A Literacy of the Imagination

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

Filtering by Tag: brands

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.


Consumer Activism in the Social Era #innovation #networks #change

What does consumer activism actually look like?


Well, for starters, if you can accept that people (consumers) do have some control over their commercial behaviors and outcomes, then we’re getting somewhere. Purchasing behaviors themselves are sort of like a tug-of-war between personal ideology, mass messaging, crowd wisdom and the bottom line. And consumer culture tends to win these battles with institutions.


But let’s look at this from a more refined angle, which is that a new kind of activism is already in play, and I don’t simply mean the counter-institutional behaviors associated with Occupy or Wikileaks.


Don Tapscott recently gave what I thought was a terrific talk on how new global non-state networks are offering powerful new solutions for cooperation, problem solving and governance.

George Por wrote a great follow-up piece that goes into further detail on the nine types of global networks Don refers to in his talk, and lends some insight on how these networks manifest themselves through super-structures like cities, or more agile structures found within them.


So what does this all actually mean?


I’d maintain that people (consumers, brands and institutions) have developed their own ways to create positive change through resilient structures, and it is only a matter of time -- a relatively short window -- before we see these disintermediating solutions become a predominant part of the social, economic and political fabric.


I call these “networks of vigilance, responsibility and reciprocity”.


In research and analysis I did some time ago on the retail banking industry, I created this graphic which represents the cultural dynamics driven by technology and globalization, as we move from centralized structures to more networked structures.

As the graphic explains, there are four main elements to this shift: movements, archetypes, cohorts and industries.

In a more liberalized market -- one that affords us a system of choices, false, dichotomous or “other” -- economic empowerment is achieved through the wisdom of friends, or what some might consider to be “collective intelligence”.

In this process, the traditional archetype has shifted (kicking and screaming, I might add...) towards a more engaged and empathetic role.

So, you might ask something like: “Have bankers really become better people?” Probably not quite the right question to ask. The better question would be: “Can banking really make us, or allow us to be, better people?” (The short answer is “yes”.)

As archetypes change, we see a distinct supplement of monetary capital gains with intellectual capital or currency. This simply means that exchanges of goods and services are not only social contracts -- those fortified by trust and transparency -- but they change what money means because the information associated with those exchanges is more valuable.

What all of this creates is a dynamic ecosystem of non-banking institutions and disintermediary businesses, whose sole purposes aren’t necessarily to replace the banking super-structures themselves, but to complement them, and in some cases, buffer them. Some argue that super-structures are collapsing under their own weight and corrosive natures altogether, which only amplifies the position.

What’s interesting about this shift in particular is how disintermediation degrades the verticality of industry, renders it “flatter”, and provides more profound efficiencies through collaboration. Some have described this as “disruptive innovation”, but I think the term tends to relegate these efforts into a corner. I also think that this is less about innovation as an output of products and services, and more about the mindset of adaptation -- seeing shifts, preempting problems and reacting to changes in a far more agile fashion.

Granted, it’s difficult at times to see all of this really happening, especially as mass media channels fill our heads with doomsday scenarios and the like. Conspiracy theories also don’t help to keep us focused on these shifts. But the truth of the matter is that resilient communities are everywhere... And this kind of change will happen whether institutions like it or not.

Within these contexts, do you see yourself as an activist? How so?

On Storytelling & The Challenges of Multi-Platform Media, Part 2 #transmedia #crossmedia #media

Part 1 covered off on a somewhat crude but personalized timeline of events surrounding the evolution of multi-platform storytelling. There are many examples I didn't include, but I wanted to give folks a reference set for understanding the "macro challenges" of what it means to be a storyteller in a wildly unpredictable and fairly hegemonic Internet economy.

Further to that, my intention is not to scare anyone, or deter them from taking on or developing new projects, but to help people see:

- The importance of building storytelling vehicles as real products that can be modularized, monetized and scaled;

- The importance of socializing the associative models within communities and peer groups;

- The importance of taking those learnings and packaging them up as potential use cases for regulators and legislators who ultimately determine the fate of our media ecosystem(s) as a whole.

In short, storytelling these days requires us to connect dots and to "feed the dots", as it were. It's not always fun, it's never easy, but it's a creative responsibility we must take on, that is, if we want to keep building markets for our ideas, now and into the future.


On Storytelling & The Challenges of Multi-Platform Media, Part 2 #transmedia #crossmedia #media

We're all digital consumers, but are we really prepared to become multi-platform content creators?


It's All In a Conversation...

Someone called me recently to ask if I would be interested in helping his company develop an "independent transmedia franchise platform" out of a series of book properties it had just purchased. The company had allegedly built a core technology to distribute the material, and intended to "strong-arm" the studios and networks into specific channel deals based on the distribution footprint.

I said sure, why not, but threw out the caveat that I needed to ask him a few questions first. He agreed. So, to my own detriment I suppose, I immediately "led the witness":

Me: "What's your definition of 'transmedia'?"

