Category Archives: Passion Point

From Social Media to Social Business

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Two ongoing events have forever changed how I look at the world.

The first event happened 4 years ago when I became a father. No, I’m not talking about the immense love I felt and how it continues to grow. Or my role as a parent, husband, father, etc. That’s for a different blog post. Or novel. This little girl changed so much in me because I see her growing up with technology. While I had 3 TV channels for entertainment until I was 18, she doesn’t know the difference between TV, DVD, Video, YouTube. She just knows screens. Small screens. Large screens. Screens you can hold in your hand. Screens you can touch and do funny stuff with. Every time I spend time with her, I feel like a futuristic anthropologist: I discover how a new species of people learns to utilize technology and how it will change everything we’re doing in this world.

The other ongoing event happened on September 15, 2008- the day Lehman filed for bankruptcy. That’s the day when the consumer economy started to die. Nope, it’s not dead yet but the heartbeats are getting slower and the breathing becomes shallower. And one day we will look at the corpse of the consumption economy, kick it one last time and walk away.

Being involved in the Social Media world for the last few years has been an amazing experience. But also one that has been quite frustrating and unfulfilling. Because Social Media is often just a band-aid. These times ask for life-saving measures: Businesses are in trouble. People are in trouble. The whole world is in trouble. Social Media helped to get Obama elected. But no Social Media initiative will change how the government works, how the Senate interacts with the House. You can create billions of Facebook pages about your brand but it will not change how alienated people feel interacting with the same, offshored brand ambassador,  reading from a script. And Twitter might help sell Dell $3 million but it doesn’t help solving the e-Waste problem all of us (and Dell) are creating each and every day.

We don’t experience a cyclical recession We’re experiencing a systemic recession. If this was just a cyclical recession, we could hire an advertising/PR/DM/Social Marketing agency and they would put together an amazing campaign, we would soon forget and just continue to consume. A normal recession is like a forest fire: it gets rid of the old plants and trees and makes way for new growth. This time it’s different. This recession has destroyed the foundation of our capitalistic society, rattled our belief in free capitalism and changed our behavior forever. This was (and still is) like a devastating tsunami that destroys everything in its path, leaving an empty field behind. It’s terrible and it hurts many people. And it’s the greatest opportunity of our lifetime.

Changing the mindset of businesses (and the government is the biggest of them all) from a supply chain mentality to a value chain mentality will be the legacy of our lifetime. Value has to be created, formed and shaped by people and businesses. And this value has to be created through transparency and conversations between business, suppliers, customers and everyone else involved in the value chain. Basically, applying Social Media principles to business practices. And transforming the business from the inside out. Not just applying the Social Media band-aid. This is how governments will become more transparent. And change for the better. This is how we’re going to build valuable products that enhance our life, our world, our environment. This is how our education system will become more effective, allow for more individual attention. And this is how we’re going to change the world.

And, there are many others out there that work on these solutions. Like Peter Kim, Doc Searls and his Project VRM,  David Armano, Umair Haque, Lawrence Lessig, Kate Niederhoffer, just to name a few. We need many, many more. And not only marketers. We need anthropologists, medical professionals, sociologists, therapists, artists – you name it. The last thing we want is Wall Street or Madison Avenue being the only ones involved. I would call that the biggest waste of our lifetime.

When I grew up, I wanted to change the world. Make a real difference. And when I observe my little kid,  finding her way through this wondrous thing we call life, I’m reminded and energized by my innocent wish to make this world a better place. Thriving businesses in the future will give people chances to be creators not just consumers. They will give them real control and not just a comment box on a corporate blog. And they will make our lives better. One social business at a time.

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Mass Media Planning vs Community Planning

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Many bright people are discussing the idea of Transmedia Planning, an ever-evolving, non-linear brand narrative. Think ‘Lost’: For some (including me) it’s just an entertaining TV show, for others it’s a puzzle they want to solve, just to discover there are more puzzles to be found. And, for the ‘Lost’ fanatics fans it’s an obsession, constantly fed by new theories, facts and factoids fed to them through official and unofficial channels.

Currently, most media is planned around a single idea: Get me this amazing idea and I’ll execute it as a commercial, banner, sticker, print ad – you name it. My first Creative Director always asked the lowly copywriter (me) when he presented his ideas for a commercial: “Does this work as a radio spot? Print ad? Key chain?” (Most of the time it didn’t and I crawled back to my office for another all-nighter.) Our work had to deliver for any educational, age and IQ level. Just like the pyramids. Ask a 5-year old to draw the pyramids and the result won’t be that much different from your own drawings (Be honest!) Sure, there might be more texture, details and finesse. But one glance and everybody gets it. And just a few words come to mind when thinking about pyramids: Slaves, Construction, Sphinx, Pharaohs.

