Friday, March 4, 2011

You are a human search engine (redux)

Check out this succinct, well-written piece by John Byrne, previously Editor-in-Chief of Business Week:

The consequences of us being human search engines are that networks like twitter are winning over engines like google.

Why is this?

Well, Twitter understands that their utility comes from a mix of human and cyber elements - to make one bigger, better algorithm.

Google....well, I bet google understands it too. They just have not put together a social / search offering that has caught fire in the last few years. (Google Buzz, anyone? Google Wave? Hello?...Anyone there?....)

It was unthinkable a few years ago that google might lose it's footing. Just as it's unthinkable now that facebook may falter in the future. But such is the way of things. For now, google remains megalithic. Let's see if they can stay that way.

Monday, February 14, 2011

You are a human search engine.

You are a human search engine. You have your own unique index, algorithm, and media brand. Moreover, so do I, and so does everyone we know. We are the emerging media brands of the future. If this is making no sense to you at all, try a thought experiment:

Imagine you want to find out where the best Belgian beer is served in your city. (Maybe you don't have to imagine too hard.) Maybe you turn to google. Maybe Yelp, or even Foursquare. But if you're any kind of social animal, you'll likely know a real beer 'enthusiast' who has done the research already. Whose opinion on beer-related matters you trust. Who has the best three options on the tip of their tongue when you ask them.

This person - we'll call them 'Amanda' - is behaving like a search engine, with a particularly effective index for local beer-related searches. Amanda is your go-to walking talking search engine on all things "Belgian Beer". Which is totally great.

But ask Amanda a question on another subject and the results are very different. Amanda has no interest in fashion. So when you want somewhere to get designer remnants cheap, she has no "index" of sources, no "algorithm" to compute what best fits your needs. You need to ask someone else. Someone with a great index of bargain outlets. We'll call this person Joe - another walking search engine.

And in this case, you are also acting like a search engine. When you determine to ask Joe, Amanda, or anyone else for advice, you're using your own search 'algorithm'. You factor in each social contacts' relevancy and popularity in relation to your query, before identifying the most likely source of the information you want.

Now, humankind has used these instinctive indexing and algorithmic activities for as long as we've had humankind. So - why is this such a big deal now? Because we are at the advent of social and search platforms (like 'Live Search') that combine, and amplify, human and artificial search capabilities.

This will accelerate huge changes in how we conceive media. In his excellent piece 'media after the site', Jeff Jarvis outlines his thesis on what media will become:

“What does the post-page, post-site, post-media media world look like? @stephenfry, that’s what... He comes to us. We distribute him. He has been introduced to and acquired new fans. He now has a million followers, surely more than for any old web site of his. He did it by his wit(s) alone. His product is his ad, his readers his agency. He is media with no need for media.”

It's not that people as emergent media brands need to be already-famous personalities - rather, our personal brand reach is driven by our reputation. Reputation is all any media brand really has left when the means of gathering and distributing information are no longer differentiators. And our reputation is driven by the quality of what we post - on blogs, networks, micro-blogs, etc.

We're entering an era where you buy reach with brains - not just dollars.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Brands are like People. Even Bleach brands.

Two things caught my eye this morning - this paper on the 'relationship era' of marketing from imc2, and Clorox's announcement of their partnership with Disney (see screengrab right).

These got me thinking: we increasingly perceive brands like we perceive people. And brands, no matter how apparently unglamorous, can be people worth knowing.

For example, we like people who: listen to us and respond accordingly; take the trouble to be helpful, useful or entertaining; are genuine, and comfortable in their own skin. Of course, the converse is also true.

And it's the same with brands. Having used personalities to embody themselves for years (think Ronald McDonald), brands have become personalities in their own right. It's interesting to see the profiles of brands and people alike, mingling unsegregated on our social platforms.

I do not believe that this has been a specific 'grand plan' on the part of marketers. Rather, it is part of the market-driven leveling of the relationship between consumers and brands that has accelerated with the adoption of digital media.

As consumers, we now expect the same integrity of brands as we do people. We judge them similarly on their behavior.

And as marketers, we are more than ever guardians of our brands' character.

So for a brand to sustain a relationship with a customer, the same commitment is required as when you or I seek the same relationship. Simply, we have to be worth knowing; worth spending valuable time and attention with.

Ask yourself, is your brand someone worth hanging with? And if you're thinking that this doesn't apply to low-involvement, 'unglamorous' brands, remember the Clorox example above.

Even a Bleach manufacturer can tell you how to throw a Holiday Party. And what's more fun to be around than that?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What's Murdoch Really Got On Google?

You might have seen last week Murdoch grumpily threatening to withdraw News Corp content from Google search results, in an effort to 'protect' his IP. Since then there's been debate in the trades and business media on the merits of this. Amazingly, some folks seem to think Murdoch has a point.

Now, maybe Murdoch means what he says. Or maybe he's posturing. Either way, I honestly wonder if he's losing it.

Does Murdoch mean what he says?

Well then, to see Google (or any similar tool) as parasite of content is missing the point. Rather, Google is the virtual 'mall' through which content can be merchandized. Estimates of NC online traffic coming from search vary between 17% and 25%.

