Latest thinking

Living knowledge vs. dead knowledge

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?

Digital in 2012: The web will make us smarter

The last decade or so were the august years of the Digital web. A sort of industrial revolution that created entirely new types of economies, skill-sets, companies and most importantly behaviors. Led by programmers and tinkerers and computer scientists, this industrial age has been crucial in helping us write our generational history. One of the biggest outputs though of this age has been the birth of a culture were our need for visibility has overtaken our need for privacy. What this has done is created a digital world that is not designed for developing original thought.

There’s nothing wrong with that and ofcourse the onus does not lie on the web. But I believe that anything in excess hurts the society. And all this talk about connectivity has left a few other equally important values for humanity at bay. It’s time to address this excess.

The good news is that a new slew of characters have emerge to balance out the equation. I believe, we are on the fringes of entering a new wave. I’m calling it the age of enlightenment in our digital history. And this age is being lead by a new class of people. These are thinkers, artists and storytellers not programmers and geeks. These are people driven by a vision that’s a bit more individualistic, centers more around exploring the tapestry of human opinions and feelings instead of connecting the world into one large immutable being.

The problem

Sharing has become a thoughtless act: Sharing used to carry weight – it used to be hold more meaning. Now, it’s passive, robot-like. And does not persuade or evoke response. Yet brands and marketers continue to tout the one-to-many function that social networks (and the Internet) has enabled. The web systems we have designed unfortunately haven’t focused on curating for the self but for the echo chamber that each of us is a part of. Some may argue we have become mindless drones, quick to react and retweet, but not *think*

I refuse to buy that a meaningful conversation can happen on channels we currently use: Facebook and Twitter predominantly. Even sites such as Pinterest and Tumblr who I’m a huge fan of, often symbolize nothing more than “inspiration fetishism” (a word coined by Stefan Boublil) What this has resulted into is a culture of people that backslap each other, think like one another and as a result, even act like one another. (I cannot tell you how many times I have heard about checking-in and scoreboards in a boardroom for new products. Which brings me to my next point..)

Value exchange is quantified in terms of likes, friends and followers: Web has become too much of a game. With gamifying the web and making instant gratification an expectation, we are setting ourselves up for failure.  I’ll give that the conversations around gaming are evolving and becoming more substantial but we have been trained to respond to flash sales, group buying and other forms of commercial game-induced behaviors. Gaming will have a larger role to play in the age of enlightenment, but perhaps not so overt. It’s job will and should become about elevating the meaning and importance associated with a like, number of friends and followers etc.

As our social quotient goes up, our intellectual quotient is coming down: The web is not going to disappear – if anything, it will continue to become more important in the next few years and become the entity that our kids will play with and even learn from. But if the growth of the web continues to perpetuate in such a manner – what kind of original thought will our kids will capable of producing?

The Solution?

The web, if designed and engineered differently,  has incredible power to induce substance back into our lives. To teach us how to think and encourage behaviors that aren’t simply reactive or celebratory. Our natural instincts are to shut technology or cut ourselves from it for a few days, to take a sabbatical or a thinking break. But why does it have to be this way? Why aren’t we or why haven’t we discussed the possibility of desgining technology and the Internet to make us smarter? Why don’t we make systems that:

1. Are designed for constructive debate and dialogue by exposing us to different points of views
2. Are designed for quality – not quantity. Where there is less immediate gratification.

In our capacity as marketers and brand stewards, our work is also indirectly shaping the future of education, humanity and intellectual thought. What roles can we play to encourage the evolution of the Web in a direction that’s not stunting our growth, but making us smarter individuals everyday?

The good news is, that I’ve already been seeing whispers of a movement in this direction. As I mentioned earlier, artists and thinkers are the one’s the forefront of this movement right now. Raghava KK, my fellow TED nominator and artist, has recently announced the launch of Shaken Media Collective.

Shaken Media Collective is an initiative brought about by the talents of creative individuals dedicated to forging a new direction of storytelling that raises empathy in readers by shaking up perspectives, and bringing stories to life through a fusion of play, art and technology.

You can see a glimpse of what this means (and its current incarnation) by downloading Raghava’s perspective-shifting PopIT application for the iPad where one shake of the story reveals a completely new perspective.

