The age of the micro multinational

“If the late 20th Century was the age of the multinational company, the early 21st will be the age of the micro multinational: small companies that operate globally”

I found this great quote on Neil Perkin’s ‘Only Dead Fish’. It’s a statement from Hal Varian, Google Chief Economist and I can only like what I see here. It supports our own opinion (at Duval Guillaume) that you don’t need to be huge or have offices around the whole world to be able to service clients globally. 

A recent Policy Brief from the Lisbon Council states:

“Traditionally, these small, self-starting, service-driven companies would have been described as small- and medium- sized enterprises, or SMEs, but thanks to the Internet, the emergence of new business platforms and the increased openness of the global economy, these companies can enter markets with a minimum of bureaucracy and overhead. Add to that their unparalleled ability to respond promptly to changing market developments, a collaborative DNA that often translates into superior innovation performance and the lack of the institutional inertia and legacy relationships plaguing larger organizations, and one begins to see the transformative and paradigm-changing potential.”

According the brief the big paradigm shifts that are taking place making all this happen are:

  • Most jobs are created by young companies and start-ups
  • Today technology makes it possible for small companies to gain the reach and traction of big companies at very low cost
  • New platforms and online business services are making it easier for small companies to focus on areas where they add value
  • Internationalization – the key to success for almost all contemporary businesses, large and small – is easier to achieve via the Internet
  • Today’s workforce has changing priorities
  • Experienced and highly skilled individuals are setting out in record numbers to work for themselves

Yet another reason why the future looks bright.

The opportunity called media

Traditional media are dead. Well at least according to plenty of opinion makers they are, and have been so for many years already. And while it’s fair to say that some of them are in trouble, or at least facing a whole new series of challenges it’s clear traditional media are far from dead. I actually believe some of the biggest opportunities in communications today are in media, but it is about time to see some action.

Here’s where I believe the biggest opportunities are today in media and why I believe I think there isn’t enough focus on them today. At least not where I live – and it would be dumb to believe that what happens in Belgium is unique in the world so here we go…

Invent new ways of monetization

Instead of using old ways of making money on new media approaches. Guillaume – one of the founders of the agency I work for – once said that banner advertising is what happens when you bring the worst of traditional advertising into digital media and it’s hard to disagree with that. You don’t have to throw away old rules that proved to be working fine with traditional media and their advertising methods, but they just don’t automatically apply to everything new either. When interactive television was announced (‘click the red button’) I had high hopes for the possibilities that it would give me as a consumer… just to find out after a couple of months that tv channels were charging the exact same price of an SMS to every single interaction possible. It became clear very quickly that they had a business going that they didn’t want to lose and that their innovative development was driven by the protection of that business rather than by re-thinking the user experience in this new context. Second screen, DVR, … with every new evolution the drive to protect the old seems to be focus number 1. That’s not how it should be, no innovation will come out of that. Think first about what how you could maximize the consumer experience given a new technology, and then think of (new) ways of making money with that.

Understanding second, third, … screen

Second screen is most of all linked to the television experience. Which is logical, although I wouldn’t make it something exclusive to television either. But that’s not the point I want to make here. There are plenty of second screen experiences available for television stations all over the world as we speak, and yet most of them seem to resolve around taking some kind of advantage of the Twitter activity around the show, possibly combined with some additional content. Other kinds of interaction? Not so much. I find that amazing, especially because there are examples out there of really cool ideas on how to use the second, third,… screen(s) available.

I’ve written about this before, but Kevin Slavin has probably said some of the smartest things I’ve ever heard about this second screen experience. (He has said some of the smartest thing I have ever heard full stop.) Knowing that he is responsible for some of the coolest second screen (avant la lettre) cases ever, it’s silly no to listen to what he has to say. When he gave is presentation “Laughter from nowhere” some 18 months ago at the IAB Congress, he created a bit of a theoretic frame of what it is consumers are looking for concerning the ‘second screen’. People’s main focus is in the main screen, and you need to think about what additional info/activity you can provide that makes the first screen experience better, without asking for too much focus so it doesn’t stand in the way of the main experience. The Twitter chatter about a tv show is only one – and a really tiny – example of what that could be. Check out the case above, it’s 6 years old and still one of the most remarkable I’ve seen so far.