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Do you know who this is? No?

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Getting closer?

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Easier? The overall scene composition might give it away.

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These 4 images illustrate that everybody has a different concept of Jesus: Ask 100 people how they would describe Jesus in 5 words and you’ll get an interesting tag cloud. Some overall concepts and ideas (‘Compassion’ anyone?) will be repeated over and over again but each and every person developed their own, personal concept of Jesus. And you will quickly realize that people can handle more than a single core idea. Jesus is more to people than the symbol for ‘Compassion’. For some people he might stand for love. For courage. He might symbolize an oppressive childhood. Indoctrination. World Peace. The Truth. The holy spirit. You take from his story whatever you like. Whatever fits your belief system and values. You create your own Jesus story. Either based on the bible, on historic documents, on interpretations of your priest, on movies. All these channels feed you different story lines. They can never tell the whole story because you tell the story yourself. Since we’re social animals, we are looking for communities that share our values. Without these communities, the idea of Jesus could have never been that successful and all-pervasive. Interacting with people, discussing their understanding of the Bible, experiencing the complexity of the Jesus concept is just so much more powerful than reading the Bible in your living-room. No comparison.

‘Lost’ became a phenomenon because communities adopted the concept. These groups will develop naturally when you offer rich story lines. Well, not always.

People are ready to process much greater complexity, spread info through various platforms and become hypersocial. They are hungry for it. Problem: The kitchen is still cold, remodeling plans being discussed. It’s hard to shift from a one-item menu to a complex 20-course tasting menu. We need to find the right chefs, sommeliers, Maitre D’s and service personnel. And, to make things more complex, we might intend to serve up a 20-course tasting meal but everybody will have a different experience: Some will just have appetizers, some only deserts, some will take your best ingredients and cook something completely new out of it, some will only drink the wine, etc. We basically hope to cook for people that are cooking at the same time. (Mhm, that might be an interesting concept for a restaurant.) It’s complex and messy. But, it’s magic when it all comes together.

We want less facts, more stories

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Image courtesy Aint Life Grand

The most important person in an upscale restaurant is not the chef or the waiter – it is the sommelier. Sure, the quality of food is important and an excellent service equally. But, frankly, that’s the price of entry. The real difference maker is the sommelier: A great sommelier will transform your great meal into a memorable experience. How?

As a sommelier, you have two choices: You can overwhelm me with facts about geography, grapes and climate. And bore me to death. Or, you can tell me a story about the wine. Something infotaining, details about the wine or winemaker, insider information. My local wine store does a great job coming up with little stories, facts and fiction that warm my heart and make me want to taste that wine immediately.

Brands need people more than people need brands. And, people don’t need facts from brands. They have Google. Your brand objective should be to tell a story. A story that’s memorable. That can be shared. And spread. Brands without stories mean nothing and without any engaging stories people have nothing to talk about.

It’s the end of the world as we know it

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And I feel fine.

Why? Shouldn’t we be scared? BofA and Citi completely insolvent (Don’t trust one word of their CEO’s: Both institutions are dead in the water. The only question is how their shells will be propped up for a while.), the government clueless how to deal with these ongoing massive, financial tsunamis, Detroit basically done and unemployment increasing to scary levels. And, even worse, the real pain is still to come. 

So, why am I fine? Because this is not a typical recession. Or even depression. It’s a global shift in everything the capitalistic world believed in for the last decades. This can only be compared to the Continental Drift: an event that will transform us and our world for generations to come. And it will take at least one generation to adjust to the changes and come to grips with the idea that this transformation is permanent:

  • Large, decentralized corporations will disappear. These organizations were built for overconsumption, price pressure and cheap production. Micro-production is the future. Goodbye Detroit. Welcome to thousands of small car companies.
  • Destruction will be replaced with collaboration.We won’t destroy competition, nature or other nations to achieve our goals. It’s too costly, not efficient and goes against everything humans are wired for. Goodbye Wall Street. Hello Main Street.
  • Strategy will be replaced by mini-experimentation. Wars needed strategy. The 21st century economy needs mini-initiatives, mini-tests that continually evolve businesses. Goodbye Accenture. Hello lab operation.
  • Faking value will be replaced by real value. What’s the difference between Crest and Total? Exactly. But there’s a huge difference between an Apple and Dell experience. Goodbye advertising. Hello value creation.
  • Productivity will be replaced by creativity. We’ve had dumb growth for too long. We need sustainable, resilient growth. Goodbye China. Hello new world.

The 20th century was about consuming stuff. The 21st century will be about consuming ideas. Consuming stuff is too hard on the planet, laborers in the 3rd world and our wallet. Consuming ideas will still create a value chain but a value chain that’s more adjusted to changing the business world. Slowly, we see these idea consumption models popping up: Think Nike Plus. Think Twitter. Think Wikis.

