Next month I have the honor of heading off to the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication where I’ve been invited to be an executive in residence. During my three days in Eugene, I’ll give a keynote, meet with faculty, work with students in a few classes and perhaps participate in a TedX conference.
But what I’m most excited about is that I get to come up with an assignment that students will work on in anticipation of my arrival. So here it is:
Assignment: Make America passionate once again about Innovation.
Not since the days of Sputnik and the genesis of the space program has innovation truly been celebrated by an entire nation. Sure we have Silicon Valley and Steve Jobs. But that addresses but a sliver of the problems and challenges that science, technology and innovation might actually solve – energy, health care, potable water, education, heck even longer lasting batteries for our iPhones.
Perhaps more compelling — despite a flurry of new gadgets, hybrid cars, and the Internet of everything – are facts like these:
- Most experts believe the United States is fewer than 10 years away from losing its leadership position to China and India.
- Those two nations are rapidly becoming the choice of global companies as they determine where to locate their R&D facilities, thanks to their emphasis on math and science education.
- America continues to see an increase in high school drop out rates, test scores that pale in comparison to other countries, and plummeting school budgets that don’t do much to help.
- It’s an epidemic at the college level, too. Consider that at UC Irvine, whose research labs detected the harmful CFC gases that deplete the ozone layer, the reputable program has lost $70 million for research, faculty, and classes.
- NASA’s budget is less than one percent of the total defense budget.
- Wall Street’s emphasis on quarterly profits encourages chipping away at R&D budgets in order to help bottom lines.
Last week, appearing on Tom Ashbrook’s On Point, MIT President Susan Hockfield suggested that if we really want more scientific and technological breakthroughs — the kind that solve big problems (energy, education, health), foster social mobility and spur economic growth — we need a national passion around innovation. “The nation has to fall in love again with science and technology,” Hockfield insists. “We have the have basic elements, but we no longer have the focus.”
So what if we take innovation and make it cool. Turn it into a cause. Get everyone behind it — kids, parents, educators, small businesses, big businesses, government officials, taxpayers.
What if we created this movement by using some of the innovations we have seen in the last few years – Skype, Twitter, YouTube? Or used emerging marketing techniques to do it – gaming dynamics, crowdfunding, and user-generated content? Perhaps we should even invent new products and services as part of the campaign to demonstrate the challenge and the thrill of inventing?
I’m hoping that the students come up with something that makes the idea of innovation viral. Something we root for like a national sports team. Or at least a campaign that extends the conversation beyond the halls of MIT, the broadcasts of NPR and the offices of venture capitalists.
What do you think? Any ideas, links, leads, suggestions to help the journalism and communication students at the University of Oregon get started?
Within two years 50 percent of American employees will work remotely or via mobile.
Wireless will be soon the dominant channel for tracking investments and conducting online trades
Mobile advertising will grow 50 percent in 2011 to over $1 billion
4G will put all of our vending machines and appliances online
Application developers are thrilled with iAd performance and revenues
The biggest opportunities for entrepreneurs and start-up companies will be for those who develop better battery lives
One percent of AT&T customers use 40 percent of its data services
I spent this morning at the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council’s (MTLC) Mobility Summit. The theme, no surprise, was ubiquitous connectivity. Thanks to mobile in its current state we are all connected all the time. Connected to news, information, each other. And with 4G coming we’ll be connected in even less time. Though we’ll pay the price. One speaker alleged that, “If we leave our 4G on, we use up our $90.00 a month worth of data in the first 40 minutes of the month.” Gulp. Not sure I want to see what the rest of the month is going to cost.
Costs aside however, it’s clear that mobile is not only what’s next, it’s a race to see who figures it out first. The service providers – AT&T, Verizon, Sprint – along with the Cisco’s and Akemai’s labor furiously to make 4G a reality and to enlarge the last mile of pipe. Emerging location-based platforms struggle to get their revenue models right. New start-ups with tools and applications for everything from analytics to social aggregation to mobile community building, battle it out for access to venture capital. Meanwhile brands and advertisers search for the marketing mix that might make sense, evaluating and experimenting with mobile banners, contextual offers, iAds, rich media executions, custom apps and QR codes.
What’s interesting at a “summit” like is to see all the different perspectives. To the providers it’s all about technology, capacity and speed. To investors it’s about revenue models, growth and exit strategies. To platforms it’s about user experiences and downloads.
But if you’re a marketer, you have to think about all of that. Technology creates new opportunities for content, video and applications. If subscription costs affect the rate of adoption you have to decide whether to invest simply in basic ads (the CTRs are often better) or to build more robust experiences for a smaller community. And the user experiences in which you do invest — from apps, to utility, to context, to the accessibility of your mobile friendly website – not only have to be great, they need to be considered in light of everything else you do.
In poking around yesterday, I noticed that while numerous retailers have entered into mobile with coupons, LBS offers, and functional apps, others haven’t even converted their websites to be mobile friendly.
That might be the first place to start.
Interested in more?
It’s the time of year when everyone is writing predictions for 2011. Boring. Every one will say the same thing. Mobile will be the first screen, location-based will get even bigger, Pads will replace laptops, game dynamics will be the newest influence technique, retail will go all social on us, the Internet of everything will finally arrive, the start-up investment bubble will burst.
Oh, and the Department of Defense will announce some kind of partnership with Zynga in the fight against terrorism.
