Not much surprises us these days. And that, by and large, is the way we like it. We have more control than ever over our lives. We bank and shop on-demand online. We use RSS feeds to filter our news. We carefully manage our public image by broadcasting the most appealing pieces of ourselves -- photos, status updates and MP3 playlists -- on our blogs and Facebook pages. Recognizing this demand for control and customization, more marketers are asking us to help shape their products as we see fit. So it's surprising to see some new businesses thriving by keeping us in the dark.
It's like harnessing the Force: A new armband uses the electrical activity in your muscles to let you wirelessly control digital devices.
For decades brands basked in the glory of control, control over consumers’ perceptions, impressions and ultimately decisions and ensuing experiences. Or better said, business leaders enjoyed a semblance of control. While businesses concentrated resources on distancing the connections between customers, influencers and representatives, a new democracy was materializing. This movement would inevitably render these faceless actions not only defunct, but also perilous.
Openness is the mega-trend for innovation in the 21st century, and it remains the topic du jour for businesses of all kinds. Granted, it has been on the agenda of every executive ever since Henry Chesbrough’s seminal Open Innovation came out in 2003. However, as several new books elaborate upon the concept from different perspectives, and a growing number of organizations have recently launched ambitious initiatives to expand the paradigm to other areas of business, I thought it might be a good time to reframe “Open” from a design point of view.
Businesses work with suppliers, across divisions, and with distributors. In the age of relationships, when the art of conversation has made a big come back, and more and more people have access to search and publishing tools, the answer to the question "who are your customers?" may not be as straight forward. Break any one of those connections, make it less than smooth, and you have a hard time servicing the end customer. The answer never was straight forward, it just got easier to see inconsistencies.
The Internet giant Google said Friday that the Beijing government had renewed its license to operate a Web site in mainland China, ending months of tension after the company stopped censoring search results here and pulled some operations out of the country.
At the Center for Future Storytelling, researchers envision how technology can give people more control over TV programs they encounter and stories they follow.
In one sense, the public has never been more informed. This is the first spill that has been covered in real time, with streaming high-definition video on desktops and televisions everywhere, network anchors racking up miles flying back and forth, and throbbing info-graphics that track the mess. We can all see the video for ourselves: an angry plume that looks like hell has been breached and is sending a dark, massive emissary to the surface. But to look for clarity amid the murk is a daily riddle. The size of the spill has been a moving target, with estimates recently doubled to 25,000 or 30,000 barrels a day, even after BP stanched some of the flow.
In the age of social networks, content evolves hand-in-hand with the mode of dissemination. What matters is pass-along potential, and nothing gets passed along like humor, particularly sarcasm or the thrill of the 'gotcha' moment. Sound bites have always been part of political communication, but decisions about which bites to air used to be in the hands of at least half-way responsible and accountable editors. Now everybody has a say in deciding what gets disseminated, and everybody seems to like passing along the put-down more than the uplift. My interest, as a marketing professor, is in the way this shift is playing out in the world of brands.
Experience is subjective, and therefore cannot be designed in quite the same way that a physical product can. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t design the framework within which people experience our product/service. If we succeed, then great experiences will be a common occurrence.
I’ve been trying to organize my thoughts about the iPad and the direction that Apple is taking computing along with it. It’s really an extension of the way they look at the iPhone, which I found unsettling at the time but with the iPad, we’re all finally coming around to the idea that they really, really mean it.
Last night New York-based advertising agency Lume Creative hosted an industry only seminar on social media in fashion featuring two of the biggest names currently in the field: Scott Schuman of TheSartorialist.com and Garance Dore of GaranceDore.fr. This is the first time the two have spoken together in a public forum about their work, success, and vision.
One of the most common fears I focus on defeating among executives and brand managers is that in new media brands lose control by publishing content and engaging in social networks. The general sentiment is that by sharing information and creating presences within public communities that they, by the nature of democratized participation, invite negative responses in addition to potentially positive and neutral interaction. By not fully embracing the social Web, many believe that they retain a semblance of control. The idea is that if brands abstain from providing a forum for hosting potentially disparaging commentary, it will prevent it from earning an audience – in this case, an audience that can impact the business and the reputation of the brand.
