Last Thursday, Noah invited me to the panel "Reboot: A Digital Conversation", organized by Hall & Partners here in NYC. I was happy to attend. I am less happy to report now that, aside of what Noah was saying, I have a very dim recollection of what others wanted to communicate. Simply put, I had no idea what they were talking about. Sure thing, they were discussing very specific questions, like "what is web doing for my brand?", but my main takeaway was the one of the major confusion on what digital communication is, what it should be, what does have to do with brands. While Noah was trying to (correctly) observe that web is about just playing with things, testing them out, creating something and then seeing if it works in a trial and error mode, others seemed dead-set on discovering the secret essence of digital communication a.k.a. the ever evasive question of "what works?"
This event would be quite a forgettable one, but for some reason it made me think about the idea of "communicating" vs. "making". Those two are in fact inherently different approaches to the web that people in digital firms have compared to those who spent most of their professional life in traditional branding and started working in digital only later. Altho they may call the web a "platform" in reality they still view it as another communication channel. That is, there is still a prevalent belief that you can "go" to the web with your brand and try to colonize it. It means coming in with a specific idea or a campaign and then try to carefully control what happens (yes, a lot of people still want do that). Leila of the Naked Communications had a really good comment: she said that the more you do stuff online the less you are defined by one particular thing. Her analogy with a person wearing the same clothes over and over again (and thus being defined by that single outfit) was a great one - but unfortunately gravely misunderstood by most of the panelists. Her point was that you don't come in with a strong, solid, and ONE thing as a brand -- you have to try things out, recombine them (the clothes you have, to follow through on her example), take feedback (see what works) and continue doing so indefinitely. But these people were so obsessed on figuring out "the big idea" and thinking how to get things right the first time than they were missing out on everything else. Too bad.
p.s. for Matt Daniels: here's the paragraph that I deleted. On the web, you don't "promote" brands, you can only make things - and you never ever make them from scratch, you use what's already there. You connect things, amplify conversations, make something better/easier, and build upon stuff that people are already doing and that they care about. And you will not know what that is until you start doing it yourself.