Him: "Excuse me?"

Me: "What's your definition of 'transmedia'?"

Him: (chuckles, then) "I'm not sure I understand the question."

Me: "Um, ok, what's your definition of a franchise?"

Him: (chuckles again) "Are you serious?"

Me: "Ok, lemme ask you this -- do you have a distribution and revenue model in mind?"

Him: (laughs, then) "That's why I'm calling you, dude!"

Me: "And I really appreciate that. Really, I do. But you haven't given me a definition of transmedia, or a definition for a franchise, and I need to set expectations here."

Him: "Is this a creative issue? Do you not have the right people?

Me: "No, that's not it..."

Him: "Well, I don't want to hire (so-and-so) or (so-and-so). I need someone who isn't gonna sell me a bunch of black magic or charge me a shit-ton of money to produce storyworld elements, or an automation system to distribute stories. I need scale."

Me: "Actually, it sounds like you need an audience..."

Him: "The books have an audience. A pretty big one."

Me: "No, the books have readers. We would need to build the audience and maintain it. One does not necessarily facilitate the other."

Him: (clears his throat) "Ok sure, fine, but I need scale. The investors were sold a transmedia platform, a franchise platform with multiple revenue streams."

Me: "I get it. Believe me, I get it loud and clear..."

Him: "So can you do the work?"

Me: "I'm not worried about getting the creative work done. I know lots of people who can do that -- people a lot better at it than me, quite frankly -- but I need to have some idea of what we're trying to build here, you know, as a business."

Him: "We have a business plan..."

Me: "Sounds to me like it's more of an idea than a business plan."

Him: (suspiciously) "Really..."

Me: "Yeah, we would need to create a framework. A real distribution model and a real revenue model, before we hire a single writer, designer, programmer or director. Have you considered how you're going to license these properties? Established terms for use? Creative commons considerations ala 'freemium to premium' or something like that?"

Him: "Sort of."

Me: "Then we'll have to look at various licensing models and strategic partnerships. We'll need to know what's in front of us, you know, obstacles and opportunities. We'll need to make deals with both publishers and distributors, as well as with open communities, even if we create our own content because we want people to distribute some of it themselves -- the question is what part of it. "

[pregnant pause; shuffling in the background]

Me: "Look, I don't sell transmedia. I can't. I shouldn't. I help build platforms that hopefully make money, and I can measure success with unique tools in my arsenal, and I can continue to do so over time. Isn't that what you want?"

[another pregnant pause]

Him: "I'll call you next week."

I never heard back from this gentleman again. By the way, I've had more than a few conversations in recent months that transpired just like this one, with a couple that have taken more positive turns.

Creating Accessible Standards For Growth

Here's the bigger rub.

We've had an opportunity -- a good number of us in the creative community -- to define what transmedia or crossmedia or multi-platform storytelling is and, for whatever reason, we haven't been able to do it very well.

Sure, people have overlapping definitions, and use cases, but there aren't many scalable revenue models from which to borrow or leverage. There is very little to be deemed as "industry standard". Just like, for the most part, they're aren't many in social media. Just like we didn't define what video or DVD distribution should have been when they came out.

Enter DRM, IP management, piracy, privacy, astroturfing, franchise licensing and the like, and we have an overwhelming smorgasbord of issues that just won't allow is to tell stories the way we think we might want to.

Maybe certain standards can't be put in place. But, if we look at a storytelling platform by the channels in which it is comprised, we probably can. And there are models that do exist for channel-specific distribution, mostly those which are "proprietary". I've developed some of my own through various engagements and won't be sharing them here as I'm not at liberty to do so, and because I share a lot already as it is (probably too much at times ;)

That said, I don't mean to come off as hypocritical; what I'm saying is that we don't necessarily have to dive into core methodologies -- that is something which makes us as individual entities competitive (in a good way), and something through which we can create value and markey viability -- but we do need to share as many use cases as we can so as to provide context. The context piece is what we can all collaborate on to empower the market as a whole.

More important, when we don't develop standards for growth, experiments or not, we lose out to the gatekeepers -- media brokers, lobbyists, legislators and other private and special interest groups, you know Old Media, that don't want us to break out of our little creator and consumption boxes.

But, again, there is hope in building a sustainable marketplace. I think.

The Go-Forward Considerations (And a Friendly Tip)...

Right here in Los Angeles, in my own backyard, Google and Facebook are moving into bigger, hipper, bolder offices.

Why? They're taking over where studios, TV networks and banks refuse to go, or anywhere they can't go. Internet companies, along with Silicon Valley and Silicon Beach (a funny new label for the west side of LA), are getting deeper and deeper into the distribution business.

