13 posts categorized "Companies"

April 20, 2011

Will 2011 Finally See the Realization of the 1995 Idea “The Daily Me” - and Beyond?

FlipboardBeingDigital

"To be a viable publisher in this new world you have to think about how your content is going to map to social real-time experience."  - Mike McCue, CEO, Flipboard, 2011

 

Imagine a future in which your interface agent can read every newswire and newspaper and catch every TV and radio broadcast on the planet, and then construct a personalized summary… It (the newspaper) would mix headline news with “less important” stories relating to acquaintances, people you will see tomorrow, and places you are about to go to or have just come from … Call it The Daily Me.” -  “Being Digital” (p 153) by Nicholas Negroponte, 1995

  

The Future Is Today

Sixteen years ago in 1995, Nicholas Negroponte wrote one of the seminal books of the early days of digital media and design called “Being Digital.”  In Chapter 12 of that book, there is a brief two page section entitled “Personal Filters” in which he sketches the vision of “The Daily Me,” a personalized newspaper that would migrate us from the world of general print (atoms) to that of personalized electronic bits (see his quote above).

A lot has had to happen since then to turn this from prognostication/science fiction into the possibilities we are now seeing popping up most predominantly on our iPads.  Remember that in 1995:

  • Netscape was but a year old (Navigator 1.0 browser),
  • Steve Jobs was at NeXT,
  • the fastest commercial cell phone network anywhere was 2G in Japan,
  • the coining of the term Wi-Fi and the first version of RSS were still 4 years away,
  • companies like Google (1997), Facebook (2004), YouTube (2005) and Twitter (2006) wouldn’t be founded for years

In the decade and a half since then, the Web evolved into an amazing cacophonous, and certainly imperfect, information source – filled with innumerable pieces of content of all types (words, numbers, photos, audio, video) – with the “good/relevant” sharing equal shelf space with “bad/irrelevant.” And with technology development generally outpacing the integration of thoughtful experience design, even that deemed “good and relevant” was often surrounded by distractions and elements that diminished its value and the experience – often made in pursuit of an elusive, but needed, revenue model or some way to optimize search.  Then, more recently, layer in the supersonic speed of information sharing via social technologies like Facebook and Twitter, and it becomes a near full time job for mere mortals to sift the “signal from the noise.”  (This is at least true for the information junkies among us).

 

 

The Problem and a Need for a New More Human Experience

 

For the most part, the truth is out.  Except for a few media sources accessed religiously, a growing portion of news and entertainment finds us via friends, followers, communities, loose ties, and vertical curators. (Whether we “consume” it in the social space, or go to the media brand source with social primarily serving as discovery and trusted referral service, is another discussion.)

 

On the other side of the media equation, publishing brands are struggling with maintaining control of the content they pay professionals to create, installing paywalls, fighting social syndication, bringing in or contracting technical expertise to create their own branded apps, and perhaps “burdened” with old Web thinking and assumptions that people already know of their content and its relevance for them (excluding the opportunity for new serendipitous discovery/new audience).  At what cost?  And might there be another road (not necessarily exclusive of these) to take?

 

The problem with journalism on the Web today is that it's being contaminated by the Web form factor. What I mean is, journalists are being pushed to do … stuff meant to attract page views …  that are really distracting for the reader, so it's not a pleasant experience to 'curl up' with a good website. … Journalism is being pushed into a space where I don't think it should ever go, where it's trying to support the monetization model of the Web by driving page views. … Let's leverage the power of the Web -- don't get rid of it, but make the Web beautiful again. We need to give the content room to breathe, and give magazine-style advertisements the opportunity to flourish.”  - Mike McCue, Flipboard

 

So What's the Win-Win?

For the consumer audience: it’s the creation of a mobile media “enjoyment” tool for the average person, not another power user dashboard that fills large monitors and enables the parsing and scheduling of content. It’s a platform that, in essence, reinvents the Web content model – by providing, in one aggregated place, what the individual specifically requests/wants or what they would enjoy if they knew about it – without inundating them with everything and expecting them to sift.

  • Platform that can help me find what is most relevant to me from a variety of sources - branded, social, curated, semantic-search aggregated - and present the totality in a visual structure that encourages emotional and intellectual exploration and engagement (vs. just clicking).
  • Customization of sources if desired – passively (via technology in the background observing human behavior), and actively via conscious human choice.
  • Creation of “magazines, portfolios or movies” of content pieces that are additive in nature, rather than providing duplicative coverage of a story with the same reference sources,
  • Presentation in a beautiful engaging way that encourages scanning, as well as reading/viewing, bookmarking, highlighting, sharing, and saving
  • Collection and presentation of all media types around a content areas within a single wrapper – text, photo, audio and video

 

For media brands and publishers: it’s about providing a viable technology platform option and place to aggressively experiment with a reinvention of the possibilities of digital content surfacing, presentation and monetization less constrained by some of the “Web rule” legacy that results in “unnatural behaviors” to generate clicks.  There is a chance to be able to design and provide information and entertainment – to tell stories - in ways designed for human behaviors and not merely Web optimization behaviors that humans tolerate.

Could they make far more money than they ever have on the Web in the past  - when they can get the combination of broader distribution and better targeting leading to larger ad, commerce and even ticket/event subscription revenues – with “The Digital Me” as the way they finally tap into real digital revenues (which for pre Internet entertainment company sector in particular, has been strictly second class)?

  • Platform that rewards playing to the strengths of storytelling and understanding the audience
  • Choices of revenue opportunities from multiple sources, including and beyond re-imagined advertising and subscriptions (see “Evolution” section below) – that supports and evolves the brand essence and the creation of great stories
  • New promotion and discovery opportunities that maintain brand and creator integrity
  • Inspiration for opening up media brand’s archives of content, as well as the creation of new – with both used in concert to create new kinds of stories
  • Exploration of new kinds of programming and storytelling experiences, with the majority of resources going to content creation vs. technology infrastructure

Smart and Powerful Under the Hood; Beautiful and Witty on the Surface; Socially Savvy and Agile

If the above are the desired end states for consumers and creators, how do we begin to get there?  Has there been enough evolution in “installed base” infrastructure, agile tools, and human understanding and practice of media design since “Being Digital” -  that companies in the space (such as Flipboard, Zite, News.me, Pulse, FLUD, NewsMix, Taptu) can successfully move toward the vision of the “Daily Me”?

I say “Yes.”  From a development perspective, it’s about focusing on three areas, while always understanding the importance of the building of relationships with media creators and publishers with a creative and economic model that can support all.

 

Smart and powerful under the hood

Search and social for discovery highlight the need for syndication and integration beyond the need for subscription to single branded channels.  A syndication model in turn requires additional focus on relevance and personalization.  Algorithms that are smart and powerful under the hood will have an increasing role in differentiation (because of the desire for personal relevance) but must be deeply linked to design respect.  Technology can’t trump presentation. The kinds of business relationships that can be developed with media partners will also influence the outcome of what algorithms will be allowed to present  (What can be done is not always what should be done.)  Lots of questions and exploration to come here:

  • How is personalization different than customization?
  • How might recommendations algorithms play out – asking questions that require human action (like Netflix and Amazon) or making decisions and taking action to refine choices in the background (like Pandora)?
  • How will content search and semantic search balance out?
  • Does the resulting model of the algorithmic parsing of the information need to be (or lend itself) more to a digital newspaper or magazine, or something not yet seen?

 

Beautiful and witty on the surface

Design that is beautiful and witty on the surface – meaning innovation on the presentation and navigation layers – needs to have equal footing with algorithm development. And this mantra applies as much to the visual manifestation of advertising and other revenue sources integrated in, as it does with the content itself.

 

Socially savvy and agile

A socially savvy and agile approach that can make the wide, fast-moving streams of Twitter, Facebook and even RSS more navigable and time effective is a requirement for any of the experience offerings that wouldn’t revolve around a single media brand.  Again, many questions to be answered in this area beyond technical development and feed integration – as important questions in terms of how one monetizes and could share revenues within “curations apps” part of the system would work vs. the “single media branded” world (whether as part of a social magazine platform or a stand alone branded app).

Evolving the Opportunity - Strategies and Examples

How might a platform like Flipboard evolve to consider areas such as:

  • Advertising
  • Commerce
  • Special Events - Both Live and with Deep Archival Content
  • Video, Music and Entertainment
  • Location-Based Experience Guides

 

Advertising

Is there an opportunity for design-centric advertising fueled by deep multi-source data (real time and historical), in addition to supporting ad sales and display for single media brands within their own “social magazines?”

Advertising models within this kind of environment, could potentially exist in three spaces:

  • The media brand’s space itself (eg the Flipboard Pages model with brands such as “O Magazine”)
  • Socially curated spaces, ranging from Flipboard curated spaces like FlipTech, or feeds from noted curators such as Maria Popova and Jason Hirschorn.
  • Self-curated and directed by the individual using Google Reader, or some future form of custom complex search (if this capability develops over time with Ellerdale technology)

The first is the model that is being experimented with Flipboard Pages with magazines such as Rolling Stone and O Magazine, as well as pure online plays like All Things D – For now, full page ads that fill part or all of the page sold and provided by an outside agency.

