October 03, 2010

When A Comet Meets a Tornado – The Power of Creative Partnerships

 

CometTornadoFramed2

 

In a world that seems to crave the solitary archetypes of the lone hero, the rugged individual, the anti-social nerd and the alpha wolf, have we forgotten the magic, mystery and power that can be found in the story of collaborative creativity? How is it that two people or a “small” group, with individuals capable and talented in their own right, can create together what they could not have done on their own?  These are important questions for both the artistic and entertainment community, as well as that of science and commerce – both in search of “that which is the new” and the illusive innovative breakthrough.

Take, for example, the unexpected “love story” between Professors Randy Pausch and Don Marinelli, who together created the Carnegie Mellon (CMU) Entertainment Technology Center in a unique marriage of science and art.

 

Background

Many have heard of “The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch. Less known is the story of the unique partnership between Pausch and Marinelli (the Associate Head of Drama at CMU),  in the building of the CMU ETC.  Pausch (the comet – an illuminating astral body) and Marinelli (the tornado – a whirlwind of energy and creativity) were two dynamic men who met each other with polar opposite personalities, skills, life experiences and perspectives, but still found a way to powerfully join forces, create something much bigger than themselves, and unexpectedly change each other in the process.  Their premise: that the false divide that often exists between engineering and art could be bridged by showing that the two actually think surprisingly alike and can work together in trusted collaboration without mastery of knowledge in the other’s domain. Their work resulted in the definition of a unique interdisciplinary approach to the creation of technology-driven interactive entertainment founded on premises of team dynamics that provide valuable lessons for individuals and companies far beyond the walls of academia.

 “…while we were both alpha males, we were from vastly different cultures.  The battle for domination was essentially neutralized when we realized it wasn’t about which lion would rule the pride, because we were actually two distinctive breeds sharing the same enclosure.  And that environment was unfamiliar to both of us … “ - Don Marinelli (p. 42)

 

Defining the Individual

For Pausch and Marinelli, in order to understand and maximize the dynamics of the group, one had to first define two major dimensions of importance of the individual.

(1) Defining the value one uniquely brings to the team : A unique (self-understood) skill set and a predisposition to making others successful (vs just being smart) are paramount.

“Have something to bring to the table, because that will make you more welcome.”  - Randy Pausch (p. 33)

“Smart isn’t enough.  The kind of people I want on my research team are those who will help everyone else feel happy to be here.’” Randy Pausch (p. 118)

(2) Acknowledging the value that “the other half” on the team provides: Defining what you don’t know, and that you don’t need to know it because other trusted members of your team have that knowledge.  Admitting the “lack of knowledge” held by “the other half” tends to clear away many of the opportunities for egos and attitude triggered by a fear of comparison.

“When we’re connected to others, we become better people.” - Randy Pausch (p. 176)

" When I collaborate with people, the further apart they are from me, the more I learn.” - Don Marinelli (p. 80)

 

Defining the Dynamics of the Group

Pausch and Marinelli believed that the best innovative (and inherently risky in terms of predicted outcome) work would be done by groups defined by a significant diversity of skills and experiences among members, mixed with a strong commonality of “teamwork, perseverance, sportsmanship, the value of hard work, and ability to deal with adversity.”

“When we’re connected to others, we become better people.”  - Randy Pausch (p. 176)

"When I collaborate with people, the further apart they are from me, the more I learn.” - Don Marinelli (p. 80)

Married with this philosophy of the creative team, was a set of simple “rules” for optimizing group dynamics:

  • Meet people properly
  • Find things you have in common
  • Try for optimal meeting conditions
  • Let everyone talk
  • Check egos at the door
  • Praise each other
  • Phrase alternatives as questions

Equally important was a set of guidelines for giving and taking feedback.

  • On giving: “Showing gratitude is one of the simplest yet most powerful things humans can do for each other.”  - Randy Pausch (p. 151) 
  • On taking: “When you’re screwing up and nobody says anything to you anymore, that means they’ve given up on you.”   - Randy Pausch (p. 37)

 

New Research and Writings

Beyond the story of Pausch and Marinelli, there is some interesting new research and writing on this topic of “socially powered creativity” that echoes and amplifies their practical lessons from building the ETC.

Writer Joshua Wolf Shenk has begun a series of posts on Slate.com as well as a group page on Facebook to examine the story of “creative pairs”  (he’s limiting his “group size” to the number 2). His premise:

“The stereotypes of miraculous breakthrough moments—and the incessant drive to locate them in the head of epic individuals—are slowly yielding to a portrait of complex, meandering, inherently social paths toward innovation… there’s an experimental foundation now to demonstrate how our cognitive structures morph when we’re very close with other people, so that our ideas of “self” literally expand to include another person.”

Beyond face-to-face creative collaboration, some like Steven Johnson are writing about the amplification that the Internet provides in its role as a connector of diverse and remote relationships.

And others, like Daniel Pink in “Drive” are writing about what motivates us – and surprise – it’s not about “carrots and sticks”, but about mastery and purpose, something that Pausch and Marinelli learned early on in the forming of ETC.

 

Lesson Learned

So what happens when a comet meets a tornado – when the creative state successfully moves from the solitary to the collaborative?  In his relationship with Pausch, Marinelli observed that:

 “… (there is an) importance of being attuned to more than one’s personal desires and ambitions.  If you truly believe the answer is blowing in the wind, then you need to go outside to feel it.  I stepped outside my previous existence and, in doing so, discovered an alluring vortex.  The funnel-cloud of creativity would soon develop into a veritable tornado of innovation.”

When it comes to creative endeavors, we should all hope for this kind of “stormy weather.”  Favicon

 

Resources

Books

Video

Blog Posts and Groups

 

 

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)

 

 

June 30, 2010

Is "Open" Just Another Four Letter Word?

OpenScrabble

Download Open Leadership Flow Chart

 

Like the word "free" in Chris Anderson's book "Freemium,"  the word "open" indiscriminately applied to organizations might be seen by some as just another four-letter word - representative of business anarchy, causing more problems and disruption than the value it could ever eventually deliver.  But that perception is as off base as the one where social media zealots require that organizations be 100% open without regard to individual business needs.

In her book "Open Leadership" Charlene Li presents a rigorous approach to identifying and evaluating a specific organization's need for open leadership and its respective strategy, action and ongoing evaluation plans.  Her approach is not a one size fits all prescription, rather she best describes it as:

"Being open should not be a mantra or philosophy ... The question isn't whether you will be transparent, authentic, and real, but rather how much you will let go and be open in the face of technologies.  Transparency, authenticity, and the sense that you are being real are the by-product of your decision to be open."

- Charlene Li

Rather than writing another high level review of the book, I've created a downloadable "how to" road map or flow chart of the main concepts and their relationships to each other. The map takes many of "Open Leadership's" detailed and highly practical audit lists and metrics recommendations, and builds a visual relationship between them.

It's clear that "open" (leadership or organizations) is not a mono-dimensional state, nor is it for everyone.  And it's certainly hard to achieve - meaning that patience and dedicated resources are required once the desired location on the "openness meter" is identified.  Some may give up and others may prevail. So in the end, "hard" - like "open" and "free" -  may just be another four letter word for some.  Favicon

March 31, 2010

Why Sharing Matters

TheShare.001

Sharing is no longer just about good manners.  It has assumed a front row seat in the discussion about powerful leverage points at the intersection of content and influence. If you are a media company or consumer brand (and the difference between these two is shrinking in many respects), understanding how people engage with and share content is a critical skill.

And you won’t be alone. 2010 may well be the year that brands and media companies spend as much time (if not more) looking at social sharing optimization as they do at search. The sheer volume of content (both good and bad) being added to the Web is outpacing people’s ability to find what’s interesting and relevant to them. This has been leading to a decline in the overall perceived value of content, along with companies’ and individuals’ abilities to make a living from creating and distributing it, as well as brands promoting around it.

"Abundance breaks more things than scarcity does."

- Clay Shirky at SXSW 2010

But if you can build a system than increases the likelihood of providing the right content (informational or entertainment), at the right time, to the right people, there is the opportunity to reestablish value.  Generating appropriate sharing is an essential element in this “value re-establishment chain.” Sharing lifts content above the general noise level of the Web by the fact that it is deemed important by the users (both initiator and recipient of the share).

"With all the noise online. your social circle becomes a de facto filter, surfacing useful information because they know exactly what's interesting to you and what isn't.  That piece is so important - it's the essence of  influence."