Twitter, in my honest opinion, is probably threading this needle in the most innovative of ways. Its foray into the broadcast space has a lot of promise, and the platform is already attracting strategic partners from the highest ranks of media, as well as content creators who have made a name for themselves cutting through the clutter of crap on offer in most social media channels (like YouTube).

Whether these folks are proven multi-platform storytellers is not the point; they are looking to reinvent what does work out of the more established Old Media and branded content models, and hope to lay the groundwork for where New Media can play a more definitive role.

What's Twitter really doing? It's looking at audience development in an entirely new way. Google is approaching it from a different angle, which is the premium channel route, and, through its robust suite of utilities which are now integrated into G+. Facebook is betting on distribution ubiquity by empowering folks to use Timeline as a storytelling and curation tool, and by leveraging its new array of mobile platforms. Yahoo! is making a run as a premium publisher, and is looking to leverage its communities of users to do it. AOL is using the HuffPo relationship to feed its content syndication model that hopes to stretch across a variety of New Media. Bing is making a stronger play in location-based services, which includes the development Microsoft has undertaken to allow people to connect through stronger social media interactions and various forms of interactive storytelling, particularly through its gaming platforms.

Harking back to the early days of the 'net, these companies are coming around, full circle.

But Internet companies, as much as they like to portend that they are actually media companies of one sort or another, are not storytellers. Most of them (not all) don't really understand multi-screen audiences. They're just now learning how to build real fan bases, and not like studios or TV networks or brands do when they do things right (which is, of course, a tragic irony in all of this).

In short, Silicon Valley will not solve our storytelling problem. Not by itself, at least.

Don't get me wrong, I have tremendous respect for these companies. I really do.

But they're not looking out for the media ecosystem itself -- they're not really democratizing production along the web, and they're not doing it just for creators or consumers, as much as they like to say they are. The reasons for this are far more complicated than the viewpoint presented here, but let's just say that they can't -- some are public companies tied to inextensible ad models and quarterly earnings reports and investors who only care about the bottom line... And putting ideaology aside, I suppose we can't blame them.

And guess what else?

These same companies are becoming the banks of the future. They've got way more cash on the books than any of the retail institutions (probably combined), as well as alternative currency and transactional systems, and they have the distribution pipelines to boot -- you know, captive users.

In addition to taking on the disposition of banks, if they look like studios or networks, and they operate like studios or networks, then they probably are studios or networks.

If this is the case, can they also fight or continue to support our battles around an open Internet? Do they even want to? Studios want to do the oppposite, and to date, have poured millions into lobbying for paywalls and encryption technologies to charge consumers for content at every turn...

... And so a sobering reality remains...

...The media world is still based on scarcity. Investment is scarcity-led. The Internet doesn't really operate on scarcity, but unless you are an Apple, an Amazon or a Netflix, you're either in the content distribution business, the device manufacturing business, or the audience building business, and no one has figured out the latter. (Hint: It won't be done through a single algorithm either...)

Not yet at least.

A piece of advice to all you storytellers out there: Learn how to build, cultivate and maintain audiences. Develop a model for it. Or five of them. But do it, and do it fast. Knowing how to spread stories is one thing (and a very prized skill), but knowing how to keep audiences satiated and "engaged" is the holy grail of our media existence.

With all that said, I am still a firm believer in good storytelling (that can mean a lot of things, but still...).

So I'll remain a storyteller, and as a technologist, I'm placing my bets in other areas: Solving the legislative problems we have, the distribution challenges we face, the Big Data opportunities we have, and the economic barriers that keep us from being creatively free.

Think about how this relates to you, and the role in which you're comfortable playing. Think of this guy, if you need a dose of inspiration:


On Storytelling & The Challenges of Multi-Platform Media, Part 2 #transmedia #crossmedia #media

Hopefully, one day soon, transmedia or crossmedia or multi-platform storytelling will just be storytelling that can be enjoyed and shared by all.

And we will get there, sooner rather than later. Believe me, we will.

5 Really, Really Important Shifts (not trends) in #Media & #Technology

I'm not one for lists, nor do I pay too much attention to trends (trends are fleeting), but I do see a whole lot of shifts in the work I do. You know, seismic ones. So I thought I'd share a few that I think are critical to business, and those shaping the way we leverage media and technology for the better.

(1) Brands as major studios & publishing conglomerates

We've seen the transition of brands into publishing and content distribution with their own paid, earned and owned media properties -- as evidenced by the likes of Coke, Pepsi, Levis, Ford, Whole Foods, P&G, Intel, Red Bull and a host of others.

The new shift is even more impressive now: They're replacing studios and traditional publishers outright. Some might scoff at the idea, but it's been discussed at length; the studios are out of time and money, and publishers can't figure out how to monetize through flatter distribution schemes. And then there are the reams of proprietary IP of which they refuse to give away pieces (ala "freemium"); this stasis is literally killing off their businesses systematically. TV networks have fared far better in this game, but the verdict is still out on whether or not they can keep pace with a ratings horizon that isn't dependent on where people watch, but how they watch and why.


