I gave an interview to a French blog called Les Francs Publicitaires couple of moths back. It was a fun conversation, and my favorite question was to describe my job to Samuel's 9-year old brother. You don't know what you are really doing until you have to explain it to a child.
Strategy in creative agencies often isn’t taken seriously - and deservedly so. We aren’t doing it right. In a world that’s connected, open and interactive, strategy needs to be the same. Strategy isn't an isolated discipline or a tucked-away department that makes a cameo in the agency process by drafting a brand architecture or summarizing a competitive opportunity. It's a problem-solving approach and a methodology that can help companies grow. It can turn agencies into growth hackers for brands by pointing the way for their business in the emerging digital markets. To get into this value matchmaking game, we first need to expand what strategy (and strategists) must do.
The biggest professional insight of the past year was coming up with the Digital Design approach. It came from my experience of working with people who think of digital strategy only in terms of practices they are familiar with: engagement planning, communications planning, propagation planning, you name it. Nothing can be further from the rich and broad digital reinvention of the ways we do business and live our daily lives. I became convinced that more than a gap in knowledge, there’s a rift in values between those who understand digital and those who merely use it.
I realized it’s important to emphasize that digital insights need to be the hub of any solution and/or idea. Enter Digital Design. It’s an approach and methodology focused on solving problems in a way that improves human lives. It thinks of digital as a new source of value for both the business and the user. As an approach, Digital Design is behavior-first, collaborative, additive and evolving. It’s driven by making the world a more open, social and sustainable place. It's based on the fact that we've run out of time for solutions that are not sustainable, that hyper-consumption is a waste, and that we need a much more efficient economic activity. As a methodology, Digital Design is human-centered. It’s a set of tools and methods oriented towards creating and capturing economic value through helping people do things in a more playful, human, sensible and efficient way.
In practice, Digital Design informs strategy. The focus of strategy is on understanding problems, not enforcing a particular solution. Strategy's job is to outline the experience that connects the business and the user. Best strategies help solve problems by generating an idea on how to creatively improve human life. Best experiences are holistic: they grow business and bring value to users.
In theory, Digital Design draws on design thinking, business modeling, organizational analysis, sociology of innovation, systems thinking, complexity studies, experience design, behavioral economics, and cultural studies. Think of Digital Design as Design Thinking 2.0, updated for the dynamics of the digital world.
To bring Digital Design to life, I drafted a Digital Business Gameplan. It's a tool meant to help businesses identify new market opportunities in the digital space. I also made an overview of digital business in 2012. Coming up next are a Digital Design Curicullum and Digital Business Models. In my everyday work, I want to combine marketing and business ideas, new business modeling and revenue streams, and service design.
I had a chance to share my take on Digital Design with a lot of curious and interesting people in 2012. I was a panelist at a well-attended SxSW conversation this past March. Shortly afterward, I found myself in a good company of other keynotes at a Croatian advertising festival, IdejaX. And then, in September, I had an opportunity to realize how hard (and great) it is to guest-teach a graduate class at SVA. In December, I was again part of the fun crowd of IAB judges. Throughout the year, I had teamed up with the amazing Ale Lariu to teach Digital Strategy course. In between speaking and teaching and working, I put my thoughts in writing for Fast Company and also went back to contributing to AdAge. I plan to continue to make speaking and writing as part of my monthly routine. I look forward to teaching an online digital marketing course with MediaBistro in March.
I enter 2013 quite content. There's a lot to be done in the next year, but the past 12 months provided a solid ground for me to build off. I look forward to the fun and excitement of 2013. Wishing the same to you.
There's a flurry of reactions around Avis' purchase of Zipcar. The most daring of those proclaim how "sharing economy's entering mainstream." Wait, what? Let's get this straight. Zipcar is an hourly B2C rental car service, not a P2P collaborative consumption platform. There's nothing about it that screams sharing economy.
Zipcar's true innovation was the car rental model based on the insight that in the age where people buy music by the song, they'd probably want to rent a car by the hour. And they were right. Alas, while they were first, they were not the only one. Hertz On Demand is an hourly car rental platform launched to take advantage of the fact that increasing number of people value access to cars more than their ownership. And get this: Hertz on Demand is the same as Zipcar, but no one calls it sharing economy.
More important, however, is that Hertz On Demand has, and Zipcar doesn't, a giant fleet of vehicles and already established and profitable operation. That's where the Avis deal comes in for Zipcar. At the time of its acquisition, Zipcar's costs of maintaining its fleet are at about 65% of its total expenses, which is massive. Its operational costs are high. There's a frequent shortage of available vehicles. So, while Zipcar may be known as a leader of the hourly car rental category, in reality it's not. It's hard to compete with Hertz.
It's hard to compete with Hertz for Avis, too. Avis' On Location hourly rental service is tiny, focused on corporate renters and all around lame. It doesn't have convenient pickup locations and a substanital car fleet. So when faced with "build or buy" dilemma, Avis choose "buy" in order to remain competitive. Zipcar's acquisition will solve at least one of Avis' problems.
The conclusion is that Zipcar has created a market that has been consequently penetrated by more powerful entrants. To stay competitive, Zipcar had to become bigger. And it did.
There's nothing innovative about that, neither in economic nor in social terms. If you want to talk about real sharing economy, look at what Getaround, RelayRides, Whipcar, and Wheelz are doing. But no one's lining up to buy them, lest Steve Case. There's still a long way for P2P innovation to prove its profitability and penetrate mainstream - and for sharing economy to become a norm. When it does, it probably won't happen via acquisition.
"One prominent feature of information goods is that they have large fixed costs of production, and small variable costs of reproduction. Cost-based pricing makes little sense in this context; value-based pricing is much more appropriate. Different consumer may have radically different values for a particular information good, so techniques for differential pricing become very important."*
It's no wonder that traditional marketing and advertising don't work in digital space. Customers' perceptions of value of a product/service and their expectations of the value they'll gain are completely unrelated with the cost of creating that product/service. Companies' value proposition thus needs to be correlated closely with consumers' value perception. This value perception is shaped by Google-led commoditization of products/services, transparency of pricing, and social information - to a greater (much greater) extent than advertising. Key to success? Staying close to customer's perceptions and expectations of value. That's the path to sustainability; everything else has a short shelf life, literally and figuratively.
* From here.
Or, what Michael Porter learned the hard way. Great article on the demise of the Monitor Group. This part is my favorite:
"Why go through the hassle of actually designing and making better products and services, and offering steadily more value to customers and society, when the firm could simply position its business so that structural barriers ensured endless above-average profits? Why not call this trick “the discipline of strategy”? Why not announce that a company occupying a position within a sector that is well protected by structural barriers would have a “sustainable competitive advantage”?"
"The Airbnbs of the world are business manuals for companies to learn from and apply to their businesses. Forget Six Sigmas and Five P's. In a volatile environment, it's more important to have the agility necessary for incremental growth, a laser user focus and ability to view business through a problem-solving perspective. As digital-first companies grow and move up the value chain, their definitions of quality and value become the norm. With no barriers of entry left, big companies have no choice but adopt them."
The rest of my Ad Age article is here.
Companies seem frustratingly slow in using digital for innovation. The problem is they invariably think of digital as a value-add to their existing business. They'd rather spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on their online "presence" than invest in figuring out how digital opens up their revenue streams and transforms their value chains.
I drafted this table as a tool for brands to identify new value and growth opportunities in digital space. The four quadrants are, clockwise:
Addition: Making legacy business more valuable by using digital to add a new revenue stream to the core business. This means adding digital as a sales and marketing channel to brands' existing products/service marketing and sales. In this scenario, digital is considered as a value-add in the company's traditional value chain. Examples are Target, Walmart, Barnes&Noble e-commerce platforms.
Systems: Connecting products and services to create new value by assessing company's existing offerings and bundling them together via digital technology. Value that's created as the outcome is outside businesses' traditional value chain and counts as the new revenue source. Think Barnes&Noble Nook, American Express digital initiatives, Nike Fuelband.
Design: Customer-led business solutions are an incremental value-add as they make the existing products and services better from the end-user standpoint. They use laser user focus to serve their existing customers better and/or to overcome the current consumer barriers in the category. Examples are Patagonia, Simple.
Distruption: Disruptive solutions create a completely new value in the industry. Disruptive businesses have their own value chain, different from the one their industry's built around. Think AirBnB, Square.
Looking at this chart is clear that, more often than not, clients and agencies expect Disruption from digital, but are thinking of it only as Addition.
I wrote an article for Fast Company. Have a look.
This is something I wanted to do for a while. I made a little compilation of stuff that caught my eye this summer. Enjoy.
101 Spectacular Non-Ficton Stories Data Science is Just a Buzzword Search Insights Creative Insight of the Outsider The Perfected Self The Flea Bag How to Build Your Creative Confidence Joan Didion on Self-Respect Pinterest in the Purchase Funnel How 50 Big Companies Got Their Names The Spend Graph Jonathan Harris Rethinks Social Networking Boredom is Good for Your Creativity What Does It Mean To Be Simple? The Best Piece of Advice I Ever Got Weird Experiences Boost Creativity Risk Les Nouvelles The Origins of Creative Insight and Why You Need Grit A Visit to the Potty Lab Philosophy of Web Design Reverse Stanford Prison Experiment The Sill The Talks BuzzFeed's Strategy The Story of Enough Winners Keep Winning Luck vs. Skill Quitokeeto Empirics & Psychology Work, Life and Side Projects What's Mine Is Yours What Defines a Meme? Pictures of Millenials With Everything They Own Advertising is Hated and Failing Sara Cwynar
Image found here.