In the second and third instances, with aggregated or curated content “magazines” fed via news reader-type application, no one has yet figured out how to share advertising revenues with publishers. One option is to have advertising revenue for brand specific “magazines” only, and use access to curated content feeds as “discovery cost.” However, while the waters may currently be murky in the world of curation, there may be an interesting hidden opportunity for both technology and media partner alike. Consider the possibility of advertising that leverages the power of all the data feeds that pour into Flipboard from the various Facebook, Twitter, Google Reader, Flickr, Instagram and other accounts – as well as directly from the media brand “magazines.”  That’s a pretty big potential gold mine –obviously more complex than Scenario 1, requiring different technology, agreements and resources to scale and support.

But while not publicly on the drawing boards, could there eventually be a Flipboard powered ad network or advertising type for “multi-source social magazines” that combines great creative with the diverse data streams, social heuristics and additional inventory?

 

Commerce

In many instances, It has been easier to monetize in the commerce space than advertising space on the Internet.  Something to consider in more broadly thinking about what Flipboard and the 'social magazine" space could become, with three potential models:

  • Traditional catalogs (print and Web) translated in a new way onto the platform
  • Curated commerce around a single brand (media or product), product class/type (across brands), or various "deal of the day" offerings
  • Social semantic search commerce where information (photos, social reviews, offers, videos etc) is collected and displayed on the fly against a certain specific product, product class or brand with purchase opportuity online or real world (with geolocation driven recommendations)

 

Special Events - Both Live and with Deep Archival Content

Special events offer new content opportunities to media partners both in creating new live programming, as well as digging deeply into their content archives and integrating "evergreen" programming with new professional content and social commentary/curation.  Programming could range from one time only to an ongoing series (monthly or quarterly) with revenue opportunities extending beyond traditional advertising to include branded sponsorship.Revenue sources ranging from brand underwiritng to ticketing.

What might this look like for live nature, adventure or travel-related programming, sports, music performances, and curated events (think PopUpMagazine on Flipboard)?  How might a YouTube Live partnership fit with this?

 

Video, Music and Entertainment

Could Flipboard become a new syndication and monetization platform for video creators  - both at the head and mid-tail.

  • Major media brands with their video vaults of evergreen content not yet on the Internet (eg topics around science, nature, travel, sports, history, health, pop culture.)
  • New integration/distribution opportunities for many of the newly funded digital studios that fit the middle ground of media continuum between “the major brands” and the long tail of “skateboard dog videos” (eg Maker Studios, Machinima, Break, BedRocket).
  • Celebrity partnerships with direct to the audience behind the scenes or cause related content.

 

Location-Based Experience Guides

Could Flipboard provide a platform for the next generation in guides - around a  location/geography or experience type/topic? The potential exists for guides to be created "on the fly" with social and  algorithmic curation, appropriately integrating (and “de-duping”) media of multiple types from a variety of sources, providing not only content, but cross reference commerce/retail offers and unique events and experiences that are time-based.

 

Moving Forward

We could be seeing the beginning of the first serious rethinking of the Web content experience in 15 years via a better and more human balance of technology, design and financial relationships. This space (and Flipboard in particular) sits squarely at the intersection of design and algorithms, social media and copyright, storytelling and data feeds, order and cacophony - so it is certianly not going to be boring any time soon - and the opportunities for all sides of the table could be astounding.   Favicon

 

January 16, 2011

For the Movie Industry - Marketing is the Eye of the Storm

MovieMarketing_3Posters

 

While the debate storm swirls around the issues of technology and its impact on the how and when people can access “mainstream” entertainment, the true “eye of the storm” may be a product of technology and its impact on how the marketing of entertainment (and the associated distribution of dollars and time) needs to be significantly re adjusted if not completely rethought.

So why “the eye of the storm?” 

 

While the eye is perceived as the calmest part of the storm, it is often the most hazardous and deceptive.  In storms over water, conditions inside the eye can include towering waves generated by the storm walls.  Over land, people wander outside to inspect the damage once the eye passes, thinking the storm is over, and then are caught by surprise by massive winds in the oncoming eyewall. Such it is with technology (the storm), distribution (the storm and eye walls) and marketing (the eye) in the entertainment industry.

 

 

What Does It Mean to Market a Movie?

Historically, marketing a movie, whether it is a wide release from a major studio or a niche ultra indie, is not the same as marketing a similarly priced consumer product (an item priced at about $10). Movies exist in an environment filled with a nearly infinite variety of creative choices for an audience that needs to make a purchase decision (and an often one time purchase decision) without trial.  They don’t personally know if they like it until they have actually tried/viewed it, and there are no returns.  For the studio, the value of that initial ticket purchase decision is non-trivial, as it has historically set the tone for the all important downstream revenue opportunities.

So how does a marketer make a potential viewer feel that “they know” the movie and become invested in the experience, and provide signals that raise the chance of ticket purchase, without giving away the creative surprise that is at the core of movie viewing?

 

“… marketing by its nature is an attempt to influence the outcome.” – Jeff Ulin


This is why the race should be on for innovative thinking and well-crafted and monitored execution, and dare we say “some calculated risk taking” in rethinking the appropriate media vehicles and digital-physical linkages for different stages of the marketing conversation. 

 

Seven Stages of the Marketing Conversation

Marketing needs to be thought of as an ongoing engagement process, not a sales spike only (push style) strategy.  Media and platforms chosen for one stage should setup and feed the conversation and engagement in the next.  The following seven activities propose one way of organizing the structure and flow of the marketing conversation.

  1. Research: Identifying potential audience groups, influencers and platforms
  2. Seed: Creating and placing media, experiences, conversations and platforms for exchange
  3. Discovery: Optimizing the opportunity for discovery, curation and sharing of content and conversation of interest to the potential audience
  4. Purchase: Creating ways that make ticket purchase easy, immediate and sharable
  5. Experience: Watching the movie in theater or unique location
  6. Share: Encouraging the dialogue of personal experience with the movie, between individuals and groups with both strong and loose ties
  7. Ongoing engagement: Aligning the movie with opportunities for ongoing conversations and media beyond the initial spike push to meet opening weekend reach and sales goals. Depending on the film and originator, this linkage might be with the brand, characters or related cause

 

Timeline of Marketing Activities for Theatrical Release

Today, there is no magic formula when it comes to the theatrical release. It’s not about “one from column A, and 2 from column B.”  Innovative and creative thinking, married with well-coordinated (but flexible) execution is as important in marketing as it is in the conception and production of a movie.

The table in this post is not meant to be a complete representation of all the possible tactics, nor should every movie use all the tactics listed at a high level in this document. It is meant to help frame some thinking about media and conversations in a time based manner – before , during, and after theatrical release – and begin to introduce some more thought around the concept of “continuity of brand over time” vs. “spike/push tactics to reach initial release reach and frequency targets.”

 

Page 1 focuses on the more physical space tactics where the majors have traditionally focused and spent - with the dominance of traditional sources like TV advertising (sometimes 80% of total media spend), but with the need for more creative use of digital.  Indies may use very little of the traditional (and expensive) media platforms on Page 1, but have great opportunity to creatively use their limited dollars against digital tactics and social platforms such as those on Page 2.

 

Disney spent $34M in the initial marketing of  “Finding Nemo” with more than $20M just for TV spots - this against an estimated  $536.7M initial gross.  (Source: Ulin book)

“The power of the Web to target messages to specific demographics is a marketer’s dream, and the budgets for online advertising continue to grow.  However, the percentages spent online and the migration of marketing dollars has not been as great or fast as one may expect.” – Jeff Ulin 

 

Timeline of Marketing/Communications Activities for Theatrical Release

GenericMarketingMatrix
GenericMarketingMatrixPage2


Integrated Marketing Communications- Making the Digital and Physical Symbiotic

 

With the increasing pressure on traditional marketing tactics, there is a strong argument to be made for rethinking not only the timing of marketing activities, but also the need for:

  • strong thoughtful integration of physical/traditional media and digital/social platforms
  • increased digital spend with an understanding that those dollars are not just about ad spend with “risky non-standard platforms” (to the industry), but against new digital experiences
  • better understanding of how social platforms extend the “virtual” media budget for a film, but also require attention in dollars and resources beyond free “interns”
  • changed thinking that all activities on the Web, mobile or via apps are free for people to find randomly on their own  
  • an agreement that execution and luck do not “magically intersect” online  

The infographics that follow show snapshots of a theoretical movie campaign with both (1) a traditional media only approach and (2) a digital deeply integrated approach. Their focus is on the integration of elements and the time frame of elements is not identified (as was the purpose of the previous table). Much of the traditional marketing comes and goes, while the digital and social technology platforms can take on a more persistent continuity role before and after a particular release.

 


Traditional/Physical Marketing Only Approach

  PhysicalOnly_MovieMarketingInfographics(click for full size image)

 

The major elements are as follows, and can also be linked back to the previous table (page 1) in terms of general timing.  The major goal – to “push” awareness and traffic.

  • Advertising
  • Trailers
  • Press
  • Events
  • Posters
  • Merchandise
  • Cross Brand Promotions

 

Integrated Digital and Physical Marketing Approach
  MovieMarketingInfographics(click for full size image)

 

In addition to the major elements from the physical/traditional only campaign, other media/platforms/activities are integrated (and can also be seen in terms of general timing from the previous table page 2).

