Archive for Digital Content
I’ve been reading so many traditional planners go on about how they don’t get digital strategists and how this role makes no sense to them that it’s time to set the record straight.
I vehemently disagree with the tendency most planners have in assuming that a planner and a strategist is one and the same. The argument is not about the title – which could be merely semantics but it is about the work process and the skill-set. It is especially easy to mistake and get confused about this in the type of environment we work in (i.e advertising agency) Step outside this bubble, and you’ll see that there are many flavors to a digital strategist and there are several deep skill-sets they have honed and developed over time to be simply merged with planning.
Just as there are several layers to brand planning, there are several layers (maybe more) to digital planning. If you ask me, digital planning sits under brand planning and not next to it because it needs to ladder up to the brand attributes/ values etc.
My biggest criticism of traditional account planning is that the planners don’t get very involved in the actual “making” of the idea. It’s called production in planner speak and the word is boring and uninspiring but in digital – that’s really where the idea gets made. And the idea continues to morph until it is beta tested. It continues to morph even as it is launched and the results come in and we tweak and make the idea better in real-time. Digital strategy is the true marriage of account planning, creative and production.
A (good) digital strategist works for the idea. With digital, you have to launch an idea that is in perfect harmony with innovation and current consumer habits/behaviors. You have to launch an idea that is technologically not too advanced and not too behind – Goldilocks! And that is not production or creative’s job alone – that is as much strategic thinking and application of tactical insights.
Also, the insights a planner brings to the table often only inform the birth of the idea or a creative direction. The insights that a digital strategist brings to the table informs the success of the idea and the actual meat and flesh of it. Sometimes the insight or “strategy” maybe tactical (will this particular user experience really invite participation and sharing?) and sometimes it is blue-sky. Point is – these insights underwrite the making of the idea and its success across the phases.
Our role will eventually become obsolete – it will mostly be absorbed by creative and a very small part of it will be absorbed by planning. But not yet. And not for the next few years. We have far too many traditional planners that simply aren’t interested in digital to wear this hat. You can’t teach someone to be an early adopter or experiment with technology or play around and deeply immerse/ engage in every new social platform or make games. Advertising needs us right now so if you still don’t get it – please STFU and let us do our jobs.
Call us whatever the fuck you want – as long as you let us work for the idea. I’ve even swept floors and washed dishes in name of creative. So there.
If you have more questions or want to hear more thoughts – please see the most popular posts (to your right). Feel free to leave a comment, unless you are going to serve up the same drivel I’ve been reading.
Undercurrent has a provocative blog post today titled, “How Brands are Killing Facebook.”
I have a lot of problems with the content in it. No offense to Jim Babb (whose excellent work, btw, I have followed and am a huge fan of) but the few points I want to make below, need to be heard and made.
The blog post asserts, “Hiding content behind a “Like-wall” is killing the value of a Facebook Like. In doing so, these brands are eroding the value of the Like and damaging their own social presence.”
This is not true. And here’s why:
1. There is no way to quantitatively differentiate the earned, paid and gated likes. And because it is impossible to do that, it is impossible to segment and understand the behavioral implications of these fans. Plus, most conversion studies I have seen say that a gated page does not negatively impact the behavior. It’s the content that makes or breaks it. Without any data to back up the assertion, I’ll be hard-pressed to make such a recommendation to my client.
2. In an ideal world, it will be nice to not use “Gated” likes. But here’s the reality. I just finished a study at JWT New York to understand how we use social media and what the behaviors are. When we asked our respondents, what were their reasons for connecting to a brand on Facebook or Twitter, the top three reasons were to do with incentives.
67% said they like a page to benefit from a specific promotion or offer;
63% said they like a page because to search for promotions and special offers.
53% said they like a page to participate in competitions and win prizes.
Point is, data and user behavior already suggests that the primary reason they are coming to a page or liking a page is for promotions and sales. Whether the page is gated or not, has nothing to do with it. Instead of focusing on the gated vs. ungated aspects of the puzzle, we are better off focusing on what to do and how to engage with these fans once the enter the turf. How they get there is important but more important than what we do with them once they get there!
If “Gated” likes have worked as a tactic to attract them and since they don’t yet show (at least to my knowledge) any negative impact on brands or consumers – why not experiment with it? And use it as a tool to bring more people in?
Also, lets get off our high horses regarding Facebook and “fans.” Who says these people that like our page are our “Fans?” Facebook calls them that but it doesn’t mean they are truly our fans. Personally, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with gated likes. In real life, to avail of a discount, you still have to step in the store. And that’s what I think a Facebook page is now. We call them “fans” because Facebook told us to call them fans. They could all just be people “in your store” – shopping or not.
We need to be careful in making recommendations that aren’t backed by data. I’ve done this before to0 – made recommendations that “feel” right for an ideal world. But we aren’t living in an ideal world. Brands are putting in a significant investment of resources, time and hard cash to grow their social footprint. This field is nascent but to move forward, we need to be able to sift through what “feels” right and what is accurate.
Just my two cents.
I’ve now been at JWT for one full year and have developed a healthy respect for all the different kinds of skills and temperaments that are required to make advertising, irrespective of whether it is TV, Radio, Print, Out of home or digital. I’ve also had more time to develop further my initial point of view and early thinking on the role of a digital strategist. My thoughts below are based on observations and discussions with my peers and colleagues.
A Digital Strategist is an amalgamation of planning, account and creative.
An ideal digital strategist wears many hats and balances many tasks artfully. Most of us have a stronger predilection towards one of these three roles or tend to be better at one or two of them. And that’s okay. It only means that there are other areas we need to get better at.
In working with the planner, the strategist must offer input on the digital behaviors of the constituents.
In working with the account teams, the strategist must demonstrate a clear understanding of the client’s business. More important, also understand how to do business with the client. Know what the client’s risk tolerance is or understand the level of due-diligence the client requires for new ideas, the parameters the client likes to operate within and other such sensitive information. Unfortunately, there are no guidebooks or decks on how to do business with a client. This sort of intuition is developed with experience.
I typically chart my clients on a digital appetite spectrum – some clients are more ready than others for bold, new ideas and some need a little more hand-holding and others are perhaps too scared or risk averse to try new things. But understanding where your client stands is essential because that dictates how you will approach and plan for them.
