Laws of Lifetime Growth

Sometimes it helps to be reminded of the need to be gracious. And what strikes me about the laws of lifetime growth (as summarised by John Moore over at Brand Autopsy) is that the laws emphasise the need for grace — they challenge us to see the bigger picture, to out-think a situation or problem and to focus on innovation as an extension of our own personal development.

And while there is nothing earth shattering in the list, the challenge as always is about how you go about implementing these things in a meaningful way. But the best thing about this post, is that it led me to the Dig Tank. I particularly like the Business Brick Yard and some of the practical things that we can do to make our customer’s experience of us better. Oh, isn’t that marketing? No, it is Law 2 — "Always make your learning greater than your experience."


Maslow Lives in a Web 2.0 World?

Just when you thought that you could safely remove any memory of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, it appears that it has a new relevance in understanding the interest and energy around Web 2.0. Dina Mehta neatly summarises Jennifer Rice’s excellent series of articles on Maslow.

What has always interested me about Maslow is that way that each of his defined needs have a compelling, personal story attached. This makes his theory relevant on a behavioural as well as a PERSONAL level — which means we can know the theory and also see its manifestation in our own lives. Moreover, with Maslow, you also get a strong meta-story that overlays the theory. And now, with Web 2.0 that story comes to life again — partly because Web 2.0 actually does have a strong correspondence with our "needs" (let’s reclaim them from Maslow).

When I say that Web 2.0 "humanises" the technology of the Internet, I mean (at least in part) that it adds a dimension of unpredictability into the mix. And this is what attracts us to it. It opens us up to surprise and delight — especially after years of disappointment (the stories about how technology was going to make our lives better). Perhaps the Web 2.0 initiatives that we see now are so exciting because we are starting from a low level of expectation (see Maslow on esteem) — but even still, there is cause for hope (see Maslow on transcendence).

Just goes to show that it is hard to keep a good story down!


Life is a Game to Kids

The life of a kid can be full of surprises. A simple walk down the street can turn into a huge adventure — complete with danger, drama and objective to achieve. The interesting thing is (as Russell Davies points out) that this mode of thinking for kids is becoming codified in an unusual way. It is using the language and thought structures of computer games.

This link between imaginative play and scenario building and gaming is quite pervasive. It can help explain the way that kids are able to rapidly understand complex scenarios (such as new online or hand held games or even how to program a video recorder) — their logic for understanding the world draws upon the very structures of gaming. This also means that there are lesser distinctions between the virtual and real worlds for the generations for whom there has ALWAYS BEEN an Internet.

And, of course, as these kids grow older they will become highly tech-savvy consumers (if they are not already). It makes me think that marketers will need to consider the effect of these "gaming" modes of thought if they are to successfully engage the consumers of the future. It is a whole new, and more complex, method of storytelling. But oh so exciting too!


Stories Are Not For You, But For Your Customers

We can spend quite some time on our stories. We can agonise over the key message, the formulation of the words, the grammar and the syntax. We can theorise about the tone, plan the audience response and review it over and over again. And living in close proximity to our stories, we can come to care for them. Sometimes, we may even come to love them.

So it can be challenging for us when we put our stories out into the world. But there are two important things to remember:

  1. A story really isn’t a story if you don’t tell someone else
  2. Your story is not for you … it is for your customers

I was reminded of this while watching Seth Godin’s excellent presentation to the folk at Google.

There are a lot of people who write, but many keep their work to themselves. Even marketers will have (brand) stories that they keep in their bottom drawer but never show to the outside world. And while there is a sense of satisfaction in authoring a story, it does not come close to the quiver of excitement you get when your story is read for the first time (or for the online world — referenced, quoted or blogged about).

The funny thing is, though, that these bottom drawer stories (if they are compelling enough) simply will not remain hidden. They will seep into your other work. You will find themes or issues or a turn of phrase leaping out of an Annual Report or Exec Summary and think "I like that!". Later you will remember where it is from.

I think that a good story (whatever its focus) will take on a life of its own. The story will find a way to escape your bottom drawer and get out into the world. The basis of a good viral campaign, for example, is not a fancy piece of technology or a great product even — it is a good story. It is the story that your customers like to tell others. It is the story that makes those customers feel part of something — to have a secret, an affiliation, something to share. It is the story and the feeling that are important.

Most of all, a good story knows that it is meant for your customers, not you.


How Not to Brand a Country

It is always worthwhile dropping by the Being Reasonable blog to see what is going on. My RSS feeder showed an article entitled "How Not to Brand a Country".

Ooh … now that sounded interesting! What did I expect to see? Well, to be honest, something a little closer to home! But the post does two great things — it explains what does not work (too much process, too little action) for Botswana (linking through to the Brand Story blog), and then links through to examples of what does work, and why (India’s Yoga themed travel pitch).

So it made me think about the new campaign for Brand Australia – Where the Bloody Hell Are Let’s see how this stacks up against the criteria for "strategically smart":

  • Leverages a theme associated with Australia — yes, we are a nation of cussers, sorry straight-shooters who will call a spade "a bloody spade".
  • Connects with a passionate community — yes, everybody likes to have a good time.
  • The theme has an upscale profile — yes, it appears that we have cleared away the negative aspects (stopped the sharks, turned on the lights etc) but everybody has forgotten to turn up!
  • Then creatively, does it shy away from the stereotypical "picture postcard" approach? Again, just like the India campaign, it implies an "exotic, exciting" destination.

