I remember the days when you walked through the creative department and the tools of the trade consisted of drafting tables, layout pads and Prismacolor markers. Yeah, I know, I’m giving away my age. Then came laptops and Adobe’s Creative Suite. But now things are getting really weird, or interesting, or cool. Depending on your perspective.
A walk through Mullen’s creative department still reveals the aforementioned technologies, but you’re now as likely to encounter MakerBots and the prototypes they’re printing as well as Arduino circuit boards on a table covered with sensors, wires, RFID chips and other pieces of hardware that are unidentifiable to the typical art director or copywriter. Then again, art directors and copywriters, while still prominent, aren’t the only “creatives” populating ad agencies anymore.
Now sitting among the Bernbachian creative teams are developers, UX designers and code-writing inventors. These are true techies, far more interested in building things first and communicating them second. Sometimes they get to make stuff for clients, but as often as not they’re simply determined to make anything. Key cards that play music when you enter the agency. Ping pong tables that move and flash lights at your opponent. Cameras that tell you whether there’s a long line at the coffee bar. Artificial limbs that can high-five you if you had a good meeting.
What does any of this have to do with advertising? Supporting clients? Generating revenue? Frankly a lot. I sat through a presentation earlier this week on physical computing from some of our resident innovators. They shared a simple perspective on how the use of technologies evolves. The progression has five stages: nerdy, weird, witty, understandable, creative.
Think back to the early days of computers, the web, YouTube, Twitter or crowdsourcing. Whether you look at them from the perspective of users or uses, they all followed a similar progression.
It demonstrates a culture of innovation by using rather than simply talking about new technologies.
It teaches people who aren’t technological to conceive things that can be built and prototyped, tested and iterated, expanding their creative repertoire and frame of reference.
And perhaps most importantly it shows clients that their agency is inventing, not just making ads.
All of which has a lot to do with advertising. At least the future of it.
We all know that the road from the world of print and broadcast to a new place where digital, social and mobile reign, is littered with once prominent agencies and individuals who got left behind. Those of us who are still around have managed, in one way or another, to transform ourselves. We’ve learned new skills. Hired different kinds of talent. Changed how we work. Re-structured our work spaces. And learned to live in beta, knowing that whatever we have working today probably won’t be good enough six months or a year from now.
Inside ad agencies, we continue to see disruption. People, roles and skills change constantly. Planners become digital strategists. PR people master social media. Creative teams scramble to understand APIs and HTML5. And account folks, at the minimum, learn the timing, resources and costs of creating digital content. The changes have spawned an entire re-education industry. The 4As runs transformation sessions. BDW fills up workshops. Hyper Island charges a fortune for its digital therapy. Google and Facebook spend a small fortune educating agencies on how to best use their platforms.
But I’m guessing this is still just the beginning. The emergence of new social networks, platforms for collaboration, and the importance of reaching and acquiring users without relying on paid media and traditional advertising will call for us to learn even more. Throwing up a Facebook page, tweeting about our new product, or targeting influential bloggers won’t be good enough.
If you need evidence, check out the argument put forth in this enlightening post by Andrew Chen, a Silicon Valley blogger, entrepreneur and angel investor.
Chen suggests that the future head of marketing will have to be what’s called a growth hacker. The term is new, but gaining traction in Silicon Valley where most new companies are all about generating users for a digital product or service. His argument is that marketers now need the technical chops to integrate platforms, leverage their existing communities, and invent new ways to generate reach and visibility, using tactics and techniques foreign to most traditional marketers.
The case study he describes shows how Airbnb wrote a script to scrape Craigslist and interact with its forms thus leveraging Craigslist’s huge user base despite the ad platform having no API. (Note this is mostly over my head, so you’re better off getting the explanation from Chen.) After reverse engineering Airbnb’s “Post to Craigslist,” Chen writes:
No traditional marketer would have figured this out
Let’s be honest, a traditional marketer would not even be close to imagining the integration above – there’s too many technical details needed for it to happen. As a result, it could only have come out of the mind of an engineer tasked with the problem of acquiring more users from Craigslist. Who knows how much value Airbnb is getting from this integration, but in my book, it’s damn impressive. It taps into a low-competition, huge-volume marketing channel, and builds a marketing function deeply into the product. Best of all, it’s a win-win for everyone involved – both the people renting out their places by tapping into pre-built demand, and for renters, who see much nicer listings with better photos and descriptions.