5 Really, Really Important Shifts (not trends) in #Media & #Technology


5 Really, Really Important Shifts (not trends) in #Media & #Technology

To boot, companies that have robust distribution platforms, like Walmart (Walmart Labs, Vudu), are realizing that if they can't license content outright, they can create it and distribute it themselves, and they're looking for smaller, agile partners with which to do this. Coincident TV (a company I advise and work closely with) is just one of a select group leading this charge in the social TV and multi-screen space. Add companies like Netflix into the mix, and you've got a brigade of disintermediaries that are literally replacing the role of media companies. This is the more obvious play in terms of media planning, buying and placement (which by the way, are commodity services that are still important, and likely to remain with media agencies). The less obvious play is in how they're doing it: they're creating new markets -- something that media companies, for the most part, aren't set up to do.

Is it the death of the big media buy? Depends on how you look at it -- "Big Media" is becoming the playground for owned and earned media properties that can scale... And brands are wising up to the fact that they don't need brokers for it. Media companies are getting scared, and rightfully so.

In terms of production, brands can either go to smaller 3rd party vendors, or, they can simply produce the content themselves. Companies like Best Buy have built an entire internal infrastructure to do this and many other companies have followed suit.

Whether brands get into the movie or the TV business isn't so much the question or the issue (they already have on multiple levels); the bottom line is that they have the screens, the means and the access to consumer audiences, and that, in and of itself, poses both a major threat and an amazing opportunity... Mostly for the people that matter most: the end "consumers".

(2) Dynamic publishers comprise the primary market, while agencies comprise the secondary market

Upon first glance, an agency exec might say, "Bullshit! Our margins are fatter than ever and the market is solid!"

To the ad exec: Maybe so, but the big journalism and the big data markets are much bigger and that's where your big clients are playing, kimosabe. The numbers don't lie -- in aggregate, more than 40% of measured media budgets are shifting towards content-generation just in 2012. Also: you're not building markets, you're just squeezing blood from those that are dying or in stasis. A few holding companies get it and are building new divisions to take advantage of this shift, but they're still challenged by their size and hamstrung by their less agile portfolio companies.

No, Sir: ads and billboards and bright, shiny digital objects aren't going away, they're just being put into their proper place, which is second fiddle to rich, original content and stories driven by experiences that have real value (read: not curated stories, not headline stories... But actual, real stories). In some ways, they're also being reinvented (in a good way).

5 Really, Really Important Shifts (not trends) in #Media & #Technology

Leading-edge creative and social media agencies as well as true content companies (dare I say, transmedia storytellers) will continue to play a vital role in this, especially as they staff up with real journalists, writers, creative artists, film & TV directors, experience designers, culturalists, environmentalists and political thinkers. However, the rubber will soon meet the road for them as they are challenged with turning these offerings into service products and scalable IP. One solution they've undertaken is the development of true content platforms (the amalgam of unique people, unique technology and exceptional storytelling), which can generate new stories, new products and new campaigns in perpetuity. These platforms are also co-developing the utilities of the future (like Nike+ Fuelband). Where the medium has become the message to a large extent, the content created becomes the context (or part of it) for the use and spread of that utility.

5 Really, Really Important Shifts (not trends) in #Media & #Technology

Internet publishers like AOL (HuffPo in particular) and Yahoo! (yes, YAHOO) are starting to resurge with this new movement, provided that they can continue to see past their ad models and realize that the real opportunities lie within their own networks of dedicated readers/users. Similar to some of the brands mentioned above, they have three distinct advantages: a) distribution; b) content; and c) utilities.

To boot, less commodified services like data journalism continue to strong-arm the marketplace and companies with independent strengths in publishing properties (and with dedicated divisions) like the New York Times will become the bedrocks in this equation (a bit ironic, eh?). Again, there's a dire need for good stories, and the context to back those stories (read: good data). By the way, the NYT data journalism unit is a thriving enterprise business forging significant paths into the at-present $100B big data space. Look out, world.

(3) User-generated data or "UGD"

Speaking of good data, you might ask: "What's the obsession over data all about?" 

Simple: We've been using outdated, ineffective models for measurement. In the Internet world, this has been going on for the better part of 17 years (which is a lifetime)! The fact that most companies still can't account for 50% of their media spend is, well, pathetic. And some are getting sick of it. And so are the people who consume, share and/or remix content -- they simply don't care about ads and don't want them flooding their social media feeds. They will, however, tolerate or even enjoy ads if they are used as containers of good content or shareable utilities of one sort or another.

For example, the value of a sponsored story on Facebook isn't the fact that it's more relevant (which it is), it's the fact that it's something that you might've discovered just by clicking around a page, and that's the difference -- you engage with something you discover rather than something you're just being served. Instead of a brand having to support a conversation that's already happening, a person can go to a storefront with all the goods and services they need. This means conversations remain as free, valuable bits of information and fCommerce remains relatively unfettered because the endorsement comes from a person, not a brand.

