Lisa Gansky details in the book The Mesh how economic conditions have shifted consumers’ priorities and behaviors. She highlights how some brands, as a result, are taking up residence in “the mesh,” and suggests strategies for those who are currently outsiders.
The mesh is essentially an environment where consumers receive products when and where they need them, thanks to more information from both social media and wireless networks.
The development of the mesh is partly a result of the recent human migration away from suburbs to urban areas. As these more densely populated areas spike in popularity, storage of possessions and management of waste are becoming issues. Combined with the current focus on global warming, this is something the business world and marketers should consider.
Most current models of commerce have a limited focus on product life cycles. It’s generally thought that someone will need a replacement product at some point, and what they do with the old product doesn’t matter. But it does, when seen in the context of growing urbanism.
As Gansky mentions, what if ”retailers set a stage for a ‘reverse’ supply chain, where the same careful attention to efficiency in supplying goods is applied to their recovery and reuse on the other end?” Some retailers already understand this notion. The outdoor gear company REI, for example, accepts old skis, refurbishes them, and rents them out. This helps consumers solve their storage problems while also giving REI a leadership role in the area of sustainability.
There are opportunities for non-retailers too. One of Modernista!’s clients, Doc to Dock, invites the medical industry to participate in this movement. The organization collects unused medical supplies from hospitals, matches these supplies with the needs of hospitals and clinics in developing countries, and ships the goods abroad. These actions effectively employ the mesh structure while preventing thousands of tons of supplies from populating landfills.
And so, the challenge is: How can other industries similarly reverse their status-quo supply chains?
The uproar over Canadian metered broadband restrictions, recently announced and soon to be rescinded, could have a deep effect outside the universe of Netflix subscribers and software pirates. On-site advertisements consume small amounts of Internet subscribers’ bandwidth but keep services and websites free or at a minimum cost. A backlash against unsolicited, bandwidth-consuming advertisements by means of ad-blocking software is already an issue that websites face every day, without looming, expensive overages.
In March 2010, arstechnica.com conducted an experiment in which much of their content was rendered unviewable to users employing ad-blocking software. While some readers supported the experiment, “there was a healthy mob of people criticizing us for daring to take any kind of action against those who would deny us revenue even though they knew they were doing so.” Ars Technica readers were effectively biting the hand that feeds them by utilizing ad-blocking software, and the proposed elimination of “unlimited use” Internet plans in Canada would create a similar environment between Internet Service Providers and their subscribers.
By ignoring the reasons consumers are subscribing to ISP services such as access to ad-supported content, metered broadband drives subscribers to scrape for every last byte of data. Such plans contribute to an overall degradation of the web environment by way of ad blocking or complete abandonment of data-intensive services.
In a recent essay in UX Magazine, Andrew Turrell, User Experience Director at Lunch.com, argues that the news feed format, those short bursts of syndicated information from Facebook, Twitter, friends, and media outlets, is becoming a kind of universal currency of digital experience. He writes: “As users consume more and more information on personal aggregation websites and on mobile devices, all content providers must evolve to meet these new user expectations and browsing styles, and come to think of the news feed as the default model for presenting digital content.”
I agree with Turrell’s premise, but I think he doesn’t go far enough in spotting the incredible convergence of social and personal “news” with old-school news outlets. For example, someone using Tweet Deck may in the same blush read a feed item from The New York Times about the recession and another item from Aunt Zelda about her cat, and that same user may turn around and comment on both. With the news feed model, Friend News from “content provider” Aunt Zelda and News News from “content provider” New York Times are both vying for your attention within the same interface and the same presentation format. And when you have friends sharing News News as well, it all starts to converge into one universal social and digital experience. It’s no wonder that Facebook uses a little Newspaper icon next to the news feed, and it’s no secret that social news has eroded older patterns of news cycles and news consumption.
Why has the news feed become so central to our everyday lives? Turrell is surely right that the small space format is perfect for the always-on mobile channel. Social and mobile are made for each other. But the other incredible power of the news feeds is the way that they enable sharing of all media forms. News feed items offer a bite-size package that can reveal movies, slideshows, music, and other articles while sparking multiple conversation streams and user actions. With the ability to expand a news item and view its attached media content inline, the humble news feed has incredible communication power behind it.
It’s hard to overstate the importance of the news feed for how brands operate. Here are just a few implications:
- Every user is potentially a “reporter” and an advocate for your brand with their own set of friends and followers. They’ll decide what, when, and how to share parts of your story in their feeds.
