All things being horizontal...
Perhaps Magellan was onto something when he asserted that the world was indeed round. Thomas Friedman would certainly concur that communications have globalized our need states through a round lens. Communication streams, and certainly the ways we have “consumed” media, have not only given us a more holistic purview of our behaviors, but the attitudes we share around purchasing. Look at the way networks of all types have evolved – they’ve become horizontal by their very nature.
I am no longer a “car buyer”, an “insurance policyholder “, a “clothes shopper” or just a “loyalist” or an “adventurer”. My lifestyle choices are my own, they often change, or they take on new meaning. My search for meaning is reflected in the attitudes I exhibit and the interactions I have with my peers. All of my behaviors reach across verticals. My life, and my purchasing patterns, are representative of a constant need to connect and be validated on some level. Sure, we can segment (or “microsegment”) my behaviors and develop attitudinal attribution around them, but those insights are the result of conversation and real world interaction, not mere assumption.
The promise of utopia (hint: it is formalized within the mind of the individual).
Spiritual rants aside, it’s interesting (and even oddly comical) to think that all of these media types exist, yet media companies, at least as we’ve come to know them, are dying out. All things not being perfect, the need for control is more fleeting than ever.
Viewed in many media circles as a saving grace of sorts, there has been a lot discussion around the notion of “platform”, and we wanted to expand on the idea that a platform can be anything that ties people, experiences and relationships together in a thoughtful and truly actionable way. So, if a platform is borne from a specific technology or technology need, so be it. If it evolves out of a specific relationship dynamic, so be it. If it reveals itself by way of some social or cultural meme, that can be even better. If it is the culmination of all of these things, fantastic.
As Linus Pauling stated: “The best way to get a good idea is to have lots of ideas.” Sounds like a good starting point.
Platforms are the drivers of change.
Regardless of its nature or respective features or functions, a platform only exists as the sum of various substantive parts. It must inform, inspire, shift and create new cultural paradigms. It is by its very nature scalable, and must be carefully and continuously fed like any other organism or ecosystem. Most importantly, a platform allows for cultural and media transcendence. Ideally, it can entertain, delight or make games out of things we do.
In other words, a platform, unlike a campaign, provides an ongoing narrative that can live across channels (even those considered to be unlikely) and can be remixed through dynamic storytelling. Further, it motivates people to act in meaningful ways. And as far as ads go, the more we do develop a platform, the more campaigns we can run, the more media we can offer, and the more money we can generate without having to “sell” anything at all... Sort of, you might say, a form of social capitalism, or maybe just good ole’ media responsibility.
Semantic intelligence needs room to grow.
One might argue, and with reasonable evidence, that the intelligence we gather through media and technology is no longer artificial. Perhaps it never was. The “social web”, for example, seems paradoxical. Beyond media and technologies themselves, as networks of people, we are growing. We are evolving.
You’ll notice that we’ve left out “campaign”, “initiative” or “project” within this platform mix. Call it a “meme farm” if you so wish – the point is that platforms can become whatever we want them to be, or however they reveal themselves to be.
By the way, narrative is the sustainable, non-linear “thing” that allows us to maintain and nurture relationships, generate new insights and co-develop new products and services with people. It also affords us the ability to see how people share and evolve, with whom, and why. It gives us a profound understanding of the human condition.
What storytelling asks of us: to make art out of good business (and vice versa).
Narrative also presents a curious challenge for agencies and vendors: it forces us to learn, or relearn, how to co-create content much in the same way (or exactly as) filmmakers, artists and/or journalists do. Storytelling, as you’ve probably come to imagine, is an art form, and good art requires an open mind and balanced thinking. Whether we use three acts or ten (depending on their creator), the human condition is as unpredictable as ever (thank God for that, right?) and we must think of ourselves as curators of conditional or circumstantial information. This means that a message or a touch-point can be contained within a medium, but we must allow each medium to serve as a touchstone for people to unfold their versions of a story.
And just as the famous Warhol quote suggests, good art is good business. (He actually said moneymaking is good art, but considering these implications associated with the current state of the world, e.g. abject greed, I thought we’d leave that out... But I digress).
Above all (and even if they’re not saying it outright), clients are asking us to curate, and to provide business solutions, not just marketing solutions.
In short, platforms transform the way we do business. This is the single most important thing that any agency or vendor can embrace.
Put the power back into people.
You’ll notice that we’ve described this illustration as a “map of the media ecosystem”. Ecosystems in this sense are just that – living, breathing networks of people that interact dynamically. You’ll also notice that there is no mention of the word “consumer”. The thinking here is that we also want to try to blur the lines between paid, earned and owned media in order to focus on customized experiences. Further, data and collaborative insight are an integral part of the adaptive framework that constantly regenerates itself, is recursive, and feeds the constituent parts.
And of course, people are at the center of everything (well, at least when it comes to media). We’ve narrowed the human element down to the individual at the core, but we can just as easily liken this construct to groups or tribes or communities or hives or whatever we want them to be.
The other aspect of the ecosystem is this: while we have acknowledged specific social disciplines, the real goal is for social communication, and more importantly, social action, to permeate all forms of media and outreach. This we feel is absolutely critical, especially as we endeavor to create sustainable products and services.
All media are inherently social (really).
So, not to beat a dead horse (or create a limping donkey), all media are inherently social. Without fail, media should provide social nutrition to communities of people.
And so, people + platforms = brand innovation (and at best, human innovation)
We’ve done this purposely to demonstrate that ecosystems are ever-present, scalable, interchangeable and perhaps even omniscient (if we consider them to be more than just social objects) – the specific channels and disciplines are secondary, and in some ways, almost irrelevant. We’ve left many out. There are many others that will materialize and evolve. In today’s media world, people aren’t interested so much in consumption, rather the desire to create, recreate and/or cultivate new experiences. An experience has far more impact than a message or a channel. In fact, if we are to take a cue from Marshal McLuhan’s thinking, the experience is the message, or at least serves to procure those messages that are realized by way of collaborative thought.
Transformation must be cultivated.
The linchpin for brands and agencies is to invest in collective intelligence. From there, the opportunities are boundless. It’s time to go beyond producing donuts, and start generating intellectual IP that is shared and can be productized.
It’s a challenging environment we live in, but if we’re smart about it, vigilant and convicted enough in our beliefs, and we can motivate each other to operate outside of silos, the results can be quite powerful.
Examples of platforms:
[Special thanks to Sheena Warmin, Nina Ribbeklint and Jessie Kernan for being my co-pilots in this exploration]