- ShareThis Blog Oct 22

Sharing Stats

  • 84% of “connected consumers” share links and bookmarks – Razorfish Digital Brand Experience Report 2009
  • 50% more page views per unique via share-originated links that search
  • For many sites, sharing is now accounting for as much as one-third of the amount of traffic driven by search –ShareThis Blog, Dec 2009

"Publishers, meanwhile, are devising ways to persuade readers to share more, in much the same way they use "search engine optimization" strategies so search engines will rank them higher in search results.  A personal recommendation, they say, can be just as powerful as a referral from Google."

- NY Times, Sept 2009

Publishers and the Design Dynamics of Sharing

If sharing is becoming that powerful a source of engaged traffic, then publishers and creators need to know how and why people share in order to develop and deliver viable strategies for maximizing share-generated traffic, ad revenue and engagement. 

"If you ask a site manager, they'll know how much traffic they get from search.  But when you ask about traffic from sharing activity, they can't tell you."

- Tim Schigel, CEO, ShareThis 

So how publishers incorporate sharing capabilities is becoming increasingly important, not only because of its impact on traffic, but that it also shows that they understand the interests of their audience and want to make it easy for them to share things of interest to their communities.

ShareThis has some interesting information on how different types of media companies have addressed sharing from both technology placement and design perspectives in a post called “The Art of the Share.”   They look at the question of where to place sharing widgets (beginning or end of post) and what share platforms to breakout specifically from the widget, and how this should differ depending on the audience and media type (eg entertainment v technology site).

In the near future, sharing data may influence how publishers look at content development, and how quickly they can respond to sharing trends with more new content. Sharing patterns may also let them know that they are not covering certain areas of content in ways the audience wants.  

The Editorial Anatomy of Sharing

In addition to having the right tools to share and the appropriate design integration of that technology into the site, the content itself needs to be highly sharable from an editorial perspective.

Dan Zarrella conducted some recent research into sharing and his data contains some interesting insights into what, how and why people share content online.  The complete details and TOC can be found at his site here.

Some highlights from his sample of “why people share” provide useful food for thought as to how publishers and creators might think about the editorial nature of their content.

  • 18.6% audience relevance
  • 8.8% increase their own reputation
  • 8.6% further a specific cause or message
  • 7.4% utility and usefulness; conversation starter
  • 5.5% feedback; wanting others’ opinions
  • 5.2% meet new people

Another study from the University of Pennsylvania examines the character of the most emailed articles (email is certainly one form of sharing).  From that study:

“Perhaps most of all, readers wanted to share articles that inspired awe … They used two criteria for an awe-inspiring story: Its scale is large, and it requires “mental accommodation” by forcing the reader to view the world in a different way.”

Once we understand more about why people share from an editorial perspective and have the tools to help them appropriately share and receive shares, how do we look at the editorial process to “give back” and reward “topic specific influential sharers?" This provides the potential of creating a "virtuous loop of personalized content" that fits the editorial criteria of "sharable." Might we begin to use sharing data to design customized programming experiences that could include:

  • Recommended content provided to senders and receivers of shares via a syndication of realtime topic matching (you shared this, you might also like this)
  • Special content for "topic specific" influential sharers pulled from a brand's archives or created as "behind the scenes" sneaks

    In these models, people are treated as unique individuals vs members of a broader group.  This type of customized programming can be monetized at the individual level, yet still maintain individual privacy.

    New Technologies to Facilitate Sharing

    As sharing becomes more than just a simple utility and moves toward being a core social action for Web users, existing social media companies are revamping their offerings and new ones are appearing, offering their sharing solutions to publishers and creators.  

    “The easier you make it for others to share your content with their social networks, the more you capitalize on the Internet Press — the ability to have your content taken from your central hub and then re-published on others’ hubs and among their networks…People trust their social networks much more than advertising or what a company itself says.”

    Pete Codella in Fast Company

    Three Examples

    (1) The Revamp: Digg 

    This Spring, Digg began revamping its strategy toward "social curation of all the world's content and the conversation around it ... shifting toward a personalization model, where the homepage will be based on ... a user's interests, location, who they follow not only on Digg but services like Twitter and Facebook ... and leaderboards for the infinite topic and vertical pages that will emerge, letting Digg users become trusted sources in a given niche."


    (2) The Evolution: ShareThis Stream  

    The ShareThis Stream is a real-time view of sharing across the Web, enabling users to see what content their friends have been sharing, and the comments, tweets, etc related to that content.


    (3) The New Kid: Stickybits  

    Stickybits brings the physical and digital worlds together via barcode stickers and a SmartPhone app that unlocks access to audio, video, photo, and text messages associated with an object when its code is scanned. Individuals can tag physical objects with media (text, photos, video) by applying custom stickers or correlating existing product barcodes with content. They can also receive additional notification and media from others who scan the object and attach their content to the same barcode.

    However interesting these initiatives are, the conversation needs to move from the “means of sharing” to “meaning enabled by sharing.”  Having technology in place is one piece of the equation; delivering a real user benefit and engaging experience is the other (and more meaningful) part.  While you can have searchable real-time feeds and any number of ways to rate and comment on content, it remains a solution just for geeks if it is not matched with consideration for how people want to more broadly use and interact with content.

    Too Much Information?

    As the world of digital media continues to grow at a dizzying pace, without personally relevant methods of discovery and recommendation such as sharing, users will continue to be overwhelmed and miss relevant content, or simply give up looking for anything new out of sheer frustration. 

    I'd prefer to avoid that world described in the song by The Police called "Too Much Information."

    Too much information running through my brain
    Too much information driving me insane
    Too much information running through my brain
    Too much information driving me insane

    Overkill
    Overview
    Over my dead body
    Over me
    Over you
    Over everybody     


    So can the economics of digital publishing be changed by creating a market for revealing and promoting personally relevant influence (via sharing) across the Web? I say "yes." And that’s why sharing matters. Favicon

    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

      

    January 29, 2010

    Presentation: Twitter in 20

    TitleSlide_LizGebhardt_WIPP_Jan282010
    Today I had the opportunity to co-present a session on "Building Your Business with Twitter and Facebook"  along with Facebook's Director of Corporate Communicatons Brandee Barker at the annual leadership conference for Women in Periodic Publishing.  A PDF version of my Keynote slides is available here: Download LizGebhardt_Twitter_WIPP_Jan282010.

    This 25 minute talk is a very shortened version of a more robust 2-4 hour seminar I have been giving at media companies - print, TV and digital. The Twitter portion focuses on 5 main topics:

    • Twitter Myths, Misconceptions and Reality
    • The Value of the Shared Link
    • Life On and Off the Twitter Network
    • Guidelines and Tactics for the Brand and Individual
    • Tweet Anatomy: A Real World Example

    There are also related posts at this BLOG, including:

    More information on the ShareThis study referred to in the presentation is available at their BLOG. And the book "Groundswell" is available here.

    I'm interested in hearing how different media companies will use this information. 

    Comments? 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.)

       

    September 30, 2009

    The Influence Equation

    TEAInfluenceEquation

    “You don't have to be a "person of influence" to be influential. In fact, the most influential people in my life are probably not even aware of the things they've taught me.”

    – Scott Adams, “Dilbert” series cartoonist


    At the gut level, we know that influence is important, whether it is for creating individual personal social capital to impact discussions and decisions, or brands looking for ways to convert influence into cash.

    Who or what influences our perceptions and decisions? Is it our family, work colleagues, a blogger with 100,000 RSS subscribers, someone on the Twitter SUL with a million followers, brands like Nike or Apple, a charismatic politician, or mainstream media personalities such as Oprah and John Stewart?

    How is that opportunity to influence earned?  What elements or behaviors make up the “Influence Equation?”  Might the relevant mix of trust, expertise and attention (TEA) come together to define “contextual specific engagement” which provides the opportunity (but not the guarantee) for a receptive and relevant “audience”,  as well as the appropriately timed moments of influence? (Meaning that influence is defined for both individuals/groups, as well as time).

    Trust

    In a previous post, “This Year It’s all About Trust,” trust was examined in great depth and dissected into the components of Ability (knowledge) + Integrity (alignment of word and deed) + Benevolence (open communication).  From that post:

    “Trust is a statement of faith about what is otherwise unknown
    because it is currently unverifiable or the results exist in the future.
    Because of that, it is a powerful attribute for an individual or a
    brand, and a prerequisite for real “credibility” … it is the currency
    that enables … attention acquisition in a time starved world.”


    While there is no one universal Web-based trust metric, there are measurable actions that imply trust depending on the context in which one wants to measure.