Slide 6: Temple Grandin says that she is a primarily visual thinker, and claims that words are her second language. She attributes her success as a livestock facility designer to her ability to recall detail, which is characteristic of her visual memory. Grandin compares her memory to full-length movies in her head that can be replayed at will, allowing her to notice small details. She is also able to view her memories using slightly different contexts by changing the positions of the lighting and shadows. Her insights into the minds of cattle has thought her to value the changes in details to which animals are particularly sensitive, and to use her visualization skills to design thoughtful and humane animal-handling equipment. While I know nothing about the cows, I am able to holistically approach the client challenge, and visualize the possible solutions.
Slide 7: Visual approach works great in digital, because it makes us think about solutions to clients’ problems in terms of systems and networks. It requires coming up with a more integrated approach that focuses on connections and relationships between brand and customers, communities, digital and physical, etc. We are challenged to simultaneously think of a creative idea and its execution, and to develop & evolve creative and strategy in parallel. This of course changes the nature of our agency process to become more non-linear, integrated, and interactive, and redefines how departments work together.
Slide 8: The way we often talk about digital world, we talk about it in terms of abstract disruption. The problem with talking about digital in connection to disruption is that is too massive, ephemeral, and hard to relate to. We end up talking about digital changes as if they have nothing - or little - to do with us and our work. They are viewed as something to talk & wonder about - but not something that we right now need to execute by.
Slide 9: To me, these conversations about “digital future” are incredibly boring and repetitive.
Slide 10: Digital world emerged some 15 years ago, at least. That was when the disruption happened. Now we are living in the world where digital and non-digital are indistinguishable. The same way no one says “electric iron” or “electric fridge”, today digital retail is interchangeable with retail, digital sport with sport, digital tourism with tourism, digital cooking with cooking, etc. Our world is digital world.
Slide 11: I like talking and thinking about are specific macro-trends that are disrupting businesses and culture in very specific, tangible, and measurable ways. Only by focusing on particular inflection points and breaks in business and marketing, we can really use the insights about what/how digital world really changed the way the industries (cultural industry included) operates. If we understand dynamic of these macro-trends, we will be able to use it in our brand and marketing strategy, thus effectively keeping our brands competitive.
Slide 12: Sharing economy revolves around having access to used and/or pre-owned goods. It’s based on a mutual trust between participants in a transaction, rather than the abstract market mechanism (price). It is a flexible system, as it nimbly provides supply based on the volume of demand through renting, trading, sharing, swapping, and bartering. Economic dynamic based on access removes the burden of ownership (costs of maintenance, storage, service, etc). At the same time, the access reshapes the markets in which brands compete in: they are competing not only with other marketers producing new goods and services but also with the all existing goods and services. For example, think AirBnb: it extends the hospitality/tourism markets to include all available rooms in the area (and not only hotel rooms). AirBnB effectively disrupts tourism industry by offering a cheaper, more convenient, more accessible and more fun version of hospitality service offerings.
Slide 13: We leave digital traces everywhere, from the moment we open the browser. Our likes, affinities, preferences, purchase habits and communication patterns are out there for all to see (and use). Aggregates of our individual behavioral patterns tell stories about wider social & cultural trends (think sharing, cooking, driving, running, shopping, etc). Brands, in particular, are rich repositories of all this data (just think big ecommerce platforms like Target, IKEA, JCrew, BestBuy or social shopping destinations like Svpply, Fab, Pinterest, etc). They can use all this wealth of data to tell a story about their customers, a wonderful, human, relevant story that can also be used as a bonus marketing message. This “consumer-based” story is a social object that’s easy to share, identify with, relate to and compare ourselves with (and that’s more interesting than any invented ad message).
Slide 14: Social information today is overlapping with price and it provides a powerful social context for consumer decision-making. We can now “calculate” the worth of a product or service based on whether it’s green, popular, worn by a celebrity, based on fair trade practices - i.e. based on everything that’s important to us. This sort of information has always been attached to products, but the thing is that we weren’t able to see it. Digital now makes all this information visible - and allows us consider all sorts of information aside of price - and It helps us make better, more informed, more social purchasing decisions.
Slide 15: When thinking about social influence, the best is to think of a forest fire metaphor. Whether or not the fire spreads doesn’t depend so much on the kind of the fire, but more on the density of trees in the forest, of how dry the forrest is, whether it rains or not, how close the trees are to each other, etc. The same is with social influence online: rather than investing money in a few celebrities, we are much better off if we spend that same money on the large number of “accidental influentials” (Duncan Watts’ term). Back to the forest metaphor: lighting a fire on a lot of trees makes it much more easier for the whole forest to burn, than lighting just one big tree. As Buzzfeed, The Awl, The Onion, Cheezburger Network, etc. have shown, people do like to share. The best strategy is then to aggregate a lot of people who like to share vs. a few celebrities who don’t particularly like to share, but would do it for money. Duncan calls this situation targeting “easily influenced people who influence other easily influenced people.” Those kind of individuals (professional sharers :) make content & memes spread much faster and wider than any pre-planned “viral” campaign.
Slide 16: This one is my favorite, because it requires doing a bit of a detective work. I stole the idea of looking for contradictions, inversions, coincidences and oddities from an innovation theorist (forgot the name). Contradictions mean simultaneous happening of two things at odds with each other, indicating a transformation of a certain trend. Oddities refer to out-of-ordinary occurrences that make us search beneath the surface or a trend or pattern. Inversions refer to unseen-before reversal in a trend’s dynamics. Coincidences are about concurrent appearance of distant and unrelated trends or patterns. Here are a few examples:
Contradictions: Millenials are 40% of the car market, but they are buying cars & driving less than any previous generation. Digital gadgets replaced cars as genY identity markers.
Oddities: Rapid growth of Instagram shows that this app is not only about taking photos and applying nostalgic filters. It’s about scratching some kind of storytelling itch among genY.
Inversions: There’s more than 40% of households in major American cities with just one occupant. This makes us accept urban tribes as a prevalent social unit.
Coincidences: Economic crisis happens simultaneously with an incredibly lively economic activity happening in peer-to-peer markets. Safe to say that the established economic logic is under a quiet but inevitable transformation.
Slide 17: The five macro-trends that I selected have the biggest impact on marketing: they bend its practices and create major inflection points in its processes and tools. These five trends are, more importantly, the inevitable starting point in digital marketing thinking: be it a campaign, a marketing strategy, a launch of a new product, a digital brand positioning or coming up with a brand purpose. Every single digital marketing venture should start from these macro-trends, because they define our approach to business challenges, consumer problems, competitive opportunity and/or brand positioning. Most importantly, using these trends as a starting point defines what digital marketing is: it’s not about the tools and tactics for execution - it is about detecting, understanding and tracking what’s going on because of digital and about building a brand around it. It’s this starting point that makes digital marketing unique and incredibly different from “traditional” marketing, which was obsessed, in a solipsistic manner, with using the brand, the category, and the product as its starting points. Digital marketing is not about media planning, engagement planning, communication strategy, and/or social media: it’s about the approach sensitive to macro-trends made possible by digital technology, and about devising a strategy that utilizes brands to amplify, recognize, or own these trends.
Slide 19: Digital marketing focuses on things that are enabled by, facilitated, spread, grow, etc. because of digital technologies and behaviors. Ask which economic and cultural trends & currents are made possible by/permitted/emerged/amplified due to digital technologies, and then start building brand strategy around it.
Slide 20: The job of digital marketing, among other things, is to figure out new monetization opportunities for brands in the context of dynamic, consumer-driven, collaborative consumption markets. Making a cheaper version of a product/service is an option as it opens up the market to a whole new set of people (this is described in detail by Clayton Christensen in his “Innovator’s Dilemma”). Another version of the same approach, according to Aaron Shapiro, CEO of HUGE, is to make a product/service more convenient, or easier to use, or more fun. New monetization opportunities for brands should be based on all of the above, and focused on adding value to a selected consumer behavior/habit and/or responding to some need. Sharing economy in particular opens up new monetization opportunities for brands, because it forces them to explore: a) how to extend the product lifecycle, b) what unused distribution opportunities exist our there, and c) how to solve some customer’s problem. In the example above VW found a way to create brand affinity and promote its vehicles by wrapping a collaborative consumption-based system around them. It’s a test drive for everyone - when they need it and when it really makes a difference in their lives.
Slide 21: Google insights for search, social listening tools, and digital ethnography tools give us insights into consumers’ habits, motivations, and expectations. They also reveal anomalies, oddities and atypical patterns that are signals that something interesting’s going on - that we should tap into.
Slide 22: There are a few points to be made here: a) the most successful advertising today is native to its medium, meaning that it organically fits with the site content, layout, and with audience expectations for the site in question. In this way, we are using the site to create a powerful social context for advertising consumption; b) media today are not only what’s directed at people, but what exists between people (as Ian Schafer pointed out). Brand content needs to be sensitive to this dynamics: we should always ask whether our creative is/can become a social object; c) consumers rely on each other and brands for finding and discovering the best content. Most of cultural products are chosen by a small group of people who have a better taste than anyone else. Brands have an enormous potential to become part of this taste-making dynamic, by directing consumer attention towards specific content/products/etc. Ask: how can my brand help evolve consumers’ tastes by exposing them to the best content/information/lifestyle?
