Faris Yakob posted the question on his blog today. What should he talk about at next week’s Making Digital Work NYC workshop? Someone (that may have been me) labeled his presentation Strategy for the Post-Digital Age, which as Faris suggests is a bit of a presumptuous title.
Yes, I followed some of Iain Tait’s presentation at CaT where he admonished the term, reminded us that digital anything is still brand new, and pointed out that any such label is totally contrived, created primarily by marketers and ad agencies to distinguish new media from old media when in fact consumers rarely assign such tags. Consumers don’t think about whether content, entertainment and utility is analog, digital, mobile or physical. They just consume it. Or use it. I suppose that Duke Ellington’s categorization of music applies here, too. There’s just good and bad anything.
But back to Faris’s question. There are still a whole lot of us who have to make stuff, think up cool ideas, execute them and make sure they get seen and used. In the old days, we mostly crafted messages. Brands were successful in their marketing if they got noticed and remembered. But that’s harder to do today. In a digital, interactive world, brands and their content have to be useful. If they’re to get talked about they need to be interesting. When they do both those things well – and, of course, make a great product or deliver a valued service — people might actually like them. And that’s a good thing.
So what is the strategy, the brief, the input that inspires work and ideas when we need to: generate awareness, earn interest, create interaction, invite participation, stimulate word-of-mouth, be accessible, stay memorable and engender loyalty?
What’s the objective when it’s obvious we need to increase sales but the real question is how?
What do we make if the end product isn’t a message to be consumed but an idea to be engaged?
And how many different things do we need to say, do, invent and build if we’re to succeed in an age when time is scarce and attention is scarcer?
For years we’ve been writing strategies and crafting briefs designed to reduce a target audience to a single motivating insight and produce a single unifying message platform. Typically it’s based on a consumer’s relationship to a category (cars, beer, jeans, toothpaste) and perception of a brand (Chevy, Molson, Levi’s, Crest). We then try and change it with a clever headline or provocative image and, if we’re lucky, with enough money to be unavoidable.
Time now to re-invent the brief. Make it relevant to the way consumers use technology, media, social networks and community. Think of it as a blueprint to inspire new content, utility, products, services and behaviors.
I’m guessing even Faris won’t have that all figured out by next week. But if he can open our eyes a little wider, inspire us with perspectives we haven’t considered, and offer a few suggestions, it will be, as Faris himself likes to say, awesome.
The brief in the post-digital age: Gareth Kay. Gareth was one of the creators of the workshop and gave this presentation at previous sessions.
There’s a great piece in the NY Times this morning that continues the conversation most associated with Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows. In an article titled Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction, writer Matt Richtel relates a number of cases in which bright students can neither finish a book nor concentrate on a single topic for more than a few minutes. Meanwhile, educators, beside themselves, have no choice but to incorporate technology into the classroom if they’re to keep students interested. So are they confronting the problem? Or exacerbating it?
This same week we have also read that Zynga has a new game to convert our weaknesses into an obsession. The maker of Farmville now offers us City Ville. Great. Or as my friend Conrad Lisco says, “I can’t wait to finish a 13 hour work day so I can get home and play work at home.” Clearly Zynga is determined to undermine Clay Shirky and his argument that we will soon benefit from the “Cognitive Surplus” that results from fewer hours in front of the TV set. If Zynga has its way we’ll simply move from a passive screen to an active one. True we may save the digital farm and soon the city, but it’s probably not what Shirky had in mind.
Continuing this theme, this week saw yet more brands race to embrace the space being contested by Foursquare, Gowalla and SCVNGR. Despite these location-based networks’ inability to inspire mainstream adoption, none other than Disney and Coca-Cola hope to accelerate these platforms’ growth with new initiatives on Gowalla and SCVNGR respectively. Perhaps they simply want to make sure they don’t miss out when – or if – any of these startups to mainstream. Or maybe they’re simply convinced that deep inside all of is a check-in aching to be let out.
