Future of Advertising in Fast Company. BusinessWeek countered it with this one on how Big Dumb Agencies may not be going away anywhere soon. The most provocative one, however was by Adaptive Path’s Peter Merholz. It was a brutal piece, one that tore apart our business as one with a “poisonous core”. While there has been a lot of debate and discussion around the post – in fact Peter has posted a rejoinder explaining various points on his original one, I thought the last item on his first rant to be a bit off key.  Advertising Agencies are the New Music Industry, he wrote.

I am not sure if the music industry analogy is the right one for the advertising business. While just like the music business, traditional advertising is being run over by the arrival of the Internet and other digital mediums, unlike the music industry, which went down primarily because of the growth of file sharing, I think advertising will evolve thanks to a combination of many smaller changes.

Search Marketing. While Google and others in the search marketing business are seeing exceptional growth, search marketing alone will not end advertising as we know it.

Social Media. Yes it is hot at the moment and will be extremely important in the years to come. Social media engagement will be one of the many things that marketers will need to help manage a brand.

PR. For years PR was a discipline that marketing had little influence over. Bougsky’s allegedly famous quote “…write me the press release” aptly describes how PR has become an important mover of marketing messages. Recently Pepsi’s Shiv Singh tweeted about wanting a partner who was a combination of a digital agency, a traditional agency and a PR company.

Video. BMW films showed us what can be done when branded messages are played out in digital media. There have been many experiments that have followed. The age of video, though, is just beginning to play out.

Mobile. Mobile devices will have as much or more impact on the marketing business as computers, TV and radio have had in the past. Always connected, always on phones are a tsunami that will change traditional messaging, but will need to do more to completely annihilate brand messages.

Location Based Services. These new and emerging concepts will add another dimension to real-time marketing. There are some simple and straight forward “Minority Report” kind of possibilities that location based messaging can do. These concepts will evolve and amaze us in the years to come.

Reality Enhanced. Ideas like augmented reality are just being experimented with at the moment. There will be more we will do by overlaying smart digital ideas over real things in the future.

Gaming. In an attention starved world, inventive new branded or brand embedded  games will give marketers access into the minds of people.

Crowdsourcing. Not so much a concept as much as an approach to producing ideas. Crowdsourcing will chip away advertising agency strongholds and change advertising in many ways.

Amazement. For decades, advertising had this knack of creating jaw-dropping moments. Not anymore. Anyone with a digital camera can now. Ads now have to fight even harder to be seen and talked about.

Marketers, marketing messages and the ones who create them, advertising agencies, will have to change to stay in touch with people who have lot more to do. The reason for this change will be many. All of them equally relevant.

Hecklers in the stands

The joke is on someone else. Every status update. Every check in is an open invitation to show the world how smart you are. A gentle rib. Mild sarcasm. A joke whose ripples reverberate across the social sphere. You enjoy the digs and so do some of your friends. LOLs often, rarely ROTFL…

You soon forget the remark you made and move on.

The web doesn’t.

As it builds up its collective semantic intelligence, your digital diatribes are being tracked and silently backed up in a giant database of actions.

Now comes the interesting part.

You are out in the market looking for a job your prospective employer looks you up online. The new-age profiling database, it’s no Vault of third-part comments, it’s trolled through your handiwork. Your tweets, facebook updates, comments and such. And it throws up your online personality. You are extremely social, highly connected, your Klout ratings are impressive. But hey what’s with your personality types? The No Asshole Rule search engine has tipped your scales into the red.

You are no Edward Boches. Not as mature.

You have built your reputation for rudeness and negativity and have been found out in chunks of 140 character posts.

Search engine optimization is not going to help you hide.

100 Year Working Lives

Picked up verbatim from Russel Davies’ blog where he writes under 5thing. I’ve just written something about this for Wired. Don’t think I thought of it as concisely as ‘100 Year Career’ though. Lifetimes are being extended, retirement’s being pushed back. Many of us will have working lives of 100 years +. How do you prepare for that? Or even think about it? I started thinking about it when I was wondering whether to take a new job. With a working life that could easily last another 40 years, probably longer than any of the industries I currently know anything about, what should I be doing next? My answer – learning – more learning about people and organisations. Because they, at least aren’t going away. All those people thinking about jobs now, I’m tempted to say, do what you need to do now, because you’ve got plenty of time. The complete post is about other things aswell

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