    “From traditional media sites to niche blogs, from Twitter and
    Digg, to Facebook and MySpace, consumers are engaging with
    online content - and each other - in totally different ways from in
    the offline world. Friending someone on Facebook, linking to or
    leaving comments on someone's post, blog-rolling a trusted blog,
    adding a story to your social bookmarking service of choice - these
    are implicit actions that communicate trust. It is safe to say that
    the ability to use the web to aggregate and analyze these collective
    activities would paint a very powerful picture of both who and
    what influences a particular consumer. And this is marketing gold.”
    – Todd Parsons, co-founder, BuzzLogic
    (more here)

    Expertise

    Trust and expertise aren’t always a part of the same package, but they are both required components of the “Influence Equation.”  When the two are combined, credibility or believability results – at least in the eye of the beholder (per B.J. Fogg  in “Persuasive Technology.”)

    What is expertise? Fogg defines it as “the perceived knowledge, skill and experience of the source", and others have added in the dimension “contextual knowledge in ill structured situations.”

    Experts are different than novices in that novices must usually rely on a set of fixed rules or processes applied in very specific (narrow) situations. Individuals (experts) with expertise earned and demonstrated over time are much more flexible than novices in that they have accumulated contextual experience (beyond the novice’s rules) that can be applied as strategies “automatically” in complex, ill-structured situations. For experts, intuition becomes as important as domain-specific knowledge.

    The value that can be derived from expertise within the “Influence Equation” is well articulated in Brian Solis’ post “Unveiling the New Influencers”:

    “Those who master their domains are developing persuasive and
    important communities around their areas of expertise, interests and
    passions and now possess the prowess and authority to direct,
    instruct, and steer decision makers and referrers.”



    While there is not yet a good industry wide measure for “expertise” (we seem to know it when we see it), it should not be confused with “authority” as many bloggers do when they use the Technorati index to benchmark authority ranking.  Several good blog posts address this, including katrinah.com, Beth's Blog, and Brian Solis in a TechCrunch post.

    Attention

    Attention is a scarce and valuable resource in a data-packed 24-hour world, making it no small task to ask people to gift some of their time. As Nobel Prize winner Herbert Simon (1971) said: "...a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention..."

    Chris Andersen said in his book “Free”:
    “The value of attention and reputation is clearly something, or companies
     wouldn’t spend so much on advertising to influence them. We set prices
    on attention every day: the cost to reach a thousand radio listeners for
    30 seconds, the charge for forcing a million Super Bowl viewers to interrupt
    their game. And every time a movie star’s agent negotiates a film deal, a
    reputation is being valued.  … But there’s a lot more attention and reputation
    in the world than that measured in media and celebrity.  The problem is that
    we don’t have any idea of how much more."



    So is trying to get people you don’t personally know, to do something you want them to do (but they may not yet know they have interest in), fundamentally arrogant? When considering the concept of acquiring attention, earning vs. asking might be the better model, and doing so in a “humble” manner over time might be a good idea. 

    So what is attention and how do you earn and build it?

    The “What” of Attention: Attention is ultimately about the connection between people and ideas, and it may well be considered a “flow” or a continuous collection of moments (vs. an individual or discreet thing).  This would indicate that in order to “keep attention” one must continue to do new things (Meaning one can’t take attention for granted). There are also different kinds or levels of attention that should have different values attached to them under different circumstances and contexts – ranging from “full and undivided attention” to “continuous partial attention” as coined by Linda Stone. (more here).

    The “Earn and Build” of Attention: Bill Wasik, the author of “And Then There’s This” and a senior editor at Harpers Magazine who coined the term “Flash Mob” has some interesting perspectives on this topic in a video worth watching.The high level bits regarding attention building:
    • reliably create stuff that gets attention over time,
    • understand the role of the feedback loop (criticism) in the development of attention,
    • see attention as a volume commitment vs. a one-off undertaking

    The “Where and How Much” of Attention:
    A recent HP Labs study suggests that, when measuring influence, it’s important to identify the “hidden social networks” or the “where and how much” of attention. In the network. the number of followers/friends that a person has is meaningless if there is little or no interaction. What matters are the exchanges (and attention given in those exchanges) that take place between the individuals and their circle of “real engaged friends” in the network .

    Given these frameworks, from a measurement perspective, it is clear that attention is NOT a commodity good, and that there is no such thing as a “standard unit of attention.”  At this time, there is no standard attention metric.  The soft metric has to be framed within the context of the specific audience, type of attention given, and subject area.

    Regardless of how difficult it is to measure in definite terms, understanding at least relative changes in attention is critical to both individuals and brands.  Regarding the importance of attention to brands, Scott Karp wrote:

     “In media 1.0, brands paid for the attention that media companies gathered by
    offering people news and entertainment (e.g. TV) in exchange for their attention.
    In media 2.0, people are more likely to give their attention in exchange for
    OTHER PEOPLE’S ATTENTION.”


    Regarding the importance of attention to individuals and making a strong link back to our earlier discussion on “expertise,” John Hagel wrote:

    “We all find ourselves in a globalizing world where we must find ways to develop
     distinctive and rapidly evolving capabilities (Liz – what I called “expertise in this
    post) … We all need to find ways to tap into a broader set of experiences and
    perspectives to refresh our understanding of the changing world around us. To
    do this effectively, we need to receive the deep and sustained attention of those
    who have the most to offer and we cannot do this unless we can offer compelling
    value in return. If we cannot build deep and sustaining networks of attention (in
    other words, networks of relationships), we will find it more and more difficult to
    remain relevant and productive…we risk becoming progressively marginalized. 
    Receiving attention becomes far more important than it ever was and will require
    far more effort than in the past.”


    Influence

    Influence can be defined as “the potential of an action of one individual/user to initiate a further action by another.”  That further action may be the bestowing of social capital or an exchange of real monetary capital. The opportunity for that influence to exist is the result (over time) of the development of deep Trust, the demonstration of appropriate Expertise, and the ability to garner some form of Attention flow. And that Engagement-Influence is specific to the context, community (collection or an individual), and content (area of expertise).

    With shifts in the media landscape away from a purely professionally created world to one in which user generated and user-commented (of professional) is added - it’s no wonder that both individuals and businesses are experimenting with and trying to understand how to use the Web in a very human way to build reputation, awareness and influence.  And beyond that, where appropriate, to find a way to translate that engagement-influence equation into some kind of business value.

    The question remains: Is there an engagement -influencer metric or set of metrics that reflects this model of Trust-Expertise-Attention (TEA); something that is beyond old school reach and penetration?  That is what companies such as BuzzLogic and ShareThis are betting on.  And that’s all food for a future post that moves past this philosophical framing and into the search for real (and useful) numbers and maps. Egv_tiny_blogicon



    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.)

       

    August 18, 2009

    Inspiration - Some Of The Best Ideas Come From Unexpected Sources

    InspirationCompositeBorder

    The items in the images on the left inspired the products and brands on the right.

    In his 2005 book, "A Whole New Mind,"  Daniel Pink proposed that we have entered an era in which creative conceptual thinking has become increasingly important. Right-brain thinking that is emotionally and observationally based needs to take its rightful and valued place next to the left-brain thinking of logical analytical and theoretical thought. Both science and business often say that the result of creative thoughts need to contain both originality and appropriateness. To get to that final stage, there is a process (the 4I's) that takes inspiration into idea into invention and later into continuing innovation.

    So with creative thought a valued process, where does the "first I of Inspiration" come from?  Some examples follow that demonstrate that some of the best ideas and solutions come from truly unexpected sources that are about as far removed from the "industry of record" as possible.  A humble kitchen. A walk with a dog. Street art in some dicey alleys.

    1940’s - Velcro

    The inventor of Velcro (Swiss engineer George de Mestral) was inspired by the burrs stuck in his dog’s coat.  Returning home from a hunting trip in the Alps, he noticed all the burrs, specifically burdock seeds, stuck fast to the coat of his dog. Examining this scenario under a microscope, he saw that the burrs had hundreds of "hooks" that caught on anything with a loop, dog fur for example.  Thus was revealed the seed of the idea for a new and simple way of binding two materials together if he could figure out how to duplicate the hooks and loops that he had found in nature (burrs and fur). Ten years after that walk with his dog, he submitted the patent for Velcro that was later granted in 1955.

    1970’s - Nike

    A waffle iron led to a revolutionary athletic shoe sole design and the birth of a global mega brand.  Track coach Bill Bowerman of the University of Oregon was experimenting with ideas for shoe outsoles that would better grip the newly resurfaced track at the university. One Sunday morning, he poured liquid urethane into his wife’s waffle iron.  This evolved into the famed Nike “waffle sole” which was first mass manufactured and distributed in the iconic Nike Waffle Trainer in 1974. In 2008, Nike’s revenues were nearly $19B. That’s a lot of waffles.