- Brands aren’t locked into situations where news “breaks” in the mainstream press and then circulates among consumers. It can easily break in social news streams and then find its way into media outlets, who republish it in their own news feeds.
- Since it’s now mainstream for consumers to have their own mini-media audiences in the form of their friends and followers, they are actively looking for interesting media to share that can help them spark conversation.
- Because shared feed items flow into users’ personal space, they often succeed by striking the right conversational tone, with news written and designed not just for personal consumption but to be bantered about in a social setting.
What do you think? Are any of these ideas news to you?
Last week Mashable published an essay by Caroline Giegerich titled “The Art of the Checkin: From Location to Content to Brand.” Reading this reminded me of the importance of thinking of checkin services not simply as location-aware applications, but as context-aware.
Users now have an opportunity to move beyond simply declaring their location by using utilities like foursquare. They can share images of locations using Instagram, the shows or movies they’re watching using GetGlue, the games they’re playing using Raptr, and even the beer they’re drinking using Untappd. More importantly, all these services are starting to blend and interconnect. For instance, I can declare to my social network that I’m drinking a delicious Old Speckled Hen at The Plough & Stars all through one application.
It’s now important for providers of almost any product or service to pay attention to checkin services. This is no longer a matter of the local coffee shop offering rewards to mayors. Brands need to respond to or incentivize checkin behavior, even if they have don’t have a physical location. Simply put, being absent from this space gives other brands an opportunity to get a jump on you.
We’re at the very beginning of something very big. Now is the time to define what experience your brand will provide with services such as these – before someone else does it for you.
… from everyone at M! Here’s a card.
Lately there’s been a lot of buzz about “hacking” – from Matt Schwartz’s “Coupon Rebellion” in Wired, to Microsoft’s Kinect, to designer hacks for shoe skins. Not too long ago, Netflix asked consumers to hack its algorithm to find a better matching system. WikiLeaks has people hacking in its name and maintains a secret file that supposedly can’t be hacked. You can try Lifehacker to get your act together. You can check out the Hackers! newspaper. Better yet, read Ed Cotton of BSSP, who argues that brands should embrace hacking.
Why the buzz on hacking, and why now? Didn’t we stop calling culture jamming and moved onto DIY? Consumers set their own rules, so why would hacking a brand or changing its identity be any more extraordinary?
Hacking started out as exploiting hardware, software, or rules in general to one’s own liking. Today we are better connected, so hacking is less about the hacker and more about the group. Hackers or “hacktivists” seek change on a mass scale, not for personal glory but for collective improvement. From “revenge of the wikis” to random hacks of kindness (RHoKs), it’s all about making things better. And brands are a ripe target, given how slowly they tend to move. Logos have become a target (hello, Gap). “Don’t hack our Kinect technology,” said Microsoft, so users responded with holographic chats and sex games.
People needs spaces to explore and grow, brands are a natural place to play. They provide context to much of what we do in life. When a brand lets outsiders push it, it can create new behaviors and even culture.
Don’t fight it – embrace it! We hack the things we love because they make us happy. Nothing wrong with a little improvement. Brands shouldn’t fight change but should instead provide people with tools to play, mesh, improve, stretch, wrinkle, chop, and generally set things on fire.
Dear brand, won’t you help us hack?
M! Innovations Director Howard Goldkrand recently chatted with Jawbone.tv about our Dexter ARG and transmedia in general. Take a look.
The New York Times recently published an insightful article about the perils of growing up digital. When it comes to multitasking with technology, everyone can relate. We all feel as if we have a million things to do, and often can only tackle pieces of our work while juggling other tasks simultaneously.
But what about those folks who’ve grown up in an overly-connected world and see it as normal?
Young people are learning in new ways. It starts with technology, easily accessible and easily manipulated. Why dig into the full 300-page narrative of a book when you can get Cliff Notes or a fan-made trailer on YouTube? Why take one perspective when you have collective consciousness on the Internet?
Scientists believe that young people are wired so that they aren’t rewarded for staying on task – rather, they’re rewarded for jumping to the next thing. For brand builders and the world of communications and content, this lack of concentration might seem to threaten impending doom. Before we can understand how to adapt, we must understand the true issues at play.
The New York Times observes that today’s kids are “caught between two worlds, one that is virtual and one with real-world demands.” How exactly do they differ?
• Procrastination – Why work? The Internet is an infinite time suck of video and meme goodness just waiting to be discovered and shared. Baked in from birth, it offers a shortcut to everything from writing papers to connecting with friends. It’s also terribly good at distracting us. For youth this seems to be part of the game, not a habit learned.
