Good Thinking and Good Conversation

Age_conversation One of the things that I like about social media is that it compresses the time between thought and action. As soon as you think of an idea, you can test it with an audience.

Take Age of Conversation, for example. With this book, we went from a concept to having 103 authors from 12 countries in about three weeks. And two and a half months later we had books available for purchase.

And if you thought that was amazing … one of the most compelling aspects of this is that all of the 103 authors committed their time, their thinking and their expertise for FREE. That’s right, everyone signed away any rights to royalties — in the name of charity. For every sale, ALL profits go to Variety, the Children’s Charity. This means that for a single purchase, you not only get some great thinking — you are also making positive difference in a child’s life. The story doesn’t get better than that!

What you can do …

We are currently doing a push (a "bum rush") on the Amazon charts. We aim to garner online attention to generate more sales and reach a wider audience. You can help by purchasing a copy here. You can also write a review, blog about the book and our efforts, and tell your friends. Please, tell your friends — or better yet, buy one for them.

Right now we have just cracked the Top 300 books and Top 40 for "business books". Every time you buy (one at a time please), you push us a little further — and help Variety help more kids.

Think Big with Big Think

Some weeks ago I happened upon the Big Think site. It is a startup headed up by Victoria Brown and Peter Hopkins (former Charlie Rose producers) and its focus is on bringing conversation about ideas — addressing the "meta" or the "physical" aspects of our modern existence. You can listen to and engage with ideas through text and video. There are some great videos already available, including Dan Gilbert on What is Happiness and Gillian Caldwell from Witness. And if you have a big idea of your own … submit it here and join the conversation!

Paull Young Gets Some Air

He has only been in New York for a short time, but Paull Young is already hitting the small screen. Here he is talking Social Media on Fox Business. He cover a lot about social media and small business in a short time, including:

  • The relevance of socia media in the small business marketing mix
  • The importance of understanding and listening to your community first
  • The need to relinquish "command and control" brand messaging.

Support Tricia

Triciaribbon It is a beautiful day in Sydney. A busy week is drawing to a close and I am looking forward to a weekend with family and friends. Next week, I will be in New York meeting up with some of the brightest and most talented people I know — the Blogger Socialites. Really, life is good.

But not everyone has the luxury of my rosy view of the next few days. An email this afternoon from my friend, Todd Andrlik shows how very different his weekend will be. You see, Todd’s sister, Tricia, was diagnosed last week with the same aggressive form of breast cancer as Susan Reynolds — invasive lobular carcinoma. That means that Tricia will spend the weekend in hospital undergoing a double mastectomy.

Todd has setup a website to keep family and friends up-to-date. You can share your support for Todd and for Tricia and her family by visiting the site — 4tricia.com. And as you can imagine, there will be additional stresses and worries associated with medical costs — with years of treatment and associated costs ahead. For those who can, you can support Tricia’s family in three different ways directly from the site. Even the smallest donation helps.

Please keep Tricia in your thoughts over the next few days. And hold your loved ones close.

Time to Get It!

Join the Age of Conversation Bum Rush on March 29th

A couple of days ago, Drew McLellan and I announced the the title of the successor to Age of Conversation. But before we all start thinking about the next edition — about what is in it and why — there is some unfinished work still to be done on the first edition.

Chris Wilson has spearheaded and orchestrated a bum rush on the Amazon charts for the book, and it starts tomorrow (Friday). If you have not yet purchased your copy, SATURDAY is the day to do it. If you want to purchase MORE than one copy, Saturday is the day to do it … one at a time.

All this is designed to push the book up the Amazon charts, one sale at a time.

Remember, by purchasing the book, you not only get access to some sharp insight and commentary about the world of business and social media — you also support Variety, the Children’s Charity. If you want to know how you can help, Chris lays out the immediate steps neatly here — and the plan of action for Saturday here.

The Future of Your Brand

Futureofyourbrandclose The Future of Your Brand is a series of articles exploring the changes and challenges facing brands in the immediate and near futures. It is broken down into the following topics:

  • Introduction: A brief intro to this series.
  • The Future of Your Brand is PLAY: Part 1 looks at what can we learn from kids and the way that they comprehend and respond to marketing. Part 2 digs into the anatomy of P-L-A-Y. Part 3 looks at how is this shifting to adults and proposes an approach that allows brands to learn from kids and to tap into our kid-like behaviours — kidsperience.
  • The Future of Your Brand is MICRO: Looks at the small brand interactions that are crushing the concept of the "big idea".
  • The Future of Your Brand is PERFORMANCE: Underway … looks at the power of performance and what "live" means for your brand.
  • The Future of Your Brand is CONTENT: Underway … looks at the reasons that content will drive the future of your brand.
  • The Future of Your Brand is YOU: Underway … what is the personal dimension of your brand and why it is important to go beyond the distancing strategies of traditional marketing.