Another such attempt to bring more substance to the web and to our behaviors on the web is Cowbird. I’ve been lucky enough to be one of the early storytellers on the site. Cowbird, like most of other Jonathan Harris projects furthers how technology can offer new ways Screen shot 2011-12-21 at 6.54.01 PMof looking at the world, and telling stories. A tightly controlled and curated environment, Cowbird, is (in its own words)

trying to preserve and evolve the dying art of storytelling, using technology as friend instead of foe. We believe all people deserve equal access to the best storytelling tools, so the communication of ideas cannot be monopolized. We support the broad empowerment of individuals to voice their honest ideas about life, and we believe they deserve a clean, ad-free, uncluttered environment for sharing personal experience.By encouraging self-reflection and deeper connection, we hope to foster a feeling of empathy among people all over the world, so we can start to see our species — and indeed our planet — as a single living organism.

Regarding it’s whimsical name, it says, “Cowbird combines these two extremes to form a new kind of storytelling medium — mixing the slow, deeply rooted, contemplative idea of a cow with the fast, efficient, playful idea of a bird.”

I don’t know how successful these two initiatives will be, but we’ve entered the age of enlightenment and as the collective consciousness around this grows, more entrepreneurs, artists and thinkers will veer in this direction and build upon each other’s work to create a digital world that balanced. A world that can teach us to think as well as it as taught us to respond. Marketers as a rule respond to the current zeitgeist, and once we create a new habits and behaviors, marketers too, will play their part in accentuating and intensifying them.

This is my sincere hope for the coming year and I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions on this.

Home is where the family is

My mom left for India this Sunday after a two-month long visit. When I tell my American friends this, they give me a look of surprise. Followed by one of awe. And then I go on to explain how it works differently with Indians. And my family. I tell them that if I was still in India and unmarried, I’d be living with my parents. And that if I moved back and lived in the same city as my in-laws, we would live together. This concept is so foreign to most Americans. They only see the width and breadth of my studio and think how can three people live in this space. They think about my social calendar and work obligations and wonder how I would entertain my Mother for so long. I don’t blame them. It’s a cultural thing.

Seldom does advertising move me the way this ad has. In fact, by the time the ad was over, I was weeping. Remembering all the times I have stood at the airport saying bye or leaving. In fact, I don’t even consider this advertising.  This project aligns well with Coca-Cola’s Happiness Project and its brand idea, but I think it is every single brand’s responsibility to empower people. To celebrate them and bring them joy.

Big, big brownie points to Coca-Cola and McCann Manilla for looking beneath the underbelly of a nation and bringing it to the forefront.

What I hope to achieve with TED Ads Worth Spreading

As I sit to write this post, I am reminded of all the things in-between that I have missed sharing and writing about. It’s out in the news that I’ve been (humbled, honored, excited, insert more adjectives here!) invited to be one of the twelve nominators for TED Ads Worth Spreading Initiative. The category I’ve been assigned is “Creative Wonder.” And who better to be partnered with than Raghava K.K, former TED Speaker and artist-extraordinaire!

Let me back up a bit though. This is a big deal for me. I also understand that things like this usually beget the question, how did this happen. I’ve been asked this numerous times. The answer is surprisingly short.

I attended WPP Stream in Athens, Greece earlier this September where I hosted a discussion on “The Future of Publishing”. Toward the end of this discussion, Ronda Carnegie of TED and I ended up having an incredibly thought provoking conversation about the role of curation and point-of-view. And this is where our collaboration really began. I will confess that until she mentioned it to me, I hadn’t known of or seen the TED Ads Worth Spreading initiative. So you can imagine how humbled (but excited) I was when she invited me to participate in this initiative.

The thing is, I don’t have a traditional advertising background. I’m still figuring out how I can be useful in an ad agency. I started my career as a journalist at InStyle magazine and found my way into marketing through trend-spotting work that I was doing for PSFK and a bunch of other sites. Point is, JWT is my first “proper” advertising job and I’m not yet jaded or bored with it. In fact, I’ve only just begun.