Not only does this translate into millions in advertising dollars, but it is also an opportunity to merchandize content worth paying for. Perhaps this content needs to be sold in smaller chunks - eg. one article at a time - but it can reach a far, far larger audience than has ever paid for a newspaper.

Or is he posturing?

Smarter commentators, such as Henry Blodget, have suggested that this is a classic Murdoch 'posture' to get Google to pay News Corp for the privilege of distributing its content.

Again, is Murdoch smoking something? Google (Yahoo!, Bing etc...), are the new mediators of online content. They have successfully disrupted the media marketplace and changed consumer behavior. That's a simple fact. As such, News Corp needs Google far more than Google needs News Corp.

Making NewsCorp content inaccessible from Google is the
21st Century equivalent to withdrawing it from newsstands. (Perhaps on the basis that the newstands are 'stealing' the daily headlines by freely displaying them?) If NewsCorp was to therefore make the WSJ or the London Times was available only through mail subscription, would that sound sensible? No, it would not. Many readers would still go to the newstands and buy a competing news brand instead.

As this article by Abbey Klassen and Nat Ives says, 'it's about the pay walls'. What Newscorp needs to do is correctly calibrate the content that is freely available (the shop window) with the content that people will pay for (the goods for sale inside). This is a 'micropayment strategy'.

Not everyone believes a micropayment strategy would work. I kinda hope it will though. Because it would ultimately create a freer, unbundled, consumer marketplace for content. Which would likely improve the value of content available, and reverse the 'dumbing down' in broadsheet media that we've seen over the last 20 years.

But it would
also reduce News Corp's control over the value chain of the News business. Which is possibly why they are rejecting a micropayment strategy and instead mooting 24
-hour subscriptions for online content. Subscriptions, by indiscriminately lumping together content that is desired with a bunch of other undesired content, is are a poorer reflection of both media consumption and the intrinsic value of the content.


But I won't get too depressed yet - this saga is far from over.

2010: The mobile internet IS the internet

From Mary Meeker (Morgan Stanley), a hugely significant and well-structured presentation from Web 2.0.

A great way to use 17 minutes, trust me...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

experiences you can FEED on

This morning Razorfish's FEED report came out. It's a well-structured, thought through, data-supported case for brands to engage their customers through digitally-delivered experiences (or 'engagement').

Of course, this is nothing totally new. My old colleague Tom Ajello (now CD and founder at Poke) was exhorting his agency colleagues to create 'experiences, not messages' back in 2005. And Garrick Schmitt's (Group VP Experience Planning at Razorfish) own article in Ad Age today references many brands that have been ploughing this furrow for some time.

If you've read my blogging before, you'll know that I feel that the 'experiences, not messages' idea is the way forward for brands. And that this argument will win through. Why?

- Because we live in an attention economy, where consumer attention is increasingly scarce, more valuable, more in demand, and more aggressively competed for by brands.

- Because in our current era, the consumer zeitgeist is a pragmatic and frugal one. we want brands to work harder for us - rather than be aspirational idols to worship.

- Because in a market of declining ad effectiveness and resulting ad clutter, consumers filter out the message overload more than ever.

-Because experiencing (or DO-ing) something is far more memorable than passively seeing or hearing something (there is loads of research on this area of cognition and learning, if you want to check it out)

- Because Digital technology allows for the creation of experience at global scale, and free to the consumer, for the first time.

- Because I get to see a lot of campaign metrics first-hand, and can I tell you, 'engagement' kicks ass if you know how to invest in it.

All of which is a good thing in my book. As a marketer, the opportunity to create experiences with intrinsic value for consumers makes me feel like I'm on the side of the Angels for a change. And it looks like the argument for consumer engagement will win through. But hold on - there have been famous disasters as 'traditionally-minded' brands grapple with the idea of engagement - remember Chevy Tahoe? - and there will doubtless be many more.

So this begs the question - what is a solid methodology for creating 'engagement'? How do you identify the most appropriate vehicle for a given brand, product and/or audience? Should it be based on utility, entertainment, information, or some other value-add? Would you use online games, virtual worlds, social networks, bespoke applications, or (heaven forbid) a WIDGET? How would these choices affect the quality, and quantity of the brand impact on your audience?

Stay tuned for some answers - and give me your thoughts!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Martin Sorrell at ad:tech

Martin Sorrell's keynote appearance at NY's ad:tech this week was pretty interesting -

Sorrell dealt with the question - 'how will the role of the agency evolve'? To which he predicted that ad agencies would be getting "very much more involved" in the development of content, relating this to a consolidating/shrinking print media market.

It's true that agencies are getting more into the content creation sphere, and building media channels which interface directly with their clients' audiences.

But to say this is primarily related to a contraction in print channels is missing the point. The main driver is that brands need to behave in a different, less self-entitled, way.

Brands need to deliver content because they need to be more genuinely useful to their audiences. Engaging today's attention-poor consumer takes more than simply shouting messages about yourself. As a brand, it's increasingly important to demonstrate your value by giving folks something genuinely useful; free apps, games, entertainment or information. Starbucks, Dell, P&G, Walmart, McAfee are just a few of the folks jumping into these areas.

I have a feeling that work which has to 'earn' its own audience (rather than take it for granted) will tax many shops beyond their current skills.

So keep your seatbelts fastened - that Captain says the turbulence will continue for some time yet.