Last week I sent an email to Googlers about the meaning of "open" as it relates to the Internet, Google, and our users. In the spirit of openness, I thought it would be appropriate to share these thoughts with those outside of Google as well. At Google we believe that open systems win. They lead to more innovation, value, and freedom of choice for consumers, and a vibrant, profitable, and competitive ecosystem for businesses. Many companies will claim roughly the same thing since they know that declaring themselves to be open is both good for their brand and completely without risk. After all, in our industry there is no clear definition of what open really means. It is a Rashomon-like term: highly subjective and vitally important.
Hundreds of Holiday Inns may soon have to change their names. InterContinental Hotels Group PLC is ready to strip the brand next year from as many as 300 of the 2,700 Holiday Inn hotels owned by franchisees in North America if those properties don't undertake the brand's $1 billion overhaul by Feb. 1. IHG, based in the U.K., started its overhaul of Holiday Inn two years ago in a bid to "contemporize" the 57-year-old brand and weed out older, poorly performing hotels.
While social media often commands favorable media attention, the less often told story is that successful initiatives are rare to come by and that there still a number of organizational roadblocks that managers need to overcome in order to make progress. Still, we are seeing signs of progress in the form of new efficiencies, more direct ways to connect with customers, and ways to make products and services better. From my experience working and talking with people in large, complex organizations, here are a small sample of obstacles to look for with suggestions on how you might overcome them:
A broken brand is a business that has no idea where it’s going; has no way of communicating its purpose (since none exists); and therefore cannot align its activities nor inspire its people. It’s in disorder. And this disorder leads to people walking around concluding that no one cares and that no one is in charge. Employees may see problems or opportunities, but they stop complaining and suggesting ideas, since they’re convinced management can’t do anything, or won’t. I’ve read the results of recent surveys, which showed that fewer than 10 percent of employees believe their daily activities are actually related to corporate goals. That’s pitiful.
Last August, the people who putatively run Twitter — the small crew that three years ago launched the world’s fastest-growing communications medium — announced a relatively minor change in the way the site functions. The tweak would have a small effect on retweeting, the convention by which Twitter users repost someone else’s informative or amusing message to their own Twitter followers. Retweets start with RT, for “retweet,” and usually cite the first author by user ID. And, importantly, retweeters often add a word or two of commentary about the repeated content. But there was a problem: Twitter itself didn’t invent retweeting; it was created by Twitter users. In a blog post explaining the changes to retweets, the company’s second-in-command, Biz Stone, called them “a great example of Twitter teaching us what it wants to be.”
Two events of recent days underscore for me how old-media executives are not comprehending the collaboration economy: how it adds value, how it creates efficiency, how it operates under new currencies. Add this to the other blind spots these old media powers have about the new economic reality: the imperatives of the link economy, the need and benefit of giving up control, the advantages of creating open platforms over closed systems, the value of networks, the post-scarcity economy and the art of exploiting abundance, the need to be searchable to be found, the deflation innovation brings, the value of free, the triumph of process over product…. This is what I wrote in my book about. Trying to get media to understand it is why I wrote it. Behind each of these new laws of the new age is a set of consequences that result if you don’t at least try to understand them and continue to operate under the expired rules of the industrial economy.
What's the difference between personalization and customization? Are consumers really in control? Do brands (and designers) want them to be? Nick de la Mare considers curation and the myth and reality of control.
Over the past week Google has been rolling out the first invitations to its latest service, a complex "real-time communication and collaboration" system dubbed Google Wave. Instead of sending messages back and forth, users create web-page-like documents called waves that others can modify or comment on, using a combination of features more usually seen separately in email, wikis, instant messaging and social networking (see a video introducing Wave). Early reviews have been positive, and demand for invitations outstrips supply (Google says ours is still on the way). But even for those who have tried and liked it, Wave's potential is still hard to assess. The problem is that most talk about it is focussed on technology, not people.