TED is a powerful platform. I’ve had several people tell me that they don’t understand this initiative from TED. Why ads, they ask me. The way I look at it, advertising is one of the most easily accessible (and mainstream) forms of creativity and art. You have to understand – I grew up in India and we have a rich tradition and a healthy appetite and love for advertising. (I’m known to joke even today that American advertising is boring and lacks imagination when compared to Indian advertising.) Dinner-time conversations with family and friends often involved remarking on the brilliance of a particular advertisement. Even as an expat in New York, my friends and I tend to spend hours youtubing old ads, fabricating our own nostalgia.

Subliminally and overtly, advertising has been my first introductions to story-telling, to creativity and to capitalism. And I believe there is enough room in the industry for someone such as TED to come in with its own point of view on advertising and shape the dialogue further.

For TED, our one true mandate is to discover ads worth spreading that fall under the “Creative Wonder” category – which means we are looking for global work that elevates the craft of creativity in advertising through ingenious use of technology, music, cinematic treatment or even information.

From the moment we were briefed, Raghava and I felt strongly that it was essential for us to open up our process and not remain limited to our own networks or point-of-views in discovering creative work that is meant to speak for and represent our category globally. We believe that creativity doesn’t happen behind closed doors or without collaboration. Even advertisements need an army to make them! Hence, we have decided to democratize our search.

http://www.tedawscreativewonder.com is our humble effort at ensuring that not only is the process of discovering these advertisements transparent and democratic but also a story onto itself.

Screen shot 2011-11-09 at 2.10.30 PM

We’ve invited a diverse group of artists, creative’s and thinkers to the project. Each of them brings a unique POV and their backgrounds, interests and experiences apply a different lens to this, which is crucial for this project. (We’ve already come across incredible ads that I wouldn’t have found on my own!) You can see our growing collection of nominations on our Pinterest board.

Our goal is to emerge not only with unique, global pieces of creative but also an amazing story of the works, how we found them and why we recommended them. Through the conversation and dialogue generated, we hope to elevate our and our community’s outlook on advertising and creativity.

I realize this was a rather long post – but would LOVE your insights and opinions. This is an experiment at crafting a point of view on creativity in advertising and the more people involved, the more enlightened our point of view will be. So drop me a note, yeah?

Digital Strategist Survey: What does the role entail?

***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:

http://bit.ly/nsAf2w

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

Is Facebook influencing world cultures for the better or worse?

There’s enough commentary out there about the new interface changes of Facebook and its new Time-Line centered social activities. I had a thought this morning that I’m trying to reconcile and figured I’d share it here and see if anyone else shared my concern. I’ve had the timeline for a few days now and I actually quite enjoy it. But I wanted to play devil’s advocate and argue a different point of view.

Celebrating micro-achievements is a distinctly American trait. For example, celebrations such as pre-school graduations, middle-school graduations and such are a very American trait. I grew up in India and I can tell you when you passed one grade and entered another, it wasn’t (still isn’t) made a huge deal of. I don’t have kids but that’s how I prefer it. Why must children be rewarded for their job? Or what’s expected out of them? I’m not sure if I’ll be able to escape this trend once I have my own children and if I decide to raise them in this country.

But I’m using this anecdote to make a bigger point: every single milestone in America is magnified and turned into a celebration. (There are both positive and negatives to this)

Like many other companies, Facebook is an American company that has global users. And this is important to not forget. With its new time-line feature, it is essentially introducing this very American trait of celebrating micro-achievements to the world stage. Time-lines offer users an exaggerated sense of their life and its milestones. It gives them a platform to celebrate and commemorate the most insignificant details of their lives. (Yes it has its benefits but I’m playing devil’s advocate here so let me run with it.) This isn’t entirely alien to the Americans, it’s more of an extension of how they’ve been raised and taught to value. But to Facebook’s heavy users in other countries (and I’m only intimately familiar with the culture in India so I can only speak to that) what does this signify or symbolize?

Will we raise an entire generation of Indian children to think, talk and celebrate their micro-achievements as American children do? Will there remain a unique cultural imprint on these children that have been raised on a steady American diet of self-exaggeration ?

Also as my friend Ryan pointed out, do these exaggerated celebrations chip away at the real sense of achievement that comes from doing hard work and earning something?

Just something to think about. If you come from a different background or culture, I’d be interested in hearing your perspectives.