While Chen is referring specifically to the need of startups, looking for users on its way to being the next Instagram, one could argue that all brands will be making, and all agencies marketing, digital products — apps, experiences, communities, digital services.
What will this mean for the future account manager? Or strategist? Or creative team? Your guess is as good as mine. But I can virtually guarantee you that one thing is certain. Whatever we’ve managed to learn in the last few years won’t be enough to get us through the next few.
Shout out to my student Maurice Rahmey for turning me onto Andrew Chen’s post.
A few years ago, when Facebook engagement ads were just taking off, Kevin Colleran, at the time still working for the social media behemoth (he was employee number 10 and its first sales executive; now a venture capitalist, what else?) told me that the way to make your Facebook ads really effective was to give the network three or four versions and let Facebook test them in a real environment. That way Facebook could virtually guarantee the efficacy of your brand message.
He mentioned that you’d be surprised what performed best. For example, you may have thought that videos would drive deeper engagement and you’d be wrong. You could hypothesize anything, in fact, but why bother when it was so easy to get proof of what worked simply by trying a few options.
I asked Kevin how many agencies took Facebook up on the offer and he answered hardly any. Unless they were a direct response firm, it just wasn’t in their DNA. So Facebook would themselves initiative comparisons for brands in order to prove the value.
This week Wired had a great piece on A/B testing and how it has become the “open secret of high-stakes web development.” It’s the formula by which almost all of Silicon Valley (maybe not Apple) improves its online products. Real time focus group testing in real life environments.
It’s really just a technique that derives from classic direct marketing. Beat the control. In the days of envelopes and stamps, however it took multiple tries and that could take many months a you had to conceive, write, print, mail, analyze data and try again.
On the web, of course, the process takes but a few hours. Change a color, an image or a headline and the impact on action taken could be significant. You may never know why, but that’s not the point.
Yet many ad agencies now getting into the digital business – creating websites, apps, online experiences and more – remain averse to A/B testing, or at least unaware of its potential. Why? For no other reason than the old linear process by which we made advertising – strategy, concept, approval, production, distribution – remains embedded in muscle memory. Or even more likely, because most ad agencies, along with plenty of companies in other industries, still practice HiPPO decision making; the highest paid person’s opinion determines what to do.
But read the Wired piece. Consider not only the dramatic improvements that A/B testing can yield – as well as the frequency with which the HiPPO’s are wrong – and you certainly conclude the strategy has a place in anything we ever do online. Ads, websites, apps, social engagement.
Maybe I should have done two versions of this post to see which one gets the most traffic.
Your thoughts? Are you using A/B testing for any of your online initiatives? Why not give it a try?
It’s finally here, Springpad 3.0. We’ve completely redesigned the platform. While Springpad has always been an incredibly useful app for the 3 million people who count on its utility to save, organize and easily access everything from recipes to wish lists, it’s now a social experience that lets users share content, discover interests and even collaborate on notebooks.
We’re pretty excited. You can still use Springpad to quickly and easily “spring” content in any form — recipes, books, movies, products, links, notes, tasks — but now you can “publish” your content, search by category, create communities around hashtags and isolate your friends based on their specific areas of expertise. Springpad just got a whole lot more useful.
No doubt our community of users will surprise and inspire us with uses beyond what we’ve imagined — organizing book clubs, collaborating on design projects, plannning family vacations, sharing best of lists, creating cookbooks, co-curating resources — but I thought I’d share 10 things that we can all get out of the new Springpad starting today.
Free yourself from the stream
One of my favorite things about Springpad is its persistence. If you spring something, it doesn’t disappear in the stream like it does on Twitter. It’s always there. In a notebook that is easy to find, search, access. Same goes for a friend’s content. Let’s say someone you follow on Twitter posts a link to a new restaurant in San Francisco. Within a matter of seconds it’s gone. You may have seen it, but a month from now when you’re in the Bay Area and wish you could remember it you’re out of luck. But if she had “sprung” it to a notebook, there it is. In her “San Francisco Foodie Spots” notebook. Instantly findable and usable. Give a +1 to the concept of persistence.