Slide 23: There is a ton of interesting things happening outside the marketing and branding world. Those things are often way more interesting than anything a brand does. At the same time, brands can help these small, brewing currents at the edge of the culture or business achieve a mass scale and global prominence. By detecting an emerging trend at the periphery of some industry (think retail industry, in the example above), brands get to capture & own the trend and to amplify it to the level of a wider cultural conversation. Case in point: GAP combined a few brewing trends - fashion blogging, product remixing & scrapbooking, and personal fashion styling - under the umbrella of its GAP styld.by campaign, which asked fashion bloggers to remix GAP products with items from their own closet in order to express their personal style. This campaign is a win for a few reasons: Tumblr provides a natural environment for a fashion blog; GAP products live in a social context; it lends the brand legitimacy and reputation of stylists used in the campaign; it’s an easily shareable social object.
Slide 24: Transparency can help brands to create a powerful social context that shapes consumers’ brand and product perceptions. Disclosing information about company culture, green practices, and operations turns them into marketing (think Zappos blogs, Patagonia product tracker, or Icebreaker barcode). It also turns their marketing upside down: it diverts consumers’ attention from a beautiful print ad or an emotional TV spot toward ubiquitous, easily accessible information about how brands products/services fare against competing products; how do they perform within a specific social or taste graph, or how they compare on fair-trade scale.
Slide 25: To put these macro-trends in context of marketing vs digital marketing, we need to understand where the “big switch” is happening.
Slide 26: Advertising is not enough. It’s also not effective enough in changing people’s behaviors. We need to move from making funny copy and commercial ad pieces towards approaching brands as taste-makers, editors, curators, publishers, and providers of value. To achieve this, we need to start from the context of consumers lives, and see how a brand can seamlessly insert itself into their habits, expectations, and behaviors. We need to ask: can we make a product/service cheaper? can we make it more fun? can we make it more convenient? can we become more useful and more entertaining? what problem are we solving for our customer?
Slide 27: Commercial art pieces can be beautiful to look at, they can be talked about, and they can win awards. What we need, as an industry, is to start thinking about creating social objects that will turn our creative solutions into memes, conversation pieces, etc. that will sky-rocket them into the domain of cultural conversation. ROI on social objects is measured in greater brand affinity, a wider exposure, more impressions, and ultimately more conversions. Social objects is how our customers communicate and relate to each other. They are things that take part or create a relationship between people - an invitation, a social gesture, a gift, a reward. People exchange social objects as a way of relating to each other - and we want our creative to become an inherent and seamless part of social relationships.
Slide 28: Demographic targeting is a great starting point in every strategy. Today, however, it’s not nearly a sufficient one. Social media brought into picture interest graphs, taste graphs, and most recently, spend graphs. All of these tell us a deeper story about consumers preferences, tastes, and decision-making processes than any demographic targeting ever would be able to. They reveal connections between diverse demographic groups that we wouldn’t otherwise realize, and they reveal patterns of social influence and taste-making that we need to take into account in developing our strategy and engagement plans. More often than not, the fastest and most effective way to reach our target is through their networks of influence: people who influence their tastes, interests, and shopping choices. Instead of being satisfied with the neat demographic groups, we need to ask the following: what interest/taste personas are we targeting? where can we find them? what do they do there? what are they influenced by? what social/taste/interest networks do they belong to? what do they talk about? what language they use when talking about our product/brand or category? how do they interact with brands and with each other?
Slide 29: Too often, our marketing efforts start from a product/service that a brand offers. The best brands - digital or otherwise - think in terms of relationships. They define their brand purpose by capturing a specific behavior and/or relationship they want to own. Google’s purpose is organizing world’s information (and not search); Pepsi’s purpose is empowering communities (and not selling sugared water); Nike’s purpose revolves around running and making it better; Instagram’s purpose is to allow anyone to feel an emotional connection to photography (strangely enough, Kodak has this same purpose but it got list amid company’s rigid internal culture); Burberry’s purpose is to connect high and low culture that’s the essence of Britishness (Burberry has been worn by everyone from Queen to Sid Vicious). To succeed, brands need to ask themselves which behavior and relationship they want to build their purpose around.
Slide 30: In our industry, we are too often encouraged to think simple: to come up with a single insight, a single killer creative idea, a single course of our strategic action. Instead, we should start from the complexity of trends and patterns of consumers’ behaviors, and explore ways to amplify it them. The best way to win in today’s complex consumer markets is to recognize an emerging consumer need, a brewing trend, or an untapped distribution opportunity for our brands. Then, we should amplify it and own it. If consumers today are all about sharing, as in the car-sharing example above, we need to figure out the way how we can amplify this emerging trend and make it work for our car brand.
Slide 31: At the end, there are a few basic questions to help us kick-start our digital marketing effort. They can help us focus our thinking, inform our approach, and offer guidance for creating a winning marketing campaign - or at least one that is suitable for the digital world.
Awhile ago, I read Duncan's article in HBR on Occupy Wall Street movement, where he asserts that the role of leaders is to serve as an image, a projection, and embodiment of values of a movement, thus making it easy to understand. I find that nothing summarizes the leader-less movements and the idea of the network-as-influence-machine better than the sentence above. Found here.
In lieu of the year's ending (and with some free time on my hands) I went through stuff that I noted last year and picked things from culture, web, ideas, apps, fashion, etc that I liked the most in 2011. Here they are, in no particular order:
Iris Apfel's appartment Digby The Meaningfulness of Lives Naked Hiking Carousels 3 main lessons of physchology Savage Beauty Think Quarterly Bayes' Theorem Jonathan's card What was there The Breakthrough Myth & The Myth of Innovation Hero Not without salt Designing for tomorrow Instagram Why being certain means being wrong The App Internet Totokaelo Spotify top tracks of 2011 Home Plus grocery store Seth Priebatsch's TED talk Code & Story Wicked Problems Runkeeper's Health Graph Misfit Ideas Down time Pitfalls of Certainty The cognitive cost of expertise Collaborative consumption Design Research Redistribution markets Bill Cunningham New York Square Good design Certified Pre-Owned Mohawk General Store Kevin Slavin's TED talk Satisficing vs. Optimizing Dissonance Online fashion marketplaces The year in reading Social Flow Kinfolk Curisma Gimme Bar Arrested Motion How consumers interact with Facebook Delight by design Why we are not hiring creative technologists MIU MIU Glitter-finish sandals Facebook makes brands stupid Sharing economy The Fancy Foursquare + Square Apple TV Innovators share their thoughts Bucketlabs Drunken online shopping The never ending story The Economics of Happiness The obvious, the easy, and the possible Strangers and groundbreaking ideas Creatures of comfort MNZ Store Social Games Disruptive hypotheses La Garconne GroupMe Svpply sets 1Q84 TaskRabbit Le Havre This isn't happiness Maurizio Cattelan at Guggenheim Venmo A brief rant on the future of interaction design Lanvin AW 2011 Shop Terrain Retromania The world's biggest family The power of metaphors Mikkat Market Bicycle curriers Retronaut Give a smile On the edge Talent is nothing without focus and endurance Henry the Worst Wantful Puppy Elite 7 major problems The isolator Koi pond The history of high five Brands are simple Trendland Cereal Couture Idea Mensch Its this for that
The other day I came across this image (regretably, can't remember where), and it striked me as a lovely way to summarize the problem of fitting digital media into marketing thinking. Yes, we still have that problem. We are collecting Likes and views, measuring awareness, and resizing content - all instead of accepting that the rules of the game are through and through new and trying to understand them.
Good old Roland Barthes had a point. If only he could see this year's lineup of movies, he would probably allow himself a smile. Think Muppets, Star Trek, Tron, The Smurfs, True Grit, Arthur, etc. In this day and age a "humiliating repetition" assumed a form of a "retromania," or obsession with the cultural artifacts of one's own immediate past. Brian thinks it's the aversion to risk that drives the culture industry (film, TV, music, fashion, design). Why would a studio/designer/TV producer invest a ton of money into something new when they can invest it in something that worked so well the first time around? The strategy seems simple enough: to reach your target, the only think you need to do is to dig up things that have been popular in that very same generation's childhood. Other generations follow because there is nothing like a nostalgia for something that we have never experienced (how many times have you heard a lament about how awesome New York was in the '70?). I think there's more than risk-aversion to it, though. I think the trend has more to do with a macro social and economical trend that can be best described as "the end is near" and "catastrophes are reality." Faced with uneasy facts of global warming, economic breakdowns, political insecurity, and - above all - a lack of a clear path to overcome these hardships, people look for comfort of their not-so-distant life that they recognize and feel safe in. I only wonder what kind of movies Chinese make these days. I bet you Karate Kid ain't one of them.
p.s. there's an interesting book on "retromania." I've read only a few pages but it looks promising. You should check it out.
Some time ago, I did an interview for IdeaMensch, which describes itself as a "community of people with ideas." It turns out a lot of people found it interesting, so I figured I might as well copy it here. Enjoy.
Ana Andjelic is digital strategist at Droga5, an independent advertising agency that is best described as creatively led, strategically driven, technology friendly and humanity obsessed. At Droga5, Ana brings contributes her digital knowledge and skills to a super-talented team of creatives, strategists and technologists. Prior to joining Droga5, Ana worked as digital planner at HUGE, Inc, The Barbarian Group, and Razorfish, where she combined consumers’ behavior with technological trends to help brands in digital space. Ana’s specialties are digital branding, digital marketing, social media and experience design. Ana sometimes speaks at industry events, and was a guest lecturer at Miami Ad School and HyperIsland. She also occasionally writes for Ad Age, and regularly shares her thoughts on her blog, I [love] marketing.