There may well be additions to this list as the project rolls on.

At the moment, the plan is to produce this series as a book or PDF download. It will be available via Lulu.com. AND you can even buy a The Future of Your Brand T-shirt at Cafepress!

The Future of Your Brand is Play — Part 3

The Future of Your BrandThis article is part of the series — The Future of Your Brand Is … which will be unfolding here over the coming weeks. Be sure to check out The Futue of Your Brand is Play — Part 1 and Part 2.

Late last year I was thinking about trends and opportunities for 2008, hoping to discover some gold. And while I don’t normally do trend forecasting, I actually found it interesting and challenging — and a lot of hard work. What I found, however, was not that I had an undiscovered gift for beyond the horizon forecasting … I found great benefit, instead, in enforcing a discipline upon my thinking. You see, writing a blog trains you to write in a short form — you distill ideas down to a manageable size. But to really order my thinking around the patterns that emerged from my research, I had to dig deeper … find those connections and similarities. I had to play with the data and findĀ  a way to craft it all into a cohesive story.

I must admit that I was disappointed to find that I had no ground breaking ideas to report. Then I realised that blogging had provided me with an unexpected benefit — a constantly inquiring focus and a mountain of ready data. By going back over a number of posts over the last 12 months, I could see actual hypertext links between pieces of information. Tags and categories helped form the patterns … and comments from my readers helped open my eyes on some points or suggest completely new ways of thinking. And while I write hundreds of posts per year, often forgetting the detail of many, there are some that achieve mythical status in my mind. And while re-reading some of the posts made me want more, it also made me wonder, “what is it that causes one post to stand out among many?”. (Here’s a hint, it is the future of your brand.)

Coming to grip with infatuation
For as long as I can remember I have loved words. I am fascinated by their sound and their shape. I love listening to the way they are pronounced by different people. And I especially enjoy a good performer holding onto the long ends of a word and reminding us of the sexy way words transform our world. In many ways, this infatuation of mine was always going to lead to some kind of writing. No wonder I ended up working in marketing and blogging (or worse, combining the two).

But as I poured over thousands of words, trying to connect sentences, ideas, actions and conversations it became obvious to me that I was under the spell of some kind of infatuation. This exercise on trends and opportunities had become something else. Something beyond itself. It had become “meta”. There were many levels of connectedness rolling around in my head. I could imagine the linkages, but could not quite discern the tissue between them … until I realised my infatuation. I had fooled myself. I had become infatuated with discerning the trends.

The definition of “infatuation” includes “foolish or all-absorbing passion …”. And it became clear that my best way forward was to admit it. But there was something slightly different at play. What I was feeling felt like it was being reciprocated. If I was infatuated with ideas, they too were infatuated with their expression. With every idea that I would distill and connect, I would feel this glow, a buzz. I thought I was entering a completely weird universe until the light went on … this bi-directional energy is about reciprocity. It is about give and take. It was a metaphor. It was akin to receiving a comment on my blog.

Kidsperience
In many ways this was a childlike experience. I had entered into a domain that I had only ever dabbled in before and I felt like a child looking in awe at a new world. But in applying my experience with kids marketing, I started to see parallels with social marketing, with the passion for gadgets and with the gold rush energy surrounding cool new technologies. It was like being back at school, except that the schoolyard was now a whole lot bigger! In fact, it seems that as adults we spend a lot of time unlearning what we learned (or knew intrinsically) as children. As Rachel Happe says in Social Networking and the Popular Girls:

… why are we as adults relearning things that these girls know better than most of us do?

I mentioned before that one of the challenges with kids marketing is to create the Eureka moment. It is that moment in time where thought and action are compressed — it is where we are simply astonished by something. It can be the cleverness of an idea, the audacity of an ad or the feeling that we are in the presence of genius. When you apply this to a product (particularly a kids product), the importance of the Eureka moment becomes obvious. The Eureka moment does two things:

  • It produces a yet-to-be-told story that places the child in the role of participant — that is, the brand/product is subsumed by the imagination of the child and the child becomes the centrepiece of the brand story (eg I see myself driving around in a Green Machine)
  • It creates instant credibility (and desirability) in those closest to the aura of the experience.