New ways of distribution

Newspapers are print, and have a website, and a mobile site. You tune in on a radio station with your radio, or via the website. You watch tv on your television or snippets via their website. That’s about it. The traditional way of consumption for all of these channels remains the most important, that’s where the money is made but it’s in decline. So we have to think about new ways of distribution. Again especially with television, opportunities are huge I think.

Why especially for television? Because we have only started to figure out how we can get content to consumers via other means. Today the cable provider (or similar) own most of that distribution and it is a bit of a love/hate relationship between tv channels and the distribution company in many countries. What I don’t get is why media aren’t looking at all these possibilities to bypass those distributors. Think about it: Xbox, Apple tv, Connected TV’s, … there are so many devices in people’s homes that you can use to distribute your content that I really don’t understand why none of the media I have access to are using these.

And it’s not alone for television. I can get the national newspapers on my iPad… and they are updated every day around midnight. For realtime updates I have to go the newspaper’s website. Makes sense to you? Not to me it doesn’t.

Build brands instead of channels

Almost every brand I have ever worked for dreams of using lots of traditional media to build its brand. It still seems the best way to get in front of a lot of people’s faces, the get a lot of attention at the same time. And maybe rightfully so, if used in the right way. Is it then such a big jump to say that this would mean that media brands should actually be the biggest brands then? They can use traditional media all the time, as much as they want, they are the media!

But we know they’re not. Could it be that that’s so because they are building channels more then they are building brands? I think that’s what’s going in. They all have a channel that works/worked really well, and some new ones that are still improving. So they keep the channel that works best, while investing little in the new ones. If they were building brands, and people would really choose for a strong media brand, wouldn’t you think the channel becomes less important? People would look for it and consume it the best way possible? I do think so.

Do you agree? Or maybe not? Or do you want to add an opportunity that you think I missed? Let me know in the comments, I’d love to open up the discussion around the topic.

The future belongs to the geeks…

Nobody else wants it.

This is without a doubt one (of many) personal favorites out of all the cartoons Hugh MacLeod has created in the past x years.

I think there’s a lot of simple truth in this one. Every day/week/month I see innovation that impacts the business I am in and which found its origin in technology, software development or something like it. And then I’m not only talking about pure technology innovation but also about innovation of business processes, creative thinking, etc.

An obvious one is about how technology is driving change in the media landscape. And then especially when you think about how long existing ‘traditional’ media are transforming, not just the new media that gets added. Particularly the interactive tv experience is something that fascinates me a lot recently. In this domain several big players are active – television manufacturers, service providers, content networks, … – and yet somehow I believe the main innovation will come from outside, from a few geeks in the corner that will really create a richer tv experience using a tablet device or whatever. They can think without bounderies of current business processes, revenue management, … no old business models to try to protect. There’s a lot of cool stuff out there already.

Another recent example of technology driving change, and this time in business thinking is Agile Strategic Planning, really interesting stuff if you ask me. This whole idea is an answer to changing consumer/brand needs but is based on a concept that has been used (by some) in software development for almost 10 years now. Neil Perkin used the following quote in a recent post while trying to explain the need for this agile thinking:

“Our structures need to be more speedy. Speed used to kill now lack of speed kills. Lets have organizations that can iterate quickly and empower its folks to make decisions. Percolating decisions up and down an organization makes little sense”

Agile strategic development, adaptive marketing, lean planning, … all terms that highlight more or less the same thing. We have to start thinking in ways that allow for much more iterations and changes while the process is ongoing. A new kind of strategic planning that is heavily influenced by concepts developed in software development.

Just 2 examples in my area of interest that came to mind when I saw this cartoon again. But yeah, the future belongs to the geeks, I’m sure of that.

It’s TIME to change

Yesterday at the SIME conference in Stockholm I was part of a keynote session around the topic: “It’s TIME to change”. The whole theme of SIME is based around change and the DNA of change and in case of our session they had someone from the Telecom, Internet (me), Media and Entertainment sector to talk about this (hence the ‘TIME’). I’ve uploaded my presentation to Slideshare but because it doesn’t really say much on the slides, I’ll outline my talk a bit.

We each had about 15 minutes to talk so I decided not to show videos or anything, but added a slide with a whole bunch of links at the end of the presentation for more info (and credits of course).