5 Really, Really Important Shifts (not trends) in #Media & #Technology

The big boon in this is privacy. On one side, privacy exists as a means to somehow protect individual data, and to avoid being fed ad-like objects that are intrusive. On the other, it exists as an opportunity for users to knowingly share data and potentially profit from it. Platforms like Glome, Mynd (a company I advise) and Kapture represent a new wave good data providers that are creating exchanges for companies to leverage individual and category data in more altruistic ways. This amounts to brokering information with audience consent. The VRM space is specifically focused on companies not actually owning user data, but managing how people and vendors share it. A New York Times article that ran just over the weekend provides details on some other start-ups that are tackling the challenge of pricing and managing personal data.

Here's the even bigger boon: UGD markets. These are new, emerging markets based on dynamic research, focus groups and myriad forms of panel data. Think of progressive companies like Lithium or Passenger with more open, flexible models whereby users can actually build market segments of their own. No more experiences in which you, as a survey participant, are forced to drink bad coffee behind mirrored glass -- you particpate on your own terms, and in environments in which you are comfortable (like your living room). Watch Google quietly get into this space with its new privacy regulations and a stronger effort to leverage its networks like G+ for this range of enterprise benefits.

(4) User-curated data, or "UCD"

Which brings us to another really interesting shift, UCD. Not to be confused with "OCD" (although the condition might fuel it), this is a means for company analysts to adapt to the rapid changes in the consumer and enterprise landscape and curate data in such a way that it reflects the more real-time nature of sharing and transactions (or in some cases, shareable transactions).

You've probably read or heard rumblings about the merger of structured (paid or owned media) and unstructured (earned, conversational) data. This actually isn't anything all that new. What is new is how data is managed, parallel processed, stored and correlated to the extent that companies can actually make sense of their analytics systems and make quicker decisions that impact their bottom lines. Believe it or not, BI (business intelligence) systems are just starting to be able to do this on a level that isn't confounding to the average user.

5 Really, Really Important Shifts (not trends) in #Media & #Technology

Additionally, talk about "influence" or "engagement" or "virality" is meaningless without context -- the metrics surrounding them are literally moving targets. So how do we achieve context? We constantly adapt how we measure, and curation is the key. This is something we've been working hard to refine at Heardable -- to allow users to curate in such a way that the data becomes easier and easier to understand, and business decisions become more noticeable, and actionable, within context. At the end of the day, this is all about understanding people.

(5) People are not only media, they are also technology

With "consumerism" losing its greasy heels on the wave of a newly charged, people-powered media environment, people really are becoming media, and they are also embodying the technologies they use.

This doesn't mean they've taken to writing code per se, although tech development has become a lot easier, especially through open source communities like Gnome. But overall, people are becoming more literate in a way that their dependency on devices, software and applications have changed their behavior, and more specifically, their daily rituals. Don't be fooled, digital literacy is still a huge problem for the general population, but the good news is that people are curious enough to interact with technology systems as an alternative to their socio-economic struggles.

We have already started to see this at the NGO level, but it seems that there is a permeating factor in terms of driving innovation across borders. Take China, for instance: labor costs have risen dramatically as a result of young people graduating from universities and seeking higher-paying jobs, many of which are technology-based. To add, the average age of the entrepreneur in China and other APAC countries is 30 -- this clearly points to a shift in how technology markets take shape, and how they develop via peoplesourced means.

The net-net...

If you are a company playing in any of these spaces, now is the time to act and make very uncomfortable decisions. If we don't reverse-engineer the staid methods that have hampered our growth up to this point, then our audiences and "consumer cohorts" will do it for us (they already have). To compete in the 21st century means we have to be extraordinary, at all times and at all costs.



















What All Multi-Platform, Cross- or Transmedia Initiatives Need: Data Rigor & Strong Revenue Models

As someone who builds content & analytics systems for a living and helps develop strategies for their use – particularly in various marketing capacities – it’s been a bittersweet challenge: How do we prove out value and identify what success looks like?

As co-creators and producers of multi-platform narratives, we can be equally confounded: How do we sustain those successes?

What All Multi-Platform, Cross- or Transmedia Initiatives Need: Data Rigor & Strong Revenue Models

The folks I advise, from content producers (such a branded entertainment companies) to technology ventures (such as branded applications), constantly ask me why funding is so hard to come by at times, or, how they can sustain relationships with brands that are unsure about spending “experimental” dollars on multi-platform initiatives.

My pushback is commonly this: What problem(s) are you actually trying to solve for these companies?

Is it a consumer problem? A marketing problem? A business problem? A brand problem? Does it satisfy a market need? All of the above?

Here’s another angle: What’s the true purpose of your idea?