 

Additional elements to existing physical/traditional categories include:

  • Advertising – some digital push platforms
  • Press – seeding online and bloggers and digital EPKs
  • Events – virtual audience oriented
  • Trailers – the consideration of online only versions as well as digital distribution of theatrical trailers
  • Contests – digitally driven

New categories include:

  • Digital and social platforms
  • Online video
  • Apps

 

(1) Digital and Social Platforms

Creating brand specific digital platforms and leveraging those created by others that have garnered significiant (e.g. Twitter, Facebook) and targeted (e.g. "vertical" blog networks) audiences create powerful amplifying nodes for content creation and distribution; curating, commenting and sharing; awareness and traffic driving; and reach/value extension for the traditional media efforts.

“For too long, we've tried to understand ourselves in isolation, as we test people one at a time in the psychology lab or rely on their past preferences to predict behavior. But these conditions and algorithms are artificial. In the real world, we are deeply intertwined with each other, dependent on our social networks for all sorts of advice. If it weren't for the buzz of strangers, we wouldn't even know what movie to pick at the multiplex.” - Jonah Lehrer in The Wall Street Journal

 

(2) Online Video

Online video can range from the creation of YouTube channels, integration and posts into Facebook groups, promotion and discussion via Twitter, stealth placements, and even syndication across "vertical" blog networks. Material can inlcude that created for traditional broadcast campaigns (e.g. talent interviews), but is even more powerful when unique digital-only content is created on an on-going basis that lets the potential movie-going audience connect deeply and personally with the brand in advance (e.g. behind the scenes, remixes with popular pop culture talent, ongoing Q&A's, digital only trailers). This can be content with high curation, aggregation and sharing potential.

“… the virtual community can scale and expand beyond what would typically occur in the physical world .. because the Internet has no geographical boundaries… It becomes a global, real-time conversation and online video is in many cases the catalyst that brings all these people together.” - Peter Levinsohn, President of New Media and Digital Distribution for Fox Filmed Entertainment

 

(3) Apps - Third Party and Original

Experimentation with apps has recently included the development of orignal apps and leveraging third party apps to directluy drive ticket sales:

"You now have a self-identified list of participants who are passionate about entertainment, and the event brand has even more value to them." - Jordan Glazier, CEO of Eventful in reference to the use of his company's app in the marketing of the movie "Paranormal Activity"

 

Three Case Studies

The series of posts that will follow will use the models and infographics presented in this post to look at the use and integration of digital platforms and content for three kinds of movies:

  • Toy Story 3: a major studio franchise release, the kind of movie where the amount spent on traditional media (largely TV) to open it is disproportionately large as theatrical launch is seen as the engine that drives larger downstream revenues.
  • Ready Set Bag:  the ultra indie passion project where distribution and helping theaters sell tickets has to be earned one geographic market at a time.
  • Waiting for Superman: the cause-related film where the key is knowing how to engage those already deeply involved with and invested in the topic and their surrounding communities. Favicon

October 29, 2010

Why Space Matters – An Argument For Truly Creative Environments and Against Cube Culture

  SpacesImage

Which of these images is not like the others?

(answer at the end of the post)

 

If one wants to give more than lip service to the concepts of collaborative creativity and innovation acceleration, then caring about the “micro-environment” of the individuals involved in those processes is required. "Micro-environments" are the spaces, both individual and common, over which we have control to some extent, and are different in the level of effort required to change them from the macro-environments of the location that surrounds them (ranging anywhere from a city to a scenic wilderness). That thoughtful engagement with and design of the immediate work environment must go far beyond many organizations’ concepts of trendy design directions or gimmicks like indoor slides.

In his book "Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention", Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote that:

"Even the most abstract mind is affected by the surroundings of the body.  No one is immune to the impressions that impinge on the senses from the outside.  Creative individuals may seem to disregard their environment and work happily in even the most dismal surroundings … But in reality, the spatiotemporal context in which creative persons live has consequences that often go unnoticed." (p.127)

This group of “creative individuals” is not limited to “artistic” creativity, but to the broader definition of creative thinking and action that also includes science, technology and the practical arts.  One might argue that these, even more so than “fine art,” are collective creative endeavors where idea and information exchange and innovation often grows much faster in specific “hot spots” where the work of one person builds on that of others.

So what creates – or reveals -  those “hot spots,” the elusive right place at the right moment for the right pursuit?

  • Why Italy and Renaissance art?
  • Why Paris in the early 1900s for writers?  Or why Gertrude Stein’s salon in particular?
  • Why the University of Illinois and the physics of superconductors in the 1950s?
  • Why Silicon Valley and the personal computer in the 1980s and the Internet in the 1990s?

It would be overly simplistic to say there is only one factor that drives the rise to greatness of density of creative thought for certain geographic locations (macro-environments) for specific endeavors, but as to why a particular place (macro or micro) may accelerate and spread creative work within its boundaries, Csikszentmihalyi said:

"Certain environments have a greater density of interaction and provide more excitement and a greater effervescence of ideas; therefore, they prompt the person who is already inclined to break away from conventions to experiment with novelty more readily than if he or she had stayed in a more conservative, more repressive setting."

So if one theme extracted might be about the density of appropriate interaction presented to the “prepared mind,” what might be some current real world examples of how this can be taken to the micro-environment level of the common and personal spaces we inhabit in the structures in which we work?

 

Here are two.


1. Randy Pausch’s Stage 3 Laboratory in Wean Hall at Carnegie Mellon University (lower left image at the beginning of this post)

This is about setting the stage for fun, comfort and contentedness to fuel collaborative work from teams with diverse disciplines who don’t usually work together. And this does not have to happen in an expensive, high design space.  It can be in a humble university lab.

"Instead of a traditional laboratory, the Stage 3 lab more closely resembled a toy store. The space was awash with color and filled with games, toys and stuffed animals – lots of stuffed animals, some hanging from the ceiling.  Randy had wisely banished the use of fluorescent lights, so the colorful stuffed animals were illuminated by incandescent lamps.  The theme was clearly one of fun, comfort and contentedness. … Clearly Randy intended his lab to inspire creativity and out of the box thinking. – “The Comet and the Tornado” by Don Marinelli (p 37)

 

2. The Atrium at Pixar Animation Studios (upper left image at the beginning of this post)

 This is about maximizing the opportunity for the informed serendipitous encounter.

"Our building, which is Steve Job's brainchild, is another way we get people from different deprtments to interact.  Most buildings are desgined for some functional purpose, but ours is structured to maximize inadvertant encounters.  At its center is a large atrium, which contains the cafeteria, eeting rooms, bathrooms, and mailboxes.  As a result, everyone has strong reasons to go there repeatedly during the course of the workday. It's hard to describe just how valuable the resulting chance encounter are." - Ed Catmull in "How Pixar Fosters Collective Creativity" in Harvard Business Review

 

Takeaways Beyond the Common Space

It is important to note that neither of these examples is about creating chaotic environments where one has to be an aggressive extrovert to survive. Nor are they about taking away personal and quiet spaces with a practice some call "hotelling" where individuals have no assigned personal space, but "check-in" each day for an open desk with their personal materials kept in a box on a shelf they move around each day.  (Thanks to Allison Arieff for pointing out the “hotelling” example, and to Michelle Kaufmann for reminding me about the need for beautiful open personal space.) What they are about is both personalization and optimization of the prepared mind for inspired moments as well as the chance encounter and exchange.

 

Points beyond physical attributes of the micro-environment

1. The importance of bringing a prepared mind

It is essential to have a “prepared mind” if an environment is to have a chance to impact creativity.

“…what seems to happen is that when persons with prepared minds find themselves in beautiful settings, they are more likely to find new connections among new ideas, new perspectives on issues.”  - M. Csikszentmihalyi (p 136)

2. How you do what you do

How you spend time in the right setting also has impact on the creative process. Sitting may be acceptable, but being able to walk around seems to be even better. Why?

"… when involved in a semiautomatic activity that takes up a certain amount of attention, while leaving some of it free to make connections among ideas below the threshold of conscious intentionality.  Devoting full attention to a problem is not the best recipe for having creative thoughts.” - M. Csikszentmihalyi

3. The personal space

Beyond the common space designed for the serendipitous event,  personal micro-environments, the immediate setting in which a person works, can and should be transformed into a way that those spaces enhance personal creativity.  Successful creative problem solvers manage to give their surroundings a personal setting that reflects the rhythm of their thoughts and habits. What you place around yourself whould reflect what you intend to become or create.

"In order to think more creatively, imaginatively and strategically, we need to cultivate a more intuitive, metaphorical attention that calls preeminently on the right hemisphere of the brain … The parallel challenge for leaders and organizations is to create work environments that free and encourage people to focus in absorbed ways without constant interruptions.” – Tony Schwartz in “The Way We're Working Isn't Working"

4. The exterior macro-environment

 External macro-environments set the social, cultural, and institutional contexts of our lives. Most of us can’t do that much about changing them on a daily basis.  However, access – even on an irregular basis – to environments that present unusual and complex sensory experiences (Big Sur, Grand Tetons, the beach - as in upper left image at beginning of post) can be very beneficial to the creative process.