Ana Andjelic is a graduate of Columbia University, where she earned her Ph.D. in Sociology, and New School University where she got her M.A. in Media Studies. She is from Belgrade, Serbia and lives in New York City.
I am working with an amazing team on the really fun projects at Droga5 and also plotting a website that would tell a story about things that I have learned in New York in the past 10 years. It would an interactive story told through photos, videos, quotes, maps, things, and people. I am excited about it.
As a professional in the evolving digital marketing industry, and having an academic background in technology and organizational studies, I felt a compelling need to combine my academic knowledge with the insights from my practical work. Often, there’s a yawning gap between academia and industry. Which is a bummer. But my blog was conceived mainly based on my need to provoke people to think differently. Or just to provoke them.
I get to work around 9, and from then on, it’s a fast-moving train. Sometimes I am on it, and sometimes under it. There’s a lot of thinking and talking to people on my teams. There’s also a lot of work on coming up with structured arguments for clients. Then, a lot of revisions and making my thoughts clearer and better. There’s also a lot of constructive friction in this process, which I love.
It’s a collaboration. It’s about recognizing the seed of an idea, testing a few of those with the creatives, and then working together to turn those into something that people will get excited about.
I was once in an ad for some Internet provider in Belgrade. A horrible idea. I had to wear a skin-tight silver dress made of some super-polyesther material, have a really, really heavy makeup and some space-y hairstyle. But it’s not the Star Trek look that got me, it’s all the waiting around at the shoot for everything to be ready. I don’t know if I learned anything from it, really. Maybe that every job requires patience.
If I could give myself advice now, going back, it would be one word: CHILL. I’ve always been in a horrible frenzy. If I gave myself more time to take things in, stop and think more, I would probably end up being happier. And would have driven people crazy less!
Always meet new people. You never know who knows what and where an idea can come from. People are wonderful repositories of knowledge and insight. They are also fun to be around.
I used to be terribly scared of awls. I am still wary of them.
Stop making things. This world doesn’t need any more stuff. It needs smarter systems. It needs better ways to connect things that already exist. Become obsessed with connections, all sorts of connections – useful, fun, unexpected, helpful, informative. Then think how to insert things into them so that you create something new.
The Checklist Manifesto, by Atul Gawande. He talks about decision-making and problem-solving in complex environments. Everyone who ever wanted to make something in the digital space would find his thinking useful.
I would probably be writing. I’d be writing more on my blog, for industry publications, I’d write a book. It would be a mesh of organizational thinking, technology, media, and human behavior. And it would be set in New York City.
Noah Brier, @heyitsnoah – because he is the most wonderful, curious, humble and innovative person I know.
Diana Hong, @dddiana – because she is the coolest girl ever and the most amazing industry professional.
Bud Caddell, @bud_caddell – because he is really passionate about knowledge and isn’t shy about it.
My boyfriend makes me laugh all the time. He has a wonderful way of looking at the world and the most articulate way of conveying his observations on life’s curiosities.
I think that we need to come up with a way to think about strategy a bit differently. Less linear, more system-like. More improvisation, more trying things out, less prediction and less singular answers.
The image above is from Trashr, which connects supply and demand of discarded goods. Everyone who's lived in NYC for a while knows what gems can be found discarded on the street. Why not create a market around it? One man's trash is another man's treasure, after all.
I just came across this quote which, although it is meant to originally apply to NFL, is in fact a lovely description of the way we experience events these days. Just think time spent on Twitter or Instagram or YouTube yesterday in anticipation of the hurricane Irene. More fun and interesting that the rain outside was the wonderful suspension that conversations, photos, and updates exposed us to.
I found this quote here.
This is the presentation I was carrying around on iPad to my job interviews in June, instead of my resume. I realized that, more than a list of places, clients, and projects that I have done in the past, nothing inspires a conversation like talking about the way I think about things, what I find interesting/important, and what I am passionate about.
Having a social object at the meeting makes the assessment of the work fit easier because two parties are involved in an equal-footing exchange (instead of one-sided conversation style that's a staple of interviews). It also allows a person to tell a story in a personal way that puts work & extracurricular accomplishments in the real-life, relevant context of someone's life (always more interesting than just listing stuff that someone has done). It shows, too, a person's presentation skills and ability to build an argument (which is potentially super-useful for client presentations & meetings). Finally, it's a tangible display of someone's simple know-how of how to put a beautiful-looking deck together.
And it worked out for me, in the best possible way.
p.s. For the obvious reasons, I took out the four case studies that are part of the original deck; they served as examples of my past work & my thinking approach to specific client tasks + deliverables. But everything else is there!
p.p.s. The part of "data mining" is taken from Julian Cole and the part of it is mine.
Bud and I would love to talk about complexity at the next SxSW, so we started thinking, plotting, and writing, and this is what we came up with... It's basically a summary of everything that he and I have been obsessed about in the past months, and is an attempt to get more people to start thinking about complexity. Hope the panel happens!
In a nutshell:
Have you ever been to a kid’s birthday party? It’s chaotic, unpredictable, fast-moving, and fun. It’s either the best thing or the worst thing, but you can’t know in advance which of the two is going to be.
Today’s digital world is a little bit like kids’ parties. It just involves a lot more people. And anything that has to do with a lot of people doing a lot of things is complex. To create something in the complex space forces us to think differently about the approach to, processes, and products of creativity.
This new creativity starts with interconnections between data, people, and things. It deals with the web of a bunch of small moving pieces that create intricate feedback mechanisms and new behaviors. It mixes code with the story and it’s open and iterative. It’s methodology relies on complexity’s own tools for solving problems. It's not about coming up with the new creative formats, but in making new connections. It’s a medium, not the product.
Complexity can be scary when connected with creativity. But it’s also unbelievably inspiring. It offers the maximum creative flexibility and the maximum executional options. It makes us realize that simplicity is a false god and that the new rule of creativity is looking for intuitive solutions that don’t reduce complexity but that thrive in it.
This panel is going to answer the following questions:
You can see the revised & submitted proposal here.
*Or, why the holistic approach works better in digital.
It doesn't reduce the complex situation to a causal, simple explanation. Instead, it's looking for intuitive solutions that seamlessly fit into people's behaviors. All well-designed products, services, and games are intuitive. Again, they are not simple - they intuitive.
The popular belief is that the contrast to complexity is simplicity. It's not. It's making things intuitive.
It helps that holistic approach inspires thinking through associations, both in their literal and metaphorical meaning. Literally, associations-as-in-connections are everywhere and exist between everything (people, information, tools, ideas). Metaphorically, associative thinking inspires us to make unexpected connections between things; and to recognize the innovative opportunities in the process.
Since it forces us to look beyond the obvious, holistic approach encourages "what if," rather than "why" and "how." It's non-linear and allows for the unexpected - both of which are in stark opposition to reductionist agency thinking a.k.a. "find the best strategy for solving a problem, discover one key dimension of consumers' behavior, define one thing that this advertising message is about." Instead, it's pushing for imagination and creativity: both in concepting and in execution.
Embracing the complexity of the whole situation is in fact a necessity in digital space. What we are dealing with are unexpected, ever-evolving movements and unpredictable connections. They generate micro-tensions and antagonisms that are ripe with cultural potential that has a direct consequence for brands. We are grappling with a networked social influence, and detecting "accidental influentials" in a given situation is as critical for campaigns as it is unpredictable. Irrationality of human behavior doesn't help matters, either: people's sensitivity to the design of information environments and activities of others is a powerful engine for behavioral change and needs to be utilized more in digital marketing campaigns. Then, there is data about individual and collective patterns of activities, and their aggregates act as a shared communication object with powerful storytelling potential. These sorts of stories disrupt the traditional model of authorship over advertising narratives. And finally, collaborative consumption and redistribution markets are constantly showing us where consumers' behaviors and needs are going: they represent a compelling lab for finding new sources of value that brands can deliver outside of their usual production/consumption value chains..
There are all challenges that resist obvious solutions and cannot be reduced to a single-cause explanation. So what to do? If complexity of the environment prevents one way of responding to the client task and if it prevents predicting the success of a single creative solution, then the best is to put all this complexity right at the center of the strategic problem-solving process.
This is hard. The need for strategy comes from our, human, anxiety in the face of uncertainty. Strategies are "anticipation machines" designed to help us know what the future will be before it happens. Complexity prevents this - but at the same time the problem is not unsolvable. If we can't have foresight, we can have hindsight. And a lot of those. The hindsight comes from standing close to the edge, which in plain language means merging strategy with its execution.
The good news here is that yes, while complexity creates a lot of challenges, it at the same time gives us tools to solve them. All one needs to be is crafty. (Big ups to the most brilliant Julian Cole for sharing some of his ideas about all of this).
In practical terms, this means that methodology for dealing with complexity needs to revolve around complexity's own tools. And, believe it or not, these tools are everywhere. Forget about eMarketer, and Forrester, Sysomos, and all that stuff. They won't solve the problem of originality of your campaign or of a real behavioral challenge that you want to create with your target audience.