From a storytelling perspective, the challenge is no different from any other we’ve faced in the media world for decades, only now the issues are more complex -- for one, “new” approaches to storytelling have been brought forth with the intention to liberate the media spaces we operate in and provide some sense of scale; for another, these same approaches seem to have us scrambling for new, more effective ways to source creative material, to create revenue and in some cases, to develop viable “franchises”.

And while creative approaches to storytelling continue to evolve – and methodologies around them arguably become more abundant – very little discussion has gathered around the data and analytics frameworks associated with things like audience composition, fandom, market segmentation and media attribution.

Further, few creators seem to be serving up the one thing any media buyer, studio, network or brand really needs: a revenue model, or a business plan (not just a media plan or pro formas tied to exhibitor relations, for example).

Now, I’m not at all suggesting that this is a new concept.

In fact, there are quite a number of folks who have been pushing this agenda forth for years and have even enjoyed some success in doing so. There are also a good number of ventures across the globe that have developed platform offerings to include media asset distribution, cross-channel measurement, product integration techniques and the like.

What I’m suggesting is that revenue modeling, business planning, product scalability, what have you, are no longer solely in the domain of the media, network or studio stakeholders... It’s our domain as creators.

So, if we want to sell our innovative storytelling wares to the money folks and partners that own the distribution and supply chains, we need to develop and own the disciplines regarding how we cultivate data, how we provide meaningful analytics and how we can apply them to adaptable revenue models.

And that goes for independent producers and studio, agency or network divisions alike.

Cases in point: Many of the great transmedia or multi-platform initiatives discussed over the last 10 years were either amazing “bolt-ons” to studio or network production efforts that were already well under way, or, they were wildly inventive independent film, web or TV efforts that somehow took on creative life of their own, partially adopted by fans within social media environments and/or by way of good ‘ole word-of-mouth.

Similar to problems we’ve faced in areas such as online display and rich media, the data challenge in its own right is multi-fold: click behavior alone isn’t going to cut it.

We need to dimensionalize behavior. We need to understand what the cultural triggers are behind sharing and purchasing. We need to get a lot smarter about who we engage and why we engage them. We need to contextualize what makes a good story, a good product, or a good story product.

I would assert that the respective media we serve up – whether in the form of film, TV, webisodics, games, apps, graphic novels, music, consumer goods or otherwise – must be packaged as scalable product, in and of itself, or, as platforms with indefinite scale.

Perhaps this is why stories (in the form of messages or longer-form narratives) tend to come and go, and why media assets tend to be laid to waste. But all of this can be preempted with smart, integrated planning... And a little bit of chutzpah.

Think about it: In an ideal business context (say, to build a storyworld with specific product opportunities and integrations), we, as creators and producers, want to be sitting at the same table with other writers, directors, studio heads, web developers, brand managers, merchandisers and product engineers... Yet, most often we are not.

We speak different languages and operate with different intentions, but more specifically, we’re managing different P&L sheets (or different P&A budgets).

The upshot?

Creative context equals business context.

It’s the world we live in now (the 21st century), and it’s what drives our commerce systems via social means. Let’s remove the money issue by developing solutions to address it from the onset.

So as a storyteller, constantly ask yourself these questions:

What consumer, brand or business problem am I solving?
Specifically, what’s the market need?
What am I really offering (of scale)?
What do I need to know about my audience?
How can I sustain their interest?
What can I offer them (or what can they offer each other) in return beyond the “product” itself?
How can this scale to new stories and through new media (beyond established buys)?  

Then there are the questions to ask that are specific to data and analytics:

What does engagement really look like? (remember: every situation is unique)
What constitutes fan behavior?
How do I attribute these behaviors to purchasing patterns?
What patterns are direct? What are latent?
How can my media plan or my product plan be adapted?
What are some likely scenarios?
What are some key learnings I hope to find?


Join us in San Francisco at the StoryWorld Conference + Expo, October 31-November 2, as we tackle these issues head-on and explore myriad solution sets...

What All Multi-Platform, Cross- or Transmedia Initiatives Need: Data Rigor & Strong Revenue Models

Power to the People: How We Will Control the Future of Media #remix #remediation #storytelling #context #brands

It’s intriguing, and often confounding, to witness the progression of convergence culture in terms of how media objects and stories can flourish.

Storytelling, as both a practice and an artform, is literally changing its own face as accessibility to digital tools and channels becomes the new delivery system. Further, networks of people are superseding the more traditional forms of content delivery at a breakneck pace. The YouTube phenomenon, for one, has culminated in audience participation whereby people not only interact with stories, but they actually become a part of the narrative -- Ridley Scott’s “Life in a Day” is a more passive example, but the implications are enormous.

Frank Rose’s concept of “deep media” - beautifully discussed in his book The Art of Immersion - is a great, sweeping commentary on how we, as media, are faced with wondrous challenges and opportunities to tell stories. You can listen to Mitch Joel's recent podcast with Frank Rose here.