"...one’s attention is jolted out of its customary grooves and seduced to follow the novel and attractive patterns.  However, the sensory menu does not require a full investment of attention; enough psychic energy is left free to pursue, subconsciously, the problematic content that requires a creative formulation.”  - M Csikszentmihalyi  (p 138)

 

The Takeaway

The belief that the immediate physical environment deeply impacts our thoughts and feelings, and hence our work, is held by many cultures - and ours should be no exception.  Building micro-environments that up the odds of creative thinking and work , for both the individual and the group, needs to be a thoughtful process that goes beyond surface trends and gimmicks.

And to answer the question posed at the beginning of this post: "Which of the 4 images is not like the others?"  The answer is the lower right cube farm.  It is neither a micro or macro environment that enhances creative collaboration.  Favicon

 

Additional Resources

The Economist: "Fun and the Office Environment"

Randy Pausch's office and lab

Michelle Kaufmann's post on Twitter office space - a mix of private and public spaces

Fast Company: "Where Work Is Play"

Steven Johnson in GOOD Magazine on future working spaces

Business Pundit: "8 Coolest Office Spaces Ever"

Malcolm Gladwell in The New Yorker (added Nov 5) "Why your bosses want to turn your new office into Greenwich Village"

 

 

September 15, 2010

Learning from Pixar: Deep Beliefs, Hard Truths, and Creative Magic

PixarLegos2 
It would seem that more than any other current organization that is deemed “innovative,” Pixar is referred to in more business presentations and articles than any other – regardless of industry.  And well it should be given its unique combination of business and creative achievement. But companies, both large and small, should make sure that they first understand Pixar’s underlying beliefs and values, before they run off and try to apply the various presenters’ lists of the company’s best practices.  Why? Applying techniques that don’t have their roots in values deeply burned into the organization’s core DNA, have little chance of working.

The ideas in this post are informed by a number of talks and interviews with Pixar executives and creative talent including Ed Catmull, Brad Bird and Andrew Stanton. All of these are listed and linked to at the end of this post for reference, and quite frankly, make for very enjoyable and entertaining viewing.

Pixar appears to have three critical belief areas that describe (1) why an organization should ever undertake a project, (2) the “physics” of innovation and creativity that rule the process, and (3) the primacy of the very human resources that need to be brought to bear to make the ideas uniquely real.

 

(1) THE WHY: The motivation and underlying truth for any undertaking.

That which provides the genesis for a venture must be something over which the team has some control via their individual talents, collaborative actions and relationships. It needs to provide reward to the heart and head throughout the process - the pocket is a somewhat less controlled result at the end.

 Beliefs:

  • You shouldn’t do anything unless you think you can make it great.
  • Making money can’t be the focus. Making money is a by-product of doing something great.

 

From the Pixar Team:

“It seems counterintuitive, but for imagination-based companies to succeed in the long run, making money can’t be the focus.” – Brad Bird

“The first step in achieving the impossible is believing that the impossible can be achieved.” – Brad Bird

 

(2) THE HOW: The basic physics of innovation and creativity that power the process.

To head-off the development of an insular NIH culture bounded by past successes, Director Brad Bird was brought into Pixar to stir things up and provide a different perspective. He did just that in seeking out "the black sheep who have another way of doing things" to form the team to do "the impossible" on the film "The Incredibles."  Writer/director Andrew Stanton has been around the block on numerous Pixar films and knows from experience that: " I won't get it right the first time.  But I'll get it wrong really soon, really quickly."  But he knows that he works within an organization that understands the marriage of originality and uncertainty, that supports a process "where they don’t give up on us after our 15th try and it's still not working .... (in) hopes that the 16th try will get it.”

Beliefs:

  • Innovation can’t happen in a vacuum.
  • To be creatively original, you have to accept uncertainty and being uncomfortable.

 

From the Pixar team:

“Everything is new and original. And therefore our way of dealing with and solving the problems has got to be original. So the secret is we have to keep on digging deeper and deeper and knowing that we’re always missing something that’s important.” – Ed Catmull

“We knew after a few successes that the enemy was us, and that our biggest fear was complacency - that we would think that we had it figured out.” – Andrew Stanton

 

(3) THE WHO: The primacy of people over things.

In his papers and presentations, Ed Catmull talks at length about the beliefs that people are more important than ideas (the story behind the making of “Toy Story 2” illustrates this), and that it is management’s job to construct environments for those people that will nurture trusting peer relationships between different disciplines in order to set the stage to unleash creative processes that also make learning from failure possible.

Beliefs:

  • Companies are communities of diverse people and community matters.
  • Talented people are more important than good ideas (and “interested” people are more important than “interesting” people.)
  • Management’s main job is not to prevent people’s failure, but to help them recover when failure inevitably occurs.

 

From the Pixar team:

“I would say that involved people make for better innovation. Passionate involvement can make you happy sometimes, and miserable other times. You want people to be involved and engaged. Involved people can be quiet, loud, or anything in-between—what they have in common is a restless, probing nature: “I want to get to the problem. There’s something I want to do.” If you had thermal glasses, you could see heat coming off them.” – Brad Bird

“You’re constantly morphing it (teams at Pixar) on the micro and macro level to maximize the people you are working with, and the chemistries you start to see and ignite between certain groups.  You’re always trying to maximize the potential of who you have.” – Andrew Stanton

“There’s always some crisis ... And the trick is to recognize when that crisis happens… Human organizations are inherently unstable.  They will fall over, and you have to work to keep them upright … You have to look for the hard truths.” – Ed Catmull

 

Moving Forward

So if you are an organization looking for practices to increase your chances and mitigate the risks around producing either technical or creative breakthroughs, those that Pixar has developed through years of learning are a good place to start - but only if you truly understand, believe and embrace the values that underpin them. Favicon

 

Other Resources

Video of Pixar talk at Computer History Museum (Brad Bird, Andrew Stanton, Ed Catmull, Alvy Ray Smith and others) ; “Pixar: A Human Story of Computer Animation”   (note that the first 50 minutes focuses on the technology history, while the thread of the chemistry of the organization starts around 56 minutes in).

Video of Ed Catmull at Stanford: “Keep Your Crises Small”

Transcript of “Keep Your Crises Small”

"How Pixar Fosters Collective Creativity" by Ed Catmulll in HBR

HBR IdeaCast: Pixar's Collective Genius (Audio Podcast)

Brad Bird Interview in McKinsey Quarterly (written by Hayagreeva Rao, Robert Sutton, and Allen P. Webb)

GigaOm post that references the Brad Bird interview in McKinsey

“Pixar’s Incredible Culture” in IBS Center for Management Research

"What Google Could Learn from Pixar” by Peter Sims in HBR Blog

Book: The Pixar Touch (print as well as audio, iPad and Kindle versions)

 

 

February 26, 2010

Can a Normalized Scoring System Help Startups Find the Right Partners?




I recently had the opportunity to produce a series of videos for Chris Shipley and Mike Sigal of Guidewire Group, long time advocates of the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Audience: Entrepreneurs worldwide and the organizations that support them - investors, large tech partners, service providers, even government economic development agencies.

Issue addressed: Not all innovation is in Silicon Valley or New York/Boston where there is generally a great density and exchange of information for startups. Information elsewhere is often fragmented. How do you carry some of this to innovation centers in other parts of the globe? Members of the global entrepreneurial ecosystem spend countless hours repetitively collecting information about startups to inform, benchmark or report on their investment decisions. But those efforts are fragmented and have been hampered by the lack of a widely accepted, normalized methodology. So how can you faciliate the pairing of entrepreneur and support organizations?   Is it possible to create a "normalized" score that can encapsulate the essence of the "gut feeling?"

Two parts to the video referenced here:

  • 00:00 - 05:30 focuses on the background of where their "standardized" scoring system for startups, the G/Score, came from, what it is, and just as importantly, what it is not (not a substitute for due diligence or chemistry).  Their approach is informed by 20 years of talking with more than 20,000 (yes that's thousands) of companies around the world.
  • 05:30 - 12:50 walks entrepreneurs through the 7 components of the G/Score - overall concept, market opportunity, competitive landscape, product and business execution, team, and business model.  They also use some interesting real world company examples to show how they would have been scored on each particular G/Score component in their early days.  Companies include : SalesForce.com, Netflix, Twitter, Like.com, Intuit, TellMe Networks, and Google.

Some nice feedback on Guidewire's G/Score to date from an entrepreneur and business partner:

"G/Score - Finally a successful attempt to give an "at-a-glance" assessment of a startup's strengths and weaknesses without needing to read a 30 page business plan" - Joe Drumgoole   CEO/Founder, CloudSplit

and

"The entrepreneur community is crying out for a way to describe a startup's "readiness."  Guidewire Group's G/Score is a credible, straightforward and meaningful way to meet those needs." - Cliff Reeves  GM, Emerging Business Team, Microsoft

After you watch the video, what do you think?  In a world where there are more startups than ever, and more potential partners seeking to work with them.  Where information overload is the order of the day, and there is no common language to talk about startups.  Where finding a way to filter is an essential question every day.  Can the G/Score facilitate that all important matchmaking process between startups around the world and those that can help them get to the next step?

(G/Score worksheet/definition set can be found here Download GScoreAssessDefs) Favicon

  

December 12, 2009

Will Square Be the VISA of the 21st Century?

 Square-receipt-sightglass Image courtesy of Square.