What will solve the problem is a little game called digging for clues. I often use Wordle to run customers' reviews of the product/service/brand through it. It lets me uncover the common themes and the possible sources of tension or cognitive dissonance that are useful as insights for a campaign. GoodReads and apps like WANT! uncover what people identify with, how they define themselves, what is important to them, and what captures their collective imagination - all of which provides context in which a campaign is going to be received and what can make it resonate well with its target. Sites like 43Goals on 43Things and Daytum give us insights in human motivation, in different roles people are playing, what are their strivings, how they make choices and what are their frustrations. This helps come up with the ideas for inspiring and facilitating behavioral change for our target.
Our understanding of the wider context of our audience's lives allows us to recognize cultural micro-tension, sources of influence, data that we can use for marketing, or needs that allow us to create an exchange market around.
It lets us capture the new territories for our brands and to come up with the "what if." A new way of looking at things, perhaps, but that's exactly the point.
This morning, NYT ran an article about GrubWithUs. I've seen this service some time ago - it basically gathers strangers around the dinner table - but now it reminded me of this wonderful Benjamin's sentence above. Every new tool and service is simultaneously new and old: it has a sort of nostalgia that let us glimpse in the way things might have been. While some people find it sad, GrubWithUs reminded me of the old-world tradition of travelers eating together in the road taverns and sharing stories of their journeys over food. That's what modern travelers do: come together for a brief moment, exchange their stories over food, and continue their journeys. Romantic, nostalgic, and amazing.
To stay with Benjamin a little longer, these sort of experiences/chance encounters are contained in his concept of a "flaneur" (wanderer) which he used in the 1920s to describe a modern urban experience defined by casual connections: "The flâneur has no specific relationship with any individual, yet he establishes a temporary, yet deeply empathetic and intimate relationship with all that he sees." Sounds crazy familiar, and not so rare: there are other services that exploit the potential of these casual, weak ties to the max. Skyara that defines itself as 'a marketplace to offer fun things to do, meet new people, and share experiences' [just like a children's playground] or Dodgeball/Foursquare, or Hash where strangers gather to run together & solve clues on the route [a tribe].
I really, really like this Benjamin's idea of nostalgia. I see it happening over and over today, where old-fashioned routines, forgotten customs and rituals are revived in ways that we are too often tempted to view as "alienating." That's where the lovely paradox is: the behaviors that existed way before any modern communication technology are brought back to life precisely because of it. So the things that we deem the most innovative - and uniquely digital - may as well turn to be the most nostalgic of all.
I am pretty late with this, but figured I should put it here anyway. It's the story behind my Creativity & Complexity deck. It starts with me saying that advertising creativity has always been a branding vehicle, and if we are talking about branding (my fav subject) we can't avoid thinking about creativity. And now, as everythone's trying to figure out what's going to work online and why and how and all of that, it's useful to backpedal for a sec and remember that evolution of creativity is the evolution of media. So here we are now, in 2011, stuck with digital media. What helps?
When talking about creativity, everyone thinks about creative talent, creative agencies, or creative deliverables. But my starting point was not the words of wisdom from Weiden or Goodby or any other famous ad creative. Oddly enough, here's the quote that (I think) captures the best the snafu situation that we have today with creativity: "... because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns - the ones we don't know we don't know." (the live version of this statement is here, for those who are into it).
What makes the unlikeliest of all quotes so relevant here is that the infamous "unknown unknowns" are in fact the core property of complex adaptive systems. (Worth noting: CAS is the term that showed up in biology and that has since been widely used in organizational and technology studies). CAS are the systems that are built around, and thrive, on unknown unknowns. That's what makes them different from merely complicated systems: in the latter, there are a lot variables and the catch is that there's just too many of them. But luckily, they are all known. Think airline cockpit for example. Here, it's a shitshow, but if we simply follow a sequence, we are going to be just fine. The sequences don't change and they can be broken down into a series of simple problems - so the learning curve is probably, possible, and likely. Experience and expertise count big time here: the more times someone has done some complicated thing (like preparing for a pitch or making a media plan or managing client relationship), the better they are going to become in it.
But complex systems are no such walk in the park. They are like organizing a kid's birthday party: full of crazy towns, unexpected developments, left-field surprises (someone cries in the corner, someone doesn't want to play, someone got too sugar-high and is off the rails). This situation can't simply be broken down into its essential components and analyzed. And even if we could do that, complex situations are un-repeatable so the insight won't help us much. If anything, experience almost becomes a liability. Expertise here can be valuable, but far from being sufficient: the next bday party, for example, may ask for a completely different approach than the one right now. Current successes are no guarantee - and much less a predictor - of future sucesses. Thus, what makes complex systems hard to deal with is a deadly mesh of unknowns and unpredictability. The main take-away is that complicated environments are rife with risks; complex ones with uncertainty. Risks are calculable, uncertainty is not. So there.
Advertising industry - as it seems right now - has always dealt with complicated environments. And it's been incredibly good at this (think media buys, ad unit sizes, length of TV spots, and creative solutions that are meant to fit these formats). It's been good because it operates as a simplification machine. Think simple has become a mantra and a signpost: we were thought to come up with a single killer insight, a compelling idea, one single business solution. Then we take it and multiply it throughout different touchpoints without paying attention to the complexity of each (no matter what transmedia planning claims).
Our solution to complexity has been simplification and multipliction. We have been fending off complexity through offering coherence. Even if we don't want to admit it, we end up in the business of resizing: how does this solution fit on the billboard; ok now, how does this same solution fit on an iPhone?
This approach worked for a while, no doubt. It still largerly works. To see how and where it may fail, the best is to use quote from Apple's CEO. No, not Jobs - the other one. The one that most of people would rather forget. When comparing Coke and Pepsi, John Scully said something along the lines, "Coke always focused on the drink. Pepsi focused on the person using it." Now, the catch here is that contexts - and people - using products have become incredibly interactive, networked, info-rich, collaborative, and all of that. Think the activity of cooking for example: it used to be pretty known where we get out inspiration/advice/resources. Not so much these days: there's always a new app, source, filter, community that become part of our cooking experimentation. People and their activities have become complex behavioral networks.
And our challenge is to align our thinking as an industry with the complexity of this environment.
The first step is not to try to simplify complexity. Instead, build things that can in this complexity thrive. Instead of awareness, acquisition, products, sales, media buys, prices, promotions, budget, and ownership, change deliverables (and language) into connections, generative relationships, interactions, new combinations, systems, renting, etc. The best online creativity is alive - it's a medium for a ton of other things, not the end result. Sticking to thinking about creativity in terms of the creative talent, creative agencies, or creative deliverables is bound to make us seek results that are efficient and repeatable (and, in fact, it is this repeatability that accounts for efficiency) - which in turn is bound to disable us, organizationally, from solving complex problems.
In the world of unknown unknowns, the idea is "to be less wrong than yesterday." This may mean focusing less on abstract goals (drive brand engagement/raise awareness) and more on concrete behaviors (how does this particular design solution lead to desired activity and business result). In this context, it will turn out that the best digital creative solutions are always about something else. Not everything is creativity. But creativity is everything.
There's an article on Nikola Tesla in the latest issue of GOOD magazine, where he's described as a dreamer, mad scientist, a person who clashed with his environment and one who didn't do things for money. Just the opposite from Edison, who - while of often inferior inventions to Tesla (see the paragraph below) - in a systemic way created a whole support network (infrastracture, laws, regulations, behaviors) for his inventions that helped them to prevail.
"Tesla hoped to wow Edison with his prototype for alternating current, but Edison merely put him to work around the clock refining the existing DC motors. The Wizard of Menlo Park did promise to pay Tesla $50,000 should the immigrant manage to build a practical AC motor. However, when Tesla accomplished just that, Edison not only refused to pay, but embarked on a smear campaign against Tesla’s system—thus begetting the infamous War of the Currents, in which Edison depicted Tesla as an unreliable dreamer and alternating current as dangerous. Ultimately, after Tesla’s Westinghouse Corporation–backed AC-powered “City of Light” wowed onlookers at the 1893 World’s Fair, his model became the dominant electrical paradigm. Since then, 80 percent of U.S. electrical devices have used variants of his alternating-current model."
"When Guglielmo Marconi earned the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1909 for the invention of radio—giving the Italian scientist the name the Father of Radio—Tesla was livid. He had been poised to send radio signals using his eponymous coils as early as 1895, though a fire at his studio set him back a few years, and he only filed a basic radio patent in 1897. For the next few years, he and Marconi worked independently of each other, but it was Marconi who sent and received the first successful transatlantic radio signals, using 17 of Tesla’s patented inventions, most notably the “Tesla oscillator.” The U.S. Patent Office, however, refused to enforce Tesla’s claim."
The dude was obviously not good with patents.
"It wasn’t until 1943, after Tesla’s death, that the Patent Office reversed its decision, and recognized him as radio’s true father. That outcome is perhaps fitting, as the story of his life unfolded more like something out of Nathanael West than Horatio Alger—his financial troubles at times rising in direct proportion to his ambitions."
"Tesla’s other innovations include the first version of modern hydroelectric power (a dramatic and successful harnessing of Niagara Falls), an early version of radar (too ahead of its time to be immediately implemented), the first examples of neon and fluorescent lighting, and the first instance of wireless remote control. Rarely is Tesla credited as the father of robotics, but it was his invention, a battery-powered “tele-automated” boat that responded to wireless radio signals, that gave birth to the discipline. He envisioned an era in which man could harness energy from the sun and a “‘world system’ of wireless communications to relay telephone messages across the ocean; to broadcast news, music, stock market reports, private messages, secure military communications, and even pictures to any part of the world.”
Top that, Edison.
