I know, I know, it’s totally pretentious to even make predictions. And yes, most are either obvious or wrong. But what the hell, everyone else is making them. Even really smart people.
In fact none other than Forrester is in search of the answers. I recently had a conversation with analyst Sean Corcoran to talk about this very subject. Sean has the enviable (or regrettable, depending on your point of view) task of collecting, evaluating and synthesizing answers (and predictions) from a long list of ad agencies, marketers and journalists in an attempt to define where this tumultuous business is headed. (Good luck, Sean.)
He asked six simple questions.
What has changed in the agency landscape in the past six months, two years, five years?
What are the biggest challenges an agency/company faces today?
Is there new competition from tech companies, PR agencies, and consultants?
Has the agency/marketer relationship changed?
What trends are emerging in agency models?
What will (your agency name here) agency look like in two years?
They are good questions and no doubt agencies and marketers will fill hours of tape with their prognostications.
You could answer these questions from any number of perspectives: the economy, emerging technologies such as mobile, the impact of new social media platforms.
Of course the real answer to all of these questions starts with “the consumer,” a term that in and of itself sounds dated. After all, the elusive customer has become everything from a critic to a content creator. He has the ability to control the conversation. And with new tools and applications that offer mobile access to information and competitive pricing, he wields even more power.
It was as early as 2003, maybe earlier, when the more prescient media thinkers took note of the fact that consumers were leaning in rather than sitting back. But it’s only been in the last couple of years that agencies and marketers have really caught on and started to react to the change. Perhaps a little too late in some cases. The challenge remains unlearning the business of messages and story telling and mastering the art of conversation and community.
No one really knows where everything is going but it appears everyone is willing to wager a guess. Google “the future of advertising” and you get 153,000,000 results. Knock yourself out.
In the meantime, here are my predictions and indirectly some answers to Sean’s questions.
1. Consumers will play an even greater role as critics, commentators and content creators
2. Crowdsourcing will go mainstream
3. Applications, utility and platforms will trump messages as an agency’s most important creative output
4. Analytics will inform more and more decisions
5. Quality will be defined by instant, accessible, portable (less about polish, finish, and big production)
6. Everything will be social: print, mobile, TV, service
7. Brands will act more like people
8. Curator/choreographer will emerge as the new important role
9. Creativity will matter more than ever (the opt in power of consumers will demand that when they do lean back even sales messages better be entertaining)
10. Whoever hires the best developers will win (the most important lesson from Googled and why the NY Times, Mel Karmazin, and traditional ad agencies have lost out to CNN, Google/YouTube and digital shops).
What about you? Got any ideas on where things are going? In the next couple of months I have to give a few talks about the subject. Would love a little help.
I just finished Googled, The End of the World as We Know It, by Ken Aulletta, arguably the best media critic of our times. And while it’s not a social media book per se, I would strongly suggest it belongs on the list as it’s chock full of anecdotes, insights and implications for any company that wants to compete on the new media battlefield.
There are amusing yet telling stories, like Mel Karmazin’s first visit to Google in 2003, when he actually declared that measurement was “fucking with the magic,” implying that ad dollars should go to the best sales person not the most effective medium.
Lesson: arrogance can’t win in the new digital democracy.
Throughout the book readers find constant reminders (AOL, Excite, Lycos, Digital, Wang) that we can’t predict; we can only prepare. Combine them with great examples of what Clayton Christenson labeled the “innovator’s dilemma,” (NY Times, network television, music industry) and chances are you’ll do a better job of identifying your own tendency to defend existing business models at the expense of embracing necessary change.
Lesson: don’t hold on to the past with too tight a grip.
Through Auletta’s filter we discover all that Google did right (20 percent, belief in the wisdom of crowds, do no evil mantra) as well as where they failed (China censorship, for one) and what their greatest challenges maybe in the years to come (trust, privacy, government intervention).
Impressive is Google’s willingness to experiment, take risks and innovate and along with their relentless standard of hiring only “spectacular” people, even if it means Sergey and Larry have to interview every single engineering applicant.
Lesson: first, create a culture.
And finally, while Auletta gets to Google’s shortcomings and excesses, this book is as much about those of us who aren’t Google. Why didn’t the NY Times invent CNN or become a search engine? How is it Sports Illustrated didn’t start ESPN? What about AOL the company that launched Instant Messenger losing that space to Facebook?
Lesson: even if you’re a media company find a way to hire engineers and developers.
The end of the world as we know it can be interpreted any number of ways. From our loss of privacy, to the concentrated control of one company, to the need for the rest of us to think differently.