Taken all together, these stories point to the unarguable fact that we are increasingly distracted, overwhelmed with choice, and confronted by a never ending introduction of tools, toys, and tricks all competing for what little attention we have left.
So, is it possible to focus on anything – books, work, the rides at Disney — without eschewing all the new technology to which we’re now addicted?
I’m convinced there’s hope. For while there is no stopping the constant noise of the digital vuvuzelas, there are as many ideas and tools to help us focus as there are to distract us. Here are some that I’m using or planning to explore. One for each of the four things we do on line: consume, connect, create and acquire.
Pulse: An app to help us consume
This week saw a good size investment in the popular iPhone / iPad app Pulse. This social news organizer — RSS with a heavy dose of ease-of-use — offers an elegant way to customize news, blogs and the content we choose to consume into a visually appealing format that simplifies the way we organize and access information. Set it up on your iPhone or iPad, make it your defacto go-to source for information, combine it with your most reliable Tweetdeck column, and you’re good to go.
One thing that is particularly nice about the iPhone version is that it limits you to 20 feeds, blogs or news sources. You have to choose. If your RSS looks anything like mine, this is a much simpler, more focused way to gather and consume content. Ideally with its new cash and momentum, Pulse will offer us new enhancements and functionality that make the app even more useful.
Path: A new network to help us connect
On another front, the eagerly anticipated Path – a new social network from a gang of Facebook refugees — launched this week, offering users the ability to create a social community limited to just 50 people, a number that approximates what someone might actually have as “real” friends.
Supposedly Path makes it more likely that you’ll share and exchange more personal information, thoughts and ideas with people you actually know rather than spend all your online time tracking names and avatars that merely represent digital connections. Granted many of us like our larger networks, which we use as sources of content and ideas or to help us spread our own ideas, but we might want to take advantage of more intimate networks for things that are more personal.
I haven’t used Path yet and it is definitely missing some social features we’ve all become used to, but it’s an interesting idea. Thinking like a marketer, however, I’m actually hoping users can create multiple small networks, as it could be a great way for those of us who do this professionally to build groups around particular topics or even to conduct intimate user groups.
Storify: A platform to help us create
For those of us who not only consume content, but also create it, we’re starting to see the utility from new applications like Storify. In fact this post was organized using Storify, a simple platform for gathering and organizing social content, annotating it, and turning it into something that makes sense.
Storify, created by journalist Burt Herman, is so obvious a solution that it’s amazing no one developed it sooner. Robert Scoble says, “We need it because more and more of our lives and the news events we care about are being covered on Twitter, Facebook, or other (non-traditional) new media services.” But there’s a greater value to Storify. It’s the ideal tool for any reporter, blogger or content creator to gather and organize content from virtually any source –Twitter, blogs, shared links, YouTube. The simplicity of the platform – it lets you gather, organize, annotate and even publish – makes it easy to compose a story. But I actually think it will be more useful as a research tool. You’ll be able to gather the content you need for a post, or maintain a number of topics that interest you and add to them as useful content comes your way.
Springpad: An app to help us acquire
I should note that Springpad is a client. But this new app continues to evolve, making it easier for us to save the stuff – products, books, recipes, movies, destinations – we come across or find in our stream. Soon, it will reward users with savings on the stuff we’ve already opted into. Instead of pummeling us with every offer available within a two mile radius, Springpad will simply shop for the best prices on the stuff you’ve already “saved” and stored on the app. Interested in a book that a Twitter friend recommended? Springpad offers not only a way to remember it – admit it, you never go back and look at all those Tweets you’ve favorited – it will work on your behalf to find you the best deal.
It’s too late to go back. We live, share, interact and post our lives online. But if we’re to avoid being slaves to the stream and instead wish to make the stream work for us, we may need things like Pulse, Path, Storify and Springpad to save us.
What do you think? Got any other ideas or platforms that organize your life.
Happy Ice Cream Machine, from a pure digital agency, won Best of Show, but lots of other awards
went to hybrid or integrated agencies, including Mullen.