What strikes me as interesting is that Edison with his famous definition of genious as "one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration" may represent an old-fashioned and today quite obsolete approach to innovation. It is true that, back at his time, it was more important to persistently focus on doing the legwork and making sure that his innovations become part of the everyday life. But, is that still true in the 21st century? Tesla embodied a dichotomy of simultaneously being a creator of game-changing technology and a visionary sensitive to "the spectacular poetry of human life." As such, he perhaps would have fit better in the messy and unpredictable world of today's innovatons. Because, what's considered innovative today goes well beyond just refining - and making better - what already exists. It revolves around coming up with a radically new frameworks and concepts for interpreting the world, and dealing with solutions that simply don't fit in anything we know.
There, the dreamers count. More so than the prespireres.
... I wrote 38 blog post that elicited 248 comments.
Read a mere 15 books. Peter Hoeg's "The Quiet Girl" was my favorite.
Enjoyed meeting in person: Matt, Conrad, Celestine, Marci, Adrian, Saneel, Scott, Aaron, Ben, Edward, Daniel, Tim, Helen, Jon, Gareth, Adam, Seth, Richard, Andrew, Teressa. Enjoyed meeting a lot more of them online.
Started working for the best agency in New York. Also started working with the best planner in New York, Nicole.
Presented 1x at Miami Ad School.
Went 1x to Creative Social in Amsterdam.
Read 52 issues of the NewYorker. Articles that spurred my interest: "Food Fighter," "The Truth Wears Off", "A Widow's Story," "Cancer World" "The Cleopatriad" "Counterfeit Roth" "Missing Woman" "Finest Hours: The Making of Winston Churchill," and "The Pink Panthers"
Wrote a 204 page dissertation. Got one doctoral degree.
Published 3 articles in AdAge.
Went 2x to Serbia. 1x to Amsterdam and San Francisco.
Moved 1 time, to a different borough.
Read a lot of blog posts and articles. Saved 1,500 bookmarks on delicious, best of which I put here.
Made one visit to emergency room. Got 32 stitches on my right hand.
Ran one half-marathon, in Queens. It took me 2h to do it. The temperature was 96F and humidity 70%.
Spent 4 months cooped up in my appartment, writing.
My favorite movies this year were "Mother," "The Ghost Writer," "The Secret in Their Eyes," "127 Hours," "Toy Story 3", "Winter's Bone" and "The Social Network."
Won 3 times in Words With Friends.
Learned a lot in 2010. Happy New Year.
This post can double as a farewell to delicious and a breakdown of what people in the industry were talking about in 2010. Plus some stuff I was into last year. I went through a million of my bookmarks that I saved over the course of the last 12 months, and here is the hand-picked result. Prominent topics (and this should come as no surprise) were: geo-location, mobile, gaming, social retail, virtual goods, and a few really really dumb initiatives. If you missed any of these articles, have a look.
My fav topic of digital creativity
Brands & Branding
Geo-location and its discontents
Complexity & Strategy
Mobile & Social Retail
The Internet of Things
The ivory tower conversations (a.k.a. the future of advertising and the future of agencies)
Loneliness, happiness, and other interesting things
Bonus: Hand-picked posts from I [love] marketing
Apparently, there's a new trend in the advertising industry. I sadly missed it, but some people claim that the top creatives are getting bored.
Now, I am not sure what exactly they are getting bored of, but I have a hunch. If I weren't belle de jour anymore, I'd probably also be annoyed and likely to blame everyone else for it: "oh, my job consists of too many meetings. This is no fun," "clients are 'know-it-all' assholes" and/or "people don't talk about my campaigns anymore." Absolutely heartbreaking, and I would be willing to shed a tear in that name, if I actually didn't know quite a few traditional ad creatives. Interesting breed. One told me a few months back that he'd love to go to Davos. Like, why? You make ads, my friend, and your only link to the world's economic imbalance is that you get 500K for it.
So when a dissatisfied traditional ad creative leaves their mother ship to create their own "incubator of breakthrough commercial ideas," I can't help but think that this 'new' trend in fact is masking something else. Because, when was the last time that a breakthrough commercial idea - the one that truly transcends the format of the medium - came from a traditional ad creative? Was it 2006? Was it 1993? A few days ago, I couldn't remember a single campaign of note. Instead, I could remember a lot of smart marketing ideas.
What it is masking is the fact that traditional advertising creativity has largely been marginalized. The "kick-ass" creative director and what he/she does is no longer culturally relevant as it used to be. Today's creativity is way more collective, iterative, and yes, humble. To deliver it, creatives got to move away from "I have an idea, and it's brilliant" MO: the artistry today is in creating environments where collective creativity can flourish.
Are the spin-off boutiques bearing the names of their founders such environments? Hardly. They, despite their fashionable mission statements, to the large extent replicate whatever David Droga or Gerry Graf have been doing all their careers and what they know how to do well.
It takes more than creating your own shop to catch up with creativity circa 2010. "For the unhappy creative mind still toiling in a big agency," Ad Age writes, "There are two choices: You can either, in Freudian terms, sublimate that ego or, in Lebronian lingo, you can take your talents elsewhere." Or - here's a crazy idea - you can realize that your creative talents need some serious updating. To be fair, there are notable exceptions: Edward Boches, an avid student by his own admission, did not decamp to create his own shop. Successfully, he is turning Mullen around from inside-out.
As for others: rather than being misunderstood geniuses unappreciated in their time, traditional creatives resemble more divas well past their prime. When they complain they are not having fun, I think: that's too bad. Because, the rest of us are having a ball.
Image credit: "This painting is not available in your country" Paul Mutant, 2010. Acrylic on canvas 12" x 10"
There are a few things that ad people like more than to call out for someone's portfolio when in disagreement with that person. In a more modern version of the "show me your portfolio" theme, this means asking the question: "yes, but why listen to him? what has he actually done? I mean, what has he ever made?"
Beyond its occasional cameo in the spats that are advertising world's joie de vivre, this question is meant to mark a long-living perceived divide between people who make stuff - a.k.a. the creatives - and people who merely observe and talk about stuff - a.k.a. the strategists. Because, the reasoning goes, creativity is about "producing." In other words, to be creative, a person actually needs to make something tangible.
Hate to bring it up, especially because I don't have a portfolio to display, but this question doesn't make any sense.
First, it asks for a static commercial art piece (or a "portfolio" of these). Last time I've checked, those were very popular on television. Creativity regarded as a great copy, as an idea that makes a twist on a popular culture or that "captures the zeitgeist," or as a piece-of-art logo and print ad may indeed belong to the same era as those media that defined it.
Second, the question asks for an individual creative genius ("show me what you've done"). Because, if advertising award shows are to be trusted, there are people among us who are very very talented in making pretty and funny stuff. Sometimes they even earn the title of "Sir" for it, but if the Queen is busy and that falls short, at least they get to be called a "Guru." Which may be, in spiritual sense, even better.
And third, it asks for an agency ("why would I listen to this guy?"). Now, this being an unfair world, there are some agencies that are deemed to be more creative than others. What that usually means is that they are considerably better in making commercial art pieces for their clients that guarantee that those clients will make a pot of gold based on them. To prove this point, Crispin - in a streak of its usual genius - created a campaign that revolves around measuring girls' butts for Old Navy. Don't expect of advertising to get more creative than that.
Ok, let's fast-forward now to creativity of the digital world. Here, most creative stuff that people create are relationships, connections, and interactions (think 4Chan model, or Tumblr model, or Twitter, or what any startup is building right now, for example). They connect tools with behaviors, with geo-locations, and with objects. They create networks or systems, if you will. To be creative there, you need to be, well, strategic: you need to figure out who connects to whom, when and why, and to what result. Simply, you need to plan for a chain reaction.
So what happens next in this scenario? These networks then give way to a collective creativity to become visible for all to use it, build upon it, change it, and add to it. In the same way as the concept of "lone inventor" turned out to be a myth and the concept of "big idea" turned out to be hoax, the notion of "big name" in advertising may turn out to be a fake.
Simply, an "advertising genius" holds no chance against the bulk of digital people who make their creative talent visible - and available - the moment they turn their computer on. Worse yet, their focus on coming up with witty, funny, pretty or smart piece can turn out into a liability: this is not a templated world, and thinking bound to 30 seconds or 50x100 pixels or in any other given frame is bound to fall short. For the ad solution to be successful, it needs to fit with the network created by stuff that people are already doing, talking about, and acting upon. Again, without a template to hold onto, one needs to be strategic.
Finally, with all this collective creativity connected in a network, what to do with a handful of creatives holding the fort in ad agencies? As Edward Boches told me on Twitter the other day, "the most interesting stuff has been done with individuals: Lemonade, Uniform Project, Vaynerchuck - all better than brand farts." Why do we pay attention to them? Well, because they are doing something new, interesting, fun, and meaningful. And because no one knows where a good idea is going to come from, why limit it in advance to a creative team?
The bottomline is that digital creativity may as well end up having to do as much with observing as it does with making. Or, as Warren Bennis put it, "there are two ways to be creative. One can sing. One can dance. Or one can create an environment in which singers and dancers flourish." At the end of the day, to create something needs both.
All of this is fun stuff, and it's best to let people who face these challenges every day answer it. This is why I created an all-girl + a super-woman SxSW panel where one creative and three strategists talk about this stuff. Why all girl panel? Well, not to be all bra-burning about it, but hanging out only with guys can get so boring sometimes.