And lastly, the strategist needs to be able to partner with the creatives. Throw away all preconceptions and ideate with a blank mind for the client.
A Digital Strategist must learn to produce and execute.
I have come to the understanding that digital strategists must take a healthy interest in execution. Sold an idea, great? But nine times out of ten, what I end up launching does not look anything like what I initially sold. And I suspect this is true for a lot of us in this role.
Going through the feasibility checks, budget requirements, threshold checks, idea iterations and testing is painful and has often been outside my comfort zone. But it’s taught me to ask the right question and know when to raise red flags. I read this excellent article recently about the three types of knowledge. (Things you know; Things you know that you don’t know and Things you don’t know you don’t know.) Going through or being closely involved in aspects that don’t necessarily concern me: user experience, production, coding etc. have broadened my knowledge of “Things that you know you don’t know.” To me, a digital strategist doesn’t always know all the answers, but he/she knows where to get them. And this can only happen once you’ve been in the trenches. Once you’ve executed and made stuff.
Another thing I’ve learned is to involve production early on in meetings and preferably team up with producers that are problem solvers. The right producer will not only find a way to make the idea happen but will push you and the creative teams to make the idea better.
At my previous job, my boss once had be execute a conference. My initial reaction was pure horror. “I’m a strategist,” I whined. “I don’t do conferences!” But he wouldn’t listen. Instead he said, “I know you won’t believe me now but this is only going to make you better strategist.” And that is true. I didn’t believe him them but the wisdom of his words stayed with me. It wasn’t until a few months after the conference that I realized how right he had been. Executing that conference had helped me evolve my thinking process and I wasn’t even aware!
Bottom-line: If something is making you feel uncomfortable, it means you are growing. So just do it.
I know I’ve got some more thoughts floating around in my head so will eventually put them on paper. I’ve been thinking about “Invention Strategists,” the term that Winston Binch invented. I need to crystallize my thoughts but I think it’s a great way to integrate strategists into the creative department. But more of an organizational strategy than a new role. I’m not sure though that all strategists belong in the creative department but more on that later…
Stream of consciousness so bear with me…
I was at lunch with a dear friend of mine earlier this week. At 27, Clara is a highly accomplished business leader. Not only does she run and manage an amazing not for profit institution but is also currently enrolled at Stanford Business School. Over steaming aloo parathas, we caught up with each other and then our discussion moved to what we had learned.
Clara shared with me a very curious phrase and I’ve googled the heck out of it but cannot find much. She described to be the concept of living knowledge vs. dead knowledge that was recently discussed in one of our business classes. The notion being that living knowledge is the type that is still being argued upon and talked about and opinions are still nascent.
It reminded me of Steve Jobs vs. Bill Gates philosophies. I just finished reading Job’s autobiography. It is a fantastic look into his life but offers broad strokes over the key philosophies that defined and nurtured the last fifty years of the digital age. One of them was the argument about closed integrated systems vs. open syndicated systems. (Jobs vs. Bill camps) I think we’ve seen how both models can work (with caveats, of course) but to me, it is one of those issues that is piece of “living knowledge.” Still being argued hotly and worked upon by members of both camps. Got me thinking, what other examples of living knowledge do we have from our digital history?
***If you’ve arrived on this page after taking the survey – THANK YOU! ***
In the last few weeks, a number of you have reached out to me (via email, tweet or by commenting on my blog) regarding my recent blog post “Why the role of Digital Strategists needs to evolve.” http://t.co/WF9eNOI (If you haven’t read this post, and work in digital, I’d love for you to read it and share your opinion)
In my post, I promised to continue exploring this and share my findings on my blog. I’ve been having very interesting discussions with other strategists and folks in the industry about this role and what it means. These conversations led me to create this survey:
to test a few hypothesis. In particular, the goal of this qualitative survey is to draw a clearer picture of what exactly does a digital strategist do at their job. Where do they add most value and how is this role perceived at other agencies?
I’m hoping for at least 200+ responses globally so I’d appreciate it if you could take the survey and share it with your (digital) colleagues and encourage them to take this survey as well. I’ll also be grateful if you could post this survey on your Twitter and LinkedIn feeds. I will share the findings of this survey with you once they are available.
Thank you in advance
****This blog post has ignited tons of conversations and discussions around the role of digital strategists. I’m currently collaborating with several thinkers to explore this thought forward. If you’d like to learn of the results, email me jinals28 AT Gmail. And thanks for visiting!
It’s been about six months since I joined JWT. And what a ride it has been. I feel like I’ve grown ten-fold and the learning’s continue. I’m reminded of how I felt when I first left India to come to USA for undergraduate studies. For someone that loves learning, JWT, like college, hasn’t disappointed. I will write a series of posts about key lessons I’ve learned but today, I want to explore some ideas I’ve begun to noodle with regarding the role of “digital strategists” in larger agencies. My title confounds me. It didn’t until I began to view it in the context of working in a global communications and marketing agency. I think now I have a more objective view of both the strengths and the weaknesses of this role. Some of this will be very common-sensical to you and I think it is, but I felt the need to articulate it so I can understand it better.
Missing skill-set in a digital strategist
There is varying degrees of overlap between traditional account planning, engagement planning, communications planning and digital strategy. Account planning was born in response to the increasing complexity in consumer needs. From my understanding, engagement and comms. planning responds to the complexity in media channels. Digital strategy, does a bit of both. It represents the consumer’s digital behaviors and also lays into consideration the channels and platforms to reach them.
All these forms of planning are more art than science. Or as Mark Pollard calls then, part intuition, part science. However, what I’ve noticed is that digital strategists often lack a foundational understanding and grasp of brand strategy. Because digital strategy is practiced so differently at different agencies, it is often reduced to a very tactical interpretation or extension of the core brand idea or platform. Account planning on the other hand is by and far practiced similarly across the board. Each planner has their own flavor but the process and output is similar. This brings a sort of discipline and uniformity to the craft that digital strategists at yet to grasp.
I can’t speak for others, but I’ve taken upon the task of teaching myself this missing skill-set because my instinct is that it will help me become a better strategist. Also I think as our industry matures, these three roles will merge to produce a hybrid thinker and problem-solver of sorts that is T-shaped: adept at planning and strategizing; but has a common, foundational knowledge.