How Metaphors influence culture and daily language

I’ve never participated in an Ignite talk before. So as a challenge to myself, I decided to participate in Ignite at Stream and spent the next few weeks agonizing over what I would talk about. Ignite is a very compelling (and a little intimidating) talk format. You are allowed 15 slides and 4 minutes. Your slide changes automatically every 15 seconds so it’s very important to time your talk.

Stream 2011 is WPP’s three-day un-conference that brings together brilliant minds in marketing and technology from all over the world to discuss new trends, behaviors and ideas. (Not that I consider myself anywhere close to the league of people that were present!)

The real challenge for me was to find something unique to talk about that the crowds would find interesting. As a storyteller, I’m mildly obsessed with metaphors and so I decided to package everything I knew about metaphors in 4 short minutes and present it. Enjoy!!

Ignite: How metaphors influence culture

View more presentations from Jinal Shah
Voice-over for of each slide: (I’ve added more context here to explain better!)
Metaphors exist because as humans we are incapable of thinking about things literally. Metaphors are nothing but stories that anchor our understanding and allow us to approach the world from a frame of reference. As children, we allow influential epics, books and stories to shape this frame of reference (For eg: Good vs. evil from Mahabharata; etc) As humans we yearn for figurative language to help us contextualize and make sense of our worlds.
Unless, ofcourse if you are Spock. In which case, this talk will not amuse you. (And I just used Spock as a metaphor for someone that does not speak emotions or understand figurative language) The point us, our conceptual systems, our jokes and even our national identities to a certain extent are metaphorical. But we are not readily aware of it.
Even as a professional (in advertising) metaphors from the basis of what I do. Metaphors allow us to dip into our values, histories and mythologies to communicate the value of a brand and connect to our audience. For all those naysayers, good advertising is good storytelling. (This advertisement will not make sense to you if you don’t have the cultural context. Ask me if you are curious about what this ad means)
Learning basic metaphors is essential to participate in daily life. You can call it slang or cultural literacy. I didn’t feel fully American until I understood the metaphors that dominate in this country. But I still have a lot to learn. Just a few weeks ago, I found out what “beaver” stands for in America. It was quite embarrassing. Either ways, in thinking about origin of metaphors – they come from every aspect of life. Cooking, eating, local animals, local foods etc. (Characteristic foods are often used to label ethnic groups: Krauts (Germans); Dhoklas (Gujaratis); Frogs; Limmeys etc)
But what has a profound impact on our culture is transformational inventions and events that become new sources of metaphors and have a lasting impact on how we communicate in thought and action.
Take for example, the invention of clock. The clock was a new representation of time. It’s mechanical clockwork came to symbolize pre-ordained regularity and order.

By 18th century is characterized and defined by clockwork metaphors and mechanistic philosophy. The figure of a clock is commonplace in the period – and the regularity with which it is used to metaphorize the mind. Descartes treatise on man compares our inner-workings (memories, passion and imagination) to that of a clock – mechanical and pre-ordained. Alexandar Pope pictured a clock-work soul in his Essay on man.

Over time though the thoughts and ideas evolved and now clock remains an expression of an authoritative mind. more closely associated with men. As keepers of time and order. A gentleman’s signature. Time-pieces that are passed down as legacy. That was an example of how an invention became a cultural metaphor.

But perhaps a bit closer to home and something we can relate to is the invention of the ship and how the age of sailing influenced our everyday vocabularies. Even though the industry has changed and we’ve forgotten the meanings and logic of hundred’s of these borrowed words.

For example,  “Show someone the ropes’ is taken from the use of ropes to orient and adjust the sails. With flying colors comes from the time when a ship would surrender by lowering the colors (national flag) the term is now used to indicate a victory. But the word I was most taken aback by was, “taken aback!” It describes what happens when wind veers 180 degrees on square-rigged ships; and the ships are suddenly driven straight backwards.

And my favorite, “Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey” referred to a brass tray on which canon balls were stored. The jury is still out on this one and the internet keeps disagreeing – but sailors still use it so it goes.

Another metaphorical devices that we use when we argue comes from “war.” When we argue, we are often “attacking “ our opponents weaknesses to “win” an argument. In some cases, our arguments are “shot down” and we are “wiped out” by our opponent, especially if they are right “on target”. The concept, the activity and the language is structured as a war metaphor.