So it works for the child (internally) and for the child (externally). It provides self-worth and social currency. It is bi-directional.

If you have kids, then you will probably have heard of Webkinz. You can buy these cute toys from stores all over the place — but it is not the toys that kids want most of all. It is the code that comes with them. For with every Webkinz that you buy, you get access to an online world where this toy comes to life. It is a virtual world for kids and their toys. The Webkinz folks have cleverly observed the massive take-up in virtual worlds such as Second Life and World of Warcraft, and have crafted an immersive and engaging environment for kids. The conversations about Webkinz buzz around the Webkinz universe and around the playground. If you are not participating, then you are missing an opportunity to play with your friends — not to mention not even being able to understand the terminology used by your friends.

The passion with which kids have adopted immersive worlds, and the energy that they devote to them is amazing. From the kids point of view, connecting with friends online is a very natural way of living — in fact, many kids have known no other way — the Internet has been part of their lives for as long as they have been alive.

For brands who are not developing their digital mindspace, there are bound to be substantial challenges as older teens begin moving into the workforce. Not only will non-digital brands find it hard to reach this new workforce, they will be missing opportunities to engage a savvy consumer-force fully conversant with technology and its place in their lives. And while the real impact of this shift may be a few years off, the shockwaves are being felt even now — for just as kids have adopted the social media and immersive worlds loved by their parents, the bi-directionality of kidsperience is also manifesting in the adult consumer space. The kid-like enthusiasm with which 30-70 year olds are colonising social media is shifting technology into a more playful space … placing even larger demands on brands.

A Seesmic Shift
I remember watching the buzz around Seesmic from the safe distance of Twitter. The limited release of “invitations” caused a split between the seriously cool and connected and the wannabe social media crowd (for the record, I was a wannabe). It was like the Joost launch on steroids. And while the conversation around Seesmic continued to grow, it started to create a game of sorts where you could only play if you had an invitation — the challenge was to reach out into your network and request an invitation before they all dried up.

But the most interesting aspect of this was the energy around the launch. From a distance, it was like watching the ad for the Green Machine all over again. This time, however, it wasn’t kids who were hyping it. It was adults from all over the world. And better yet, each one of those adults had the keys to the door — with a limited number of invitations to share, each Seesmic participant could share this new technology gift with a friend.

I am sure there are plenty of other examples that you can call to mind. Technology brands are adopting are more open approach (even a playful stance) towards their brand. Look at Google and the fun they have with their logo. Look at the NAME of the PLAYstation (realising that the average age of a Playstation owner is >30 years). The list goes on and on.

But it is not just technology where I see this shift taking place. There are subtle shifts happening across the speectrum. And it is not JUST about the P-L-A-Y approach that I have mentioned before … but it is about brands becoming creative with their marketing and letting consumer PLAY with their brands. It is about brands opening their brand stories in a way that allows consumers to step inside. And surprisingly, it is NOT about big shifts. It is about the small ones. So while the Future of Your Brand is Play, equally, the Future of Your Brand is Micro.

Branding is All About the Story

I have always thought that storytelling was an important part of branding. In fact, much of my work over the last couple of years has been around brand storytelling. And while much of this has had a digital component (or was largely digital in execution), I relied on an understanding of storytelling, brand building and marketing to piece the whole approach together. But fundamentally, you need to have a product or a service that can be talked about. You need something to build your story around. And in the space between the story and the consumer, you have the "experience". It is the experience that is a moment of sharing between your brand and your consumers (more on this in the upcoming The Future of Your Brand is Content).

The way this works is by adding value to the point of interaction within the life of a consumer. For example, when I rode a Ducati motorcycle, I loved it. It made me love the brand. There was nothing like that small adrenaline rush I got while riding. The street cred was awesome. And you could see it in the eyes of everyone around you (and in the eyes of your fellow Ducatisti). But what happens if you have a product that isn’t sexy? How do you find a way to build that connection with your consumers and allow them to tell your story?

In this great presentation above, Paul Isakson provides the answer — "add value through content". Now, of course this is easier said than done, but Paul also provides some great examples of campaigns that are already doing just that — Nike, My Vegas and the Dominos Pizza Tracker. But for all those agencies out there, just remember there are pitfalls — see content will kill your agency.

Update: Iain Tait has a nice post that tracks the rise of the ad agency from the boom in the 60s and asks what a NEW agency would look like now (via Kevin Rothermel).