Behaviors; not technologies:
Digital strategists must focus on the consumer behavior digitally – not the technology or the platform. I realize that this is an oxymoron, especially because consumer behaviors are born out of new technologies and platforms. At its root, problem-solving is the notion of inducing action or activating a new behavior in the consumers. It makes sense to anchor the thought-process here instead of the platform/tool/technology. Also, it is because in the current ad-agency environment, this is the most significant area of differentiation that a digital strategist brings to the table. Her understanding of behaviors online is why the creatives and the planners will listen to her. Leave the shiny technologies and tools to the creatives.
Areas of excellence:
Digital strategists must have an “area of excellence.” This goes back to the notion of being T-shaped. I think there are three main communication cycles where a digital strategist can situate themselves: Brand building/ awareness cycle; Acquisition or product sale cycle and customer loyalty cycle. See the attached diagram. Depending on the project need and the agency’s capabilities, a digital strategist with the right type of “excellence” should be on the team.
Each digital strategist must have an “area of excellence.” For example, within my team, although we only have three digital strategists by title, I could argue that every member on my team understands and can consult intelligently to the broader strategy. However, each of the team member has a very pronounced area of excellence on her.
As you can see on the diagram, some area of excellence are applicable across the board – some sit more squarely in one product cycle. (PS: I’m sure social media cross the board but I wanted to provide a more black-and-white and a less nuanced look at the key specialization areas. I have also not accounted for technologists on this to keep this discussion focused and simple.)
I’d be open to any feedback you have on this theory of mine – but the general notion here is that when interviewing for digital strategists to join your team, discover early on what product cycle they best fit into and understand and what their area of excellence is.
These are just some top-line thoughts I have but I’m sure I’ll be writing about this more as my experience offers me additional learnings’ and insights.
What is Google+
Launched on June 28th, Google+ is a new social networking service intended to compete with Facebook.Google+ has incorporated the best features from Facebook and Twitter and eliminated several privacy challenges, giving users greater control of their content, who they share it with and how they share it. Since the announcement, Google’s brand perception has soared led by a lift among the 18 – 34 age group)
How it works:
Three key features:
Circles: Google+ lets users put friends into different groups called circles, such as “friends,” “acquaintances,” “family” etc. Users can send specific updates to specific circles and also select to receive updates from specific circles.
Hangouts: Hangouts let you chat face to face with upto 10 people at a time, further enhancing the “social-ness” of the platform
Sparks: Sparks serve up content (blogs, videos, recipes, news, links etc) based on interest. As users add interests over time, Sparks become a personal content feed that users can share within circles
How it differs from Facebook & Twitter:
Unlike Facebook, Google+ lets you slice and dice updates coming into your newsfeed by topics and circles, giving users greater flexibility in consuming content. Google+ also lets users follow the public updates of people that a user is not friends with. At the same time, users can choose to share both public updates with everyone (like Twitter)
Unlike Twitter, Google+ does not limit users to 140 characters. Google+ also allows users to share videos, images etc and comment on the content. Twitter updates no longer appear in Google search, thus limiting the reach and impact of the Twitter content.
Cons wise, Google+ currently offers no application platform for third party developer or brand pages for companies and interest groups. But it’s only a week or so old, I’m certain that as it evolves, Google+ will address these issues.
What it means for brands?
Google already has a suite of excellent products (Docs, Gmail, GChat, Picasa, Maps, Blogger, Android, Search, Chrome, Reader etc) that are used by a billion people globally. What this means is that Google+ has a fair advantage in audience development and growth.
Secondly, Google+ has Google search. And Google Search is every brands strongest ally. Any brand that learns to use Google+ appropriately, stands to benefit from organic search. So while Google+ hasn’t yet rolled out brand optimized pages, brands such as Ford have been quick to build presences on the platform to engage with the early adopters using the existing functionality.
Lastly, I think (although we are far away from it) e-commerce integration will be easier with Google thanks to its experience with Google Wallet and Google Checkout.
I don’t think there is a question whether brands should establish a presence on the platform. The question is when. Google is welcoming brands to enlist in a beta trial. I recommend you go add yourself to this list and if you have an in at Google, begin your conversations with them now so you can not only build your presence but work with Google in helping them define what that experience for brands and fans should be like.
Singularity Hub: Fantastic and detailed review of Google+. If you have time, go read this now.
I’d been experiencing Facebook fatigue. With over 900 people in my list, it became quite a chore to figure out what to share with who. And I figured my network was feeling the same pressure which is why the quality of content in the newsfeed became drastically un-interesting for me over the last few months. I hid my photographs, I decreased the frequency of my status-updates and became overtly conscious of how much and what I was sharing.
Google Circles promises to eliminate this for me and so that excites me. Google Circles also is just fresh and crisper and I happen to trust Google more with my information and privacy than I ever trusted Facebook.
Having said that, one of my concerns is that users wont really understand how to use the circles or will get bored/tire of using them and begin spewing out content to everyone, relevant or not. I don’t want another Twitter. And it is a slipper post when a social network tries to be both Facebook and Twitter. So we’ll see what happens.
Right now, I’m fascinated with the notion of having my content, conversations and network in one place. If I can figure out how to navigate my identity across these circles, I probably won’t need Facebook or Skype or even Twitter any longer. Just my two cents.
May 16th, 2011 • Digital Content
One of the most profound anecdotes I recently read was on Rohit Bhargava’s blog about Charelene Li. Paraphrasing it, as is here:
During a presentation at the World Business Forum last year, Charlene Li, bestselling author of “Groundswell” as well as the brilliant new business book “Open Leadership” and a leading mind in how social technologies can be used for business, talked about this in her short presentation to a global audience of business people. At one point she asked all the members of the audience to shake hands with the person next to them. Then she asked them to describe the ROI of that handshake. It was a nice example of where the measurement problem lies – because most of us are not used to quantifying the value of social relationships and conversations
How do you define the ROI on a handshake? How do you further define it if you follow it up with a smile, a card-exchange, a hug? Something to think about.