    1980’s - MTV logo

    On August 1, 1981 MTV launched on a small New Jersey cable system with a theme song in the form of a crunching guitar riff playing over a montage of images of the Apollo 11 moon landing. The MTV logo on the astronaut’s flag is the iconic symbol of the company that was inspired by the graffiti and street art that Creative Director Fred Seibert and his team would see walking the streets of NYC. Contrary to the “industry standard practice” of never touching a corporate logo/icon, the MTV logotype, true to its street art origins, is constantly changing and simultaneously existing in many different creative manifestations.

      

    InspirationTwitterNYC

    21st Century - Twitter

    I'm not sure what the real story of the initial inspiration for Twitter is.  Maybe it's as "mundane" as some form of evolution of SMS.  But I am intrigued by a recent tweet from Twitter co-founder and chairman Jack Dorsey that read:

    DorseyBloombergTweet


    Lesson?  In the creative idea economy, you never know what the source and timing of initial inspiration is going to be.  More often than not, inspiration springs from unexpected sources far removed from the confines of the particular business or problem at hand, which says something about the value of an "informed naivete" in the approach to the creative process ...well that, and taking a lot of walks and spending time in the kitchen. Egv_tiny_blogicon


    July 26, 2009

    This Year It's All About Trust

    Trust composite

    Trust Image

    The monthly flyer from my neighborhood hardware store arrived in my mailbox. The headline: "This year, it's all about trust."  Trust is a word that seems to be turning up more and more, in often unexpected places - like this flyer.  But the discussion of trust is permeating the big issues. Trust in politics.  Trust in business.  Trust in product or medical information.  Trust in the "experts" and talking heads on the evening news. Trust in everything you read online.  Trust in the folks populating various social networks ... And sometimes, more appropriately, the lack of trust and that sinking feeling of things you just can't quite prove are wrong.

    The need for trust is universal and arises from our human interdependence. We often rely on others (individuals, groups, brands or institutions) to help us obtain, or at least not to frustrate, the outcomes we value (and they depend back on us as well). Trust allows actions to occur that otherwise would not have been possible because of currently incomplete information or an unwillingness to give resources now for an unguaranteed result in the future.

    There are a lot of angles I’d like to explore when it comes to trust, but the area of greatest interest to me currently has to do with Trust and Media, how trust is obtained, and the possibility for the migration of online trust and talent to other media platforms.

    In this post, I’d like to explore these questions:

    1. Trust and Influence: How important is trust when it comes to being able to influence behavior and decisions?
    2. Earning and Maintaining Trust: How do brands (companies/collections) or people (individuals) become trusted? What do they do to maintain that trust, and once obtained is it theirs to loose?
    3. Trust in the Digital vs. Real World: Is building trust in digital media space different than building it in the real or broadcast worlds?
    4. Exporting Trust Across Media and Communities: Can a "trust metric" developed in one digital space be "exported" into other media areas, like TV? (or visa versa)  - thus making one a potential talent development source for the other.

    (Before jumping into these questions, it’s good to have a baseline understanding of what is meant by “Trust” covered in the next section. However, if you want to jump head first into the meat of the discussion, you can skip that and go right to the section header “Trust and Influence.”)

    What Is Trust? – The Etymological Foundations

    It’s interesting that the etymological origins of the word “trust” share many commonalities with the word “truth” (“faithful, accuracy, correctness”), and go back, in part, to the 13 century Old Norse word “traust” meaning “help, confidence.” That makes sense given an understanding of trust as a measure of belief in the honesty, benevolence and competence of another party; and a predictor of the reliability of future action, based only on what one party currently knows about the other. Trust is a statement of faith about what is otherwise unknown because it is currently unverifiable or the results exist in the future. Because of that, it is a powerful attribute for an individual or a brand, and a prerequisite for real “credibility” and “the ability to influence.”

    (1) Trust and Influence

    Conventional wisdom would say that trust and influence are inextricably linked, but let’s look at some numbers so it’s not just my opinion.  From PR firm Edelman’s Trust Barometer 2009 Study the data affirm that trust affects/influences consumer actions/spending and overall reputation.

    People act based on trust.

    • 91% of 25-to-64-year-olds around the world indicated they bought a product or service from a company they trusted
    • 77% refused to buy a product or service from a distrusted company

    People listen to and believe those who have earned their trust over time.

    • 59% of 35-to- 64-year-olds saying an academic or expert on a company’s industry or issues would be extremely or very credible
    • 17% of 35-to-64-year-olds indicated they would trust information from a high profile CEO (a six-year low)

    People need time and continuous conversation to build trust, not one-time edicts or proclamations.

    • 60% of 35-to- 64-year-olds say they need to hear information about a company three to five times before they believe it

    (2) Earning and Maintaining Trust

    How do brands (companies/collections) or people (individuals) become trusted? What do they do to maintain that trust, and once obtained is it theirs to loose?

    Frameworks from the Studies
    Where does trust come from? Some would frame trust as a hard wired brain chemistry calculation.

     “The moral is that trust is ultimately about the expectation of rewards. Trust may be an admirable social trait, but it's ultimately rooted in a greedy calculation, emanating from our primal dopamine reward circuitry…”
    -  Jonah Lehrer in “Trust: The Frontal Cortex”  July 7 2009

    This definition of trust as “biology plus calculus” is part of the answer; but the “heart” of the definition can be found in the literature of conflict resolution theory where “real world” trust in another is grounded in the evaluation of their ability and integrity (early in the relationship) and benevolence (over the longer term).

    • Ability: Defined by knowledge and competency. The more one has of these, the more likely a trust level is to grow.
    • Integrity: Defined by adherence to principles that are essential to the “trustor.” This is demonstrated by consistency over a period of time accompanied by the alignment of word and deed.
    • Benevolence: Defined by observation of the others concern of our welfare (or at least that they won’t work against it). Open communications and shared control are the key indicating behaviors.

    Additionally, trust is not a final destination.  Trust is a continuum of stages and levels, and over time, behaviors and levels of resiliency change.

    Early “congnitively” (ability + integrity) driven stages of trust are framed by a need for predictability and reliability.  Trust is built at this stage by demonstrating:

    • Competent performance
    • Predictable and consistent behavior
    • Accurate and open communication
    • Shared and delegated control
    • Mutual concern

    At later stages along the trust continuum, when mutual identification has occurred, and benevolence is forming via the parties “internalizing” each other’s desires and intentions, trust is further solidified through:

    • Common identity (we vs. me)
    • Co-location (sharing the same space)
    • Joint goals and product creation (make and contribute to things that define commonality)
    • Shared values and emotions (recognizing contributions and demonstrating confidence)


    Trust in the World of Media
    Given these models of trust-building, how do we see trust built in the media world - for individuals as well as business entities?  Some thoughts and examples follow.

     

    Walter Cronkite: During the heyday of CBS News in the 1970s and 1980s he was often cited in opinion polls as "the most trusted man in America.” But he did not come on the scene as “trusted.”  He had to earn it, obviously in a less fragmented media world than today.  Nonetheless, he built trust over decades of work beginning with reporting from WW II, constantly displaying ability and integrity (early stage trust builders).  One might say with the Kennedy assassination announcement and later with the moon landing, that he entered the more advanced stage of trust (benevolence) fueled by the common identity with the American people he displayed on camera and the clear sharing of values, emotions and experiences. Given the lack of media competition that existed during the prime of his career, and the longevity of his career, it is doubtful that this trust level could be duplicated again.


    Oprah Winfrey:  Oprah Winfrey is often cited as one of the most trusted Lighthouse Brands that is also a Market Leader in Media.  Like Cronkite, she has built her trust quotient over time (The Oprah Winfrey Show has more than a 20 year history) by demonstrating ability and integrity (early phase trust), and also reaching the more advanced solidified trust levels (benevolence) with her audience though a mutual identification against a variety of:

      “…monsters she sees threatening her chosen community …  notably domestic violence, child abuse, and weight loss and self-esteem issues among women. Oprah is not a Goliath, both because she is smaller and visibly vulnerable to these larger monsters in the eyes of her community, and also because she uses all her strength and size to fight them on her community’s behalf.  And her community eternally loves her for it. ”
    - (Eating the Big Fish p. 301)

    Separated by generations, Oprah and Cronkite are alike in the depth of their advanced trust level with their particular audiences, in large part because of their ability to express vulnerability (shared emotion) while at the same time exuding competence and connection. Cronkite tearing up over Kennedy and expressing amazement and wonder at the lunar landing; Oprah sharing personal struggles over her weight, causes, and friendships.