  

While startup Square is not in the business of making credit cards as VISA was when it started in 1970, there is a potentially interesting link behind the intentions and possibilities of the two companies at the time of their respective foundings, even though they are separated by 40 years of business and financial change, not to mention lightyears of technology evolution.

When Dee Hock started VISA, he had hopes that he could create an organization that reflected elements of both chaos and order (what he dubbed “chaordic”), as well as competition and cooperation.  At some level, a chaordic organization would be “self-governing,” reflecting more the principles of evolution and nature than those of flawed 17 Century financial institutions and hundred year old oligopolies.  Hock wanted to challenge what many held as fundamental truths about the nature and relationship between money, organizations and the human spirit.  He wanted to use technology and chaordic beliefs to challenge the form (e.g. physical objects of bank and tellers with endless bureaucracy), and rethink the essential function and value that financial transactions should deliver.


“Could this be an opportunity to reconceive, in the most fundamental sense, the very ideas of bank, money and credit card – even beyond that, to the essential elements of each and how they might change in a microelectronic environment?”
 - Dee Hock, in 1999’s “Birth of the Chaordic Age” page 117


So while in the end, VISA did not achieve Hock’s highest chaordic hopes, might Square take up the mantle and become the transcendental organization that finds new ways to link together diverse financial institutions and individuals (retailers and customers), some of whom might have had access to the prior financial structure, but many more were denied access?  Might there be a unique business to be built on the transformation of the concept of money from physical object to that of “guaranteed data” that provides equivalent value and a fluid (mobile) medium of exchange for all, regardless of size of the entity?

In the US today, the credit card revolution started by VISA in 1970 has become a reality in which 90% of US consumers use some form of credit, debit or prepaid card. And what are these cards about?  Don’t think of them as simple ‘credit cards.” More broadly, they are physical symbols of the ability of buyers and sellers to safely exchange value (goods and services) with a level of guaranteed security in the transfer of the data.

That’s what Hock hoped for in the 1970’s – to be in the universal monetary exchange business via cards, not in the credit card business. While today the system that surrounds the cards is one where it is easy to pay, there is still considerable friction in receiving and accepting the payment. 

Hence the opportunity for Square to go beyond the reality of VISA.  And the challenge it has is to define and execute on the nature of a new organization that is chaordic, at least in part, by the nature of the “immediacy, approachability and transparency” mantra of its technology backbone.


“(We want to) enable individuals and small businesses to accept electronic payments by turning any device with an audio-input jack—such as a computer or a mobile phone—into a credit-card terminal.” – Jack Dorsey, Square founder at Le Web 09 (video)


“I can buy an iPod touch] for $200, get the app and I’m in business. I don’t need a contract with AT&T or anything. I’m in business.” – Jack Dorsey in The Economist


“The startup hopes to make it big by allowing virtually anyone to accept credit card payments by connecting a simple reader to a mobile device. Dorsey, Square's CEO, envisions the technology being used by small businesses, street vendors, and even individuals who want to sell a couch on Craigslist or collect money from a friend … pricing will allow for different levels of customer involvement. Someone who wants to use the service once for a yard sale should be able to get started easily and cheaply, while a small business might upgrade to a more full-featured version of Square” – MIT Technology Review


So is what Square will create in partnership with its ecosystem, the premiere system for immediate and secure value exchange regardless of the size and location of seller or buyer?  And in doing so with “real-time” technology, will it make the relationship between “Man and Money” a bit more immediately … human? Favicon

   

(Video demos of Square can be found here starting at 9:00 minutes in, and here staring at 1:40 in.)

   

August 26, 2009

Twitter = LEGOs?

TwitterBirdLegoBricks

Twitter bird made of LEGO bricks that I commissioned from New York artist Nathan Sawaya

Some History

On January 28, 1958, Godtfried Kirk Christiansen (a carpenter who built a humble toy factory during the Great Depression) submitted a patent for the LEGO brick building system in Copenhagen, Denmark. Fifty years later, the core building block of the brick is virtually unchanged, as is the fundamental philosophy of the company – that there should be unlimited opportunities in play with the ability to build virtually anything from LEGO bricks (elements).

Almost 50 years later, in March 2006, Twitter emerged out of the company Odeo as a side project (when the first tweet came from Jack Dorsey).  In the three years since the first tweet and then its explosive growth in 2009, Twitter’s small fundamental building block – “the 140 character tweet” has remained unchanged, and an ecosystem of other “elements” (called applications) is growing around it.  Now that may not enable the building of “virtually anything” as in the claim of LEGOs, but what is evolving is much more than just 140 characters of random text.

A large part of the enduring appeal of LEGO bricks is that they are so simple and satisfying to use, and there is no age or geographic boundary to the appeal.  Anyone anywhere can take a bunch of bricks and build something with only their imagination and two hands.  In digital space, one might say something similar about Twitter.

So does Twitter = LEGOs?

Seven Similarities

1. Size doesn’t matter.
Both a LEGO brick and a Twitter “tweet” are simple and small, and yet have become iconic in their own rights. A LEGO brick is a small rectangular piece of plastic with 8 studs on the top (4 each in 2 rows) and a pattern of 3 tubes underneath.  A tweet is up to 140 characters in length, period. The simple and logical nature of both may be part of their power.  In the case of Twitter, the length limitation may actually spur use and the creative process, being less daunting than writing a blog post or creating a video.

2. The value of the sum of the parts is more than that of the individual pieces.
On a per unit basis, a brick and a tweet are both simple, but they are part of a bigger, more complex ecosystem. Some people might look at a box of LEGO bricks as a pile of plastic rubble, while others see the house, palace, ancient pyramid, or spaceship they dream of, and can finally build.  Looking at the scrolling screen of a Twitter client, the same conclusion might be drawn about a tumultuous narcissistic din, or about serendipitous discoveries and linked conversational threads. According to a 1972 LEGO catalog, LEGO was/is “as simple or as complicated as children wish.”  This is a very Web/”Blogish” philosophy that is in alignment with Twitter, and certainly isn’t limited to the kids.

3. It’s more than child’s play. Everyone’s invited.
There is not one psychodemographic group that “owns” LEGOs or Twitter. What starts in one place moves to another.  Bricks began with children and spread to the “other” adult population, including scientists and artists.  Twitter started with the geeks and professional tech insiders, moved to SXSW attendees and the enthusiastic amateurs, and now into the broader population.  Both products could be defined as having “it’s what you make it” and “who you are” kinds of experiences that differ between user groups.

4. If you build it, they will come (and make it more).
The didactic nature of the LEGO brick is similar to that of Twitter.  Each has an individualistic approach to problem solving and communicating. There is no one right way.  With Twitter, you can write a novel 140 characters at a time, tell a joke, share a photo or an important article, or organize an impromptu TweetUp. As a 1992 LEGO catalog said: “We’ve got the bricks, you’ve got the ideas.”

Similarly, neither is a fixed model, despite their simplicity. A LEGO construction set does not consist of one outcome, but of many possible combinations, even though each comes from the same basic element – the brick.  There are innumerable ways that Twitter “outcomes” have been expanded – 2500 and counting to be more specific using the Twitter API.  New applications and their outcomes enable people to directly donate money to charity, take real-time opinion polls, play games, share breaking news photos, and spread the truth despite the efforts of a repressive regime … in addition to talking about lunch and sharing puppy photo links.

5. Nothing that lasts forever stands still.
LEGO started as wooden toys and then moved to the plastic shape we know today, and that still remains as the brand and product foundation. New additions to the core brick throughout the years have included tires for vehicles (1961), human figures (1974), software (1997), robots with MIT Media Lab (1998) and a Spielberg endorsed movie-making set (2000).  Similarly Twitter remains the 140 character communication, and yet is changing from its origins both from the ideas and imaginations of its users, and also through technology improvements and new business practices and models in the near future (e.g. paid professional accounts).

6. “I am the only guinea pig I have.”
So said architect and futurist Buckminster Fuller in talking about personal experimentation and creativity. The brick is a creative material, an enabling catalyst for kids or adults to influence the world around them in some small, but powerfully personal way by making things once only imagined - real (and with their own hands).  Twitter, like blogging or video production, serves a similar purpose, although with the possibility of far greater influence, collaboration and  conversation.

7. Turn up the volume.
In terms of pure raw numbers, both LEGO and Twitter have some impressive ones to offer.

For LEGO:

  • 5 billion hours a year are spent by adults and kids playing with LEGO bricks (elements).
  • 36,000 bricks (elements) are produced every minute.
  • 19 billion bricks (elements) are produced every year.
  • There are 62 bricks (elements) for every person in the world today.
  • More than 915 million different possible combinations are possible from 6 bricks of the same color with 8 studs each.

For Twitter:

  • More than 23 million unique visitors and 153 million visits to Twitter.com in July 2009 (Compete.com).
  • 1,400% growth in Twitter users February 2008 to February 2009.
  • Estimated 1.5 million Twitter accounts added in “3 days of Oprah” (April 17-19 2009).
  • More than 3.5 billion total tweets sent to date.
  • About 20 million tweets/day by the end of August 2009. (That means in less than 178 days there will be double the number of tweets sent in the first 3+ years).

The LEGO List

Can an attributes list for a “kid’s toy” from 1963 provide inspiration for a Silicon Valley company and a technology entering the second decade of the 21st Century? The following is a list of the 10 characteristics of LEGO written by the inventor more than 45 years ago. What might this list look like for Twitter, now and in the near future?