Digital is a broad term and encompasses a variety of skill-sets and channels to achieve specific goals. There’s the usual paid, owned and earned each with an aligning goal. While they all contribute towards building a brand’s presence digitally, I’ve been seeing a lot more conversations and interest around how these, if they do at all, contribute towards differentiating a brand as a thought leader or building a positive brand presence. The term “thought leader” implies intelligence, knowledge, and a higher purpose and those claims need to be justified. That term is not appropriate for every brand – but every brand must strive for differentiation using the tools and channels afforded by digital. And there are different ways to earn it. For the purposes of these posts, I may use the terms digital thought-leadership and digital brand building interchangeably. I’ve tried to explore some of these questions that I’ve been thinking about for a while. (What is digital brand building; Associated Benefits, Implementations, Measurement & Case Studies)
WHAT IS DIGITAL BRAND BUILDING/ THOUGHT LEADERSHIP?
Thought-Leadership has long been the competing ground for organizations whose primary product is expertise or strategic advice. Think professional strategy firms, business schools and to a certain extent even advertising agencies that utilize its assets (top analysts, professors, research facilities) to author strategic POVS and create new strategy tools, in the hopes of gaining mind share of potential executives, clients and students. (The most famous example of thought leadership building is the 2003 BRIC report authored by Goldman Sach’s economist Jim O’Neill) I believe two absolutes set apart a brand that gets thought-leadership from one that doesn’t.
Solid POV: And this isn’t just the mission statement of the company, but an encapsulation of how the mission statement of the company manifests practically. An intelligent insight into what the company stands for, what it believes in and why. Zappos is the perfect embodiment of this value; for Zappos, Customer Service trumps all else and the company lives and breathes this dictum on an everyday basis (creating some very inspiring stories in the process – but we’ll get to that later)
The point of view must be singular and all actions (and in-actions) of the company must reinforce it. Whether it was through Tony Sheih’s book “Delivering Happiness” or through the Zappos HQ visits (open to everyone) – the company has a focused message and hones in on it through various channels.
I believe that it is key that the point-of-view be timely and culturally relevant. No one cares about a company mission if its only self-serving and not contextualized in culture, environment or a belief.
Benevolence: There are many ways to interpret this term. What I mean by benevolence is a disciplined approach to creating an inclusive dialogue around the brand’s POV. For some it means sharing the “insider” process, for others it means opening up their doors and the breaking the PR strategist rules. (Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, offers candid and honest answers to questions about Netflix operations, his POV on the business and where it is headed on Quora) Benevolence involves offering value but also allowing the community to create value.
Benevolence also applies to the culture at the company. We are living in fairly transparent times and with sites like Quora, Glassdoor, Vault, Twitter etc, consumers are able to discern the company culture. So when Reed Hastings publishes a Slideshare saying very honestly (and a tad bit clinically) that Netflix does not treat its employees as family, – as a reader and a believer, I respect that.
That said, I don’t think all brands that practice benevolence do it for good karma. Benevolence or community giving is a popular earned media trick – but often it ends up positively influencing the brand’s basic value system on some level.
Roger White of Pendry White Marketing Communications agrees and sums it up rather well when he says:
Thought Leaders do three things well.
- They raise the profile of an issue and deepen understanding
- They set the agenda with their industry peers.
- They introduce new topics to the boards of potential and current clients in their chosen fields and they do these things over a prolonged timeframe
I couldn’t have said this better. This definition however, is not applicable to all brands. (A Skittles, Axe or Old Spice wouldn’t quite fit in this category, but they differentiate themselves in different ways.) What I want you to take away though, is that Thought leadership or Digital Brand building exists on a continuum and not at fixed points in history. It builds over existing brand truths and manifests them in ways that make sense to the audiences and fit contextually within the culture.
THE BENEFITS OF DIGITAL BRAND BUILDING
Digital brand building accelerates serendipitous stumbling of audiences into the brand’s experience set
The consumer purchase journey is no longer linear. According to this study by McKinsey, the evolved consumer journey has two key phases: Initial Consideration & Active Evaluation. In both these phases, consumers are likely to be influenced by friends and family but also have a propensity to seek out brand experiences, whether they are digital, in-store, or traditional.
Most brands err on the side of creating a fantastic brand platform and compelling ad campaigns. But the channels for these are passive and linear. Brands aren’t yet considering the question: how can we accelerate serendipitous stumbling into our worlds? Digital brand experiences help create a persistent presence but also increase the likelihood of increasing opportunities for audience engagement and influencing them positively. It grants brand the promotion from the Consideration to the Evaluation stage – at which point the more rational elements kick in. (comparison shopping, information gathering etc)
Digital brand building enhances the perceived value awareness of the brand, thus accelerating arrival at purchase
While metrics are hard to find, the most important benefit of building thought leadership is to build value awareness and increase the perceived value of the brand/ product. Stronger digital brand experience, have a propensity to generate more earned media and provide additional fodder for search engines. As such, ownership of search results become critical in influencing brand evaluations. (A recent Nielsen and AOL study found that 53% of time spent online is directly attributable to content consumption. Out of which, nearly 60% of all shared content specifically mention a brand or product name.)
These thoughts are still in exploration and I will continue to sharpen and better this post as my own thinking evolves. My next post, I’ll focus more on the how, measurement and discuss some excellent case-studies.
I was lucky to attend a fantastic Cross Media Forum hosted by IFP and Power to the Pixel at the Lincoln Center Film Society earlier this week. The speaker-line up was impressive but what I learned is still whizzing in my mind so I want to capture the notes here before I lose them to time. This is not a line-by-line review of each of the talks but more of a review of the overall trends I noticed and some interesting quotes that stood out to me.
1. Power of the Story:
Ex-JWT Chief Creative Officer and current founder of Co: Collective, Ty Montague gave an inspiring talk on the power of story. He’s a perfect ad man. At the right moments, he modulated his voice to a whisper for a dramatic effect. His presentation was very inspiring but like most advertising-folk presentations, I find that it lacked substance. He stressed the importance of storytelling whereas I think we are beyond being convinced of that. But he shared an interesting experiment by Rob Walker, Significant Objects. This project makes a perfect case-study for brands that don’t place enough emphasis on telling their stories and approach their brand from a purely functional and rational POV. The experiment demonstrated that objects with stories had an average appreciation of 3800%. (Did I hear it right?)
To this effect, he shared that Apple never pays for product placement. Every single Apple product featured in shows, movies etc – is because the directors want the Apple story to align with their protagonists. He also mentioned that every single protagonist he has noticed uses an Apple computer.