The biggest invention of our time that has transformed thoguhts and actions has been the internet. But its true impact and the metaphors it has birthed won’t be evident until generations after.  I’ve already followed some of you here and by the time we are done, I will have friended some of you. Some of words have found new meaning in our everyday parlanceand made it to Webster. As close to an official seal of approval that we can get but it remains to be seen the kind of impact these inventions and actions will have on the next hundred generations.

As a little exercise, try to pay attention to the words you use in everyday language and business and see if you can decipher which ones are metaphors and where they come from.

Why the role of a “Digital Strategist” needs to evolve

****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.

Screen shot 2011-07-22 at 5.55.50 PMEach 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.

101 on Google Plus (and what it means for brands)

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.

Bottomline:

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.

Other Articles:

Singularity Hub: Fantastic and detailed review of Google+. If you have time, go read this now.

Watch-outs:

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.

Liquid & Linked – Coca Cola’s fantastic marketing strategy

Although I use consume none of their products, Coca-Cola is by far one of my favorite brands in the world. Even before it defined its strategy, story-telling has been at the core of their communication efforts and I feel like I’ve grown with its narrative. I recently came across this fantastic presentation by Wendy Clark, Head of Integrated Marketing at Coca-Cola that talks about their 2020 vision. I found myself nodding vigorously to every point she was making and it’s so simple and so good that I wanted to capture some of those points here.

Watch live streaming video from adage at livestream.com

Paraphrased:

- As a brand, we refuse the shiny object syndrome. We have too many successes and learnings internally to abandon before we go after a new idea.

- There are equal number of television sets as there are computers; and both are eclipsed by the number of mobile phones. In fact, the Economist wrote: A baby is born every 4 seconds;  but 15 mobile phones are sold in those 4 seconds. Brands that don’t know how to tell stories on the phone will be left behind. (Another cool fact: Qatar has 212% mobile penetration)

- Strategy to achieving Coca-Cola’s 2020 vision (of doubling their business) is “Liquid and Linked.” Liquid because Coca-Cola’s communication must travel the furthest and “Linked” because it has to stay true to the brand strategy.

- Marketing model: Paid, Earned, Owned & Shared. Shared is a key piece of this model and how Coca-Cola is activating its consumer engagement.

- Paid as at the crux of what Coca-Cola does and it varies dramatically country to country. 80% of Coca-Cola’s target audience watches TV so ofcourse, their dollars are going to go there.

- With Shared, it is important that it is integrated. It is important to partner with the right kinds of distribution partners to ensure that the story does not fall apart.

- The mandate with owned is to activate it. Everything communicates: so as marketers it is important that we leverage everything from our cans and bottles to our equipment to our transportation. It is all hard working media for us. We constantly ask ourselves, how can we make these more interactive? And the power of design is critical when we think about owned media. Everything that is static now will become dynamic and contextually relevant. At any point in the continuum of connections, we will be able to share our story. Our global fleet is twice as large as that of Fedex and UPS combined. We are the fourth largest employee in the world. We need to ensure all these assets are working for us and we need to use them to drive our competitive advantage.

- Our approach with Earned is to Engage it. Our model for that is “Distributed Creativity.” Impressions will always be the backbone of how we measure it but they offer no level of engagement. So the way we are measuring impact is via Expressions – instead of impressions. Expressions is your engagement with my brand: like, share, comment, etc.. Consumers are driving the conversation by creating content. Share is more important to me, than like – That’s why we drive the expressions on our brand.

- What’s a fan worth? We’ve done our own research. Fans vs. non-fans – fans have two times the consumption frequency of a non-fan and have ten times the purchase intent of a non-fan. When we activated the fan page, we did a pre-and post against then. Even with our fans, our most loyal consumers – we drove a 7% increase in active consumption and 10% increase in purchase intent. (Marked differences in Columbia and Great Britian – but gives you an idea)

- Mandate on content for us is to tell powerful stories. We cannot afford to put out mediocre content. Stories ahve to be powerful, liquid and linked. We think about storytelling at Coca Cola from end to end. Simple text based programs for the global mobile audience.

- As marketers we have to meet our consumers at their truth and work them towards ours. You have to co-create, participate and honor the community. When we do, our community fans pay us back.

Summing it up, Liquid and Linked landscape means: innovate paid, activate owned, integrated shared and engage earned through storytelling content.

ROI on the handshake

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.