  1. Unlimited play possibilities
  2. For girls, for boys
  3. Enthusiasm to all ages
  4. Play all year round
  5. Healthy and quiet play
  6. Endless hours of play
  7. Imagination, creativity, development
  8. More LEGO multiplied play value
  9. Always topical
  10. Safety and quality

Trans-Generational Longevity

Only a few products outlive generations, and the LEGO brand is one of them. Maybe in the digital age the definition for “generation” needs to change and be more like Moore’s Law (generation = 18 months)? In any case, can Twitter or any digital technology have the chronological longevity of LEGOs?  Or does the analogy, no matter how fun for fans of both, end there? Egv_tiny_blogicon


(Note: Sometimes posts are inspired by the oddest random and personal desires.  In the case of this one, I wanted to have the Twitter bird “logo” made out of LEGO bricks, in 3D.  So to justify that, I felt that I needed to come up with an idea in which to use that piece of art.  That’s the genesis of “Twitter = LEGOs?” which led to deeper thinking about the particular analogies shared above. If you love LEGOs or just design in general, there is an excellent book that was published in 2008 for the 50th anniversary of the esteemed brick, “50 Years of the LEGO Brick” by Christian Humberg.  The book itself is quite a piece of art with LEGO bricks and copies of the patent and early promotional materials - helpful research for this post - from 1963 to present included.)

   

May 22, 2009

Do Big Brands Need to Think Like Little Fish?

LittleFish

 Photo by Benson Kua

"Being a Challenger is primarily a state of mind, not a state of market"

- Adam Morgan in "Eating the Big Fish"


So once you’ve made it to the top of your category, have a dominant share and are seen as the market leader, you’ve got it made … right?  There’s no way all those pesky little fish nipping around your heals are ever going to eat your lunch. That might have been the case in Don Draper’s time, but it’s a dangerous, if not fatal, concept to hold onto in the digital age.

More than any other time in brand history, the age of digital and social media that can compress time and expand geographic reach, as well as fuel consumer influence (but not dominance) on brands, requires a “Challenger Brand” way of thinking and behaving.  The seminal work in this field is Adam Morgan’s “Eating the Big Fish” (first published in 1999) and for a deeper dive into the subject, that book is highly recommended.  But for purposes of this post, here is a “Cliff Notes” style overview of a Challenger Brand.

By definition, a Challenger Brand is neither the market leader in a category, nor is it a niche brand.  Its leaders have great ambitions and a vision for their venture that exceed their physical resources (e.g. people and money) in comparison to the Market Leader, especially if they were to be deployed against marketing tactics that mimic the leader.  The mindset of the Challenger embraces the kind of non-conventional thinking that successfully bridging this resource gap entails, a mindset that is focused on generating a “focused few” highly leverageable ideas that are immediately actionable.

Challenger Brands can be people, businesses, causes, and even countries, examples: T.E. Lawrence/”Lawrence of Arabia” (my favorite movie), Al Gore, the young Elvis, Avis (the classic example), Apple (maintained for 30 years), Nintendo, Google (in the early days), Facebook, Red Bull, Blurb, method, the Obama Campaign, The Lance Armstrong Foundation, Tourism New Zealand, and Tourism Queensland (“the best job in the world” campaign).

While a Market Leader cannot technically be a pure Challenger Brand (their dominant market share makes that impossible), they can embrace Challenger Brand thinking and behavior and continue to move quickly and surprisingly like the nimble small fish they once were.  If you are (or even are just affiliated with) a Market Leader, embracing the role of “change agent” and swimming against the conventions of your category should never be counterintuitive.

Below are seven common market scenarios/challenges, four externally and three internally rooted, that Brand Leaders may face, in which continuing to deeply embrace Challenger thinking and behavior will serve them well. To get more specific, we are going to use the yet to be launched media company/cable network OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network) to give suggestions as to how the situation might be framed in Challenger terms.  OWN is selected as it is birthed in part out of a Market Leader who has retained Challenger Brand thinking and behavior (that’s Oprah herself).  But OWN is also entering and will compete in a category - cable (and digital media?) network based around “best life/self improvement” programming - in which it will NOT be the Market Leader at launch.  It has the opportunity to be a Challenger Brand infused with Market Leader DNA.

External Cause Scenarios

1. Brand exists in a category where the long entrenched rules are unraveling, with the industry experiencing rapid and significant change.

In the case of cable networks or cable/digital hybrids, it has appeared to be the norm (or even a “rule”) that viewers demand “high quality,” professionally produced passive programming. In the world of journalism (text or video), there is clearly a change underway in the definition of, and balance of power between, the relative value of quality vs. timeliness in media.  CNN leads breaking stories with grainy i-Report cell-phone video and later packages it in with professionally shot segments, graphics and theme music.  Bloggers and folks on Twitter are among the first to report and share images of events such as the Mumbai hostage taking and the landing of the plane in the Hudson River.  In these cases, timeliness trumped quality. Non-fiction TV can’t be far behind in being forced to (if not voluntarily address) this change of the  mix of professionally and consumer generated media that goes far beyond commentary shows featuring humorous and cute animal YouTube videos.

OWN’s Challenger Opportunity: Respect, but don't let the old production model dictate all programming experiences. Embrace a new model of relative value between quality and timeliness of media. Create new ways of aggregating “real time” content from sources other than its own, including (if not especially from) the audience. But give them a place of their own in the programming mix beyond 3 minute segment inserts in the "real show."


2. Brand is threatened by a “superior” competitor or completely new sources of competition.

The competitor that one faces does not have to be another company in the category.  The real competition can just as easily come from significant changes in audience/consumer behavior as well as from businesses and platforms outside the category.

Most would agree that the time of appointment viewing “must see” TV is pretty much over.   There is no such thing as a TV captive audience, not even for breaking events. People have many “viewing” choices and mostly multi-tasking around media anyway.  They need a reason for engagement and new tools for relevant content discovery. The “partial continuous attention” audience is a more significant challenge to creatively address than another network or show. No matter what the ratings are.   And quite frankly, how accurate are the ratings anyway in a world of multitasking vs. a world of single focused activity.

OWN’s Challenger Opportunity: How do you break the “rule” of ratings as the guiding force and create multiplatform media where it’s OK if engagement cannot always be measured.  Develop the story for brand partners by which value is created when old category revenue models and measurement criteria are disrupted and become less relevant.


3. Brand is faced with potential “commoditization of the category.”

What is unique about how the Challenger brand thinks about and lives in their category? Defining and understanding the category you want to compete in is critical. (Remember the story of trains saying they were in the "train" business and not in the "transportation" business?) Additionally, if all the participants in the category define it in a similar manner, the product they deliver begins to become indistinguishable except for the network brand logo. In the world of cable TV, how many  look alike “life improvement” shows can really be “consumed?”

OWN’s Challenger Opportunity: What's the category in which you want to define yourself and live?  Is it non-fiction cable TV network?  Probably way too narrow, especially if you think about what time constraints and life experiences you are competing against for the "audience's" attention. (For me, you wouldn't be competing just against TV time, but against going to yoga class, walking my dog and reading my RSS feeds - things that I see as "life enhancing/self improvement.")

And regradless of subtelty or breath of the category definition, there are ways to think about programming development that fends off commoditization.  That is: Don’t always go with the expected heavy hitters; use the media and the "audience" to incubate your own next generation of “trust agents.” (Isn't that one of Oprah's greatest strengths afterall - trust?)  Trust can be built and vetted within communities online before migrating to cable distribution.


4. Brand encounters situation where the greater social ecosystem or public opinion is set/moving against it.

OWN isn't a political movement, so you might ask how this situation might be relevant.  This scenario can also be framed as the friction or resistance one might encounter when trying to expand audience apart from a well-understood core to include a group that might seem to be counter intuitive to the core.   While I don't have access to the stats, it's my understanding that the show "Oprah" on broadcast TV has an audience dominated by urban females, while OWN has a goal of a broader audience (including male and I assume non-urban if significant cable audience is to be found.) 

OWN’s Challenger Opportunity: If the brand "Oprah" is to be a catalyst in the launch of OWN, then it is important to understand what part of that "Oprah" DNA will work for and against that goal. I am NOT of the mindset that "Oprah" is a female only brand.  Highlighting the Challenger brand aspect over the industry "Goliath" story will be important.  And that is based around a story NOT of Oprah's media dominance and finances, but of her ability to create and rally community and engagement.  And that is neither male nor female.

Internal Cause Scenarios

1. Brand allows its own complacency or even arrogance to lull them into a sense of security and permanence of success.
Success can be a problem if it is seen as an end product and not a transitory state.  Market Leaders, and sometimes their “spawn” who are closely identified with a predecessor’s DNA, can be lulled into complacency or a sense of invincibility by confidence that comes out of years of success documented by boatloads of press clippings and awards. There are times when that comfy seductive sense of security is exactly what a Challenger needs to battle against.

