Sunday, November 1, 2009

On the side of the angels

Coming back to San Francisco after a couple years away, I've been able to reconnect with many friends and colleagues - who, between sips of Latte, have clued me in on a bunch of exciting developments in our industry.

Jumping back in for the first time since Dec 2006, it's like seeing one of those time-lapse photography sequences on the Discovery Channel. But instead of looking a plants growing or weather systems swirling, I'm looking at the evolution of our own local agency eco-system.

As ever, it's about the survival of the most adaptable. So what are the new conditions to which we are adapting? From the smart folks I've spoken to, you might summarize these into three points:

1) Equality of voice. We have all seen the adoption of social platforms soar. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr et al, may prove transient (or not), but the social web is here to stay - and evolve.

This radically re-balances the communication playing field - between small and large brands, between brands and consumers, between small and large agencies. The means of production, publication and communication are blurring, and increasingly available to all.

2) Conversations, not demographics, are the most useful 'target' for marketers.

For a long time, traditional demographic targeting has declined in effectiveness. I gladly accept any and all challenges to this assertion. Real people conform less than ever to what marketers believe their wage bracket, age, or 'lifestage' should say about them.

Useful targets are better identified by the conversations that they increasingly articulate online. One of the (few) easier aspects of the socialized media landscape is that your audience are self-selecting around their interests. So choose the conversation to which your brand is relevant, and participate. Or, like Walmart, *own* it through providing a more valuable platform for the conversation.

) Brands need to be useful.
Even *before* you purchase them.

It has been said that Attention has become the scarcest commodity in our commuication-saturated world. To influence purchase behavior, brands need to get attention. To get attention, brands need to be useful.

This means delivering something of value, or utility. That is true to the brand, and relevant to their audience. It could be entertainment (a cleaning brand providing an online game), a utility (a sneaker brand tool for sharing the best jogging routes), information (a liquor brand filtering the hippest local hangouts for you), or a combination. But of enough genuine worth to earn a brand a voice in the conversation.

Apple's iTunes is possibly the most famous - and large-scale - example of this. But simple utilities like this one for Barclaycard in the UK can be effective for relatively little money.

You can add eight more points here of course (and I hope you do). But what do all these new market conditions add up to? What does it mean for our community? Well, for me at least, it means that good brands have to behave like good people. With integrity, humility, humor, and reciprocity. On their behalf, professionals like you and I get to innovate concepts that have genuine utility to their audience.

Isn't it great to be on the side of the angels? For once?

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