Part 1- Digital Brand Building (What & Why)

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. Screen shot 2011-05-05 at 10.40.48 AM

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.

A Discussion on Transmedia – Conference Review

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. Screen shot 2011-04-21 at 2.56.42 PM

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?

Conclusion:

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)

Rio, The Movie: How to tell a strong story

Screen shot 2011-04-14 at 1.06.28 PMYesterday, thanks to a dear friend, I had the privilege of witnessing a Crew Premiere for the multi-million dollar film, Rio. I watched the film mesmerized, completely drawn into the narrative. As a storyteller myself and someone that’s working on a middle-school fantasy fiction novel (is that a genre!?), I learned a lot from how Rio was made. Here are some of the elements or in an author’s word, “tensions” that made the story so gripping:

Brazil vs. Minnesota: Brazil, is without a doubt a character in the film. The juxtaposition of Brazil with Minnesota made it even more alluring and alive. The music, the colors, the accents, the favelas, the Carnival – one might say that the movie has taken every possible Rio sterotype and jammed it into the movie. But the exotic works.

Birds vs. Humans: I thought it was clever that the movie had two parallel story lines. Two sets of hero-heroines and villains. As Blu falls in love with Jewel, Linda falls for Tulio and the changes in all the characters are quite heart-warming.

Rare bird with a psychological disability: The plot itself created a lot of tension in the film: Blu is the last male blue mackaw of its kind. And he cannot fly. You know there’s going to be an interesting twist when you give the central character such strong strengths and weaknesses.

Coterie of colorful “bird” characters: One aspect the film lacked was a sidekick. I think the movie had a great cast of supporting characters but it would have been nice if they were consistent throughout to build a strong story arc. A lot of new characters were introduced and I kept wondering which one of them is important/ key. Turns out, all of them were and none of them were. If you know what I mean. (There’s Louis the dog, the woodpecker, the tweety-like bird, and the fat cockatoo – and then there’s the monkeys.)

All in all, I think I might have learned a lot more about how to craft a strong story from this movie than I have from traditional fiction writing books. As a marketer, perhaps I should also mention how clever the Rio + Angry Birds promotion is! :P

Best Practices: Branded Mobile Applications

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about what makes a branded application worth downloading and interacting with for consumers. I wanted to share some top-level thoughts here and hope that I can build on them in the coming weeks. My goal with this post is to provide you with a framework on how to think about a branded application. The final build and concept will vary from brand to brand but here are some principles and tools to think about how you can make the most of your investment into the mobile app. space.

Entertainment vs. Utility:

My research has led me to believe that branded applications usually fall under one of the two value propositions: Entertainment or Utility. I found an amazing chart compiled by Geoff Northcott, Client Partner at AKQA of publicly available download data for branded applications. Geoff, too, in his post categorized the applications as Entertainment or Utilitarian. Although these download numbers are circa 2010, I re-shuffled this data a little bit to make a point. I divided them into two separate charts: Entertainment vs. Utility and picked the best five branded applications in both sections with the highest download numbers.

Screen shot 2011-03-07 at 4.31.19 PM

The point of doing this was to illustrate some of the key benefits: pros and cons of Entertainment Vs. Utility in branded applications.

Entertainment:

  • PROS: A one-off promotion based approach to mobile applications usually delivers huge spikes in customer engagement and often shows significantly higher download numbers.
  • CONS: Brand recall – a large number of entertainment based mobile applications are game-based and as such, it is difficult to ascertain whether users are even aware of the brand when interacting with these applications. Another major con is sustaining on-going interaction with the brand. Interest wanes as the novelty wears off and often, there is little to no re-usage. In fact, 95% of downloaded applications are not used after 30 days. Under-utilized asset of x many customers that have downloaded the application.

Utility:

  • PRO: Evergreen application; perhaps not very sexy. Has a slower build initially but evolves and grows with the brand and its audiences. Usually also reflects the general brand direction
  • CONS: The biggest challenge with such an application is to continuously evolve the offering and keep it interesting and valuable to the consumers. It needs to strike the perfect balance of entertainment, content and utility

Most brands have taken an either/or approach. While I think it depends on the direction and the strategic needs of the brand, it is worthwhile to consider that it doesn’t always need to be an either/or approach. Entertainment based applications have demonstrated the ability to drive high downloads. Why not consider an “Entertainment” based feature as part of your Launch strategy for your branded application ? Ongoing updates can work on evolving the brand and adding newer features and offerings into the application.