Express your interests
Sure Pinterest lets you post the stuff you care about, find inspiring or hope to own/do someday. But Springpad lets you do the same with more than images. You can spring notes, events, products, links, white papers, Slideshare decks. It offers a very clean and flexible way to organize and present your interests. It’s not only a great way for you to segment your life, but to let other people see you in a new, clearer light.
Make better decisions
One of the coolest things about Springpad is that it enhances everything you save with useful data. Spring a product and the app brings you all the prices on the web. Save a movie and it tells you where and when it’s playing, whether in the theater or on Netflix. Clip a restaurant and you get menus and maps. All of which helps you buy at the best price, get to the show on time, or decide what you want to eat for dinner. The whole idea is to turn interests into action.
Collaborate on anything
Obviously you can make notebooks private or public. But you can also co-curate notebooks with friends or colleagues whose taste and judgment you respect. I’ve got collaborators on my Stay Fit, Ride More notebook as well as on my Industry Trends notebook. In fact the latter has four contributors. Imagine how useful that feature would be for a bride-to-be and her Mom planning a wedding. Or parents and their teenage son organizing college applications and visits. Or an interior designer and her clients working on a renovation. Since you can clip, save, and comment on anything — products, images, links — notebooks become dynamic and interactive.
Discover more of what you love
Once we get more people on Springpad we’ll have an incredibly efficient social search engine. But even while the numbers are a long way from Facebook or Google, what makes Springpad search useful now is the ability to scour categories that matter to you and then filter the results by people whose judgment you trust. Just take a look at the Spotlight section under Explore, or the popular notebooks below it. I guarantee you’ll find something of interest.
Share your expertise
Are you a teacher? Blogger? Digital strategist? Gardener? Designer? Why limit your content creation to a lecture, a blog or links on Twitter. You can populate Springpad notebooks with both your own stuff as well as material from other sources, getting credit both as a content creator and a curator. Add the persistence mentioned above and the fact that it can drive traffic your way and it’s a perfect complement to the other initiatives.
Make a plan
I’m using Springpad right now to plan a vacation to LA and San Francisco. In this case my private notebook has everything from hotels and restaurant reservations to confirmation emails, maps, flight information, contacts and a calendar. I add stuff as it comes in via email or as I find it online, and not only do I have it all in one place, I can take it with me on a lap top a tablet or smartphone. Trying to find may way to Universal Studios? My notebook not only has my tickets, it includes maps and directions.
Follow notebooks, not people
This was a big part of my presentation at SxSW. I have a lot of friends on Facebook and Twitter for that matter who post stuff I have no interest in whatsoever. I don’t care about Alison’sFunniest Animals on the Internet, but I am interested in her Books for Work notebook. So I simply follow the former and not the latter. The content rather than the whole person. This is the interest graph at its best.
Find people you trust
Consequently Springpad will ultimately connect you to people whose opinions you trust. Foodies, oenophiles, book critics, cyclists, beer critics, chefs. As you find people based on the quality of their content and the relevance of what they share, you end up with better go-to sources and more reliable recommendations.
There are lots of ways to put your personal brand on the web. But what’s cool about Springpad is that it lets you present yourself, your content, your interests all in one place with more dimension. Wouldn’t you like to get a job candidate to send you a notebook that contains their content, portfolio, blog, favorite books, news coverage, recommendations, etc all in one place that you can access in whatever order you want?
For me, the new Springpad is a better way to filter the web, organize your own interests, discover great stuff from reliable sources, and more easily turn interests into action.
Hope you’ll join me and our growing community on Springpad. Create some great notebooks. And discover even better ones. Let me know what you think.
(Note: As mentioned before, I now work half time at Mullen as chief innovation officer, but part of the agency’s approach to innovation is to learn from the startup community, hence I am also at Springpad as chief marketing officer, brand evangelist and, of course, notebook maker.)