We’re at Ground Zero. Things will get worse in the next few years. Much worse. But out of this destruction will come a new world. And the world we now know will be gone and in a few decades we’ll shake our heads and think: How did we ever believe these were the good times?

Hang in there. And create new ideas.

Fear Economy – the world’s oldest profession

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Image by Kenn Munk

Traditionally, we leave the part of the apocalyptic prophet wandering through the landscapes of urban post-modernism to homeless bible-thumpers. But since the credit crisis has taken hold of our attention, intellectuals, politicians, columnists and even friends have turned into doom prophets. Thomas Friedman wrote in an NY Times piece:

“I go into restaurants these days, look around at the tables often still crowded with young people, and I have this urge to go from table to table and say: “You don’t know me, but I have to tell you that you shouldn’t be here. You should be saving your money. You should be home eating tuna fish. This financial crisis is so far from over. We are just at the end of the beginning. Please, wrap up that steak in a doggy bag and go home.”

Noel Roubini supplies you with a daily dose of gloom on his RGE Monitor:

“The global financial pandemic that I and others had warned about is now upon us. But we are still only in the early stages of this crisis. My predictions for the coming year, unfortunately, are even more dire: The bubbles, and there were many, have only begun to burst.”

And even Dr. Hope Obama uses the doom metaphor to get Congress approval for the stimulus package. 

These stories of doom and impending catastrophe are not new. Seven chapters into the Bible we read about Noah’s flood, people in the Middle Ages believed comets would destroy the earth. And if that didn’t pan out, we always had a ghastly virus to kill us all: Bird Flu, Black Death, Flu Virus. Over the years, we’ve become more sophisticated and came up with new threats that surely will take care of the apocalypse: Third-hand smoke, over-population, global warming, global cooling, Anthrax – the list is endless.

The world’s oldest profession is not what you think; it’s the business of fear. The Attention Economy has forced us to change those doom scenarios quickly, otherwise we’ll get bored quickly and instead of moving on to the next threat, we might move forward with our lives. We’re attracted by doom scenarios: Daily life can be fairly boring and pedestrian. Regular politics are mind-numbing, just like the business world. But doom scenarios are interesting, raise your blood pressure and get us all excited. All the doom sayers have the same mindset: We have sinned, we made huge mistakes. Now is the time to pay for it. Or, if there’s a chance left, we need to change everything. The way we live. The way we do business. The way we make decisions. There’s no gray. Just black and white.

Behind these scenarios is a longing: Humans should change radically. A crisis is a normal part of the human life cycle. We can work through a crisis by making rational decisions. Catastrophes are events we can’t control. A crisis asks us to work harder. To evaluate all options, to be diligent, to deploy small changes to avoid a repeat. Catastrophes need big gestures. Saviors. And it makes the individual feel small. And helpless. That’s why people love Al Gore: He’ll save us from a catastrophe none of us can fix. Or the Dalai Lame: He’ll save my battered soul. Or Hank Paulson: He was supposed to be the savior. What happened?

The economy of fear was always used to keep people down, to remind us that there are forces out there bigger than us. But, it seems, the doomsayers try to be bigger than us, try to tell us to change our way of living, our thinking, our whole existence. Or! They only focus on poverty, consumerism, our cheap plastic culture. Walmart! China! McDonalds! And they forget responsible entrepreneurs, improved living conditions, national parks, improved air quality/life expectancy and all these other improvements our rotten society has developed throughout times. 

We’ve been expelled from paradise a long time ago. And we won’t find our way back by proclaiming new doom scenarios every 2 minutes. We won’t be able to create a better society by believing in utopian ideals of no conflicts and a world without the possibility of a crisis. So, let’s work through this. Everything will change and nothing will change. Advertising is not dead. Advertising is changing. Media is not dead. Media is changing. It’s going to take a lot of work, dedication and passion to adjust brands, businesses and agencies to the new reality. It’s going to be ugly, glorious, amazing and disappointing. It is what it is. All it takes from all of us is smart thinking. And a lot of work.

Humans are a weird bunch. We’re not perfect. We’re not meant to be perfect. Every time we try to create a perfect world we create one thing: Hell on Earth.

We need more leaders, less followers

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Image by Mike Monteiro

“Diederich Hessling was a dreamy, delicate child, frightened of everything, and troubled with earache.” That’s how the novel ‘The Patrioteer‘ by Heinrich Mann begins (one of my personal favorites). Decades later, and we still have way too many Diederich’s in this world. They are afraid of everything but they are mostly afraid of taking a stand, developing a unique opinion  that’s not already filtered by the opinion leaders of op-ed pages, blogs and Twitter. And most of them are not only troubled by earache – their spine and brains suffers heavily.