    Jon Stewart: An August 2008 New York Times story asked: "Is Jon Stewart the most trusted man in America?” and a July 2009 Time Magazine Poll answered “Yes” with 44% choosing him as “America’s most trusted newscaster” in the post Cronkite era. His period of trust building is half that of Oprah’s (hosting The Daily Show on Comedy Central since 1999) and perhaps one quarter of Cronkite’s years (between the 1930s-1970s), but he has had the accelerant of the digital space.  And it’s tough to measure comparable size of  “trusted influence” for all three from various combos of TV  and Web audience numbers. It’s also interesting that in this particular time period, Stewart is the most trusted man who has built a persona of not trusting anyone. (And for that, we trust him even more.) Still, in his shows he consistently exhibits the trust building characteristics of ability, integrity and his own brand of benevolence (to his audience/community, not necessarily to his interviewees).


    CNN: CNN has a slogan: “The Most Trusted Name in News."  They gave it to themselves; no one “conferred” it on them as in the case of Cronkite.   As an organization, I can’t say that they pass the trust sniff test.  There are a lot of things I personally like about CNN, but the sometimes constant droning repetition by some of their news personalities of their various catch phrases such as “the best political team on television” serves to dilute not only any truth metric earned by the enterprise, but that of deserving individual members.  You can’t claim trust, you have to earn it from others.

    (3) Trust in Digital vs Real World

    Is building trust in digital media space different than building it in the real or broadcast worlds?

    Participation in digital world communities and platforms can accelerate the speed and reach of the trust metric, but the underlying human reasons for earning (and maintaining) trust are the same: ability, integrity and benevolence.  While the Web speeds breaking stories and content memes around the world, it can also provide equal acceleration to mistakes and humiliation. Self, as well as group, correction then have to follow with equal speed.

    One of the mistakes that many make in terms of trust and digital space is that just because messages can be sent instantaneously, that trust can be developed and exploited just as fast.  Not true – this violates the human side of trust development and the nature of the trust continuum.  Just as in the physical world, in digital space, you need to create significant shared value before you ever ask for any of it back.

    “Consider it (trust building) tending a farm of potential versus hunting for the short term ... in this wired world of digital communities and deep long-tailed niches, humanity over IP is the protocol…”
    - Chris Brogan and Julien Smith in the eBook “Trust Economies.”

    (4) Exporting Trust Across Media and Communities

    Can a "trust metric" developed in one digital space be "exported" into other media areas, like TV? (or visa versa)  - thus making one a potential talent development source for the other.

    I propose that trust is more defined by the relevant community/audience than the particular media platform.  If the community is engaged across multiple media platforms, trust and the person who has earned it has the potential to transfer across them (other economic and access barriers not withstanding).  There aren’t a lot of examples yet in terms of trust + personality transfer.  And it’s unclear to me yet if that’s a result of many online trust building tools and communities are still relatively “young” OR if the barriers of “old media” at this time neglect the trust quotient from other media, even if it would be to their own benefit.  More exploration on this later, but for now, two examples: Some examples of online to TV trust/personality migration: 

    Ana Marie Cox (@anamariecox): Started in the blogosphere at places such as Wonkette; became known for her interesting and personally very transparent fundraising activities while covering McCain in the 2008 election. Now Air America’s national correspondent and a frequent guest and fill-in host on The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC.

    Joan Walsh of Salon.com (@joanwalsh): Editor at Salon.com and now a frequent knowledgeable commentator on both Hardball and The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC.  She cites as important in maintaining trust and credibility across: “A record of accuracy in what’s important, regardless of what you’re doing; correcting mistakes when you make them … and not speaking outside your area of expertise.”  Her view of online media: “It's built with attention to accuracy, with mechanisms for rapid self-correction as well as dialogue with audience.”  Seems to me that’s a pretty clear alignment with the ability, integrity  and benevolence (audience dialogue) measures of the trust equation.

    Trust Lessons

    Trust is not a luxury; nor is it something that can be immediately purchased.  Earned over time based on specific demonstrated behaviors that, at a basic level, are the same in the real world as in the digital world – ability, integrity and benevolence – it is the currency that enables influence and attention acquisition in a time starved world.   And that’s very valuable stuff in the world of media.  It will be interesting to see if the growing trust building and distribution platforms in digital space will find the cracks in the walls surrounding traditional media to enable more breakthroughs of talent and opinion.  Seems like fertile ground to me. Media companies and trust agents, what do you think?  Egv_tiny_blogicon

    July 07, 2009

    Brand Identity Is More Than Image - The Case for Product Informed by Brand Truth

    EgvBrandIdentityCircle

    Click for larger image.

    Brand Identity and Product Model for a Media Company

      

    Identity is not just image.  Not even in the world of media companies.

    Brand Identity goes far beyond a company’s logo and tagline. It is the unique expression of a deep belief system that must live at the heart of everything that emanates from and around a brand entity, manifesting itself not just in what are considered creative marketing communications conventions, but just as (if not more) importantly, in the essence of the product experience the brand delivers. Product naturally and deeply infused with brand identity innately conveys differences that are immediately experienced and observable (no product data sheet required). They are noticed even when you’re not looking for them. What I’m talking about is NOT a logo branded on an object, but the user’s (direct) product experience itself.

    Everything in the brand ecosystem – from what it says to what it does - should be thought of as a potential medium upon which brand identity is insistently and consistently embedded. It’s core to the DNA. Identity remains constant, while a particular medium and its implications may change with time and place.

    When brand identity and product truth are in alignment, there is an opportunity to create not just product satisfaction, but enthusiasm - to outperform the competition, over deliver on expectations, and even dare to surprise (in a good way) and delight the user community.

    What is Product for Media Companies?

    We often think of product in very simple terms (a car, a shampoo, a camera, a vacation destination) and models (only what the company creates that is obvious to the consumer) that miss much of the essence of 21st century product experience. For purposes of this post, product most broadly defined for a digital media company (or traditional media company with significant digital presence) includes its media content (text, video, photos), technology platforms, unique experience applications and capabilities, and its “user” community. These represented by 3 of the 6 areas in the outer ring of the model.

    The Model

    This model of brand identity is an extension of one first introduced in an April 3 post in this blog. This is a framework in which brand identity is at the heart, informing the surrounding ecosystems of communications audiences (ring 2) and vehicles (ring 3), as well as all the implicit and explicit ways that identity should manifest in the tactical aspects of the business (outer ring) – from product to content to monetization and partnership strategies to personality. This post focuses on the newly added outer ring.  The details of the rest of the model are at the original post, but briefly here:

    Center: Brand identity defines what you stand for, as well as what you stand against.  More than a tagline; it should inform, and be in the DNA, of everything in the rest of the model.

    Second Ring:  The “audience” ecosystem is comprised of the various groups with which the brand communicates and which will inevitably communicate back.  (The medium is about conversation, not just broadcast.)  For each of these, brand identity manifests in a unique positioning statement and communications architecture.

    Third Ring: This is the portfolio of communications vehicles (both digital and real world) that will be relevant for different members of the “audience” ecosystem at different points in time. Brand identity drives their strategic plan and creative execution.

    Fourth Ring: For Challenger Brands in particular, brand identity must manifest in all areas of the business, beyond the traditional creative venue of marketing communications (ring 3). These include product experience (product, content and community), business relationships (revenue generation and audience building), and the nature of the brand’s personality and greater connection to the world at large.  These are represented as discreet elements in the model for purposes of discussion, but obviously influence each other greatly in the real world (e.g. Content: accessibility impacts Audience: engagement.)  All of these elements also have unique relationships with the various members of the “audience/user”’ ecosystem.

    Brand Identity and the Arena of Product

    Products have just as much opportunity to touch people emotionally as does a marketing campaign. Product is often thought of as pragmatic and not creative, yet it can be (and should be) just as creative and "emotional" an expression of the brand identity as any marketing communications campaign.

    For media companies, content is what has traditionally been first thought of as the core of the “product” offering. For today's robust media company, it is but one third of the product trifecta, with product platform and community providing the "context for the content", rounding out a media company's product offering. So how might we think of the relationship between brand identity and these three components of product?

    (1) Content:
    How does brand identity inform decisions about the design and production, timeliness, location and sharing nature of the content?

    Design/production values and accessibility: Does the brand identity demand a polished Hollywood look , or something more of the order of garage or homemade?  Is production solely from professional sources, consumer generated or a curated mix of the two?

    Timeliness vs Quality Tradeoff: Where along the continuum of "content that reflects the most current moment" to "in-depth thoughtful production" does the brand identity determine for the media mix? In the online world, where immediacy is possible, the decision has to be made about what expectation to set.  And the closer to the immediacy end of the spectrum, traditional quality measures may decline.  However, "immediacy" in and of itself may be a new measure of online content quality.