2. Transmedia in Action
What was more thought provoking was Jeff Gomez of Starlight Runner, a 100% Transmedia company. I loved his talk because it was prescriptive enough that I walked back with a lot of fodder to mull over. “True interactivity is how your choice impacts the progress of your narrative.” His company works with big-budget films (Pirates of the Carribean, Avatar, etc) in taking the canon established in this movies and these fantastical worlds and extending it into the pop culture universe in a way that lasts for a very long time. Their process is very interesting as well: they have a team of writers/ editors and designers that begin a project by first identifying areas where there can be room for additional or an expanded narrative. Perhaps its secondary character, or a fictional place/ land that demands more history or a backstory. Once they have the gaps identified, their team brainstorm ideas and come up with a series of appropriate “transmedia” objects to fit into the narrative. It could be a graphic novel, a video game, a lost chapter, a board game, toys – etc etc.
As a marketer, this is very interesting to me. Geico tried to do something similar by extending their popular Cave Men advertisements into a mini TV Series. It flopped but kudos to them for trying. Can you think of other brand examples where brands have extended their narrative successfully?
I loved Andrea Phillip’s talk. She took the audiences through an exercise on applying transmedia lens to “Romeo and Juliet.” I loved that she did this – her point was that transmedia does not just apply to sci-fi or fantasy. She stressed that it is important to consider from the audience’s POV what they want. I found it easiest to document the process and the outcome she took us through in the chart below.
One of the most important points that Andrea shared was,
“It is a myth that you can make something great, put it out there and expect it to take off. A lot of great transmedia products have failed because of that approach. It is important to treat and market a transmedia property like you would market its parent product. (Film/ game etc)”
A couple great case-studies emerged out of the talk by Brian Clark who is an experience designer and storyteller. I will need more time to dig through all the case-studies he mentioned (they are all in film, fyi) so that’s for another post.
Nina Bragiel, former writer on Lizzie McGuire and transmedia producer for ValemontU by MTV shared a great insight.
“The key to transmedia is providing something for every level of participation.”
Her presentation and the story behind how she managed the transmedia efforts for ValemontU was interesting but shed no light on success factors. I asked her particularly about the Twitter followers. Across 9 Twitter feeds, they had only 2000 or so followers at their peak. This is where I think that marrying transmedia principles with social media best practices would have been a smart way to approach this conundrum. I understand the importance of every character wanting their own feed, but at some point, transmedia producers will have to evaluate whether the celebrity feeds are more valuable than the character feeds and whether or not every narrative needs to have multiple voices. I would have liked more discussion on how or if transmedia contributes towards results. I suppose in regards to film, the answer is clear. Ancillary revenue. But for a Web show (like ValemontU) what is the goal of transmedia and what should’ve been its contribution towards increasing viewership?
Personally for me, with Transmedia, I think I’ve found the bridge that connects my two interests: fiction writing and marketing. The challenge is now to allow this thinking to inspire the work I do for my clients. That said, my concern is also that transmedia will become the next new “buzzword” (much like “gamification!) and everyone will want to “transmediafy” everything, much like they tried to gamify everything. Success for brands will rely largely on identifying the RIGHT mix of brands, narrative and audiences.
For further reading, JWT Intelligence recently published a report on Transmedia (as it relates to marketing/ advertising – not film or books)
Twitterati has suddenly recognized Quora and is wondering if it’s the flavor of the month. I joined Quora sometime ago and have found it profoundly useful. There are three main reasons why I’m betting on Quora.com.
1. Content: Quora.com has created a mediated space between Twitter and long-form blog content. Twitter took away the need to write thoughtful, long-form posts. Social media has created an opinionated culture that now demands a deeper level of discourse than 140 characters. Quora has not only validated, but bought back the need for long-form content. Because it is a very specific environment and framework, it actually enhances the user experience by creating mini-communities within one large platform. If Twitter is where we eat pop-corn, Quora is where we go for a glass of wine and some debate.
2. Quality: I’ve never been a fan of anonymous comments on blogs. It’s the same reason why I don’t trust answers on Yahoo Answers and any of the other Q&A sites. Quora.com requires users to identify themselves. When our personal reputations are at stake, it brings out the highest quality of responses and opinions that are well-thought out. What’s more is in most cases, these comments are qualified because you can see who is answering them. A question about AOL? No problem, Steve Case has answered it. I’d rather take his word over someone elses.
3. Ease of use: What’s best about Quora.com is that it balances all my interests and allows me to maintain with equal importance all facets of my personality. I can follow Questions about Creative Writing while I answer Questions about Social Media. My home-page mirrors caters to my interests and as a result, I’m more engaged and involved in the community than I’d be otherwise. There’s also the possibility of making new friends!
Summing it up, Quora is intelligent, smart and just what we needed 2011 to be about. It’s interesting to have followed the trajectory of massive social movements from Faecbook to Twitter and now, my bet is, Quora. Not fair to compare these platforms as they are starkly different, but I like how each of them serves a specific need without overlapping one another. Absolutely love it.
Learning never stops and here are three reasons why not.
One of my favorite sites is Open Culture – a high quality cultural and educational blog for folks like us, where the learning does not stop at school or at the job. Run by Dan Colman, (Director and Associate Dean of Stanford’s Continuing Studies Program) Open Culture curates audio books, online courses, movies, language lessons, ebooks and much, much more. There is also an iPhone application.
SCHOOL OF LIFE
The School of Life is actually a very unique store/ shop in London that sells a highly curated batch of books. What’s interesting about this shop is that the books are not listed by category, but by problem and each problem has no more than six books as a potential solution. (How to enjoy your own company; etc) The School of Life also offers a bunch of other content in form of events and salons that are about “how to live wisely and well.” In their own words, ” We address such questions as why work is often unfulfilling, why relationships can be so challenging, why it’s ever harder to stay calm and what one could do to try to change the world for the better.”
The highlight of this institution is its Sunday Sermons program where they ask “maverick cultural figures to talk about what they see as the virtues to cling to and the vices to be wary of.” Sunday Sermons have covered various topics such as “Loving your neighbor; Punctuality; Wonder; Pessimism; Curiosity etc)
Part philosophical; part pedagogical – I’ve been a fan of these Sunday Sermon videos for a while and on my visit to London, this store/ shop/ cultural institution is on the top of my list of sites to visit!