Another point-of-view to consider is simply creating diverse applications for diverse audiences. Lets face it. A deal-hunter will not download a branded application for a highly engaging game. And a gamer will not be very interested in a content-based application. In such cases, it is smart for brands to consider which audiences they want to target and build experiences specifically for those niche audiences. My only caveat is that even as brands build niche experiences, it is crucial to think long-term instead of immediate short-tern return.

Kraft’s iFood Assistant is one of the best branded application case-study that I can think of that has nailed the program vs. platform concept. The application offers up to 2000 recipes, many of them using Kraft products. The application has also in-built shopping lists and deals/ coupon features that incentivize users. It is one of the few applications that has continued to keep its users engaged: It launched in 2008 and to date, about 60% of users that downloaded the application continue to use it. In fact, Kraft charged a cool 99cents per download as well, ensuring an alternative revenue stream and solidifying its value with the users.

Regardless of the route you choose, here are some best practices to keep in mind when designing and building the application:

Best Practices:

Marketing Support: Every successful branded application has had strong marketing support in form of paid media, mobile ads and even online PR. This support gives the initial boost to the application but mostly focuses on generating enough downloads to have the application listed in Apple’s Top 100 applications. Applications featured in the list have a 40% higher chance of being downloaded by other users. Additionally, Star Ratings and Reviews also incredibly important tools towards increasing a brand’s chances towards making it into the Top 100 list. Although this is specifically for iTunes, it is fair to expect similar marketing levers to emerge for the Android Marketplace as well. (Consiering Android is now the number one Smartphone in the word)

Intuitive User Experience: If you are not going to invest the necessary time and resources into building an intuitive and highly capable user experience, you are better off not making a mobile application at all. In a recent study, 13% of users said that  a bad experience with a branded application avoided them from downloading other applications from the brand. Also, users just expect an application to be fun and easy to use. Don’t just try to replicate an existing marketing promotion, elements of your website or an ad campaign on your mobile app. Build for its audience and its eco-system.

Social Sharing: Maximize the capabilities offered by a mobile application. Several applications can “speak” to each other. Also there is no point in reinventing the wheel. So where and when possible; make sure your application is connected to Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare or whatever eco-system your brand lives in.

Customization: Depending on the brand, I believe that simple customization not only helps make an application more interesting but also increases the opportunity for re-use. It’s also highly beneficial for brands from a data-collection perspective to have more granular information about your customers.

I’m sure you’ll want to look at case-studies to build your own argument/ case. I didn’t see any point in re-writing the best ones there are. So here are the links to the best resources on the web. I hope this helps.

Additional Resources:

  1. Mashable’s Top 13 Branded Applications
  2. Best Practices: Mobile Marketing & App. Strategies for Food Brands
  3. Best Practices: Branded Application Design
  4. Geoff Northcott: Branded Apps: Strategies for Success

Facebook profiles for new-borns

I suppose I’m at at age now where a lot of folks around me are having babies. An interesting (disturbing?) trend that I’ve noticed is the eagerness with which this set of excited new parents build Facebook profiles for their new-born’s and invite friends and families to the fold. I’m particularly torn because on one hand, it’s a fantastic idea to stay in touch with family and share pictures of the baby as he/she grows up. On the other hand, I wonder about the implications of this digital trail that the new parents are creating for their new-borns. As these children grow up and pursue careers across the board, will these digital trails hurt their prospects? Or does this trend mean that agencies such as the government, secret services and even politics need to develop a tolerance (and solutions!) for these possibilities? I’m just thinking out loud. I don’t know the answer and I don’t think there is a right or wrong. Curious to hear your thoughts.

Why I’m leaving Soho for Madision Avenue

Or in this case, Lexington Avenue.

After almost three amazing years at Electric Artists, I’ve decided to take a new opportunity with a company that I’ve admired for long. Later this month, I will be starting my first day as Digital Strategist with JWT New York. I’ve joined a niche and unique group at JWT called JWT Experience charged with putting digital at the forefront of all the client businesses. From a recent press release, “Positioned as a peer to the Creative, Planning and Account departments, the Experience department is geared to ideate and develop digital experiences that enhance the other online skill sets within the business.”