For decades, companies have defined the channels their customers must use to contact them. But phrases like, "We are available by phone weekdays from 9am until 4pm Eastern Standard Time,” and “We will attempt to answer the emails we receive within 48 hours, but times vary based on incoming volume” are quickly becoming a thing of the past. The long-held notion that companies control the conversation is being challenged by social media.
I spent yesterday marking the dangers around Sidewiki. Today, I’ll say what I think Google should do with it: close the toolbar app, open it up to the entire conversation, and turn it purely into an API. And probably buy Technorati. I read a great deal of the discussion about Sidewiki yesterday: much of it in the comments on my blog post, much found through search in Technorati and Google News, much through trackbacks, much on Twitter, much through links on sites I read, and a tiny bit on Sidewiki itself (sorry, can’t find a URL to link to that). Some of the comments said the conversation is already fractured and my trail would seem to prove the point. That was the common word – fractured. But I’d quibble with the choice and argue that the conversation isn’t broken; that it is occurring just where it should be: in the cloud, where it is controlled by no one.
Yesterday, Google announced “SideWiki” a new feature of the Firefox and IE browsers (Chrome to come soon) that allows anyone to contribute comments about any webpage –including this one. The impacts are far reaching, now every web page on the internet is social and can have consumer opinion –both positive and negative. Control over the corporate website is shifting to the customers.
Last week, I had the pleasure of spending a few days of downtime in Vermont (with my family), and one of the must-sees in that state is, by all accounts, the Ben & Jerry ice cream headquarters. So we went. And it was a great display of powerful branding in action. Ben & Jerry's grew from a quirky little local ice cream shop to a global brand with a dedicated following, all because a couple of guys (yes, Ben and Jerry) decided to start a business based on a $5 correspondence course on making ice cream. The tour was lighthearted and informative, and very much in line with the fun approach Ben & Jerry's takes to branding.
Would you tattoo a brand name to your skin? A new company does just that. MyBrandz.com is a new start up that offered free tattoos of brands on September 7th ("Free Tattoo Day") to people who really want to "live the brand." One of the founders says: We'd like to let the people do what they want with the brands, enjoy the life of the brands and not only buy them and let the brand owners tell them what to with them. The real attraction here is that consumers get more control over the brand names they love, rather than simply becoming walking billboards for them.
As a consultant working with many brands on social media strategy and efforts, I hear a lot of perceptions about social media. Extended out to the conferences that I attend and sometimes speak at, it is surprising how often I hear the same myths about social media. These are not things that brands are just using as reasons to not engage ... they often come from brands and marketing teams that are actively using social media as well. The following is a selection of some of the myths that I hear most often, as well as some thoughts on why they are simply myths and what your brand can do to get past them.
In a recession, marketers and institutions with strong brands may be tempted to license their names and trademarks. But while licensing can generate easy revenues, those royalties come with a potential risk to the brand. Consider Harvard University's recent ten year licensing arrangement with Wearwolf Group Ltd. of New York to develop and sell a line of preppy apparel bearing the "Harvard Yard" brand and crimson trim. The University, presumably mindful of possible negative reputation effects, carefully avoided licensing the Harvard University logo or name. However, no matter how carefully written the agreement, the licensee will likely be straining to exploit the Harvard association.
Oh, it's so nice to be right. When market researcher Mintel released its list of leading consumer prognostication late last year, it knew that financial worries would drag consumers' emotions down for much of the year, and put the spotlight on trading down and switching brands. But now that its data from the first six months of the year is available, the company has taken another look at its forecast, and says that while people "still feel pessimistic," there's plenty of evidence that they are lightening their mood as often as possible.
The mad dash to set up Facebook fan or group pages by businesses has reached the early majority and may be entering into the late majority. Even United Airlines has a "fan" page (Is anyone really a fan of an airline? Notice they seem to have turned off posts. Perhaps JetBlue or Southwest Airlines in their early days?). The social media platform player Ning has grown quite a bit recently as more organizations determine they want more control and functionality over their organization-sponsored social network. Ning allows you to brand your site to your liking (for the most part), set up your own profiles and integrate more content than a public social network like Facebook.