OWN’s Challenger Opportunity: Remember that “category inexperience” is often what powers Challenger brands at the beginning, enabling them to bring vitality and new possibilities to play.  A novice’s perspectives can come both from “new blood” outside the industry brought into partnership in the venture, and also can come from the “seasoned pros.” For the Pros, they need to be willing to take the time to temporarily set aside their knowledge and vested interests and “walk in the door” afresh, questioning their own assumptions about the business.  As for ”new blood” from outside the industry, well that requires some expansive Pixar style thinking that asks: “How do you hire/partner for a task that has never been done before?”  Answer: Look for people who have demonstrated mastery in another area – personal or business – outside your category, as well those who have demonstrated the ability to convert failure into success.  That’s the criteria by which NASA found the first astronauts – who were test pilots.


2. Brand believes none of its competitors are “significant” anymore.
When a Market Leader owns the category from a market share or share of mind perspective, what is left to compete against?  I say there’s plenty – it’s just not as obvious as someone with bigger ratings or ad sell throughs.  So how do you find your new “enemy?”

OWN’s Challenger Opportunity: Oprah as a brand has successfully redefined “the enemy or monster” that she competes against innumerable times: so there are already great lessons here for OWN.  That which she competes against is no longer other daytime talk shows. The “enemies” are the bigger causes and issues she brings to light and around which she rallies her constituency.  OWN needs to think about not only what it fights for, but what it fights against.  That may be bigger global social or economic causes, intimate personal battles, and yes, even sometimes, the direction of an industry.


3. Brand becomes shackled by its own success and fears breaking the “magic formula.”
Remember that in the digital age, where just about everything is transitory, there is no longer such a thing as a “magic formula” (at least not one that lasts very long).  Clinging to that notion and becoming loss or risk averse creates behavior that is counter to what usually gets a Challenger to their success in the first place.  

OWN’s Challenger Opportunity: Don’t let an affinity for old models and paradigms be your undoing.  It’s great to leverage what has worked in the past, especially as television is generally a medium of familiarity and predictability.  But what new models or paradigms might you create, which of course, you eventually will have to destroy when they also become conventions?

I offer up the following as one.  Use the fact that you are hopefully building digital from the starts as a vibrant component (rather than the conventional “site brochureware” of many cable companies), and incubate and mentor new talent online (not just TV talent transplanted into the digital arena). Communities are the natural petrie dishes for new “trust agents” to evolve against specific areas of expertise.    Be conscious to create mechanisms to identity and platforms to cultivate this, and bring that talent into other media at appropriate times.

Lessons learned as to why it's a good idea for Big Brands to think like little fish?

You can retain your status quo of Market Leader (or offspring of the same) by being willing to constantly question, evolve and transcend the category conventions in order to be the change agent in partnership with your audience/customer. Doable.  But not easy.  Egv_tiny_blogicon

 

April 28, 2009

What Predicts The Ability To Innovate? : Some Perspectives From Pixar

800px-Pixar_-_front_gates


NASA had a problem.  What's the screening criteria for a job that's never been done before - like going to the moon? Namely how do you find those guys (and it was guys then) who have the highest predictive chance of success at something that has never been done before?  They found test/fighter pilots.  But in more general terms, they found a talent pool of people who had failed and recovered.  (It's rather apparent what happened to those who had failed and NOT recovered.)  The generalized criteria:  Error recovery (meaning resiliency and adaptability) and NOT failure avoidance. 

Now think about this same question in terms of today's media or technology companies - whether at the business or individual level. If innovation is determined as a key to differentiation and success, and innovation means doing something that has never been done before - then how do you define the talent criteria and what are the predictors?  Where and how do you find your version of "test pilots cum astronauts?"

Randy Nelson of Pixar provides an interesting take on this question, essentially breaking it down into four criteria.  The video and some key takeaways:

  • Depth: How do you find the "parallel predictor" of someone who will succeed at something new? Look at what else in life they have mastered on a personal or business level. "Mastery in anything is a good predictor in mastering the thing you want done."
  • Breath Breadth: Narrowness is sometimes the thing you get with depth and this needs to be balanced by breath.  You don't want a repetitive one trick pony again if the challenge is going to be to innovate.  You want "someone who is more interested than interesting."   This is indicative of a problem solver; someone who will lean into the problem not just acknowledge its existence.
  • Communication: "Communication is a destination, not a source." It is not something that the "emitter" can measure, although plenty of times we get that judgment.  Only the receiver of communication can measure it.  The listener is the one who can say they get it. 
  • Collaboration: "Collaboration is not a synonym for cooperation; it is not cooperation on steroids."  Innovation requires many people working together; it's not a one person job.  So you need a system or protocol that allows people not to get in each other's way and enables them to amplify what each is doing.





Lesson?  In the innovation economy, stop looking for someone who has done it before. Look for someone who has done something else amazing before (and not necessarily in the same business.)   Egv_tiny_blogicon

 

 

 

(Note: Thanks to Edward Boches, Chief Creative Officer of Mullen, for initially sharing this video via Twitter.) 

   

 

 

February 04, 2009

Are Applications Advertising? - Examining the Nike+ Online/Real World Experience

Nike

"I do not regard advertising as entertainment or art form, but as a medium of information."

- David Ogilvy

In one of those moments of sublime serendipity, I recently received my Nike+ kit on the same day that I read a post by gaming industry advisor Keith Boesky excitedly documenting his achievement of reaching the 4,000 mile mark, as well as another post over at AgencySpy about the Nike work at R/GA. The intersection of the three made me think about the relationships between and relative value of advertising and applications, as experienced by individuals in defining their relationship with a brand.

If you already know about Nike+ and want to skip the background info in this rather long post and get to the core of the discussion, jump down to the subhead “Thinking About the Value of Application vs. Advertising.” Otherwise, some background on Nike+ and what these blog posts said that “got me thinking.” 

Nike+ Background

The Nike+iPod Sports Kit is hardware and software that enables you to measure and track the distance and pace of a walk or run (and as of this summer your workouts on some gym cardio equipment). A small accelerometer device is attached/embedded in certain Nike shoes and it communicates with some iPods during runs.  Software then enables that workout data to be uploaded to the Nike+ community website during an iPod sync.  Through the website, challenges can be issued (aka trash-talking) and awards for goals set and obtained.  Over 100 million miles have been logged on the system by over a million runners, half of those miles were accrued in the 8 months between February and October 2008.   That’s a lot of miles and a very engaged community.  Who wouldn’t want that?

Keith's Experience

From his post, Keith is an enthusiastic runner and goal setter.  Every time he runs, he now has a positive and highly personal brand experience with Nike that often inspires him to think about other achievements and learning’s in life (not just the run data that he is accumulating).  That’s a valuable personal and emotional connection for a brand to have earned with an individual. 

“I passed the 4,000 mile mark today with my trusty Nike +. I knew I was going to do it with this run, and I was excited to plug my iPod in to confirm my achievement. When I passed the last milestone, at 3,000, it was the highest category, I was certain I leveled to the highest class. When I plugged it in, I was taken back 22 years to Mount Fuji…”


The Post at AgencySpy re Nike+

This is what I read on the same day about the RG/A Nike+ work that made me think about the relationship between Advertising and Applications and the respective value of each. This is in the words of their unnamed “spy on Nike+ at the agency,” and to me clearly reflects a bit of an old school agency perspective as the inferred benchmark of “goodness” being “is it advertising?” (NOTE: The underlines that follow are mine.)

"It's a great piece of digital work, and it helps to build the brand, but it's an application, not really 'advertising'. That doesn't mean it should be dismissed, cuz it's clearly awesome but you can't build a brand on an app. I can't take an app and air it on tv or in a magazine or on a billboard. I can use those media to drive people to the app, but that builds the app, not really the brand."


Thinking About the Value of Applications vs. Advertising

What's Advertising?
(1) From the quote that started this post, David Ogilvy says that advertising is information.

(2) Wikipedia says advertising is:

“…communication that typically attempts to persuade potential customers to purchase or to consume more of a particular brand of product or service … through the creation and reinforcement of "brand image" and "brand loyalty".”

(3) I’ll add one more thing to the definition, you have to pay someone to place advertising for you in places where people will be likely to see it – whether it’s a banner ad, a billboard, a radio spot, an interactive retail screen, the back of an athlete’s uniform or a multimillion dollar SuperBowl buy.

What’s a Brand?
We need to understand this if brand is what advertising is supposed to help define and build. (NOTE: The underlines that follow are mine.)

“Brand: a person’s perception of a product, service, experience or organization.” – AIGA’s The Dictionary of Brand

A “person’s perception” is about “emotional connection,” and that connection is informed by some mix of interpreted facts, personal feelings and experiences, shared “third party” experiences of others of personal influence/recommendation (delivered thru traditional media, tweet or blog), and expectations of things to come.

5 Evaluation Factors
From the definitions of brand and advertising above, 5 main factors of evaluation for “Application v Advertising” can be drawn. (Thanks to blogger friend Michael Markman for his feedback here.)

  1. It can facilitate some level of brand experience/perception before any direct experience or purchase of the brand product itself.
  2. Overall goal is to persuade to initial purchase or continue to buy more.
  3. You have to pay an "expert" (agency media buyer) to place it (professionally created content) before an audience.
  4. It is designed to create and reinforce brand image and/or brand loyalty to those who have already purchased.
  5. It can contain both factual information and emotional context that comes from individual interpretation as well as that from their influencers.