I don’t think JWT needs any introduction – but for those that are not in the advertising/ marketing business, check out the Wikipedia page for high-level highlights.

Why this move? After spending the last years in 100% digital environments and doing some amazing work for a range of clients, I wanted a different challenge. And my decision to join a traditional agency is based on these thoughts:

1. Driving change on a large scale is impossible to achieve by a purely digital agency.  I believe that a marketing  concept has to be medium neutral – and the brands that will achieve the most success will be the ones that use all platforms in synch. As a Digital Strategist, I will always be partial towards the role of digital in business, but I want to acknowledge and understand how all the spokes of the wheel fit together. I want to put my money where my mouth is and instead of being one of those digital know-it-all’s that sit from the sidelines and criticize brands and traditional agencies for ‘not getting it,’ – I wanted to join one and be a part of this change internally.

2. The role of Digital Strategists in 2011 and beyond will be to inspire a shift in how digital is perceived. The ones that will have the strongest impact on the future of digital will be the ones that are thinking beyond tactical applications on digital platforms and tools. Imagine the volume and quality of work that can be done if there isn’t just one but a million digital evangelists, both on the agency side and the client side? Shifting this mindset and helping others embrace digital (while  learning from them) will elevate the industry on the whole and enable us to collectively do amazing things in the future. It’s probably not going to be easy or quick, but the ability to influence change and see it through is perhaps the most important skill-set I will cultivate as a business leader – and this stage in my career, that’s more exciting to me than launching yet another digital doodad.

As excited (and I’ll admit, a tad bit nervous) I am about this role, it is also with bittersweet memories that I leave EA. I found a mentor and a teacher in my boss here and couldn’t have asked for a more motley, fun and brilliant crew of colleagues to work with. Wish me luck  :)

Why Quora.com will be successful

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.

Your thoughts?

How to think about naming a social enterprise

Recently, I’ve become more attuned to the finer uses of story-telling in a brand experience, namely, in the brand name. I’ve been thinking about how difficult it is for social enterprises and even non-profits to differentiate themselves and create a strong perception in the minds of their audiences. Social enterprises tend to have more inspirational names or even non-descript names that require some explanation. I understand the motivation behind it, but wonder if it’s in the best interest for the organization?

Is it more important for a social enterprise brand name to communicate its aspiration or its story?

I am not a naming expert and have never before named a brand, but personally I’ve been drawn to companies with names that encapsulate a story in itself. It lures me into discovering more about the enterprise, their background and eventually converting me into either a donor or at the very least a supporter and a very vocal proponent of the brand. Here is what I mean:

Falling Whistles: My first introduction to this charity was via a brief flip-book that told the story of four boy soldiers in Congo that were forced on the front-lines and were asked blow whistles to warn the rebel leaders of oncoming gunfire. The story is also told online using stunning imagery and eloquent text. Falling Whistles, an unseemly phrase, took on a different meaning in my mind and has stuck since. Not only does this brand make an excellent use of story-telling to explain the mission and campaign, but they’ve incorporate “story” throughout the brand experience: from the name of their campaign to the tools used to communicate their mission and the ask. I’m a fan.

Flying Kites: Similarly, this little NPF started by two twenty-somethings in USA, runs an orphanage in Kenya. At a recent StartingBloc event, I met a woman who has been volunteering at the organization for over a year and the passion in her voice and the stories she told was infectious. Flying Kites is a beautiful metaphor for how the organization see’s the future of the children whose lives they are trying to improve. Everytime I narrate this story, it’s not about a “friend that runs an orphanage in Kenya,” it’s about, “Flying Kites.” That’s powerful naming right there.

There’s also TOMS Shoes, Invisible Children, Pencils of Promise etc etc. Every organization is unique in its own right but

with so many diverse organizations focused on micro-causes and competing essentially for the same pool of money, it is SO important to establish brand recall. I think, a compelling story helps but an evocative name seals the deal.

Just my two cents.

3 Best Continuing Education sites

Learning never stops and here are three reasons why not.

OPEN CULTURE

Picture 4One 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

Picture 5

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!

KHAN ACADEMY

Picture 6Founded 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.