There were 2 big elements I wanted to talk about at SIME. I know not everyone thinks about Microsoft right away when thinking about change and innovation so first I wanted to talk a little bit about how I do believe we have changed what we do and how we do that over the last years. Second I wanted to talk about the elements that I think are part of this DNA of change, specifically for digital/online.

I had to start with the Blue Monster on this one (given the topic of change) as an introduction to a few examples of how we are trying to innovate in several areas: WorldWide Telescope, Live Maps 3D, Surface computing, Boku, Photosynth, Deepzoom as used for Hard Rock Memorabilia, SenseWeb, HIV vaccination research, … For Photosynth for instance, looking at Blaise’s talk at TED, it became clear this isn’t just a new way to stitch photo’s but that there are some ideas being researched on how this might change surfing the web in general. Pretty cool stuff, you have to see that video from TED if you haven’t done so already, seriously!

But just like JP replied to Hugh, the world wants Microsoft to change as well (slide 10) and also there I think there are fundamental changes going on the last few years. The latest Silverlight toolkit is open source. I don’t remember exactly where I read this but Microsoft submitted two licenses to the Open Source Initiative in 2004. Now there are 500 and there are at least 80,000 Open Source apps that run on Windows. Another change (slide 12) is a new focus on experience and not just features – or not just about what’s in the box, but also how you take it out of it and use it ;) Think about the Zune, Live Mesh, the new Windows Live, new Xbox Live Dashboard, Office 2007, Windows7, etc.

I often use the analogy of Microsoft being this huge ship on which a whole bunch of people are working hard to make it turn, but as happens with boats of that size it takes time before you see it happen. Therefore Robert Scoble’s quote after the Azure launch was even more interesting to see for me (slide 14).

sime
Photo by http://flickr.com/photos/mathys/

So okay, talk about change in general now. First of all I think it’s important to be aware of what is going on, referring to Patrick McDevitt’s (TeleAtlas) superb talk at Web2.0 in Berlin where he talked about ‘”Detecting change in a changing world” using both research as community input to do so. Check out his talk. This is not only true for maps though. As a business you need to find ways to understand which changes are relevant to you and which aren’t. Using both research and the wisdom of the crowd is valuable for all of us. Trust (slide 16) your consumers. In an age when consumers started to trust strangers, it’s all to bad seeing some companies don’t even trust their own customers.

Another element of change, which I find very important is hackability. Make things hackable (slide 18), give people pieces to copy, to re-create, … and they might change your product, service, marketing campaign, … into something you might not have imagined. In a way the initial IBM PC is a very good example of that. You could by a white label PC, change the parts of it, build your own – and make it look like pretty much anything if you want. Same for advertising – It’s not what advertising does to the consumer, it’s what the consumer does to advertising (sorry for not remembering who said this first).

But while you change, don’t forget to keep focus on the outcome, your end goal (slide 19). Dopplr for instance is extremely good at that, pretty much everything they add to the service, adds value to the service. Not sure if could say the same for Technorati or Bloglines. Focus more on the experience (slide 20), something we might have learned the hard way but it is more important than ever. Why would people care about unboxing if it wasn’t important.

Digital also enables much easier to engage and interact in realtime (slide 21) – thanks Ag8! Take advantage of that, find out in realtime what people think, how they use things, where they are, … whatever adds value for you and your customers. Change the way you talk to your customers, or better talk with your customers. Too bad I couldn’t show the Bring The Love Back video (slide 22), SIME was after all in a movie theatre.

Think about context (slide 23)! And how you have to change the content based on the channel you’re using (rather than for the medium that is used to deliver it). Tom and David at Ag8 are bringing a strong message that is linked to this around metamedia instead of crossmedia. Be sure to check that out as well.

Change is inevitable – except from a vending machine ;) (slide 25). Which aspects about the DNA of change in this digital world do you think I forgot, I’m interested to get your opinion about that. I tried to put in as much as possible within the 15 minutes I got but would love to discuss further.

Innovation

“Don’t take a designer and tell them to build a bridge. Bring them to the canyon and see what they come up with. (Claudia Kotcha)”

Taken from the “We need change” presentation on Slideshare: “A loosely structured collection of quotes and references regarding the (mediocre) but promising state of market research”.