A Literacy of the Imagination

a deeper look at innovation through the lenses of media, technology, venture investment and hyperculture

Filtering by Tag: ecosystems

Sorry Jason Calacanis, Google Isn't the Only Game in Town (The Amazon Principle)

Next month, I'll be delivering a keynote at TruEffect's Brand Partner Summit in Boulder, Colorado, on the topic of storytelling and advertising. I've talked a bit about the future of ads in general, in particular as a service industry.

The real context I'd like to address right here -- and what will serve as the backdrop for my talk in Boulder -- is what is actually driving the media ecosystem and respective information systems as a whole.

Right now, Google seems to have the upper hand. But this won't be the case for much longer.

As you may recall, late last year Jason Calacanis wrote a really interesting piece entitled "#googlewinseverything".  The post generated quite a lot of buzz in technology and venture circles for obvious reasons. In the piece, Calacanis provides a list of truisms about Google, saying rather emphatically:

"In truth, the 10 ‘facts’ I’ve outlined above are not mine; these are the opinions I’ve collected over the past year asking intelligent folks, ‘So what do you think about Google?’ These are the 'facts' as the people see them. Although, I haven’t found anyone who disagrees with these 10 facts – do you?"

Well, I'm not going to disagree with Calacanis per se (he has access to a lot more inside info than I do and I have lots of respect for him as an entrepreneur and investor), but I am going to challenge the list of assertions he provides within context.

Here they are, point and counterpoint.

1. No company has as many smart people as Google. -> Define 'smart'. In a 'wicked' complex world, creative intelligence (or 'EQ', emotional quotient) is just as important as quantitative or purely scientific chops.

2. No company is as ambitious as Google. -> Define 'ambitious'. Do you mean to say that a host of companies without Google's market cap or footprint aren't taking on significant cultural mores, or attempting to create massive social change (for the better) -- like Amazon?

3. No company is working on as many hard problems as Google. -> Define 'hard problems'. Defer to counterpoint #2.

4. No company makes as many big bets as Google. -> What kind of bets? With what intentions? Defer to counterpoint #2.

5. No company is willing to make as many crazy acquisitions as Google. -> Maybe so. But there are lots of companies that don't have to acquire as much in order to 'push the envelope' as it were (i.e. market ownership is not the same as market creation...). Defer to counterpoint #2, with the caveat that Amazon is buying a lot in order to strengthen its infrastructure and market positioning.

6. No company has more data than Google. -> Perhaps. But is it all the right/best kind of data? (i.e. Is it clean? Can it be parallel processed? Is it behavioral? Does it seamlessly connect to the knowledge/social graphs? Is it scalable through reference/inferential databases? etc.). Defer to counterpoint #2.

7. Few companies understand how to play the government better than Google. -> Probably the case. But in Google's position, and given backdoor surveillance (as just one example), is that a good thing? More importantly, is Google really influencing policy in the best interests of us (its users)?

8. No company has more global influence than Google. -> Right now, probably true. But that won't remain to be the case. Defer to counterpoint #2.

9. No company is as ruthlessly efficient as Google. -> From my own experience working with Google (Google 'proper' and YouTube), that's simply not true. Great company and great people, yes, but 'ruthlessly efficient', no.

10. Only one CEO is more ambitious than Google’s Larry Page.* -> Jeff Bezos?

As you might've gathered, I have a thing for Amazon. Don't get me wrong, I think the world of Google, but Amazon is a special kind of dark horse (if you can even call a company that big a 'dark horse'). This Atlantic piece, which came out right around the time Calacanis wrote his post, was a really good, balanced take on how Amazon is making seismic moves.

The basic premise -- and my firm belief -- is that any company which thinks the way Amazon does long-term, to include massive financial risks, will 'win' long-term.

Now of course, pundits will say that Google has always thought long-term. That's debatable. Per the (counter)points above, Google has thought long-term about experimental domains like artificial intelligence, quantum computing, sustainable cities and transit, but I would assert that it actually hasn't thought that way about its own $28bb+ core search/ad business.

Here's why/how.

Amazon has just about every asset in the new commerce toolkit, and it's only a matter of time before its search product catches up with its capabilities in content, storytelling (journalism especially), publishing, purchasing, production, cloud/quantum computing and network distribution (private, social and virtual).

Bottom line: with its advanced ecosystem, Amazon doesn't need ads or impressions to rule the web like Google does currently.

If you'd like more validation on this position, check out a wonderfully curated thread my friend Alex Schleber put together in early February -- he poses a great list of questions (probably better than those I did here), and there's lots of contextual grist to explore, replete with great data-points.

The 'battle' between Google and Amazon, as it were, will likely produce cultural tensions that will push all of us to think differently, consume differently, produce more thoughtfully and tell stories with more of a bent towards real social utility. As a result, I think we will see the emergence of a truly co-opetitive economic landscape, in which ecosystems amplify these tensions and create amazing new ways to improve our world.

It will be exciting to watch and participate.

Attention Marketers: The Real Money is in Ecosystems

What people really think about “brands” and “ads”.

There are a host of studies that address the ways in which people are affected by ads and onslaughts of marketing messages, as well as how they feel about them. Most of the data and insights are inglorious; probably the most telling are the studies based on “native advertising”. This one from MediaBrix and Harris Interactive is a pretty good indicator of why consumers have become activists in editing and avoiding ads altogether.