Following opinion leaders blindly has lead to the financial crisis, a deep recession, the Iraq war – the list could be continued for pages. We should trust Greenspan, right? He knew what he was doing. We should trust Paulson’s request bailout package, correct? He should know how to fix the credit crunch. We should trust Colin Powell and his UN speech, correct? He seems so trustworthy and would never fool us, right? The culture in the US doesn’t allow for and most people are not able to tolerate a lot of ambivalence. There are just a few brave souls that publish their opposing opinions and stick to it through attacks. In the Social Marketing field, we still see strong challenges of opinion leaders throughout the discussion of the Kmart promotion but once certain opinion leaders say their piece, the majority falls in line and accepts their opinion as gospel. Frankly, I was almost shocked to see that almost nobody criticized the Panasonic coverage throughout CES . At one point, Twitter felt like QVC: people discussing the awesomeness of Panasonic, their products and all their people. (That’s my only concern with these kind of promotions: You’re spamming me with irrelevant information, tweets of people wanting to get a Sears/Kmart gift card, clogging up a very personal channel of information. You’re doing exactly what advertising has done for year, not adding value to my life.)

The Kmart promotion might be one seminal moment in the history of Social Marketing – suddenly PR excursions are okay because the opinion leaders said so. This is proof of Robert Michels’ theory of the Iron Law of Oligarchy: Democracy leads to Oligarchy. A few tell many what to do.

We’ve seen this attitude of ‘If you’re not for us, you’re against us’, played out in US politics in the last decades. We’ve seen it wreaking havoc on major financial institutions when dissenting voices were shut down very quickly. (Just watch CNBC and see how pessimistic analysts are basically shouted down immediately.) And, in the end, nobody is responsible for anything because the system failed. The model failed. Not the individual failed. Nobody is taking responsibility for anything, it was always the fault of something we fools won’t understand anyway. Sure, there will be a perp walk sometime soon (Maddoff, are you ready?) but the real issues behind the meltdown will be covered by the opinion leaders, blaming it on VAR or other acronyms most of us won’t bother to even try to understand.

Obviously, the Social/Conversational Marketing field is still in the honeymoon phase and I’m happy to see that open discussions are commonplace and democracy still reigns. In order to survive and thrive, Social Marketing needs more leaders, more thinkers, more outspoken personalities, more provocateurs. We need to be able to live with and live through ambivalence. Actually, we should cherish ambivalence as one of the most important values in our continued exploration of this new space. Dissenting opinions should be further explored and not painted over with the broad brush of majority opinion.  This little, nodding and spineless Diederich needs to be defeated. Each and every day.

From wants to needs

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Image by Mike Monteiro

We see a dramatic shift in consumer behavior: Pre-Lehman we wanted to have the newest gadget, wanted that flat screen, wanted the luxury car, wanted the luxury vacation, wanted anything bright and shiny. Not anymore.

This dramatic shift is reflected in the dramatic decline of auto sales, horrible retail sales, how deflation rears its ugly head and consumer credit sees the biggest fall in decade. These are the symptoms of a behavior shift that will be us for long time to come. 

Marketers love wants. Their main job over the last decades was to convert wants into needs. Based on the Abraham Maslow hierarchy of need theory, marketers mostly forgot about the basic needs of people and appealed to the need for self-actualization: This car will make you more successful. This gadget will make everybody else jealous. This product will complete you. Those times are over.

While people are struggling to deal with the new reality, they are only concerned about their basic needs: Air to breathe, Water to drink, Food to drink, Sex to procreate. Add to that the need for Safety and Security, the need for love and belonging, the need for the respect of our fellow’s and for self-respect. 

0-60 times have become irrelevant. Same is true for claims of cars as ego extensions. Instead, people buy cars to go from A-B safely, efficiently, without being disrespected by their neighbors. This changed mindset will increase the value of WOM, digital conversations and honesty in marketing. Sure, it was fun to live in a dreamworld of wants being needs, supported by flashy advertising and singing monkeys. But, the party is over.

Throw those champagne bottles and glitzy toys away and go back to the basics: Listen to the needs of people. Understand how this new reality affects them. And how it changes their thinking, outlook on life and behavior. Connect with them. Don’t try to fool them anymore. It stopped working a long time ago and it’s completely counter-productive in this environment. And, don’t get fooled: This is not a temporary shift. This shift is a permanent change. Just like your post-Depression generation didn’t jump on the materialistic bandwagon, this generation won’t believe in consumption as self-actualization anymore. 

Just like The Who said: We won’t get fooled again.