Founded by HBS Graduate, Salman Khan, The Khan Academy is a NPF that uses video to empower everyone with a free, “world-class” education. The Khan Academy houses over 1600 videos made in digestible bites of 10-20 minutes each, covering everything from math to chemistry and physics to biology. Sal Khan maintains total autonomy over the content that is produced for the site. I’ve spent some time on the site and even re-learned some of the concepts I had a weak understanding of (Limits, anyone?!) What works for me is that although the teaching is virtual (chalkboard and a voice-over) it’s not clinical or prescriptive. It is not formulaic either and focuses on instilling a deep understanding of the subject matter at hand – no other agenda.
Check it out – it’s worth a lecture.
Have you read, “Persepolis,”? You could call it a book, a cartoon-strip or a story about Iran’s history. When I first read the book a few years ago, I felt that I had learned more about the Iranian Revolution than I did in my World History Class. Readers like me were able to strongly relate to the story because suddenly the Revolution wasn’t faceless anymore. It had a name, a shape, and a color. Stories, inherently, are powerful in simplifying the complex, influencing perception and even behavior. Everyone has a different learning style – some are more visual, some more linear, but stories is a universal language. I think, it’s hard to disagree with that.
Which is why, this specific project is so brilliant. A group of professors at Eastern Illinois University & Baker University have created the most ingenious tool to help their students understand and grasp Econ 101. Answer: Seinfeld. These professors have not only created an online sites but they also regularly use clips from Seinfeld to teach their Basic Economics class. According to the website,
Seinfeld ran for nine seasons on NBC and became famous as a “show about nothing.” Basically, the show allows viewers to follow the antics of Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer as they move through their daily lives, often encountering interesting people or dealing with special circumstances. It is the simplicity of Seinfeld that makes it so appropriate for use in economics courses. Using these clips (as well as clips from other television shows or movies) makes economic concepts come alive, making them more real for students. Ultimately, students will start seeing economics everywhere – in other TV shows, in popular music, and most importantly, in their own lives.
I can’t tell you how much I love this. It’s repackaging existing media and stories into a different context that elevates its purpose from entertainment to education. This is magic. We need more of this.
The other thing I came across was Shambling Hoards – a new game from Yahoo Sandbox that uses zombies and gaming to teach economic theory. Edu-gaming is not a new concept, but I’m glad its getting more attention and resources now. Have you come across any interesting uses of story-telling / narratives in the education space?
Eager to hear your thoughts!
October 8th, 2010 • Digital Content
I’ve had a set of incredibly interesting and enlightening conversation with a few folks in the industry over the last few years. One of the conversations I’ve had recently simply reconfirmed my hunch that the next major shift in our industry (creative, branding, advertising, digital -call it what you will”) is going to be a consolidation of viewpoints and skill-sets. There is going to be ONE Strategy department and digital is going to be the POV added to the mix just like any other. I’ve been doing more thinking on my end about what it means to be a digital brand? As clients now question the monthly retainer fees they are paying to see increases on their social media fan base, we’ve begun to see the com-modification of social media. Is there a true value associated with the fan base ? It is essential to become smart about metrics, but what value do you put on an R&D lab? What value do you put on the Customer Service departments or Public Affairs?
Brands are stories and a set of experiences that build on each other. However as companies and their product lines grow (whether its through creation, or M&A) articulating a consistent story becomes more challenging. In light of this, I’ve admired for long Penguin’s approach to building on its story and managing to create interesting and valuable brand experiences for its customers. Penguin is in the business of selling stories. And perhaps not all of Penguin’s story-telling forays were runway hit, but it has still managed to create a reputation and brand halo of experimenting and inventing new approaches to narrative.
I’m personally a huge fan of brand experiences that deliver on utility. Whether it is an iPhone application, a new product or an interesting advertising campaign (although those are rare to see) Whether the utility is knowledge, entertainment (play) or convenience, as long as the experience delivers on it, I think it is still enhancing and elevating its own story. And at that point, whether the utility is digital or not, it doesn’t matter. And I believe that’s why Penguin has been so successful to date with its branded experiences.
Just a thought.
Yesterday I noticed my husband log into his Good Reads account and manually add his latest books from Kindle so he could share his recommendations with his friends. It was a little cumbersome and annoying process.
We are both avid readers. We own over 200 physical books and over 25 Kindle books between the two of us (Kindle is just in the last 3 months!) These days, we love coming back home and sneaking some time in the park or at the riverfront with our Kindles. But it is frustrating that I cannot share my books with him. It is even more frustrating that there is no way for either of us to directly port our Kindle buys to a site and rate/ review these books on it and make it accessible to our friends.
So we began thinking, why doesn’t Amazon create an API that allows users to port their Kindle books into a Good Reads equivalent where they can immediately review and recommend the books, or at the very least thumbs up and down it for their friends ?
Then today a few different conversations happened that helped me connect the dots better.
1) We’ve been working on a POV document for our client regarding Blippy. I’m embracing more transparency on the web but am not ready to share my credit card transactions just yet. Blippy is interesting but I’m not sure if people “liking” my purchase is adding any value to me.
At this point, Apple and Amazon have access to majority of my online shopping history. And I’d venture a guess to say that 80% of it is media related. Books, movies, music, DVDS. How amazing would it be for Apple or Amazon to pull a Blippy and give me the option to make any or all of my purchases public. I could not only share them with friends but also record my own experience / review of the particular product.
2. I’ve been playing around with a site called GetGlue for some time now. Getglue reminds me a lot of Netflix but I don’t yet see a tangible return on getglue. Netflix was able to rent or stream me movies and it made sense that the more movies I watched, the better it was able to make recommendations. I guess, I want to discover new faves and have options to buy, rent, read them.
I also spend 30 minutes today answering 50+ questions on Hunch.
3. I also read a terrific review of the KIN phone on the All Things Digital blog. What caught my eye is Mossberg’s assertion that what makes KIN amazing is that all media, images and videos are directly saved online without the user having to do any set-up or transfer! So you take a photo on your KIN, log on to your KIN Studio and lo behold! – it’s already uploaded on it.
So all of this got me thinking, how much richer my experience across all these sites would be if I was able to port in automatically (in addition to my profile/ interests from Facebook) my purchase history from Amazon, Apple and whichever other retailer. (maybe FreshDirect)
I don’t want to physically spend any more time answering questions or likes on sites like Good Reads, Get Glue and Hunch. I want to port in all my available data to them and have them figure it out. Do the work behind-the-scenes and just tell me what I need to know.
