A Literacy of the Imagination

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

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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.


Notes From Norway: Developing Our Social Capital(ism) #microfinance #Eco #PeopleCurrency #memes #Junto

Notes From Norway: Developing Our Social Capital(ism) #microfinance #Eco #PeopleCurrency #memes #Junto

If you haven’t been to Norway, you should definitely visit. This is coming from a guy who has been here less than 48 hours of course, but I have to say that there are a lot of things to love.

Norway, I’ve learned, is actually one of the wealthiest countries in the world. The country came into billions when a new oil surplus was discovered not too long ago, and the government here has done a great job of redistributing its wealth to its people. The average Norwegian - when you consider an individual’s asset base - is a millionaire, and the quality of life is amazing. There are no homeless people; there are “gypsies” who choose to live nomadically, and they are very few and far between.

Notes From Norway: Developing Our Social Capital(ism) #microfinance #Eco #PeopleCurrency #memes #Junto

In Norway, like Sweden, people are incented to have children in order to increase the tax base. Medical benefits are essentially free. Foreigners who come here can enjoy these benefits within 6 months of their arrival, and education is available to anyone who wants it (for free). If you want to start a business, the government will give you the money, and you can even enjoy a variety of tax benefits. You even get a vacation stipend every year that is the equivalent of 12% of your annual income.

The irony of the country’s oil wealth is represented in its Eco-driven culture. Here, everything is essentially renewable, from lighting to recyclables. When you use the toilet, that energy is used to power the city grid. And like Finland, much of its infrastructure is set up to sustain scalable initiatives, such as wind power and solar arrays.

Someone we met (“we” meaning my fiancee, Emily, and I) who has been a gracious host is an American named Jim-Anthony. “Anthony”, as he likes to be called, is a former banker who was embroiled in the CDO (collateralized debt obligations – a form of mortgage-backed securities) mess on Wall Street, and after experiencing the excess of life with the power elite in New York City, he changed careers and decided to come to Norway to live a more “pure” life. Now he manages a hotel here (the Grims Grenke) and has a number of entrepreneurial endeavors. He’s a happy man, fulfilled by the promise of being enriched by people and an environment not absorbed in the surface of things.

Anthony and I had a long talk about the definition of social capital.

He believes, as I do, that American life is evolving past the promise of its own doing, which is to say that the American people are a good lot, and our country continues to be anomalous in many respects, including its fight for sovereignty, its persistence on innovation and the quest to help developing nations. Perhaps it’s not our systems of government or business that pose the greatest challenges to us, but a lack of cultural perspective that has left us socially corrupt. We are, after all, the products of a democratic evolution that has used capitalism as a crutch for survival, one in which hard currency has been depleted and given way to a credit system that has left us bound to our own vaporous trail of confusion, deceit and a significant loss of hope.

As a colleague, Gerald Posner, has astutely pointed out, what if we could create currency that didn’t rely on capital inputs?

Bernard A. Lietaer’s “complementary currency” comes to mind when we speak of social capital – the notion that credit systems can build resource pools and use barter – one of the great forms of participatory reward – to incite economic and social growth. For example, imagine if all the people who played in Farmville (60M+ users) on Facebook actually traded their goofy animals and farm resources in energy credits, so that they were reselling things of social value (and economic value), things that they could see were having an immediate impact on their physical world.

Before I flew over here, I had an incredible (and lengthy) conversation with one of the founding partners of the oldest and most reputable VC firms in the world, Trafalgar. This gentleman regaled me with stories linked to the global financial crisis (he knows all the heads of the banks – or what used to be the ‘banks’ – Goldman Sachs, for example, as you probably know is about to bite the dust…), and he’s very embittered by what’s happened, both economically and culturally.

Well, sure enough, his firm is now dedicated to ventures that are not only sustainable (mostly in the sense of corporate transparency), but those that do good in the world.