It made me think about where our media future lies within the storytelling paradigm; on one side is an old, established system that enforces boundaries between people and the media they consume (studios, TV networks, publishers, etc.), and on the other side is emergent web territory where the lines are blurring between games, consoles, entertainment, books, brands, fiction, reality and audiences.

Where do we meet in the middle? Is there a middle? Is there a beginning or an end?

What we do know is that the possibilities are now knocking loudly at our door, and this has little if anything to do with designations like “traditional” or “digital”, at least not when it comes to telling stories.

Remediation – the idea that visual media achieve their cultural significance precisely by paying homage to, rivaling, and refashioning such earlier media as perspective painting, photography, film, and television – is a concept that was introduced by Jay David Boulter and Richard Grusin in 2000, and in part, has served as the basis for other groundbreaking commentaries from the likes of Lawrence Lessig and Patricia Aufderheide around rights management and making copyright work for artists of all types.

What does this mean? It means that the damn is breaking whether the entertainment studios and TV networks like it or not. Here is one of my favorite remediation pieces from 2008, a one-minute story of “Romeo & Juliet”.

This also means that content is no longer king, context is.

If you consider that we can now deliver content to large audiences – or a tail of niche audience segments – then context (and more pointedly, relevance) is the driver for interaction and participation. Brands, as the buyers and owners of media, have a unique opportunity to facilitate the movements of people all over the world who are ready to tell and make stories. And who provides that context? We do.

Here is how Nike might activate us to tell a story about or related to the brand. Note that “branded content” doesn’t have to be directly about brands or products, rather what those brands, products and associated themes can mean to culture at large.

First, conversations are indexed based on common interests or affinities.

Power to the People: How We Will Control the Future of Media #remix #remediation #storytelling #context #brands

[© ThinkState; designer @GavinKeech]

These conversations then produce identifiable patterns and clusters of reorganized data, or fractals.

Power to the People: How We Will Control the Future of Media #remix #remediation #storytelling #context #brands

[© ThinkState; designer @GavinKeech]

Visual media in the form of pictures, videos, films, music and other assets are then aligned with those fractals.

Power to the People: How We Will Control the Future of Media #remix #remediation #storytelling #context #brands

[© ThinkState; designer @GavinKeech]

Using online storymaking and editing tools, the media is then remixed according to user preferences and affinities; these renditions of story can be consensus-based, or more personal, but the context for these stories emerges through participatory narrative.

Power to the People: How We Will Control the Future of Media #remix #remediation #storytelling #context #brands

[© ThinkState; designer @GavinKeech]

What do you see in your media future?  
How can we federate new standards for online publishing and cross-platform syndication?
How can we make better use of media and technology to tell better stories?

Some personal insights on experience planning... #agencies #RAPP #strategy #brands #creativity

My friends and family often ask me what it is that I actually do.

Aside from being a brand strategist who helps clients overcome significant challenges (such as understanding the cultural dynamics that affect things like purchase decisions)... I help develop customer experiences.

Yeah, I know, talk like that induces a lot of head-scratching.

Well, it just so happens that Ishan Shapiro and Marija Coneva were kind enough to put this series of video remixes together to help tell that story better than I ever could. The footage is a compilation of keynote and interview segments as well as stuff I shot while I was cruising around Europe this time last year. Enjoy.

My Keynote on Transmedia & Storytelling in the New World Economy #Gulltaggen 2010

It’s a long speech (about an hour) and a bit tangential at times, but I hope you can take something from it, and my own story, that is unique to you.

“Gunther Sommerfeld” is now my stage name in Norway – hilarious to see the Norwegian version of your name 40 feet high and up in lights. Also, don't worry, I'm not talking about the "New World Order" as Helge describes in his intro. No need to get Orwellian on anybody.

The Gulltaggen event was an unbelievable experience, and is the premiere digital conference in Scandinavia. You should’ve seen the awards show... at one point, I thought I was at the Grammys! (Not my kind of music, but hey...)

I also had the fortunate pleasure of getting to know the other speakers such as Sir Richard Branson, Guy Kawasaki, Mitch Joel, Mike Walsh, Gary Vaynerchuck, Jonathan Harris and a host of other influential folks.

Great people, with great visions of the future. Just recently, Mitch was kind enough to include me in one of his podcasts, and I’m sure we will be friends for a very long time.

Funny short story: my wife and I had sushi dinner with Guy the night before my keynote and we were eating whale (Beluga, I believe), which is a delicacy in Norway. Guy, of course, took a twitpic of the feast and tweeted it out. Within minutes – maybe even seconds – Guy was hit with a flood of angry tweets from environmentalists and animal rights activists. Well... We all know the power of social media, and Guy had a tough time digging himself out of that situation, despite the fact that he is one of the nicest, earnest and most humble people you’ll ever meet.

