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Archive for the category “New Media”

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.

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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 

Unfriending: the new friending

I almost missed the one line status update as it trickled down my wall “spring cleaning my friend list”. Even when I saw it, I was sure I wouldn’t be among the ones cleaned out so I didn’t bother to check.

As days and weeks went by, I started to miss those updates. Auto posts from her subscriptions to astrology sites, odd pictures from late night parties, Farmville notifications. Nothing profound or insightful, yet enough to tell me we were still friends.

I have to admit I have been a lurker, a virtual fly on her virtual wall. Sent her birthday messages every year, early in the morning, without fail. Liked the odd post now and then, just so she knew I am around.Her pictures. Looked them up all, many times over.

And this is what I get in return. A virtual dumping!

Did she think I wouldn’t know? Hey I do now. Don’t know how long ago I was nixed. It hurts OK! It does, even now.

Is unfriending the new friending? Spring cleaning my friend list. Is there a meme of sorts out there that I missed out on?

I remember reading a month or so ago that Facebook was losing users in the US. It was later retracted though. How did she get to that. GigaOm? She doesn’t read that.

New evidence popped up again yesterday that the Facebook juggernaut maybe beginning to slow down. This time from Hitwise in the UK. Refuted again! Lies, damned lies and web statistics as Jemima Kiss wrote in her Guardian Blog.

So what happened to me? Has she been so unemployed recently to manicure their friend lists? Are there new taxes for having too many friends on a FB account? Has the monsoon brought in a new virus? Unfrienditis?

I Googled frantically. Nothing!

And then I noticed this little maroon button gleaming “1” on my Google+ toolbar. Intrigued, I clicked.

It was a notification from her. XYZ has added you in a circle.

Mum’s on Twitter. #Help

She’s 72, mom is, and she has a new toy. Hashtags. Unleashing her fury on the village fishmonger. Pomfret not fresh #eipcfail. Auto drivers, vegetable vendors, the weatherman and now the fishmonger, all at the receiving end of her recent and often generous use of hashtags.

She DMs (direct messages) me often. “r u in del?” Checking on my recently busy travel schedule. “Feeling g8”, giving me feedback after her 5K morning walk. Were’s da cheq?? Asking when the cheque I promised her will reach. I respond promptly, avoiding #epicfail(s) and #nasty(s) as she plays around with the grammar of another tool she’s just discovered.

Mum’s been a learner all her life. Over a decade ago she enrolled for Literacy Mission’s evening classes – to learn Kannada- when she moved to Bangalore. She attended every class, the certificate she received now adorns her mantel shelf.

I wonder if she’s heard of Google+ yet. There’s been so much talk about it recently that the local news channel must have reported something. Mum hasn’t sent me a DM yet via Twitter, “where’s my Google+”, not yet. Knowing mum it could come in anytime.

I wish the world had a bit of mum’s spirit. Plunging headlong and trying out new and unknown things. In the digital world, registering and using emerging tools and technology platforms.

Now I can foresee smart one liners coming my way. But hold on a minute.

Despite all our early cribs and complaints about not wanting to let the world know about when we burped or farted via our status alerts, hasn’t Facebook become our fireplace on the web? Come on now. Aren’t we almost unconsciously clicking on and reading the odd Twitter link or enjoying juvenile cat videos posted on YouTube?

So how come we get into these discussions on the need for another platform? When we don’t even know how useful it might turn out when a million of your friends sign up to it. How useful and serendipitous Foursquare could be if we bumped into an old flame at an airport when checking in becomes a new favourite game. When an Instagram you posted get 20 “loves” from people who we’ve never ever met.

I am not a new platform junkie as many of my friends think I am. No I’m not. Trawling Mashable and GigaOm to see when new digital toy is signing up alpha users. This is not a manifesto for that sort of thing. But I do have my ears on the ground; discovering, using and trying to understand the next tool that could change people’s behaviours and effect the way we live. I am a sucker for that. About being where people are, and knowing why we do what we do. A revolution doesn’t happen when society adopts new tools – it happens when society adopts new behaviours declared Clay Shirky. Wonder when mum will RT that.

The Genius of Social Media

Like my friend Reem Saied, if you have a habit of looking at Twitter trends, you too must have noticed a rogue trend a few days ago. Govind Tiwari. The man was No 1 in India and No 5 worldwide in Twitter’s trending topics.

Govind Tiwari from Allahabad as his blog proudly introduced him. A funky, retro site that struggled to keep up with the traffic that landed on the page.

He was either a brilliant marketing idea or some white hat spoof (I had a few warnings pop up on my anti virus, as I clicked on some links) designed to show off the power of social media.

The event had all the elements of a wonderfully worked new media campaign. Like with Twitter, the man’s images had taken the pole position on Google Images. A Facebook page (half a dozen gold diggers too) that is nicely curated. A Linkedin profile that said he is an engineering student (a new one that came up a few hours later gave him more credibility.) A YouTube page, Govind Tiwari 11, created a few months ago. And of course an Orkut page, Orkutiya as he called it, where he invited people to be fraands.

The digital world recognized his genius though. With the buzz the topic was getting, experts are chipping in. He could have made over $ 35,000 in Google ad revenues in a day with the traffic he got on his page says this tweet. Someone advised him to join Apple or Microsoft. Plugged.in talked about SEO lessons from Govind Tiwari, his blog was the top result on Google during the frenzy.

Brands are lining up to make hay. Kingfisher promised him a month’s supply of beer. AXE Angels reached out to help him. MTV is chipped in with some smart ones too.

To me Govind Tiwari is truly a well worked experiment in Transmedia story telling. Perhaps the best we have seen from India, or done by an Indian somewhere.  Create a well worked character. Build in some quirks and traits that get talked about. Use every media channel uniquely to further the story. This chipmunk video that sings Sheela Ki Jawani on the YouTube is just in line with character in the campaign, yet not the same thing.

So who is Govind Tiwari? An 18 year old having fun from his home somewhere. A hacker who managed to game the Twitter trending engine? A marketer who has managed to capture the collective imagination of people trawling social media channels? Rather than say WTF?, I say genius, Hats off sir Govind Tiwari Allahabadwalle!

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.

Coke’s Happiness Ambassadors.

Now that the hype behind the world’s best job has died down, let’s welcome Coke’s Happiness Ambassadors. And these ambassadors are on a mission to find happiness in the 206 different countries that sell Coca-Cola products across the world. See the introductory video here. Participants in teams of 3 had to nominate themselves and go through some grueling rounds of voting to get to become the team to visit all the countries that sell Coke the world. The year long mission starts in Jan 2010. Visit the Expedition 206 site here. More here

Ask The PM

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s has a YouTube Channel that features exclusive content online. The interesting bit about this experiment is that he gives ordinary people the ability to ask questions which he will respond to on the channel.

Put Your Brand Here!

Wonderful little round up of the best branded apps that have come up for the iPhone.

Our Song. Facebook App

It’s not often that we write about creative ideas in this newsletter. But here is one that needs a mention. A little app that the folks at Daddy, an agency out of Sweden created for Telia music store. The idea is simple: sharing one song from the Telia catalog with a friend of yours in Facebook, and then the app generates a slideshow of the pictures in which you and your friend are tagged. Try out the app here. Check out the entry board here.

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