Here’s the best part. They are specifically looking for platforms that merge communities and microfinance. The quick and simple backstory on this is that the venture capitalist’s daughter is doing some incredible work using microfinance communities in Africa to adopt and/or support children there. His work in China has also influenced the thought that meme development must be implemented in order to create mindshifts that can break destructive socio-economic patterns, while embracing traditional value systems. A couple of lateral examples of this would be the recent (or fairly recent) Avatar demonstrations that took place in Palestine (a form of ‘transmedia activism’), and the recent (albeit incremental) advancements of the democratic voting platform in Iraq that has been largely shaped by scholars of Hammurabi.

[A quick aside, I am here in Oslo to speak about transmedia storytelling; you can check out the live stream on Wednesday, April 28th, at http://www.gulltaggen.com or http://www.gulltaggen.no]

Naturally, I told him about Junto and our microfinance platform effort, UBIQUID.US, and his eyes lit up. (BTW,  by “our” I mean a core group of instigators and disruptors, but really all of us…)

What I told him next, and his response, gave me great solace – I emphasized that the conversation pieces (Junto et al) could NOT be commercialized, and that the entire paradox of the social web has revolved around the fact that open networks (or what could have been open networks) – and their respective participatory dynamics – have largely been cattle-prodded and herded into distending “pockets” of idea and information-sharing. A good example of an open network model is what Cisco is now doing with its telepresence.

Needless to say, he got it right away.

His response jumped ahead to the notion that capital markets could be socialized (as in a social capitalistic kind of way, not a socialist kind of way…) and that it was now the duty of entities like his to show regulatory concerns and other government and lobbyist groups the co-created value of networks. In other words, to show the gatekeepers that open networks are evolving and cannot be denied the right to life and practice, and in a larger sense, that these dynamics can actually improve what they themselves do.

We agreed that corporations of all types and sizes could actually profit handsomely from this, while of course improving and supporting local communities (the argument here is who cares if they’re not totally “invested” in affecting change, so long as the urgency to do so – by whatever economic conditions that predominate – forces that hand in getting them there). We also talked about how transmedia storytelling and participatory narratives could be used to productize, remove copyright boundaries, co-create value, and allow individuals (via social graph) to flourish alongside of companies.

We also both agreed that value could now be created without the need for capital input, or even capital output. The implications for this are astounding in two ways:

1. This suggests an entire re-engineering and re-instutionalization of our failed credit system, one that is community moderated and curated.  

2. It also suggests that participatory reward can now live within the context of true cause & effect – meaning that people who have been previously “uninspired” will now see the impetus in defining their own roles as active contributors to society.

So, take for example, the notion of smart grid credits — use these to watch energy efficiency spike, map it out spatially (geomapping and data volumization) and link it to other early stage efforts (there are bunch of disparate groups already doing this) so that people can see and be the change. (On a more crude level – this type of currency aside – hark back to the Obama election and remember how roughly 30% of the voting populace were those who had never registered or voted before.)

If we can put shared currency – what amounts to collective infrastructure – behind these types of efforts, and be fully transparent… particularly with government concerns (this is VERY important), then we are looking at incredibly efficient, and relatively swift, ways to improve the world.

So coming back full circle (sorry), effectively, we’re already doing it. Junto, for example, is a social experiment using an open telepresence to prove that innovation is not the sum of processes, rather the reflexivity of intellectual expression and the spontaneous development of co-created value systems.

What do you think? What types of social capital can we create?


@OneYoungWorld - Putting the "Social" Back Into #SocialResponsibility #ParticipatoryCulture #GlobalChange #Sustainability

It's absolutely fantastic to see platforms that advance culture in truly profound and transformational ways. It's also nice to see media leaders active in this endeavor. All too often, we take for granted the power that we have as marketers and the influence we have on popular, and even underground, culture. Looking underneath the heaviest stones and in between the tightest cracks in order to create real possibility is what social, and socializing media, should be all about. Brands can certainly be an integral part of this mindshift, but the stories themselves are the fiber of why we live, why our work becomes art, and how we develop a sense of purpose in being a part of something bigger than ourselves.