I actually don’t doubt the possibility of this either. We are moving into an era were privacy is more ambiguous than before and as a generation, we are simply more comfortable sharing personal information at a larger scale. I think an E-Commerce API, or the ability to port in our purchase history (not the amount we spend, but the actual products we buy) will be the next seminal step in creating a more “social” web. It’s not simple about where my friends are and what they are doing – it’ll be more about this is me and this is what I need.
My two cents.
I’ve been very fascinated with this idea. Now that Facebook is on it’s way towards profitability, it perhaps is not applicable to the social networking giant but there might be something for the new start-ups still trying to figure out their business model.
Plenty of start-ups in the Internet space follow a strategy of building a product, amassing an audience quickly and then trying to figure out how to monetize the audience. Facebook did the same, but it hasn’t and still struggles with winning the in-network advertising conundrum.
It changed its “FAN” to “LIKE” – with the definitive intention of pandering to brands and companies by showing them an increase in enrollment into their fan pages. Facebook also changed the settings on my profile page and now connected each “interest” of mine to a specific fan page. It annoyed me. I had beautifully crafted and super creative interests and activities and now they are all gone because I refused to link them to Pages.
From a brand perspective, these are all excellent changes. Branded content will continue to seep through personal social networks in form of “likes.” My clients are already excited with the possibilities.
But on a personal note, Facebook has become less and less intimate and is losing context for me everyday. I have more people on Limited than I did before and my interactions on Facebook have lessened to wishing happy birthday’s and liking a photograph. Maybe it’s just me but are these changes adding real value to the user to ensure they continue using and trusting Fbook for the long term?
That’s why my $1 business model is so brilliant. If I say so myself.
I’d have MUCH happily paid them a $1/ month subscription fee than be subjected to forced changes. Facebook would have the operating budget they needed to stave off pressure from the industry and buy time to come up with a smarter strategy. It’s a flawed idea, I know but I just shelled out $20/yr for a flavors.me pro account. Facebook offers a much better service and contains my biography of sorts…so paying a subscription fee to Facebook is a no-brainer.
Just my two cents.
I haven’t written in a while. I’m thinking of migrating my blog over to tumblr. There’s a very work-like, formal feeling to logging into my domain name and blogging. Anyways, what follows are a few ideas I’ve been thinking about over the past few weeks. Just wanted to catalog them before they fly away.
I’m fairly outgoing and so I enjoy Foursquare. But I very often simply forget to check-in because it’s just not a habit yet. On the other hand, if I’m watching an incredible show, movie or reading a page-turner of a book, I’m the first to yell, facebook, tweet it out to the world. It’s an ingrained habit and now that I read more than 3 books/month and discover new authors more often thanks to my Kindle, I find myself itching all the time to share my ‘finds’ with the community. As a personality, I care more about what people think of my media recommendations over my restaurant/ pub recommendations.
The growth of location-based services has been exponential. Books and reading based services have stumbled along the way, neither of them capturing my interest or attention for a sustained period of time. Books and media-based conversations are so rich and multi-layered in context. Then, I wonder why we can’t yet “check-in” to books and entertainment yet ?
We recently met with the brilliant team at HotPotato to evaluate potential opportunities with them for a client. Miso and Hotpotato allow users to share what they are currently watching. In doing so, they create a live environment of impassioned audiences that discuss live events, TV shows and even movies as they are watching it. But I’d really love to see a version for books and reading.
I’d ventured a guess earlier (largely from my own experience) about new mobile devices such as Kindle and iPad contributing heavily to an increase in media consumption. Perhaps there’s an opportunity waiting to happen here with interactive books on-the-go. Imagine you “check-in” a book everytime you read it and it post reading, you are privy to and have access to discussions and opinions – on the go, on your device.
Just a thought. You know, because I’m really ready to share more than just my location.
… confounds me as much as you. And so on April 30th, I’m headed to the Future of Publishing Conference headed by University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School, to discover and learn what the leading practitioners are thinking and how they are approaching the content business.
This conference is jointly put together by Knowledge@Wharton, the Wharton Interactive Media Initiative and Wharton School Publishing with the goal of “examining new technologies and strategies that impact all facets of the industry to help bring actionable answers to publishing executives.”
Not only does the conference have an impressive line-up of speakers (Demand Media, Simon & Schuster, Fast Pencil, Conde Nast, etc) but the panels are well-designed to tackle one specific issue facing the content industry. While, I’m psyched to hear Martin Nisenholtz (he founded nytimes.com in 1995!) keynote the conference, you must also take a look at all the panels here.
I’m not a fan of concurrent panels because it’s difficult to decide which ones will offer most value (based on speakers, moderator and content) But I’ve decided to attend one panel where I learn something new and another panel, where I go deeper on what I already know. So to learn something new I’m planning on attending this panel on the future of books. Ever since I got my Kindle, I’ve been very surprised by how my own reading habits have changed (for the better). I’m curious to hear how the book industry is thinking about new platforms and pricing.
The Future of Books: (Designed to discuss new book platforms, new delivery methods for content and pricing models)
Ellen Archer, President, Hyperion Books
Brendan Cahill, VP and Publisher, Open Road Media
Steve Ennen, Managing Director, Wharton Interactive Media Initiative
Jason Epstein, On Demand Books
Ellie Hirschhorn, EVP and Chief Digital Officer, Simon & Schuster On Demand Books
Steve Wilson, CEO, Fast Pencil
The next panel I’m planning on attending is on Content Discovery & Promotion. This ties in close to my current work and interests. The panel is designed to explore how partnerships can help drive revenues, traffic and bring more visibility to content.
Richard Baum, Global Editor, Reuters.com
Pete Fader, Frances and Pei-Yuan Chia, Professor; Professor of Marketing; Co-Director, Wharton Interactive Media Initiative (moderator)
Jason Jaynes, VP Marketing and Product Management, Pluck
Seval Oz Ozveren, VP Finance and Business Development, Cuil
If you are planning on attending, buy your tickets now. Drop me a line as well – maybe we can meet up there!