Last night MITX put on its annual award show ceremony, celebrating the best digital and interactive work in New England. It’s always fun to be there as the show attracts everyone from ad agencies to digital shops, production companies, start-ups, VCs and social media agencies. Boston has a big, healthy and still growing digital community and folks come from all over the region. All the way from Burlington, Vermont, in fact.
Besides being the oldest interactive marketing association in the country (I think), the MITX awards is definitely the largest regional show in the U.S. It’s been held annually for 15 years – since the days of CD-ROMS – and attracts well over 1200 attendees who either pat themselves on the back for winning or applaud politely as their competitors walk to the stage.
I was obviously pleased to watch the Mullen gang take home numerous honors, including Best Brand Campaign, Best Cross Media Campaign and Best User Engagement (all for Olympus); Best Mobile App for Lumber Liquidator (the second year in a row we grabbed that one); and Best Use of Mobile (for Timberland, which also won Digital Marketer of the Year.)
As is often the case at these events, more than a few people asked how it is that Mullen, once a traditional advertising agency known more for ads than digital ideas, managed to “transform.” Once upon a time the companies that won at award shows like this were the digital pure-plays.
But clearly everything is digital now and every agency needs to be (and can be) digital (and social). Not just in its tech group, but in creative, planning, media, production and account service. So my answer is simple.
- Change your mindset. Tell yourself that it’s time to make things that are useful rather than craft messages that people will simply consume.
- Put technology and IA and UX in the middle of the creative department so that they’ll learn more about storytelling and creativity and creatives will learn more about technology.
- Start every idea session with the question: what do consumers need from this brand in terms of content, functionality and utility?
- Make ads last. First come up with something more experiential that in and of itself might be worth advertising.
Granted it’s easier said than done. As this week’s Fast Company piece suggests, you have to change your DNA and make some tough decisions about everything from staffing and processes to clients and compensation.
And admittedly we’re not totally there yet and don’t always get it right either. (Few really do have it all figured out.) But when we do, it’s actually good for everyone — our clients, their customers, and even the egos of the teams that walk up to the stage at MITX.
Congratulations to all the winners and all the agencies. Especially all those who’ve had to work extra hard to get there.
This popular video from TAT predicting the future of screen technology
reminds us that we need to embrace innovation in all of its forms.
Yesterday was my last day as Mullen’s chief creative officer, a title I’ve held for the last 12 years. No, I’m not going anywhere. After 28 years as a partner in a company I helped build it seems a little late for that. But I am taking on a new role: chief innovation officer. That may sound an odd title for someone who’s spent most of the last 28 years working in what we historically refer to as the “creative” side of the business – making TV spots, videos, websites, apps, digital experiences, print campaigns — but from my perspective it makes perfect sense.
For one thing, it excites the hell out of me. The chance to focus on all that’s new, think about its impact on the agency and our clients, and work to inspire new behaviors and practices that might, as Faris Yakob says, “get us to awesome faster” is, well, awesome in itself.
For another, it’s a natural continuation of a personal evolution I began two and a half years ago. After helping define a new vision for the agency, expressed with the word Unbound, I’ve spent most of my time on projects designed to help us live up to all that Unbound declares as we transformed ourselves from a message making ad agency into one we believe is far more relevant to the digital/social/mobile age.
I’ve witnessed the enthusiasm of a company as it managed to integrate technology, UX, design, social and mobile into its creative department. I’ve watched with awe as our PR veterans joined with right-out-of-school digital natives to launch and build a social influence practice. I’ve rejoiced in the new business wins that validated our progress. And I have found myself incredibly grateful to our ECD Mark Wenneker — as of today or new CCO — whose talent, passion and relentlessness freed me to explore, play and learn about all the new stuff going on.
Finally, and best of all, it makes sense because it scares the bejeezus out of me. I’ve been a lot of things – newspaper reporter, speechwriter, PR counsel, account exec, copywriter, creative director and CCO – but I’ve never been anything like a chief innovation officer.