Speaking of being humbled, I have been touched by the generosity and support of many “transmedialists” in the storytelling space, including Jeff Gomez (BTW, my apologies on the error in the speech, Jeff grew up on the lower east side of Manhattan, not Brooklyn), Stephen Dinehart, Ivan Askwith, Mike Monello, Robert Pratten and Scott Walker, just to name a few.

Storytelling, or storymaking, is a discipline that is adaptive, constantly emerging and should be embraced by all of us. It saddens me, at times, to see different camps bicker over the meaning of transmedia or crossmedia or intermedia... We should focus our efforts on changing the world by using stories to expose cultural mores and in inspiring people to redefine their roles in society.

Keep up the good fight – it has only just begun.

The Merger of People, Technology & Ideas #analytics #storytelling #strategy #creativity #innovation

Early in my career as a creator of film and television content, I quickly found myself confined by what media allowed me, or didn’t allow me, to do. My transition into the interactive space alleviated some of these hurdles, but I soon realized that there was a much bigger issue at play, one that called to the reality that media ecosystems were becoming exponentially more complex, and that no one medium could replace or define our roles as marketers.  

I tell this story often because it is important that we understand the meaning and value of what creativity is, as well as what it can do for us when we look at it from a more holistic perspective.

To me, creativity is the process by which intent and action passionately align. It is a part of everything that we do well, and represents both the successes and failures of innovation. We are all creative beings, who, whether cognizant of this dynamic or not, constantly pine for the opportunity to connect, particularly through storytelling.

I started building social technologies because I wanted to acutely understand the ways in which we could help generate insights and empower the storytelling process. I suppose that I will always be a writer and an artist of sorts, but the more challenging proposition is how I can become a better sponge. The beautiful part about technology development is that it provides illustrative, colorful journeys into the unknown. The discoveries we make along the way are what give us a sense of accomplishment, especially when we can share our insights as “gifts” to others.

One platform I’m proud to be a part of that represents the power of community is eCairn. Its founders, Laurent Pfertzel and Dominique Lahaix, spent over 20 years at HP using various proprietary technologies to advance research methodologies for extracting and cultivating business intelligence, and were among the first to do what is now considered to be “social media data mining”.

While Laurent and Dominique are pioneers in the business intelligence space, the platform itself is not exactly “best-in-class”, nor does it have the sexiest or most intuitive interface. But that is not the point. The strength lies in our approach to data, and the insights we want to come out of it. We can always sync our technology with those that have complementary features and functions, and that is part of the plan to scale as a business. This also applies to how we think as strategic entities.

As strategists, it is imperative that we act swiftly and humbly in organizing intelligence frameworks that can move the needle of our business and our clients’ businesses. When you consider that most problems we are tasked to solve are of a wicked nature and are regenerative (meaning that the solutions we provide ultimately lead to new, more complex problems, and this cycle is ongoing), we must be interdependent in our thinking, the ways we create and how we utilize resources.

One of the things that I love about my job is that I get to learn from people. I have unique windows with which to observe their behaviors, and in various ways, I have opportunities to collaborate with them on a daily basis. These elements are also a constant reminder that anything we build must be adaptive; in other words, strategic methodologies must creatively inform technology functions and vice versa.

It is also critical that we think on the part of others – brands, agencies, audiences (consumer groups) and technology vendors must all be a part of the same conversation. This is a common issue I see with the start-ups and middle stage companies that I advise; all too often we build according to perceived “market value”, as opposed to understanding the needs and desires of people.

We’ve tried in earnest to apply this approach to Heardable, an online brand health platform I started co-developing about 18 months ago. Co-Founder & CEO, Jon Samsel, is a former marketing executive who has logged serious time building innovative solutions at Bank of America, Countrywide and Ford. Another co-Founder, John Sharp, is a seasoned entrepreneur and investor who also just happens to be a programming ace. The things I get to see and learn as an agency strategist by sitting in a room with these guys is invaluable. Here is our latest iteration of the offering:

Naturally, Heardable is still in its infancy and will continue to evolve. We plan to build more functional utilities around it and make the intelligence collective.

In a larger sense, technologies serve as organisms that help define, complement, refine and create human solutions. If you look at “platforms” as solutions that can leverage the amalgam of people + technology + media, then as marketers, we have social objects and ecosystems that are very special.

The “wicked world” forces us, even as competitors in the same space, to come together. Fact is, as marketers, we cannot afford to operate in our own, proprietary vacuums. Just look at the struggles of the automotive industry as one glaring example of this.

The bottom line is that there is room for anyone and everyone who is eager, humble and willing to expand their own piece of the pie and create new markets. Human needs are ever-present and ever-evolving. Needs are the new markets. Utilities are the solutions we can provide.

And there is also plenty of money to be made through altruism. But I suppose that is the subject for an entirely different conversation.

In the meantime, go forth, my friends, and innovate ;)