Here’s how the Nike+ application plays out when evaluated by these 5 factors

  1. It enables some level of brand experience/perception before any purchase of the brand product
    • Even though you can’t directly experience Nike+ without purchase, you can experience what other enthusiasts and influencers (who you may personally know – even better) say about it – as in the case of me reading Keith Boesky’s 3,000 mile blog post before starting to use my new Nike+
  2. Overall goal is to persuade to purchase or consume more
    • With Nike+, unless you loose or break the hardware, you are probably not going to personally purchase more, but you are going to persuade others to purchase – growing the market none-the-less.
  3. You have to pay to place it before an audience
    • You pay to develop the site and application, but that’s it – you own the end product and community.  It is not an outflow of cash to another entity.
  4. It is designed to create and reinforce brand image and/or brand loyalty to those who have already purchased
    • Enough said.  You are immersed in the Nike brand world with the community and application – reinforcing the message of individual initiative and achievement with group comradery and even “trash talk.”
  5. It can contain both factual information and emotional context that comes from individual interpretation as well as that from their influencers
    • The facts – your stats of distance, time and frequency.  The emotion – talk and challenges from others in the community to drive you on to better performance.

What the Application Has That Advertising Does Not

There are two key ingredients that Application has that Advertising does not – in terms of the value of building the relationship with Brand.  For this Nike+ application:

  1. There is a completely personalized experience – hence more meaningful information AND emotional connection.
  2. It can be solitary/omni- directional (as with advertising) or a shared (two-way) community experience depending on the user’s choice.
  3. The results of people/the community using the application could be taken into other media for pure distribution (eg mobile alerts for getting latest challenges or updates of teammates’ running), or in creating new experiences or content, such as a show about the experience of people on 5 different continents forming a virtual Nike+ running team.

So What's the Point?

Applications are both information and emotion - even more so than “traditional” advertising.  So let’s go back to the excerpt from AgencySpy and do some deconstruction:

  1. “… it's an application, not really 'advertising.'
    •   Yes and that’s where its additional value comes from.  Advertising should no longer be the baseline of effectiveness goodness for engaging an audience.
  2.  "...you can't build a brand on an app...”
    • Maybe only if you are Google, or we could name a few others in Silicon Valley  You can certainly build with both application and advertising.  Some brands initially built their value with no advertising (Starbucks).
  3. “I can't take an app and air it on tv or in a magazine or on a billboard."
    • Debatable these days about the value of some of these media; but you could actually take the result of the community content that comes from the app and make content/stories to be distributed by those media.  Current TV integrated application and broadcast with Twitter streams and the presidential debates.
  4. "I can use those media to drive people to the app, but that builds the app, not really the brand."
    • Not really – the information and emotional experience of the Nike+ app that these people experience on every run and share with a community of over a million people IS the brand experience

OK ... done typing now. Favicon

 

October 23, 2007

Consumer Generated Media Is Not Just a Digital Phenomenon

Custom_jones Consumer generated media existed in the physical world long before the Internet ... and still does.  A great case in point is Seattle-based Jones Soda. Jones Soda has been enabling consumers (fans) to design labels and name flavors since 2000. And they have community, blogs, sponsored events and other activities that support their unique sense of brand humor and appeal to the youth market (or more broadly to those of  youthful spirit). But the final product is still physical, even though its creation is facilitated by the digital - a bottle with the consumer's photo and copy with the Jones Soda flavor of choice inside.

The Jones Soda Photo Gallery (with some current voting results below each photo) is where you can vote on the consumer-uploaded photos to influence the next set of product labels. There are currently 538,322 photos out of the 737,206 that have been posted.  (Submissions older than 6 months are archived).  That is quite an active fan base.

Jonesphotogallery2

For those who can't wait to see if their photo garners enough influence votes to sway Jones' choice (or who want something for a special event), the company initiated the MyJones program where for $29.95 you can create your own label on a 12 pack of product and have it shipped directly to you.

My recently submitted customized Jones Soda
order is below - in celebration of (e.g.) ventures' security dog, Zoe.

Jonessodascreen1_2

Pepsi recently launched a "Design Our Pepsi Can Contest" that offers the winner $10,000 with the winning design printed on 500M Pepsi cans.  Their promo material claims "the first time in history" that this has been done. So I think they must have missed what Jones has been doing for the past 7 years? Pepsi's 100,000 (less than 1/5th the size of the Jones Soda Gallery) entries have been narrowed down to 5 final designs that the public can vote on.

So what's the takeaway? Consumer generated media isn't just about digital video on YouTube. It can be something as simple as a message (a photo in this case) on a bottle.  As long as the brand and product in that bottle have relevant meaning and emotional value to the consumer.

 

October 11, 2007

Toyota and World of Warcraft - "I am the lawgiver."

With more than a million views in just a few days (if you aggregate all the various uploads of the clip on YouTube), the sharing and conversation that the "machinama-like" Saatchi & Saatchi produced Toyota Tacoma pickup ad, " Truck Summoner," speaks volumes about the importance of gaming culture and the media value of gaming  platforms (or simulating/exposing them in traditional media distribution platforms like TV) to gamers and non-gamers alike.
Toyota_wow2

With broad dissemination and  discussion on advertising, car and gamer sites alike, AutoBlog called it "... one of the funniest car commercials we've seen so far this year, and we're surprised Toyota didn't save it for the Super Bowl."

The ad originally aired last weekend on CBS during various college football games, although all the buzz and conversation seems to be around people seeing and sharing it online. In the 30-second spot, a  Toyota Tacoma pickup is cleverly placed inside a convincing simulation of Blizzard Entertainment's World of Warcraft game featuring voice chat (introduced in Patch 2.2.0 of the game) of  players talking strategy through their in-game persona-avatars.

Here's a brief synopsis followed by the ad itself.

As various participants choose weapons, one "Leeroy Jenkins-inspired" team member unexpectedly declares, "I'm going to equip myself with a little four wheels of fury!" The Tacoma materializes (It's his "mount" in WoW language) and he speeds off despite protests from his rigid rule-following teammates ("There's no trucks in World of Warcraft!") who then are forced to engage in a hot pursuit. (This loose cannon is spoiling their well-though-out plan, afterall.) A dragon consumes the Tacoma, which subsequently bursts from its chest with the slain beast's heart beating in the flatbed - demonstrating a big victory.

"Did you see me lay down the law?" I am the lawgiver!" is the definitive rebel's statement at the end of the commercial.  Followed by a humble "How do I get one of those?" by a previously unimpressed teammate.

So the traditional questions might be:

  • Is this an ad just for WoW players?
  • Do WoW watch college sports?
  • With 9 million WoW players and about 2 million of them in the US, is this a large enough market to target?
  • Aren't WoW just kids or college students with no real life or jobs to have the money to buy a new expensive truck?  Don't they just drive the 1985 Corolla they inherited from their mother?

Maybe ... but I don't think that is necessarily the thinking behind this creative or what is important. A more interesting discussion is around how this ad is already entering the cultural zeitgeist and generates conversation (positive and negative) and influence around the Toyota brand.  I have shared the story with friends even though I have no interest in a truck from Toyota, but I do like the Prius or a Hybrid Highlander.  But it contributes to my perception of Toyota as a creative entity with a sense of humor and a firm and fresh connection to the current cultural pulse.

Some additional information that may be helpful:
1. World of Warcraft is a MMORPG - a massively multiplayer online role-playing game.  As with other MMORPGs, players control a character avatar within a persistent game world, exploring the landscape, fighting monsters, and interacting with NPCs (aka Non player characters) as well as other players. The game rewards success with money, items, and experience, which in turn allow players to improve their skill and power. (from Wikipedia)

2. A mount refers to an item that, upon activation, depicts the character as riding a mount, as opposed to the normal movement of walking/running. Characters of certain levels and skill ability can acquire these mounts in order to increase their movement speed on land. Mounts can also be acquired via reputation with certain factions, completion of quests, or through special items produced in related material or as very rare loot drops obtained by defeating bosses in instances. (from Wikipedia)

3. The famous Leeroy Jenkins video ("A Rough Go") has in and of itself inspired numerous  parodies on various video sharing and gamer sites, as well as a question on the TV game show Jeopardy. Leeroy Jenkins has, in fact, become a meme - a unit/symbol of cultural information. There's an interview with Ben Schulz (aka Leeroy Jenkins )at BlizzCon and an extensive and well-written recent background article by Joel Warner.  Here is the original "Rough Go" video.

September 19, 2007

HP Event "Your Life Is the Show" and NY Fashion Week

Wired Magazine's Gadget Blog has a nice blow-by-blow writeup and photos of an HP Event ,"Your Life Is the Show," that we worked on with frequent collaborator MWA.  PodTech also posted a piece on YouTube and it's viewable below -  HP execs, plenty of celebs ( Shaun White, Serena Willams, Petra Nemcova, the Orange County Chopper guys) and new technology like Blackbird 002.

    Or

Liz Gebhardt


  • © Amanda Jones
    Digital and traditional (live & broadcast) media/ marketing strategist and producer living at the intersection of Web meets (live) World. More than two decades of experience in building media and technology businesses, content programming and distribution, brand stories and integrated communications campaigns.

    Believes that strategy is all talk unless it can be executed in a way that delivers on both the creative and business promises. Embraces the role of navigator of the uncharted path vs. passenger along the known road.