• Play – Much of the digital landscape provides tangible rewards for engagement, but what about creative and imaginative play sans technology? What impact does technology have on creativity?
• Multitasking – Now that we have more outlets, the younger generation seeks to utilize as many as possible. Concentration has been scientifically shown to have dropped over the past decade as a result of over-stimulus from technology.
• Identity – The tech choices of today often reflect youth’s personalities. For many, their digital identity is a place to project themselves idealistically, with reality sprinkled into the gaps.
• Relationships – Relationships are becoming increasingly transient as short-term becomes the norm. Just think about the impact of Facebook on romance.
We are becoming a visual society filled with noise. For brands, this shift can be polarizing. On one hand, it might encourage them to go straight to the point, simply out of fear of rapid attention loss. On the other hand, a brand might place less emphasis on core selling and instead build narratives.
My feeling is that brands must become like architects.
An architect focuses on a core principle of design – light, social spaces, entertainment– and incorporates it in a flexible manner. Similarly, brands must focus on a few simple ideas, while articulating these ideas across transmedia to be relevant.
Good architects utilize honesty and curiosity about methods and materials in ways that interest people who aren’t architects. For brands, this simply means being true to a core identity, and not projecting who they desire to be. This is especially important now, as there has never been a savvier audience than today’s youth.
And while architects create space or objects, they are masters of getting inhabitants to actively occupy that space. Brands must find and map places for consumers that compliment a brand’s ecosystem. This means stretching a brand into times and places it might not have previously considered. This involves more than just connecting, but rather getting people to actively use the brand.
In a world of distraction, we can preach the perils of technology, but as brands we can’t ignore the facts. We must face the issue head-on. Let’s build solutions like architects – from the ground up, organized, pragmatic, and honest. By remaining focused, brands can remain consistently engaging no matter the attention level of consumers.
There are too many people on this planet. No sooner does a promising idea poke its head out of the egg, and everyone jumps atop it and crushes the bugger.
When virtually every speaker at the Association of National Advertisers’ recent convention sang the praises of purpose-driven marketing, it signaled that a fad had once again gripped the marketing world. Predictably, a backlash erupted, led by Todd Wasserman in Brandweek (Oct. 17), who had some severe words for marketers-cum-evangelists:
“Remember when marketers used to, y’know, market stuff? Well, now they’re doing God’s work. They’ve got purpose. Why the sudden shift to the noble and meaningful? … Psychologically, it’s a win-win. After all, marketers don’t have to feel bad for selling more stuff that will ultimately drain natural resources and end up in a landfill, while consumers can delude themselves into thinking that buying a bottle made of recycled plastic is akin to giving the ecosystem a big hug.”
This is a little strong. Wasserman fails to mention everything good about purpose-driven marketing, advantages communicated particularly well at the ANA convention by P&G Global Marketing Officer Mark Pritchard. While explaining how his business is shifting its focus from selling products to serving mothers, Pritchard pointed to Tide’s Loads of Hope, which helps launder clothing for disaster victims; P&G’s multi-brand Winter Olympics campaign, which celebrates athletes’ moms; and similar campaigns. According to Pritchard, effective purpose-driven marketing has five components:
-reinforcing the brand’s core benefit
-serving people with brands
-deep insights about people
-identifying the Big Idea.
This list leaves something out, though, and this absence may be what bothers Wasserman most:
-a certain level of sincerity in accomplishing all of the above.
Certainly, it’s been troubling to watch brand after brand jump on the cause-marketing/purpose-marketing bandwagon in 2010. Many of their causes have merit, and they are undoubtedly doing much good. But when the consumer faces a blizzard of brands wearing their charitable hearts on their sleeves, this blizzard becomes noise, and the consumer tunes it out. And when that happens, the consumer tunes out everything, the good and the bad. Which, of course, does harm to companies that truly want to help the world, and aren’t just striking a pose in a bid to gain mindshare.
So perhaps Wasserman’s complaint deserves attention. Maybe we should impose some kind of sincerity test on purpose-driven marketing plans, to weed out the ones that are merely following a fad, with no deep conviction or principle. This would open the field a bit for brands that do, in fact, care about their causes, and pursue their purposes with passion. Hopefully the noise would then diminish somewhat, and consumers might once again begin to pay attention when a brand invites them to do good, and to respect that brand for serving humanity as well as its shareholders.