    Distribution/Location: Different distribution locations provide different opportunities for discovery and also context for content, and context of media is often as critical as the nature of the content itself. Does the brand identity reflect a philosophy of a controlled walled garden, a free range system where search and discovery are critical, or somewhere in between?

    Sharability: Does the brand reflect an attitude of open sharing or one of "close to the vest?" And is sharing defined as inside the brand community or into any possible group.  Again, in the online world, the power of the passed link (to content) is undeniable in building a brand's power.


    (2) Product Platform: How does brand identity inform the product platform specification, execution and evolution?

    Convenience/Ease of Use/Speed: What guidance does the brand identity provide in relationship to setting priorities and making tough development calls in relationship to the ease of user access (convenience of search and discovery), to ease of use (once product/content is accessed), to speed of use (how product/content performs/responds in reaction to user's actions)?

    Performance: Thinking about product performance now needs to go beyond the functionality and industry benchmark metrics touted in the worlds of industrial design and high tech. Both the left (logical/analytical) and right (creative/emotional) sides of the user's brain must be seen as equally important.  What does the brand identity say about how the user should feel when engaging with, using or watching/reading the "product?"

    Engagement Experience: Is all engagement "deliberately planned" or is there room for "spontaneous engagement" through discovery, recommendation or other means? Does the product treat users as audience, participants or co-creators?  What other objects or experiences need to surround the core product?

    Scalability: Does brand identity indicate a boutique audience or one of potential global dimensions? How does that impact plans for scalability of platform, content, audience and interaction?


    (3) Community and Participation: How does brand identity inform the nature of the desired relationship with the "user" communities to the product platform and its content?

    Types and Varieties of Engagement Opportunities: Communities contribute to, but rarely take over (hijack), the manifestation of brand identity. They congregate around brand identity.  The levels of content engagement that are provided and enabled by a brand will define, in large part, the extent to which the users/audience will co-create and co-define the product.

    Levels of Interaction: Brand identity reflects an understanding of "audience or user" and their predisposition to engage in certain online media behaviors.  The group's technographic profile should guide the level of complexity and intent of online experiences  - understanding when, where and for whom enabling creating, curating, commenting, or sharing of content is important.

    Ability to Personalize: Personalization of product may be one of the deepest forms of engagement one can have with brand identity. Providing a platform or experience upon which one can put their own unique stamp is powerful; and pride in that personalization promotes sharing. Enough said.

    Lessons Learned

    Brand identity needs to be as much a part of the core DNA of product as it is for marketing communications. Both are  physical manifestations of how the media brand wants to attract and interact with its users/audience.

    Brand identity and product truth are inextricable interlinked. They must be if a media brand is to be successful.  And in a Web 2.0 world, product truth becomes concrete in a product experience that is shared equally by the content, product platform (technology and experiences) and the communities that surround them.

    For a media company, the question will then be to make wise choices as how to best prioritize resources against that which comprises product: content, platform and surrounding community - deciding in which cases brand identity suggests performance "at industry levels" and where it demands exceptional commitment to excellence and user/audience delight. Egv_tiny_blogicon


    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.) 

       

     

     

    April 19, 2009

    Ashton Kutcher's Billboard - Possibilities Beyond Celebrity for the Future of Broadcasted or Public Social Media

    Twitterashtonpicframed

    One of the 1,133 digital billboards provided pro bono by Lamar Advertising in the race to a million followers against CNN. 

         -  From a story in Advertising Age


    If you work in the social media space or are a CNN or Oprah viewer, it was nearly impossible to not know about the "race to a million followers" on Twitter last week between celebrity/entrepreneur Ashton Kutcher (@aplusk) and CNN's newly acquired account (@cnnbrk).  Kutcher started the challenge slightly trailing CNN, but used YouTube-distributed videos and calling on his more engaged social media followers to surpass Larry King/CNN's cable TV promo efforts. The "celebrity" facts: Kutcher passed the million mark first and appeared on Oprah (@oprah) to be crowned "king of Twitter."

    But what else might this mini-digital duel reveal beyond the obvious celebrity vanity stories and the growing importance of social media bylines?

    Benefit for social ventures and charities

    Consider that as part of the challenge, the winner agreed to donate 10,000 mosquito nets (the loser 1,000 nets) to April 25th’s 2nd annual World Malaria Day. That means 1,000s of people will have additional protection against a disease that threatens 40% of the world's population and  infects 500 million people a year. And Twitter is full of "tweets" about additional donations coming in from everyday people as a result of the awareness brought about by the race and subsequent interviews.  That's a win.

    Other celebrities including Hugh Jackman (@RealHughJackman) and social entrepreneurs have been using the platform as well to engage an audience predisposed to quickly responding to and sharing information.

    Near future traditional/digital media mashups

    Let's go back to the digital billboards at the beginning of this post.  Not sure in terms of any measurement that might exist what they contributed to Kutcher's tally.  But the more important aspects to consider are two fold:

    (1)  Since the billboards are digital and connected to a network, the message/creative could be programmed and distributed (and theoretically updated/changed) nearly instantaneously to the 1,000+ screens.  No printing turn around time.  No guys on scaffolds with buckets of glue. The content was nearly immediate/real-time.

    (2) Now what if (for safety's and reading time's sake) that the screens had been indoors, like those we see at Starbucks, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, etc. AND that the screen network's application set was sophisticated enough to take both the simple "old school" billboard message and combine it with real-time information of interest via a feed. On the simple end this could just be a tally of number of followers updating, perhaps with an additional message encouraging peple to join in via their cell phones while they were waiting in line.  Something more complex would be a real-time "curated" feed overlay to the screen of the relevant "tweets" about both the "million follower race" as well as information about Kutcher's malaria cause.

    All of the pieces to do this today exist.  If you look online at applications written off the Twitter API like Glam Media's Tinker or similar Twitter parsing/aggregation apps from Federated Media like ExecuTweets, you get a sense of what is possible through some design and then integration of an RSS feed into a public digital screen.

    Below is an example of what the live Tinker feed looked like this morning for Ashton Kutcher.  Imagine what an "indoor billboard" at a coffee shop or train station might look like with the main visual of the billboard at the beginning of this post,  with an overlay in the lower horizontal part of the screen of the Tinker Twitter stream when the race was still on.


    TinkerKutcherStreamFramed  

    Other possibilities? 

    Here's one. Given that Earth Day is this week - what about a brand doing an Earth Day promo with inspiring photos (professional images and real-time consumer photos) cycling through the screen and relevant tweets of what people were doing that day to help their local environmental efforts, as well as links to activities people could join, appearing simultaneously along the bottom of the screen. Egv_tiny_blogicon



    April 06, 2009

    Is This Advertising?

    IsThisAdertising1

    "Every advertisement should be thought of as a contribution to the complex symbol which is the brand image."

    -  David Ogilvy


    In this post, three categories of objects are considered: in public spaces, online, and even those that are purchased. Which of these do you consider to be advertising if we consider the following as guidelines? 

    1. Brand image lives in people's minds as a result of their direct and indirect (through media and other people) experience with the product or company.
    2. Advertising is a form of communication that typically attempts to persuade potential customers to purchase or to consume more of a particular brand of product or service.
    3. Advertising provides some level of "experience" with the product before you buy it.
    4. Advertising is a paid medium; you have to pay to place it in the real world or digitally.


    Objects Found In Public Spaces

    Nike Logoed Shirt: If an athlete is wearing it as part of a paid endorsement, then it's advertising.  But what about when your favorite trainer or running buddy is wearing it?

    iPod/iPhone White Ear Buds: In the billboard, TV and print ads, well, it's advertising.  What about the dozens of times a day you see those white ear buds coming down the street? You know what the product is without even seeing it.

    Starbucks InStore Music Screen: In about 600 Starbucks stores in the US, there are flat panel screens that provide information on the music that is currently playing, and to my knowledge, not paid for by the music companies or artists.  But doesn't it serve the other "non-paying" criteria of advertising, and couldn't it become that?  Easy to make happen since WiFi is right there with easy one click access to the iTunes store for downloads.

    Obama Poster: Post the election and pre-inauguration, Moveon.org raised money by selling postcards and posters, as well as limited edition version ($500) signed Shepard Fairey posters.  In many a window in San Francisco.  Good promo for brand Obama, yet initiated and paid for by others.

    Planet Dog Sticker: Seen in the back window of many a station wagon, this sticker costs $2.  And for that you get to state your canine affiliation as well as promote someone else's brand of which you may or may not have purchased one of their toy products.