Once upon a time, everybody knew the answer to the question of strategy. But, don't be fooled: this fact has nothing to do with strategists' definitions of their own discipline; it actually has everything to do with an environment where strategies were executed. That environment was really predictable, clear, and stable.
There, strategists - not avid doers by nature - assumed a comfortable position of mostly observing the field from their elevated spot. Tricky as they are, they took pride in their talent of seeing everything that is going on in their business, brand, and consumer landscape. They were confident in predicting the next business move, and the next one, and the one after that. The whole strategic wisdom resided in optimizing a given set of alternatives, specifying a particular course of action, and committing to it. They knew what resources they had, they knew what their goal way, and simply enough, that their job was to connect the two. Sweet & simple, yet so antiquated.
At that ancient time, it was easy to say, "strategy is how you create value," "strategy is how you make money," or "strategy is how you use your finite resources to achieve your goal" (oh, actually: for some people, it's still easy to say that).
Ok, now, let's rewind to the present. What we are dealing with is messy, unpredictable, and hard to measure. It's complex. It's no longer possible to observe and predict enough to map out courses of action that guarantee desired outcomes. If you commit to a certain alternative, you may end up being dead. Turns out, a solid strategy may as well be your biggest liability.
In this context, we can't say anymore that strategy is "how we create value" and here is why. Simply, we don't know in advance what's valuable - or what may turn out to be valuable - to people online. Our criteria and our definitions of value don't work there. What the sources of value for people there are - free access, sharing, creating, participating, interacting - may not necessarily be valuable to business itself. In fact, it may seriously undermine it. Yet, there's ton of sources of value online. Best businesses of the past few years focused on making visible the network of connections between people, between things, and among the two. They didn't know in advance if there's any businesses value in those connections: they mostly believed that, if they create conditions for all those ties to be exposed, that new sources of value will emerge. And they did. How fast we run, how much gas our car uses, where do we go, what do we buy, what do we like, who do we talk to - all turned out to be potentially lucrative. Truth is, making this info visible also created new behaviors, changed how people do things, make product decisions, and form brand preferences. All of this unforeseen and sometimes not very obvious, yet very relevant. What these new businesses knew is that their strategy is a process of not creating, but understanding value: where it resides, how it has been exercised, and how it's distributed through this space.
And this is precisely why we also can't say anymore that strategy is "how we make money." Web certainly doesn't lack an entrepreneurial streak: people create value for themselves, and for each other; start-ups create value for people and for themselves. Is what's valuable on the web always (if at all) aligned with brands' money-making goals? Not necessarily. More importantly, should it be? Where exactly in this system either people or startups need to worry about if an advertising agency or a brand makes money? Further yet, why would they want them to make any money at all? And then, there's this trick: does the business of making information and connections visible - no matter how valuable - equal to making money? Not always the case. Facebook, for the longest time, didn't know what's its main source of revenue (our privacy?), Twitter didn't know (early bird?), and Foursquare still doesn't know. What they know - and know it well - is to react to opportunities that arise quickly and unexpectedly. And because these companies deal mostly just with creating conditions that make possible for the unexpected value to show up, they don't restrict their money-making options to a limited number of alternatives. Nor should they.
Then, here's why we can't say anymore that strategy is "how you use your finite resources to achieve your goal." Hate to break the news, but the resources are finite only if you make them so. What's worrisome here is the possibility that someone working online would even consider relying only on their own, by default limited resources, instead of utilizing the bulk of existing ones, or even creating conditions for new resources to show up? (No, I am not talking about crowdsourcing here, but basically about everything that people are doing online; all their actions can be used/amplified/facilitated/turned into a resource). At the end of the day, we are dealing with a hybrid behavior of people and technology, and the more distributed our resources, the better off we are. But, there's also something else here: on the web - it being so tricky with value and moneymaking and all - we often really don't know in advance either what resources we are going to need to achieve some goal or how to allocate them. Those who think they do, are either already out of business, or delusional (or both). For the rest of us, the best we can do is to see which connections have the biggest generative potential, and pour more resources into those.
So if strategy based on value predictions, projections, and finite resources doesn't make much sense anymore, what are we left off with? We got to accept that value online comes from very different and unexpected sources, and that we should not restrict our understanding if it in advance; that value is not always going to equal money on the short-term, and that this thus may not be the best way to inform our actions; and that our resources are as vast as we make them, and that how we allocate them depends more on the environment than on our strategic plan. Having all of this in mind, the best we can do is to try to work on providing conditions to make things happen: things like new behaviors, new connections, new sources of value, and new resources. The money will follow. Or not. But one thing is certain: the world that strategists work in is under active construction and there's no blueprint. For the first time ever, we are part of the construction crew: we are not directing it. And we need to reinterpret a lot of things that we have been regarding as fixed, and also probably come up with a new language to describe what the hell we are doing.
If this view is not more popular, it's because digital marketing industry is dealing mostly with pre-Internet brands, trying to retrofit them for the internet. In this situation, they end up doing marketing instead of product development.
A few words about product development: it's based on solving problems, it's aligned with what people are already doing/talking about/behaving, and it's creating something that let's people do/talk/behave in a different, better way. It's awfully similar to the way web operates.
Why is this sort of thinking so hard to apply to brands?
Sure, old brands are big, slow, complicated, and all of that. But what makes them truly different from digital brands is the fact that their product development and marketing are separate, and come in a "create a product"-"market the product" sequence.
To make Coke relevant, P&G relevant, Walmart, or Nike relevant in digital is something that keeps many a CMO awake at night. In fact, it is R&D management that should be awake. Once digital becomes part of the product development process, then marketing those products is a breeze.
The problem here is that the burden of digital can't fall at the end of the value chain: to marketing, advertising, and promotion. When it does, then ... well, we have already seen what agencies can come up with. If they are stuck in "why aren't we more creative" limbo, it's because they are entrusted with an unfair task.
To really be relevant in digital requires taking a step back and realize that value chain is more of a Venn's diagram, where business plan intersects with user behavior, strategy, technology, user experience, and visual design. It's about keeping all those different views in play while making things.
This is something that all start-ups and digital brands already know. They invest in their products, in making it relevant and continuously evolving: not because they want people to talk about those products, but because they want people to use them. Which means that they spend most of their time doing R&D.
Digital is really not a marketing challenge.
After I finished and defended my dissertation, I did not have a remote feeling of accomplishment. It was mostly a job finally done, after four solitary months of thinking, some more thinking, and writing. It was a project between me and my dissertation adviser. I didn't even feel a relief, and was wondering when the excitement and pride are going to kick in.
And then, they did. Big time. For many people (me included) graduation ceremonies may seem corny and silly. But when I put that cap and gown, and had my name called in front of everyone on the graduation day, it hit me: this is pretty AMAZING. I wore the same clothes as my professors; our caps were octagonal instead of square. I am now one of them.
All of the sudden, that single brief moment when I stood up and waved to a giant auditorium made everything worth it. For the first time in my life, I felt like I have something that no one, ever, will be able to take away from me. Ever. I accomplished something that not a lot of people can achieve.
This accomplishment may seem unnecessary. As my friend put it, getting a Ph.D. is like climbing: it's not useful, it doesn't help anyone, but once you do it, it's such a f*ing BAD ASS. Once you are at the top, you forget all the pain and sacrifice that got you there. The only thing that stays with you is the deep and overwhelming knowing that you, after all, have done it.
And you feel a little bit like a bad ass yourself.
By default, the web is a network. When we say web today, we don't mean only "stuff online," but the whole digital ecosystem of interactive interfaces, smart objects, phones, and whatever else can interact. Now, if connections between people and things are like a network, then the difference between a "behavior" and a "mechanism" becomes a little bit irrelevant (just think Foursquare, Twitter, Nike+, or just about any app these days).
If every behavior is a bit of technology and a bit of our action, then we are actually talking about a network that is a combo of both. And when we start talking about networks, then causality becomes slightly problematic. In other words, digital really doesn't give us a reason to believe that either behavior or technology is something separate that causes immediate and apparent changes in one another. It's all about small & gradual changes.
This would all be cool if the marketing models haven't been based on causality or, on questions like "how is this effort going to impact behavior of this particular target?" or "how many impressions do we need?" or "how much media buy is going to cause this particular sales lift?" Everything people in marketing do is to create causes that (they hope) will result in certain effects.
But what if things don't work in this way? In everything we do, and in all (or most) decisions we make we look up to either to others or to an immediate context. We often do things because others have done them, or because they are easy and convenient to do, or because "one thing led to another."
This is where visibility of aggregated individual behaviors comes in: knowing how many people have already done something inspires and coordinates our own behavior. In turn, the ability to see actions of others, immediately and in aggregate, sort of changes how we talk about mobilization, organization, collective action, and movements. It's all about adding scale to the small & gradual.
Blue State Digital knows this, and a very few smart brands also know it, too. They let people to directly communicate with each other, organize their own events, and then record and share stuff they have done with the online community. Instead of dealing with the question of causality - "how is this message going to change this behavior," they focus on the widespread sharing of information about all the local, individual actions that happen. This visibility of collective "traces" then inspires a larger collective behavior.
The fun part is that, in the past, it took us years or even decades to gather this sort of composite data. At that time, when we could not see each other (literally), operating according the principle of causality (this brand/cultural/political representation caused people to behave in a certain way: shop, identify with something, or vote) may have been an useful social/economic invention. But today, choices, preferences, and actions of others are collected and exposed at an almost immediate speed. Networks and patterns made of small and local stuff form. Make that visible, and the whole new world opens up.