April 2nd, 2010 • Digital Content
Did I ever mention here that ever since I got my Kindle, I’ve been reading (at least!) three more books a month than I did before? I’ve been following the publishing price wars with great interest over the last few weeks and have thought a lot about whether it would impact or change my habits if it the book prices on Kindle were increased. That’s for another blog post.
This one is about the iPad. I definitely won’t be buying the device just yet (poo!) but I’m as passionate about the debate and excitement following it as everyone else.
I think as a Kindle-owner my biggest question is how will the iPad impact the ebook market. In his review for the NYT, Pogue mentions a few flaws that drive my skepticism regarding the iPad and ebooks.
- It weighs 1.5 pounds (compared to 10 ounces of the Kindle!)
- Books purchased from the Apple bookstore cannot be read on any other machine – not even a Mac or an iPhone. That’s a bummer. (Although the 9.7 inch color screen might actually compensate for the drawbacks!)
I think the biggest confusion is around the one true use of the device. As an audience, we’ve been sort of conditioned to perceive a single important use/ value for any device. Even with the iPhone, it’s first real purpose is to play the function of a telephone. The Kindle is for reading, the iPod is for music. I’m still having trouble assigning a single value for the iPad. And that might actually be a good thing – symbolizing a new age of devices that are more integrated and have multiple values as opposed to primary and secondary value.
To me, the value of the iPad is as a content consumption device. Even with the no-flash policy, (and some news sites have already converted their videos into an iPad friendly format) I see a lot of potential in form of applications and optimized websites for the iPad. Add to that the comfort and convenience factor (making it super easy to surf the web) and the iPad might strike the chord.
I’m also positively assured of the success the iPad will have with applications. About 150K iPhone apps work for the device but it will also launch a host of iPad specific applications. (I’m excited at the thought of hulu.com launching it’s own iPad app!)
Pogue sums this up succinctly when he says,
the iPad is not a laptop. It’s not nearly as good for creating stuff. On the other hand, it’s infinitely more convenient for consuming it — books, music, video, photos, Web, e-mail and so on. For most people, manipulating these digital materials directly by touching them is a completely new experience — and a deeply satisfying one.
Kleiner Perkins is obviously very confident of the iPad and its future. It just invested $200 million in its iFund to specifically create applications for the iPad. The company has some 20 applications already under development and will be launching 11 of those tomorrow to coincide with the iPad launch.
What are your thoughts? Will you be buying the iPad?
- We are designers are very attuned to bad experiences.”
- Designers are designing for themselves – but the philosophy falls flat for the new user experience because we’re only a new user once. Esp. true for social networks because we can’t go back and feel what it’s like to discover and become friends with a new group of people for the first time.
- Ask for registration after users have done something worth saving – after they have invested time in your site. Another strategy is to prove that what’s over the registration wall is worth registering for. (Gowalla does it well)
- Design a roadmap around an ah-ha moment. Let people continue with the new user flow even if they haven’t confirmed their email yet so they can get to the ahha moment sooner.
- Eliminate everything before the ah-ha oment.
- The feedback cycle for getting a user from new user to very engaged and active user is important but a lot of this hearkens from game design – (eg. spore. mint.com, bejewelled.com) At Facebook, the high level feedback is around sharing.
- User education is an experience – not something they have to read out of a textbook. (eg. glitch.com, yammer, games)
- Games teach you controls as part of the gameplay – go left, right try. “In Super Mario Galaxy, the first task is to jump over the bunnies, which is fun. You don’t even realize you’re being taught because you are so immersed in it.”
- Tumblr is great example as well.
- get newcomers invested right away into your product
- discover your ‘aha moment’ and get to it quickly
- Set small goals that expand into larger ones.
February 24th, 2010 • Digital Content
NYT has an amazing article today about the relationship between Internet and TV but mostly about how instead of cannibalizing the TV, Internet is actually bringing life back into the TV.
One of the main reasons this is happening is because of the “Second Screen.” We talk a lot at work about the second screen – which in essence is the idea that viewers increasingly watch TV while engaging in other activities either online or on mobile. Facebook and Twitter are allowing users to engage in chatter while watching television. And that in itself is extremely powerful.By becoming a part of the story, the audiences are effectively moving the story forward.
This year, NBC decided to show the Golden Globes live on both coasts for the very first time. And they want to repeat it with the Emmy Awards to enable viewers on both coasts to watch and (chat online) simultaneously.
This isn’t it, according to the article,
The Vancouver Olympics are shaping up to be the most-watched foreign Winter Games since 1994. This year’s Super Bowl was the most-watched program in United States history, beating out the final episode of “M*A*S*H” in 1983.
Amen to that, I say.
The only phone-numbers I have left on my cell-phone are those of my family, twenty or so friends (people I communicate with AT LEAST once every month) and a gazillion take-out places.
That’s it. And it was the most liberated I have felt in a LONG time.
It’s funny because just a year ago, my boyfriend was making fun of me for having over 300 contacts listed on my phone. I couldn’t even recall the faces of about 15% of the contacts.
I’m love technology and instead of becoming overwhelmed by it, I have decided that from now, technology is going to simplify my life.
I started with my phone.
Step 1: Delete ALL contacts that I simply couldn’t put a face to. (I know, it sucks you don’t realize how easy it is to punch someone number on your phone when you are out networking or at a bar or at some event. Next thing you know – you have 50 names and numbers you cannot recognize)
Step 2: Delete ALL contacts that I will most likely never ever talk to on the phone. (This includes a bunch of ex-colleagues, old banks tellers, old restaurants that have closed down or I don’t order from anymore etc)
Step 3: Exercised much caution here- Delete ALL contacts of friends who I have not talked with in over a year (in some cases even the last 6 months)
Step 4: What I did do, which was so smart, was add all 1800 numbers to my bank, credit card company, landlord and doctor. Yes, shamefully admit that I hadn’t saved those numbers.
Result: My phone book is about 150 numbers lighter.
My ex-colleagues and old friends are connected to me on Facebook. Athough I highly doubt, if there be a time when I need to talk to them, it will anyways be a very awkward phone conversation which should not happen without prior email or fbook msg. So why continue carrying the number on my phone?
You will surprise yourself – but if you paid careful attention to your phone-bills, there are probably only about 20-30 phone numbers you call or recieve calls from regularly. (unless your business line and work line is one and the same)
I feel much lighter already. You should try it!
Next task: De-clutternig Facebook!
(Photo credit: OneExposure)