     

    IsThisAdvertising2

    Objects Found Online

    "Will It Blend?" YouTube Video: Well-known series of videos produced by the blender company that have pulverized anything from an iPhone to glow sticks, often at the request of fans.  Produced by the company with a "home-made" feel.  More than six million views.  Free distribution on YouTube and in many an article on "viral videos."  Blender sales conversion rate?

    Rachel Maddow Show Facebook Page: 50,000 fans to go along with over 200,000 followers on twitter.  Experience brand Maddow through notes, video links for the shows; as well as other stuff she likes that never makes it to broadcast.

    Twitter Page of Zappos CEO: More than 350,000 people can't be wrong.  And if sold one pair of shoes to each per year - that's millions.

    Hunch Public Beta Invite: Great "welcome" letter/FAQ from Caterina Fake gets you interested in and sharing the "brand" before it even does anything for you.  And your participation is actually critical to building the functionality and value of the product.

    HGTV Widget: Weeks on my Facebook profile page and I didn't win.  But did I think about HGTV each day that I logged in even though I wasn't watching cable ... yep.


    IsThisAdvertising3

    Objects That Are Purchased

    Whole Foods Shopping Bag: $2 to avoid paper bag shame and carry them into stores other than Whole Foods, even competitors. Sorry Mollie Stones.

    Kleenex/Hannah Montana: I am sure that money exchanged hands here to place image and logo of pop idol on tissue box -- but which way?  Brand Miley may well have more power than brand Kleenex, so cash may have gone upstream instead.

    "Unstuck" Book by Founder of SYP: A well written book on its own, but also a great promo vehicle for the SYP agency and great client pitch leave behind. Old school print version only; not on Kindle yet.

    Starbucks Cup (old version with "The Way I See It" quote): I loved the old "The Way I See It" quotes on the Starbucks cups from people like Keith Olbermann and Jeffrey Sachs.  Currently they're using quotes from "real" customers.  See me with my soy chai walking down the street may not be 'advertising,' but if the cup is on a talk show host's desk?

    What's The Point?

    Lots of other examples to be sure. That SmartCar or Aptera parked on a busy public street. Those custom Nike ID shoes my trainer wears with a "swoosh" color of his choosing. The Motorola logo on the headsets the coaches are wearing on the sidelines at the SuperBowl.  When I change the name (or some form thereof) of a company to a verb such as “tweeting” or "googling" and use it in an email, blog post or magazine article. Other ideas?

    Lesson Learned: Not everything that builds brands is paid advertising. Sometimes the conduit of the message is free or people might even pay for the message itself. Egv_tiny_blogicon


    (Note: Thanks to friend Michael Markman for suggesting the iPod ear buds and SmartCar as examples in this post.)
       

    April 03, 2009

    Digital World Meet The Real World - An Audience And Media Model

    MediaStrategyCircles

    This is a simple model for looking at the meta choice relationships for a brand/person/program between its audiences and communities, response goals (emotional and intellectual), and engagement/distribution platforms.


    Center Circle: This is the initial source or core entity which can be a person, brand, network, program, movement, etc.


    Second Ring: With your core subject area at heart, this is about the identification of the high level breakdown of the audiences/communities that are important for you to engage with.  This may include both individuals or organizations that already know of you or do not know of you, who are your advocates, detractors or are passive bystanders.  If what is at the center is completely new, then it is about finding communities "talking about" (meaning anything from micro-blogging and ratings to full blown blog posts or videos) relevant related subject areas.

    This is the time for some "digital anthropology" of listening and learning before engaging appropriately. It's also time for finding the influencers, ambassadors and action-oriented conversation leaders and media creators through observation, as well as through a variety of social media influencer tools such as those from social marketing companies like BuzzLogic, and new conversation comment trackers (the class of startups such as SparkWords, Kutano, Reframe It may evolve into this).  A careful parsing of popular vs influential individuals is in order, segmented by content area.


    Third Ring: What is the engagement result for which you are striving - both emotional and intellectual?  What's the tone in which you are going to deliver and then what's your expectation back from the audience/community?  And are you "prepared" for the unexpected?  Data may be important, but it is passion that drives things forward.


    Fourth Ring: This is where one needs to become wary of the obsession with the newest "shiny geeky object," particularly in digital space.  There are literally dozens of distribution/engagement categories with hundreds of companies and technologies populating them.  It's easy to get swept up in the "Twitter-verse," and forget that what's right for one is not for another. That said, a healthy dose of clearly defined experimentation is always important.

    It is critical to link thinking about the fourth ring "distribution/engagement categories" to a traditional and technology-based understanding of second ring "audience/community." In "Groundswell," Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff coined the term “Technographics”  - as similar to demographics and psychographics, but with a focus on developing profiles based on technology behaviors. Before a mixture of real world and digital world distribution/engagement models can be selected, it is critical to know the distribution model of the people with whom you are hoping to engage. Are they at one end of the spectrum as creators who are active bloggers or video creators/uploaders; somewhere in the middle where the might comment or rate on content created by others; or are they passive readers or viewers who don’t leave a “visible” footprint. One can see how critical this understanding is if you look at an example of launching a consumer generated media campaign to an  audience with a technology profile that is dominated by raters/commenters.  Not much is going to happen in that case as the activity does not translate to the audience, even if the subject area is relevant.


    Fifth Ring: There is incredible power to be found at the intersection of the Digital (Web) and Real (Live) Worlds. Life is lived in both places.  No matter how much the Web has evolved, you can't (yet) touch objects as you can in the real world to create powerful sensory physical experiences and memories.  And nothing in the real world can reach the potential of the Internet for distribution and democratized exchange that pierces geographic, economic and social borders.  Think of the power where one can feed the other in relationship with appropriate audiences/communities. Egv_tiny_blogicon


    The media model in this post is not about the interrelationship between a particular selection of  real/digital distribution and engagement vehicles; it is about the high level portfolio of choices.  There is an earlier post with an example of interrelated digital and real world distribution/engagement vehicles for a theoretical campaign.


    February 25, 2009

    Nike Stores, Digital Screens and the Nike+ Application: An Opportunity In Waiting For In-Store Social Media and Influencer Building?

    Nikestore  
    Multiple digital screens with rotating images and videos form the visual gauntlet at the entrance to the Nike Store Downtown San Francisco. (photo taken with iPhone)

    Before one even sees a single shoe or pair of running sweats at the Temple of Nike in downtown San Francisco, one takes a ride up the escalator and passes by a series of programmed digital screens that are also peppered throughout the store.  Images of bodies in motion artfully shot along with select Web screens and animations of the Nike+ application speak to the brand story of aspiration and achievement.  One literally travels from the outside world to the athletic world enabled by Nike.

    On Wednesday nights the store is full of runners, members of the Nike Running Club.  They are “the faithful,” armed with iPods sequestered in arm bands and Nike+ sensors tucked into shoes.  Before heading out on a weekly group training run, they browse new merchandise and promos specially selected and staged for the evening. (Last week’s merchandise was Livestrong shirts to coincide with Lance Armstrong’s participation in the Tour of California race.)

    It’s all a great idea – bring the influencers together who use and wear the brand frequently in public, give them a group activity (that syncs with the core brand story) to do in significant numbers, and highlight new products they might like.

    So what’s missing? 

    Web meets (live) World is being overlooked. There’s a unique opportunity to engage these people even further with each other and the brand – powered by the technology they are already “wearing” and the screens and backend networks (video distribution and retail computer systems) already in the store environment surrounding them.

    Consider This : An opt-in real-time public social media system with retail benefits and bragging rights

    A whole host of new opportunities for engagement are made possible if 2-way connections can be established between:

    1. The cell phones* of the runners with an intelligent network serving the video to the screens (as opposed to video coming from a DVD)
    2. The cell phones* of the runners with the retail transactions network (cash registers)
    3. The network serving the screen video to the network that handles the retail transactions at the cash register
    4. Video screens in multiple (a least 2) Nike Store locations holding running events at the same time

    (* assuming iPhone type  devices and or docked/synced iPod minis)


    The Schematic:

    NikeTechConnections  

    If the above technology is in place, and we enable individuals to opt-in as public/in-store social media participants, some programming/engagement opportunities might be:

    1. If a runner has achieved some significant mileage milestone with their Nike+ (e.g. the 4,000 mile mark), and they come into the store for a run night or make a purchase, their mileage achievement appears on the in-store screen network or on a specific set of screens designated for this purpose (cell phone or retail network sends info to the video network) and they are also given the ability (a digital coupon/reminder) to purchase (dare we say “get for free?”) a limited edition mileage achievement shirt (retail network to phone)

    2.  On run nights, teams can issue challenges in-store to those in the same store, or in another store with a run happening at the same time.  Winning team gets on-screen in-store bragging rights, and a discount for purchases that night or an equivalent value that could be donated to their “running charity.”  (This involves syncing of team iPods in-store, aggregating those numbers, comparing to other teams, and visually displaying score results on the screens in store, or between stores.)  This could also be an aggregate competition, running many weeks in the case of earning dollars for a running charity.