Still, for now, the only few times when we have seen this sort of local-actions-turned-networks that change our perceptions and behaviors were media events like Winter Olympics (Twitter Tracker), Super Bowl (reading Twitter was more interesting than watching a game), or MTV Music Awards (not sure how relevant that one was).
Why don't brands do this? To remain important in today's world, the best strategy may as well be to expose a bit of it.
In a recent NYT review of her new book, "The Art of Choosing," Sheena Iyengar says that "Human beings are born to choose. But human beings are also born to create meaning. Choice and meaning are intertwined. We use choice to define our identities, and our choices are determined by the meanings we give them, from advertising-driven associations to personal relationships and philosophical commitments."
To this, behavioral psychologist Dan Ariely, responds: yes, we may use choice to define our identities. But we are also hopelessly irrational. We may think that our choices are determined by the meanings we give them, but in fact, this is an illusion.
Why? We have, as humans, a need to create meaning. To do so, we tend - the same as with sight and memory - to fill the stuff in in order to close the gaps that we can't see, remember, or make sense of. And what we can't see or remember or make sense of, we simply invent. We do the same thing when it comes to our choices: we make a decision first, and then tell stories about it after the fact.
This is interesting. On a daily basis, each one of us make incredible amount of decisions based on limited information. Because we are not quite aware how we do it (cognitive blindness), we often resort to some form of rationalization and/or to claiming that we trusted our gut. And this is precisely what gets us into trouble: it opens up an incredibly vast space for systemic, predictable mistakes. In other words, out of our craving for meaning, we submit to illusions.
Alright, but how do we really make decisions then? Ariely claims that we in fact turn to local context to infer what we like and don't like. When situations are complex, defaults have incredible force on behavior. In other words, when there is a lot to choose from, we submit to people who make interfaces: who gather, organize, and present information to us and who opt to make some of that information a default. (Have you ever wondered why Amazon managed to sustain a continuous growth in the past two years when all other business suffered, or why in Fresh Direct-s "natural" navigation there isn't a single item that belongs to low-priced grocery?) Beyond just mere defaults, it turns out that social and cognitive clues in our immediate decision-making context count more than, for example, brand associations. A study titled "Rethinking Brand Contamination" demonstrated that people value luxury brands based on whether an individual carrying it wears expensive clothes or has a look of a rich person. Without these additional cues or context, observers were less likely to differentiate between regular and luxury products. Additionally, they were willing to pay a way higher average price for a luxury bag when they saw if against a neutral background. Another study, conducted by Nielsen Bases unit, found that in-store marketing has significant advantage over television as a leading medium for creating awareness of new products. What does this tell us about the way we define brand equity?
Then, in situations when people don't have anchor how to behave, which is the case when we create something new or design new environments (think Apple iPhone and iPad and Twitter and Foursquare), the latitude of defaults and design clues becomes enormous. When we make decisions, we make them in silos, and we don't compare them across categories. All it took Starbucks to establish its empire was to call its coffee a different name to separate themselves from other coffee shops (and to make us pay 3 times more for a cup of coffee than we normally would). Similarly, the genius of Apple was not to lose sight of elements of design of environments it created (including naming its product, iBooks being the latest example) - knowing that's an incredible force in people's decision making. While eBooks may have had been a failed concept in the past decade (and while consumers were ready to pay no more than $9.99 for an "e-book"), the books that we can now download on our iPads are called "i-books" (something associated with Apple) and they will cost more - as much as $14.99 - which we are ready to pay for.
While these insights might have had a limited business and marketing power at the time before digital media (brand advertising is what counted back then), today we encounter a digital interface in almost any decision that we make - from choosing two products in a store, to deciding how much money to donate to a political campaign, how much time to spend interacting with some brand or how much personal information to reveal while doing it.
This is to say that findings like above cannot anymore happily remain in the domain of "interesting things to think about" but should be taken seriously. Defaults, social and cognitive clues, and designs all have a powerful impact on our behavior. They steer us towards "self-herding", which refers to our tendency to, once we made first decision, stick to it. Our first choice also influences all consequent ones, and the reason we do so is that we don't remember our emotional states or why we made a decision - we only remember our actions. The only think we need to do then is to repeat them, and this is how habits (or, brand loyalty) are formed. In other words, it our actions create - they do not reveal - our preferences.
Ok, now back to Sheena Iyengar and brands. Results of her famous jam experiment started a powerful trend of thinking that too much choice is not good for us. But neither is less choice. Interesting part is that the way we talk about brands in digital environment today fits here perfectly: James Surowietcki and Umair Haque claim that too much information about products kills brands; Erick Schmidt and others, claim that information abundance, in fact, makes brand more important than ever. Those who are in-between say that we should think of brands as filters for all this information, which is just another way of saying that the only reason that shoppers don't suffer a nervous breakdown in a cereal isle is that they, in fact, eerily recall all those awesome brand associations that make their hand reach one box of cereal over another.
Where does all of this leave us? Instead of thinking like the little Goldilocks who wants "just right" amount of information to simplify things, we should in fact embrace complexity full-force and turn to exploring the ways we gather, organize, and present the crazy amount of information that we encounter every day. In other words, when we talk about choice today, let's talk now about defaults, social clues, product categories, and a design of our decision-making contexts.
People indeed do have cognitive limitations that skew their choices in certain ways that we are not aware of - that's a fact - but now they also have this powerful digital tools that can act like our decision-making scaffolds and that can make us aware of all our mental illusions that we could not see before. And our ability to see all those factors that influence how we choose may reduce our need to invent explanations for our behaviors.
The same goes for marketing. The way things are still largely done in the industry is make decisions first, tell enticing stories about it after the fact (which only left us with a profound disagreement on what kind of advertising slogans and marketing campaigns work and what doesn't). It is not surprising then that, when we encountered way too many gaps in behavior of people and technology, our solution was to fill them out with what "makes sense" to us based on what we already know (all cognitive errors work in the same way.) This, in turn, opened a vast space for systematic, predictable mistakes ("let's create another brand video game, and to hell with it.") Our craving for meaning as an industry allowed us to submit to powerful illusions - such are brand image and brand promise and our definitions of brand equity and brand value. This sort of cognitive blindness opens up some uncomfortable questions. But so what.
Just reading about the ideas behind these start-ups made me feel more excited about digital than any online marketing campaign i have seen last year. It really interesting how all those people are recognizing opportunities in the every possible combination of people's behavior and technology while ad industry is still sticking to doing what they have been doing for the past 100 years. (see Bergdorf Goodman ad above, for example). The full slideshow is here, and you can read the accompanying article here.
I've just came across this little game over at Times Labs Blog. The game is fun enough, but what caught my attention was a description of our tendency to associate colors with objects: "Sometimes our color associations are “diagnostic” - heat being red, for example - but they can also be semantic, a product of culture: we associate red with danger because our society has tended to make warning signs red." I started playing with colors, and for me "stylish" is purple. For most people, it's black.
This is incredibly true. What are the most popular marketing books?
(the quote found here).
That's my brother on this photo (no, not the bird). He is a credit derivatives structurer-turned-adventurer. Right now, he is in La Paz and has also recently visited Patagonia and traveled around Bolivia as well. I have eerily little interest in his travels, and I this morning I started wondering why.
Of course, I love my brother and am interested in his life. It's just that talking about long stretches of traveling into awkward territories bores me. I also display minimal enthusiasm to be part of them. This is nothing short of crazy, since everyone loves to travel and everyone loves experiences.
Turns out, not really. I prefer being cooped up at home, reading the Internet or other forms of written word. That sounds horrible and also slightly sad. But that is what I really enjoy; I love learning about new things, and more than that, I enjoy finding out about unexpected connections between stuff that I already. Making new knowledge discoveries - that's something I could do all day.
So I guess both me and my brother are exploring new territories. It's just that mine are invisible.
Not sure if that's supposed to make me feel better, but it did.
Read 34 books. Zadie Smith's essays "Changing My Mind" was my favorite.
Read 52 issues of the NewYorker. Favorite articles: "Hellhole" by Atul Gawande, "The Fifth Blade" by Adam Gopnik, "Nightmare Scenario" by Margaret Talbot, "Searching for Trouble" by Ken Auletta, and "Offensive Play" by Malcolm Gladwell.
Wrote 88 pages of my dissertation.
Ran probably around 400 miles, and swam around 50.
Went to Croatia and back.
Ate 26 lb of meat.
Read countless blog posts and articles. I found a lot of them noteworthy and organized them by topic: digital; design; branding; user experience; finance; economics; psychology; sociology; fashion; theory; social media; and marketing.
As a result, spent 2,920 hours in front of the computer this year.
Bought 1 iPhone. Also bought 1 computer chair.
Got into ? unnecessary conflicts with people.
Enjoyed Diana Hong's blog.
Lost 1 internal organ (appendix).
Took 563 photos.
Spent $321.21 on iTunes.
Saved 2,188 bookmarks on Delicious.
Spent $$$ on clothes and travel.
Went out 200 times.
Was 1 time a guest speaker at BeanCast.
Saw 130 movies this year. Went to movie theater 26 times. Favorite movies this year: "Anvil: The Story of Anvil", "Fantastic Mr. Fox", "12" by Nikita Mihalkov, "Up", and "New York, I Love You".
Got 78 points in 1 Scrabble move.
Made 2,206 Twitter updates.
Had a lot of fun in 2009. Happy New Year.
From the lovely blog that I re-discovered this morning.