Granted, many of these studies don’t even ask the right questions, or questions more oriented towards cultural behaviors or daily rituals. Choosing between the better or lesser of evils ("Would you rather go with option A, B or C in this rotation?") isn't exactly leading marketers in the direction of enlightenment.

Brand studies are even more elusive; my favorite (I’m being facetious) is this series conducted by Interbrand, which provides geographically designated results on brands in different markets based on variables that have little to do with company operations, sustainability or customer relationship metrics, and everything to do with “brand perception” based on fixed (and arguably irrelevant) variables.

The Bhutan approach to relationship metrics (specifically GNH or Gross National Happiness) is really where these survey questions should lead... But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

brand studies.png

What this says is, as an industry, marketing and advertising is still talking to itself in a giant echo chamber, and is making huge, sweeping assumptions about customer behavior when it doesn’t have to. In short, companies, via their brands, have an opportunity to ask far better questions. And this is precisely where companies will continue to make or lose money.

Marketing is intended to actually build markets.

One of the smartest things I’ve heard recently came from General Electric CMO, Beth Comstock, who unapologetically proclaimed that "Marketing is now about creating and developing new markets; not just identifying opportunities but also making them happen".

Comstock looks at GE as the world’s oldest startup, and this is the kind of thinking that has sustained GE as an innovator across industries for decades.

If you were to look more closely at the word marketing, it would seem that this approach in building markets is a given, but of course it isn’t.

Developing an ecosystem of ideas and resources (not just ads and inventory).

The big talk at the CM Summit this past week (May 18th, 2013 onward) has been around building a new kind of ad ecosystem. This ecosystem specifically refers to things like a “native advertising” or “programmatic advertising” format, which basically focuses on real-time bidding in exchanges that peddle inventory or content for cents on the dollar.

While I think these discussions are important in transitioning our broken ad models to better places, I think they also miss the bigger picture.

For one, they presuppose that innovations in developing the company-customer relationship are predicated on technological advances (read: fancier features). For another, they almost completely ignore the power of people, their communities, and the ways they are willing to participate when the terms for consumption are more equitable.

This includes our functional uses of content, data, and the contexts through which we can build customer relationships, engender trust, and monetize channels without grossly manipulating the market itself.

From a content perspective, here’s what an ecosystem would ideally look like:

content's new context.png

If we can accept the Kurzweilian precept that technology is an extension of biology, then we might be able to reframe these efforts more constructively.

What this really points to is a profound shift in priorities, one that takes us from models based on opacity, forced messaging and a reliance on commodified inventory, to models that place openness, adaptivity and conscientiousness at the heart of marketing and communications.

The Coca-Cola problem.

Many of you are probably familiar with Coke’s escalating issues with obesity. If you’re not, you should be, as this represents a classic example of how traditional marketing and communications (to include “social media”) can’t solve real world problems -- problems that are not only complex, but those which require a whole new way of doing business.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the idea isn’t so much that brands and their products or services need to be perfect, but the overarching idea that they do need to be more humane. This means that operations must be far more empathic in how they treat people (customers and employees), and means that companies must do their best to empower hyperlocal economies.

I will make a much stronger economic case for this in an upcoming white paper, but suffice to say that things like P/E ratios, EBIDTA, market capitalization and increasing profit margins are hardly leading indicators for a sustainable brand, or a profitable brand, for that matter. Further, it will be impossible for companies to maintain the types of margins they have now without more earnest investments in the socioeconomic environments on which they lean, directly or indirectly.

What Coke can do to align its business and brand interests.

A lot of the work I do involves creating scenarios, or imaging possibilities, so that more positive and productive futures can be realized. So, I thought I would take the Coke use case and provide a snapshot of what “newer” disciplines like data journalism and participatory storytelling can do to revitalize the socioeconomic relationship between brands and consumers. (It is also a central use case featured in the book I’m co-authoring, “The Big Pivot”)

story as a lived experience.png

The graphic should be fairly self-explanatory; it basically takes you on a journey from the moment a perceived issue erupts, and shows how a different way of extracting and cultivating a story lends to the consensual development of ideas that not only become authentic brand artifacts, but those which provide a basis for product development and job growth.

You’ll notice that we go from a phase of understanding an issue, to uncovering its intentionality, to finding the purpose behind it in actions on the ground, and ultimately, developing the true meaning of its impact in the form of actionable solutions.

Under normal circumstances, the usual suspects -- media agencies, PR companies, social media vendors, product innovators, sustainability firms, et al -- would work mostly in isolation. More critically, the idea of storytelling reverse engineers a very staid and cumbersome set of processes that doesn’t actually move the needle of the business or nurture stakeholder relations. In this case, notice how real world solutions can be crafted from mostly closed data loops to those that reflect a group or collective intelligence.

Welcome to the future, which is right now.

It is not difficult to see what is possible. We have the tools and the means. What is difficult is to shift the mindset away from a heavy reliance on automation and quantitative reasoning and towards interactions on the ground. These will allow people to become true advocates of a brand, and influencers of ideas that matter, whether they exist as messages, stories and/or pure informational utilities.