America has lots of problems: unemployment, poverty, obesity, urban violence. But there’s actually a more pressing problem. It’s the “us versus them” mindset that permeates our country and our politics.
Our communities of concern have become too narrow
Before the Occupy Movement even launched, I heard Robert Reich speak at Google’s Zeitgeist 11 Conference. In a brilliant talk he clarified how our communities of concern are shrinking. We don’t do everything as a country to solve unemployment because those in power don’t really care. Why? Because they are college graduates. And the unemployment rate, while 35 percent for high school dropouts, hovers at a mere five percent for college graduates. High school dropouts are not in the community that matters.
Reich extended his argument to rationalize why the poverty rate for senior citizens in America has been reduced significantly (from 20 percent to five percent) while poverty rates for families with small children has sky rocketed (an appalling 37 percent of US families with small children now live in poverty). The former reside comfortably in the community that congressmen care about (powerful voting block; closer in age) while the latter sits outside it.
Whether his assessment is right or not, two facts emerges as crystal clear. Each of us – blue, red, old, young, urban, rural, black, white, gay, straight – tends to care disproportionately about those with whom we share empathy and interdependency. And as our country becomes more fragmented rather than unified, our communities of concern get narrower. In fact, even the Occupy Movement, which has effectively called attention to the most obvious “us and them” gap, has been criticized for its lack of diversity, particularly in southern cities where there are large African American populations.
This is ironic in an age of social media when we have remarkable tools to connect us to each other. But what do we use them for? To find more people just like us. Take a look at your Facebook friends, your Twitter followers, your Google + circles. Chances are they are a mirror reflection of your upbringing, your background and your profession. When I went to college, 30-plus years ago, even unimaginative housing administrators worked hard to match you up with someone from a different background. Now our kids use Facebook to find roommates whose tastes match theirs, reinforcing a tendency for both parties to stay in their mutual comfort zone.
As I thought about Reich’s argument, something else struck me. There are two places where we create “communities” that do work — juries and military service. Granted in the case of the latter, people’s lives depend on one another. But think about juries.* We stick 12 strangers in a room, present them with a very serious responsibility, and in most cases they fulfill their duty with the utmost of diligence.
So here’s my idea for saving America in case the Occupy Movement doesn’t work. It’s an idea that could help us increase empathy. It takes full advantage of social media’s true potential. It’s a program that steals from the military and juries — practices that do work — when it comes to creating interdependency.
Mandatory social media service
- We require every 18-year-old in America to participate in mandatory social media service as part of a daily or weekly routine for one year.
- We assign our young adults to a racially diverse online social group comprised of 12 people from different regions, backgrounds, income brackets. (Google+ is a potential platform.)
- We present each group with a social challenge – obesity, jobs, poverty, high cost of education, even the problem of young men getting their sex education from watching online porn – and we ask them to solve the problem.
- We give them benchmarks, goals, and require an outcome in the form of an idea, a program, a new policy or maybe just a video.
- Finally we aggregate all of the solutions on one public website where the press, our legislatures, businesses and educators can access, rate and maybe even implement the ideas.
No doubt there are details to work out. Does each group have an official moderator, someone to coach and keep track? What happens when partisan differences challenge collaboration? How do we make technology and Internet access available to everyone? Is there translation software good enough to serve multi-lingual users? But these are all solvable through trial and error in the course of developing the program.
More importantly, we’re not asking anyone to give up an entire year of his or her life or make a significant sacrifice. We’re simply asking them to work together, as a community of concern, to find some kind of common ground that might yield a solution to a problem or an idea worth pursuing further.
Will a group of strangers on a social platform really solve big issues like unemployment, poverty, obesity, and urban violence? Maybe not. But as a society, we might solve our most pressing problem. The need to create greater empathy and understanding between and among people who are different but share a vested interest in America.
Think this idea has potential? Send a link to this post to your congressman or woman. Got a better idea? Please share.
Photograph courtesy of: Konstantin Sergeyev, who has some great images of the Occupy Movement on his Flickr page.
* A thought put in my head when Esther Dyson asked Sandra Day O’Connor a question about their effectiveness.