Have you read this book? If so, what meaning does it have for your business?
I often get asked what someone should read to learn the basics of social media and understand the consumer behavior driving it. There is certainly no shortage of reading materials but this is what I usually recommend.
Groundswell: Josh Bernoff ‘s and Charlene Li’s excellent assessment of the five year-old social media trend characterized by customers blogging about products, posting their own videos and creating their own communities.
Here Comes Everybody: Clay Shirky’s anthropological assessment of why traditional media is obsolete, how open source software realizes the web’s true collaborative potential, and the power of group action.
Free: Chris Anderson’s somewhat controversial and subsequently modified argument that as storage, processing and bandwidth costs approach zero, a new “free” economy will emerge.
The Chaos Scenario: Bob Garfield’s rant against media, advertising and old-world marketing adds further proof that it’s the consumer, not the brand, which is now in control.
Crowdsourcing: Jeff Howe’s lucid explanation of why customers and consumers want to participate in the creation of everything from content to products and how brands can tap into their energy.
Inbound Marketing: Hubspot’s Brian Halligan coined the term and along with his partner Dharmesh Shah offers up solid basic advice on the tactics needed to generate content and get found online.
Trust Agents: And finally, the personal how to advice from Julien Smith and Chris Brogan. The latter may be the hardest working man in social media, giving away for free most of what he knows and arguing that you should, too.
Finally, keep in mind that when it comes to really understanding social media you’re a lot better off doing it than reading about it.
What do you think? Have I left anything off that’s an absolute must read? What’s on your list?
By now everyone knows that Pepsi has pulled out of the Superbowl after 23 consecutive years. Instead the company plans to funnel the better hunk of its advertising budget into online programs such as the Pepsi Refresh Project, an effort that will fund thousands of consumer conceived initiatives with $5,000, $25,000, $50,000 and $250,000 grants. According to Pepsi, they’re looking for ideas that “make us think, inspire us and ignite participation” in categories that include health, arts & culture, food & shelter, the planet, neighborhoods and education.
If anyone’s been wondering when social media would move from the wings onto the main stage, this might be it. While a lot of us have been trying to steer clients in this direction one conversation at a time, preliminary reports suggest that Pepsi is getting out the checkbook, the creative guns, and the PR machine and taking social media to a new level by using the tools and tactics (community, conversation) along with the platforms (Twitter, Facebook) to harness the power of the crowd. It’s not like other companies and organizations haven’t done this, but a $20 million-plus commitment is worth noting.
Done right the Pepsi Refresh Project has the potential to create one of the first examples of a company being a social media company rather than simply a company doing social media. But I intentionally put the emphasis on the word potential.
Social media at its best is about listening, engaging, connecting and inspiring. At first glance Pepsi’s efforts seem a little bit more about buying. Whether or not the effort turns out to be genuine and authentic remains to be seen.
To date the companies most committed to social media (Zappos, Whole Foods, Starbucks) are brands that have community and customer engagement in their DNA. None of them have traditionally been outbound marketers dependent on advertising that interrupts. They’ve used social media naturally for everything from customer service to community building and crowdsourcing.
The question is whether Pepsi, simply by giving away money and deciding to support causes, will come across as authentic or exploitive.
Either way we can be sure of one thing. Big brands’ dependence on old media continues to decline. What do you think? Will Pepsi set in example? Or be made an example of?
For years, almost every public service ad campaign created to fight tobacco or drugs or teen sex took a pretty similar approach: the scare tactic.
“Here’s what you’ll look and sound like 30 years from now if you don’t stop smoking.”
“Picture yourself as a pregnant teenager; your life and future are basically over.”
“Do you want to do this to your brain? Well ingest illegal substances and you might as well fry your frontal lobe.”
However, there’s a lot of research that suggests most of this stuff doesn’t work. One approach that does work, we’re told, is real data. Tell students how much booze they and their friends actually consume when they party, show them comparisons of themselves to others, and they are far more likely to respond positively.
But there may also be another approach: positive deviance. It’s a technique that health care and social workers have started to practice in places around the world where they are outsiders. Rather than show up and tell people from another culture how they should behave, raise their children, nourish infants, they find someone from within the culture who’s doing things right and attempt to seed and spread that positive behavior. Celebrate what’s right rather than condemn what’s wrong.
Could a similar approach work in advertising? Might it be a new way to get people to avoid driving drunk or buzzed? Why not? At least that’s Mullen’s hope with this new spot. What do you think? Can positive deviance work?