I can’t say I have it all figured out. But I’m excited about some of the initiatives in the works. We plan to formalize a cross discipline lab that comes at client problems from different perspectives. We’ll continue to develop new services – mobile and social strategy being our most recent – for clients. We’ll accelerate the introduction of new technologies and platforms into the agency and the work we create. And we’ll find even more ways to create partnerships and alliances with other companies.
All the lines have blurred. Creatives invent products. Technologists think like creatives. The Bernbachian team has morphed into multi-discipline collaboration.
Allegedly Dan Weiden once advised his many talented employees to “come to work stupid everyday.” No doubt there’s always something to learn and the greatest mistake we could ever make is to think we know all the answers. These days it’s more important to have good questions. I have plenty of those.
If you, your agency or marketing department still struggle with all the disruption and change imposed by technology, digital and the Internet of everything, you may want to join Boulder Digital Works in New York, December 2 and 3 for what promises to be a great two-day workshop called Making Digital Work (MDW).
For the last few weeks I’ve been working with my friend Matt Howell, president of Modernista and a fellow board member at Boulder Digital Works, along with the amazing staff at BDW, to plan the sessions and we’re pretty excited. The lineup of presenters and workshop leaders is nothing short of impressive. And the agenda flows smoothly from a look at the world around us, to strategy, organization, team structure, roles, digital awesomeness, and how to actually make things.
Having lectured at a few of these sessions, it’s become evident that there are two aspects to helping your agency (or yourself) learn to be more digital. There is the work you make: platforms, applications, tools, experiences, and creative expressions. And there is the process you need to make it: strategies, teams, collaboration, project management, and prototyping.
We plan to cover both over the course of two days, combining lectures, presentations, panels and hands-on work sessions.
Here are our topic and speaker/teachers.
Making Digital Work, NYC, Day One
Introduction and Overview
That would be me, talking about the need to actually build things, collaborate across disciplines and learn by doing rather than watching.
Strategy for the Post-Digital Age
Faris Yakob, chief innovation officer for MDC Partners will inspire us all with thoughts on how strategy has to evolve if it’s to inform work that’s interactive, shareable and participatory.
New Teams and Processes for Making Digital Work
Matt Howell, President of Modernista, presents his vision for the new brand team, individual roles and the process necessary to go from making messages to building platforms.
The Shift from Designing Websites to Digital Eco-Systems
Chloe Gottleib, ECD for Interactive Design at R/GA will explain how to think about UX when the digital experience is no longer limited to a website but instead includes social media, apps, and a brand’s extensive online presence.
Great Digital Creative Ideas
Michael Tabtabai, Creative Director at Saatchi and Saatchi, takes us through examples of inspiring digital ideas that work in the marketplace. He covers everything from robots to gaming dynamics.
How to Actually Make Stuff
Making Digital Work, NYC, Day Two
The New Models and What They Teach Us
Ty Montague, co-CEO and founder of Co; Ian Schafer, CEO of Deep Focus; and John Winsor, CEO of Victors & Spoils join me in a panel discussion of how their models differ from traditional agency models and what we can learn from them.
Changing Your Organization
Alessendra Lariu, a Group Creative Director at McCann Erickson, instructor at Hyper Island, co-founder of She Says, and Fast Company 100 Most Creative People to Watch, shares her experiences in helping change things inside a traditional agency.
The Role of Creative Technologist
Scott Prindle, Executive Creative Technology Director at CP&B, clarifies the role of the creative technologist and the qualities necessary if he or she is to make technology part of the creative team.
Griffin Farley, Strategy Director at BBH NY, introduces us to an entirely new way of thinking when it comes to the distribution of digital content and ideas.
Most of the lecturer/presenters will be on hand the entire day of their presentation, if not both days, to help lead the four hands-on workshops that take place over the two days.
Voices from Boulder Digital Works: videos