Molding aspects of a social media in a medium to large sized corporation can be tricky. Old fashioned corporate philosophy dictates control over the flow of communication be regulated by the proper in house channels only. In the evolution of social we see individuals representing company ideals and company brands when we use to see press releases and public relations broadcasting their spun version. The core of the company's foundation ordinarily was concealed unless a controversy manifested and then public relations was brought in to fix it.
If you think Google, Microsoft and Apple are bad-ass, cutthroat, take-no-prisoner companies, you should meet the nation’s wireless carriers, who have collectively convinced those intensively competitive software giants to cripple their products. Need any more proof that the nation’s four largest wireless carriers - AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile - have too much control over the airwaves, what phones you can use and what applications you can run on them?
Separate incidents involving CNN, Amazon and Domino's Pizza reveal that fluency in the evolving language of digital public relations comes easier to some companies than others.
TV advertisers are finally discovering that YouTube + viral imagination = free media. The good news for you is that money is not a barrier, which means that marketers of any size can play. But the rules are different, as they always are online.
For a long time now, I’ve been pushing hard the idea of journalist-as-curator. Every priesthood, it seems, is having a fit over loss of its centralized control: How dare people pick what they like without history degrees or share what they know without journalism degrees! The nerve!
As I speak with companies that want to engage with their customers in the online social world, I continually find people confused as soon as they begin talking about "social media." The reason is the baggage that comes along with the word "media." Media is something that media companies control, and media is overwhelmingly one-way. The online social world is about as two-way, multi-way, any-way as it can be. Nobody controls it, not even Facebook, which found it can't even change its own terms of service.
If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve learned (or at least heard) that the tables have been turned and now is the time that companies need to meet their fans on their own terms. But when you think about it, that’s a pretty big blanket to throw out there. Because everyone is different. And if that’s true, then we all have different terms. So how do you know where to begin? Would it be at the lowest common denominator, or the greatest?
Many people are intimidated by the abundance the digital world offers. There are all kinds of ways of categorizing these people, age and occupation being the two most common. While I think this is wrong, there is a spooky echo of my grandparents' contempt for long hair on men and color TV, my parents' contempt for rock music and flared trousers, my big sister's contempt for punk rock and piercings, in most boomers' (often very subtle, often subconscious) resistance to the new world. It all comes down to how you were educated.
Technology will shift the power from brands to people as they are able to control their own identity. As a result, the Social Contract between people and brands will evolve.
In today’s turbulent world, people are hungry for a sense of connection; and in lean economic times, every company needs new ways to do more with what it already has. Unfortunately, although many firms aspire to the customer loyalty, marketing efficiency, and brand authenticity that strong communities deliver, few understand what it takes to achieve such benefits. Worse, most subscribe to serious misconceptions about what brand communities are and how they work.
Losing control is a primary reason stated by brands who are unwilling to open themselves up to the conversation - and a major reason why most continue to use social media as little more than a brochure on the web. And yet the illusion of control is just that – an illusion. By not involving yourself you actually do more to remove control than if you did.
Many marketers are applauding Skittles's groundbreaking decision to turn its site into little more than a channel to point visitors to buzz and information about the brand on consumer-generated media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube and Wikipedia. Instead of corporate-produced content, visitors to skittles.com see one of these areas (the landing page is being rotated) with two overlays.
As part of its drive to seem more transparent, Facebook has announced that it will allow users to comment and vote on a new terms of service agreement. The move is designed to head off a rather vitriolic reaction to the site’s early attempt to revise its terms of service. But it’s not the terms of service themselves that offended users, it’s lack of control over their data on the site.
Facebook reversed course Tuesday on a recent and mildly controversial policy change about what rights it keeps once a user decides to quit the service. Many bloggers, some reporters and a vocal minority of Facebook users rejoiced at the Tuesday night mea culpa. But the story really shows how predictable responses are to still unresolved issues of who controls information in a culture of media sharing.
It's a recurring pipe dream for technophiles and luddites alike: computers that not only listen but understand our every command. And each year, like clockwork, someone claims this day is upon us—that we can toss out our keyboards and warm up our larynges for a new relationship with our machines.