Oh … and it is viral too. You can send the video to a friend.

Now that is a story to tell!


Storytelling through Interactivity

OK … you may have seen this site already — but I do like the way that the story unfolds in various interactive ways. In this new site for Mercedes Benz, the designers demonstrate the features of the new car using cool Flash animation and effects. And while the technology is cool, you are able to piece together the story they want you to know – even if you only click, drag, rollover or drag and drop a few times.


Real Collaboration

We all know that meetings can be a waste of time. We also know that sometimes they can pave the way for significant insight and innovation.

Johnnie Moore is looking at the concept of "presence" in meetings and whether such an honest position for participants yields better outcomes. I presume, of course, that the meetings are supposed to be collaborative and that you are working within (or trying to work within) a team structure.

There are some interesting approaches that can be taken that borrow directly from the theatre. Fundamental to these approaches is RISK.

For performers (and we all are, really), every performance requires the balancing of risk and the acceptance of trust. You need to trust in the script, the director, the lighting etc — and you need to trust your fellow thespians to perform well, say their lines, give you the correct cues and jump in when you forget your lines. But there is also significant risk … you are displaying yourself to the world in an unusual way, you have to decide how long to wait for a cue before jumping in, you can expect criticism (sometimes in print or web), director’s notes and a thousand other things.

Now, of course, the theatre has workshops and rehearsals, cold readings and line runs and a whole series of techniques that have been devised to support an actor’s performance. But then, the actor has to deliver a "true" or a "believable" peformance. In my limited (but intense) experience, this will only occur when the environment and the preparation is right — and that is when everyone feels safe enough to risk it (whatever "it" means to that person).

Just like in meetings — if everyone feels safe, then you are most likely to achieve a sense of presence or "being in the moment". However, there are also ways of using presence (on the part of one person) to breakthrough the politics of meetings. I will write more on this later (thanks to Johnnie Moore for starting this stream of thought for me).


Handing Innovation Over to the Bozos

Isn’t it funny the way that smaller, innovative companies change as they grow. With the trappings of success come legions of consultants who will help you to "grow your business". And while there are serious advantages to developing strong processes and internal systems, it is also easy for these processes and systems to stamp out the thing that made your company unique.
Often it starts with a new "mission statement". Then comes the offsite strategy meeting (or "love in"), the hiring of a fleet of MBAs and a renewed focus on "innovation". Suddenly, being "creative" simply does not come into your business day.
Does this sound famillar? Guy Kawasaki has a way of rating the level of "bozosity" in your company. Want to rate your company? Do an evaluation online.
Remember, it is not your score that is important, it is what you do about it that counts!

Lessons from the Web 2.0 Software Thinking

There are many lessons that marketers could learn by understanding the approach that software engineers take when dealing with Web 2.0 projects. I found this great link on PR Machine that leads to the Australian site of Dion Hinchcliffe. In this article, Dion explains the 16 steps for thinking in Web 2.0 – I have tried to take these steps and see them from a marketing point of view below.

  • Understand your goal simply, before you begin. My view is to start with a single, clear message. Let this infuse everything else. Build out from here.
  • The link is the fundamental unit of thought.
  • Data belongs to those that create it. Respect originality.
  • It’s about data first, experiences and functionality second. Nail your story first. Know what you want to say and then choose the best media for the telling.
  • Be prepared to share everything with enthusiasm. Encourage unintended uses — because others you don’t yet know may add depth and value to your own insights in the process.
  • The web is the platform. It really is not going away. Get used to it now … start learning how to use it, how to extend it (and use it to grow as you grow).
  • Understand capability. Keep your story simple, explain it by sharing it without jargon — because not all your readers can read your language well.
  • Everything is editable. The web is a constant dialogue. If you are setting your stories in stone, you are living in the age of the Egyptians. Get with it.
  • Identity is sancrosanct. If you promise privacy, then deliver on the promise.
  • Know your standards and use them. It is like a style guide — learn a little about RSS and how it can help. Stay away from the technology that locks you in to someone else’s story.
  • Obey the law of unintended uses. Remain original and people will find you. The impatient among us are hungry for a compelling story. If you open the door by starting a blog, sharing a podcast or a picture, then be prepared for us to take a look, contact you or share our comments.
  • Granulate your data. While we may like to read your novel, we may only have time for a daily blog post. Cater for the time poor or attention challenged as well.
  • Provide benefits to individuals. There may be 1 billion internet users, but we aren’t all sheep. Share something of yourself in a way that will resonate with your readers. When it becomes personal, it becomes memorable — and it will make me come back.
  • User driven organisation is important. If you have a story to tell, tag it and categorise it so that I can jump to my areas of interest.
  • Offer rich experiences. OK I know I need more pictures here … but that is just the beginning. See the Anoptique guys, see Flickr, Tag Clouds etc.
  • Embrace and enable change. A story is something that evolves. Put your story out there, and then review it, change it, take other viewpoints into consideration. Hell, this Internet thing is alive and kicking, why aren’t you?

Hope you enjoyed!