But my prediction is this: marketing — especially the good old-fashioned kind that tells stories — will not only survive, it will become more necessary than ever. How do I know that? I figured it out by reading predictions of a different sort. From Ray Kurzweil, he of the determined to never die movement.
In its most recent issue, Time featured Mr. I Plan to Live Forever in its 10 Questions column. One of them was this: Will we be eating differently?
Ray’s answer is, well awesome, in the literal sense.
We’ll grow in vitro cloned meats in factories that are computerized and run by artificial intelligence. You can just grow the part of the animal that you’re eating. Some people say, “Oh, that sounds yucky.” I say, “Well, why don’t you go visit a factory-farming installation? You’ll find that getting meat from living animals is yucky.” But we’ll need a marketing genius to sell the idea.
Did you catch that last line? We’ll need a marketing genius to sell the idea. You’re thinking what I’m thinking, right. We’re in luck. Programmers and technologists and software developers and experience designers may be essential, too, but if the scientists come up with this kind of stuff, they’re going to need marketing most of all.
Storytellers. PR professionals. Product samplers. Propagation planners. Social media types. Best of all, with assignments this juicy, it’s going to be more fun than ever.
Got any good ideas for how to sell in-vitro cloned meat?
Image: snagged from Esquire (hope they don’t mind)
A conversation with Tim Malbon of Made by Many about working lean
It’s one thing to be agile. It’s another thing entirely to be lean. But if you’ve ever worked with a start-up company, you know two things. You don’t have very many resources and you want to do things quickly in order to learn as soon as possible if your hypothesis is right.
Chances are it’s not perfect. In some cases far from it. That’s been the case with YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, all of which changed signifcantly as soon as users started playing with them.
My friend Jordan Kretchmer who recently launched the online comment system Livefyre offers another perfect example. A year ago Livefyre was a new chat system and a potential rival to Twitter (obviously that didn’t work) and today it’s a robust media comment system that turns content into conversation. Eventually it will be even more, perhaps the definitive online reputation measurement and management system.
In all of these cases the ideas became clear in the minds of their creators because they got them into the marketplace fast, tested prototypes, learned from early users and made changes in a real world environment, not just a laboratory.
So what do some of us still do in the marketing (versus start-up) world? The opposite. First we learn, then we develop strategy, then we concept, then we concept some more, then we apply our aesthetic judgment, then we present ideas, then we sell hard, then maybe we test once, then we launch, then we pray. We hope that we’re right and that our precious ideas will actually do what we think they’ll do. Doesn’t matter whether it’s an ad, an app, a micro site (do we still make those?) or a Facebook promotion.
I once had Facebook executive tell me that they would test any engagement ad in a half a dozen executions for free and let an agency know which would work best in the fast moving digital environment. Just bang something out and get it to them. They’ll prototype it and let you know how to make it more effective. Think anyone takes them up on that?
But there’s a new approach emerging, courtesy of the tech and digital people we’re now bringing — or should be bringing — into our agencies. It’s called Lean. One of the best practitioners and most articulate advocates for this approach is my friend Tim Malbon from Made by Many. (I know, he’s getting a lot of attention here lately, but I’m learning from him, so I feel I should pass it forward.)
Take a look at his deck. It’s all about build, test, learn. It’s also about speed. But think about this. In the age of endless bits, you can actually hide in public. You can conceive an idea or service, put it online, buy a few keywords, alert a few lists or groups on Twitter, contact a couple of Facebook page admins or a relevant Linked In group and drive people to your new service. You can see what they think, test different options, try alternate designs and learn with your customer.
That way by the time you’re actually ready to launch anything – campaign, app, site, or experience — you introduce it with confidence rather than hope.
As Tim says, “Learn fast, so you don’t fail. Despite all of the positive PR it gets, failure is not all that cool.
If you need evidence that the world has changed a lot since you were in high school, look no further than this quote from Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia.
“When I go to speak at a university or high school, it’s completely insane how excited the kids are about Wikipedia,” Wales said. “I remember when I was in school, if they told us that the editor-in-chief of Encyclopedia Britannica was coming, we would’ve probably just killed ourselves.”
This must be the dream reaction for any product. Not only has Wikipedia made the only other brand name encyclopedia irrelevant, forced its digital competition into early retirement and made itself the de facto case study proving that crowdsourcing works, it’s endeared itself to high school students.
The latter obviously relates not merely to an encyclopedia and its content, but to all that Wikipedia represents: entrepreneurialism, purpose, and most of all an open invitation to participate.
There continue to be marketers, critics and brands that don’t really get what it means to have two billion new participants in a media landscape previously controlled by a few. Columnists write about how we embrace technology they claim we don’t need. Marketing strategists continue to imply that brands are being falsely lured into social media.
But Wikipedia, along with other community creations such as Firefox, reminds us that people rejoice in being heard and having the opportunity to contribute.
My wife once had a letter published in the New Yorker magazine. This was eight or nine years ago when expression was only free if you owned the publication. Her letter, one of for or five published that week, merited emails and phone calls of congratulations from everyone she’d ever known. Seems insane in today’s world.
I’m not surprised that Wikipedia gets such an enthusiastic welcome. Nor am I surprised that Britannica would have been greeted with yawns if not worse. One invites you to be part of the experience. To have a say and feel fulfilled by your contribution. The other simply declares that they already know it all and don’t really need any help from you.
Jimmy Wales implores brands to “make stuff that doesn’t suck.” I would add to that, “do something that makes high school and college students overjoyed to see you on campus.”