    3.  When runners come into the store for the run night, they can send their “in-store digital identity/opt-in registration” information to the screens and the screens visual “slide show” during the pre-run shopping time is information (run stats, photos etc that have been pre-approved) of the actual in-store runners/participants.

    There are many other “public and personalized social media” experiences, as well as “professionally produced” programming concepts that are possible when we can connect the customer devices and networks in the Nike Store.    I am not advocating that this be done just because it can or is trendy because we are using the word “social media.”  I believe the experiences in this environment must give “the participant” at least one of the following, as did the three previously outlined examples.

    1. Help me – have a better day/run, live a better/healthier life, be more effective, make better decisions
    2. Surprise me – by gifting me, recognizing my achievement, or showing me something I didn’t know that will contribute to my cocktail conversation factor
    3. Amuse me – by giving me something to do while I am waiting in line or for the run – trivia, puzzles, games – and if I like it a lot, let me quickly download or bookmark it on my portable device
    4. Inform me –about a product or service, my community, the world – of which I have particular interest; provide quick information with the ability to mobile bookmark and learn more later without having to search for a piece of paper to write down a url
    5. Connect me – to people, events, causes that I can participate in; locally and also globally; one time or on a continual basis

    With these premises in mind, the appropriate 2-way technology in place, and the brand story clear – great Web meets (live) World personal experiences can be delivered on a meaningful and continual basis at the same time that: a brand is being built, promos are being offered, sales are uplifted, environments enhanced, ad dollars earned and impressions made, customers amused while they stand in line.  Seems like a win to me. Favicon-short


    February 20, 2009

    Digital Screens Are Not Billboards

    Starbucks

    Digital Screen at Starbucks showing song currently playing in-store

    They’re both rectangular, have images and text designed to catch your attention in a short period of time, and are built around a business premise of taking messages to places that people physically (vs. digitally) frequent.  But that is where the similarity ends… or rather where it should end.

    Burma Shave and Route 66

    Billboards have been around in some form since the mid 1800’s when Jared Bell began making 9’ x 6’ posters for the circus in the US.  Their numbers expanded in the early 1900’s when the Model T was introduced and more people took to the highways. Advertisers quickly saw the miles and miles of open road as an untapped promotional landscape, with cheap potential for increasing consumer reach. Billboards even began to achieve pop culture status when the 6 panel Burma Shave billboards began lining highways such as Route 66 in the mid 1920’s. 

    (Does this not sound a lot like the Internet of late 1990s/early 2000’s?  And I won’t pull the cheap shot of referring to the … ah …. “Information Superhighway.”)

    However, billboards are not, nor have they always been, welcome additions to the visual environment. (Kind of like the way I feel about pop-ups that are still around and clutter my screen on occasion.) Many cities in the US tried to ban them as early as 1909 - “visual pollution”; and they are currently banned in 4 states (Vermont, Alaska, Hawaii and Maine), as well as in some 1500 individual towns.

    Starbucks2

    (These billboards and others can be seen at Toxel.com.)

    So when do billboards work?  When they move away from some of the “in-the-box” thinking and premises of the media and embrace directions such as:

    1. Breaking the old 2D language: Adidas (top right) and Mini Cooper (middle right).
    2. Evolving the image (content) over time: Tide (bottom right).
    3. Integrating visual elements into the surrounding environment outside the billboard space: “Kill Bill” movie promo (lower left).
    4. Blending into the environment rather than encroaching on it:  Nike and its “gate billboard” at the opening of a park and running/nature path (middle left).

    Evolution or De-volution?

    So where are we now in the timeline of intelligent digital screens that are part of out-of-home networks?  How might they “break out of the frame” and “integrate with the surrounding landscape?” What are the rules they need to construct new creative/interaction models so they are not relegated to the role of disregarded chorus member in what some might call the growing cacophony of screen pollution.

    Friend or Foe? Networked Digital Out-of-Home Advertising or Place-Based Media

    Some might say that the whole host and variety of digital screens that we now see populating coffee and bagel shops, Nike stores, the window displays of brokers, airport terminals, and even doctors offices are the new millennium equivalent of twentieth century billboards, and with that they also bring with them the potential visual downside if misused. Like the drivers of the Model-T’s, out-of-home screens, are focused on marketing to consumers when they are 'on the go' – but now it is in high frequency foot traffic public places, in-transit queues, waiting lines and in specific commercial locations (such as in a retail venue).

     “In fact, billboards are not just for roadsides anymore. Advertisements have been popping up more frequently inside subways and buses, shopping malls, office buildings and airports.” 

    - Jan. 2007 New York Times

    But most are getting it all wrong.  Digital screens too often are turning into Route 66 billboards or an homage to “Blade Runner” with all of the associated problems in terms of consumer engagement or downright disdain because of ill conceived approaches and media that brings no personal value to viewers. With that, the opportunity could be lost to foster and grow a truly unique form of communication and connection.

    Ported Static Ads vs. Dynamic and Personally Relevant Social Media Opportunity

    We will concede that digital signs (even when approached like billboards) can offer what the industry may see as benefits over traditional static signage in that, depending on the intelligence of the backend network sending content to the screen:

    1. content can be updated and exchanged more easily, focusing on the day’s most important promotional item or message,
    2. content can be hyper-local parsing by zip code or other micro-targeting data,
    3. content can adapt to the time of day and audience profile with different programming cycles for different time-of-day experiences.

    Unfortunately, the creative of many digital screens is populated by directly ported print ads or banners, TV ads and promo videos that do not take the full potential of the medium into consideration, and other creative that looks as if it was almost directly pulled from the Web, because … well … “It’s kind of interactive.”  Those translations fall short of what the medium (I am assuming there is an intelligent backend here) could be if it took but a few premises into consideration.  If we use the earlier model of the 4 points of “out of box” thinking around interesting and engaging billboards and apply it to networked digital screens:

    1.    Breaking the old 2D language: The breaking out of the “self-contained rectangular frame” is in the potential for 2-way connection with people via their mobile devices.  This can include information that is downloaded (store and refer to later), information that is uploaded (consumer generated content) and two-way engagement (play). Examples might include: games and puzzles, download coupons and offers, bookmarking urls and downloading pdfs that relate to more info about on-screen content, consumers uploading content (a survey, comments, shout-outs, photo experiences) to the screen system on the spot, customers being identified through an integration of the digital screen and retail systems to display pre-approved personal information or offers.

    2.    Evolving content over time:  By creating programs, events and initiatives, screen network providers, the venues that host them, or major brands that “buy space/time” on them – can create integrated campaigns in which content that people/customers actively create, contribute and comment on is an important element.  This provides ever-fresh and personally relevant screen programming that with more sophisticated two-way and database capabilities/applications could be set to trigger screens when the person who contributed or commented on the content arrives at the venue and activates a mobile device and their ”digital opt-in signature.”

    3.    Integrating visual elements into the surrounding environment outside the screen: A website and mobile device outside the individual screens or screen network defines the person’s “surrounding environment” in this case.  Screens should not be seen as isolated uni-directional islands blaring propoganda.  Appropriate social media programs (per #2 above) means enabling people to create and upload, as well as download and experience – media related to the (perhaps shorter form) content of the out-of-home digital network screen on their own personal screens, tethered or mobile.

    4.    Blending into the environment rather than encroaching on it: Simply said, the look and feel (UI) and nature of the content of screen programming needs to fit seamlessly into its physical environment and feel a part of it, not at odds with it.  It must deliver on the customers’ expectations of what any experience in that environment should be, in alignment with brand image, without being obtrusive or invasive.

    In essence, screen programming needs to embrace and reflect the surrounding brand environment in which it exists (in creative execution and content) and be an integrated part of the kind of experience customers expect (even require) in that environment.  The programming experience needs to be personally meaningful to individuals at the point of physical delivery, but also provide information that can be taken with them when they leave the physical location (via their mobile device) or sent to their computer at home (mobile to screen while at the venue) for later engagement.

    So screens are NOT billboards. Simple concept.  Takes some thinking and risk-taking (technically, creatively and in partnerships) to execute. Favicon-short

    (Disclosure: Danoo, a Kleiner Perkins backed startup in the out-of-home digital network space is a client.)

     

    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

     

      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.